A senior U.S. official met on Friday President Robert Kocharian and Armenian opposition leaders on the second and final day of his visit to Armenia aimed at helping to ease tensions in the aftermath of the country’s disputed presidential election.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, who also met Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday, declined to talk to journalists during the trip, leaving it to the U.S. Embassy in Armenia to comment on his talks.
“Mr. Bryza appealed for calm on all sides and an end to violence,” the embassy said in a statement. “He told his interlocutors that the State of Emergency should end and that the best way to ease tensions is through dialogue between all parties. He noted that, to encourage dialogue, restrictions on the press should be lifted and full media freedom restored.”
The statement said Bryza also warned the Armenian authorities that their investigation into the bloody post-election unrest in Yerevan should not turn into “persecution of political opponents.” But it did not specify if he called for the release of any of the several dozen opposition supporters arrested in the unprecedented government crackdown.
The European Union urged Yerevan on Tuesday to free “any citizens detained for exercising their right to peaceful assembly” and to lift the 20-day state of emergency which Kocharian imposed during Saturday’s violent confrontation between security forces and thousands of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. The EU also called for an “independent investigation” into the clashes that left at least eight people dead.
According to Kocharian’s press office, Bryza told the outgoing Armenian president that he “understands the government’s efforts to establish law and order in the country.” Sarkisian’s press service likewise quoted Bryza as saying that the introduction of emergency rule in the Armenian capital was justified.
While in Yerevan, Bryza also met Ter-Petrosian as well as another top opposition leader, Raffi Hovannisian, and two senior members of his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. Neither leader divulged details of those meetings.
In an article in “The Washington Post” this week, Ter-Petrosian criticized the United States and other Western powers for their mostly positive assessment of the Armenian government’s handling of last month’s presidential election. He also urged them to issue a “strong and unequivocal condemnation” of the deadly use of force against his supporters. “If these steps are not taken, Armenians will draw two very undesirable conclusions: that peaceful and lawful means of political struggle are ineffective and pointless, and that the West cares about democracy only when it is politically expedient to do so,” he said.
Some observers believe that the West and the U.S. in particular are treading carefully not least because of substantial progress made by Kocharian in his peace talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev. Bryza visited Yerevan and Baku together with the two other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in mid-January and reported further progress towards the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The U.S. Embassy statement said that in his talks with the Armenian leaders Bryza “stressed the eagerness of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to finalize the Basic Principles for a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.”