By Ruzanna Stepanian and Emil Danielyan
Opposition leader Artur Baghdasarian on Monday condemned a pro-government newspaper for disclosing purported details of his confidential meeting with a British diplomat that reportedly focused on Armenia’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
The publication, “Golos Armenii,” claimed on Saturday to have obtained the audio of Baghdasarian’s dinner with an unnamed senior official from the British embassy in Armenia which it said took place in a Yerevan restaurant last February. The Russian-language paper published what it described as excerpts from the secretly recorded conversation. The former parliament speaker was quoted as urging the European Union to strongly criticize the Armenian authorities’ handling of the May 12 vote.
In a written statement, Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party, a major election contender, charged that the report is part of a “well-prepared smear campaign” waged against it by the Armenian authorities. But it stopped short of explicitly denying the fact of the meeting or specific comments attributed to its leader.
“We hope that you have the recordings of all of our meetings,” read the statement addressed to the authorities. “While listening to them, you will become convinced that Orinats Yerkir says the same thing in private and public meetings: Armenia’s upcoming elections must meet international standards because that is required by the country’s interests and the international community.”
According to “Golos Armenii,” during the conversation Baghdasarian said that the ongoing election campaign has already been marred by serious violations and wondered whether the EU will issue “some signal of alarm” before the vote.
“They (the authorities) have to cross the line before we can do something,” the diplomat was quoted as responding. “But they don’t do that. I suppose that they are smarter and wiser than we. And many Europeans understand that. There has to be some blatant violation in order for the EU to come up with such a statement.”
The diplomat also allegedly claimed that only three of the eight EU countries having diplomatic missions in Yerevan -- Britain, Germany, and Poland -- are genuinely interested in the freedom and fairness of the Armenian elections. Countries like Italy and France are doing little to promote democratic change in Armenia, he was quoted as saying.
“You can’t say that everything is alright if there are falsifications, if people take to the streets, if 100-200 people get arrested, which is inevitable,” Baghdasarian is said to have countered. “And France won’t be able to say that everything is alright if they beat people.”
“Golos Armenii,” which is staunchly supportive of President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, said the conversation was recorded on a compact disk sent to it by unknown individuals. The paper claimed that it knows the identify of the diplomat cited in the report but will not publicize it in the hope that he will provide “clarifications on some parts of the dialogue.”
The British embassy declined to comment on the report on Monday.