Check-out this lovely stand-up comedy sketch on Armenian NGOs, writing a grant proposal. Armcomedy.com presents a sketch from Comedy Night 8, a standup humor show by Armenian comedians Sergey Sargsyan and Narek Markarian.
The controversial trial of ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian’s 7 prominent supporters de-facto ended today – separated into isolated cases by the ruling of judge Mnatsakan Martirosyan. The charge for “usurpation of state authority by force” was dropped, making the now separate cases against the oppositionists more “politically neutral”. RFE/RL carries the news:
The new twist in the so-called “case of the seven” resulted from the newly enacted amendments to Articles 225 and 300 of the Armenian Criminal Code used against the prominent supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian. The articles deal with provocation of street violence and “usurpation of state authority by force” respectively.
The judge ruled, that the seven oppositionists should stand separate trials for “provoking mass disorders and violence”, while the charge of “usurpation of state authority”, which was the main charge politicizing the case, was dropped.
While this means, that the trials will continue beyond the deadline of PACE April session, it also means, that the opposition will have fewer arguments in claiming that the seven oppositionists are “political prisoners” at the PACE’s upcoming session.
It will also disperse the “high profile” cloud from the case, making it harder for the society to follow.
All of this looks like a thoroghly considered plan for putting the oppositionists in jail for good (BtW: Shant Harutyunyan’s case had been suspended earlier in March while he undergoes psychiatric examination).
It also signalls the decisive stance of the authorities to punish political dissidence as the country heads into Yerevan’s municipal elections.
There are reports claiming, that the suggestion to suspend the voting rights of the Armenian delegation at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has been removed from the draft resolution to be presented at the Assembly today.
Levon Zurabyan, a spokesperson for the Armenian National Congress (HAK) told RFE/RL today, that a copy of the draft resolution has been obtained by the representatives of HAK, which allows them to draw the conclusion.
Armenia has been living under constant pressure since December 17, 2008 – after the adoption of a suggestion by the PACE Monitoring Committee to suspend the voting rights of the Armenian delegation over concerns that political prisoners exist in Armenia and that the provisions of PACE resolutions 1609 (08) and 1620 (08) have not been fully implemented.
Following the visit of PACE Monitoring Committee co-repertoires Jon Prescott and Gorges Colombier to Armenia mid-January to evaluate the situation and possibly make amendments to the draft resolution adopted by the Monitoring Committee, a number of Armenian pro-government politicians had expressed hope and even conviction, that the voting rights of the country won’t be suspended after all.
This would be generally good news – suspension of voting rights would be a hard blow to Armenia’s international authority, amidst ongoing Karabakh talks. Moreover, considering the fact that PACE has been much more patient with countries like Azerbaijan which has literally turned into a monarchy with non-existent civil liberties, it would seem unfair for the Assembly to adopt sanctions against Armenia.
On the other hand – since Armenia’s entry to the CoE the PACE resolutions on the functioning of democratic institutions in Armenia had been one of the main drivers of democratic reforms. Today, when it was time for PACE to show, that it is a body genuinely concerned about democracy, not adopting any sanctions will be an indicator for the Armenian politicians (government and opposition alike), that they can do pretty much anything and get away with it. …and that will really hurt the fragile democracy in this country.
I really hope, that there are no sanctions against Armenia, but that there is a very strict resolution with some type of control mechanism, to make sure the country doesn’t fall off the track of civil liberties. Otherwise, what do we need the CoE membership for?
The Armenian authorities will have to pay EUR 30,000 to A1plus – which is of course very little, but what is more important, is the precedent. Admittedly, the Armenian government has been loosing case after case in the European Court of Human Rights in the recent months. Here’s more from A1plus:
Basically, while the great, educated egotist Ter-Petrossian was analyzing the situation in Armenia in nicely formulated sentences and trying to establish grounds for dialogue with current president of Armenia – Serzh Sargsyan, by laying most of the blame on Kocharyan, the Second president of Armenia chose to respond in the manner typical for his semi-educated egotistic self, calling the First president names, like “dumb” (տկարամիտ) and “deeply indecent” (խորապես անպարկեշտ), and saying, that it was the opposition who needed the blood and deaths on March 1st. [text here was edited, as the original post contained obviously biased points of views] Now, while I clearly recall at least one case, when Levon Ter-Petrossian spoke on the rallies, saying, that they will go till the end, that doesn’t mean, that human casualties can be blamed on the opposition. Moreover, in the situation, when the country disparately needs peace and reconciliation, and when the opposition has just attempted the first vague steps towards dialogue, Kocharyan’s words are rather unwelcome.
Quite predictably, the internet discussions over the past several days focused primarily on the congress held by opposition forces and the first public speech made by the opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian since the post-election violence on March 1st.
Opposition Congress, May 2, 2008 | Source: Unzipped
While speculating, that anyone “who made claims that they received 65% of the votes, accuses the present government of being murderers  but is not presenting evidence to back his claims, can not be taken seriously“, Martuni or Bust!!! looks at the overall context of the opposition congress, concluding:
It looks as if things have not really settled down since the fraudulent elections and the killing of March 1st. The noticeable unrest is going longer than I was expecting and who knows, maybe this time around the truth really will come out and those who need to be put in their place will finally get what they have coming.
Bringing a more comprehensive analysis, the Caucasus Knot speculates, that “the radical opposition appears ready to negotiate with the authorities in order to prevent a repeat of the post-election violence which left at least 10 dead“, and concludes, that this first public speech by Ter-Petrossian since the March 1 disturbances “certainly represents a more conciliatory line“:
Interestingly, Ter-Petrossian was reportedly more conciliatory towards the new president, Serge Sargsyan.  Ter-Petrossian instead directed his main attack on the former president, Robert Kocharian. Whether his words mark a realization from Ter-Petrossian that the radical opposition is unable to contest the outcome of the vote on the streets is a moot point.
Whatever the view, however, and whatever the numbers, there is the basis for discussion and negotiations in the form of Council of Europe Resolution 1609. In particular, it calls on the radical opposition to recognize the constitutional court ruling confirming the results of the presidential election as well as on the government to release those detained on purely political grounds. Another demand is for an independent inquiry into the 1 March riot to be held.
Marking the fact, that Levon Ter-Petrossian has “effectively expressed readiness for a dialogue based on PACE recommendations”, pro-opposition blogger Unzipped disagrees with the statement, “directly accepting PACE call to opposition to recognise the Constitutional Court’s decision which approved the election results” in the opposition leader’s speech, speculating, that:
“Fraud in elections was the main reason which sparked the protests, and ‘acceptance’ of its results for practical reasons to move forward cannot be considered as a precondition (and never presented as such by PACE) but rather a part of a final outcome of negotiations (with a package of measures aimed at democratisation of Armenian society).”
Known for his outspoken dislike of the first president, Pigh has singled out some soundbites in Ter-Petrossian’s speech, hinting, that such approaches are inconsistent with the “role” of the opposition leader, and are making him a “tool”, which works more in favor of the ruling Republican and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun parties:
One [of the soundbites] was directed at the US Government and the “Millenium Challanges” corporation, calling upon them to abstain from cutting aid to Armenia, as it will hurt the people, not the authorities.. Dashnak-Tool
Secondly – the first president spoke about the neighboring Azerbaijan in particular, noting, that Baku has to finally realize, that regardless the internal political situation in Armenia, “it would meet with a united resistance of the Armenian people in the event of unleashing a military aggression against Karabakh”
Interestingly, the issue of US assitance to Armenia has also drawn criticism from the highly pro-Ter-Petrossian blogger, Nazarian:
In the speech below, Levon Ter-Petrosian is against some of the things I have been advocating such as the stopping of the US economic aid to Armenia. I disagree with him and will continue to push for the (hopefully short term) halt of American taxpayer money propping up the banditocracy in Armenia. One of the best ways to modify someone’s behavior is through financial (dis)incentives.
And while Uzogh wonders, what has really triggered such a drastic change in LTP’s perceptions of current political realities, Unzipped on his turn, highlights the importance of the authorities’ response to opposition leaders apparent call for dialogue based on Counil of Europe Parliamentary Assembley recommendations:
How serious is Armenian government in terms of making necessary reforms and changes in accordance with the PACE recommendations, and engaging in a dialogue with the opposition, will be known on 10 May when a committee created by a decree of Serj Sargsyan will present its action plan.
It is acknowledged that within five years the MCA-Armenia project will contribute to the development of ¾ of rural areas of Armenia through a 235,65 million dollar value Compact of five years, signed with the US Corporation: 943 km of rural roads, 200 km of main canals, 30 000 hectares of irrigation systems, 18 gravity-fed irrigation systems and seven water preserves will be rehabilitated, special training sessions for approximately 60.000 rural population will be conducted, loans in the value of 8,5 million dollars will be provided to rural households, etc. With its scope and effectiveness, this project is unprecedented in the list of agricultural development programs ever implemented in Armenia.
Since the end of the last year, the 17 indicators that guide MCC in their decision to provide funding to our and other countries were worrisome for the Republic of Armenia: nine out of the 17 indicators are at certain risk levels for our country.
The violations of law during the latest RA presidential elections, the developments that followed them, mass violations of human rights and restrictions of media and freedom of expression can considerably lower some of the RA indicators, which, on their turn, will considerably increase the risk of suspension or termination of the program.Continue reading →
Public attitude remained generally skeptical towards the efforts of President Sargsyan and PM Sargsyan to restore public trust by undertaking some positive steps over the past couple of weeks.
One of the first such steps was the dismissal of Armen Avetisyan, the chairman of the the Armenian Customs Service (ACS) for the last 8 years and the followed by a meeting of President Serzh Sargsyan with the ACS officials. On this highly publicized event President spoke about his determination to uproot corruption in the country especially in services like the Customs and Tax Inspection. While sincerity of his words is dubious, this genuine attempt by President Sargsyan to raise the government’s profile largely failed, because of rumors last week, that the import tariffs for manufactured goods have sharply risen, which was followed by a demonstration in front of the government building on Republic square. Coupled with sharp rise of natural gas prices announced two weeks ago, and then the recent reports that the gas prices will climb even higher by 2011 left no further room for optimism for middle class to poor families across the country.
Another blow to the authority of the government, internationally as well as at home, came as the resolution passed by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on April 17 called for the Armenian authorities to file an “independent, transparent and credible inquiry” into the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition supporters and “the urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.” It also said that the recently enacted legal amendments which effectively banned opposition rallies should be repealed “with immediate effect.” The Strasbourg-based assembly threatened to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members if these measures are not taken before its next session due in June. In an attempt to turn the unfavorable international resolution into a tool to reach compromise at home, President Serzh Sarkisian established an ad hoc group, headed by President’s new chief of staff Hovik Abrahamyan, which is to look for solutions and present suggestions to overcome the political crises in the country. The effectiveness of this step is yet to be seen, however, it is clear, that a Presidential decree quickly releasing all, but the most serious offenders and mauradeours of March 1, would have been the most effective means to regaining public trust and appreciation of international community, rather then superficial half-measures like creation of committees head by highly discredited politicians like Hovik Abrahamyan.
On a related note, Armen Harutyunyan, the Ombudsman of Armenia – also released his report, echoing the international calls for an independent investigation and challenging the official accounts of March 1 riots, stating, in particular, that the Armenian police have so far failed to produce any evidence of firearms being used by the protesters against the police.
With no signs of the ongoing political crises in the country ceding anytime soon, all the other positive steps undertaken by the government are lost on public. Among such positive steps were undoubtedly PM Sargsyan’s announcements on Friday, that Government will start holding outgoing regular sessions in various regions of Armenia from now on, and that to enable more transparency of government actions the journalists will be allowed to follow government sessions live from the government’s Press Center and that more interest will be paid to media publications from now on, starting with the case of Syunik Governor (Marzpet) Suren Khachatryan published by Aravot Daily. Hopefully this, and more positive steps undertaken by the new government, mediocre and lacking political capital as it is, will soon render some kind of positive results and raise public confidence, otherwise we will be on a sure way to a final and total devastation, which is not something that any Armenian wants.
Five out of seventeen ministerial posts have already been appointed, only two of which are new faces: Foreign minister Eduard Nalbandian, former ambassador to France, and Defense minister Seyran Ohanian, the former head of armed forces. Three ministers retained the positions they held in the outgoing government. Gevorg Danielian (Republican Party) will stay on as justice minister, while Armen Grigorian (Prosperous Armenia) will continue as minister of sport and youth affairs and David Lokian (Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun) as agriculture minister. Interestingly, as this ArmeniaNow analyses points out, despite the landslide victory achieved by the Republicans in 2007 parliamentary elections, the government formed after the elections was a coalition one.
When the non-partisan head of Central Bank Tigran Sargsyan was appointed Premier, after Serzh Sargsyan’s 53% victory, disputed as it may be, it seemed for a moment, that leaning on heavy Republican majority in Parliament and control over the executive branch, Serzh Sargsyan might attempt to form a merit based, professional government. Still, the developments are indicating the opposite. So far the weight of coalition is prevailing, and it seems more coalition appointments are to be expected.
While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I find it strange, that four political forces, with distincltly different political agendas are working in a coalition government. Moreover, with Republicans being strong enough to rule on their own, it is clear, that their political line will be dictating everything, so it looks, as though Bargavach Hayastan, ARF-Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir party won’t be able to push any of their appraches through, and have joined the government only to retain some administrative levers and ensure better life for some of their top party officials.
Meanwhile, the new government faces the challanges of strengthening its legitimacy in Armenia and restoring country’s image in the international community. “The Monitoring Commission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on April 17 urging the Armenian authorities to implement a number of reforms aimed at improving the situation in the country. PACE suggests launching an independent inquiry into the clashes, releasing all prisoners who did not commit crimes, amending the law on public rallies, and engaging in a dialogue with the opposition. PACE warns that, unless those conditions are met, it will consider suspending the voting rights of Armenia during its next session, which takes place in June.” (April 17, 2008 | RFE/RL)
The expected sharp rise of prices following the rise of natural gas price doesn’t help much with raising the government’s profile. Instead, it gives the opposition more facts to build their struggle – which has been generally a destructive one so far. Seems like the internal situation will remain tense over the next month or two, possibly with the influence of opposition gradually declining, although – if the government keeps the policies observed over the past week – price-rises, which should have been avoided at all costs in this tentative and tense political period, we might just as well see the opposite.
No changes are expected in the foreign policy sphere either. “In his first major foreign-policy speech on April 16, Armenia’s president was uncompromising. “Azerbaijan must understand the simple reality that the existence of the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence is irreversible,”Sarkisian said. “The people of Nagorno-Karabakh have won their right to a free and independent life. And through our efforts, that right must be recognized by the international community.” (April 17, 2008 | RFE/RL)
For all the optimists out there – gather as much of it as you can, ‘couse looks like you will badly need it.