The decision of the ELDR Bureau to hold the Spring Council meeting in Armenia sparked a good deal of debate as to how far the borders of Europe extend. No such ambivalence could be seen in the hundreds of predominantly young people we saw at an outdoor celebration of Europe Day.
This small country, a shadow of its historic past, manages to be on good terms with near neighbours Russia, Iran and Georgia. The relationship with Turkey to its east have been hostile since the deaths of more than a million Armenians in the early twentieth century, whilst more recent territorial disputes make the relationship with Azerbaijan positively poisonous. With a population of about three million, and with tens of thousands of its young people emigrating in search of opportunity, the challenges facing Armenia are enormous. On the plus side, there is a huge and collectively wealthy diaspora, which offers considerable financial support and political clout.
It may be a cliche but Armenia’s best asset is undoubtedly its people, who are open, friendly, hard-working and genuinely service orientated.
Armenians take a lively interest in their democracy, voting in large numbers. Indeed, the turnout in the recent Parliamentary elections was sufficiently large to raise questions as to the integrity of the electoral process. The OSCE election observers have concerns about this election, and we heard stories about multiple voting and intimidation.
Our sister party, the Armenian National Movement, fielded candidates as part of the Armenian National Congress, which returned seven members to the National Assembly. Their representatives told us of their belief that, in a free and fair election, they would have won many more, and are planning to lodge a complaint with the Constitutional Court.
Looking ahead, the work of ELDR in supporting our sister party as it endeavours to achieve more open and honest elections will be crucial in the run-up to the Presidential election scheduled for 2013.