Armenian Membership in Council of Europe Imminent

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia will be accepted as a full member of the Council of Europe later this year–a senior parliamentarian leading the Armenian delegation at the latest session of the respected human rights organization announced on Tuesday.

"The matter will be solved this year," Hovannes Hovannisian–chairman of the parliament committee on foreign affairs–told reporters in Yerevan.

He and several other deputies last week attended a winter session of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in Strasbourg. The PACE chairman–Lord Russell Johnston–thinks that there are no grounds for further delaying Armenia’s membership–according to Hovannisian.

Some Armenian officials hope that Yerevan can join the organization as early as next April–drawing their optimism from two positive reports unveiled by Council experts recently. They both endorsed Armenia’s long-standing membership bid.

"Since the beginning of the accession procedure Armenia has made very considerable progress–whether it setting up a pluralistic political system–establishing the rule of law–or observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms," said a report submitted to the PACE’s political affairs committee.

Hovannisian said Armenia will have to assume a number of obligations concerning human rights–religious freedom–judicial reform and commitment to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The unresolved dispute with Azerbaijan has been a major obstacle to Armenia’s accession to the Council of Europe.

The head of the Azeri delegation at the PACE session–Ambassador Mahmud Mamedkuliev–told RFE/RL in Strasbourg last week that Baku wants Armenia and Azerbaijan be admitted to the Council of Europe simultaneously. He said that position is shared by many officials in the Council. Mamedkuliev denied that Armenia is more advanced in the accession process.

None of the crucial reports on Azerbaijan have been released yet–and monitors from the Council of Europe strongly criticized Azeri local elections late last year. By contrast–the October local polls in Armenia were described as "free and fair."

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