YEREVAN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised Armenia on Friday for developing relations with the European Union while remaining allied to Russia during her first-ever official visit to the South Caucasus country.
“Armenia is a good example of how one can simultaneously cooperate with Russia and the European Union,” she said after talks with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Merkel arrived in Yerevan as part of a regional tour four months after Pashinian-led mass protests brought down Armenia’s previous government. Pashinian’s press office quoted her as saying at the start of the talks that the “big changes” were unexpected to the German government and “positive” for Armenia.
“Our relations are very good but can deepen further,” Merkel told an ensuing joint news conference with the Armenian premier. She said Germany would specifically welcome closer commercial and cultural ties with Armenia.
Merkel also pledged to help Yerevan implement its landmark Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the EU signed last November.
Pashinian said that just like the former Armenian government his administration is committed to stepping up cooperation with the EU while remaining part of the Russian-led alliances and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in particular. The Armenian foreign policy strategy is “totally understandable” to Berlin, he said.
At his meeting with Merkel, Pashinian was reported to renew his calls for the EU to reward the new Armenian government’s ambitious reform agenda and anti-corruption efforts with greater financial assistance. Earlier this summer he criticized the EU for not rushing to do that.
Merkel said she discussed with Pashinian domestic Armenian politics and “anti-corruption issues.” But in her public remarks she said nothing about the possibility of greater EU or German aid to Yerevan.
Germany has already been Armenia’s number one EU donor. Pashinian emphasized the fact that it is also his country’s third largest trading partner. Armenians, he said, have “great respect for Germany, the German people and Angela Merkel personally.”
The German leader, who also met with President Armen Sarkissian on Friday, was noncommittal on the lifting of the EU’s visa requirements for Armenian nationals sought by both the current and former authorities in Yerevan. She noted that she spoke with Pashinian about scores of Armenians seeking asylum in Germany. “We cooperate in this area quite well but more can be done,” she said without elaborating.
Chancellor Merkel also remarked on her Genocide memorial visit. Choosing her words carefully, she came a step closer but stopped short of using the word Genocide.
Merkel said she had visited the Tsitsernakaberd memorial “in the spirit of the Bundestag 2016 resolution. We understand what atrocities were committed against countless Armenians,” Merkel said. “This suffering should not and will not be forgotten.”
Saying it was an “important step in the culture of remembrance” but clarified that the language used was a political, not a legal classification.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was also on the agenda of the talks, with both leaders calling for its peaceful resolution. Merkel will proceed to Baku on Saturday for talks with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.