RFE/RL Armenian Report – 12/04/2017

                                        Monday, December 4, 2017
Armenian Authorities Again Told To End Vote Buying
Armenia - Armenians vote in parliamentary elections at a polling
station in Yerevan, 2Apr2017.
Officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
have pressed the Armenian authorities to combat vote buying and abuse
of state resources during fresh discussions on the conduct of
Armenia's last parliamentary elections held in April.
Representatives of the OSCE's election-monitoring arm, the Office for
Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), visited Yerevan last
week to formally present their final report on the elections won by
the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The report released in July says the authorities largely respected
"fundamental freedoms" during the "well-administered" vote. But it
also cites "credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on
civil servants and employees of private companies."
The report also contains a set of policy recommendations. It says,
among other things, that the authorities should "publicly discourage"
vote buying or selling and ensure that Armenians are not forced to
"vote in a particular way."
In a weekend statement, the ODIHR said its representatives "explored"
the report's findings and recommendations at their meetings with
government officials, lawmakers, leaders of major Armenian parties and
civil society members. It said they also "proposed concrete steps that
can be taken by various stakeholders to address the recommendations."
"The ODIHR team drew attention to priority recommendations aimed at
addressing persisting issues of vote-buying and abuse of state
resources with a view to strengthening public confidence in the
electoral process," added the statement.
"ODIHR stands ready to offer its support in implementing the
recommendations, including through a review of amendments to electoral
legislation, advice on good practices and matters of technical
implementation," it quoted Alexander Shlyk, head of the ODIHR
Elections Department, as saying.
Throughout the parliamentary race the HHK was accused by its political
opponents and independent media of handing out vote bribes and
pressurizing schoolteachers, civil servants and other public sector
employees to vote for it. Armenian opposition parties say that those
illegal practices were decisive in the HHK's election victory.
The party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian denies having
systematically resorted to them. It insists that the vote was largely
democratic.
The European Union and the United States endorsed the findings of
nearly 440 European election observers that were mostly deployed by
the Warsaw-based ODIHR. At the same time they cautiously praised the
authorities' overall handling of the April 2 polls. The EU's foreign
policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said through a spokesperson on April
4 that the official vote results "reflect the overall will of the
Armenian people."
The OSCE-led mission did not report significant instances of multiple
voting, one of the most serious forms of fraud that marred previous
Armenian elections. The authorities in Yerevan enacted last year a set
of opposition-backed legal amendments designed to prevent such
violations.
That led to the introduction of electronic voter authentication
devices in all polling stations across the country. The authorities
also installed web cameras to broadcast online voting and ballot
counting in the vast majority of those stations. The EU allocated over
$7 million for the purchase of that equipment.
Sarkisian Watches Fresh War Games In Karabakh
Nagorno-Karabakh - Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (C) watches a
military exercise, 2Nov2017.
President Serzh Sarkisian inspected new facilities of
Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenian-backed army and monitored its latest major
exercises during a weekend trip to the disputed territory.
The exercises held just southeast of Karabakh reportedly involved more
than a thousand soldiers, dozens of tanks, armored vehicles and
artillery systems as well as what an Armenian military official called
a major "new type of weapon." They simulated defensive and
counteroffensive operations in the presence of a Sarkisian, Defense
Minister Vigen Sargsian and Armenia's top army general, Movses
Hakobian.
"I am grateful to you," a uniform-clad Sarkisian told the
participating troops. "You have proved your skills with today's
exercises. Rest assured that you are thereby responding to those who
want to take away our homeland and try to demonstrate their might and
wrest something from us."
"We can and we will defend our borders, we can and we will defend our
homeland," he said in a speech.
Nagorno-Karabakh - Tanks and military personnel lined up for military
exercises, 2Nov2017.
The war games were held the day after Sarkisian met with the top brass
of the Karabakh Defense Army in Stepanakert. He was briefed on the
current situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani "line of contact"
around Karabakh. It has been relatively calm in recent weeks.
In a separate statement released on Monday, the Karabakh Armenian army
said Sarkisian also visited a number of its unspecified facilities and
familiarized himself with "novelties created with the aim of
countering the enemy in a more effective manner." It did not
elaborate.
Sarkisian travelled to Karabakh less than a week before planned fresh
talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers. They
will try to build on some progress that was reportedly made at
Sarkisian's most recent meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham
Aliyev held in Geneva on October 16.
Right after that summit, Sarkisian and Aliyev pledged to intensify the
Karabakh peace process and bolster the ceasefire regime in the
conflict zone. The U.S., Russian and French mediators announced in the
Swiss city that they will soon hold follow-up "working sessions" with
the two foreign ministers.
Man Sentenced Over `Armed Revolt Plot'
. Anush Muradian
Armenia -- Artur Movsisian (L) and his lawyer Arayik Papikian in
court, 4Dec2017.
An Armenian court sentenced a man to three years in prison on Monday
after convicting him involvement in an armed revolt allegedly plotted
by Zhirayr Sefilian, a radical opposition figure.
The court ignored Artur Movsisian's protestations of innocence voiced
before and during his four-month trial.
Movsisian was detained in Moscow on an Armenian arrest warrant in
November 2016 and handed over to law-enforcement authorities in
Yerevan six months later. The authorities claim that he was affiliated
with Sefilian's alleged militant group and kept some of its weapons
and ammunition in his home.
In his concluding remarks made shortly before the announcement of the
verdict, Movsisian again denied the accusations and said he does not
even know Sefilian personally. He cited a "complete absence of
evidence" to the contrary presented by the prosecution. His lawyer,
Arayik Papikian, said afterwards that he will appeal against the
ruling.
Papikian confirmed that police found two assault rifles in the
basement of the defendant's apartment. But he said Movsisian had
allowed another man, Galust Grigorian, to put them there only because
he had been told by the latter that they are construction tools.
Grigorian is one of six persons who are standing a separate trial with
Sefilian which began in May. They were arrested in June 2016 on
charges of forming an armed group to seize government buildings and
military facilities. Both Sefilian and his Founding Parliament
opposition group have denied the charges as politically motivated.
Sefilian's arrest came less than one month before three dozen gunmen
mostly affiliated with Founding Parliament seized a police station in
Yerevan. The gunmen demanded that President Serzh Sarkisian free their
leader and step down. They surrendered to law-enforcement authorities
following a two-week standoff which left three police officers dead.
Papikian said the guilty verdict against his client "predetermined the
outcome" of Sefilian's trial. He predicted that the radical
oppositionist will get a much longer prison sentence.
Private Investor To Explore For Oil In Armenia
. Satenik Kaghzvantsian
Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian (R) and Russian-Armenian
businessman Samvel Karapetian inaugurate a new shopping mall in
Yerevan, 13Nov2017.
A newly established company controlled by Russian-Armenian billionaire
Samvel Karapetian has asked for a government permission to explore for
oil and gas in northern Armenia.
The company called Armenian Oil and Gas held on Monday mandatory
public hearings in Gyumri on the environmental impact of oil
exploration sought by it in the surrounding Shirak province and two
other regions in the country's north. They were attended by officials
from the Environment Protection Ministry, geologists and ecologists.
Under Armenian law, such hearings are must precede the ministry's
decisions on whether or not to allow particular companies to take the
first step towards exploiting natural resources.
Speaking at the discussion, an Armenian Oil and Gas representative,
Erik Ananian, said the company would use nuclear magnetic resonance,
as opposed to traditional drilling, to determine whether the area
close to Georgia has commercially viable hydrocarbon reserves. In
Shirak, he said, the exploration would be carried out near six rural
communities.
"If we see that there is a certain industrial potential [for oil
production] we will switch to the next phase," added Ananian. He would
not say whether the company already has any tentative estimates to
that effect.
It also remained unclear when it would start the exploratory work in
case of securing clearance from the government.
Hmayak Hovannisian of the Geophysics Institute in Yerevan said it is
still too early speculate about the potential size of oil or gas
fields in the area. But he stressed that magnetic resonance allows for
deeper penetration than exploratory drilling done in Armenia to date.
Another scientist working at the institute, Roland Gasparian, claimed
that the possible discovery and extraction of oil would pose an
"enormous danger" to local agriculture, while some environmentalists
expressed concern at the new method of oil exploration.
Several Western companies have already explored for but found no major
oil deposits in Armenia over the past two decades.
The company in question belongs to Karapetian's Tashir Kapital group
that owns Armenia's national electric utility and will soon also
manage the country's state-owned power transmission network. A Tashir
subsidiary is also planning to build, together with other
Russian-Armenian and Western investors, two major hydroelectric
plants. In addition, it recently launched Armenia's first-ever solar
power plant.
The Armenian-born tycoon further underscored his growing involvement
in the Armenian economy on November 13 when he inaugurated another
massive shopping mall built by Tashir in Yerevan.
Press Review
(Saturday, December 2)
"Zhoghovurd" says that the Armenian authorities remain euphoric about
their Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the
European Union that was signed on November 24. "The authorities were
just as jubilant when they were joining the Eurasian Economic Union
(EEU)," scoffs the paper. It claims that Armenia has still not drawn
tangible benefits from its membership in the EEU.
"Haykakan Zhamanak" discusses leading Russian TV channels' highly
negative reaction to the CEPA, saying that they were "instructed" to
do so because the EU-Armenia deal is "not quite to the Russian
leadership's liking." The paper says this disproves statements to the
contrary that were made by Armenian officials.
"Past" also looks at the Russian outcry against Armenia's efforts to
deepen its economic and political relations with Russia. The paper
says that some Russian commentators have defended in this regard
Russia's controversial arms deals with Azerbaijan widely condemned in
Armenia. It deplores this fact.
"168 Zham" reports on the latest Armenian-drafted statement on the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that was adopted at a summit of the
Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) held in the
Belarusian capital Minsk. "The CSTO presidency is held by Armenia and
Armenia has managed to used that for securing declarations expedient
for it," the paper quotes a Russian military analyst, Pavel
Felgenhauer, as saying. "With that statement, the CSTO affirmed its
position that it can only assist, rather than intervene, the platform
which is supposed to help solve this conflict. It is not a
pro-Armenian statement. But the three principles mentioned by it are
Armenian diplomatic wordings. We have repeatedly heard them."
Felgenhauer also makes the point that Armenia could not have gotten
the other CSTO member states to back such a statement without Russia's
backing. "Russian assisted in the adoption of that statement because
both Russia and the CSTO were subjected to criticism after the April
[2016] war and Russia is trying to address [that criticism] one by
one," he says. "This can also be seen as a step taken for the Armenian
society in addition to all those measures that were taken by Russia
after the April war." Those measures include new and more powerful
weapons supplied to the Armenian military, according to the Russian
analyst.
(Artur Papian)
Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
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