By Armen Zakarian in Strasbourg
President Robert Kocharian on Wednesday strongly defended his administration’s tough response to the opposition campaign for his resignation, dismissing it as a manifestation of “political extremism” in a speech at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).
Kocharian also indicated his displeasure with the PACE’s criticism of the crackdown when he said that the Strasbourg-based body should not have discussed the political confrontation in Armenia in the first place last April.
“I regret that some of our deputies drew the PACE into that discussion,” he said. “I am convinced that the Council of Europe is not the best place to settle scores between the government and the opposition. All of that must be done in our own parliament.”
Kocharian again described the Armenian opposition’s push for power as an awkward attempt to replicated neighboring Georgia’s November “Rose Revolution” welcomed in the West. “The Armenian opposition failed to take into account the fact that Armenia’s economy, unlike Georgia’s, is developing dynamically, its government is quite efficient and its democratic achievements are propped up by institutional structures, including police, which are able to maintain public order,” he said.
In its April 28 resolution on Armenia, the PACE said that the Kocharian government’s reaction to the opposition protests was “contrary to the letter and the spirit” of its values. The 45-nation assembly threatened to impose sanctions unless the authorities in Yerevan ensure citizens’ freedom of assembly, release all individuals detained for their participation in the anti-government protests and investigate “human rights abuses” reported during the crackdown.
Kocharian made no mention of those arrests. He instead dwelt on the heavy-handed dispersal of the April 12-13 overnight rally near his official residence in Yerevan. “The organizers of the action were demonstratively calling for civil disobedience,” he said. “The police had no alternative; the law and order was restored very quickly, without damage to the health of the participants of the action.”
The Armenian leader, making his second appearance at the Council of Europe since Armenia joined it in January 2001, went on to complain that the opposition rejected his and his political allies’ offers of “dialogue.” “Those proposals remain in force, but they must be discussed in parliament, not in the street,” he said.
The Armenian authorities’ compliance with the resolution was discussed earlier this week by the PACE’s Monitoring Committee. Its rapporteur on Armenia, Jerzy Jaskiernia, is due to submit a final report on that in time for the assembly’s next session in September. The committee has also been monitoring the fulfillment of Armenia’s broader membership commitments to the Council of Europe.
“Armenia has already fulfilled the vast majority of obligations assumed in connection with its accession to the Council of Europe,” Kocharian declared, adding that the remaining ones will be honored “by the end of this year.” Armenia is going through “an active process of the formation of civil society,” he claimed.
The 20-minute speech was followed by a question-and-answer session. The two PACE parliamentarians representing the Armenian opposition boycotted the speech and were not on hand to put questions to Kocharian. He was instead grilled by Azerbaijani and Turkish lawmakers.
Asked by one of the Azerbaijanis if he had any role in the bitter Armenian-Azerbaijani war, Nagorno-Karabakh’s former wartime leader replied: “Yes, I took part in the war. My children were hiding in a basement for three years and had no childhood. I am proud of my participation in the war and the result which he had.”
Kocharian told another Azerbaijani parliamentarian that his country would have regained most of its Armenian-occupied territories around Karabakh had it accepted two international peace plans put forward in 1998 and 2001. He reiterated the Armenian argument that Karabakh has never been part of an independent Azerbaijani state and should remain outside Baku’s control.