Freedom House arrived at such a conclusion in its latest survey of democratic developments in 29 nations of the former Communist bloc that was released on Tuesday. They were rated on seven relevant indicators, including election conduct, democratic governance, press freedom and corruption.
The “Nations in Transit” report found no changes in those areas in Armenia last year, assigning the country the same “democracy score” of 5.39 measured on a 7-point negative scale. Eight other ex-Soviet states, including Azerbaijan, were judged to be “consolidated authoritarian regimes.”
Samvel Nikoyan, a deputy parliament speaker and senior member of President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), rejected the “authoritarian” label slapped on Armenia, while acknowledging “problems” with democracy and human rights. “But all those problems are gradually and slowly finding solutions,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Armenia -- Samvel Nikoyan, deputy speaker of National Assembly, 18May2009
Naira Zohrabian, a senior parliamentarian from Prosperous Armenia, the HHK’s junior coalition partner, likewise called the Freedom House criticism “exaggerated.” She insisted that the authorities in Yerevan are committed to democratization and other political reforms. “It’s just that the pace of solving one or another problem may be slow for objective or subjective reasons,” she told RFE/RL.
“I myself am not satisfied with the state of affairs,” agreed Nikoyan. “But at the same time I can’t fully agree with the views expressed by that authoritative organization.” He specifically challenged Freedom House’s “contradictory” assessment of the May 2009 municipal elections in Yerevan which the HHK won by landslide.
The watchdog’s report notes that the polls were “assessed by international observers as broadly in compliance with the general principles of the Council of Europe” and that public support for the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) had declined since 2008. Nonetheless, the report says they were not more democratic than previous Armenian elections.
Nikoyan also accused Freedom House of failing to acknowledge pluralism in the Armenian print media, which is dominated by pro-opposition newspapers harshly attacking the government on a virtually daily basis.
“I am astonished that they can cast any doubt on freedom of press and speech in Armenia,” said the vice-speaker. “Just read newspapers and see what they write.”
Freedom House has for years classified the Armenian media as “not free.” Its latest report says the country’s “media environment improved in 2009.” Still, the watchdog kept Armenia’s media freedom score unchanged, at 6.00, citing “the limited reach of print media and few genuinely independent outlets, which exist for the most part only online.”
The Freedom House report was also dismissed on Wednesday by the HAK and another major opposition force, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). “The Congress didn’t find the report important,” Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, said when contacted by RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Vahan Hovannisian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, was even more dismissive, challenging Freedom House’s integrity and good faith. “Freedom House’s goals and intentions regarding Armenia are totally different from my and my party’s goals,” he said without elaborating.
“Therefore, I don’t want to agree or disagree, dispute or welcome what Freedom House says. That organization’s assessment is not of any significance to me, even if it is accidentally correct,” Hovannisian told a news conference.
The only positive reaction to the report came from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. “Their evaluations are absolutely acceptable and justified,” its chairman, Armen Martirosian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.