By Emil Danielyan
Ending a one-day visit to Yerevan, the European Union’s External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner met opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian late Monday to discuss the tense political situation in Armenia.
A short statement by Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) said they discussed “ways of overcoming the internal political crisis in Armenia, the question of the release of political prisoners as well as ongoing developments in the areas of democracy and human rights.”
Official Armenian sources indicated that these issues were not on the agenda of Ferrero-Walnder’s talks with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian. Ferrero-Waldner mentioned them in passing at a news conference that preceded her meeting with Ter-Petrosian.
She expressed hope that the Armenian authorities will address the Council of Europe’s concerns about the continuing imprisonment of dozens of opposition activists arrested following the February 2008 presidential election. The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) will decide next week whether to impose sanctions on Armenia because of its government’s failure to free all individuals considered “political prisoners” by officials in Strasbourg.
Ferrero-Waldner did not say if PACE sanctions would adversely affect Armenia’s ties with the EU. She spoke instead of other “reforms” which she said are needed for the country to qualify for the EU’s so-called Eastern Partnership program that offers six former Soviet republics a “substantial upgrading” of their relationship with bloc.
While expressing serious concern at the Armenian government’s post-election crackdown on the opposition, the EU has been far more cautious than the Council of Europe and the United States in pressing for the release of arrested oppositionists and an independent inquiry into the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan.
Ter-Petrosian has repeatedly accused Western powers and human rights bodies of turning a blind eye to government “repression” in Armenia in the hope of accelerating a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. In a December 21 speech at an HAK conference, he claimed that the West is “doing everything to destroy” his movement.