YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party claimed on Monday that the country became a more democratic state and emerged as a key regional player thanks to its rapprochement with Turkey in the course of this year.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the chief party spokesman, singled out the Sarkisian administration’s handling of the May municipal elections in Yerevan, saying that they were the cleanest in the country’s history.
“I am far from thinking that the May 31 elections of the Yerevan council were ideal,” he told a news conference. “But we can at least note that these elections were the most transparent and open and that all candidates had equal opportunities.
“And this once again testifies to the fact that democratic values have no alternative in our country and that the democratic path is more desirable for the ruling party.”
The claim reflects Sarkisian’s public assessment of the election, official results of which gave a landslide victory to the Republicans and allowed it to easily re-install Gagik Beglarian, a key presidential ally, as Yerevan mayor. The Levon Ter-Petrosian-led Armenian National Congress alleged widespread fraud and refused to take up its 13 seats in the 65-member city council in protest against what has been called the “ugliest” election in Armenia’s history.
Western reaction to the polls was just as contradictory. While observers from the Council of Europe described them as largely democratic, the U.S. State Department slammed “widespread fraud and intimidation” in the voting process. U.S. officials said that was a key reason why Washington cut a significant portion of additional economic assistance to Armenia promised under its Millennium Challenge Account program.
Sharmazanov on Monday also strongly defended the Sarkisian administration’s conciliatory policy on Turkey that has been welcomed in the West but criticized by the majority of Armenians. “Armenia has presented itself to the world as one of the regional leaders, a country that sets the agenda in the region,” he said. “Today the ball is in Turkey’s court and they should take steps.”
The Republican spokesman referred to the ratification by Turkey’s parliament of the two protocols on the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations that were signed in Zurich in October. Turkish leaders have made that conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan. Official Yerevan has responded by threatening to walk away from the agreements.
“The whole world must understand one thing: this process is needed not only by Armenia,” said Sharmazanov. “We don’t need to normalize relations with Turkey at any cost. All we need is to establish relations without preconditions.”
Sarkisian’s critics say he has already accepted Turkish preconditions by agreeing to recognize Armenia’s existing border with Turkey and form a joint commission of historians that would call into question the veracity of the Armenian Genocide. They also claim that the rapprochement has given Ankara a say in the Karabakh peace process and left the Armenian side under international pressure to make more concessions to Azerbaijan.