EDITORIAL: HOSTILITY AND CONDESCENSION FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE
AZG Armenian Daily
The following editorial appeared in the June 28 edition of the Armenian
Reporter, which is an English-language weekly newspaper distributed
across the United States. The chief editor, Vincent Lima, is based
On Wednesday, June 25, David Kramer, the U.S. assistant secretary of
state for democracy, human rights, and labor, held a press conference
at the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan. In his opening statement and in his
responses to reporters’ questions, Mr. Kramer exhibited a degree of
hostility and condescension toward the Armenian state that reflected
poorly on the United States.
Mr. Kramer prefaced his attacks with the observation that "the United
States and Armenia have very good, strong ties. We are friends,
and friends speak candidly with each other."
He then proceeded to deliver a far-from-friendly and far-from-balanced
discourse with advice for the government and no one else.
Freedom of media and assembly
Noting a downward trend in Armenia’s democratic development in
February and March, Mr. Kramer recalled first that the United States
"strongly recommended that the government restore all freedoms of
assembly and the media." He did not acknowledge, however, that the
Armenian government has already done so.
On March 1, then-President Robert Kocharian had invoked his
constitutional powers to declare a state of emergency and had put in
place restrictions on the media and the freedom of assembly. He lifted
the restrictions on the media in part in mid-March and in full upon
the expiration of the state of emergency on March 20. As before, the
whole gamut of voices can be heard in print and electronic media. And
there is a greater diversity of voices on television today than there
was before the elections.
Restrictions on the freedom of assembly were written into law
in mid-March. But the law has since been amended along the lines
recommended by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. The
City of Yerevan and the Police made a set of hard-to-understand
decisions initially to ban an antigovernment demonstration scheduled
for June 20, but police relented at the appointed time and 15,000
people gathered peacefully.
Rather than noting this progress, Mr. Kramer moved the goalpost. He
said he wanted to see the television station A1+ back on the air. (This
television station lost its broadcast frequency back in 2002. Public
Television offered at the time to carry A1+’s decidedly antigovernment
news programming daily, but the owner declined. With a finite number
of TV frequencies available, and all of them taken, there can be
no question now of depriving a station of its seven-year license in
favor of A1+. And the United States is not the competent authority to
determine which businesses are best qualified – in terms of capital,
talent, their business plan, and so on – to win the next tender.)
A friendly representative of a friendly nation might have acknowledged
that Armenia had in fact restored freedoms of assembly and media and
welcomed the fact; one way to build on this progress, he might have
added, would be for the government to should ensure that the next
time television frequencies are up for licensing, the process is
transparent and free of political interference.
A credible investigation
Mr. Kramer reiterated the call for the "launch of a serious, credible
investigation of the events of March 1." An investigation has, of
course, been launched. Does Mr. Kramer believe it has the potential
to be the kind of serious and credible investigation we’d all like to
see? Hard to say, since he ignored it and made his own recommendation
instead: model the commission after the 9/11 Commission, he said,
in which notwithstanding a great deal of mutual distrust, the two
parties were represented in equal numbers. (He did not mean the United
States and Al Qaeda but the two major U.S. political parties.)
Well, it so happens that Armenia’s parliamentary parties are entitled
to equal numbers of seats on the commission that was formed last
week. That means the opposition Heritage Party with 7 members of
parliament was offered two seats and the ruling Republican Party with
over 60 members was also offered two seats. Non^_parliamentary groups
have also been offered nonvoting seats.
Mr. Kramer reiterated the call for the "release of those detained
for expressing their political views." Asked by the daily Hayots
Ashkharh whether he had studied the criminal cases pending against
the individuals detained in connection with the events of March 1,
Mr. Kramer said he had not but was inclined to believe the word
of U.S. Embassy staff over any documents assembled by Armenian
investigators. It is proper that State Department policy makers should
trust the professionals who are their subordinates; it is not proper
for them to cast aspersions on the professionals who staff Armenia’s
law enforcement bodies. It’s a question of respect.
As for the substance of the issue, this page too has raised questions
and concerns about the criminal investigation into the events of March
1. While there is clearly a case to be made that Levon Ter-Petrossian
and his team sought to come to power by bringing about a collapse of
the state apparatus (he was calling for and counting on defections),
charges that an armed insurrection was in the works have yet to be
substantiated. In addition, the fact that no one has yet been charged
in connection with the deaths of 10 individuals is cause for concern.
Asked by RFE/RL about the U.S. attitude toward the new Armenian
administration, Mr. Kramer outdid himself: Robert Kocharian is no
longer the president, he observed, and U.S. officials deal with the
new occupant of the presidential office as the president.
We expect the United States to encourage Armenia in a series of
positive ways to help Armenia become the democratic state it aspires
to be. As people who care deeply about Armenia and its people,
we want to see the U.S. government continue to monitor democratic
developments in Armenia with care. Our diplomats – and indeed the
assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor –
must speak out when they see problems. By the same token, they must
also recognize progress; they must likewise recognize that all elements
of society have an obligation to play a constructive role.
The Bush administration and the State Department should reexamine
their approach to Armenia – lest their continued posturing serve
further to destabilize Armenia and Armenia’s efforts to move forward.
As we move closer to the presidential and congressional elections in
the United States and meet with elected officials and candidates for
office, we need to encourage the United States to take a constructive,
balanced, and informed approach to supporting Armenia’s transition.