By Ruzanna Stepanian and Emil Danielyan
Germany’s ambassador to Armenia, Hans-Wulf Bartels, subjected on Thursday to strong criticism the Armenian authorities’ crackdown on the opposition, saying that it would be impossible in established European democracies.
“Human rights are violated, journalists are beaten and people are unable to move freely and express their views freely in Armenia,” Bartels told RFE/RL in an interview. “It is disheartening to see all of this is happening in a country which is a member of the Council of Europe.”
“I can say for certain that the violence which took place in Armenia would be impossible in Germany,” he said, referring to the violent dispersal of a peaceful opposition demonstration near President Robert Kocharian’s in the early hours of Tuesday. “It’s good that there were no human casualties.”
Bartels specifically condemned the brief arrests of several opposition lawmakers and the beating by police officers of Armenian journalists covering the demonstration.
Bartels, who also represents the current Irish presidency of the European Union, revealed that he and the Yerevan-based ambassadors of other major EU states met with Kocharian on Wednesday to discuss the political crisis in the country. He said both sides agreed not to publicize any details of their conversation.
The fact of the meeting was not made public by the presidential office. The European diplomats already met Kocharian last week before a series of opposition rallies in Yerevan. Bartels told RFE/RL afterwards that the EU expects the authorities to display “prudence” in dealing with the street protests.
The EU itself has not yet officially reacted to the dramatic events in Armenia, unlike the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United States. They all cautiously criticized the crackdown. “The police action in the very early morning of 13 April aimed to forcefully disperse the citizens and journalists gathered in front of the National Assembly is of serious concern to us,” the head of the OSCE in Yerevan, Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, said in a statement Thursday.
The German envoy joined U.S. calls for a “dialogue” between the two rival camps, but admitted that chances of a compromise agreement between them are slim. “I can consider the situation a deadlock because neither the opposition nor the government are finding common ground.”
Meanwhile, Armenia’s closest foreign ally, Russia, has stopped short of explicitly taking sides in the dispute. Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed it in a phone call with Kocharian on Wednesday. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement said vaguely that Putin “expressed his certainty that Armenia’s leadership will be able to use a substantial saved-up potential of democratic reforms to uphold stability and the rule of law.” Kocharian’s press service issued no statements regarding the conversation.
A leading Moscow daily, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta,” quoted on Wednesday an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official as saying the Armenian leadership is spreading false rumors that the crackdown was sanctioned by the Kremlin. “It is not the first time that Kocharian is appealing to Moscow for his aims,” a retired top Russian army general, Leonid Ivashov, told the paper.
Russian media also cited Andranik Migranian, a prominent Armenian-born political analyst, as saying that it would be “very foolish” for Moscow to openly back Kocharian or his opponents. “No matter who holds power [in Yerevan] after the current crisis, Russian-Armenian relations are unlikely to change,” Migranian said.