Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This episode was recorded on Sunday, December 12, 2021. Here are the topics we’ll discuss this week:
● Zoom for Democracy
○ What did Armenia’s participation in the “Summit for Democracy” bring?
○ What was Moscow’s reaction to the summit? How will Armenia’s participation impact its relations with Russia?
○ Was Armenia able to use this opportunity to inform the world of Armenia’s interests or was it another missed opportunity?
● Domestic Politics
○ What were the results of the December 5 municipal elections?
○ Armenian opposition MPs released by the Constitutional Court!
○ And, another scandal this week, this time involving Nikol Pashinyan’s and Alen Simonyan’s statements about Armenian POWs.
● Regional Politics
○ Continuing tension over Ukraine and Putin-Biden summit on Ukraine: outcomes and impact for the region.
○ Aliyev ramps up his rhetoric and increases tension on the border, demanding a corridor through Syunik.
○ Armenia participates in the “3+3” platform in Moscow, while Georgia stays out.
● Artsakh Independence at 30
○ How did Armenian authorities mark the 30th anniversary of Artsakh’s independence?
To unpack 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,
Pietro Shakarian, who is a Lecturer in History at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan. His research focuses on the history of Soviet Armenia and the Caucasus.
On December 9 and 10, prime minister Pashinyan joined Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy initiative. This was a remote summit with leaders of over 100 countries summiting via Zoom.
From Armenia’s region, only Armenia and Georgia were invited. Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Iran were excluded. Azerbaijan was clearly displeased at being left out, and expressed their official displeasure through editorials. Other notable guests included Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaidó, Belarussian opposition figure in self-imposed exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and the unrecognized government of Taiwan!
What was the purpose of this summit and are the loud Russian/Chinese complaints mere propaganda or should their concerns be taken seriously by countries who are participating in this endeavor, including Armenia?
Can such a summit serve its purpose in the form of a Zoom meeting?
In his address at the summit Pashinyan chose to talk about his “velvet revolution”, successes in elections and rejection of a “return to the ways of the past”. He even got in a few sentences using buzz words such as “low-emissions” and “green economy”.
Yet, there was no mention of authoritarian Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s violations of international law in last year’s war, no mention of Azerbaijan’s continued use of prisoners as a tool for extortion in violation of the Geneva convention, no complaints about their incursions into Armenia and continued war of attrition in Syunik and Gegharkunik.
Why not use such a large forum, having the audience of Biden, to push forward Armenia’s interests, and to spread awareness about the threats to our national security coming from undemocratic neighbors?
On December 5, Armenia held municipal elections in 36 communities across 9 of Armenia’s 12 marzes of Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharqunik, Lori, Kotayk, Shirak, Vayots Dzor, and Tavush. This was the largest municipal elections this year and thus gathered the most focus, but there were two smaller scale elections in October and November, which we covered.
The results themselves, well it is unclear and even at an expert level we think its impossible to make heads or tails! They’ve been spun by different parties in different ways:
● Pro-government media celebrated the results as a huge victory for the ruling party with Civil Contract outright winning in 24 out of 36 communities.
● The opposition claims that the margin of the victories by the ruling party is decreasing and that the ruling party didn’t win in some of the larger and more critical battles.
Perhaps it makes sense to drill down into each community and analyze the local dynamics that led to the results there, but that is probably a topic of a separate show and there is adequate coverage of it in Armenian media.
We’re interested in the overall trend and results at the macro level.
What was really weird about these elections is that the opposition at the national level, specifically the Hayastan Dashinq and Pativ Unem Dashinq, did not participate in elections in the same blocs.
● The ARF participated in only some municipalities and even then, as part of different local electoral alliances. In elections that it did take part in, the ARF didn’t score at the top and at best may be part of an alliance:
● The HHK/RPA didn’t officially participate but individual politicians who are members of the HHK participated under different electoral blocs.
What is the strategy of the national opposition? And what is the deal with Firstname-Lastname electoral blocs?
ARF Performance in elections (where it ran as an official party):
○ Ashtarak - Loss: It got only 15% (with Civil Contract getting 79%).
○ Artashat - Loss: Civil Contract swept here with 60% (with ARF getting only about 4%).
○ Metsamor - Loss: Civil Contract sweep with 79% (ARF got 21%).
○ Sevan - Loss: “Sargis Muradyan” Alliance sweep with 79% (ARF got 11%).
○ Tumanyan - Loss: Republic Party got majority with 51% (ARF got 5%).
○ Abovyan - Loss: Prosperous Armenia got 46% (with ARF getting 5%).
○ Hrazdan - Loss: Civil Contract sweep with 80% (with ARF getting 9%).
○ Nor Hachn - Loss: (“Gagik Matevosyan” alliance got 51%, ARF got 3%)
○ Nairi - No majority (most votes, 45%, garnered by “Reorganized Social Democratic Hnchakyan” party with ARF getting 5%)
○ Artik - No majority (Civil Contract got most votes - 42%, with ARF getting 5%)
○ In other communities individual ARF members ran as part of other parties/coalitions. According to Asbarez: “party had at least one candidate running in 23 of 36”
○ RPA member Mamikon Aslanyan (Vanadzor) participated under the name of “Mamikon Aslanyan Alliance” receiving 38.7% of the vote (with Civil Contract getting 25.1%).
○ In Masis, David Hambartsumyan ran under the name “David Hambartsumyan Alliance”, garnering 52.6% (with Civil Contract getting 47.4%)
But there were plenty of violations reported in the news including:
● Allegations of electoral-day fraud
● Reports of use of administrative resources (including work on laying asphalt on elections day, in December, amidst rain and mud).
The “Independent Observer” election monitoring organization (run by Daniel Ioannisyan) has declared the elections as free and fair.
Who is Daniel Ioannisyan and is the Independent Observer’s election assessment trustworthy?
The Constitutional Court found the detention of three Hayastan Alliance MPs anti-constitutional, and they were released.
This is another setback for the government in the high court and essentially confirms what the opposition is claiming that the justice system (which finally corrected itself) is essentially strongly compliant with the wishes of the party in power.
In all stages of the process, starting from the ordinary prosecutor, law enforcement and judiciary officials sided with the government in an apparent attempt to pressure the opposition. Granted, the opposition parliamentarians were finally released, but this still means that the government enjoys the ability to pressure its enemies by sending them to jail for months at a time without major deterrence.
What’s the implication of this loss by the government in the constitutional court?
At the same time Ishkhan Zakaryan is quitting the opposition Pativ Unem faction and will continue serving as an independent lawmaker. Earlier in November, it was reported that the government had opened a criminal case against Ishkan Zakaryan leading the opposition to decry another case of the ruling party using law enforcement to pressure opposition. Opposition sources also allege that the opening of this criminal case is illegal since Zakaryan (similar to the three MPs who were released) enjoys parliamentary immunity.
Why didn’t Zakaryan simply lay down his mandate (allowing his faction to propose another member)? Why did the opposition put him on the list of candidates in the first place (shouldn’t they have known that he’d be vulnerable)? What’s the implication of the opposition having 1 less vote? Does this mean that the ruling party would have a constitutional super-majority?
It seems that there is not a week in Armenia without a major political scandal. This week, it was Alen Simonyan again.
In a leaked video which appeared on the Internet on December 8, Simonyan is seen making eyebrow-raising remarks regarding Armenian prisoners held in Baku. He insinuates that at least in the case of Nov. 16 mini-war, the prisoners voluntarily turned themselves in and are guilty of desertion. He also made a statement that for him the prisoners “no longer exist” if it means that we would lose Syunik or Kapan for their sake.
Simonyan responded that the leaked video was edited and quoted him out of context, and provided a full version of the video, which still confirmed what the leaked video had shown: his lack of empathy or respect for Armenian soldiers, veterans, POWs.
The discussion on whether Armenian POWs were guilty of desertion was in fact initiated by Nikol Pashinyan himself last on Nov 18 in parliament when he said: “I think it is time for us to investigate every case of captivity properly, because every soldier serving in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia has responsibilities. Perhaps we have been wrong in this because of the emotional background, but all cases must be clearly examined. What does it mean to be taken prisoner? Under what circumstances?”
And, these public statements were followed up by actual criminal cases the following day, against 5 of the 10 prisoners that were returned to Armenia on December 4.
Pashinyan’s and Simonyan’s statements (and subsequent criminal cases) drew widespread condemnation from human rights groups.
Could Armenia have handled this issue better, even if we assume that some of the prisoners were in fact deserters?
● Alen Simonyan seems to have generalized heavily insinuating that all prisoners were deserters. Siranush Sahakyan, a prominent human rights lawyer, warned that such public statements (and public prosecution) could be used by Azerbaijan to convince the prisoners to not return to Armenia (even if they’re not guilty). Do you agree with this?
● There were reports that Armenian soldiers were under orders not to shoot. Why then, not allow for presumption of innocence, why accuse prisoners publicly as a high ranking official (which could put pressure on investigators) and why generalize (when a criminal case was opened only against some of them)?
● Especially concerning the Nov. 16 mini-war, videos appeared where Azerbaijani soldiers were casually marching, apparently without any obstruction, towards Armenian positions. Even if we assume that Armenian soldiers turned themselves in, HOW on earth could Azeri soldiers be able to pass so easily? Why didn’t we mine the fuck out of the place?
Today in Liverpool, the G7 issued a sharp warning to Moscow that there will be “massive consequences” if it invades or commits “aggression” against Ukraine. The UK’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned that all economic sanctions were on the table. The group also praised Ukraine’s “restraint” and reaffirmed its “unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the right of any sovereign state to determine its own future [which presumably includes membership in NATO].” For its part, Moscow denies that it intends to invade Ukraine and says that the West is gripped by “Russophobia.”
Today’s statement is just the latest example of the escalating tension between Moscow and the West (especially Washington) over Ukraine. Amid this environment, on Tuesday, US President Biden and Russian President Putin engaged in a “high stakes” video call. The call lasted two hours. According to the New York Times, both American and Russian officials described the meeting “as tense but occasionally pierced by humor.” Biden said that there would be “harsh economic penalties” for Russia if it attacked Ukraine and that it would “lead NATO to reposition its troops in Europe.” The New York Times has noted that, according to Biden, such measures “go well beyond the West’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea seven years ago.”
How will the rising tension between Russia and the US over Ukraine impact the Caucasus and Armenia’s position in the region?
After meeting in Sochi on November 26 the sides made various statements that they had agreed to advance various points of the November 2020 Agreement within 10 days or so. Ilham Aliyev then demanded that Armenia provide a date for opening what he calls the “Zangezur Corridor”, to which the Armenian government responded that “corridor logic” was not part of the agreement.
The statements were swiftly followed by another mini-war this week, with the Azerbaijani army firing on Armenian positions in Gegharkunik (Verin Shorja). The result after a day of violence left 1 dead, and 8 injured, with 6 in serious condition.
We’ve already talked about Azerbaijan’s strategy to make life in Artsakh and the borders miserable for Armenians. What astounds us is the deep military un-readiness of Armenia.
Meanwhile, in preparation for the Pashinyan-Aliyev meeting in Brussels this coming week, the OSCE MG countries made an announcement by their foreign ministers.
○ Missing praise of Russian peacekeepers
○ No mention of Artsakh status and former basic principles (non-use of force, self-determination, territorial integrity)
The statement shows more about the deep divide between Russia and the West, is there anything we can glean about the Brussels meeting?
What’s to be expected? Except for Belgian waffles.
This past week Deputy Foreign Minister Vahe Gevorgyan attended the Turkish-proposed and so-called “3+3” platform for the discussion of regional problems. It’s supposed to be Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, as well as regional powers Iran, Russia and Turkey. However, Georgia has been clear from the start that they will not participate. So, the platform has been alternately called the 3+2.
In any case, Armenia has indicated that it would participate if this platform is not used to discuss issues that are also being discussed in the OSCE MG process, or the Trilateral Armenia-Azerbaijan-Russia post-war process.
What good can come out of this platform? Why is Armenia accepting to participate, what’s in it for Armenia?
What’s in this process for Russia? While The West is in overdrive promoting its “Russia is about to invade Ukraine” discourse, Russia seems to be bending over backwards to avoid any wars or violent conflicts, especially with Turkey.
Question: Why is Georgia staying out of this platform?
● At the level of deputy FMs
● Follows news from a few weeks ago where Armenia said that it sought Russia’s help in establishing relations with Turkey.
● Let’s remember Turkey’s preconditions:
○ Artsakh status (forget about it)
○ Accept/affirm treaty of Kars
○ Forget genocide recognition as a state policy
○ Most recently: “zangezur corridor”?
● Does this mean that Armenia has agreed to Turkey’s preconditions?
● Nazarbayev said he’d like to see AZ as an observer
● Pashinyan’s speech followed Nazarbayev’s. He highlighted many priorities for Armenia and the EAEU, but he didn’t address this statement.
On December 10, the Artsakh Republic celebrated the 30th anniversary of the referendum that cemented its claim to self-determination and independence as the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh declared upon the territory of the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) within the Soviet Union. Artsakh president Arayik Harutyunyan addressed his country and affirmed the republic’s goals to seek full independence, security, and recovery of territories of Artsakh proper which were lost to Azerbaijan during the 44-day war.
The Armenian government made no statements on this anniversary. It simply published an article containing the full text of Harutyunyan’s address.
The Armenian people spent thirty years struggling, suffering individually and collectively as victims of blockade and aggression by Azerbaijan and Turkey. The war and conflict has touched every single Armenian home in one way or another. And individually many Armenians continue to carry this fight every day, but what does it say when the state is silent? Can 30 years be undone just like that?
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.
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Benyamin Poghosyan, Pietro Shakarian, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh, Artsakh, Nikol Pashinyan, Ilham Aliyev, Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden, Summit for Democracy, Zoom, Georgia, South Caucasus, Turkey, Russia, Iran, Ukraine, NATO, Turkmenistan, Communication channels, Corridors, Borders, Peace Negotiations, Politics, Turkmen Gas, Caspian,