Helsinki Commission in Congress Holds Hearings on Post-Election Situation in Armenia; Presidential Aide Testifies On Current Developments

Armenia’s Presidential Advisor Vigen Sargsyan Wednesday told Horizon Television, in an exclusive interview, that Armenian authorities are ready to learn lessons from recent developmen’s in Armenia and forge new political policies.
Sargsyan represeneted the Armeniaian government at a hearing Thursday organized by the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe–the so-called Helsinki Commission–which focused on the aftermath of Armenia’s presidential elections.
During the interview with Horizon TV’s Alisa Petrossian, Sargsyan also emphasized that the lessons learned from the post-election unrest should serve as a lesson for each Armenian around the world to come together and unite behind the Republic of Armenia, since unfriendly nations–enemies–have used the unrest to threaten Armenia’s national security and hinder its image internationally.

Below is Sargsyan’s presentation at the hearing.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman

I recall, with great warmth and respect, my first meeting with you 11 years ago, in my capacity as the secretary to the Armenian national delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, when you challenged the OSCE to assume a greater role in advancing democracy among the newly independent states. You were on the mark then, and your words still hold great meaning for all of us to this very day.
I am happy to be here with you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank you and Co-Chairman Cardin on behalf of the President and all the people of Armenia for the interest of this Commission in democracy in Armenia. It is important for those of us in the Armenian government who, on daily basis are committed to building a sustainable democracy to know that we are not alone.
I am here because the people of Armenia believe that this great nation across the Atlantic is a friend. Armenia’s around the world remain deeply grateful to the US Congress and the American people for more than a century of friendship, dating from the time of the Armenian Genocide, and into the years since the rebirth of our independence. That friendship is based on a solid foundation of shared values and interests.
I am pleased to be joined by Secretary Metthew Bryza-a long time friend, who has distinguished himself as a thoughtful and constructive partner in the development of deeper and more robust ties between our countries. I am also pleased to be here with Arman Grigorian, who reflects a deeply held set of views and can speak eloquently on behalf of his political party’s perspectives.
Mr. Chairman, At the heart, the challenges we are confronted with today have less to do with the conduct or even the outcome of the February 19th elections-which, while imperfect, reflected the will of the Armenian electorate-and more to do with efforts by an element of the opposition which, having lost at the ballot box, sought to challenge this outcome through illegal and ultimately extra-constitutional means.
The Armenian government holds a solemn responsibility to safeguard the full range of democratic rights of each of our nation’s citizens, and, in equal measure, bears the burden of scrupulously protecting minority rights, which are the cornerstone of any democracy. But votes count and it is a fundamental right of an electoral majority to have its will respected. Our constitution does provide for legal challenges to electoral outcomes, which, once exhausted, must give way to the work of governance. Now that the election has ended, our President is, as he should be, the President of all his fellow citizens.
In the highly charged environment following the February 19th vote, the use of force by the police, a decision taken as a last resort, resulted in outcomes that all sides deeply regret. A state of emergency, despite its justifications, cannot be considered "business as usual" for an OSCE member-state.
In my remarks today, I will seek to: 1. Place recent events in the context of the steady progress in Armenia’s democratic development; 2. To assure you that reconciliation efforts are under way, and 3. The Government of Armenia is committed to move forward in a constructive, participatory and inclusive manner.
There are some key steps that we are already taking in this direction. We are, notably, addressing the Law on Rallies. In his inaugural address, President Sarkisian devoted a great deal of attention to this issue. As a matter of fact, as recently as yesterday we had extensive consultations with the Council of Europe Venice Commission. If experts, upon their review, find that the amended version of the Law on Rallies falls short of Armenia’s treaty obligations, it will be immediately reconsidered.
Mr. Chairman, the Prosecutor General, when he learnt that I was leaving for this hearing, asked me to assure the distinguished Commission, that he takes extremely seriously his responsibility and duty in this highly sensitive situation. Armenia, as a member of the Council of Europe, is under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and most of the cases related to this situation are likely to end up in the ECHR. He told me he will do everything in his power not to become the Prosecutor General who would be recognized by that distinguished Court as the one who was anything less than scrupulously fair in defending the rights of his compatriots to express their political views. He also knows that there has been looting, riots, and private and public vehicles, including ambulances have been set on fire. It seems the evidence points to the fact that these actions were orchestrated. It is his duty to make sure that justice is done and that those who were involved in criminal activities are held accountable.
We do not think, however, that the legal investigations alone are sufficient, because the questions that concern our society are far wider. They have to do with a wider context of our democratic tradition. Our people want to know how we might have responded more constructively. To answer that question we plan to hold a non-partisan political inquiry into this situation parallel to the legal one. It probably will take the form of an ad hoc parliamentary commission. However, since Ter-Petrosian’s constituency is not represented in the Parliament we may create a wider commission. We hope and expect that this effort will be supported by international expertise and knowledge. Our Government has formally asked the OSCE and the UN to provide experts who can help in assessing the videotaped material and ballistic experts who could look into the causes of the deaths of the victims. We would also appreciate a wider methodological advice.
Now, to do all this effectively there is a need for a dialogue in society. And that is what the newly elected President is seeking to bring about. Since February 26, in his public remarks and through internal political channels, he is communicating a message of sincere dialogue to the opposition and most of the opposition groups have responded responsibly to this offer. Four out of five parliamentary factions have joined in a coalition effort to help move Armenia forward.
Now, sadly, part of the opposition, which is mobilized by Ter-Petrosyan, rejects this offer. Someone who in his Presidential tenure labeled his own opposition "fascists;" in whose term in office banned the country’s most traditional and historic political party, who closed most of the opposition media, held three year protracted trials of his key political opponents, that same person is now rejected an offer of a dialogue. He, whose election record has been by far worse than that of the most recent elections, is today challenging the legitimacy of President Sarkisian.
He first claimed that he had won before voting day and if the result in the ballot box was different, he said, it meant that the elections were rigged. Before voting even started he announced a post-electoral "victory" or "protest" rally. At that rally he claimed he had 65 percent of votes, and said he will not leave the Opera Square until he is taken by the people to the Presidential Palace. He started to promulgate presidential orders, and tried to drag the military forces, the army into the political battle.. When OSCE IOM said elections were "mostly in line with the standards" he said they are na?ve. When these observers, having carefully studied the irregularities, reaffirmed their findings, he said "they are bribed." He went as far as to claim that he has seen the paychecks and that the head of the mission was paid 20,000 euros for the positive assessment. Then he said that if the Constitutional Court does not rule in his favor-it means the Court is corrupt. 7 out of 9 justices in that court were appointed by him during his presidential tenure.
Sir, Armenia needs and the Armenian government encourages a strong opposition. We need an opposition, which will hold our government accountable and represent a true and constructive alternative for Armenia’s voters. Not one that polarizes for the sake of polarization, or that resorts to threats, violence, and extra-constitutional means. While we realize that heavy burdens rest on the government, our opposition too must realize that it is irresponsible to provoke domestic crises in the flawed and unrealistic hope that the international community will simply and automatically side with it because Armenia is a transitional democracy in which those without power are the holders of all virtue and the true keepers of democracy.
It was after President Ter-Petrosian’s resignation in 1988 that Armenia met the Council of Europe’s standards, dramatically increased its involvement with NATO, contributing its share to international peace and security. We are today ranked 28th among nations of the world for liberalism of our economy. It was after his rule that banned political parties were reopened and political prisoners released. It was after him that local self-administration was empowered and schools were put under elected governing councils.
Mr. Chairman, unlike parliamentary elections the winner of presidential elections takes it all. Ter-Petrosian has opted not to participate in the parliamentary elections and lost the Presidential ones. And still, the new President is ready to work with the political constituency mobilized by Ter-Petrosian. But, to be effective, this work has to begin without preconditions, without blackmail, and without personal attacks. It should, above all, be an effort of two statesmen concerned about the future of their nation.

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