By Armen Zakarian
A leader of the governing Republican Party (HHK) gave on Tuesday an unusually positive assessment of Armenia’s democratic credentials, predicting that the country will make a bid for membership of the European Union in several years’ time.
“We will lay the groundwork for entering the European Union in the next four years,” said Galust Sahakian, head of the HHK faction in the Armenian parliament. He claimed that Armenia can meet the strict political and economic criteria for EU membership because it is a “democratic oasis in the South Caucasus.”
Sahakian made the comments at a roundtable discussion in Yerevan on the future of Armenia’s relations with Europe. They contrasted sharply with the views expressed by other participants of the discussion, most of them opposition politicians accusing the authorities of thwarting the country’s democratization.
They pointed in particular to the latest threats by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to impose sanctions against the Armenian lawmakers attending its sessions over serious irregularities reported during the May 25 parliamentary elections. “In essence, this means that the Council of Europe does not recognize this National Assembly,” said Hmayak Hovannisian, a parliament deputy from the opposition National Unity Party.
The disputed parliamentary elections and the presidential ballot, also held this year, provoked a storm of criticism of the Armenian authorities from Western nations and organizations, including the EU and the Council of Europe. As recently as last Friday, the EU’s Greek presidency expressed concern at “the reoccurrence of falsification of vote counts” and other instances of fraud reported by Western observers during the May 25 vote.
The criticism has dealt a serious blow to the Armenian leadership’s declared efforts to speed up Armenia’s integration into various European structures. Sahakian, however, downplayed its significance, saying that Armenians should not view the Council of Europe as the Soviet-era Politburo which had the final say on all major issues affecting their country.