By Emil Danielyan
A senior U.S. administration official said over the weekend that Armenia is doing a “good job on democracy” and denied suggesting earlier that it is lagging behind neighboring Azerbaijan in terms of political reform. Matthew Bryza, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, indicated at the same time that Yerevan should move faster in democratizing the country’s political system.
“We care about Armenia,” he told RFE/RL. “Armenia is our friend, and our friends are better off when democracy is moving forward. I think Armenia is moving in a good direction.”
In a late June interview with RFE/RL, Bryza commented on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev’s April visit to Washington and was asked whether the White House could extend a similar invitation to President Robert Kocharian. “We obviously don’t look at balancing presidential meetings like that, but there’s no reason not to want President Kocharian to come to Washington,” he said. “I just hope we can see a similar series of positive steps on democratic reform in Armenia as we hope we are starting to see in Azerbaijan,” he said.
President George W. Bush’s decision to receive Aliev at the White House was questioned by U.S. and other Western human rights organizations. They consider Baku’s human rights and democracy records to be even worse than Yerevan’s.
“People here misinterpreted that statement,” Bryza insisted in Yerevan on Saturday. He said he had only sought to highlight what Washington regards as a “positive trend” in Azerbaijan.
“It’s not possible in any accurate or meaningful way to compare the level of progress on democracy in Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he added. “They are two different countries, different societies at different stages of development. Each of them has pluses, each of them has minuses.”
Bryza argued that unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia is eligible for multimillion-dollar U.S. assistance under the Bush administration’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program which is supposed to reward political and economic reforms around the world. “We haven’t done that for Azerbaijan,” he said. “Azerbaijan hasn’t met the [eligibility] criteria as compiled by Freedom House and the World Bank.”
Earlier this year, a U.S. government agency administering the MCA committed itself to releasing $235.6 million worth of aid to the Armenian authorities, while demanding “corrective steps” that would demonstrate their commitment to human rights record and free elections. In a May 15 letter to President Robert Kocharian, the agency’s chief executive, John Danilovich, warned that a “continued negative trend in Armenia’s policy performance would endanger the continuation of the recently signed [MCA] Compact.”
Bryza likewise said that the release of the aid package will be at risk if the World Bank and Freedom House conclude that “progress on democracy has stalled.” “We certainly hope that Armenia will do enough on democracy not only to stick with the Millennium Challenge Account program but because we care about democracy in Armenia,” he said.