Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This show was recorded on Monday, April 11, 2022.
This week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
● Opposition Protests in Yerevan
● Buying Bread from a Man in Brussels
● Working for the man
● War and the Armenian Economic Outlook
● New MPG polls on Ukraine, Artsakh
● Alison in Artsakh
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Hrant Mikaelian, a political scientist and multidisciplinary researcher in social sciences based in Yerevan. He is also a senior researcher at the Caucasus Institute; AND
Alison Tahmizian Meuse, a veteran journalist who has reported for major international publications including Agence France-Presse and NPR. She currently teaches at the American University of Armenia and is a strategic advisor for the New Delhi-based consultancy DeepStrat.
On Tuesday the two parliamentary opposition alliances, Hayastan and I Have Honor rallied thousands of supporters to demand that the Armenian government not concede territories and control over Artsakh in meetings with the Azerbaijani president in Brussels.
There have been a few large rallies since the elections in June 2021 that changed nothing in Armenia since the defeat of 2020.
The protest organizers put forth a list of 8 demands from the Nikol Pashinyan government, which were:
● to affirm that the Republic of Armenia is the guarantor of the security of the people of Artsakh and transition to the realization of the right to self-determination with all its components,
● to exclude any status of Artsakh within Azerbaijan,
● to exclude the enclave state of Artsakh without a reliable land connection with Armenia,
● take steps in order to resume the negotiation process in accordance with the goals set by the decision of the 1994 OSCE Summit,
● to exclude the provision of corridors under the guise of unblocking the means of communication at the expense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Armenia,
● exclude the signing of any interstate agreement, any delimitation and demarcation process in the conditions of use of force by Azerbaijan under the threat of use of force,
● not to sign any agreement with Azerbaijan that would violate Artsakh's right to self-determination without restrictions,
● to rule out any agreement in Armenia-Turkey relations that would call into question the reality of the Armenian people 's deportation and genocide, as well as their right to be the bearer of the Armenian cultural and cultural heritage.
What impressions did the protest leave
The opposition said that this protest was only the first step and that more events will follow, but so far nothing. Essentially, the protesters were told to go home and wait.
There seems to be growing discontent among Pashinyan’s critics that the opposition is slow to move, while opposition leaders accuse them of impatience.
What was achieved at these rallies?
The rallies were held on the eve of PM Pashinyan’s meeting with Azerbaijan president Aliyev, which were held under the auspices of EC president Charles Michel.
Aliyev wants to force a peace treaty based on the five principles he put out a month ago. Pashinyan and FM Ararat Mirzoyan have indicated that these points are largely acceptable to them, but that further points are missing from the agenda.
The Armenian opposition, needless to say, is deeply suspicious of Pashinyan’s objectives during the Brussels negotiations.
At the meeting, Pashinyan and Aliyev agreed to start drafting a “peace agreement” and also convening a joint border commission before the end of April 2022.
Notes (from Ashotyan and more):
● Artsakh was never mentioned. OSCE MG not brought up. In fact, none of the 8 points demanded by the opposition were followed.
● Azeri incursions and killings, either in Artsakh or Armenia, were not mentioned. Pashinyan said that he didn’t find it “appropriate” to raise the issue since it happened in the area of responsibility of Russian peacekeepers
● Azerbaijan’s terrorism via blowing up natural gas and heating was not mentioned.
● The issue of Armenian POWs and Azerbaijani Missing Persons from the first war in Artsakh, apparently now have similar status.
● Increased legitimacy for the “mirror retreat” idiotic concept by Pashinyan.
● The following day, during the visit of Ararat Mirzoyan to Moscow, Lavrov said that France and US are “canceling” the OSCE MG by refusing to communicate on the topic. He furthermore added: “If they are ready to sacrifice the interests -- in this case of the Armenian side -- of settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh and the South Caucasus as a whole, it’s their choice.” Is the OSCE MG collapsing, in light of Lavrov’s sensational remarks?
● In response to repeated statements by Pashinyan and his team that there should be an investigation into the actions of the peacekeepers, Lavrov offered a dismissive but diplomatic reply, saying that the calls for an internal investigation into the peacekeeping contingent’s activities, do not reflect the “real attitude of the Armenian people and the leadership of Armenia.”
● Armenia was the only CSTO country to not vote AGAINST Russia’s expulsion from the UN HRC. Earlier, Russia had circulated a note among UN members threatening “consequences” for failure to vote against. Was this issue broached in the meeting with Lavrov?
What was achieved in Brussels?
Alison, the last time you were on our show back in November ‘21, you talked about the possibility of contributing to Armenia in an advisory capacity. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to since then?
The economic effects of the war in Ukraine are already having reverberations in many countries around the world.
Just to give you an idea, Ukraine and Russia account for a significant percentage of the world’s exports of wheat and fertilizer. The war and sanctions have stunted the production and logistics of delivering these goods to global markets. This is already having an effect on global food prices, and this is set to continue.
Armenia is not immune to these issues despite being a member of the EAEU. We know that Russia has restricted the export of grains even to EAEU countries.
It is now spring and the season to fertilize the ground and plant seeds. We’ve seen isolated reports of farmers complaining about the cost-prohibitiveness of fertilizer already, but the government is eerily silent on such a major issue.
Is Armenia’s food security at risk, and can it withstand existing and even bigger economic shocks that may yet come?
The IMF has already changed its forecast of global growth from 3.6% to 2.6%. And amidst the double-figure inflation plaguing Armenian consumers, this week we got news that Armenia’s foreign trade increased 52.4% year-over-year for the first two months of this year to $1.4 Billion. Exports grew 40% to $503 Million, while imports grew 60% to $903 Million.
Imports grew significantly faster than exports and this leaves us with a $400 Million deficit in just 2 months of ‘22.
● What is the economic outlook for Armenia?
● Is there hope to overcome the trade deficit? When and how?
The results of a new MPG poll were released this week, related to the conflict in Ukraine.
The poll conducted last week asks a variety of questions to gauge Armenians sentiments about the war in Ukraine, but in summary we can say that the Armenian population is overwhelmingly aware of the war and the potential for it to affect the region and the majority seem to support Russia’s position, including the recognition of independence of Donetsk and Lugansk (65.3%). The respondents seem to be aware also that this is not a Ukraine vs. Russia conflict but a US vs. Russia conflict and this will have repercussions on Armenia as well (77.6%).
Are these numbers surprising? Do any nuances stand out?
There was an interesting question in the poll about “whom do you blame for the tense situation in Artsakh”:
● 43.8% said Azerbaijan
● 27.0% said Armenian government
● 14.1% said Russian peacekeepers
● 6.1% said Artsakh government
● And only 3.5% said Turkey
The government in Yerevan has been trying to put the blame on the Russian peacekeepers. Is it surprising that only 14.1% of Armenians in Armenia believe that thesis?
Alison: You just came back from Artsakh. What is your sense of the population there? Whom do they blame for the incidents?
Karaglukh is not an isolated incident and people see further proof with each passing day that the current Armenian government has washed its hands of Artsakh Republic. And I do not believe they are willing to blame the peacekeepers, because you have had almost the same scenario in places like Kapan or the Goris-Kapan road, part of Armenia’s crucial highway to Iran, where Armenian troops are replaced by Azeri troops. This was in the Republic of Armenia, where there were no Russian peacekeepers to blame. And the only response of the Armenian government is to downplay the severity of these concessions, or to accuse those raising the alarm of stoking panic.
The summary of events I heard when I was in Stepanakert was that there was indeed an agreement for both sides to pull back, and that the Russians were to take the heights, and that when the Azeris simply rushed in, the Russians did fight back and succeeded in preventing them from bringing heavy weaponry up the heights. I was also told that a Russian peacekeeper was badly injured because this intervention was man-to-man, as the Russians have no mandate for the use of deadly force. And I think we have to remember that the Russian troops were the ones who came when even the Armenian government was willing to concede defeat and had evacuated Stepanakert.
We’ve had several polls in the past (both by IRI and MPG) which indicated that a majority of the population is not really keen on establishing diplomatic relations with Turkey. Despite this, there were still manipulations of these polls. Most recently, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan stated in March that Armenia’s population supports the current efforts of the Armenian government, which says that it is normalizing relations with Turkey “without preconditions” (never mind that most if not all preconditions have been met already).
MPG asked the question point blank: “Do you support the establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of borders with Turkey without preconditions?” A staggering 68% said that they were against this, with 59.3 saying they were categorically against this.
How should we interpret these results?
Another question asked: “Will the current Armenian authorities be able to sign a peace agreement with Azerbaijan on terms acceptable and in the interests of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh?”
Again, a resounding 57.2% said that “somewhat no” or “definitely no”. So, it seems that on the issue of international relations, many Armenian citizens are pessimistic about Armenia’s current direction and the team leading it.
Do we agree with this?
Now we come to the paradoxical part of this poll. Let’s begin with the approval rating given to the prime minister.
The respondents were asked: “Please rate the performance of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan”
● 38.8% positive (with 25% definitely positive)
● 47.7% negative (with 34.1% definitely negative)
● 13.6% difficulty in responding
The anti-rating seems to be high, but given the previous answers we’ve seen in this same poll, how can 38.8% still support this prime minister?
If his foreign policy is going in completely the wrong direction than the respondents want, what is he doing in other areas that is perhaps compensating for this?
The last question in this poll asked: “If parliamentary elections were to be held this Sunday, who would you vote for?”
● 20.4% said Civil Contract
● 12.0% said Armenia Alliance or I Have Honor Alliance (8.3 + 3.7)
● 9.1% refused to answer the question
● 12.9% said they find it difficult to respond
● 38.9% said either:
○ None of the above 10.1%
○ Will not participate in elections 28.8%
Just for reference, a week before the June 2021 parliamentary elections, Civil Contract had 23.8% while Hayastan Alliance had 24.1% according to this same pollster.
How can we explain these results?
And now, I’m sure all of our listeners are eager to hear a word about Artsakh. Alison, you were there over the weekend. Tell us about your impressions of your first visit since the war in Artsakh.
● Were there a lot of visitors from Armenia?
● What were the logistics like?
○ How did you secure transportation?
○ How was the road?
○ How did you book a hotel?
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.
Hrant Mikaelian, Alison Tahmizian Meuse, Armenia, Artsakh, Nagorno Karabakh, Karaglukh, Azerbaijan, Brussels, Charles Michel, MPG Poll, Karaglukh, Parukh, Vladimir Putin, South Caucasus, Turkey, Russia, Peace Negotiations, Opposition, Yerevan, Protests, OSCE MG, Ararat Mirzoyan, Ukraine, Armenian Economy, Economy, IMF, World Bank, Economic Slowdown,