Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Hrant Mikaelian, a political scientist and multidisciplinary researcher in social sciences based in Yerevan. He is also a senior researcher at the Caucasus Institute.
Emil Sanamyan, a senior research fellow at USC’s Institute of Armenian Studies specializing in politics in the Caucasus, with a special focus on Azerbaijan.
Since the cease-fire in November, the Pashinyan government’s focus has been on defining and opening borders and initiating trade and economic relations with Azerbaijan. Critics are asking why the government is not doing more in holding Azerbaijan responsible for fulfilling their ends of the deal.
After 3 months, we’re seeing Azerbaijan continue to push for gains on multiple fronts:
● It has not only not fulfilled its obligation in the “all for all” exchange of POWs; it has dubbed some of the POWs “terrorists” and claims that criminal charges will be filed against them.
● it has advanced its positions forward beyond the cease-fire line of contact.
● it imposes restrictions on the collection of the remains of Armenian soldiers from the frontlines.
● it continues to divert water resources flowing through Nakhichevan so that it doesn’t reach Syunik, etc.
What is the current situation and is there a need for the current dynamic to change?
Despite deep distrust and reservations by the Armenian people, pro-government circles continue to extol the virtues of living in peace, open borders and economic benefits with Azerbaijan and Turkey. How do we explain this disconnect?
Part of this distrust comes from the explicit and unabashed hate towards Armenians that Erdogan and Aliyev have promoted in their respective societies and in global fora. One example is the heroization of axe-murderer Ramil Safarov. Emil Sanamyan discusses his article on the USC Armenian Institute’s website this past week about Azerbaijan’s policy of promoting individuals who commit heinous crimes against Armenians.
A few days ago, six My Step MPs announced a new bill to amend the law on Mass Media. They say it aims to differentiate between professional reporters and press organizations from “unnamed sources”. Basically, they define a source unnamed if the Internet domain, or website or channel’s registered owner’s information is hidden.
This bill came around “suddenly”, there doesn’t seem to have been much, if any, discussion in parliament about it. And certainly, it doesn’t solve the issue of unidentified channels flooding the internet with material.
Is this a genuine attempt to control Fake News, or is the government feeling like it’s unable to control the post-war news narrative?
Does this bill encroach upon journalists’ ability to keep their sources anonymous? What problems are the Ruling Bloc trying to solve?
During the War in Artsakh last year, there was a lot of confusing information coming from the Armenian government and armed forces channels. They actively discouraged us from looking up enemy channels, or spreading “unverified” information. In retrospect we know that much of the official information was propaganda or fake, while many of the so-called unnamed sources had useful and correct information. How do expert sources and consumers of such information from everywhere view this bill?
The issue of media literacy and 360 information is fundamental to ANN/Groong’s worldview. Reportedly the parliamentarians have not consulted with any members of the press before advancing this bill. How will the media respond to this bill?
Is the Armenian News Network - Groong an “unnamed source” or a “conscientious and fair organization”?
The Pashinyan team seems to be gearing up for snap elections in June.
Last week, we also saw some developments in the opposition. The Homeland Salvation Movement’s leaders met, including former presidents Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan. There are agreements and disagreements inside the opposition camp.
Sargsyan just met with the Russian ambassador, while Kocharyan is visiting Moscow, to attend Systema’s board of directors meeting, but also reportedly to meet with some “Russian Elita''.
How do we view these developments on the political scene? Under what circumstances would the Russians align with the opposition and drop PM Pashinyan? Are we really going towards snap elections and is there a possibility of regime change?
The Armenian economy shrank around 7.8 or 8% last year. Currently the data show a 6.4% year-over-year inflation rate, and the Central Bank has increased the interest rate twice recently in trying to control the rising inflation. The unemployment rate is around 16%. Armenia is behind the curve in the vaccination process, so the economic and social activity won’t get back to normal until maybe the fourth quarter of this year.
The government just this past week secured additional loans. The World Bank approved a $7.4 million loan to complete hospital projects that started in 2013; and Armenia’s $750 million Eurobond issue was snapped up for an annual 3.9% rate for ten years. At a time when the West is living through zero percent interest rate years, that’s - in my opinion - a solid return for investors. It’s notable that the issue was in dollars and not Drams. It’s also notable that the government has given no concrete plan on how these funds will be spent - some of it will go to financing portions of the existing national debt.
The government is currently projecting a 3.2% growth in 2021. Is this realistic?
That concludes our program for This Week in Review episode. We hope it has helped your understanding of some of the issues from the previous week. We look forward to your feedback, and your suggestions for issues to cover in greater depth. Contact us on our website, at groong.org, or on our Facebook Page “ANN - Groong”, or in our Facebook Group “Groong - Armenian News Network”.
Special thanks to Laura Osborn for providing the music for our podcast. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channels, Like our pages and follow us on social media. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Hrant Mikaelian, Emil Sanamyan, Asbed Kotchikian, Nagorno Karabakh, Armenia, Azerbaijan, POW, Prisoners of War,
Additional: Syunik, Water, My Step, Mass Media, Homeland Salvation Movement, Serge Sargsyan, Robert Kocharyan, Russia, Moscow, RPA, Repubican Party of Armenia, Vazgen Manukyan, ARF, Dashnaktsutyun, National Debt, Interest Rates, Inflation, Trade Deficit, WOrld Bank, Loans, Eurobond,