Table of Contents
Hello, and welcome to Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review.
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I’m Hovik Manucharyan and along with Asbed Bedrossian, This Week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
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.
Alen Zamanyan who is a software engineer in Los Angeles, who has analyzed Armenian politics for over a decade.
Hello and welcome everyone!
This past week the National Assembly voted to approve all three nominated candidates to the Constitutional Court. Both Opposition parties in the parliament refused from participating in the vote.
The crisis affected three of the judges appointed to the court by previous governments in the 90’s and one - its chair - in 2018.
● Hrayr Tovmasian, the president of the court, must step down as president;
● Alvina Gyulumian, Felix Tokhian and Hrant Nazarian are no longer recognized as judges;
● Some of these judges have taken their case to the ECHR.
The new candidates were:
● The Parliament’s pick: Edgar Shatirian, a 40-year-old law lecturer;
○ Had Resigned from a congressional committee on corruption in 2019 when it became apparent that he wouldn’t be picked as the chair of the committee.
● The President’s pick: Artur Vagharshian, chair of jurisprudence at YSU;
○ He was nominated once in 2018 but rejected by parliament.
● The judges’ pick: Yervand Khundkarian, led for the past 2 years the Court of Cassation, Armenia’s highest body of criminal and administrative justice.
○ He has long history in the "former regime";
○ Made rulings in the case of A1 Plus, leading to depriving of airtime for the channel.
Upon the parliament’s approval, Prime Minister Pashinyan then declared the Constitutional Crisis as “done” in Armenia. Is this the case?
Do the new appointees represent a less corrupt cadre to allow this government to get on with its anti-corruption agenda?
Has this constitutional crisis damaged the independence of the courts in Armenia?
Over the past few years, from time to time,
Armenia’s opposition has made references to the growth of Armenia’s national
debt, reminding PM Pashinyan of his tenure as an
opposition MP when he staunchly criticized the expansion of the debt
during Serge Sargsyan’s times.
The numbers I’ve heard have varied from $7.6B to $8B. Where do we stand with Armenia’s national debt, and how do we view its trajectory? What are the components that make up for the increase in debt? Is it all related to Covid?
Hrant Bagratian in his interview alluded that the Armenian Central Bank is able to effectively borrow money independently. Can you tell us how this process works and how transparent Armenia’s debt management is?
Should the current low interest rate environment be used as an opportunity to acquire more debt (at low interest rates) in order to fuel growth and infrastructure projects (Bagratyan’s point of view)?
Week after week there are calls from opposition parties for the resignation of the Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, Arayik Harutyunyan. This past week Barkavaj Hayastan and Lousavor Hayastan failed in another attempt as Im Qayl blocked their call in Parliament.
What are the complaints against his performance? Is this process unnecessarily politicized or are there some real grounds for demanding his resignation?
● Soon after taking office, Arayik Harutyunyan launched an audit of Ayb Foundation, accusing prominent members of corruption. As a result, the government stopped funding the Ararat Baccalaureate program. To date, the results of the audit have not been published, raising speculation that the decision was politically motivated.
● In 2018, the State Oversight Service claimed that 800 million AMD (~$1.7 million) had been misappropriated by YSU, and the Education Ministry used it to launch a campaign to remove longtime YSU rector and RPA member Aram Simonyan. Simonyan resigned in 2019, but no rector has been appointed in his place for over a year. Last week, charges were brought against Simonyan for embezzlement of only 34 million AMD (~$70 thousand) over the course of four years. Simonyan denies any wrongdoing.
● Last year, there was controversy around the issue of removing the requirement of Armenian language and history classes from university education.
● Earlier this year, the Ministry published a set of education standards that caused uproar. Notably, Armenian Church history is set to be removed as a separate subject from school curriculum, combining it with Armenian history. The standards also place more emphasis on international and contemporary literature as opposed to traditional Armenian literature.
● The University entrance process was highly controversial this year. A lot of students who had high scores on entrance exams were not admitted to universities or were admitted to less competitive departments. The problem was that there was a new method of matching students and universities that students were not properly informed of.
● One of the main criticisms is that there is a lack of transparency and, as a result, a lack of consensus in the policies implemented by Arayik Harutyunyan. Prominent experts, organizations, and political parties are left out of decision-making committees. There is also a lack of substantive public debate on the policies.
This past week, Junior Sergeant Hovik Tamazyan was killed during an escalation of hostilities while on duty at a military position in the northeastern part of the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border. The Ministry of Defense said that Azerbaijan has become more active on the border during the last two weeks and is attempting to reinforce its positions, which led to the incident Escalated tensions were also reported by Tavush governor Hayk Chobanyan.
Ilham Aliyev again just declared the negotiations stalled and mothballed, and earlier in the week Azerbaijan refused air space to a routine Russian AWACS patrol.
What’s going on here tactically speaking, and why is Azerbaijan sparring with Russia?
This past week we saw Russian oligarch Mikhail
Khodorkovsky’s Dossier.Center website publish another
document, this time about how the Russian government operates to influence
Armenia and Azerbaijan. It named a lot of names, but to most analysts there was
nothing earth-shattering. Still, the press is all aflame with this information.
What’s interesting about this document?
On Friday news broke out that former Sen. Bob Dole has registered as 'Foreign Agent' for Armenia in Washington, and has been hired by the Embassy of Armenia, with a goal to "foster improved diplomatic relations" between Armenia and the U.S.
Bob Dole is 97 years old and has always been a friend of Armenia and Armenians, and he’s charging what seems to be a nominal 10 thousand dollars for a month of work signed as of September 15.
Is this the first time the Armenian embassy hires a lobbyist in Washington?
● Azerbaijani air defense forces blocked the flight of the Russian military aircraft DRLOU A-50 (AWACS).
● Yerevan mayor Hayk Marutyan said that the government will build a Metro station in Ajapnyak.
● The new procedure for obtaining a driver's license is being postponed.
● First-graders had their first classes on September 14. All other grades will resume schools from September 15.
● In Egypt, FM Mnatsakanyan said that Turkey has been undermining efforts for peace and stability in the region. Mnatsakanyan fully backed Cyprus, Greece and Egypt in defending their legitimate interests in the Mediterranean. The FM also discussed areas of cooperation and development between Armenia and Egypt, including Armenia’s support for Egypt’s Free Trade association with the Eurasian Economic Association. The FM also met with Egyptian president Al Sisi, as well as the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb.
● The BHK has opted out of the confirmation vote on the three candidates to the Constitutional Court. Meanwhile, the OSCE ODIHR contacted the Armenian Ombudsman to provide expert support in assessment, a legal analysis regarding the legislation regulating the judges’ appointment, applicable international standards, obligation and experience regarding the high court appointment processes.
● The National Institute of Health of the Armenian Healthcare Ministry will soon open a branch in Artsakh where medical personnel will undergo training.
● Armenian and Russian airborne recon and strike teams hold joint military drills. Meanwhile, electronic warfare and air defense troops held anti-UAV drills.
● The Pashinyan family hosted children from various border towns for a barbecue party in their official residence on September 13.
● Authorities have launched criminal proceedings on vote buying, bribery, electoral violations and other alleged offenses concerning the BHK party.
● PM Pashinyan and Argentine-Armenian businessman Eduardo Eurnekian discussed the implementation of investment projects like the development of Yerevan’s Zvartnots, Gyumri’s Shirak airports, improvement of infrastructures, their renovation and further operation.
● Former BHK MP and former head of the Control Chamber of Armenia Ishkhan Zakaryan has been summoned to the NSS regarding suspicious acquisition of lands in Garni.
● Armenian philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan is again involved in a Russian corruption scandal.
● President Sarkissian invites Lord Ara Darzi to speak at Armenian Summit of Minds.
● Schools reopen across Armenia, but not all school employees have been tested for coronavirus yet.
● Former head of the EU Delegation in Armenia, Piotr Switalski, has written a book titled “The Armenian Revolution. An Unfinished Cable,” where he recommends that the EU should pay more attention to Armenia and the EAP region.
● Russian president Putin has agreed to infuse $1.5 Billion into the Belarus economy to help it stabilize, and also help its public decide its path without outside interference.
● An interesting reflection on the demographic situation in Armenia.
● President of Artsakh Arayik Harutyunyan signed a decree approving the new composition of the Security Council.
● OSCE MG Co-Chairs propose to meet with Armenian, Azerbaijani FMs in coming weeks. The mediators have called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to prepare the ground for renewed talks on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh, and clarify their current positions.
● In Egypt, president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi received FM Zohrab Mnatsakanyan in the presence of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt Mr. Sameh Shoukry and the Armenian ambassador to Cairo. They agreed on the importance of preventing foreign interventions in the region that destabilize and undermine the people.
● During the official visit to Egypt FM Mnatsakanyan also met with Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Meanwhile, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities made a short visit to Yerevan, and met with tour and hospitality operators. Must have something to do with Armenian Cuisine. 😉
● Armenia will use advanced technologies to connect the fuel nozzles with the cash register at the gas stations, to automate billing and prevent violations.
● The Central Bank of Armenia has cut the refinancing rate by .25 and set it at 4.25%. CBA President Martin Galstyan says that in 2020 a 6.2% decline is forecast for Armenia, followed by nearly 5% economic growth in 2021.
● A fire erupted in a futuristic seafront building in downtown Beirut on September 15 that was close to completion after years of construction. Two prominent Lebanese-Armenian journalists suspect that the incidents involve foul play, but they have not said more.
● All three candidates nominated for Constitutional Court judges were confirmed by parliament. Yervand Khundkaryan, Artur Vagharshyan and Edgar Shatiryan, were nominated by the General Assembly of Judges, the President of Armenia, and the Cabinet respectively. The confirmation was boycotted by lawmakers representing the parliamentary opposition parties.
● Most of Armenia’s Independence Day celebrations will take place online.
● The Armenian State Symphony Orchestra opened its 15th season with Dvořák’ Symphony No.9 “From the New World” and three pieces from Tigran Mansurian’s “The Snow Queen” ballet, at the Karen Demirchyan Hamalir.
● 3 Armenians and 8 Azerbaijanis were arrested pending investigations arising from a massive brawl between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Javakhk on August 23.
● A group of university students marched from Yerevan State University (YSU) to the main building of the government of Armenia. They have prepared a petition with more than 5,000 signatures demanding partial reimbursement of their tuition.
● Young Aurora 2020: The three Finalists announced. The winner will be announced on November 3.
● Feature film “Chnchik” by Aram Shahbazyan has been included in “New Currents” competition section of Busan International Film Festival, which will be held Oct. 21-30.
● Artsakh President commemorated the late Armenian journalist Hrant Dink on his birthday
● The Catholicos and the Minister of Education met and decided that a meeting of relevant subgroups on education will take place in the near future, to discuss important topics in Education Reform.
● LHK MP Arkady Khachatryan was elected chairman of the NA Standing Committee on Financial and Budgetary Affairs.
● A Virtual U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialogue Took Place, and it will continue this fall, culminating in a capstone session in Washington, D.C. next month.
● A day of blessing for lawyers will be established by the Catholicos of All Armenians.
● The Asian Development Bank forecasts that this year Armenia’s GDP will decline by 4%, a further drop from the -3.5% that was projected in April 2020, growth is expected to pick up to 3.5% in 2021.
● Parliament adopted a bill authored introducing paternity leave in Armenia.
● An Armenian soldier has been killed from gunshot and shrapnel wounds in the latest Azerbaijani ceasefire violation at the state border. DM Tonoyan said that the Armenian army will take “appropriate actions” in retaliation for its soldier’s death. Tavush governor Hayk Chobanyan has also reported increased cross-border shootings for the past two weeks.
● PM Pashinyan met with Lydian Canada Ventures Board of Directors member Jeffrey Coach and Lydian Armenia Executive Director Hayk Aloyan, and discussed the Amulsar project.
● BHK officially joined LHK in their call for Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, Arayik Harutyunyan’s resignation. Harutyunyan has rejected these calls. My Step continued to back the minister, so the proposal in the parliament failed.
● Chairman of the State Revenue Committee Edward Hovhannisyan met with Iranian Ambassador Abbas Badakhshan Zohouri and emphasized the necessity of upgrading and expanding the Meghri border checkpoint, and the operation of the Meghri free economic zone.
● PM Pashinyan stated that with the election of judges of the Constitutional Court by the Parliament the crisis around the Court is now over.
● At Armenia’s recommendation, Russia’s Interior Ministry has developed a bill to allow the migrants from the EAEU states to drive in Russia using their national driver’s license.
● According to Armenia’s Amberd Station, the Earth’s Ozone layer is gradually recovering.
● Ahmet Cetin, a pro-Turkey extremist who assaulted Armenian community members in Décines-Charpieu commune of Lyon on July 24, will go on trial on Thursday, September 17.
● The building that housed Vasbouragan Hall, as well as offices for St. Gregory Armenian Church in San Francisco was set ablaze around 4am on Thursday. The San Francisco Fire Department responded immediately, however, the building suffered significant damage. It is suspected that this was the result of a Hate Crime.
● Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan has installed Sasun Barseghyan as the new Governor of the Askeran Region. He will replace Ashot Dadayan.
● Charges of embezzlement have been pressed against the former Rector of the Yerevan State University Aram Simonyan.
● Armenia will honor modern day heroes fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and guarding the country's borders – medical workers and troops – during the Hero Of Our Times Awards on September 21.
● The fifth annual Aurora Humanitarian Prize for Awakening Humanity went to Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman, the mother and daughter team who lead the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre in Somalia.
● Iranian company Tunnel Sadd Ariana will construct a new landfill and waste management system in Hrazdan as part of the Kotayk and Gegharkunik Municipal Solid Waste Management” program.
● The Yerevan City Council has tripled to AMD 200,000,000 (over 2018) the allocation to upgrade medical equipment at the medical polyclinics in the Armenian capital.
● Residents of a Yerevan building which was partially destroyed in a gas leak explosion on August 26 will be provided with financial compensation to buy new apartments.
● A lawyer is challenging in court the coronavirus protocols in schools requiring children to wear face masks.
● 64 IT companies in Armenia in AI, data science, robotics, communications, and other areas have been approved by the Ministry of High Tech for the first and second programs of the coronavirus relief package.
● The Armenian Nuclear Power Plant’s administration is discussing the re-extension of the lifespan of its power unit N2 beyond 2026.
● Moody’s has upgraded the rating of IDBank: outlook changed to stable.
● President Sarkissian met with the leadership of the French Dassault Systèmes company, and discussed implementing special educational projects in IT.
● My Step MP Armen Pambukhchyan has resigned from Parliament, and plans to work in government.
● No verified information about resettlement of Lebanese Armenians in Karabakh, Russian MFA spox Maria Zakharova has said, adding that this is the time to focus on resumption of the peace process, including the issue of IDPs.
● Armenia is tightening its gambling laws, with steps that affect both the location and size of betting venues.
● A postage stamp dedicated to Armenian cultural heritage in the Asian region has been put into circulation.
● An all-star concert at Lithuania’s Opera and Ballet Theater will mark the 30th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and 29th anniversary of independence of Armenia.
● Artsakh has written to the OSCE that it's unacceptable for Lebanese Armenians to become a politicized target of attacks by Azerbaijani authorities.
● The new Ambassador of Iran to Azerbaijan Seyyed Abbas Mousavi stated that relations between Tehran and Baku are progressing in all dimensions.
● The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) have joined the Union of Journalists of Armenia (UJA), in urging the Armeniain Parliament to not approve a legislative proposal on insult and defamation that aims to increase fines for publishing insults and defamatory comments in the media and social networks.
● The Warsaw Stock Exchange (WFB) has signed an agreement with the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) to acquire 65% of the Armenian Stock Exchange (FBA), pending various approvals. AMX is currently valued at $1.6 Million. The Central Bank of Armenia holds 90.1% of AMX. The remaining 9.9% are AMX’s treasury shares. After the deal, CBA will hold 25% of AMX and the remaining 10% will be acquired by a third party to be named by GPW.
● Anna Hakobyan has resigned as the chair of the board of trustees of the City of Smile charitable foundation.
● DM Tonoyan expressed continued concern to the ICRC over videos spread by Azerbaijani media on Armenian POW Gurgen Alaverdyan.
● Lawmakers from the LHK and My Step are working on legislation to regulate the film industry in Armenia, raise the level of copyright protection, state sponsorship transparency and stipulate content rating.
● Artsakh re-trains military reserve forces periodically for optimal readiness.
● Qatar Airways will operate daily flights to Yerevan starting October 5.
● The Government is building new houses for families in the Tavush region after Azeri bombardment.
● Former Sen. Bob Dole has registered as 'Foreign Agent' for Armenia with a goal to "foster improved diplomatic relations" between Armenia and the U.S. The hiring comes as the Donald Trump administration prepares to host a meeting of the U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialogue next month.
● Lady Gaga has based her new video for Chromatica single “911” largely on Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov’s classic 1969 art film The Color of Pomegranates. Some outfits for the video were designed by Karina Akopyan.
● The American University of Armenia (AUA) has established an emergency fund for Lebanese students who have been affected by the explosion.
● The first flight via Air Cairo coming from Armenia has arrived at Sharm el Sheikh International Airport, carrying 52 passengers.
● Armenian Embassy officially opened in Israel, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.
● Clothing and footwear traders staged a protest in front of the Armenian government building on Friday, complaining about new customs clearance pricing policies.
● A silver denarius of Rome’s first emperor is being auctioned. It depicts Augustus and the reverse shows a tiara and bow cases with quiver, and the legends ARMENIA / CAPTA, a reference to the successful effort to claim Armenia for the Romans.
● Azerbaijani oppositionist Tofiq Yaqublu stopped his hunger strike after a Court of Appeals released him on house arrest.
● US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died At age 87.
● Schools started in Artsakh this week without masks and distancing.
● New Pottery, tombstones and other historical artifacts have been excavated in Armenia’s Tavush Fortress.
● Artsakh has announced the relocation of its Parliament from Stepanakert to Shushi, effective officially on May 9, 2022.
● Ilham Aliyev has given a very negative assessment to the current state of the talks aimed at resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, calling them stalled, “nearly mothballed.”
● “The Trio” by Russian-Armenian film director Anna Melikyan won best cinematography at the 31st Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival in Sochi.
The Greece vs. Turkey animosity has been escalating in the past weeks. We will dedicate a section here to the headlines we’ve seen building:
● Turkey’s Erdogan chases Ottoman dream, ends up unsettling West Asia | Analysis
● The hypothetical compromise: The end of 10 years of war in West Asia
● Turkish aggressive policy backfires as Europe, Arab countries form anti-Erdogan axis – researcher.
● Egypt rallies Arab League to counter Turkey's regional policies
Former Sen. Bob Dole has registered as 'Foreign Agent' for Armenia with a goal to "foster improved diplomatic relations" between Armenia and the U.S.
Lady Gaga has based her new video for Chromatica single “911” largely on Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov’s classic 1969 art film The Color of Pomegranates. Some outfits for the video were designed by Karina Akopyan.
That concludes our program
for this week’s Groong Week in Review.
Please contact us with your feedback and suggestions. You can do so through 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. I’m Hovik Manucharyan, and on behalf of everyone in this episode, thank you for listening and we wish you a good week.
Karabakh Negotiations, Madrid Principles, State of Emergency Russia, AWACS.
Additional: Emil Sanamyan, Hrant Mikaelyan, Arayik Harutyunyan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Nagorno Karabakh, Artsakh, Egypt, Arab League, Iran, Russia, Lady Gaga, Sergei Parajanov, Pomegranates, Bob Dole, Lilit Mkrtchyan, Nune Asatryan.