Table of Contents
Hello, and welcome to Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review.
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I’m Hovik Manucharyan and today, along with Asbed Bedrossian and our panel, we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
● Electoral Reforms In Armenia
● Journalist Dana Mazalová passes away
● The ANSEF Reorganizes
● My Step MP Arsen Julfalakyan’s resignation from Parliament
● Russian Opposition leader Navalny’s poisoning and recovery
● And finally we’ll spend a little time on - what’s going on in Baku.
We have with us:
Asbed Kotchikian, who 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.
Emil Sanamyan a senior research fellow at USC’s Institute of Armenian Studies specializing in politics in the Caucasus, with a special focus on Azerbaijan.
Alen Zamanyan who is a software engineer in Los Angeles, who follows and has analyzed Armenian affairs for over a decade.
Hello and welcome everyone!
The parliament is working on changes to the electoral code and process with the announced intent of making elections more reliable. One example is the proposal to lower the electoral threshold for a party to get into the parliament from 5 to 4% (and from 7 to 6% for “Blocs”). Another example discussed recently is the effort to clean up Armenia’s notoriously problematic voter lists by removing people whose identity documents are expired. This might remove up to 200,000 people from the electoral lists in the next election.
What does Armenia need in order to build trust in its elections and therefore its democracy?
Gor Hakobyan, a political analyst and consultant, in a discussion on Civilnet, emphasized the importance of political consensus while instituting such foundational reforms to ensure that all sides trust the results of future elections.
Given that My Step (Im Qayl) has an absolute majority in parliament and therefore the ability to unilaterally pass any of these measures, how has the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition reacted to some of these proposals to date?
This past week Czech journalist Dana Mazalová passed away. She covered the Nagorno Karabakh war extensively, and President Sarkissian, the HR Ombudsman of Artsakh, prime minister Pashinyan, and also the foreign minister of Armenia all extended condolences over her death.
While Armenians hold Mazalová in high esteem, Mutalibov and Azerbaijani authorities today deny the accuracy of Mazalová's interview with Mutalibov and some even claim that she was engaging in war crime denial.
What should we think about all this?
Last week The Armenian National Science and Education Fund (ANSEF) announced a reorganization. First it has renamed itself after its founding father so they’re now the Yervant Terzian Armenian National Science and Education Fund; and they’ve also established an Advisory Board to their Executive Board, to allow their organization greater agility and depth of focus.
How much do we know about the ANSEF?
Former wrestling champ and My Step MP Arsen Julfalakyan has resigned from his seat in Parliament, citing irreconcilable differences with the Minister of Education. The 29-year-old acting mayor of Kapan, Narek Ghahramanyan, will replace Julfalakyan.
Do we know anything about these “fundamental” differences that caused Julfalakyan to part ways with the ruling party? What do we know about Ghahramanyan?
Check out this interesting interview with Julfalakian back in July that touches a bit on Julfalakian’s relationship with Gagik Tsarukyan and his decision to represent Prosperous Armenia (Bargavach Hayastan) and his subsequent decision to jump ship to My Step (Im Qayl).
The German government said last week that it knows the origin of the poison that was used on Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny but will not disclose it, expecting that Russia will come clean. Navalny came out of a medically induced coma on September 7 and has regained consciousness. Reportedly he speaks and remembers the day of poisoning, and is expected to physically recover at least 90%.
This is not the first time Russian opposition figures drink bad tea or have poison for breakfast. How important is Navalny, especially for the EU? How did Navalny get whisked away to Germany for detox and revival, does the EU have some latent interest in him?
Outside of the obvious human factor here, how much do we care about this incident from an Armenian political standpoint? What are Armenia’s ties to Navalny?
During the July war, Ilham Aliyev replaced his foreign minister and instructed the new one to take an aggressive stance in making progress towards Karabakh. Aliyev and his ministers have since upped the level of friction with countries who have anything to do with the supply arms to Armenia, for example: Serbia, Iran, Russia and so on. After talking with Putin, Aliyev recently Rebuked Putin about it. Of course, all the time Azerbaijan outspends Armenia 10 to 1 in defense spending and has been meeting constantly with Turkey and Israel over its own arms supplies and technology.
Why is so much effort spent by Azerbaijan on countries associated with supplying Arms to Armenia, especially such harsh rhetoric towards Russia? Is there a qualitative change in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy or is this a reactive tactic for their domestic consumption after a poor military performance in July?
Should Armenia spend some minimal effort on PR and talk about Turkey and Israel arming Azerbaijan, and say that Armenia has a right to defend itself?
● Parliament has approved the ratification of the three Implementing Protocols of the Armenia-EU Readmission Agreement.
● Ukraine has green-listed Armenia for travel, due to the declining numbers of COVID-19 infections in Armenia.
● 50 children were provided with computers in the frames of “The power of 1 dram” initiative.
● The families of the 2008 March 1 victims have announced that they will boycott the court proceedings which were re-opened in 2018 after the revolution.
● PM Pashinyan and his wife Anna Hakobyan visited the border towns in the Province of Tavush on Monday. The PM met with the residents of Movses and discussed road constructions in the region and was introduced to the renovation works of homes destroyed by Azerbaijani shelling in Aygepar in July.
● The 7th Byurakan International Summer School (7BISS) for Young Astronomers in the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO) in Armenia began September 7 and will last until September 12th themed “Astronomy and Data Science.”
● A bill on setting stricter liability for insult and defamation passed a parliamentary committee. The Union of Journalists of Armenia has come out against this legislative initiative.
● Former Speaker of Parliament Ara Babloyan went on trial on charges of abuse of power and official falsifications. Babloyan was allowed to temporarily leave Armenia for a short trip to Belgium related to work as head of Armenia’s largest children’s hospital.
● Armenia became the 47th state to complete the ratification of the CoE’s Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (“Lanzarote Convention”).
● The Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Sahak Mashalyan conducted the annual service at Akhtamar Church in Van on Sept. 6, 2020. The roughly two-hour mass ceremony aired live. A team of 25 people came from Istanbul to perform the ritual.
● President of the Armenian Chess Federation, former Pres. Serge Sargsyan wrote to FIDE president Dvorkovich. Two weeks ago, the Armenian Chess team withdrew from the semi-finals. Later in the finals there were similar Internet connectivity problems, and the FIDE was inconsistent in its decision-making:
During the final of the FIDE Online Olympiad between Russia and India, the internet connection was not always stable, which affected the outcome of some games. FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich intervened in a solomonic way and declared both teams, Russia and India, as winners of the event. At the semi-final between India and Armenia there had been similar problems, but the verdict had been different, and Armenia withdrew under protest.
● Róbert Ragnar Spanó, president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is facing criticism for having accepted an honorary degree from Istanbul University and for having met with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan.
● Finally 364 people returned to Russia from Armenia.
● The RA Investigative Committee addressed the victims of "Beauty of Armenia" charity.
● Two people have been charged with large-scale embezzlement in the FFA.
● Russian and Armenian army generals met in Moscow over the weekend as troops from the two countries began a joint military exercise near the Armenian-Turkish border.
● Health authorities continued to hospitalize people at the weekend as a result of Armenia’s worst-ever alcohol poisoning which has left 17 people dead and nearly 30 others seriously ill.
● The Iranian embassy in Azerbaijan has denied that Iran transfers Russian weapons to Armenia through its land border.
● Cal Poly Pomona’s ASA fundraised for the Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund over this summer.
● Georgia’s leading opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), has nominated former president Mikheil Saakashvili, as its candidate for prime minister in elections next month.
● Top Turkish, Azerbaijani officials met in Istanbul, and agreed to establish Turkish-Azerbaijani media platform. Tigran Abrahamyan, the head of the Yerevan-based Henaket think tank thinks that this opens up a wide information war front for the Armenians worldwide, to consolidate our information space in case the war renews.
● My Step has proposed to remove 200,000 people whose identity documents are expired, in an effort to clean up Armenia’s notoriously problematic voter lists.
● The President and the HR Ombudsman or Artsakh, and the president, prime minister and also the foreign minister of Armenia all have extended condolences over the death of Czech journalist Dana Mazalová, who covered the Nagorno Karabakh war extensively.
● Prime Minister of Belarus Roman Golovchenko has received the Russian-made vaccination against Coronavirus after negotiating with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Mishustin.
● The Army’s Son – book honoring the life and legacy of Captain Armenak Urfanyan published.
● The ECHR judgment in Mukuchyan and Minasyan v. Azerbaijan and Hungary has been appealed to the Grand Chamber. This is regarding the #RamilSafarov case. The Artsakh president’s spokesman, Davit Babayan, slammed the ECHR decision.
● The Yerevan City Council approved the installation of a memorial in honor of the 2008 March 1 victims.
● Gyumri City will provide AMD 1 million in aid to Lebanon’s Armenian community affected from the recent explosion in Beirut.
● Convicted criminal Tatul Mirzoyan, serving a life sentence, at the Nubarashen Correctional Facility, has set a national record for the most kettlebell reps.
● 3rd President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan has tested negative for Coronavirus.
● The EU and WHO handed over 100 oxygen concentrators, 20 electrocardiographs and 10,000 PCR tests for COVID-19 to the Ministry of Health.
● Director of the National Archive of Armenia SNCO Amatuni Virabyan has been relieved from his position by a decree of Justice Minister Rustam Badasyan, citing tax accounting irregularities for this decision. Amatuni pledged to challenge his dismissal in court.
● The NA approved the ratification of the "Meghri Border Checkpoint Program" Loan Agreement with the EBRD for 10.6 million Euros.
● The special service of Azerbaijan may have hacked the social networks of the citizens of Artsakh.
● Relatives of nine people killed in the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan have decided to boycott the ongoing trial of former President Robert Kocharian and three other former officials because it has become a “farce.”
● A law-enforcement agency brought corruption charges against Mher Sedrakian, aka “Tokhmakhi Mher,” an influential member of former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
● French Armenian politician and businesswoman Astrid Panosyan has been honored with a rank of the Knight of the National Order of Merit.
● Armenia’s national soccer team beat Estonia 2 to 0 in the 2nd round of the European League of Nations Division C matchup.
● The activities of over 5000 organizations have been suspended for violating the guidelines of the State of Emergency.
● A live RPG-7 projectile was found in a canal in Yerevan.
● Armenia continues mafia clampdown as more suspects face “thief-in-law” charges.
● Healthcare authorities have significantly ramped up COVID-19 testing since Monday because teachers are being tested ahead of the planned school re-opening on September 15. Over 3500 were tested on Monday.
● Kim Kardashian has announced that Keeping Up With The Kardashians will air its last episode in early 2021. Meanwhile Ryanair announced on Twitter that the final season of Keeping Up will be about a big family trip to Armenia in 2021.
● The full report on the April 2016 war is expected to be delivered to Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan before the end of September.
○ There is a report by Bright Armenia (LHK) MP Gevorg Gorgisyan that the report had leaked into the hands of a person without appropriate clearance to see it, and had in turn leaked portions of it to the public.
● The Hayastan All Armenian Fund transferred around $70,000 to the Embassy in Damascus on Wednesday, earmarked for mitigating the COVID-19-related healthcare and socio-economic situation of the Syrian-Armenians.
● Remittances from Russia to Armenia decreased by 28.2%, and from the United States increased by 22.1% in the first half of 2020, compared to 2019.
● DM Tonoyan met with the Polish Ambassador to Armenia and the military attaché. They discussed defense cooperation projects already in progress and the security developments in the region. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani FM Jayhun Bairamov met with the Polish ambassador to Azerbaijan, as well as the Italian ambassador.
● First president Levon Ter-Petrosyan met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kopirkin at his private house. Issues relating to the development of the Armenian-Russian relations, the regional security and the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict were discussed.
● My Step MP Arsen Julfalakyan has resigned from his seat in Parliament, citing irreconcilable differences with the Minister of Education. The 29-year-old acting mayor of Kapan, Narek Ghahramanyan, will replace Julfalakyan.
● Armenia's total public debt at the end of July 2020 stood at AMD $7.94 billion, an increase of AMD $220.7 million from the previous month.
● FM Mnatsakanyan spoke at a UN Security Council open debate on the role of La Francophonie (OIF) in the context of cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organizations. Armenia is chairing the Summit of the International Organization of OIF.
● ‘We Are Gyumri’ Announced its 2020 Mina Shirvanian Scholarship Recipients.
● Deputy Minister of Justice Srbuhi Galyan and her husband own a dozen properties. Her husband Petros Mkryan has declared an annual salary of AMD 6M, yet in 2019 he bought two apartments in the center of Yerevan, one of which costs AMD 206M, the other AMD 117M.
● Zvartnots Airport will have 20 Coronavirus testing points.
● A massive fire has broken out at Beirut's devastated port close to the epicentre of the blast a month ago. It happened in a warehouse which contained oil and tires and was damaged by the August 4 explosion. Traumatised residents feared there would be another large blast. Thankfully no injuries were reported in the aftermath of this fire.
● Artsakh Security Council Secretary Samvel Babayan's assertion that President Arayik Harutyunyan transferred part of his powers to him have ignited a constitutional controversy.
● President Armen Sarkissian met with UK Minister for European Neighborhood and the Americas Wendy Morton, and discussed a range of bilateral issues, and international topics such as climate change, Artificial Intelligence and more.
● MPs propose new assistance programs for residents of bordering communities.
● Seven CIS countries are testing the combat readiness of the Joint CIS Air Defense System on Sept. 11.
● FM Mnatsakanyan will travel to Egypt on an official visit from September 12th to 15th.
● The US State Department says in its 2020 Investment Climate Statements: Armenia report that progress in fighting corruption after the 2018 revolution and improvements in several sectors have increased the country’s appeal for foreign investments.
● The Republic of Artsakh has extended its state of emergency over coronavirus by one month.
● Armenia lifted the state of emergency after 6 months and replaced it with quarantine measures which would allow the authorities to continue enforcing safety rules and restrictions. The quarantine regime will be effective until January 11, 2021.
● Air France will resume Paris-Yerevan regular flights on Sep. 13. All Airlines previously granted permits for regular flights to Armenia can restart operating.
● US eyes Greek island as alternative to Turkish base due to ‘disturbing’ Erdogan actions, senior senator claims.
● Abraham Tovmasyan, a member of the Armenian Secret Liberation Army (ASALA), died in a car accident in Lebanon on September 5. On September 14, at 14:00, a requiem service will be held in his memory at the Yerablur Pantheon in Yerevan.
● Many employees of Gazprom Armenia have been laid off and the salaries of other employees have been cut by 20%. Bright Armenia (LHK) leader Edmon Marukyan has sent inquiries to understand the reasons for these moves.
● Prosperous Armenia (BHK) MP and Chair of the Standing Committee on Regional and Eurasian Integration Mikael Melkumyan met today with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kopirkin to discuss facilitating many Russian Armenians who have been stuck in Armenia during COVID, to leave for the Russia.
● "My Step" MPs Mkhitar Hayrapetyan, Andranik Kocharyan, and independent MP Arman Babajanyan authored a bill by which citizens over 27 years of age who have not completed compulsory military service and are criminally charged, may opt to pay a two-year salary of a contract serviceman which would release them from criminal prosecution.
● Catholicos Garegin II said that the Ministry of Education has not made "sufficient efforts" to cooperate with the Armenian Apostolic Church on matters of education, and that the reforms should be based on "the opinions and proposals of the professional community." He noted: "We are confident that the History of the Armenian Church should be taught separately.”
● GM Levon Aronian is participating in the Chess 9LX tournament which started on Friday.
● Two female MPs representing the BHK have announced plans to introduce legislation that would ban abortions except in cases of medical emergency.
● Baroness Caroline Cox Slammed Baku’s Warmongering, after she and many British lawmakers received letters from Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the UK Tahir Taghizade, threatening them to fall in line with Baku’s propaganda.
● An outdoor reception was held at the Armenian Consulate in LA honoring prominent artists Harout Pamboukjian and Razmik Mansourian.
● Yerevan mayor Hayk Marutyan met with Ambassador of Turkmenistan Mohammetgeldi Ayazov, and discussed the potential furthering of friendship and cooperation between the capitals of the two countries.
● PM Pashinyan and DM Tonoyan participated in Sparapet Day events, paying tribute to the memory of heroes fallen at the Great Patriotic War and the Artsakh Liberation War in Khndzoresk, in Syunik province. Later the PM visited Goris where he got acquainted with the town’s tourism infrastructure, in particular the restoration of Old Goris.
● A 40th day (Karasounk) requiem mass was held at St. Sargis in Yerevan in memory of the victims of the August 4 explosion in Beirut.
● President of Artsakh Arayik Harutyunyan attended the re-opening of a school building in the Jivani community of Martuni region.
● The EEC Council will expand the exchange of information between the EAEU country customs to limit the imports of personal cars from Armenia and Kyrgyzstan at lower rates of duties than those in other EAEU member states.
● POW Gurgen Alaverdyan’s captivity by Azerbaijan continues. One expert has warned of growing pressure on him as Red Cross officials have now failed to visit him after 20 days of captivity.
● Egypt’s FM Sameh Shoukry and Armenia’s Zohrab Mnatsakanyan held talks in Cairo aiming at bolstering bilateral relations and regional and international developments of common interest.
● GM Levon Aronian shared a point with Garry Kasparov (Croatia) in the 7th round of the Chess 9LX Champions Showdown. Aronian then became the sole leader after winning all three games on the second day of the tournament.
The Greece vs. Turkey animosity has been escalating in the past weeks. We will dedicate a section here to the headlines we’ve seen building:
● Turkey’s Muscle Flexing in the Med Isn’t Just About Gas.
● Turkey’s strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, takes to the world stage
● Erdoğan warns Macron: ‘Don’t mess with Turkey’
● Is the US About To Move Its 50 Nuclear Bombs From Turkey To A Greek Island? - Greek City Times
French Armenian politician and businesswoman Astrid Panosyan has been honored with a rank of the Knight of the National Order of Merit. President Emmanuel Macron handed over the Order during a ceremony at the Elysee Palace.
That concludes our 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 suggestions for issues to cover in greater depth.
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.
Karabakh Negotiations, Madrid Principles, Covid19, State of Emergency,repatriation
Additional: Emil Sanamyan, David Sandukhchyan, Asbed Kotchikian, Sergey Lavrov, Arayik Harutyunyan, Masis Mayilian, Pashinyan, Gurgen Alaverdyan, Babayan, Marutyan, Aronyan, Kasparov, ANSEF, Minsk Group, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Artsakh, Quarantine, Karantin, Alexei Navalny, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Belarus, France, Paris, Georgia, Greece, Egypt, Shoukry, Macron, Saakashvili, Kopyrkin, Erdogan, Aliyev, Mehdiyev, Hasanov, Nobel Peace Prize, Requiem, Gazprom, Tikhanovsky, Gyumri, Blair High School, Beirut, Erbil, Iraq, Niagara Falls, Tonoyan, Kim Kardashian, #KUWTK, Caucasus, Francophonie, Byurakan, Ombudsman, Ragnar, Spanó, Iran, ASA, Golovchenko, Astrid Panosyan