Oskanian Says Presidential Election to Determine Armenia’s Fate

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)-Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian Wednesday emphasized the significance of next month’s presidential election for Armenia’s international reputation and expressed concern in that regard about the possibility of post-election unrest in the country.
The Armenian authorities received a major boost to their international legitimacy and democratic credentials with Western observers’ largely positive assessment of the conduct of last May’s parliamentary elections.
A proper conduct of the February 19 presidential election will be the government’s top priority this year, the Foreign Minister said.
"I think these elections will have an even bigger impact," Oskanian said of the presidential vote scheduled for February 19. "If we conduct them well, our positions will definitely strengthen in the international arena."
If Armenia is able to have a democratic presidential election, he added, the following five years will be years of progress.
"But if we hold bad elections, I can say for certain that consequences will be negative and that Armenia will lose the reputation it acquired in the past year. That will have a negative impact on our foreign policy," he added in a warning clearly addressed to his own government.
Armenian leaders have said that they will do their best to ensure that the upcoming election meets democratic standards. Opposition leaders are skeptical about such assurances, citing Armenia’s history of electoral fraud. Some of them have threatened to dispute fraudulent vote results with street protests. Oskanian seemed worried about such possibility as he stressed the need for Armenian political groups to avoid election-related violence.
"The candidate elected by people will become the country’s president. I say this first as a citizen of Armenia, who lives in this country. I would never like to see this country destabilized," Oskanian said. "Secondly, as a foreign minister, I am concerned about Armenia’s image and the efficiency of our foreign policy."
"The people must make it clear to everyone that [violence] must not be a means of solving political issues," he told a news conference. "I have the impression, based on my conversations with different people, that the issue of achieving political objectives by means of instability remains on the agenda of certain political forces."
Oskanian declined to name those forces, but called upon the media to expose such groups and condemn them.
Oskanian, meanwhile, sounded more positive about the upcoming election at a meeting later in the day with Geert-Heinrich Ahrens, head of the main international vote-monitoring mission deployed in Armenia by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. A statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry cited Oskanian as telling Ahrens that its work will be a "real affirmation of the establishment of democracy in Armenia." Ahrens said, for his part, that the mission will comprise 28 long-term and about 250 short-term observers.
During his press conference Oskanian also reflected on 2007, noting the last year has been a very positive one for Armenia, according to Oskanian. Many positive domestic developmen’s have boosted Armenia’s international image, while Armenia’s foreign policy objectives have contributed to the establishment of regional cooperation and partnership, he added.
A convergence of a number of regional and global challenges has made maneuvering in the international arena difficult for Armenia, but not impossible, he said. Oskanian pointed to the absence of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey, the tension in Georgian-Russian and American-Iranian relations, the unsolved conflicts and intensification of GUAM activity in international organizations, the unstable situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Despite an ongoing blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia’s foreign policy was very productive, he said. The government continues to do everything possible to engage in bilateral and multilateral cooperation with all of its neighbors in order to contribute to the stability of the region, while the progress in the country’s security and other issues is obvious as well, he added.
"We have successfully fulfilled issues in the country’s economic development, we have furthered mutually beneficial relations with many countries and international bodies, foreign investmen’s in the Armenian economy have grown and much work has been done to ensure uninterrupted communications and energy resources," he remarked.
Regarding the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations, Oskanian noted that although peace talks continued in 2007, some principle issues have not been agreed upon yet. He added that the document produced by the co-chairs sets serious prerequisites for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
Oskanian hopes that Azerbaijan will show political would adopt a constructive position that allows for the settlement of the conflict. He said that during 2007, Armenia had been actively participating in the talks in the framework of the "Prague process."
But Turkey and Azerbaijan continue their destructive policy of isolating Armenia from regional projects, he said, adding, that no essential progress was seen in the Armenian-Turkish relations in 2007 because Turkey continues to put forward preconditions for normalizing the bilateral relations.
Meanwhile, coming to an agreement with Azerbaijan on the Karabakh conflict settlement before the presidential elections in Armenia on February 19 does not seem likely, he said. Such an agreement, however, would be "desirable" before the conduct of the elections, he added.
Oskanian did, however, note that the two parties managed to achieve certain levels of progress in 2007. The Armenian side, he said, continues the negotiations based on the progress achieved and on "the basis of the people of Nagorno Karabakh to self-determination."
Oskanian attributed much of Armenia’s foreign and domestic success in 2007 to democratic reforms and the positive outcome of the parliamentary elections.

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