Thousands of opposition supporters marched to the Council of Europe office in Yerevan on Tuesday to demand that the Strasbourg-based organization press for snap elections in Armenia and other government measures sought by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK).
The demonstration came ahead of Wednesday’s meeting in Paris of a key Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) body that will discuss the political situation in Armenia.
The PACE’s Monitoring Commission is due to look into the Armenian authorities’ response to its calls for sweeping political reforms that would ease lingering political tensions in the country. Its two Armenia rapporteurs, Georges Colombier and John Prescott, urged the authorities in Yerevan in January to draw up a “clear timetable for these reforms” before the Paris meeting.
David Harutiunian, head of the Armenian delegation at the PACE, is expected to present such a plan to the committee. Harutiunian said last week that it envisages, among other things, a reform of Armenia’s judicial system and electoral legislation.
“We believe that what they are going to present is a list of non-existent reforms and empty promises,” Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, told several thousand supporters before they marched through downtown Yerevan, chanting opposition and anti-government slogans.
Zurabian said the opposition alliance has drawn up an alternative reform timetable which it thinks should also be considered by the PACE panel. It calls for the conduct of pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections by next September, the release of all remaining “political prisoners” and the launch of a new independent inquiry into the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.
As the crowd reached the Council of Europe mission in Armenia organizers of the protest handed officials there a letter written by the HAK’s top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, and addressed to Thorbjorn Jagland, the Council of Europe secretary general. “We hope you will exercise the institutional capacity of your office, as well as your personal influence, to make sure that [the opposition timetable] becomes a part of the discussion during the 17 March session of the Monitoring Committee,” wrote Ter-Petrosian.
“The implementation of the reforms listed in our proposal remains an urgent necessity, because Armenia remains a country in political crisis two years after the ill-fated elections of 19 February, 2008,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian has repeatedly accused the Council of Europe and the West in general of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in Armenia. Addressing an HAK rally in Yerevan on March, he reiterated his claims that Western powers have been lenient towards President Serzh Sarkisian because of his conciliatory policy on Azerbaijan and Turkey.
“Let nobody think that we pin any hopes or rely on international structures,” said Zurabian. “We have always relied and will always rely only on ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we should not utilize all possibilities of informing the international community and using their attitude and efforts for the realization of our aims.”
The Armenian authorities have already brushed aside the HAK’s latest demands.