YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Armenpress)–Armenia formally met the final requirement for its impending accession to the Council of Europe on December 30–by ratifying the statute of the organization tasked with promoting democracy and human rights. The Armenian parliament voted 115 to one to sign up to the Council’s founding charter–reflecting a broad multi-partisan support for the long-awaited membership.
The move–described as "historic" by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian–came just weeks before the country’s acceptance into the unofficial club of European democracies expected at the January session of its parliamentary assembly (PACE). Neighboring Azerbaijan is also likely to join the organization. Parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian said Council of Europe membership will usher Armenia in a "civilized future."We have said many times that Armenia’s are a European people that have embraced European values," he told deputies.
The enthusiasm of the parliament leaders was shared by other speakers. Shavarsh Kocharian of the opposition National Democratic Union said–"I am happy that we are entering the new millennium having adopted the Council of Europe statute."
Aghasi Arshakian of the opposition Right and Accord bloc–the only deputy to vote against the document–accused the authorities of failure to show concrete benefits that Armenia will gain with the membership. He said Yerevan’s pledge to enact a law on alternative military service and protect the rights of sexual minorities and non-traditional religious "sects" runs counter to national security and traditions.
Arshakian–known for his anti-Western views–is a leading advocate of Armenia joining the Russia-Belarus union. The deputy speaker of the National Assembly–Tigran Torosian–countered–"Concrete results depend on ourselves. If we use the opportunities stemming from the membership we will gain a lot from it."
The chairman of the Council of Europe Ministers Committee–Latvia’s foreign minister Berzins will arrive in Armenia on January 4. During a one-day visit–Berzins is expected to meet with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian–the head of the Armenian Church Catholicos Garegin II–and the chairman of the Constitutional Court–Gagik Harutunian.
Berzins will also visit the Genocide memorial in Yerevan–and a joint news conference with Oskanian will conclude the visit.