The French ambassador in Yerevan, Jean-Francois Charpentier, on Monday gave a largely positive assessment of the situation with human rights and political liberties in Armenia and praised the country’s “stabilizing” role in the region.
“We believe that Armenia serves as a stabilizing pole in the region,” he told a news conference. “This is a county where elections are held on a regular basis. In this sense, the situation in Armenia seems satisfactory to us.”
While noting “difficulties” in areas such as judicial independence, women’s rights and protection of minorities, Charpentier stressed: “Generally speaking, Armenia is, in our view, heading in the right direction.”
In that context, the diplomat defended the Armenian authorities’ response to the recent street protests in Yerevan against a controversial rise in electricity prices. “It is normal when people in a democratic country demonstrate and express their opinions, their discontent,” he said. “But on the other hand, it is normal for a government to take measures needed for ensuring public order.”
The authorities in Yerevan were criticized by the U.S. Embassy and the European Union Delegation in Yerevan for breaking up the initial protest on Marshal Bagramian on June 23. Charpentier stopped short of echoing that criticism.
France has traditionally been less critical of Armenian governments’ human rights records than the EU’s governing bodies. Its warm political ties with the South Caucasus state stem, in large measure, from the existence of a large and influential Armenian community in France.
French President Francois Hollande and his predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac, have paid official visits to Armenia over the past decade. Hollande was also the sole leader of a major Western power to attend the April 24 commemoration in Yerevan of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
Charpentier described French-Armenian relations as “special,” saying that they are developing in a “sincere and friendly atmosphere.”
The Armenian authorities’ human rights and democracy records were also praised earlier this year by a senior U.S. State Department official. Eric Rubin, a deputy assistant secretary of state, said they have had “real achievements” in democratizing the country’s political system.
Rubin’s remarks were in tune with Washington’s assessment of Armenia’s last parliamentary and presidential elections held in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Leading Armenian opposition parties consider those polls fraudulent.