By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian on Tuesday stood by his reported calls for Armenia’s eventual accession to NATO, contradicting official Yerevan’s foreign policy and prompting criticism from his coalition partners.
Baghdasarian stressed that he would rather pull his Orinats Yerkir Party out of the governing coalition than disavow bombshell statements which were attributed to him by a leading German newspaper.
“Armenia’s future lies in the European Union and NATO,” “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” quoted him as saying in an interview published on April 19. He added that “Russia must not stand in our way to Europe.”
The remarks were in sharp contrast to Armenian leaders’ regular statements that while Armenia is seeking to deepen its security links with the West, it has no intention to end its military alliance with Russia and join NATO in the foreseeable future. President Robert Kocharian and other top officials have only gone so far as to speak of Armenia’s eventual membership in the European Union.
Answering a question from an opposition lawmaker during a parliament session, Baghdasarian said he is “well aware” of the official line but believes that NATO membership should also be a long-term Armenian foreign policy goal. “I am not saying that Armenia must become a NATO member tomorrow morning,” he said. “I spoke of a future which is longer than the [remaining] 12 or 20 months of this government.”
“I see Armenia’s future in the European Union, rather than the Russia-Belarus union; I see it in consistent European integration,” added the Orinats Yerkir leader. “I think there are no big differences between my public pronouncements and the position of other forces representing the government and the president of the republic.”
Baghdasarian warned his party, which has the second largest faction in the National Assembly, will not hesitate to leave the government if those differences are deemed “serious” by Kocharian and the two other parties represented in his coalition cabinet.
Leaders of those parties, meanwhile, made no secret of their disapproval of Baghdasarian’s statements. “Such a statement would be normal if it was made by a parliamentary party not represented in the government or in the parliament,” Galust Sahakian of the Republican Party of Armenia told RFE/RL. Vahan Hovannisian, deputy parliament speaker and a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, agreed, saying that joining NATO is not part of the Kocharian administration’s efforts at “European integration.”
Kocharian likewise said through a spokesman last week that he is “surprised” with Baghdasarian’s statements. Kocharian must also be unhappy with the speaker’s implicit remark, also made in the German newspaper interview, that Armenia’s 2003 presidential and presidential elections were rigged.
Calls for Armenia’s accession to NATO have until now been publicly made only by some Armenian opposition groups, notably the pro-Western Hanrapetutyun party of former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian.