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Armenian Parties Disagree On Results Of Clinton Visit

Local democracy activists say Clinton could have done more to criticize the Armenian government for rights abuses
Local democracy activists say Clinton could have done more to criticize the Armenian government for rights abuses
YEREVAN -- Armenia's leading political forces have offered differing assessments of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports

Armenia's ruling Republican Party (HHK) touted Clinton's two-day visit, which ended July 5, as "very important." But the party's political opponents were far more skeptical about the results of her trip.

Some local pro-democracy activists, meanwhile, expressed their disappointment with Clinton's failure to publicly criticize the Armenian government's human rights record.

"The American vector is one of the most important directions of our foreign policy," said HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov. The HHK is led by Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian.

Echoing statements by Armenian government officials, Sharmazanov told RFE/RL that Clinton's visit strengthened U.S.-Armenian relations. He cited Clinton's public endorsement of Armenia's position on normalizing relations with Turkey as a key result of the trip.

But a senior representative of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) -- an opposition party highly critical of Sarkisian's U.S.-backed policy on Turkey -- downplayed Clinton's statements. Giro Manoyan suggested that they were aimed at making sure Yerevan does not rescind its signature from the Turkish-Armenian normalization protocols signed last October.

Genocide Memorial Visit

Manoyan also reiterated his party's strong criticism of Clinton's failure to describe the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide during what the U.S. Embassy in Armenia called a "private visit" to the Tsitsernakabert genocide memorial in Yerevan.

As presidential candidates, Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama described the mass killings as a genocide and pledged to reaffirm that recognition once in office. But they have both backtracked on that pledge, citing the need not to harm the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement.

Manoyan also denounced the "private visit" characterization as "offensive," saying it contradicted the fact that she laid a wreath there in her capacity as the United States' top diplomat.

Sharmazanov welcomed the wreath-laying ceremony, suggesting it showed the U.S. is "committed to democratic values and human rights." He also hailed Clinton's statements on the conflict in the Azerbaijani breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and, in particular, her strong condemnation of threats to solve it by force.

Levon Zurabian, a leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), was more cautious in that regard. "The [Karabakh-related] statements made so far suggest that no tangible results were achieved," he told RFE/RL. "It is possible, though, that there are tangible results which both sides prefer not to make public."

What is certain, according to Zurabian, is that Nagorno-Karabakh was the main focus of Clinton's weekend talks in Yerevan and Baku. He said her avoidance of any contacts with Armenian and Azerbaijani opposition leaders is an "indirect indication" that brokering an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace deal is more important to Washington than promoting human rights and democratic processes in the South Caucasian countries.

Artur Sakunts, a prominent Armenian human rights campaigner, called such a situation "worrisome." "It reinforces my belief that, unfortunately, non-public discussions on human rights are not sufficient," he told RFE/RL.

Sakunts's disappointment was shared by Levon Barseghian of the Asparez Journalists' Club. Barseghian said Clinton should have publicly demanded the release of all "political prisoners" and denounced the authorities' failure to punish those responsible for the deaths of 10 people during the March 2008 unrest in Yerevan after the presidential election.

Both Sakunts and Barseghian were among two dozen Armenian journalists and civic activists who met with Clinton at the end of her visit.