International Crisis Group have released a new policy briefing, which is available as a pdf document here. Below, I’m posting, without further comments, the media release sent out on this occasion:
Yerevan/Tbilisi/Brussels, 8 April 2008: As Armenia inaugurates a president tomorrow amid its worst political crisis this century, the international community must press it to defuse tensions and release political prisoners to ensure stability and the environment to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan.
Armenia: Picking up the Pieces,* the latest policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the presidential elections of 19 February, the subsequent crackdown on the opposition and the state of emergency, as well as underlying problems with the country’s course. Serzh Sarkisian, the current prime minister and president-elect, is President Robert Kocharian’s hand-picked successor, but questions about his election and its violent aftermath will undermine his authority. The vote was marred by serious irregularities, and the excessive force and wide arrests by the authorities have caused a deep rift in society.
“Armenia’s democracy has in most respects been in retreat for over a decade, with flawed elections, concentration of power in the hands of the executive and an army and security services which enjoy virtual impunity”, says Magdalena Frichova, Crisis Group’s Caucasus Project Director. “These latest events further worsen a situation that has been deteriorating for far too long”.
On 1 March, police and security troops broke up a peaceful demonstration in Yerevan’s Liberty Square against the announced official result of the presidential election. Clashes with demonstrators intensified throughout the day, and the violence left seven civilians and one police officer dead. Outgoing President Kocharian reacted by declaring a sweeping twenty-day state of emergency, which suspended many basic civil rights. Over 100 opposition figures were arrested. Though the state of emergency was officially lifted on 21 March, a new law places strict control on political demonstrations.
The Sarkisisan administration must begin by urgently seeking credible dialogue with the opposition, releasing prisoners detained on political grounds, stopping arrests and harassment of the opposition and lifting all measures limiting freedom of assembly and expression. But it also needs to address the root causes of the current political stability.
European governments and institutions, the U.S. and other actors with leverage over Armenia need to say that cooperation will be more difficult unless an independent investigation into the post-election violence is conducted, and meaningful measures are taken to reconcile the resulting divisions in society and return the country to the path of democratic reform. Unless prompt steps are taken to address the crisis, the U.S. and EU should suspend foreign aid and put on hold negotiations on further and closer cooperation.
“If the new presidency takes the right course, the EU and the U.S. can help foster reconciliation and deeper institutional reform”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “But they also need to call on Armenia to remain a democratic state, with basic human rights protected and a functional opposition that does not live in fear”.