Armenia’s political leadership hit back on Thursday at the head of a coalition of Europe’s center-right parties who accused it of suppressing political opponents and rolling back democracy.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European People’s Party (EPP), tweeted on Wednesday that the pan-European umbrella group is “concerned by numerous instances of backsliding of democracy in Armenia.”
“We call on Armenian authorities to refrain from pressuring the opposition,” he wrote without specifying any of those instances.
In a separate tweet, Tusk also said that the EPP will support the implementation of Armenia’s Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the European Union signed in 2017.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian clearly responded to Tusk when he chaired a weekly session of his cabinet the following day.
“There are bodies that told Armenia to fight against corruption, vote buying and electoral fraud for 30 years,” said Pashinian. “Now that a real fight is underway they are saying, ‘Why are you suppressing the opposition?’ Because corrupt individuals [who were in power] for 30 years are now in opposition.”
“I have the impression that they are trying to tie our feet and hands and telling us not to do anything,” he said.
A close Pashinian associate, deputy parliament speaker Alen Simonian, went further, accusing Tusk of meddling in Armenia’s internal affairs and siding with former President Serzh Sarkisian.
“I think that Mr. Tusk sees Armenia through the eyes of Serzh Sarkisian,” charged Simonian. “Eyes that are detached from reality.”
Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) is affiliated with the EPP, as are most of Europe’s major conservative and centrist parties, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. The EPP has had the biggest representation in the European Parliament for the past 20 years.
Tusk, who headed the EU’s top decision-making body from 2014-2019, voiced the criticism after a video conference with leaders of the EPP parties, including Sarkisian.
Sarkisian strongly criticized the current Armenian authorities when he addressed the conference from Yerevan. He accused them of populism, “inept” governance and undemocratic practices.
The former Armenian president also slammed the Pashinian administration when he spoke at an EPP congress in Croatia last November. He was charged with corruption two weeks later.
Sarkisian continued to reject the charges as politically motivated when he went on trial in late February. Despite the trial, he was allowed to visit Brussels and meet with Tusk and other European politicians in early March.
Sarkisian, 65, faced opposition allegations of vote rigging and corruption when ruled Armenia from 2008-2018. He resigned amid Pashinian-led mass protests sparked by his attempt to extend his decade-long rule.
Tusk criticized Yerevan one day after the Armenian parliament allowed law-enforcement authorities to arrest and prosecute Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of its largest opposition faction, on vote buying charges. Tsarukian rejects the charges as government retribution for his recent calls for Pashinian’s resignation.
Pashinian insisted on Wednesday that the criminal proceedings against the wealthy leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party are not politically motivated.