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By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Karine Kalantarian
Pro-government lawmakers representing Armenia at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) defended it on Wednesday against harsh criticism voiced by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian.

Ter-Petrosian on Tuesday condemned the PACE for not sanctioning Yerevan and giving it more time to end the post-election crackdown on the opposition. He scornfully described the two main authors of the Strasbourg-based assembly’s latest resolution on Armenia, John Prescott and Georges Colombier, as “defense lawyers” of the Armenian government.

“Will these people understand that the authorities are making fun of them, mocking them, deceiving them?” Ter-Petrosian told journalists.

“I strongly disagree with that claim,” countered David Harutiunian, head of the Armenian parliamentary delegation in Strasbourg. “I have repeatedly said that we are dealing with very serious politicians who have long been in politics and who had occupied very serious posts.”

Harutiunian, who is a member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia, pointed out that Prescott served as Britain’s deputy prime minister before joining the PACE.

Naira Zohrabian, another Armenian member of the PACE, complained that the Armenian opposition’s assessment of international institutions hinges on the latter’s attitudes towards the Yerevan government. “Any international evaluation beneficial for them is portrayed as a holy book,” she said. “But when they find unacceptable points in a resolution or a statement its authors immediately become the authorities’ lawyers.”

In an April resolution, the PACE demanded that the Armenian authorities release all political prisoners and restore civil liberties restricted following the suppression of Ter-Petrosian’s post-election rallies. It threatened to suspend the voting rights of Harutiunian and other Armenian lawmakers if these demands are not met by the end of June.

The assembly concluded late last month that the authorities failed to fully comply with its April resolution but stopped short of censuring them, extending the deadline to next January. Furthermore, Harutiunian and pro-government members of his delegation succeeded in watering down some of the key PACE demands to Yerevan.

David Shahnazarian, a close Ter-Petrosian associate who traveled to Strasbourg for the PACE’s late-June session, was more careful than the top opposition leader in criticizing the assembly. He claimed credit for the PACE’s decision to ask the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, to pay another fact-finding visit to Yerevan in September.

Hammarberg will specifically look into the Armenian government’s compliance with the PACE’s demands for the urgent release of dozens of Ter-Petrosian supporters arrested on “seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.” He will then submit his findings to the PACE’s Monitoring Committee, of which both Prescott and Colombier are members.

Harutiunian confirmed that the PACE may hold an urgent debate on Armenia and again discuss the possibility of sanctions during its October session if Hammarberg concludes that the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian has made little progress on the issue of political prisoners. He said the PACE’s calls for the authorities not to create “undue restrictions” for opposition rallies must also be taken seriously.

Harutiunian refused to say, however, if he disapproves of the Yerevan municipality’s decision to ban Ter-Petrosian’s next rally scheduled for Friday. “I don’t know the grounds on which the Yerevan municipality refused [to authorize the protest,] but think that we must pay attention to the Council of Europe demands on this issue,” he told a news conference.

(Photolur photo: David Harutiunian.)
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