Leaders of Armenia’s main opposition forces voiced a range of grievances to the European Union’s Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele at a meeting late on Wednesday that concluded his visit to Yerevan.
Fuele arrived in the Armenian capital at the start of a regional tour aimed at discussing final preparations for the EU’s “association agreements” with Armenia and Georgia.
“We had a quite serious debate, and we didn’t agree on every issue. The argument was quite tough at some points,” Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) said on Thursday.
Zurabian said he deplored what the HAK regards as the EU’s lenient approach to electoral fraud and human rights abuses in Armenia. “I said that although in principle we consider very important deepening of cooperation with the EU, we have a very serious problem with the fact that despite being an alliance of democratic countries the EU has effectively turned a blind eye to violations of democracy and human rights in Armenia,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The EU gave a largely positive assessment of Armenia’s most recent presidential and parliamentary elections. The HAK and other opposition groups claim that the polls were rigged by President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration, however. Zharangutyun party leader Raffi Hovannisian, who was the main opposition candidate in the February 2013 presidential ballot, has repeatedly denounced the EU as well as the United States for recognizing the legitimacy of Sarkisian’s disputed reelection.
Zharangutyun representatives also complained about vote rigging at the meeting with Fuele. One of them, Armen Martirosian, at the same time emphasized the party’s unequivocal support for the planned Association Agreement with the EU. “We expressed our readiness to participate in the process of radical reforms in the country,” he said.
Fuele stressed the importance of such reforms for the success of Yerevan’s European integration drive after holding talks with Sarkisian and other Armenian officials earlier on Wednesday. He assured local civic activists that “human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms will be so-called ‘essential elements’ of our new agreement.”
Zurabian said in that regard that the EU should press the Armenian authorities to agree to a sweeping electoral reform sought by the opposition. The EU should also react more strongly to human rights abuses in the country, he said, adding that the HAK is “not unhappy” with the results of the meeting.
Another participant, Vahan Hovannisian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), said he expressed concern over the latest threats to Armenia’s national security and a “possible creation of difficulties for Armenian agricultural products in the Russian market.”
Hovannisian appeared to refer to potential consequences of Russia’s seemingly negative reaction to Armenia’s desire to sign the Association Agreement and steer clear of a Russian-dominated Eurasian Union of ex-Soviet republics. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, he said Fuele’s response to these concerns was “somewhat satisfactory.”
Also taking part in the meeting with the top EU official were two top representatives of the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), Vartan Oskanian and Naira Zohrabian. They both refused to comment on the discussion.