By Ruzanna Khachatrian, Hrach Melkumian and Shakeh Avoyan
Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian admitted on Monday that the resolution on the political situation in Armenia adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last week weakened official Yerevan’s standing in the prestigious human rights organization.
In remarks contrasting with the buoyant mood of other senior Armenian officials, Torosian said that the PACE’s threat to impose sanctions on the Armenian authorities for their heavy-handed crackdown on the opposition pushed them “one step or half a step back.” “Our position after the January resolution was very good and favorable,” he said of the PACE’s previous statement that reviewed progress in the fulfillment of Armenia’s membership commitments.
The January document made an overall positive evaluation of the three-year process. The 45-nation assembly decided to again discuss the situation in Armenia at its spring session amid the most bitter yet confrontation between President Robert Kocharian and his political opponents. Its resolution warns that the PACE will consider stripping its Armenian members of their voting rights unless Kocharian’s administration respect citizens’ freedom of movement and assembly, releases individuals detained for their participation in the recent opposition rallies and investigates all “human rights abuses” by next September.
The criticism was downplayed by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian late last week. He said the PACE “pulled the rug out from under the opposition’s feet” by refusing to endorse its calls for a referendum of confidence in Kocharian and stating that his controversial reelection last year was “validated” by international observers.
But Torosian said he believes that the PACE reaction has left no losers and winners in Armenia. “Some people are trying to attribute ludicrous victories and defeats to themselves or their opponents. That is not a place to win or lose,” he told a news conference.
The stern rebuke appears to have been primarily addressed to the opposition leaders who have been buoyed by the PACE criticism of the government. They reiterated this view on Monday.
Aram Sarkisian of the Artarutyun alliance went as far as to describe the resolution as an “ultimatum” to Kocharian. “All the calls are directed to the authorities,” he said, adding that the opposition regards the PACE stance as an endorsement of its campaign for Kocharian’s resignation.
Shavarsh Kocharian, an Artarutyun lawmaker who attended the PACE session in Strasbourg, argued that the assembly did not speak out against the referendum either.
The opposition leaders reaffirmed their decision to hold what some of them have said will be a “decisive” demonstration against Kocharian on Tuesday. They refused to specify what exactly they will tell supporters to do. Sarkisian did not rule out the possibility of another opposition march towards the presidential palace in Yerevan.
The first such march was violently broken up by police on the night of April 12 to 13. More than a hundred protesters were seriously injured or arrested by security forces.
Meanwhile, Yerevan’s presidentially appointed mayor, Yervand Zakharian, was likely to again refuse to sanction the opposition protest. “We will discuss [the opposition application] and probably turn it down,” he told reporters.
Zakharian again claimed that the opposition rallies “hamper the city’s normal socioeconomic development.” Asked about the PACE’s call for the authorities to lift all “unjustified restrictions” on them, he argued that the Yerevan municipality has given permission for several public gatherings in the last few days. None of those gatherings was organized by the opposition, however.