Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This show was recorded on Monday, July 11, 2022.
Here are the major topics we’ll touch on today:
● Developments in Regional Geopolitics
● Watch your Internets
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.
Benyamin Poghosyan, who is the Chairman of the Yerevan based think tank Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies,
Hello and welcome gentlemen!
The last two weeks were busy in terms of regional geopolitical news, starting from Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations, to negotiations with Ankara, and as well as increased diplomatic activity from Iran.
Over the past two weeks relations with Azerbaijan continued to be strained amidst vague news of developments here and there.
First, there were reports by Izvestia, a Russian newspaper, reported that with Russian support Armenia and Azerbaijan had reached agreement on the road connecting Azerbaijan proper with Nakhijevan. Mher Grigoryan, Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister said that they were “able to bring the positions of Yerevan and Baku closer on many issues, including border customs control”, without providing much detail. On July 7, the Azerbaijani foreign minister however said that there is no progress in peace talks with Armenia & rejected Pashinyan’s offer of “mirrored withdrawal” of forces from the border regions.
Meanwhile, there were reports of shootings in the village of Khachik earlier in the week and the village of Yelpin later in the week, both on the Western border of Armenia. The Armenian side mostly downplayed and manipulated the news related to incidents. Acknowledgment of the shootings happened only after media reports on the issue, while local government officials such as the mayor of Yelpin downplayed the incident saying that the Yelpin village is not observable to the enemy and claimed that the Azeri bullet pierced a civilian car by accident.
● What do we know about the nature of the agreements between Armenia and Azerbaijan?
● What is the Azerbaijani experts’ reaction to this news?
● Do we know what Baku wants that Armenia is not giving?
Last week, Armenia and Turkey announced “progress” in their normalization talks, conspicuously in lockstep with the Azerbaijan announcement. Specifically, the two country representatives announced that they will work on allowing citizens of third countries to cross the Armenian-Turkish border. They also announced an agreement to begin direct cargo flights.
To top off the “fanfare”, today on Monday July 11 Erdogan and Pashinyan had a telephone conversation, congratulating each other on Kurban Bayram and the upcoming Vardevar holiday which is almost 2 weeks away. The tweet by Pashinyan reiterated that the sides intend to expedite the implementation of agreements reached so far.
Just a note, 24 hours prior to this announcement, Erdogan (who loves symbolism) had tweeted a picture of the Holy Apostles Church in Kars which had been converted into a mosque, wishing his followers a “happy Friday”.:
● This is being emphasized by both governments at a high level (notwithstanding Erdogan’s tweet), but is it really a breakthrough? How significant is this development?
○ What does “third countries” mean in relation to Azerbaijan?
○ How about migrants from Syria for instance? We know that many European countries struggle with migrants from Syria. Could we also have a similar problem?
At the same time as talking up the so-called “achievements” reached with Pashinyan, Turkey’s foreign ministry also criticized the Armenian opposition, calling them “extremist groups on the streets of Armenia” who act as an obstacle to the normalization process. The word “extremist” has also been used by the ruling Civil Contract to describe the Armenian opposition. Some would call this meddling in the internal affairs of Armenia!
● To whom are these kinds of statements directed? Is it the Armenian opposition? International organizations? Western governments?
In the past month we’ve seen Iran’s diplomacy step up. Their foreign minister has visited Turkey, Syria, Azerbaijan, and more meetings are planned in bilateral or trilateral format. Iran’s national security chief, Ali Shamkhani visited Yerevan for high level meetings last week. Multiple statements were made about Iran’s formerly stated redline about violating Armenia’s territorial integrity, referring to the Syunik region.
Let’s put this in context of meetings between Aliyev and Iran’s president Raisi, as well as Aliyev and Putin, in Ashgabad, Turkmenistan, where the Caspian littoral states held a summit.
● Why did Shamkhani loudly reiterate Iran’s solid stance on Armenia’s territorial integrity? Who was his intended audience, and why now?
● How is Iran securing its national interests in the north at present, in the post 44-day war reality? Last year there was news of deployment of forces and military exercises in the north. Was that deployment temporary?
Statements were also made about Iran and Armenia’s cooperation in the context of the North-South transport corridor, which extends through Iran’s southern port, Chabahar, to India. But this week India’s ambassador Kishan Dan Dewal said that Armenia has not made proposals to develop the project.
● It seems like there are clear signals from Iran and India to move forward with the Persian Gulf - Black Sea corridor, so what is Armenia waiting for, what’s the hangup?
Over the past couple of weeks, both Pashinyan, as well as Mirzoyan in Greece have been warning that Azerbaijan could initiate hostilities and war at any moment.
● If we put these statements with those of Iran, could we deduce that Azerbaijan has been signaling a further invasion of Armenian sovereign territory?
On July 4th outgoing prosecutor general Arthur Davtyan proposed to the government to enable legislation to regulate content on the internet. He claimed the Armenian language websites were being used for hate speech, drug trade and other illegal activities and undesirable content. He also said that unlike a few countries (including Russia) which he mentioned, Armenia has no legislation to combat undesired or harmful content.
While Davtyan said this is only an unsolicited proposal, needless to say this raised furor within the news and media, as well as the information security communities, because it amounts to censorship. The proposal has been dubbed “Armkomnadzor”, a pun on the name of the Russian, Roskomnadzor, which has a reputation for heavy-handed censorship.
So this proposal comes on the heels of Pashinyan’s meeting with Putin, when the two committed to cooperating in the sphere of international information security, specially those that “commit illegal and harmful actions, interfere in the internal affairs of states and undermine their sovereignty,”
● Does Arthur Davtyan’s proposal actually feed into Pashinyan’s commitment in this agreement with Putin?
● Does the prosecutor’s office have real world problems dealing with harmful material online in Armenia? Are they information related, or information security related?
● Davtyan has only 2 months left in his term. Why choose to do this now?
● Who would decide what is “illicit”, or “undesirable” or “harmful” content on the internet in Armenia?
● Who or what is the real target for such a proposed legislation?
During the week, western watchdog NGO Freedom House tweeted at Pashinyan to hold open and transparent press conferences with the media. They said that the Armenian authorities should support independent media and civil society through active dialogue with them.
● This was obviously a slap at Pashinyan’s fake press conference which got boycotted by over 50 news and media outlets. But is it also a slap at Davtyan’s proposal?
● Davtyan refers to Russia, as well as western European countries that have content regulation legislation. Is there a happy medium here for Armenia, or is this simply bad news?
That was our Week in Review show, and we hope it helped you catch up with some of the issues in and around Armenia from this past week. As always, we invite your feedback and your suggestions. You can find us on most social media and podcast platforms, or our website Groong.org.
Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel on YouTube, Like our pages and follow us on social media. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week, thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Benyamin Poghosyan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, South Caucasus, Turkey, Russia, Communication channels, Corridors, Borders, Peace Negotiations, 5-year plan, Rearming, Military reform, Press Freedoms, Politics, Military Procurement, JCPOA, United States, Iran, Iranian Gas, LNG, Pipelines, EU, European Union,