RFE/RL President Thomas Kent answered questions from RFE/RL’s Armenian Service in Yerevan on Tuesday after meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian during a visit to Armenia.
Question: Mr. Kent, welcome to the Yerevan bureau office. We are honored to have you on our TV show. Thank you for this chance. Mr. Kent, this is your first trip to Armenia, and during these two days you had some meetings with media and NGO representatives, and today you have met with the president of Armenia, Serzh Sarkisian, with whom you have discussed the case of the beating of RFE/RL’s three journalists. I want to remind that Karlen Aslanian, Hovannes Movsisian and Garik Harutiunian were attacked and beaten on July 29 when they were covering clashes between protesters and the police. So I want to know what was your message and what was the reaction of the president of Armenia.
Answer: This is actually my second visit to Armenia. My first one was in 1980. But the circumstances in Armenia have changed since then for the better. And I did tell the president that we are really grateful for the freedom that RFE/RL is able to operate in Armenia. We are able to interview who we want. We are able to organize programs that we want. Our broadcasts are on the air. So we are really happy with the media climate in Armenia, which makes even more surprising the events that happened during the armed standoff when there was this unprovoked and ferocious attack on our journalists in Armenia. One of them wound up in a hospital.
And I told the president, as I have said before, that RFE/RL expects there to be a full investigation into this case. He told me that some people have been arrested already, and I said that we would be looking forward to the progression of that case. We hope that it will be carried out transparently so that it’s clear who the arrested people are, what their intentions were, to the extent that can be determined, and we are looking forward to appropriate results in that case.
Question: By the way, after two months four people are detained in connection with this case. Can we say that this is progress? By the way, they are not policemen.
Answer: Well, the case will have to work its way through the court system. We will judge it not by the amount of days that the case takes. We will judge it by results and how reasonable and logical the results are.
Question: You hope that there will be some results?
Answer: We expect that there will be results, of course.
Question: And by the way, as you know, in his speech Serzh Sarkisian called on journalists to forget what happened with them. So what is your impression? Is it possible to forget?
Answer: I don’t think we will forget what happened to our journalists. I think we will follow this case with great interest. And the president gave us assurances that this case is being followed. So we appreciate that.
I should say that the president also had some criticism for RFE/RL. The president accused RFE/RL of not being completely neutral and objective in our coverage of the armed standoff in Yerevan. I responded that RFE/RL always tries to be fair and objective in its coverage. Clearly whenever we are criticized, we listen carefully to the criticism and if improvements in our coverage need to be made they will be.
Question: Besides this case of the beating of our journalists, what kind of topics, what kind of issues have you discussed during these meetings?
Answer: We had discussions of Armenia as a country that’s in a transformative period. We understand that there is a very difficult and delicate transformation going on in Armenia from dictatorship of the Soviet Union to democracy. It’s not a perfect or easy process. We understand that. We found that the president was very open in his desire to move things forward. We hope he will.
Question: Mr. Kent, yesterday you met with NGO and media representatives. What is your impression? What kind of challenges do they face now?
Answer: First of all, I was happy to see that there is a lively NGO and press community in Armenia. And that contrasts to other countries where NGOs operate in great danger and where they are not allowed to receive money from outside sources. So just the vigor of these organizations, the number that came to talk about their issues was very encouraging.
They too are focused on the transformation of Armenia into a fully democratic country. We all understand that this can’t be done in a day. Even democratic countries like the United States still are developing their democracy. So I was very impressed by their vigor and commitment.