By Astghik Bedevian and Armen Dulian
Rene van der Linden, president of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), arrived in Yerevan Wednesday on the first leg of his tour of the three South Caucasus which is focusing on political reform, European integration and conflict resolution.
Van der Linden discussed a wide range of issues in separate meetings with President Robert Kocharian, senior Armenian lawmakers, leaders of the country’s main political parties as well as local civil society representatives.
A short statement by Kocharian’s office said the Armenian leader and the visiting PACE chief spoke about Armenia’s ties with the Council of Europe and other European structures. They also discussed “prospects for Armenia’s economic development” and ways of improving Turkish-Armenian relations, the statement said.
Van der Linden also held separate talks with parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, members of the Armenian parliament’s new committee on European integration and the leaders of the parties represented in the National Assembly.
Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the pro-Kocharian Prosperous Armenia Party which holds the second largest parliament faction, attended one of those meetings. He told RFE/RL that the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh was high on its agenda.
“The Karabakh conflict is a big obstacle to the development and strengthening of the country, the prosperity of the people,” Tsarukian said. He at the same time rejected any settlement that would not uphold Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan.
Wrapping up the trip at a news conference, van der Linden praised the Armenian authorities’ handling of the May 12 parliamentary. But he cautioned that they should learn “lessons” from irregularities reported during the vote and make sure that next year’s presidential election in Armenia is more democratic.
The Dutch parliamentarian stressed that the PACE and other Council of Europe bodies are continuing to closely monitor the fulfillment of Yerevan’s membership commitments to the Strasbourg-based organization. He also promised to look into opposition claims that several prominent critics of the Armenian government who are being prosecuted on controversial criminal chargers are political prisoners.
These and other domestic political issues dominated van der Linden’s separate encounter earlier in the day with representatives of Armenian civic groups and independent media. In particular, they conveyed to the visiting European official their concerns about the government’s controversial attempts to restrict retransmission of RFE/RL’s programs in Armenia. Van der Linden promised to raise those concerns with the country’s leadership.