Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
● Mr. Pashinyan goes to Moscow
● Election Politics
● The POW debacle
● A Coronavirus Update
● The State of the Economy
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Asbed Kotchikian, who is an Associate Professor of political science and international relations at the American University of Armenia.
Hrant Mikaelian, a political scientist and multidisciplinary researcher in social sciences based in Yerevan. He is also a senior researcher at the Caucasus Institute.
Prime Minister Pashinyan went to Moscow and met Putin in person on April 7.
Pashinyan mentioned many issues in the public part of his speech, including POWs, security, the Russian vaccine, and energy, including Russian support for building a new nuclear power plant. Russia mainly seemed to communicate the need for implementation of the Nov. 10 ceasefire agreement as a priority.
Which of these topics piqued interest? How should we view the meeting? Was Pashinyan able to come back from the meeting with any significant gains for Armenia?
We’re seeing political actors big and small gearing up for elections. Prime minister Pashinyan is touring Armenian regions meeting with voters. Many new political parties seem to be forming. Robert Kocharyan, who is now free of the main prosecution against him, has announced that he’ll be running in the upcoming election as part of a bloc.
Some see the upcoming electoral contest as being mainly between two blocs, the incumbent My Step, and on the other side the forces allied with Robert Kocharyan.
Others balk at the idea that any of the “formers” have a chance to even run in these elections.
The new electoral code will apply to the early elections, if they take place, but the minimum threshold to get into parliament has not changed for these elections. It is still 5% for blocs and 7% for parties.
Will the elections be bi-polar, or will there be more diversity in the participants?
Despite the fragmented structure, will the opposition coordinate on a unified strategy? Do they have a strategy? Does the government have a strategy?
On the evening of Thursday, April 8, a Russian airplane flew from Baku to Erebuni airport. Shortly before the arrival of the airplane, Armenian social media exploded with the news of the return of a large group of refugees being flown in by the head of Russian Peacekeepers in Artsakh, General Rustam Muradov yet the plane arrived without any POWs.
The news seems to have been leaked by several sources in the government, but General Muradov essentially said that no POW return was planned on that flight and called those spreading such news as liars and provocateurs. And the following day angry mobs surrounded the ministry of defense and were able to successfully block the entry and exit of MOD employees for the entire day.
The news was first reported by Araratnews (whose editor in chief is VP of Armenian National Assembly), but all major media (even Azatutyun) were there, many with live feeds on to capture the return of our soldiers. The news media reported that Mane Gevorgyan (Pashinyan’s spokesperson) and other high-ranked officials leaked the news. It seems that even families of the POWs were informed and there was a large group of families waiting at the airport in hope of the return of their sons and daughters. And as we all know, the plane arrived without any POWs and the following day when questioned by a reporter,
Overall this played out like a cruel and heart wrenching joke on the families of the prisoners. And the following day angry mobs surrounded the ministry of defense and were able to successfully block the entry and exit of MOD employees for the entire day.
Officials (including Alen Simonyan) then had to go on media appearances in the following days and confirmed Muradov’s claims that there were no plans to bring in refugees. Simonyan said that while there were no distinct plans, there is always hope that such flights will bring our soldiers back.
What are we missing in this story? Why orchestrate such a big show if there’s no prior agreement on things?
After nearly two months during which COVID numbers in Armenia improved, infections and deaths have picked up significantly over the last 2-3 weeks. We’re currently registering over a thousand new infections and 15-25 deaths daily. Armenia’s healthcare system is again stretched thin.
We heard a week ago that 24,000 Astra-Zeneca vaccines had arrived, and this week 15,000 Sputnik V vaccines were donated to Armenia the day after Pashinyan met with Putin.
Despite the situation Anahit Avanesyan, the minister of health, says that they’re on track with their game plan.
What’s the game plan?
The lack of vaccine and insignificant level of vaccination in Armenia are a major concern. What’s the reason for the crawling pace of vaccination?
Needless to say, the past year has been a very difficult time for Armenia. First the Coronavirus pandemic hit 13 months ago, then we had the July border skirmishes, and then the third war in Artsakh all of October of 2020.
The Armenian economy has suffered badly. Last year’s economic decline is officially set at 7.6%. Right now, there’s rampant inflation in the country, officially estimated to be around 6% but if you look at a consumer basket, many daily essentials have gotten more expensive by 10, 20, 30% or more.
In the US they say that the virus is in charge of the economy, meaning that for the economy to improve, we have to deal with the virus first. Is this the case as well in Armenia, or is there more than meets the eye here?
On the flip side of the economy, the Prime Minister has promised to raise the salary of certified teachers by 30-50%, and to increase the funding for science to over 2 billion Drams. These all sound great but with an economy that is down a lot, and the Central Bank predicting anemic growth of under 2%, where’s the money coming from?
There are also rosier predictions by some cabinet ministers for 6% or even “double digit growth”. Is there a basis for double-digit optimism? What is Hrant’s estimate of the growth of the Armenian economy in 2021?
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.
Armenia, Early Elections, Snap Elections, Hrant Mikaelian, Nikol Pashinyan, Robert Kocharyan, Vladimir Putin, POW, Prisoners of War, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Pandemic, Economy, Russia, Moscow, Artsakh, Karabakh,
Additional: Asbed Kotchikian, Rustam Muradov, Nuclear Power Plant, ANPP, Energy Production, Vaccine, Astra-Zeneca, Sputnik V, Anahit Avanesyan, Ministry of Health,