Prominent civil activists announced on Thursday the creation of a new political movement that will campaign for Armenia’s European integration and against its planned accession to a Russian-led union of ex-Soviet states.
Holding the founding gathering of their “political and civil alliance” called the European Choice, they said will strive to consolidate Armenian political parties opposed to joining the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. None of those parties has shown a strong interest in the initiative so far.
The European Choice was initiated by Boris Navasardian, the chairman of the Yerevan Press Club who has also headed a grouping of several dozen non-governmental organizations supporting Armenia’s participation in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program. Their EU-sponsored Civil Society Platform strongly criticized President Serzh Sarkisian after he unexpectedly decided last August to make Armenia part of the Russian-dominated bloc at the expense of an Association Agreement with the EU.
Navasardian on Thursday reiterated his view that membership in the Customs Union would lead to a “loss of sovereignty” and “very serious socioeconomic problems” for Armenia. He said integration with the EU is what would guarantee the country’s economic development, independence and security.
“For us, the key thing is to prevent Armenia’s accession to the customs and Eurasian unions,” said Artur Sakunts, a human rights campaigner and another founding member of the European Choice. “It’s a real threat, a plan to create hegemony of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s regime.”
Anna Shahnazarian, an environment protection activist, claimed that “colonization” by Russia would also make Armenia’s political system more repressive. “Membership in the customs or Eurasian union would make the realization of my civil rights impossible,” she said.
Ahead of their meeting, the European Choice leaders appealed to several pro-Western opposition parties to join their initiative. Only one of those parties, Zharangutyun (Heritage), is represented in Armenia’s parliament.
Unlike Zharangutyun, the three other opposition parties holding parliament seats have not explicitly objected to Sarkisian’s controversial foreign policy choice. Consequently, none of them was invited to participate in the meeting.
Representatives of Zharangutyun and the other invited political groups also did not show up. The pro-European activists said they were told that those parties need to thoroughly examine the initiative before deciding whether or not to join in.
Navasardian asserted that virtually all Armenian parties are reluctant to displease Russia. But he said he still hopes that some of them will team up with his new grouping. “If they don’t, it will mean that forming a new political force in Armenia with a clearly pro-European ideology is imperative,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).