By Emil Danielyan
The British embassy in Armenia condemned on Thursday the secret recording of a recent conversation between one of its diplomats and opposition leader Artur Baghdasarian that reportedly centered on the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, “Golos Armenii,” a newspaper sympathetic to the country’s leadership, published more excerpts from what it described as the transcript of the meeting held in a popular Yerevan restaurant last February. It also identified the diplomat in question as Richard Hyde, the deputy chief of the British mission.
The paper did not specify the name of the “high-ranking embassy official” who met Baghdasarian in its first report published on Saturday. It quoted Baghdasarian as saying that the May 12 elections can already be considered undemocratic and urging the European Union to harshly criticize their conduct.
Hyde was said to have responded that the Armenian authorities are very shrewd and cautious in ensuring a desirable outcome of the vote. “I suppose that they are smarter and wiser than we. And many Europeans understand that. There has to be some blatant violation in order for the EU to come up with such a statement,” he was quoted as saying.
In a statement, the British embassy admitted that the diplomat quoted in the report was one of its officials but said his remarks were distorted. “The British Embassy in Yerevan is dismayed that a clandestine recording has been made, and recently released in part to the press, of a conversation between an official of this Embassy and the leader of an opposition party,” it said. “We do not propose to comment in detail on the gross misrepresentation of a conversation, details of which appear to have been obtained through dishonest and deplorable means.”
The British mission denied “Golos Armenii” claims that such meetings constitute an illegal interference in Armenia’s internal affairs, saying that it maintains contacts with a broad range of Armenian parties contesting the elections. “This enables us to form as complete and objective a view as possible of the political process, and is in line with the normal and accepted practice of any embassy anywhere in the world,” it said.
“It is not, never has been and cannot be, our business to support the political platform of any specific political party,” added the statement.
The freedom and fairness of the upcoming polls is a major condition for the success of Armenia’s drive to forge closer ties with the EU under the European Neighbourhood Policy program. EU officials say the bloc will now pay greater attention to democratic change in the South Caucasus state.
Hyde allegedly told Baghdasarian that only three of the eight EU countries having diplomatic missions in Yerevan -- Britain, Germany, and Poland -- are genuinely interested in the freedom and fairness of the Armenian elections. He was also cited as predicting that two other prominent opposition leaders, Raffi Hovannisian and Vazgen Manukian, could boycott the parliamentary elections and concentrate instead on the presidential ballot due early next year. “This is what I would do in this situation,” the diplomat said, according to “Golos Armenii.”
Manukian’s National Democratic Union (AZhM) subsequently opted for an election boycott.
“Golos Armenii,” which has long been rumored to be sponsored by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, claimed to have received the recording from unknown individuals, suggesting that they were driven by “patriotic motives.” It said on Tuesday that the National Security Service demanded and was given a copy of the audio, in an apparent effort to dispel suspicions that the conversation was secretly recorded by the Armenian successor to the Soviet KGB.
Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party condemned the report on Monday, saying that it is part of a “well-prepared smear campaign” waged by the government.
(Photolur photo: Anthony Cantor, the British ambassador to Armenia.)