By Astghik BedevianThe vice-president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on Tuesday dismissed opposition charges that strong Western support for President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional changes constitutes an interference in Armenia’s internal affairs.
Bernard Schreiner also called for the passage of those amendments at a referendum slated for November. “I hope for a high voter turnout and positive outcome of this referendum,” he told an international conference in Yerevan dedicated to the 15th anniversary of Armenia’s first post-Communist parliament.
The remarks reflect the official position on the issue of the Council of Europe, the European Union and the United States. European and U.S. diplomats have urged Armenians to vote for the proposed amendments, saying that they would speed up the country’s democratization and European integration.
But such statements have been criticized by leaders of the Armenian opposition which is campaigning against the amendments meant to curtail sweeping powers enjoyed by the president of the republic. Some have accused Western officials of meddling in Armenia’s internal affairs.
Schreiner brushed aside the claims. “We the French too often take foreigners’ advice,” he told RFE/RL on the sidelines of the conference. “[Statements in support of the Armenian constitutional reform] must be seen as not propaganda but advice.”
Schreiner also said he received assurances from parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and his deputy Tigran Torosian that the November 27 vote will be free and fair.
“We must learn from the valuable experience of other nations,” Baghdasarian said in his speech at the conference. “Our country is now undergoing a fairly interesting and responsible process and on November 27 our people should express their position on constitutional reform.”
The forum was attended by some 90 foreign lawmakers representing 22 countries. Among them was Ann-Mari Lizin, the speaker of the upper house of the Belgian parliament. She discussed Armenia’s relations with Belgium and the EU in separate meetings with Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on Tuesday.