Foreign Exchange Rates Plunge Again

Last week saw another fall in foreign currency exchange rates. Exchange rates have been falling steadily for several years now, however this latest incident was extremely severe. The dollar alone fell from 315 drams it traded for on Wednesday to 285 on Saturday evening, a fall of around 10% of it’s price. Amid the uncertainty, banks and exchanges around the city continue to trade with a discrepancy of 10 drams or more between the selling and buying prices for the dollar.
This latest plunge follows a decision by the Central Bank to increase the reserve rates for foreign currency by a staggering 4%. The increase from 8% to 12% both forced banks to sell foreign currency and slashed the money supply.
The central bank continuously keeps explaining the strengthening of the local currency both by rapid economic growth and increased foreign transfers. State officials apparently take advantage of public ignorance of financial matters by blatantly accepting that they are doing nothing to increase the money supply proportional to the growth of the economy. It this latest incident it is apparently doing exactly the opposite. The argument that transfers have increased has also been questioned by opposition figures.
Despite the asserted strengthening of the dram, it’s buying power has steadily declined for the past years. This is mostly due to the fact, that a large portion of the country’s import is monopolized, leading to businessmen enjoying super profits without being faced by competition that would force them to lower prices. This is also the main ground for speculation, that the Central Bank is deliberately allowing the currency to strengthen unhindered. In a talk show just before the incident, former prime minister Hrant Bagratyan talked extensively about the economic situation. He noted a recent incident in which the price of sugar, which is the monopoly of parliament member Samvel Alexanyan, was doubled overnight. The old price was restored a day afterwards, however this was followed by another plunge in foreign exchange rates.
Exporters meanwhile have been continuously complaining about the situation. The effect on the large part of the population that relies on transfers from relatives working abroad or receives salaries in a dollar equivalent has also been harsh.


Corruption in World Bank projects in Armenia Finally Make News Agenda

The World bank scandal became one of those, so far rare cases, when an important news item is consistently filtered out of the news agenda by traditional media, and only continuous blogging efforts persist in exposing it until the item finally becomes center of attention. As Onnik Krikoryan reports, although media in Armenia refused to cover the World Bank corruption scandal in Armenia several months ago, continuous efforts by British whistleblower Bruce Tasker on his own blog, Blowing the World Bank Whistle and also Oneworld Multimedia, the most popular English language Armenian blog,  finally rendered results. And although so far it is only RFE/RL reporting the developments, looks like the story will no longer stay in oblivion:

A U.S. anti-corruption watchdog joined on Thursday a British whistleblower in accusing the World Bank of covering up what they see as gross misuse of a $30 million loan that was meant to upgrade Armenia’s battered water infrastructure.
Tasker claims that the installation of water meters was a major source of corruption among Armenian and foreign officials as well as private firms involved in the project’s implementation. He says local contractors alone were able to pocket up to $10 profit on the sale of each meter by charging customers for installation.

Onnik Krikoryan further reports, how media outlets have been reluctant to “get on the bad side of the World Bank”:

Tasker set up his blog when news outlets here refused to cover the story at the beginning of the year although the former finally did so only after this blog brought the alleged scandal to greater public attention. Eventually, some media outlets here did follow suit, but many publications here and abroad were hesitant in taking material from yours truly when I approached them. Nobody wanted to get on the bad side of the World Bank.
However, New Internationalist published my short piece on Tasker and his battle with the World Bank at the end of October. Now, RFE/RL reports that the scandal has hit the big time in Yerevan. However, the World Bank continue to deny any wrongdoing. Time will tell.

Armenia Diaspora

Telethon Collects $15 Million 275 Thousand

Telethon 2007 is over, with very satisfactory results – this is such a great, unifying initiative, that it is hard to see any other example, when the Armenian Diaspora collectively supports the development of our common fatherland – Armenia. The Telethon was also well represented on the Internet: the Armenian version of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund was quite up to date in all three language versions: Armenian, English and French.

Although logically, as we have, according to some estimates around 2 million Armenians in Russia, the website should have a Russian version as well, I somehow felt gloatingly satisfied to observe this omission. Here is at last an all-Armenian event, where Russia doesn’t play the dominant role. That is indeed satisfying, call me anti-Russian if you will!

More about the achievements of the Telethon 2007 can be seen on  this section of All-Armenian Fund’s website, as well as in various press reports:

[ | 14:12 23/11/2007] The annual telethon organized by Pan Armenia Fund ended several hours ago in Los Angeles. The telethon managed to collect $15 million 275 thousand which is more than collected last year, $14 million.

The pan national fundraising was conducted under the heading “One nation, one future.” The collected money will be used to recover villages in Tavush region of Armenia and Martuni region of Nagorno Karabakh.
Pan Armenia Fund reports say people for Los Angeles, Europe, Asia as well as Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia actively participated.

While I greatly compliment the Armenian Diaspora on this  growing amount of financial assistance they are inputting into the development of Armenia, I also have to note, that the key indicator to help me measure the dynamics of Telethon and the success of the All-Armenian Fund was the fact, that only 142950000 AMD was collected by the 2500 Armenian organizations this time. Considering today’s CBA exchange rate that is $453507 US, or 2.96% of the total amount pledged. Comparing it with last years figures I was somehow depressed to see, that this year’s figure pledged from Armenia is lower than last year’s  $1.54 million or 11% of the total. What does this mean? Don’t the Armenian companies directly benefit from the programs implemented by the fund? Does it mean, that they don’t trust it anymore? Or is it, because the outgoing and weakened President Kocharian and  Serge Sargsyan, who disparately needs the support of big business, decided to not to pressure the big Armenian businessmen to contribute more? Indeed, there are many speculations and rumors, that Armenian businesses contribute only because they are told to from above. And that is a depressing idea.

Anyway, despite controversy over telethon (and I remember very well how Armenian blogger Nazarian was speaking about his doubts about whether to contribute or no), bare figures show us, that the Diaspora trusts the Telethon more and more. And despite all the reservations, I have to compliment the All-Armenian Fund and the Armenian Diaspora for this new achievement in joining forces to support the nation one more time. Diaspora, we need you, and it’s not just a matter of financial resources. We need the understanding, that we are all One Nation, One Future indeed.

Armenia Politics

Artur Baghdasaryan Endorses LTP's Anti-Fraud Measures and That's It

“Orinats Yerkir, which is one of only two opposition groups represented in parliament, [] endorsed two anti-fraud amendments to Armenia’s Election Code that were put forward by Ter-Petrosian at a rally on Friday. Baghdasarian’s party said the proposed changes will be incorporated into its own package of election-related amendments which will be submitted to the National Assembly soon.” RFE/RL reports.
However, in a statement issued on Thursday, the “Rule of Law”(Orinats Yerkir) party, which is the leading Armenian opposition party by the number of Parliamentary mandates, “refused to support former President Levon Ter-Petrosian in the upcoming presidential election, saying that it will not reconsider its decision to field its leader Artur Baghdasarian’s candidacy.”
It is interesting, that unlike Vazgen Manukyan’s utterly negative attitude towards Levon Ter-Petrossian, “Orinats Yerkir” seems to have assumed a more flexible policy. With one hand they implement suggestions brought forward by LTP, with the other they refuse to support his candidacy. Does it mean Artur Baghdasaryan is sending a hidden signal, that under change of circumstances at some point he might still be ready to endorse Ter-Petrossian? Moreover, from the same source we find out, that:

At the same time the party said it is ready to work together with Ter-Petrosian and other opposition candidates in trying to ensure the freedom and fairness of the February 19 vote.


Vazgen Manukyan: "Levon Ter-Petrossian is indebted to our people"

This video of Vazgen Manukyan, which Uzogh has kindly posted on his blog, brings the criticisms of Vazgen Manukyan, the chairman of the National Democratic Union, and is “the first bell of warning for Levon’s Witnesses*” according to the blogger.

E-channel further reports:

The NDU chairman will not have a positive response to Levon Ter-Petrossian’s statement on November 16, urging “to join the national movement against Kocharyanaserzh state of robbers.”
As told by Liberty radio station, Vazgen Manukyan has said, “Levon Ter-Petrossian is indebted to our people. Levon Ter-Petrossian has been in power for 8 years. By being elected a president in 1991, he swore that all the state laws should be implemented, and promised that we would have Armenia as it is written in the declaration. After that, he violated all his obligations. In 1996, he stole the votes not from me – he stole the votes from you, from the whole nation. Now there are talks that commissions were working at that time, or something else… But that is a lie because it was the army that has voted several times and done ballot drop-ins. After all, at 12:00 or 01:00, when they saw that Levon Ter-Petrossian was being defeated, hey closed all the polling stations, threw out our people and calculated the way they wanted to do, after which acts of violence took place. When a person is indebted but takes no responsibility for that debt is able to skillfully explain everything without mentioning his responsibility. Has he come here to borrow from our people? I even think it was wrong for him to get nominated.”
“I don’t think that the task is about joining people together for dismissing “the famous forces.” These authorities must leave, that is unavoidable but who is coming instead? I see that the same forces will be in power… So, should we take the same carousel all the time?” Manukyan has continued, commenting on Ter-Petrossian’s speech.
As told by A1+, Vazgen Manukyan has also declared that if Serzh Sargsyan and Levon Ter-Petrossian pass to the second round in the elections, “it can turn Serzh Sargsyan into legitimate authorities.”

*As of late the Anti-Ter-Petrossian bloggers among the LiveJournal Blogging community have started calling Levon Ter-Petrossian’s supporters – Levon’s witnesses in analogy to Jehovah’s Witnesses Sect.

Armenia Economy

U.S. Backs Plans For New Armenian Nuclear Plant

While neighboring Iran suffers to prove its right to Nuclear power, Russia, and now also USA not only support the idea of building a new reactor for the Armenian power plant, but also compete with each other on providing grants and assistance for the project. Is this one of the cases when “complimentarism” in Armenia’s foreign policy is actually working? RFE/RL has this to say:

In the most explicit endorsement yet of Armenia’s plans to build a new nuclear plant, the United States pledged on Wednesday to help the Armenian government conduct feasibility studies needed for the implementation of the multimillion-dollar project.


Joseph Pennington, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, said Washington, which has long been pressing for the closure of Metsamor’s sole reactor, supports the ambitious idea and will help Yerevan put it into practice.
“The U.S. government supports the building of a new plant not only to improve Armenia’s energy security but also because of continuing concerns regarding the safety of the existing nuclear plant,” Pennington said. “We look forward to the rapid replacement of the Metsamor facility with a more modern and safer plant.”
The diplomat spoke as he signed a memorandum of U.S.-Armenian cooperation on the issue with Energy Minister Armen Movsisian. The document envisages that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Armenian government will work together in preparing a feasibility study for the project and an assessment of the new plant’s impact on environment.
“This is an enormously complex and challenging task. But today’s gathering here marks the first significant step in that process,” Pennington said. The US government will spend $2 million on financing the planned studies, he added.


The Armenian government is already looking for foreign investors interested in financing the project estimated to cost at least $1 billion. A top executive of a Russian atomic energy firm said last month that it is already discussing with Yerevan the possibility of building a new 100 Megawatt nuclear reactor at Metsamor.

Armenia Politics

"Heritage" Spamming Its Way Into Presidential Elections

As it has been noted earlier on several occasions on this blog, the leader of the opposition Heritage party, Former Foreign Minister of Armenia Raffi Hovhannisyan, has been applying for Armenian citizenship since 1991, however, it was only granted to him in 2001 by President Robert Kocharyan. According to Article 50 of the Armenian Constitution, in order to be eligible to run for president the candidates must be older then thirty five, and must have been citizen of the Republic of Armenia for the preceding ten years, having permanently resided in the Republic for the preceding ten years. Hence, at the moment Raffi hovhannisyan is not eligible to run for president, despite the fact, that Heritage party led by him is one of two opposition factions represented in Parliament and Raffi Hovhannisyan is the opposition figure with highest rating among population according to a recent survey by British ComRes organization.
Many people received an email today from Info Heritage containing MS Word and PDF attachments sent by the Heritage Party. The English translation of the attachments is posted on the information portal, here are some extracts:

Since the proclamation of the Republic of Armenia, Raffi Hovhannisyan has numerously applied for obtaining citizenship of Republic of Armenia. At the same time, he is the first foreign minister of newly-independent Armenia that has served our country with love, decency and loyalty during the years of holding that position and after that.
Raffi Hovhannisyan’s long-term civil aspiration finally turned into reality by Kocharyan’s decree. However, not from 1991 but from 2001.
Today the RA president has the authority to recover justice and create an equal competitive situation that will have vital significance in the political area of the Republic of Armenia.

This attempt to establish Raffi Hovhannisyan’s right to run for President comes as yet another proof, that the Armenian opposition is far from accepting the First President Levon Ter-Petorossian as the sole leader of opposition forces as noted by the Armenia Election Monitor 2008 blog.
Interestingly, although I support the Heritage cause of gaining citizenship status for its leader from 1991 and thus making him eligible to run for the 2008 Presidential elections (that is one of the reasons why I’m posting this here), I have to note, that this is not the first time I am receiving unsolicited bulk e-mail (SPAM) from the Heritage party. Sending SPAM is illegal in many countries, perhaps it is also illegal in Armenia, and I’d like to warn Heritage, that they are getting dangerously close to irritating people, which, I’m sure is the last thing in their mind when sending these messages.

Armenia Politics

Serge Sargsyan Responds to Levon Ter-Petrossian

Prime-Minister Serge Sargsyan responded to some of the points made by Levon Ter-Petrossian during the opposition rally on November 16, 2007.
Speaking of the 3 year time period, Levon Ter-Petrossian said he needed to put things in normal and then resign from politics, Serge Sargsyan remarked: “Perhaps he thinks, that 3 years are enough to surrender Karabakh. For me the thoughts pronounced in his speech were very strange, but then, it is up to each one of us to decide, what to say and what suggestions to make“.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a pity that Serge Sargsyan decides for himself “what to say and what suggestions to make”, because when he does it, it’s usually not coherent (remember the lapse about Armenians being the easternmost Christian nation in the world?).
We were just discussing the recent speeches with my collegue, Ashot Melikyan, the Chairman of the Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech, and he was remembering, how, Levon Ter-Petrossian spoke about freedom of speech in the times of his rule, whereas ARF-Dashnaktsutyun 13 media outlets were shut down during his time for their political orientation.
Similarly, Serge Sargsyan, Prime-Minister, a political figure who should be best prepared to answer with facts, figures and political prognoses, prefers to respond by claiming, that Levon Ter-Petrossian will “surrender Karabakh”, which is a dirty trick, to say the least, because at this point we haven’t yet heard Ter-Petrossian’s new proposals about Karabakh, and nobody has any ideas, what exactly LTP will propose as regards the Karabakh issue, as to the old suggestions, which were stated in the article “War or Peace”, I can state, that concessions and compromise do not necessarily mean “surrendering Karabakh”.
It really is a pity, that the quality of political debate is so low in Armenia, and it seems, that issues will once again be the last thing on candidates minds when campaigning for the 2008 Presidential election.


Ter-Petrosyan’s second meeting takes place

Last Friday saw the opposition’s meeting take place as scheduled. This has so far been Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s second meeting after his return to active politics. So far the only claimed number of people attending has been Haykakan Zhamanak’s 80 – 85 thousand. This however is most probably grossly overestimated. The paper, actively supporting Mr. Ter-Petrosyan and his team, had cited 30-35 thousand as the number of people attending the first meeting, however eyewitnesses suggest that the actual numbers were not substantially different, with this Friday’s meeting attracting only slightly more people.
It is nevertheless noteworthy, that the number of people attending the second meeting was not less than the first one.


Sirusho Chosen for Eurovision 2008!

The Armenia blog is apolitical as ever – thus giving me a pleasant break from reading all the various accounts of the LTP rally. Noting, that Armenian pop singer Sirusho is going to represent Armenia during Eurovision-2008 international song contest, which will take place in Serbian Belgrade next year, Rhyne remarks:

Let’s hope the public is able to pick a song that doesn’t automatically guarantee failure, like last year’s. Unfortunately, it is not yet known whether innocent bystanders will be beat, stabbed, or shot, but keep checking back.

Interestingly A1plus blog had also written about Sirusho/Eurovision earlier, asking a question:

Do you think Sirusho will be able to present our country at its best? And what do you think about the Eurovision overall?