By Emil Danielyan
Opposition leader Stepan Demirchian indicated on Tuesday his frustration with the Council of Europe’s stance on Armenia when he urged the authoritative human rights organization to pay more attention to free elections than to the abolition of capital punishment.
Meanwhile, a leading member of the governing Republican Party (HHK) admitted that Armenia will find it extremely hard to move closer to Europe unless it improves its fraudulent electoral practices in the coming years.
“I believe that in order to integrate into European structures Armenia first of all needs to have a legitimate government,” Demirchian told RFE/RL in an interview. “Today power is usurped in Armenia. It’s a fact acknowledged by international observers that monitored this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.”
“You can’t become a European nation by simply abolishing the death penalty,” Demirchian added, underscoring his strong opposition to the measure championed by the Council of Europe.
It was a key condition for Armenia’s accession to the Strasbourg-based organization in January 2001. The issue topped the agenda of last week’s visit to Yerevan by two representatives of the council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) who monitor Armenia’s compliance with its membership obligations. The officials, Jerzy Jaskiernia and Rene Andre, made it clear that they are against sanctioning the authorities in Yerevan for their handling of the 2003 polls strongly criticized by PACE observers.
Demirchian and other leaders of his Artarutyun (Justice), including Aram Sarkisian, say the death penalty should remain in the books and be applied in exceptional murder cases such as the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament. Demirchian’s father Karen and Sarkisian’s brother Vazgen were among the eight senior officials killed in the attack.
Meeting with Jaskiernia and Andre last week, Demirchian complained that they are paying more attention to the issue of capital punishment than to other European standards such as democracy and protection of human rights. But he was on Tuesday careful to avoid openly criticizing the PACE.
Demirchian was the main opposition candidate in this year’s presidential ballot in which incumbent President Robert Kocharian was declared reelected. Artarutyun maintains that the election was rigged and that its rightful winner was Demirchian. The opposition alliance also refuses to recognize the official results of the ensued parliamentary elections.
The election issue continues to feature large in Armenia’s dealings with the Council of Europe, with some PACE officials threatening to strip the assembly’s Armenian members of their voting rights at its September session. The head of the recently formed Armenian delegation at Strasbourg, Tigran Torosian, says much of the international criticism of the 2003 polls is justified but hopes that the PACE will be “forgiving” towards Armenia.
“If we have the same complications during the next presidential and parliamentary elections, then I think the process of our European integration will be seriously jeopardized,” Torosian told RFE/RL. “It is therefore very important for both the opposition and government forces to start laying the groundwork for better elections.”