By Emil Danielyan
The U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed on Wednesday dismay at President Robert Kocharian’s refusal to meet her on her first-ever visit to Armenia that focused on democratization and other political reforms.
Ambassador Julie Finley, who arrived in Yerevan on Tuesday, said she received assurances from other Armenian officials that next year’s Armenian parliamentary elections will be free and fair. She also urged Yerevan to allow the OSCE to monitor the entire electoral process.
“I am very, very disappointed I did not have even a brief meeting with your president,” Finley said. “Usually in my travels [to OSCE member states] I do meet with the head of state.”
Asked about the official reason for Kocharian’s apparent snub, she said: “His schedule was full. I asked.”
Kocharian, according to his press service, held two meetings on Wednesday, receiving a delegation of Russian parliamentarians and the outgoing head of the World Bank office in Yerevan, Roger Robison. He similarly failed to meet Britain’s visiting Minister for Europe Geoff Hoon last week. Both Britain and the United States had declined to officially congratulate Kocharian on his hotly disputed victory in the last Armenian presidential election criticized as undemocratic by OSCE observers.
Finley spoke to RFE/RL and the Mediamax news agency after meeting with other senior Armenian officials, including Justice Minister David Harutiunian, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian, Deputy Foreign Minister Arman Kirakosian and the chairman of the Central Election Commission, Garegin Azarian. She also met civil society representatives campaigning for political reform in the country.
The diplomat said the officials assured her that the Armenian authorities will do their best to ensure the freedom and fairness of the 2007 elections. “I am willing to accept in good faith what certain people in the government so far have told me, just as I am perfectly willing to take in good faith what certain people outside of the government have been telling me,” she said. “I am trying to balance everything.”
“We all want these elections to run right because these elections are one of the four main pillars of a democracy,” Finley said. “And I am assuming that I am in a country that has decided it wants to be a true democracy.”
Officials from the European Union have already warned that a repeat of serious vote irregularities would seriously undermine Armenia’s efforts to forge closer links with the EU and its participation in the bloc’s European Neighborhood Policy program in particular .
Finley, who worked for the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy before taking over the U.S. mission at the OSCE’s Vienna headquarters last year, would not be drawn on what the consequences would be for U.S.-Armenian relations. She seemed worried about the fact that the authorities in Yerevan have yet to officially invite the OSCE to monitor the 2007 elections.
“The assurance that the government of Armenia has been elected freely and fairly to the international community is very, very important for Armenia,” Finley said. “The OSCE is the gold standard for monitoring elections.
“They are coming to the United States to monitor our mid-term elections in November. Why the heck shouldn’t they be over here to monitor the Armenian elections?”
(Amenian Foreign Ministry photo: Finley meets with Kirakosian.)