President Serzh Sarkisian used his Friday speech at a gathering of Russian diplomats’ training school graduates in Yerevan also to praise the controversial constitutional reform initiated by his administration that he said would increase the institutional role of Armenia’s opposition.
Addressing the third forum of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations) graduates, which is being held in Armenia on October 22-24 and has brought together dozens of senior diplomats from different countries that studied in the prestigious Moscow higher school, Sarkisian also dwelt on the domestic political agenda, explaining the reasons for launching sweeping constitutional changes that are going to turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic.
Despite a largely positive conclusion from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission regarding the draft amendments that Armenians are going to vote on in a nationwide referendum on December 6, several of the country’s leading opposition parties maintain that the proposed changes are just a ploy to enable Sarkisian to indefinitely stay in power in a different capacity after the end of his second and final presidential term in 2018.
Sarkisian has denied this, saying that he will not seek to occupy a top government post after retiring from his current post in about three years’ time.
Addressing the mostly Russian participants of the MGIMO forum, the Armenian leader argued that the amended Constitution will improve the protection of human rights and freedoms, will better balance the powers between different government institutions and will strengthen the institutional role of the opposition.
Speaking in Russian, Sarkisian said also addressed other issues, such as Armenia’s foreign policies. He spoke about close Armenian-Russian cooperation and friendship, stressing that this cooperation is made even stronger within the Eurasian Economic Union, an economic grouping involving Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that Armenia formally joined in January.
Sarkisian also spoke in detail about Armenia’s cooperation with the European Union in light of the recently approved Brussels mandate for talks around a new legal basis in relations with Yerevan.
“We continue our active cooperation with our Western partners, with whose active support for many years we have been carrying out large-scale reforms aimed at improving democratic institutions, rule of law, ensuring an increased role of civil society in governing the country,” the Armenian president said.
It is remarkable that in his message of welcome to the participants of the MGIMO forum in Yerevan, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly expressed his gratitude to his Armenian counterpart and Armenian partners for “invaluable assistance” in the organization of the event.
Among those attending the forum is also Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, who is also a MGIMO graduate.