By Hrach Melkumian, Ruzanna Khachatrian and Karine Kalantarian
The Armenian government and its opponents offered on Friday diametrically opposite interpretations of a statement on their standoff adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) this week.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said the resolution “pulled the rug out from under the opposition’s feet,” while one of the opposition leaders described it as a “slap in the Armenian authorities’ face.”
Oskanian argued that the PACE refused to endorse calls for a referendum of confidence in Kocharian, stated that irregularities “did not decisively change the outcome of the  elections,” and urged the both sides to embark on a dialogue without preconditions set by the opposition. “The Council of Europe has expressed its clear opinion on the three main issues on which the opposition bases its activities,” he told reporters.
Oskanian at the same time voiced his disagreement with the PACE’s strong criticism of the Armenian government’s crackdown on the opposition, complaining about an “incorrect description of facts” in the resolution. “We will definitely draw the Council of Europe leadership’s attention to that,” he said without elaborating.
The Strasbourg-based assembly warned that the Armenian authorities will face sanction unless they respect citizens’ freedom of movement and assembly, release individuals detained for their participation in the recent anti-Kocharian rallies and investigate all “human rights abuses” by next September. It also expressed concern at the reported ill-treatment of the detainees and the fact that “freedom of expression continues to be seriously curtailed” in Armenia.
Oskanian said the authorities take the demands “very seriously” and will try to address them in earnest. But he indicated that the opposition will face a further crackdown if it carries on with its efforts to topple Kocharian. “If the opposition continues to make illegal demands, block streets, disobey police orders and try to achieve its goals violently, I think the authorities will have no option but to react,” he warned.
The PACE criticism was downplayed by other senior allies of Kocharian. “If the name Armenia is removed from this document, it can be applied to any country where elections took place,” said Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). “There is nothing extraordinary to which this document draws our attention.”
Hovannisian also blamed the opposition for the lack of progress in Armenia’s democratization. “They are creating a situation in the country that does not allow the government to carry out democratic reforms,” he said.
Galust Sahakian of the Republican Party, Dashnaktsutyun’s senior coalition partner, also claimed that the opposition has failed to muster international support for its case for regime change. He said that the opposition’s continued refusal to engage in a “dialogue” with the pro-Kocharian forces will now amount to defying the Council of Europe’s decisions.
But opposition leaders disagreed, pointing to strong language of the PACE resolution. “In effect, the resolution highlights all those repressions and illegalities that have taken place in Armenia,” said Victor Dallakian of the Artarutyun alliance. “If the authorities continue to build a police state and destroy elements of civil society in Armenia after all of this, it will be complete madness.”
(Photolur photo: Victor Dallakian.)