By Anna Saghabalian
Almost two in three Armenians believe that their country should eventually join the European Union in order to become democratic, secure and prosperous, according to a new opinion poll released on Tuesday.
Pollsters from the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), an independent think-tank, said 64 percent of some 2,000 people interviewed by them in recent weeks were firmly in favor of EU membership and only 11.8 percent were against. They said a concurrent survey of 100 political and policy experts found almost unanimous support for Armenia’s accession to the expanding bloc.
The findings of the nationwide survey are in tune with a similar poll conducted in Yerevan this October by another private institution, Vox Populi. It suggested that as many as 72 percent of city residents believe, with varying degrees of conviction, that their country’s future lies with the EU, rather than the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States.
In the words of Stepan Safarian, a senior ACNIS analyst, public opinion in Armenia, traditionally sympathetic to Russia, appears to have undergone a pro-Western shift over the past year due to the “revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine. “Armenians are quite pragmatic people,” he told RFE/RL. “They probably think that if the EU was a bad place others would not be so keen to join it.”
Safarian also claimed that Russia’s hard bargain on debts owed by Armenia is losing it support among ordinary Armenians. “Sooner or later the society will have to make a choice between one or another [foreign policy] direction,” he said. “I believe that this choice will be in favor of the EU.”
Still, many people continue to think well of Russia, with just over half of those polled thinking that the latter will help Armenia gain EU membership. By contrast, 60 percent of the experts feel that the Russians will try to thwart it.
Public and expert opinions also differ markedly on Turkey’s accession to the EU. ACNIS experts said fifty-two percent of the ordinary respondents are opposed to Turkish membership, while 61 percent of the experts said it would be good for Armenia.
Armenians also seem to realize that their possible EU entry is a long way off. More than two thirds of them, according to the poll, believe that Armenia will not be ready to join the union for at least ten years.
(Photolur photo: ACNIS President Raffi Hovannisian, center, and ACNIS analysts presenting the survey data.)