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05YEREVAN2008 2005-11-16 05:00:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Yerevan
Cable title:  

CONGRESSMAN HASTINGS'S VISIT TO ARMENIA

Tags:   PGOV PREL PHUM AJ AM 
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 YEREVAN 002008 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/CACEN

E.O. 12958; N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM AJ AM
SUBJECT: CONGRESSMAN HASTINGS'S VISIT TO ARMENIA

REF: YEREVAN 1994

Sensitive but unclassified, please protect accordingly.

SUMMARY
-------



1. (SBU) Congressman Alcee Hastings (President of the OSCE
Parliamentary Assembly) visited Armenia November 7-9 as the
country was preparing for a constitutional referendum on
November 27 and already looking ahead to parliamentary
elections in 2007 and presidential elections in 2008.
During meetings with National Assembly Speaker Arthur
Baghdasarian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, Head of the
Yerevan OSCE Office Vladimir Pryakhin, political
representatives, and civil society leaders, Hastings
emphasized the importance of free and fair elections and
made the point that the constitutional amendments
represented a positive step forward for Armenia. In his
meetings and with the press, Hastings called on Armenia to
invite OSCE observers to monitor the November 27 referendum
(reftel). Hastings also discussed the elections in
Azerbaijan, the closure of the Turkish border, Armenian-
Iranian relations, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. END
SUMMARY.

HASTINGS AND GOAM LEADERS PRAISE THE AMENDMENTS...


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2. (SBU) Parliament Speaker Baghdasarian agreed with
Hastings that, while the proposed amendments were not the
best possible, it had taken more than one year of debate to
agree to them and they had the approval of the international
community. FM Oskanian also noted that although the reforms
are not ideal, they are a major step forward in all aspects.
Oskanian remarked that he could not predict whether the
referendum would pass, however, as the number of votes
necessary for approval was relatively high, and the
opposition was united against the changes.

...WHILE CIVIL SOCIETY LEADERS CRITICIZE THE REFORMS


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3. (SBU) Armenian civil society leaders, particularly those
who supported the opposition, complained that the Kocharian
Administration was an illegitimate authority bent on
maintaining national control and international favor through
superficial reforms. Some civil leaders argued the proposed
constitutional amendments improved the current constitution,
others criticized the text as flawed, but all -- with the
exception of the Armenian Human Rights Ombudsman -- said
they believed a new constitution would not change the
Administration's authoritarian ways.



4. (SBU) Hastings, who emphasized USG support for measured
democratic reforms, said the Council of Europe's aggressive
"overnight democratization" push did not consider Armenian
political reality. He argued that opposing generally
acceptable constitutional amendments in order to spite the
authors, the Kocharian Administration, was
counterproductive. The lone GOAM official at the table,
Armenian Ombudsman Larisa Alaverdyan, avoided rhetoric
critical of the government or the constitutional amendments
and, without success, tried to focus the conversation on off-
topic local eminent domain issues.

OSCE HEAD: PUBLIC INDIFFERENCE WILL DEFEAT REFERENDUM


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5. (SBU) Head of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, Vladimir
Pryakhin, stated that although his office was doing its best
to support the proposed constitutional reforms, the
necessary number of voters would not go to the polls on
November 27. According to Pryakhin, Armenians were
indifferent to the amendments, largely due to poverty in the
country. Pryakhin noted that while the total Armenian
Government budget was less than USD 1 billion, Armenians
received more than USD 700 million in remittances, and thus
relied more on their relatives than on the government for
their well-being. According to Pryakhin, this had created
political apathy within Armenian society.



6. (SBU) Pryakhin said that, while he did not expect the
referendum to be centrally rigged, he did anticipate that
voting irregularities would occur in some regions due to the
voting culture still present in the country. Pryakhin again
cited the issue of poverty as being a major cause of this
phenomenon, pointing out that the average salary in Armenia
was just over USD 80 per month, causing citizens to be more
willing to sell their votes.

BAGHDASARIAN WANTS ARMENIA JUDGED ON ITS OWN MERITS


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7. (SBU) Parliament Speaker Baghdasarian told Hastings that
the South Caucasus should not be seen as one unit, since
Armenia could not be lumped together with neighbors
Azerbaijan and Georgia. Baghdasarian claimed that while
Armenia and Georgia were making democratic advances towards
Europe, Azerbaijan was headed towards Central Asia; when
Armenia was placed in the same category as Azerbaijan, this
decreased Armenia's incentives to make progress towards
democracy. Baghdasarian pointed to the EU's "European
Neighborhood Policy" as an example of this. (Note: The
European Union has slowed down the launch of its New
Neighborhood Policy with all three South Caucasus countries
as a result of Cyprus's objection to Azerbaijani flights to
Northern Cyprus. The EU has stated that it would like to
launch the policy with all three South Caucasus countries at
the same time. It has also stated, however, that if
Cyprus's issue with Azerbaijan was not solved by the end of
the year, the organization would go ahead and begin
relations with Armenia and Georgia. End Note.)

OSKANIAN SUPPORTS ENGAGEMENT, NOT CONFRONTATION, WITH IRAN


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8. (SBU) FM Oskanian said he supported engagement rather
than confrontation with Iran. According to Oskanian, the
Iranian President's recent statement regarding Israel was
unfortunate, but Armenia's relationship with Iran was very
good and had historically been very good. Oskanian remarked
that, due to Armenia's lack of East-West access, Iran had
gained more significance. Oskanian noted that Iran's
uranium enrichment program being referred to the Security
Council would put Armenia in an extremely difficult
situation. According to the FM, while 80 percent of
Armenia's trade went through Georgia, Iran was also an
important trade partner, and applying sanctions would have a
negative psychological impact on the population, as this
would leave Armenia with only one trade outlet.

GOAM OFFICIALS EXPRESS OPTIMISM ABOUT NAGORNO-KARABAKH


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9. (SBU) FM Oskanian expressed optimism that progress on the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict might be achieved in 2006.
Oskanian stated that four critical issues exist regarding
Nagorno-Karabakh, and Armenia and Azerbaijan had come to an
agreement on two of these issues. On the remaining two,
some understanding had been achieved, but the positions of
Armenia and Azerbaijan still differed. Oskanian stated that
if the two sides could move closer together on these issues
during the first quarter of 2006, he believed it would be
possible to achieve progress by mid-2006, which was a goal
of the Minsk Group. When asked how the Azerbaijani election
might impact the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict, Oskanian remarked that if President Aliyev were
weakened, this would in turn weaken the Azerbaijani
President's ability to compromise over Nagorno-Karabakh.



10. (SBU) During a lunch with political leaders, Ambassador
Evans argued that the first half of 2006 was a window when
progress could be made in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict. Vahan Hovhannisyan, Deputy Chairman of the
National Assembly, stated that he was not as optimistic, but
that he also saw reason for hope that progress could be made
in February of 2006. He noted that Armenia realized the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was not a zero-sum game, and that
when he was asked what Armenia would be willing to give up
for peace, "he knew the answer," even though as a
representative of the Dashnak Party he did not agree with
it. When his Azerbaijani colleagues were asked the same
question, Hovhannisyan claimed they did not have an answer.
Hovhannisyan agreed with Ambassador Evans that the sooner
the conflict was solved, the better for Armenia, especially
considering Azerbaijan's oil resources and economic growth.
He remarked that had the conflict been solved before the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was constructed, the pipeline
would have been built through Armenia.

OSKANIAN CRITICIZES THE CLOSURE OF THE TURKISH BORDER


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11. (SBU) FM Oskanian criticized Turkey for not opening its
border with Armenia, stating that in Europe there are hardly
two neighboring countries that had not had historical
disagreements or territorial claims, but that these
countries still had open borders and diplomatic relations.
Oskanian noted that he was not asking Turkey to forget the
past, but rather to open the border, establish diplomatic
relations, and then the two sides could discuss their
disagreements. Oskanian remarked that he hoped the European
Union would pressure Turkey to open the border. He also
said that he believed Turkish intellectuals were now freer
to discuss the "Armenian genocide," and that he believed
Turkish society would continue to become more open.

EVANS