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Armenian President's 100 Days Of Progress

Can Armenia recover from the tragedy of March 1?
Can Armenia recover from the tragedy of March 1?
Serzh Sarkisian's first 100 days as president of Armenia can be summed up in the single phrase: the launch by a decisive statesman of a policy that inspires hope.

Of course, 100 days is too short a period to solve the numerous problems which the country faces, problems which require long-term and consistent work. But it is long enough to outline to both the political elite and society at large the optimum path of development, given that there is no alternative to democracy in Armenia.

At his swearing-in ceremony on April 9, President Sarkisian declared the need to tackle Armenia's problems, and he has already set about doing so. He has stressed the need for transparency in internal policy, and for effective measures to target corruption. He has tried, not only in his public pronouncements but also through the work of his team, to gradually create an atmosphere of trust and justice. Some legislative restrictions on public meetings, marches, and rallies have been lifted. A new parliamentary commission has been formed to investigate the violent clashes between police and demonstrators in Yerevan on March 1. Opposition politicians now appear more frequently on television. Tax and customs bodies have begun working more openly.

These measures are not purely cosmetic: the Armenian authorities are not trying simply to create a good impression. These 100 days showed that the Armenian authorities understand better than anybody else the problems our country faces, and that those problems have given rise to popular discontent. The Armenian government has enough willpower to implement radical changes in order to create a developed and democratic Armenia.

Armenian society has emerged from the postelection period. What is needed now is for the authorities and the opposition to join forces and combine their efforts. We need a strong Armenia, and not violent social upheaval.

President Sarkisian has affirmed that none of those arrested in connection with the March 1 violence should be sentenced simply for their political views. He appealed to the courts to be impartial and to differentiate clearly between serious criminals and those who have committed only minor infractions. The fact that many people taken into custody in the wake of the violence have been discharged and others released on bail speaks for itself. The authorities have rejected political repression in favor of developing democracy step by step.

In line with his election manifesto, Sarkisian has shown himself equally decisive and consistent in the realm of foreign policy. He has abandoned the passive, reactive foreign policy of the past decade for one that is proactive.

Vivid proof of this was his invitation to Turkish President Abdullah Gul to attend the soccer match between the Turkish and Armenian national teams in Yerevan on September 6, an initiative that demonstrates the readiness of the Republic of Armenia to establish diplomatic relations with Ankara. Sarkisian's political evolution has led him to understand that there can no longer be closed borders. Nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, building new walls will benefit no one.

Many people evaluate Sarkisian's most recent steps toward democracy as undertaken only under pressure in response to two successive Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolutions condemning the Armenian authorities' response to the Yerevan violence. But I must stress that the aim of the Armenian leadership is to develop the country by implementing Sarkisian's preelection program. It is equally important to remember that even the most democratic states would need a long time to come to terms with the kind of tragedy we experienced on March 1.

Personally, I would be very happy if the radical opposition opted for constructive cooperation and dialogue, but unfortunately, they show no signs of doing so. They have not delegated a representative to participate in the work of the ad hoc commission tasked with investigating the March 1 violence, arguing that it is incapable of delivering an impartial assessment. Zharangutiun (Heritage), the only opposition party represented in parliament, has declined the offer to chair one of parliament's standing committees.

But the Armenian leadership cannot achieve democracy and progress on its own: it takes two hands to applaud. Democracy must strengthen its positions in the field of law, by respecting the constitution. In every country, the constitution serves to reconcile the need to protect the basic freedoms of the individual with the need to maintain law and order. It means wherever one person's freedom ends, a second person's rights begin. All members of society ought to accept those inherent restrictions. It is not fortuitous that the president has repeatedly appealed for a dialogue between the authorities and society.

During the first 100 days of the Sarkisian presidency, the radicals have continued their destructive activities. They continue to disseminate inaccurate factual information and deliberately misleading assessments of the government's activities, just as they did during the run-up to the February 19 presidential election and in the weeks that followed. And they denounce as bureaucrats those of our European colleagues who hail the progress Armenia has made during President Sarkisian's first 100 day in office -- even though that progress is obvious.

Edward Sharmazanov is a National Assembly deputy from President Sarkisian's Republican Party and the party's press secretary. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL