Categories
Armenia Economy Society

The Cost of Corruption

Yerevan authorities have announced plans to replace 500 elevators in the upcoming year, having considered the incomes of the municipality and the savings from 2019 budget.

“The new elevators are adapted for use by people with eyesight, hearing and mobility problems,” speaker of Yerevan Mayor Hakob Karapetyan has said in a Facebook post.

According to earlier estimates by city authorities, there are 4666 elevators in use in Yerevan today. Most of those elevators have been in use for more than 30 years and are outright dangerous. There are at least half a dozen incidents in my memory, when they have fallen, causing death and injuring people.

The previous Yerevan mayor Taron Margaryan, who served in this position since November 15, 2011 until being ousted, along with his Republican Party, by Nikol Pashinian’s revolution, would always say that the city has no financial means to replace the elevators. Meanwhile, Margaryan grew filthy rich in about 8 years of leading the city government.

So it turns out that having a proper mayor for only 1 year has been enough to replace more than 10% of Yerevan’s old elevators. That’s what I call the cost of corruption.

I also want to share a personal story, which illustrates my point extremely well. My family bought some land and a small house in a suburb of Yerevan in 2006. For several years we were using it mostly as a summer house and in 2013 I moved to live there permanently, because it was a nice little house and the air was fresh.

The house had a big problem, however… or the suburb had it, to be more exact — the 550 meters of dirt-road taking there, which was turning near impossible in rainy weather.

With our limited community resources we brought truckloads of gravel and sand and tried to put some order into the dirt-road, but that would soon turn to mud again. We also wrote dozens of letters to the city authorities and begged for help with the dirt road. The answer we always got was this — the city budget cannot afford to fix the road.

Following the change of city mayor last October, however, suddenly money appeared in the budget and this summer our dirt-road was turned into a perfectly paved road. So it was that simple… we didn’t need to suffer with the mud for so many years and people shouldn’t die or get themselves injured in old elevators… we just needed a proper mayor, who isn’t a crook and doesn’t steal from the people!

Categories
Economy Region

Armenia to surpass Azerbaijan and Georgia by GDP per capita. IMF

Armenian GDP per capita has surpassed that of Georgia and is projected to surpass Azerbaijan for the first time since 2005, according to IMF data. More importantly, the growth is projected to continue for the next 4-5 years according to IMF.

In 2019 GDP per capita in Armenia was equal to $ 4527.592 (current prices, USD), while that of Georgia was worth $4289.322 and Azerbaijan — $4689.378. The projection for 2020 says Armenian GDP per capita will grow to $4759.2, overtaking Azerbaijan.

GPD (current prices) in USD in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia

Meanwhile, Armenia’s GDP still is still lagging behind Azerbaijan and even Georgia, according to IMF data. At $13.4 billion USD Armenia’s GDP is 3.5 times smaller than that of Azerbaijan’s $47.1 billion and about $2.4 billion USD less than that of Georgia’s $15.9 billion.

As far as I’m concerned, the good news is that GDP in Armenia will continue to grow according to IMF. And if Pashinia’s full year in power (2019) is any indicator, this growth will actually translate into good roads and infrastructure, better medicaid and higher pensions for Armenian citizens, instead of going into the pockets of a bunch of corrupt officials, as was the habit during the previous regimes.

Categories
Internet Legal Politics Security Social Networks

A Facebook user detained on pretext of “endangering national security” in Armenia

A Facebook user, who recently came to the center of public attention for posting misinformation under the pseudonym Դիանա Հարությունյան (Diana Harutyunyan) has been detained by the National Security Service of Armenia, after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called the user’s posting a threat to national security.

The Facebook account in question seems to be deleted by now. Last time I accessed it, the account’s About section made it clear that it is a sarcastic and/or parody account.

Following the US Drone strike in Iraq, which killed the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the Facebook user had posted misinformation, as if theArmenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has congratulated the US President Donald Trump on the “successful operation.” The misinformation had been first picked up by Azeri news sites and then by the Iranian ones, risking serious consequences for Armenian – Iranian relations.

“This is the case, when the false “freedom of speech” has endangered our national security,” Nikol Pashinian stated in a Facebook post. “The authors of the news and their motives must be investigated,” Armenian PM wrote.

Hours after Pashinian’s post, the National Security Service issued a statement, claiming it had carried out “investigative – operative activities” and as a result identified and detained the Facebook user.

Commenting on OWASP Armenia Facebook groups, cyber-security expert Samvel Martirosyan finds it unlikely that the NSS would have the technical capabilities to identify the user with technical means. He also excludes the possibility that Facebook would have provided data on the user for such a posting and in such a short period of time.

Meanwhile, Armenia’s top lawyer specialized on technological issues — David Sandukhchyan, has raised serious concerns about the legal aspects of the detention and claimed that the Facebook posting does not constitute a crime according to Armenian legislation and mocked both Pashinian and the the NSS for claiming that “the post by some fake user can endanger national security.”

Referring to the video published by the NSS (see below this post), which neither publishes the real name of the Facebook user, nor the article of criminal code, according to which the detention has taken place, Sandukhchyan has also written “What if there was no fake at all and it was done only to scare people, who post undesirable content on Facebook?

PS: I should just add that this is a very troubling development, since this is the second case, when a Facebook user has been detained after Pashinian directly instructed the National Security Services to take action.

Categories
Armenia Economy Tourism

Record number of passengers in Yerevan airport; new, affordable flight routs to Armenia

“Zvartnots” International Airport’s yearly passenger flow exceeded 3,000,000 for the first time in its history, Armenpress news agency reports.

In 2018, the passenger flow was 2,690,000.

Admittedly, much of this growth is because of me — no kidding, I flew in and out of Zvartnots Airport at least 12 times last year! :))

Ryanair opens flights to Athens and Thessaloniki

Meanwhile, on January 3rd Ryanair budget airline announced new twice weekly routes from Gyumri to Athens and from Yerevan to Thessaloniki. The flights will start in May 2020 and the tickets are already on sale in Ryanair’s mobile app.

The Irish carrier Ryanair had announced back in October that it will start flying to Yerevan from Milan, Rome and Berlin in January and that it will open two more routes in summer.

Wizz Air annouces flights to Vienna and Vilnius

In another welcome news, the Budapest-based budget airline Wizz Air announced last month that it will open flights to Yerevan from Vienna and Vilnius in April.

Decreasing cost of airfare and Revazian

The high cost of airfare has long been cited as one of main obstacles for the development of tourism in Armenia. The cost of air travel has been decreasing for several years now, as consecutive Armenian governments have prioritized the issue.

Tatevik Revazian

With the appointment of Tatevik Revazian as the Chair of Civil Aviation Committee, things have taken a truly revolutionary turn. The young official, who was initially seen as inexperienced and lacking necessary skills to deliver, has since managed to attract two major European budget airlines to Armenia and has since become something of a hero, for being able to make promises and deliver.

Hence, her Facebook post on January 3rd, announcing Ryanair’s new flights as well as outlining possible new routs to Paris (Transavia), Memmingen (Ryanair) and Riga (Air Baltic), no longer seem far fetched, but rather as something that can and will be delivered.

Categories
Armenia Politics Region

Armenia Issues A Statement on Developments in Baghdad

Armenian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement in connection with the US drone strike, which killed a top Iranian commander.

General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, was killed in his vehicle near Baghdad International Airport. The news was confirmed both by the US and Iran.

“We are seriously concerned about the recent incidents in Baghdad which led to human loses as well. They risk further undermining the regional security and destabilizing the situation in the Middle East and beyond. Armenia calls for the de-escalation of situation exclusively through peaceful means,” Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted. “Armenia will continue to closely cooperate with all its partners aimed at ensuring regional stability and security.”

Soleimani’s killing has raised fears of serious escalation in the Middle East. Both USA and Iran are key partners for Armenia, while Iraq has become an increasingly important export market. Any escalation in the Middle East is problematic for us, so it is no wonder that the drone strike has stirred heated debates in the Armenian section of Facebook.

Pashinyan reacts

Armenia is enjoying prolonged New Year and Christmas holidays these days, which started on December 31st and will conclude on January 7th. While most state agencies and news media are enjoying the holiday break, the debates around US – Iran tensions and speculations of an all-out global nuclear war is cutting through the half-drank, half-lazy-congratulatory mood of the Armenian social media users.

Meanwhile, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who is always eager to jump into every Facebook discussion, has published a post on Facebook, noting that “there are institutions capable of following the situation, analyzing the developments and act upon those as needed” and that “all the necessary instructions have been given.”

“The Republic of Armenia, RA citizens and numerous tourists visiting our country live a normal life,” the PM has stated and has advised “self-professed geopolitics analysts, who want to engage in fear-mongering, to relax and sit back on their places.”

The point about tourists is especially noteworthy, as a war in the neighboring Iran would be detrimental to the Armenian government’s hopes to stimulate continuous growth in the tourism industry.