January 10 saw another disgraceful elections in Armenia with violations, voter bribing and intimidation on the one side, and very low voter participation on the other. People are increasingly loosing patience and hope with the electoral process in Armenia. Opposition is crying fowl, while a little known man with no political past – Ara Simonian wins a landslide victory, defeating jailed editor Nikol Pashinian – one of the most recognized opposition leaders, a charismatic figure, whose name is synonymous to the unprecedented rise and revitalization of the opposition movement in the wake of 2008 presidential elections in Armenia. Continue reading “One more pointless election over”
Two major speeches – by president Serzh Sargsian and ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian, and one major silence, by founder of “Heritage” opposition party Raffi Hovhannisian defined the Armenian political landscape this week.
Continue reading “Armenian politics: two major speeches, one major silence”
Government approved National Transportation Safety strategy pushes forward with car seat belts
Hundreds of drivers in capital Yerevan were pulled off to the sidewalks and fined by the police this week for not fastening their car seatbelts. The large-scale police operation was widely covered prime-time by Public TV of Armenia. The capital had changed beyond recognition next day – 90% of drivers were wearing their safety belts.
Armenian authorities have unveiled details of the National Concept on Information Security, which would, in theory, enable the National Security Service read all private mail sent and received in Armenia.
I’ve higlighted the paragraph, which caused special concern.
Mediamax — Yerevan, 30 April: The Armenian government approved today a number of legislative amendments, proceeding from the Concept on Information Security that was approved on 26 April.
The head of the Armenian National Security Service (NSS), Gorik Hakobyan, said at today’s session of the government that the NSS would set up a special centre of international computer network, which will ensure the security of accessible information in electronic documents of Armenia’s state agencies.
The head of the NSS said that appropriate equipment for the special centre would be installed in technological areas of internet providers.
Hakobyan said that the special centre would allow to filtrate possible external viruses and prevent attacks on the servers of state agencies
As hundreds of Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF-Dashnaktsutyun) supporters start the traditional procession with lanterns in the center of Yerevan to observe vigil the evening before official Genocide rememberence day, the question remains – will the party opt out of the ruling coalition over Armenian – Turkish – Swiss announcement on normalisation of relations released April 22nd? Continue reading “Dashnaktsutyun Observes Genocide Vigil”
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.
The premiere of “Expropriation” documentary scheduled for October 10 will not take place in “Moscow” cinema in Yerevan, by the decision of the cinema management. According to the author of the film, journalist and publicist Tigran Paskevichian, in the morning of October 7, the cinema management asked for a copy of the film for watching and announced in the evening that they will not show it, because the film is “political”. Tigran Paskevichian thinks that the film touches only social-legislative issue: the 38 minutes long documentary introduces the problems of the dwellers of Kentron community of Yerevan, whose houses were situated in the territories expropriated with the definition “for the needs of the state”. The film was screened by the order of “Victims of State Interests” NGO under the project supported by the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia. As Tigran Paskevichian stressed, the ordering NGO was dealing with the organization of the presentation in “Moscow” cinema, and as far as he knows, it hasn’t yet received a written refusal to demonstrate the film from the cinema management.
On August 21, 2008 the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia adopted a government bill giving green light to increased water release from Lake Sevan. According to the original law 240 million cubic meters of water should have been taken from the lake to be used for electricity generating via Hrazdan Cascade and irrigation puposes. The new bill will allow the release of 360 million cubic meters of water.
The authorities are explaining the need for increased water outflow from Sevan with the short summer drought and low water availability in artificial water resrvoirs used for irrigation purposes. This is the first such increase for the past 8 years, since a law on the lake’s protection was adopted in 2001. Meanwhile environmentalists are protesting the measure and claiming, that “the government simply wants to salvage expensive houses and resorts located along Sevan’s coastline. Those properties have been at growing risk of being submerged by Sevan’s rising waters” as RFE/RL reports.
Before the heated debates in the parliament yesterday, the authorities had been preparing public opinion in favour of water release from the lake in the course of the past two-three weeks by showing news reports and footage of drained artificial reservoirs and dry gardens of Ararat valley. No news reports ever indicated the existence of concerns among environmental protection groups or independent scientists. Moreover, there were several rainfalls throughout the country within the past two weeks, which would seem to have alleviated the problem of water shortage, especially as most of the farmers have gathered the harvest by now and shouldn’t need as much water (as I have a small garden in the south of Yerevan, I know first-hand what I’m talking about here).
The Sevan Defense Initiative have disseminated a call to protest the government bill. “According to the opinion of independent scientists duplication of the
volume of released water from Lake Sevan is impermissible and dangerous
for the lake. Climate conditions during 2008 have not been as
unfavorable as to generate a need for a measure. While, the declared
increase of demand for irrigation water is not justified adequately” the call states.
August 2008 was unprecedented with the amount of violence against media representatives. Gagik Hovakimyan of “Haykakan Zhamanak” (August 1), freelancer Gagik Shamshyan (August 5), Gohar Veziryan of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” (August 6), Lusine Barseghyan of “Haykakan Zhamanak” (August 11) and Hrach Melkumyan of the Armenian service of Radio Liberty (August 18 ) were all subjected to attacks and illegal actions of police, court officials and unidentified males for their affiliation with media outlets known for their criticism of the authorities and oligarchs.
This new wave of attacks against the freedom of speech and expression comes at a time, when the Republic of Armenia is claiming its willingness to implement the provisions of the PACE resolutions 1609 and 1620 issued in the aftermath of the March 1, 2008 violence in the country, which includes a clause on improving the situation with the freedom of speech in the country.
A group of 7 non-governmental organizations have issued a statement expressing their concern with the developments and pointing to the unwillingness of the authorities to undertake effective measures to stop violence and interference with the professional activities of journalists and media representatives.
In a poll marked by widespread irregularities, vote buying and bullying, power was handed down by incumbent president Robert Kocharian to his protege Serge Sargsian. Administrative resources were used extensively to control the media coverage of the election campaign and ensure the victory of government preferred candidate, which resulted in severe degradation of the media and freedom of speech situation in the country as well as provoked a bloody clash between the opposition supporters and police forces in the center of capital Yerevan on March 1, 2008.
Following his appointment to the post of Prime Minister after a disputed presidential election, in a divided society torn apart by political instability and mutual accusations for March 1 violence, Tigran Sargsyan, the former head of Armenia’s Central Bank has been dominating the news and politics – the PM has been making media bubbles by loud and populist actions, like forcing Armenian ministers to come to work at 9 a.m and promising to be more transparent in their work, respond to the needs and inquiries of citizens, etc., etc.
So far Tigran Sargsyan led government has been mostly making loud anti-corruption campaigns – the PM has been promising improvement and government attention to all and everyone he’s met so far: environmentalists, cultural workers, bankers, farmers. He has also been brave in announcing unpopular moves – ending state subsidies for gas which significantly raised the price of the blue fuel for the population, enforcing the usage of control-cash machines in fairs and markets announced yesterday, which will most likely result in protests and more price rises of consumer goods.
The anti-corruption activities among the traffic police and customs, tax-inspection services, were initially perceived as demonstrative, populist and short-term measures, however, they seem to be rendering some positive results so far: a) police seem to have become more restrained in their bribe-collection undertakings and are paying more attention to actually following traffic, although they have still miles to go before we have anything that resembles real police and not mauradeurs and bandits in uniforms; b) my accountant’s recent visit to the tax office was a very positive experience – from what he told me, as it has become easier to submit finance reports at just one location, instead of running around in the tax office banging doors of officials and begging for signatures, which is further confirmed by reports from other people and is starting to inspire with hope; c) some high profile arrests of corrupt police and tax inspection officials took place over the past months, and the last arrest, by looking at the sheer size of the uncovered operations, was clearly a very well connected gang.
At any rate, many are skeptical about the activities of Prime Minister Sargsyan. In his recent speech opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian sharply criticized the authorities and said the anti-corruption actions are mostly staged and pressures are building on small and medium enterprises, while the state-connected businessmen/oligarchs remain in the capacity of ‘untouchables’. Following from the text of Levon Ter-Petrossian’s speech, however, it seems, that even in his criticism of the authorities, the opposition leader acknowledges Tigran Sargsyan’s desire to make genuine change, and puts the blame mostly on Kocharyan appointees like Armen Grigoryan for failures. And while figures for economic growth in Armenia for the first half of the year look promising with 10.3% GDP growth reported so far and economic experts tell me in private conversations, that the tax revenues of the state have been growing at an unprecedented pace, it is still too early to predict what will be the end of the new quest Prime Minister Sargsyan is on.