YEREVAN –The scandal around the European Council Co-Rapporteur on Armenia, John Prescott, continues to develop among the Armenian media. Early on Wednesday, the Press cornered the EC official in the Marriott lobby for an interview. However, he refused to give any comment about his stance on political prisoners or other issues in Armenia. One of the reporters, Gagik Shamshayan, managed to discreetly capture a quick photo of Prescott touching himself, which has now been perceived as a political message to the authorities.
Since the incident on Wednesday, this scratching has been widely covered in the Armenian media and labeled as the “harshest message by an EC official to Armenia since the 1620 PACE Resolution». Despite the general perception of this act as a «clear-cut strong message», there have been numerous interpretations and opinions regarding its intended purpose.
Opposition groups claim the action to be a negative tip to the incumbent regime and expect criticism of the authorities in the next PACE session. The radical opposition links the act to the political prisoner issue and expects more support in inducing the incumbents to release the alleged dissidents. “This was an obvious slap in the face towards the regime and as a result of this message, we expect our government to act immediately and release all political prisoners» explains ANC Coordinator Levon Zurabyan. « We have close-up footage of the scratching, and its aggressive intention towards the regime is very evident» continued Zurabyan.
The opposite view has been supported by the ruling Republican Party. Party spokesman Sharmazanov shared his party’s position with ArmCom: «Any speculations on the ball-scratching are ridiculous. See Sergey, the opposition is getting cheap dividends from the European politician’s humble gesture. If anything, it can only signify governmental support. In fact, if you look closely at the footage, it is more of a swift stroking rather than scratching, which clearly indicates encouragement in supporting our state policies.”
In addition to the multiple interpretations on both sides, there are also more balanced opinions on the subject. Major Armenian political analyst Richard Giragosian discards both views as “biased” and “groundless”. He states, «There was neither support nor criticism in Prescott’s body language. Look Sergey, as a matter of fact, Prescott simply reiterated Europe’s official stance on Armenia. What he did was a classic European ball-upholding trick or ‘Brussels-duck’ which is often used by European politicians to encourage a dialogue without interfering with the status-quo.»
“Furthermore, what really worries me, and I don’t know why the media hasn’t covered this, is how he scratched his buttocks at the end of the meeting. Now, this was a clear message on the Armenia-Turkey border issue. It illustrated, in diplomatic language, precisely where Europe perceives the process to be right now,” added Giragosian.
The European statesman has not yet provided comments on his political gesture, but experts believe there may be more mixed political signals from Europe in the near future. Some of the alleged consequences of the scratch also relate to the economy. The Ministry of Economy fears the message may mean that the EC will cut down assistance funds or place restrictions on technical support.
As Armenian media outlets continue to pay close attention to European officials’ body language and multifold messages, ArmCom will maintain comprehensive coverage of the situation and will spread the word on all further scratchings and strokings of European officials in Armenia.
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