Table of Contents
Hovik Manucharyan leads a discussion on the Constitutional Court standoff in Armenia, Polls, and the Coronavirus response by the Armenian government, segwaying into a conversation about the state of the Armenian media. The actual podcast content begins with our first topic below: “The Constitutional Court Standoff Continues in Limbo”.
● Alen Zamanyan
● Emil Sanamyan
● Asbed Kotchikian
● Hovik Manucharyan
● Asbed Bedrossian
The saga around the Armenian
Constitutional Court continues this week. The three judges who were targets of
the persistent efforts by Pashinyan and his My Step (Im Qayl) parliamentary
faction have taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights. The ECHR
refused to grant an urgent injunction (intended to prevent any change in the
makeup of the court until the case is fully deliberated), however, there are
indications that ECHR intends to expedite this case, giving the parties until
August to submit their positions.
Let’s remember that last week’s amendments to the Law on the Constitutional Court have not taken effect since the president is refusing to sign (and he has announced that he won’t refer the bill to the constitutional court), which will most likely mean that they will be signed by the president of the National Assembly (Ararat Mirzoyan) after a constitutionally mandated 21 day period expires. This has left the court in limbo where critics say that the 3 justices are still considered as serving their term while the government maintains that the judges are out even if the law hasn’t been signed yet. With the three judges being out and two other judges who took vacation, for the first time since its founding the CC hasn’t had quorum for two weeks in a row.
The 2015 constitutional changes (authored by Hrayr Tovmasyan) reduced the term of a CC judge to 12 years. Previously, the term of a judge ran until they reached retirement age. In order to bridge the gap between the old term limits and the newly introduced ones, the constitution also includes a transitional clause which effectively means that the new term limits only apply to newly appointed justices. This would mean that a number of previously appointed members would get to serve a long time, including the chairperson (Hrayr Tovmasyan) who would get to serve until his retirement in 2035.
Let’s take a brief overview of the issue:
● Criminal case opened against Hrayr Tovmasyan (president of the CC) in late 2019, however, the CC refused to lift his immunity.
● Next, the National Assembly passed a law giving CC members the option to “retire early” with full pay, which critics say amounted to a legal bribe. None of the judges took that option anyway.
● Once the retirement enticement failed to bear fruit, Im Qayl parliamentarians decided to solve the issue via constitutional referendum which was canceled due to Covid.
● In June, the National Assembly tried to solve the matter via controversial changes to the constitution, failing to heed the advice of the Venice Commission to seek approval from the CC before voting. Additionally, the president also signed away his right to sign constitutional changes - causing confusion as well.
● Lastly, the National Assembly also changed another law (The Law on the Constitutional Court) which appeared to be in conflict with the constitution (in terms of when the constitutional changes take effect).
So what happened last week?
● The three judges being removed appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, citing 3 measures. One of the measures is an urgent ruling (based on Rule 39) to prevent the makeup of the CC from changing until the rest of the matters are fully heard. Normally, cases in the ECHR take many years to process.
● Yet another CC session failed to be held due to lack of quorum.
○ There are 3 judges who are in legal limbo and are actually being prevented from entering the CC by the police.
○ Two other judges (Tovmasyan and Petrosyan) are on vacation reducing the number of active judges to 4, which is not enough for quorum.
○ Among other things on the docket (such as signing international treaties/agreements), the CC needs to decide on two issues that are related to the current impasse:
■ Appeal from 26 members of parliament on the constitutionality of changes to the constitution.
■ Whether immunity of Robert Kocharyan has been violated.
● What does the ECHR refusal for urgent measure mean?
● Is the BHK appeal legal?
○ They only got 26 signatures where some say 27 is required.
○ Why isn’t Bright Armenia (LHK) joining the appeal?
● When will Hrayr Tovmasyan and Arevik Petrosyan come back from vacation?
● Source 1
● Source 2
In the West, polls are a ubiquitous part of a citizen’s life. There are polls for everything, all the time. Vendors make decisions about products based on how buyers rate them; similarly, peoples’ views about their leaders are influenced through polls rating their performance. Many politicians are highly attuned to what polls say, they use polls in their decision-making.
Three major polls were the topic of discussion in Armenian politics over the recent weeks and in this segment, we’ll try to make sense of it all for you. All three polls appear to show a significant amount of support for the executive government in Armenia, despite recent rocky news related to Covid and consolidation of domestic opposition forces.
But how are these polls conducted? Who conducts them? How does data turn into information, and how does information turn into knowledge and decisions?
Do these polls truly reflect the reality on the ground in Armenia? Or are they simply a continuation of what has become tradition in Armenia, where political polls have almost always conspicuously favored the party in power.
MPG LLC (aka “Gallup”)
A poll conducted over the phone by MPG LLC, a member of the GALLUP International Association in Armenia, yielded headlines such as: 88.1% of survey respondents positively assess Armenian PM’s activity?
This poll particularly resulted in a heated discussion in our Facebook group with Samvel Fermanian, former Republican member of parliament and co-founder of Qaryak Media, joining the discussion as well.
One of the arguments brought up in the discussions was that this is the same MPG that found that:
● Serge Sargsyan and Karen Karapetyan had no other competition for the position of Prime Minister as late as April 2018.
● Indicated in 2013 that Serge Sargsyan had 69% popularity while Raffi Hovanissian only 11%.
The Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRCC) publishes public opinion datasets across the three Caucasus countries. In Armenia, they conduct the polls of individuals sampled from public voter lists published by the Central Election Commission. The polling was done in-person with more than 60 questions covering a range of topics. While the results were published recently, the poll was conducted in Feb/March (pre Covid).
Here are some interesting results:
Around 24% of Armenians want to leave the country forever.
This is actually an improvement from 2017 when
that number was 35%. The best value for this was 2008 when only 20% of
Armenians wished to leave Armenia forever.
Now on to a few political questions.
● 71% approve of the executive government. Compare that with 20% in 2017 (Karen Karapetyan).
● Which party is closest to you?
○ 35% said “Civic Contract” (Pashinyan’s party)
○ 42% said there’s no such party
○ 10% said Prosperous Armenia
○ 4% said Bright Armenia
○ All other parties received 1% each
EU Neighbors East - Annual Armenia Survey
This is an annual survey of countries in the “EU
neighbors east” project. 1000 face-to-face interviews in 30 cities/towns. The
survey was conducted in Feb 2020 (before Covid).
Level of trust in institutions
● Trust in Government at 76% (up 4% since 2019 and up 48% since 2018)
● Trust in Parliament at 59% (no significant change from 2019, but well above the values in 2018)
What is the most pressing problems facing your country?
● Only 35% concerned about unemployment (down from 50% in 2019)
26% concerned about low living standards,
poverty (down from 34%)
Let’s begin with the MPG/Gallup poll.
● Does this poll pass your smell test?
● The numbers for Pashinyan seem to be great, but how do we explain that the same pollster found that Sargsyan and Karapetyan enjoyed majority support?
● Samvel Farmanyan argues that these telephone polls suffer greatly from non-response bias and criticized MPG for not releasing data about survey responses?
● How can trust in these types of polls be improved in the future?
The Caucasus Barometer poll
This poll also found a great level of support for Armenia’s government 71%. Yet only 35% of people associate themselves with Civic Contract party (the PM’s party).
● How do you explain this discrepancy?
Another interesting fact is that the response rate for this survey was 37.14%, down from 65% back in 2013. I couldn’t find information about the methodologies used for data in 2015 and 2017.
● Any explanation for the apparent drop in participation (when compared to 2013)?
● Do you have any concerns about non-response bias (or participation bias)?
● Do you think that populist activities that took place at the time of the polling (Armenia was in the midst of a constitutional referendum campaign) could have affected these results?
The EU Neighbors East poll
● Is a sample size of 1000 sufficient for polls like this?
● What conclusions can we draw from the three polls together?
Armenia’s Covid19 response continues to worry us by leading the charts in metrics such as Cases / 1M population, and the infection rate among those tested which hovers around the 25-30%, and ideally should be under 5%. The opposition is questioning the government’s response effort and wants to launch an investigation in the national assembly. The parliament majority party My Step has refused to spend time and resources on such an investigation. Meanwhile, the Pashinyan administration is doubling down in its strategy of containing Covid through masks by increasing fines and upping the enforcement efforts on the ground. There have been videos circulated on Facebook of police brutality against people not wearing facemasks.
There will be tense times in the parliament over the coming weeks as the government plans to introduce legislation that could potentially allow them to commandeer resources of private hospitals in the fight against Covid.
Update on Stats
According to worldometers.info
The opposition in Armenia is accusing the government of mishandling the Covid19 crisis and a motion to set up a parliamentary inquiry on the issue has passed in the National Assembly. This was made possible through 37 signatures collected by Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia parties. However, the parliamentary Im Qayl (My Step) majority may still be able to thwart this effort by refusing to endorse the composition of the committee.
Is this effort a waste of resources like the government claims? What outcome can we expect from such a commission, assuming it is allowed to be set up in the first place?
Masks, Masks, Masks
Armenia continues to press its citizens to wear masks in an effort to increase compliance. Earlier in the week, the majority faction in the national assembly introduced, then promptly withdrew a bill that would increase fines for wearing masks.
In addition to increasing general compliance, the government has changed its guidance recently and asks that citizens refrain from wearing cloth masks unless they’re not able to afford surgical masks. At a government meeting on July 2, Nikol Pashinyan seemed to suggest that they should call all citizens to ONLY use factory-produced masks. But what would be the financial implications of such a move?
Armenia has one of the strictest mask wearing requirements around the world. They went so far as to require news anchors to wear masks in TV studios. Two opposition TV channels were visited by police and fined for not wearing masks. The management of those channels claims that they were maintaining social distancing and were compliant with previous guidelines from the TV and Radio commission allowing broadcasters to work without masks.
● Is the Pashinyan administration over-optimizing on the guidelines for wearing masks?
● Is compliance with mask laws really a problem still?
● What things aren’t they doing that they should be doing in parallel to encouraging mask wearing?
● Is it ridiculous to require TV hosts to wear masks? Is there a precedent for this? Are these efforts motivated by health concerns, or public relations considerations, or other reasons?
This past week The Public Journalism club, an OSF-funded NGO in Armenian released a white paper which among other notes concluded that “The media activity during the State of Emergency and the restrictions imposed on Media”.
● During the initial lockdown period, Armenia introduced restrictions on dissemination of news related to Covid (requiring the news to be only from “official” sources).
● The Armenian journal “France-Armenie” ran an article that the team of French doctors arriving in Armenia were being paid for their humanitarian activity
● Early in June OpenDemocracy reported that the Armenian website “Med Media” was spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and was funded by USAID. Public health officials in both Armenian and the US described the information on the website as “extremely dangerous” and detrimental to Armenia’s response to the pandemic. The US embassy contacted the website grantees in order to take down the information, but they refused citing “freedom of speech”. As a result, the US Embassy quickly responded by ending the funding by US taxpayers.
● Bomb alert at Megamall in Yerevan, evacuates 300+ people before it’s found out to be fake.
● A Russian serviceman from 102nd Airbase was found hanged in Gyumri. Investigations have been launched.
● Pashinian warns of a renewed COVID-19 lockdown.
● An Azerbaijani Secret Service raid on their MFA brings out the possibility that Azerbaijani FM Mamedyarov may be on his way out: corruption, and “thwarting Azerbaijani diplomacy” may be cited as reasons.
● The ANPP was shut down for routine maintenance and repairs for 65 days. Expected to be back in operations early in September.
● Two historic houses burned down in a “demolition by neglect” arson-fire in Fresno’s Armenian Town Project: the Alijian-Hoonanian Residence (circa 1906) and the Damirgian Brothers Home (circa 1904).
● The Constitutional Court did not achieve a quorum on Tuesday to start hearings on the legality of coup charges against former President Robert Kocharian of “overthrowing the constitutional order” in March 2008.
● Armenian media reflects upon White House speaker Kayleigh McEnany mentioning “the Armenian Genocide” memorial in Colorado, as she discussed the defacing of monuments around the country. The question in the minds of everyone: is the White House considering a recognition of the Armenian Genocide to complete an all-US government affirmation? Recall that in late 2019 both the US House of representatives and the US Senate recognized the Armenian Genocide in near-unanimous votes.
● Kim Kardashian’s call for support for small businesses in Armenia affected by COVID-19 has resulted in an increase in support and donations. She’s using the hashtag #SupportArmenia.
● Neltron has begun manufacturing Kalashnikov AK-103 rifles in Armenia. In a 10-year licensing agreement with Kalashnikov, Armenia will produce 50,000 rifles annually for the Armenian armed forces as well as for export. Some parts will still be imported from Kalashnikov in Russia but will eventually be entirely manufactured in Armenia.
● Within three weeks Armenia will ramp up Coronavirus testing to 3000 tests per day.
● The 3rd annual Armenia-Engineering Week 2020 event is being held online this year from July 6 to 10.
● Artsakh president held meetings with Armenia’s Min. of Education, and Prosecutor General.
● Ilham Aliyev criticized the OSCE-MG, the negotiators, and called into question the value of negotiating. He criticized Armenia, and raised the spectre of war, and ending negotiations. Former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan called this a “very ominous statement”.
● Cybercriminals hacked into a number of ATMs and stole AMD 18 mil. Adjarabet, EasyPay and TelCell were targets. A group of suspects have been charged.
● A nursing home was hit hard by a Coronavirus outbreak. 55 people were infected including 12 employees. So far one patient was reported dead.
● The White House has clarified that its position on the Armenian Genocide has not changed. It’s still a Մեծ Եղերն. 😐
● Ambassador of Iran to Armenia Abbas Badakhshan Zohouri has stated that Iran respects Armenia’s decision to open an embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel. He also affirmed Iran’s continued balanced approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, despite what Iran’s ambassador to Azerbaijan has said.
● In the first half of 2020 Armenia exported 58,000 tons of fruits and vegetables. Roughly 15% less than 2019, which according to the government was primarily due to weather-afflicted harvests of apples and apricots. But opposition leader Edmon Marukyan believes that it was due to a lack of government support for farmers this year.
● Deputy defense minister Gabriel Balayan has been infected with Coronavirus.
● My Step Parliamentarian Kristine Poghosyan has recovered from Coronavirus.
● Mkhitar Hayrapetyan has been elected as head of the Armenia-Iran parliamentary friendship group. He is also chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on science, education, culture, Diaspora, youth and sport affairs.
● The Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s refusal to sanction the arrest of Gagik Tsarukian who is charged with vote buying in the 2017 parliamentary elections.
● President Armen Sarkissian said that he must be legally empowered to appoint, rather than nominate, three of the nine members of Armenia’s Constitutional Court. Parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan disagrees and thinks this requires a Constitutional amendment.
● The ousted Constitutional Court judges and Judge Hrayr Tovmasian challenged the legality of their removal at the ECHR and have appealed it to reinstate them to their posts until the legality is established. It’s not clear if the ECHR has the authority to reinstate the judges.
● In Q1/20 Armenian Customs collected AMD 123 Billion, and tax revenues were AMD 622 Billion. The total is a 2.3% year-over-year decline from Q1/19 (AMD 160 & 602 B)
● Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a law that mandates the teaching of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, among other cases of genocide, as a requirement for High School graduation.
● Garo Paylan in a tweet called Erdogan’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque a sad day. Artsakh president Arayik Harutyunyan called it another display of Turkey's disrespect for cultural heritage, unaccountability for the Armenian Genocide and ongoing destruction of Armenian culture in Turkey. Georgia’s patriarch also called on Turkey to desist from converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
● Armenian Media report that the French doctors who arrived in Yerevan early in late June appear to have left soon after a few rounds of Photo Ops, which indicate that they were here more for moral (political) support, than to help Armenian doctors in the fight against COVID-19.
● US House panel implicitly backs legislation for continuing USAID funding for demining in Artsakh.
Anouch Toranian, former Exec Dir of AGBU France, was appointed Vice Mayor of Paris, France in July, 2020.
● Armenian Anouch Toranian elected Deputy Mayor of Paris - ArmRadio.am
● Paris Mayor appoints Anouch Toranian Vice Mayor of the city - ArmenPress.am
● Anouch Toranian Elected Head of 15th Arrondissement of Paris - ArMedia.am
Jeanne Barseghian was elected mayor of Strasbourg, France in June, 2020. She is the great granddaughter of Berdjouhi Barseghian, one of the first three women elected to the Armenian Parliament during the first Republic of Armenia in 1918.
● French Armenian Jeanne Barseghian elected Mayor of Strasbourg - ArmRadio.am
Marianna Gevorgyan won the top prize in the “Music of the peoples of the world” category of the World Folk Vision 2020 festival. This yearhe contest was held online, with 115 countries participating.
After a brilliant performance, Masha Mnjoyan heads for the next round of competition in The Voice Australia.
● The Voice Australia: Armenia’s Masha Mnjoyan heads to next round - Armenpress.am