The Turkish politician also dismissed Armenian concerns about his efforts to have the Strasbourg-based body again discuss and pass judgment on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Cavusoglu met with President Serzh Sarkisian, leaders of Armenia’s leading political forces as well as local civil society representatives during the two-day trip. He said political reforms promised by the Armenian authorities and sought by the PACE were the main focus of the talks.
Speaking at a concluding news conference in Yerevan, Cavusoglu singled out the need to end Armenia’s culture of electoral fraud “It is very important that the next elections that will be held in Armenia in 2012 meet the highest European standards,” he said. “This will show your citizens and us that Armenia has turned a dark page of its recent past and is determined to move forward in its democratic transformation.”
Cavusoglu said this as well as a reform of Armenia’s judicial and law-enforcement systems would address the political fallout from the 2008 post-election strife in Yerevan and prevent a repeat of such dramatic events.
Such reforms have also been recommended by the PACE’s Monitoring Committee and an Armenian parliamentary body that investigated the 2008 deadly unrest. David Harutiunian, a senior pro-government lawmaker heading the Armenian delegation at the PACE, presented a tentative plan of relevant government measures to the committee in March.
Cavusoglu told journalists that he heard “some very encouraging responses from Mr. Harutiunian” in Yerevan. “His committee will submit a report to the [Armenian] National Assembly and this will be a good opportunity for your parliament to strengthen its vital function of parliamentary control,” he said.
“We are now expecting that the authorities will provide to the [Parliamentary] Assembly with a detailed list of all the reforms … as well as specific deadlines,” he added.
The PACE head went on to criticize the Armenian authorities for their refusal to free all opposition members arrested following the February 2008 presidential election. He said he specifically raised with them the case of Nikol Pashinian, an opposition leader and newspaper editor who was sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this year.
Cavusoglu held what he described as a “very emotional meeting” with close relatives of most of the unrest victims earlier on Thursday. Some of the participants told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that their expressed their anger with what they see as a Council of Europe reluctance to bring the Sarkisian administration to task over the unrest deaths.
The Council of Europe and its legislative arm in particular were also strongly criticized by top representatives of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) who met the PACE president on Wednesday. Speaking to RFE/RL after the meeting, one of them, Levon Zurabian, accused the PACE of turning a blind eye to its own resolutions that demanded a reversal of the Armenian government’s 2008 crackdown on the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition.
Both the HAK and other major Armenian political forces also expressed serious concern about Cavusoglu’s intention to revive and lead the work of a PACE subcommittee tasked with facilitating a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They claim that the ad hoc body can not be impartial because his country, Turkey, continues to lend strong and unconditional support to Azerbaijan in the conflict. They cite pro-Azerbaijani statements made by Cavusoglu before he was elected PACE president in January.
The issue apparently sparked tense exchanges between Cavusoglu and representatives of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in Sarkisian’s governing coalition, and the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK lawmaker, called his Karabakh-related intentions “unacceptable.”
“I said that since he represents Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which has been extremely biased on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during all these years, we are not confident, with all due respect for Mr. Cavusoglu, that [the subcommittee] will not be biased,” Zohrabian told RFE/RL. She said the Turkish parliamentarian was “very offended” by her arguments.
Stepan Safarian, a Zharangutyun leader, said he and his party colleagues conveyed the same message to Cavusoglu. The latter responded by accusing them of “national discrimination,” Safarian told RFE/RL.
The HAK representatives also voiced strong opposition to any PACE involvement in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by the United States, Russia and France under the OSCE aegis. “We consider the existing format the most optimal one, and any alternative discussion would only distract the conflicting parties from negotiations and enable them to engage in propaganda,” said Zurabian.
Whether President Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) agree with this view was not immediately clear. An official press release on Sarkisian’s Wednesday meeting with Cavusoglu made no mention of Karabakh.
Speaking at the news conference, Cavusoglu insisted that the decision to resume discussions on the conflict was made by the PACE leaders months before he was elected to run the assembly. He also argued that the subcommittee in question was formed in 2005 in accordance with a PACE resolution on Karabakh.
“All the member countries of the Assembly have to abide by the Assembly resolutions,” Cavusoglu said. “But we are also pragmatic. Especially when there are different opinions on an issue.” He added that he will take the Armenian concerns into account even if he does not agree with them.
Cavusoglu was also unrepentant about his decision not to visit the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan, which led another major party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), to cancel a planned meeting with him. “I respect your opinions, but everybody has to respect my decision,” he said.