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Hello, and welcome to Armenian News Network, Groong.
This Week in Review we talk with Hrant Mikaelian to discuss important issues and developments around Armenia, such as the Coronavirus Pandemic, and its economic effect; Armenia’s membership in EurAsian Economic Union and the economic effect of that organization on Armenia; and some of the trends affecting Russia and its economy.
Hrant will then join us in our weekly lightning round of questions from the past week’s headlines, to analyze Prime Minister Pashinyan’s interview with BBC’s HARDtalk; the presidential elections in Belarus; and the continuing standoff at Amulsar Gold Mine between Lydian and local residents and environmental activists.
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Hrant Mikaelian was born in Tbilisi and is a political scientist and multidisciplinary researcher in social sciences based in Yerevan. Hrant is also senior researcher at the Caucasus Institute. We’re going to be talking broadly about Armenia’s response to the pandemic, and the economic response both by Armenia and its neighbors. He produces a large number of articles very rich in analytical content.
Coronavirus statistics and trends in Armenia
What’s your outlook on the progression of coronavirus in Armenia, what are the current trends that you’re observing?
As of last week, according to Worldometers, for countries with greater than 1M population, Armenia is #10 in terms of cases per 1M people with roughly 14K cases per 1M. However, it is #50 in terms of testing having done roughly 60K tests per 1M.
● Are Armenia’s testing levels adequate and how do they compare with our neighbors?
● (IFF inadequate) What do you think are the reasons for this? Is there any health policy framework where not doing aggressive testing makes sense?
Prime Minister Pashinyan recently stated that Armenia’s government commitment of $300M has already been disbursed as part of 23 separate programs. The latest part came this week in support of the Agro and Tourism industries.
● How would you evaluate Armenia’s financial response so far? How targeted were these programs and is it possible to compare Armenia’s response with that of its neighboring countries?
What is your prediction for the Covid19 impact on Armenia's economy for this year? If there is deviation with official figures how do you explain it?
Economic outlook of the Eurasian Union
Moving on to northern neighbor Russia. In a recent interview on Lratvakan Radio, you predicted that Russia is heading towards economic collapse.
● Could you give us more details behind your bleak prediction?
You recently wrote about the vulnerabilities of the EurAsian Economic Union (EAEU) where you highlighted Russia’s dominant role in that organization.
● How will Russia’s potential economic troubles affect the EAEU? And what do you see as the future of the union?
● Given this information, how should Armenia craft its policy towards the EAEU.
Welcome back for our lightning round of headlines from the past week. I’m Asbed Bedrossian and I’m joined today by our panelists, Asbed Kotchikian, Artyom Tonoyan and Alen Zamanyan.
Asbed Kotchikian is a senior lecturer of political science and international relations at Bentley University in Massachusetts, where he teaches courses on the Middle East and former Soviet space, and with expertise in judicial reform, ways to combat radicalization and on ethnic and religious minorities.
Hrant Mikaelian is a political scientist and multidisciplinary researcher in social sciences based in Yerevan. Hrant is also senior researcher at the Caucasus Institute.
Artyom Tonoyan is a research associate at the University of Minnesota's Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, where his research is focused on the nexus of religion and violence. His specialties include religion and politics in the South Caucasus, and religion and nationalism in Russia.
Alen Zamanyan is a software engineer in Los Angeles, who follows and has analyzed Armenian affairs for over a decade.
Hello and welcome everyone!
Prime Minister Pashinyan’s interview with HARDtalk on the BBC left deep impressions on everyone. How did our panel feel about it?
In the presidential elections in Belarus on August 9 Alexander Lukashenko won reelection with 80% of the vote. Immediately afterwards protests and violence broke out in many cities around the country, and to date over 6000 have been arrested, over 700 detained, and the president of Lithuania has publicly declared Lukashenko no longer a legitimate leader. Meanwhile Prime Minister Pashinyan and president Sarkissian instantly congratulated Lukashenko, and Pashinyan has been getting slammed for his hasty recognition of the results of this unfair election, by opposition Bright Armenia and human rights activists in the country.
What’s going on in Belarus? And why are we seeing these dynamics in Armenia, in response to that?
This week the issue of the Amulsar Gold Mine heated up. As we know, Lydian Armenia filed for bankrupcy a year ago, now it’s come back as Restructured Lydian. Last weekend they brought in cranes and removed local and Environmental activist barracks and moved in their own barracks in order to restart the mining project. But activists and local residents hit back, and I understand they succeeded in blocking the company again.
Why is this issue soo hot? Follow the links on this topic in the Headlines below.
This week political analyst Suren Sargsyan interviewed Paul Goble on ArmNews. They talked about the Goble Plan that the US state department analyst proposed in 1992. Basically the plan proposed a territorial swap between Armenia and Azerbaijan because Goble didn’t see any other way toa solution to the Artsakh problem.
What is new with this plan, why doesn’t it go away and die?
● How the "Goble Plan" was born and how it remains a political factor
● Suren Sargsyan’s interview of Paul Goble on ArmNews (in English)
● Today August 10, 2020 is the 100th Anniversary of the Treaty of Sèvres. Everyone has chimed in on this: PM Pashinyan, Pres. Sarkissian, A joint statement from the ARF, Hunchak and Ramkavar parties, Hasmik Tolmajian - the Armenian Ambassador to France, Armenian National Academy of Sciences History Institute Director Ashot Melkonyan, and of course the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
● Belarus president Alexander Lukashenka won reelection to the office in a vote still contested by his opposition.
● Armenian K-12 schools are currently scheduled to reopen on September 15.
● High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, Zareh Sinanyan, and the first plane load of emergency aid reached Beirut over the weekend. Sinanyan toured the community to see the damage by the explosion in the Beirut port on August 4. The delegation also met with many community representatives, as well as HH Catholicos Aram I.
● In a joint statement the Committee To Protect Freedom of Expression, the Yerevan Press Club, the Asparez journalists’ club and seven other organizations stressed that former Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparian be held accountable for his violent acts against Azatutyun journalists in his effort to obstruct their work in covering illegal constructions along the southern shores of Lake Sevan.
● Lebanon’s PM Hassan Diab and his entire cabinet stepped down after the catastrophic explosion in Beirut’s port.
● Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory and the National University of Architecture and Construction have jointly discovered 30 new stones at Carahunge (Zorats Karer)
● On August 9, in an interview to Azatutyun, Andranik Kocharyan (chairperson of the parliamentary fact-finding commission on the April War) claimed that during the 2016 April War Armenian forces ceded more than 20 positions to the Azerbaijanis.
● AGBU has raised over $2 million for Lebanese-Armenians.
● PM Pashinyan announced that around 100 of our citizens are returning to Armenia on board the planes that delivered aid to Lebanon.
● PM Pashinyan appointed Michael Hambardzumyan and Armen Abazyan to serve as deputy directors of NSS.
● The Armenian government extended the coronavirus-related state of emergency for another month and also revised mandatory face covering rules. Meanwhile, the Opposition LHK party introduced a motion seeking to end the state of emergency.
● The EBRD has pulled its $400 million investment in the Amulsar Gold Mine project with Lydian International. Lydian’s lawyer downplayed the pullout saying that the EBRD and many smaller investors have been pulling out due to a lack of progress in the past two years.
● Ruling party MP Rustam Bakoyan created obstacles for Syrian-Armenian businessman in Armenia. No action from Armenian government.
● About a hundred Azerbaijani Jews Demonstrated outside the Armenian center in Tel-Aviv.
● Ambassador to the UN Mher Margaryan sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General, condemning the instigation of inter-ethnic clashes and violence against the Armenian communities in various parts of the world.
● Protests continued in Belarus following disputed presidential elections on August 9, the result of which was the reelection of Lukashenko with 80% of the vote. There are over 6000 arrests. Meanwhile the president of Lithuania said Lukashenko is no longer the legitimate leader and time is running out for him to agree to dialogue with his opponents.
● Artsakh Ambassador-at-Large Rudik Hyusnunts announced that Artsakh had launched a fundraiser for Lebanon in addition to the provision of food supplies.
● Deputy PM Tigran Avinyan has predicted less than 100 cases of Coronavirus in Armenia by the first half of September, given the present course of the virus.
● 10 Armenian political parties issue statement over Sevres Treaty centennial.
● Montebello City Councilmember Jack Hadjinian resigned from the Board of Directors of LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s “Sheriff's Youth Foundation” over his decision to host a forum to “discuss concerns within the Azerbaijani-American community.” That forum was cancelled, and Hadjinian has withdrawn his support of Villanueva.
● Minister of Environment Romanos Petrosyan has ordered a clean-up operation at Lake Sevan’s beaches to dismantle illegal structures.
● The Armenian government approved a 23rd relief program to eliminate the economic consequences of the pandemic, this one in support of the tourism and agriculture industries. So far a total of AMD 144.5 billion have been injected in the Armenian economy.
● Aliyev aired serious grievances in a call to Putin over arms shipments to Armenia right on the heels of the July border skirmishes. A number of issues were discussed. Russian support for Armenia has been passive, while Turkish support for Azerbaijan has been very vocal and aggressive.
● U.S. government personnel in Armenia were directed to not use Armenian air carriers for official travel, including but not limited to: Aircompany Armenia, Armenia Airways, Armenian Helicopters, Atlantis Armenian Airlines, Atlantis European Airways, Mars Avia, and Skyball.
● The Wolf & Galentz Gallery in Berlin, Germany, hosted an exhibition of photos dedicated to Armenia and Artsakh and paintings by Armenian artists.
● Paul Goble interview on ArmNews: No government can cede territory and remain in power
● Opposition LHK party’s Mane Tandilyan resigned from parliament and her party’s governing board, citing health reasons. She will be replaced by Stepan Stepanyan, a member of Bright Armenia’s Yerevan Regional Council.
● An interesting discussion of Armenia’s demographics under a misleading title.
● PM Pashinyan’s interview on BBC’s HARDtalk.
● Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Serbia Eldar Hasanov was arrested in Baku, accused of embezzlement of state funds allocated for foreign policy activities and allegedly having been involved and profited from Serbian arms sales to Armenia.
● My Step MP and former Minister of DIaspora Mkhitar Hayrapetyan spoke in parliament about Armenia’s stance towards Armenian communities in the Middle East, and the desire to become a second and final home to those who wish to repatriate. Meanwhile the government is developing a package of regulations that will enable receiving repatriates from Lebanon, said High Commissioner Zareh Sinanyan.
● PM Pashinyan has directed the building of a foreign economic activity service center in Gyumri by 2022.
● The Vbet Armenian Premier League kicked off its season this week in Nairi Stadium.
● Self-determination of peoples is a fundamental value for Italy’s Five Star Movement party, said Italian MP Alberto Airola.
● The European Parliament’s second-largest political group ''European Friends of Armenia'' called for Azerbaijan and Belarus to be “immediately expelled” from the Eastern Partnership , as dictatorship incompatible with democratic values.
● Non-citizens may now enter Armenia as tourists, but will need to undergo a Coronavirus check-up.
● Events on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and their military-political and diplomatic backstory - Hrant Mikaelian’s excellent review of the July war, in kavkaz-uzel.eu. Read the article, and also the reader comments below. Two additional analyses of the July war:
○ Azerbaijani analysis: “Several reasons why Baku was not (was) interested in provocation along the border with Armenia” - Top-Center.org
○ Armenian analysys: "The recent escalation along the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border - the main reasons and possible scenarios in the logic of Yerevan" - Beniamin Poghosyan in Top-Center.org
● A recap of the Amulsar Gold Mine project.
● Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, Archbishop Sahak Mashalyan will preside over a Divine Liturgy in Turkey’s only Armenian village of Vakifli on Sunday, August 16.
● A new peacekeeping brigade of the Armenian Armed Forces left for Afghanistan today according to the Ministry of Defense.
Sergeant Vardan, 23, is one of the soldiers who downed Azerbaijan’s ORBITER-3 intelligence UAV in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) during the tense situation in Tavush Province of Armenia in July. He has finished his tour of duty!
A new Deutsche Welle documentary retraces the work of Armenian photographer Kegham Djeghalian, who captured life in Gaza, between Israel and Egypt, from the 1940s to the 1970s.
That concludes our program for This week’s Groong Week in Review. We hope it has helped your understanding of some of the issues from the previous week. We look forward to your feedback, and even 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. I’m Hovik Manucharyan, and on behalf of everyone in this episode, I wish you a good week. Thank you for listening and talk to you next week.