By Emil Danielyan
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian on Monday rejected his pro-government colleagues’ request not to boycott sessions of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in protest against its perceived leniency towards Armenia’s leadership.
Hovannisian, who is the only opposition member of the Armenian delegation at the PACE, walked out of the Strasbourg-based assembly on June 25 as it gave the authorities in Yerevan six more months to end their post-election crackdown on the opposition. The leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party said he will not attend further PACE sessions until “Armenia meets standards – its own and Europe’s – and Europe rises to the realization of its own values, rights and benchmarks.”
In its latest resolution on Armenia, the PACE said the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian has so far failed to release all opposition members arrested on “seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges,” fully restore civil liberties and allow an independent inquiry into the March 1 clashes between opposition protesters and riot troops. The assembly had earlier warned that failure to meet these demands could lead to the suspension of its Armenian members’ voting rights.
But it stopped short of sanctioning Yerevan, extending the deadline to next January instead. John Prescott, one of the two main authors of the resolution, said during the debate that two months is “not enough time to implement all the changes for which we called” and that “Armenia is going in the right direction.” Hovannisian strongly disagreed with this assertion before storming out of the PACE audience.
David Harutiunian, a senior pro-government lawmakers who heads the Armenian delegation in Strasbourg, appealed to Hovannisian last week to end the boycott. Harutiunian said the U.S.-born opposition leader’s participation in PACE session is important for Armenia and its national interests.
Hovannisian made clear, however, that he will not reconsider his decision as long as “the level of democracy” in Armenia does not correspond to European standards. He was at the same time more cautious than the more radical top leader of the Armenian opposition, Levon Ter-Petrosian, in criticizing Prescott and the other co-sponsor of the latest PACE resolution, Georges Colombier. Ter-Petrosian last week branded the two men as “defense lawyers” of the Sarkisian administration.
According to the Zharangutyun leader, Prescott and Colombier simply lack objective information about the political situation in the country. “They don’t sleep and wake up with Armenia’s interests and future in their minds,” he said.