An authoritative international think-tank led by former heads of state has urged Western donors to make their assistance to Armenia conditional on reform, questioning President Robert Kocharian’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based institution specializing in conflict resolution around the world, has also concluded that long-term stability in Armenia will remain elusive without a “robust democratization” of its political system.
“By using force to stop street protests in April 2004, President Kocharian and his advisors showed they are unlikely to welcome calls to make Armenia a more tolerant, democratic and less corrupt state,” the ICG said in a report released on Monday. “Yet, as Western European institutions and the U.S. increase their engagement, they should condition additional support and funding on reform.”
The 37-page document provides a detailed account and analysis of major political and economic developments that have taken place in Armenia since independence. A large part of it is devoted to last spring’s political crisis in Yerevan triggered by an opposition attempt to oust Kocharian.
The report criticizes the Armenian authorities’ heavy-handed response to the campaign of anti-Kocharian street protests, urging them to investigate human rights abuses reported during the crackdown and address the underlying causes of the unrest, including chronic vote rigging. It says although the Armenian opposition’s bid for regime change failed to attract a large following “the situation could become much more explosive if a charismatic [opposition] leader emerged.”
“To guarantee its stability, Armenia needs to supplement economic success with robust democratization and strengthened rule of law,” it adds. Among other recommendations addressed to the Kocharian administration are the need to guarantee “full freedom of media” and to combat corruption in earnest.
The ICG’s calls for a linkage between Western assistance and political reform underscored its skepticism about Yerevan’s commitment to democratization. “Donors should do more to press for democratic reforms and good governance,” it said.
Another challenge facing Armenian statehood is the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, according to the think-tank. “Until Armenia and Azerbaijan solve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem peacefully, it is unrealistic to talk about long-term stability and full economic cooperation in the region,” says its report. The ICG called in this regard on Turkey to reopen its border with Armenia.
Conflict resolution is a key focus of the ICG’s activities. The private institution has over two dozen field offices and analysts working in over 40 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents. It is headed by Finland’s former President Martti Ahtisaari and former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. Evans met with Kocharian and other Armenian leaders during a visit to Yerevan earlier this year.
Also sitting on the ICG’s board are several other retired heads of state and prominent individuals like NATO’s former Secretary General George Robertson, U.S. general-turned-politician Wesley Clark and former European Parliament speaker Pat Cox.