By Emil Danielyan
The president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Thomas Dine, has ended a two-day visit to Armenia with a call for a “non-violent” resolution of the country’s festering political crisis.
While in Yerevan, Dine met separately with President Robert Kocharian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and opposition leaders Stepan Demirchian, Artashes Geghamian and Vazgen Manukian. The tense situation in Armenia was a major theme of the meetings.
“I urged non-violence, I urged finding some resolution in a civil way,” Dine told a news conference at the end of the trip on Friday
“Violence has no place in any society, violence never solves a political dispute, and violence is the antithesis of democracy,” he said, speaking only days after the violent break-up of an opposition demonstration in downtown Yerevan.
Dine expressed concern about the police beatings of several Armenian journalists who covered the overnight protest and said he raised the issue with Kocharian. “Violence against journalists makes no sense whatsoever, it only makes matters worse,” he argued.
The broader situation with freedom of speech in the country was another subject of Dine’s more than an hour-long meeting with the Armenian president. Citing the findings of the New York-based rights group Freedom House, the RFE/RL chief noted that the Armenian media, particularly television and radio stations, are “not free.” He stressed in this regard the importance of RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, describing it as one of the best performing and most “innovative” divisions of the U.S.-funded multinational broadcaster.
It was Dine’s third trip to Armenia in his capacity as RFE/RL president. Asked whether it was timed to coincide with the bitter standoff between Kocharian and his political opponents, Dine said he initially planned to visit only neighboring Georgia but later decided to make a stopover in Armenia because it is a “soft spot in my heart.”
(Photolur photo: Dine, center, and RFE/RL Armenian Service director Harry Tamrazian meeting with Kocharian on April 15.)