Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This show was recorded on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.
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Here are the major topics we’ll touch on today:
● CIA Chief in Armenia
● Army Chief Appointed
● Armen Grigorian Dies in Court
● Mourad Papazian is Denied Entry in Armenia
● Bayramov and Mirzoyan in Tbilisi
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Tevan Poghosyan, who is president of the International Center for Human Development. Mr. Poghosyan was an MP in the National Assembly between 2012 and 2017 from the Heritage party. From 1997 to 1999 he served as the Nagorno-Karabakh Public Affairs Office Director in Washington, D.C.
As a clear sign of Armenia’s tourism picking up, and this - even before there’s a big old Jesus on top of Mount Tsarukyan, CIA chief William Butler visited Yerevan this past week, completely impromptu and unannounced.
Reportedly he was in Armenia all of about a few hours, and he met with PM Pashinyan and Armenia’s NSC chair Armen Grigoryan. Some analysts believe that Russian security officials were also in Yerevan, to meet with the CIA director to discuss issues around Ukraine. Other analysts believe that the agenda, driven by the US, also had to do with understanding the outcomes of the visit of Iran’s Security chief Ali Shamkhani, as well as discussing the progress of the Turkish-Armenian Normalization process. The topics are believed to have included the Armenian-Azerbaijani and Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
● It’s not at all clear why the visit of the top CIA officer was required. Thoughts?
On Monday we learned that PM Pashinyan met with Sergey Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, who happened to be in town… So apparently the heads of both world superpowers were visiting Yerevan, possibly at the same time? We don’t know when Naryshkin arrived, and there is no information whether Burns and Naryshkin met, or bumped into each other at the same bed and breakfast.
● Do we know more about this? Were the two intelligence chiefs in Armenia at the same time?
Naryshkin denied that his visit was connected to the CIA chief’s but said the reverse could not be discounted.
One statement that Naryshkin made at this meeting is that Russia has the power and resources to defend its allies. We know from our discussions with analysts that Azerbaijan is aggressively preparing for war.
● Did Pashinyan tell Naryshkin that Armenia does not have confidence that Russia is ready to defend it in case Azerbaijan attacks?
We also touch upon the trilateral summit in Iran between Putin, Erdogan, Raisi and Ali Khamenei.
After 6 months without a chief of the armed forces, PM Pashinyan finally appointed a new Chief of the General Staff for the Armenian armed forces: Major-General Edward Asryan.
● Who is Major-General Edward Asrian?
A week earlier, parliament passed a bill that transformed the position of Chief of General Staff to a political one, subordinating the position to the minister of defense but also codifying in law that the Chief of General Staff (who is also Deputy Defense Minister) will not be eligible to perform ministerial duties if the defense minister is absent or unable to perform the duties.
● What is the goal, or purpose for this legislation?
● Clearly the PM waited for this bill to become law before appointing the army chief. What is the significance of this 1-2 step appointment?
Asryan was among 40 signatories of wartime army chief Onik Gasparyan’s call for PM Pashinyan’s resignation.
● What compromises may have been agreed to, in this appointment?
Media producer Armen Grigoryan, an opposition sympathizer who had been jailed in May on charges of “offending the national dignity” of Armenian citizens, collapsed and died in court on Friday.
The charges that Grigoryan is accused of make a mockery of democracy. Human rights activists have widely criticized his jailing, and said that the fact that he was detained for months before his trial shows that the charges were politically motivated because Grigoryan was a vocal critic of Pashinyan’s government.
He is charged with inciting hatred among different groups, when he publicly called residents of Shirak and Ararat plains traitors while praising residents of mountainous regions. The only other person charged under this article, which was introduced in 2020, is Sashik Sultanian who has been charged with inciting hatred between Armenians and Yezidis. Sultanian has never been detained and is free to travel the world, including the US, where he testified in US congress about Armenia’s draconian restrictions on free speech. Western-funded media have also covered Sultanian in a positive light, while mostly glossing over Armen Grigoryan’s plight. The US State Department has addressed the matter in support of Sultanyan, as has Freedom House NGO. Human Rights Watch has specifically urged the Armenian authorities to drop the case against Sultanian, while no such call was made for Grigoryan.
The timing of the arrest also reeks of being politically motivated. The alleged offense was committed in April 2021, yet no case was opened against Grigoryan until May 2022, at the height of the opposition street protests, which Grigoryan took part in.
Even the Civil Contract appointed HR ombudswoman, Kristine Grigoryan, said she was shocked at the death, and that he did not receive adequate care in prison.
First of all, we want to express our condolences to the family of Armen Grigoryan.
● Can you tell us a little more about Grigoryan?
● This law feels suspiciously like Article 300, “Insulting Turkishness”, where prosecutors determine if someone’s speech crossed some limits. Does such a ridiculous law belong in a so-called democratic state? When did this law come about, and is it even constitutional?
● What do you think about this government’s use (or some would say abuse) of pretrial detentions. Should Grigoryan even have been in detention, and could that have contributed to worsening of his health, and death? Do you think this power is used in a balanced manner?
● Is pretrial detention used as punishment?
● What recourse does Grigoryan’s family have, to address this injustice?
French-Armenian community leader, and ARF Bureau member Mourad Papazian was reportedly arrested upon arrival in Yerevan on July 15 and was denied entry to the country. According to Papazian the action was completely unexpected and unwarranted. He demanded reasons but there was no response from the NSS. He also applied to the French embassy without results, so he was returned to Paris.
The last time leading Diasporans or parties were denied entry and banned from Armenia was in the ‘90s when Levon Ter-Petrosyan banned the ARF from Armenia. It was only when Robert Kocharyan came to power that these politically driven bans were lifted.
● This seems to be the first time that a prominent Diasporan has been denied entry for allegedly political reasons. How serious of a stepback is this for Armenia-Diaspora relations?
● Can Armenia alienate the Diaspora, even if it is for a short time while this government flushes out of the country’s system?
● What were the reasons for banning Papazian from entering? What could have been the nature of the announcement that Papazian had promised to make in Armenia, that he’d written about on his Facebook page?
The Armenian and Azerbaijani FMs met in Tbilisi over the weekend. No agreements were announced but it’s evident that Armenia continues to affirm the need for a solution to the Nagorno Karabakh issue, while Azerbaijan denies the existence of status for Karabakh as an issue. Armenia highlights humanitarian issues, which Azerbaijan then fully glosses over.
On the same day as the meeting between the FMs was happening, Aliyev once again threatened Armenia militarily, alleging that Armenia had not withdrawn all troops from Artsakh, claiming this is stipulated by the Nov. 9/10 agreement. Additionally, Aliyev said that there was a verbal agreement not to discuss the status of Artsakh, and Armenia has violated that.
Immediately after the meeting, Armenia updated both the US and Russian security circles.
● Except for a first bilateral face-to-face between the foreign ministers, what was important, or what was achieved at this meeting?
● Bairamov was quoted de-emphasizing this, saying it's going to be a "long process". Does Azerbaijan care about border demarcation? They seem to be more focused on "corridors".
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.
Tevan Poghosyan, Armenia, CIA, William Burns, Sergey Naryshkin, Russia, Foreign Intelligence Service, Yerevan, Nikol Pashinyan, Armen Grigoryan, Mourad Papazian, ARF, Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Dashnaktsutyun, Zareh Sinanyan, Armenian Diaspora, DIaspora High Commissioner,