By Astghik Bedevian
The United Nations is reviewing some of its programs in Armenia following President Robert Kocharian’s criticism of local UN experts’ negative assessment of the political and socioeconomic situation in the country, it emerged on Tuesday.
Kocharian visited the UN office in Yerevan on December 14 for a second time in seven years. A statement by the presidential press service said at the time that he praised the office’s track record during a conversation with the UN representative to Armenia, Consuelo Vidal, and her aides.
But subsequent newspaper reports citing UN sources in Yerevan said Kocharian subjected to harsh criticism independent Armenian experts hired by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to work on projects dealing with political and economic reforms. He was reportedly particularly unhappy with their critical findings about rampant corruption in the country’s education and healthcare sectors and suggestions about how to tackle the problem.
The deputy head of the UNDP in Armenia, Aleksandr Avanesov, acknowledged that the Armenian leader took issue with some expert opinions but denied that he specifically spoke out against an anti-corruption project implemented by the UNDP. “That is a big exaggeration,” Avanesov told RFE/RL. “We did not discuss anti-corruption issues during the meeting.”
However, the anti-corruption project launched two years was suspended following the meeting and, according to its Armenian coordinator Vahan Asatrian, is facing an uncertain future. Asatrian blamed the Armenian government for the suspension.
It also emerged that the UN office in Yerevan has invited a foreign expert to look into the incomplete research conducted by Asatrian and his team. Avanesov denied political motives behind the move. “One should never confine themselves to the boundaries of their knowledge and experience,” he said. “Others’ experience is always useful.”
But Avanesov did admit that the UN will now try to avoid further confrontation with the Armenian authorities. “We are not interested in doing something which the government does not like,” he said. “We want to have a common understanding of which direction we should move in.”