PACE Head Presses For Political Reforms In Armenia

Irina Hovannisian, Karine Kalantarian


Armenia — Mevlut Cavusoglu, president of the Council of Europe
Parliamentary Assembly, at a news conference in Yerevan, 13 May 2010.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the president of the Council of Europe’s
Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), urged the Armenian authorities to hold
democratic elections and press ahead with other political reforms at
the end of a high-profile visit to Yerevan on Thursday.

The Turkish politician also dismissed Armenian concerns about his
efforts to have the Strasbourg-based body again discuss and pass
judgment on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Cavusoglu met with President Serzh Sarkisian, leaders of Armenia’s
leading political forces as well as local civil society representatives
during the two-day trip. He said political reforms promised by the
Armenian authorities and sought by the PACE were the main focus of
the talks.

Speaking at a concluding news conference in Yerevan, Cavusoglu singled
out the need to end Armenia’s culture of electoral fraud "It is very
important that the next elections that will be held in Armenia in 2012
meet the highest European standards," he said. "This will show your
citizens and us that Armenia has turned a dark page of its recent past
and is determined to move forward in its democratic transformation."

Cavusoglu said this as well as a reform of Armenia’s judicial and
law-enforcement systems would address the political fallout from the
2008 post-election strife in Yerevan and prevent a repeat of such
dramatic events.

Such reforms have also been recommended by the PACE’s Monitoring
Committee and an Armenian parliamentary body that investigated the 2008
deadly unrest. David Harutiunian, a senior pro-government lawmaker
heading the Armenian delegation at the PACE, presented a tentative
plan of relevant government measures to the committee in March.

Cavusoglu told journalists that he heard "some very encouraging
responses from Mr. Harutiunian" in Yerevan. "His committee will submit
a report to the [Armenian] National Assembly and this will be a good
opportunity for your parliament to strengthen its vital function of
parliamentary control," he said.

"We are now expecting that the authorities will provide to the
[Parliamentary] Assembly with a detailed list of all the reforms
… as well as specific deadlines," he added.

The PACE head went on to criticize the Armenian authorities for their
refusal to free all opposition members arrested following the February
2008 presidential election. He said he specifically raised with them
the case of Nikol Pashinian, an opposition leader and newspaper editor
who was sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this year.

Armenia — Armenian President Serzh Sarkissian meets PACE President
Mevlut Cavusoglu, Yerevan, 12May2010

Cavusoglu also deplored the authorities’ failure to prosecute anyone in
connection with the deaths of ten people in the post-election vicious
clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition leader
Levon Ter-Petrosian. "It is unacceptable that nobody has been held
responsible in relation to the ten deaths that occurred during the
March 2008 events," he said. "Public confidence will not be restored
until individual justice is done."

Cavusoglu held what he described as a "very emotional meeting" with
close relatives of most of the unrest victims earlier on Thursday.

Some of the participants told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that they
expressed their anger with what they see as a Council of Europe
reluctance to bring the Sarkisian administration to task over the
unrest deaths.

The Council of Europe and its legislative arm in particular were also
strongly criticized by top representatives of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian
National Congress (HAK) who met the PACE president on Wednesday.

Speaking to RFE/RL after the meeting, one of them, Levon Zurabian,
accused the PACE of turning a blind eye to its own resolutions that
demanded a reversal of the Armenian government’s 2008 crackdown on
the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition.

Both the HAK and other major Armenian political forces also expressed
serious concern about Cavusoglu’s intention to revive and lead the work
of a PACE subcommittee tasked with facilitating a peaceful resolution
of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They claim that the ad hoc body can
not be impartial because his country, Turkey, continues to lend strong
and unconditional support to Azerbaijan in the conflict. They cite
pro-Azerbaijani statements made by Cavusoglu before he was elected
PACE president in January.

The issue apparently sparked tense exchanges between Cavusoglu and
representatives of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner
in Sarkisian’s governing coalition, and the opposition Zharangutyun
(Heritage) party. Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK lawmaker, called his
Karabakh-related intentions "unacceptable."

"I said that since he represents Turkey’s ruling Justice
and Development Party, which has been extremely biased on the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during all these years, we are not confident,
with all due respect for Mr. Cavusoglu, that [the subcommittee]
will not be biased," Zohrabian told RFE/RL. She said the Turkish
parliamentarian was "very offended" by her arguments.

Stepan Safarian, a Zharangutyun leader, said he and his party
colleagues conveyed the same message to Cavusoglu. The latter responded
by accusing them of "national discrimination," Safarian told RFE/RL.

The HAK representatives also voiced strong opposition to any PACE
involvement in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by the
United States, Russia and France under the OSCE aegis. "We consider the
existing format the most optimal one, and any alternative discussion
would only distract the conflicting parties from negotiations and
enable them to engage in propaganda," said Zurabian.

Whether President Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia
(HHK) agree with this view was not immediately clear. An official
press release on Sarkisian’s Wednesday meeting with Cavusoglu made
no mention of Karabakh.

Speaking at the news conference, Cavusoglu insisted that the decision
to resume discussions on the conflict was made by the PACE leaders
months before he was elected to run the assembly. He also argued that
the subcommittee in question was formed in 2005 in accordance with
a PACE resolution on Karabakh.

"All the member countries of the Assembly have to abide by the Assembly
resolutions," Cavusoglu said. "But we are also pragmatic.

Especially when there are different opinions on an issue." He added
that he will take the Armenian concerns into account even if he does
not agree with them.

Cavusoglu was also unrepentant about his decision not to visit the
Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan, which led another major party,
the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), to cancel
a planned meeting with him. "I respect your opinions, but everybody
has to respect my decision," he said.

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