RFE/RL Armenian Report – 06/12/2018

                                        Tuesday, 
Armenian Group Plans Renewed Protests Against Pension Reform
• Sargis Harutyunyan
• Tatevik Lazarian
Armenia - A demonstration against controversial pension reform outside a 
government building in Yerevan, 6Feb2014.
Leaders of a pressure group strongly opposed to a controversial reform of 
Armenia’s pension system on Tuesday pledged to stage street protests against 
the new government’s decision to complete its gradual introduction next month.
The new Western-backed system, which the former Armenian government started 
introducing in January 2014, is to cover 280,000 or so Armenian workers born 
after 1973. It requires them to earn most of their future pensions by 
contributing sums equivalent to at least 5 percent of their gross wages to 
private pension funds until their retirement.
Thousands of employees mostly employed by private firms demonstrated against 
the new pension tax in Yerevan in early 2014. The protests organized by the Dem 
Em (I Am Against) group forced the administration of then President Serzh 
Sarkisian to make it optional for private sector employees until July 2018.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government formally decided not to extend this 
deadline at a meeting held late on Monday. It also approved a bill that would 
temporarily cut the pension tax rate to 2.5 percent.
The government decision was denounced by organizers of the 2014 protests.
“The new system in its current form still does not enjoy the trust of the 
overwhelming majority of the public,” Dem Em’s Davit Manukian told RFE/RL’s 
Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“No significant changes have been made,” another member of the pressure group, 
Levon Harutiunian, said, downplaying the pension tax cut.
He said that the new government must at least further delay making the new tax 
mandatory for all workers aged 44 and younger. Or else, he warned, Dem Em will 
launch renewed protests against the reform.
Advocates of the reform say that the old mechanism for retirement benefits is 
not sustainable because of Armenia’s aging and shrinking population. According 
to government officials, more than 200,000 people are already covered by the 
new system.
Khosrov Harutiunian, a senior lawmaker representing Sarkisian’s Republican 
Party of Armenia (HHK) praised the new government’s stance on the issue, 
calling it “very prudent.” He noted that Pashinian and other opposition figures 
criticized the reform in 2014.
“They were saying back then that we are not telling the truth [about pensions,] 
that they don’t trust us,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service 
(Azatutyun.am). “Now they have realized that we were not lying.”
The reform was also opposed in 2014 by businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous 
Armenia Party (BHK) which holds five portfolios in Pashinian’s cabinet. A 
senior BHK parliamentarian, Gevorg Petrosian, said on Tuesday that he continues 
to have serious misgivings about the switch to the so-called pay-as-you-can 
system.
Still, Petrosian echoed Pashinian’s argument that the affected workers should 
no longer be worried about the fate of their extra pension contributions 
because the new government is far more popular than the previous one.
“So if the people trust the government let them cede a portion of their 
income,” he said. “The question is whether that government will last for 40 
years and preserve the popular trust.”
The parliament is due to debate the pension bill later this month.
Law-Enforcement Body Told To Crack Down On Corruption
• Nane Sahakian
Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian meets with senior officials from the 
Special Investigative Service in Yerevan, .
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian told an Armenian law-enforcement agency on 
Tuesday to vigorously prosecute corrupt state officials, tackle vote buying and 
solve the killings of eight opposition protesters committed in 2008.
Pashinian issued the orders as he presented the new head of the Special 
Investigative Service (SIS), a body tasked abuse of power and electoral fraud 
committed by senior state officials, to his senior staff.
The previous SIS chief, Vahram Shahinian, tendered his resignation last week. 
His successor, Sasun Khachatrian, is a former prosecutor who ran a private law 
firm until his latest appointment.
“No corrupt official in Armenia must sleep well at night,” Pashinian told 
Khachatrian and other senior SIS officials. “This is the most important thing. 
And every law-abiding citizen of Armenia must sleep well at night and … know 
that there is a government, judicial authority and law-enforcement system which 
ensure their security, freedom and rights.”
Pashinian has repeatedly pledged to “root out” endemic government corruption 
since a protest movement led by him toppled the country’s previous government 
headed by Serzh Sarkisian. The new head of the National Security Service (NSS) 
appointed by him a month ago was quick to launch at least two high-profile 
corruption investigations.
The 43-year-old premier stressed the “special importance” of fighting against 
election-related crimes and vote buying in particular. He noted that 
individuals financing or handing out “widespread” vote bribes have rarely been 
prosecuted. “I hope that such crimes will be properly investigated and there 
will be concrete results,” he said.
The former ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) still headed by Sarkisian 
has long been accused by its political opponents, including Pashinian’s Yelk 
alliance, of heavily relying on the illegal practice. Critics say that the 
HHK’s victory in the April 2017 primarily resulted from vote buying. Sarkisian 
and other party leaders deny that.
Pashinian further instructed the SIS to finally identify and punish those who 
were directly responsible for the deaths of eight protesters and two police 
servicemen during the March 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.
“One of the most important things which need to be done by the Special 
Investigative Service is to solve the March 1 [2008] crime, the March 1 
killings,” he said. “I want to make clear that when say there are no 
restrictions [on the scope of the investigation] we really mean that.”
The ten people were killed as security forces tried to disperse supporters of 
opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian demanding the rerun of a disputed 
presidential election held in February 2008. Dozens of Ter-Petrosian allies, 
including Pashinian, were subsequently arrested and prosecuted on what human 
rights groups described as politically motivated charges.
The SIS has for years claimed to be continuing to investigate the bloodshed.
Armenia’s New Government Suffers First Resignation
Armenia - Labor Minister Mane Tandilian is sworn in at the presidential palace 
in Yerevan along with other members of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's 
cabinet, 21 May 2018.
One month after becoming Armenia’s minister of labor and social affairs, Mane 
Tandilian resigned on Tuesday, voicing her opposition to Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian’s intention to continue an unpopular reform of the national pension 
system.
Tandilian was one of the organizers of street protests in 2014 against the 
former Armenian government’s decision to require citizens born after 1973 to 
finance a large part of their future pensions through additional tax payments. 
The protests forced the new government to make the new system, recommended by 
Western donors, optional for private sector employees until July 2018.
Shortly after Pashinian appointed her as minister last month, Tandilian 
proposed that this deadline be extended by one more year. She said that more 
“public discussions” on the issue should be held in the meantime.
Pashinian’s government decided on Monday, however, that the new pension system 
will become mandatory for all Armenians aged 44 and younger next month. The 
only concession it made was to ask the parliament to cut the new pension tax 
rate from 5 percent to 2.5 percent.
Tandilian cited the government decision when she announced her resignation on 
her Facebook page. “After lengthy discussions it became obvious that my 
proposal is not supported by the government,” she wrote. “Instead, another 
variant was put forward and approved at the government meeting.”
“This issue is of utmost importance to me,” she said, arguing that the pension 
reform is opposed by most Armenians and people affected by it must therefore be 
free to choose a mechanism for determining their retirement benefits.
Armenia - Mane Tandilian (L) and Nikol Pashinian campaign for parliamentary 
elections in Yerevan, 18 March 2017.
Tandilian, 40, also said that she is terminating her membership in the Bright 
Armenia party, which teamed up with Pashinian’s Civil Contract and another 
opposition party to contest last year’s parliamentary elections. Their Yelk 
alliance came in third in the polls.
Tandilian was elected to the Armenian parliament on the Yelk ticket. She had to 
resign from the National Assembly after agreeing to join Pashinian’s government 
formed following the April 23 resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Neither Pashinian nor other Yelk leaders immediately reacted to her resignation.
Tandilian did not openly object to the government decision on the pension 
reform during Monday’s cabinet meeting. The decision was openly opposed by 
another cabinet member, Minister for Economic Development Artsvik Minasian.
Minasian’s objections clearly irritated Pashinian, who said that all ministers 
must share “collective responsibility” for all government actions. “Those who 
don’t shoulder this responsibility are not with us,” the premier warned bluntly.
Press Review
“Zhamanak” reacts to Karabakh President Bako Sahakian’s decision to step down 
in 2020, saying the move heralds the start of a presidential race in Karabakh. 
The paper also sees a “completion of sorts of the velvet revolution in Armenia.”
“The atmosphere in Armenia has changed since the victory of the velvet 
revolution, and citizens are now going public about problems which have been 
accumulated over the years and which they have avoided talking about in the 
past,” writes “Zhoghovurd.” The paper says Armenians are now demanding the 
resignations of “those officials with whom they have been unhappy.” Those 
include mayors, prosecutors and even kindergarten directors. The paper is far 
more critical of calls for the resignation of the supreme head of the Armenian 
Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II. It says only clergymen have a 
legitimate right to demand his ouster.
“Hraparak” says that if the new Armenian government faced as much media 
scrutiny as the former one had there would be no lack of daily news reports 
about controversial statements and actions of new ministers and other 
officials, the government’s “contradictory decisions” and steps running counter 
to Nikol Pashinian’s past positions. “But we are letting them work, even though 
they are not letting us work,” it says. “Two facts are enough to understand 
just how different the new government’s statements are from its actions. Nikol 
Pashinian has stated that media criticism is necessary and useful. But the fact 
is that the prime minister’s teammates have a totally different view on the 
matter.”
“Haykakan Zhamanak” looks at the “unexpected” resignation of Aghvan Hovsepian, 
the controversial head of Armenia’s Investigative Committee. “Hovsepian would 
have loved to continue his tenure,” claims the paper. “The judicial and 
law-enforcement systems are now beyond the new government’s control. And in 
many cases, these systems are trying to create problems for the new government. 
Aghvan Hovsepian has been an ally of Serzh Sarkisian and previously Robert 
Kocharian. He is tied to them by many threads.”
(Tigran Avetisian)
Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS

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