By Ruben Meloyan
Armenia has failed to overcome its post-election political crisis and will suffer another “very big blow” if it is sanctioned by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) next month, former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian warned on Friday.
“Tension is persisting and, in my opinion, deepening,” he said. “An unpleasant atmosphere seems to be in the air, affecting everyone’s mood.”
Oskanian was particularly worried about the PACE’s threats to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members because of Yerevan’s failure to release dozens of opposition supporters arrested after the disputed presidential election of February 19.
“Armenia has never been in such a situation before,” he said. “Imagine that amid this difficult economic situation and political tensions the Council of Europe decides to suspend the voting rights of the Armenian delegation. I think that would further deepen the crisis. That would be an unprecedented phenomenon.”
Oskanian issued the warning as he presented the first report on domestic political and economic developments drawn up by his recently established think-tank, the Civilitas Foundation. The presentation involved a public discussion involving representatives of the governing coalition and Armenia’s main opposition groups.
Oskanian publicly urged President Serzh Sarkisian to pardon jailed oppositionists in October and he seemed to repeat his calls on Friday. He said Armenia’s leading political forces should understand the gravity of the situation and “raise the issue with the president of the republic”
Sarkisian has so far been willing to pardon only those opposition detainees who confess to the accusations mainly stemming from the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces. He reportedly ruled out a general amnesty this week.
In its outlook for 2009, the Civilitas report warns that the findings of various Armenian bodies investigating the post-election clashes could “further complicate and deepen the internal confrontation and mutual animosity” in the country. It says public “anger” that fuelled the unrest “will at best continue” if the Armenian government and opposition fail to embark on dialogue.
Oskanian also made a case for such dialogue but spoke out the conduct of snap presidential and parliamentary elections demanded by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and his allies. While admitting that Armenia’s current parliament does not reflect the balance of forces in the political arena, he said fresh legislative polls would only re-ignite tensions. The Armenian parties should instead work together to ensure the freedom and fairness of the next national elections, he said.
During the discussion Oskanian, who served as foreign minister from 1998-2008, also repeatedly urged the authorities to loosen their grip on electronic media widely criticized for their slanted news coverage.