Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This show was recorded on Monday, August 22, 2022.
Here are the major topics we’ll touch on today:
● Surmalu Blast
● Developments in Foreign Affairs
○ Aliyev Rejects Status for Artsakh
○ Aghavno Handover
○ DM Papikyan in Moscow
○ Iran Reiterates Redline on Syunik
● Update on Opposition Movement
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Benyamin Poghosyan, who is the Chairman of the Yerevan based think tank Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies,
Last Sunday, August 14, shortly before 1:30pm an explosion ripped through a market, Surmalu, in central Yerevan. The blast killed 16, and injured over 60 people, and the premises were destroyed. As international condolences streamed in from around the world, hundreds of emergency responders worked around the clock for days to rescue people from the rubbles.
The explosion happened in an environment of repeated bomb threats over the past weeks and months that increased in frequency to be almost a daily occurrence, hemorrhaging public transportation and citizens services as authorities investigated each bomb threat. Yet, despite an ongoing investigation by law enforcement and continuing bomb threats, Nikol Pashinyan ruled out terrorism and ascribed the cause of the explosion to a fireworks depot where 4 tons of explosives were reportedly stored.
● What are some of the developments around the scene of the disaster since last weekend?
● What more do we know about the explosion?
● Pashinyan ruled out terrorism pretty early on, at a time when most people didn’t have much information to go on and the investigation is still ongoing. Thoughts?
We mentioned the fake bomb threats that caused tension and alarm around the country after the blast. Sadly, these are still continuing. At the same time, some Western-funded media gave airtime to pundits who carelessly floated rumors that the Russians had something to do with spreading this panic and terror. So on the 17th of August, the Russian Embassy sent a note of protest to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about the Armenian authorities tolerating such an atmosphere of fake news, and degrading the trust and relationship between Armenia and Russia, who are supposedly “strategic allies”.
● Does the Armenian government have a responsibility to control what type of allegations are heard in the media?
○ If you remember in early 2020, when one Facebook user posted fake news about Iran the NSS, the Armenian National Security Service, demonstratively arrested this person with the fake name of Diana Harutyunyan (whose real identity and circumstances of the criminal case are still unknown) under the guise that these fake news were aimed at disrupting Armenia’s relations with Iran.
● How should we assess this unusual expression of outrage by Russia?
● What does it say about the state of our foreign relations with Russia?
Within the domestic political scene, Tigran Avinyan showed up on site, effectively announcing his candidacy for the Yerevan mayoral race in 2023. As we know, he’s a close associate of Pashinyan’s in the Civil Contract party.
● Was that surreal, or simply insensitive?
● Is Civil Contract throwing the current mayor, Hrachya Sargsyan, under the bus?
● How do you assess the presence and involvement of the current mayor and city council of Yerevan?
● In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Civil Contract government has resurrected legislative plans to ban the sale of fireworks to private citizens, once the new national assembly is in session. Was the possibility of selling fireworks a major factor here?
Ten days ago, Aliyev held a live press conference during which he announced that he would grant no status of any sort to Nagorno Karabakh. He said Karabakh-Armenians would have the same right and all other aspects as any other Azerbaijani citizen.
I don’t know if we need to beat a dead horse any deader, the message from Aliyev has been clear since the 44-day war, that he wants no Armenians in Azerbaijan.
Benyamin, you’ve also been very clear about Azerbaijan’s strategy of forcing an attrition on the population of Armenians in Artsakh, by terrorizing and repopulating parts of Artsakh by Azeris, as he works to force more concessions on Pashinyan. The imminent situation of course is the handover of Aghavno, and Berdzor, in the Lachin corridor.
● Has anyone followed up with the Russian foreign ministry?
While the diplomatic row between Armenia and Russia was festering, DM Papikyan was in Moscow meeting with Russian DM Shoygu. Reportedly he was there for a few functions:
● Discussing the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh
● Attending a Conference on International Security
● Attending the Army 2022 Military Expo.
● What was achieved?
Ten days ago Iranian president Ibrahim Raisi reiterated an earlier statement by the Ayatollah Khamenei that Iran is “sensitive” about its border with Syunik, and that Iran would “oppose any attempt to alter them”, referring clearly to Turkish and Azerbaijani threats to carve through Armenia to connect Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan.
At the same time as the above, an Armenian MP in Iran’s parliament, Robert Beglarian, announced that Iran had appointed a consul general to Syunik, who would reside in Kapan.
● What is your read on Iran’s multiple statements on “opposing” or “not tolerating” encroachments on Armenia’s southern region of Syunik? Are they willing to commit their military to defend against any changes in borders?
● Aside from the symbolic and potentially military commitment to Syunik, do you think this appointment can help in ramping up economic trade between Iran and Syunik?
● What is Armenia’s reaction to all this?
Last week, the Armenian National Security Service proposed setting up 3 checkpoints on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. This was in response to a public address from Pashinyan during a government session two weeks ago where he requested the security service to submit such a proposal to give Azerbaijanis “unhindered” access to Armenia. On the western border, the proposed checkpoint will be Yeraskh, while on the Eastern border the checkpoints are proposed to be in Sotk (Gegharkunik) and Karahunj (Syunik), the location of the Goris-Kapan highway that Pashinyan handed over to Aliyev (apparently based on verbal agreements).
● What is your assessment of this proposal Benyamin?
● The proposal also says a lot by what it doesn’t say. Azerbaijan has repeatedly said it wants a corridor through Armenia through Meghri. Thoughts?
● Given that there are no diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, how will passport control be done?
The resistance movement held one protest in early August then announced a pause until Sep 2, the date of the next major protest rally.
- Benyamin, what is your assessment of the #ZartnirLao movement that started in April/May of this year? They obviously didn’t reach their stated goal of ousting Pashinyan so far.
Apparently acting independently, the former Ambassador of Armenia to Poland and former Chief of Staff at the Constitutional Court in Armenia, has called for a rally tomorrow, August 23, at 17:00. Edgar Ghazaryan was our guest in May, when we were covering the resistance movement rallies.
● What do we know about Edgar Ghazaryan specifically and your prognosis of the Armenian internal political situation?
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, Russia, Surmalu, Artsakh, Nagorno Karabakh, Iran, Surmalu Blast, Explosion, Fireworks, Lachin, Berdzor, Aghavno,