Armenian Parliament Rejects Pro-Church Bills
• Tatev Danielian
Armenia - Catholicos Garegin II (C) celebrates a Christmas mass at the
Echmiadzin cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church, 6 January 2015.
Deputies from Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) walked out of the
Armenian parliament on Friday after failing to push through bills meant to
protect the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church against physical
The HHK drafted the two bills after Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II faced calls
for his resignation following this spring’s “velvet revolution” in Armenia.
An obscure Armenian group launched a series of protests against Garegin in
June, accusing him of corruption and close ties with the country’s former
government. Dozens of its members partly occupied his Echmiadzin headquarters
in July. Some of them also physically confronted Garegin when he subsequently
travelled to a medieval monastery in the southeastern Vayots Dzor province.
Police waited for several days before forcing the protesters out of the Mother
See of the Armenian Church. This prompted strong criticism from the HHK and
other conservative critics of the newly elected Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
They accused the government of showing contempt for “traditional Armenian
One of the HHK bills would ban any demonstrations inside church premises.
Pashinian’s cabinet spoke out against the bill last month. Only 43 members of
the 105-seat National Assembly voted for it.
Armenia - Deputies from the Republican Party of Armenia attend a parliament
session in Yerevan, 10 September 2018.
Citing this summer’s incidents, HHK lawmakers also drafted separate legal
amendments that would obligate the state to provide Garegin with bodyguards on
a permanent basis. Some of them seemed to imply that the summer protests
against him were provoked by other, non-traditional religious groups active in
“We want to protect the Catholicos against sexual and religious minorities that
are financed from abroad and fight against the Armenian statehood and Armenian
faith,” the HHK’s Hakob Hakobian said during a heated parliament debate.
“Our church is an inseparable part of our national security. Anyone who is
against that church is also against national security,” declared Samvel
Nikoyan, another deputy representing the former ruling party.
Lawmakers allied to Pashinian rejected the bill. One of them, Lena Nazarian,
said there is no need for such legislation because the government will protect
the Catholicos whenever he feels that his security is at risk.
Another pro-Pashinian deputy, Sasun Mikaelian, argued against “protecting the
Catholicos against the people.” Mikaelian said the HHK itself is responsible
for Garegin’s perceived unpopularity because the latter had grown too close to
the previous government.
“Against whom is the prime minister protected by his security detail? Against
the people?” countered the HHK’s Margarit Yesayan.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) also backed the HHK
initiative, saying that not only Garegin but also the church as a whole needs
stronger state protection. “I don’t think it’s right to put the Catholicos in a
situation where he himself has to ask for protection,” said Armen Rustamian,
Dashnaktsutyun’s parliamentary leader.
Only 28 mainly Republican deputies voted for the bill. Their colleagues
representing Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party, the second largest
force in the outgoing parliament, abstained.
“This is the most disgraceful vote in independent Armenia’s history,” charged
Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker affiliated with the HHK.
“There may be 28 of us today. There will be 2,800 of us tomorrow and 2.8
million the day after,” Sharmazanov said before he and several other HHK
parliamentarians walked out in protest.
Armenia - Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II meets with the acting Prime
Minister Nikol Pashinian in the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin, 14Nov,2018
The Armenian Church’s official position on the proposed legislation is not
known. Its chief spokesman could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The HHK bills were debated two days after Pashinian visited the Echmiadzin seat
of the church and met with Garegin. The premier acknowledged the church’s
“special significance” for many Armenians. Few other details of their meeting
were made public.
Pashinian had strongly criticized Garegin in the past.
The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of the world’s oldest Christian
denominations to which the vast majority of Armenians nominally belong.
Armenia’s constitution recognizes its “exceptional mission” in the country’s
history and social life.
U.S. Sanctions On Iran ‘Explained’ To Armenian Government, Banks
• Emil Danielyan
U.S. -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and U.S. Treasury Secretary
Steven Mnuchin announce sanctions against Iran during a news conference at the
Foreign Press Center in Washington, November 5, 2018
A team of U.S. officials has visited Armenia to brief its government and
private sector on the implications of economic sanctions against neighboring
Iran that have been re-imposed by President Donald Trump.
The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan said the “subject matter experts” from the U.S.
departments of state and treasury met with senior Armenian government officials
on Thursday and Friday as part of Washington’s efforts to “explain U.S.
sanctions policy against Iran to governments around the world.”
“They also met with the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Armenia as well
as with private banks, members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia,
and Armenian academics and think tank experts,” read an embassy statement.
“The delegation emphasized U.S. efforts to change the Iranian regime’s malign
behavior through maximum economic and diplomatic pressure, while also outlining
areas for cooperation with partners like Armenia,” it added.
Armenian government bodies issued no statements on the discussions with the
visiting U.S. officials.
Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (R) meets with U.S. National Security
Adviser John Bolton in Yerevan, 25 October 2018.
The discussions came less than a month after U.S. National Security Adviser
John Bolton’s trip to Armenia. The renewed U.S. sanctions against Tehran were a
major theme of his talks with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and other Armenian
Bolton said he told them that the Trump administration will enforce the
sanctions against Iran “very vigorously” and that the Armenian-Iranian border
is therefore “going to be a significant issue.”
“Obviously, we don’t want to cause damage to our friends in the process,”
Bolton told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “So I think conversation between the
government of Armenia and the United States is going to be very important.”
Speaking in the Armenian parliament a few days later, Pashinian said he made it
clear to Bolton that his government will maintain Armenia’s “special”
relationship with Iran. “We respect the national interests of any country, but
the Republic of Armenia has its own national and state interests which do not
always coincide with the interests and ideas of other countries,” stressed
Bolton tweeted after his visit that Armenia is an “important friend” of the
With Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey closed due to the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Iran as well as Georgia serve as the sole conduits
for the landlocked country’s trade with the outside world.
U.S. - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol
Pashinian meet in New York, 25 September 2018.
Armenia also imports Iranian natural gas and other fuel. The volume of the gas
supplies should rise sharply after the ongoing construction of a third power
transmission line connecting the two countries is completed next year.
Accordingly, both the current and former Armenian governments have supported a
2015 multilateral accord on Iran’s nuclear program that led to the lifting of
the U.S. sanctions. Trump unilaterally pulled out of that deal earlier year.
Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian commented on the move’s possible impact on
the Armenian-Iranian relationship in an interview with the Russian TASS news
agency published on Friday.
“For us, this is a highly sensitive issue because Iran is an important partner
of Armenia with which we have … a bilateral agenda extremely important to
Armenia,” said Mnatsakanian.
U.S. officials have yet to publicly say which Armenian-Iranian commercial
operations, if any, could be affected by the renewed sanctions.
According to official Armenian statistics, Armenian-Iranian trade stood at $263
million last year. Pashinian and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani discussed
ways of expanding it when they met in New York in September.
Tsarukian’s Indicted Bodyguard Also Running For Parliament
• Gayane Saribekian
Armenia - Businessman Gagik Tsarukian and his chief bodyguard Eduard Babayan
(R) at an election campaign rally in Hrazdan, 11 April 2012.
The chief bodyguard of Gagik Tsarukian prosecuted on assault charges is among
the candidates of the tycoon’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) running in the
December 9 parliamentary elections.
Eduard Babayan was arrested in early July hours after a 50-year-old man in
Yerevan was hospitalized with serious injuries. The latter claimed to have been
beaten up at a compound of Armenia’s National Olympic Committee headed by
Tsarukian. He said he was hit by Tsarukian before being repeatedly kicked and
punched by Babayan and another person.
Both the tycoon and Babayan strongly denied assaulting the man. The burly
bodyguard was charged even though the alleged victim later retracted his
Babayan was freed on bail in August. The BHK leadership subsequently decided to
include him on its list of more than 170 election candidates.
A senior BHK representative, Vahe Enfiajian, defended the decision on Friday,
insisting that Babayan did not beat up anyone.
“There are no bad figures on our list, there are only good figures there,”
Enfiajian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “As for who will enter
the [new] parliament, it’s up to our people to decide.”
Asked whether the BHK considers the bodyguard a political figure, he said:
“Every citizen of Armenia has a right to elect and get elected, and whether or
not they should engage in further political activities depends on [voters’
Armenian media have repeatedly implicated Tsarukian’s bodyguards and Babayan in
particular in violence, including against opponents of the country’s previous
governments, in the past. The tycoon always denied those claims.
The BHK boasts the second largest group in the outgoing Armenian parliament. It
controlled five ministerial posts in Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s
government until recently.
Armenia Insists On Keeping Top CSTO Post
• Heghine Buniatian
Armenia - Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian, 21 May 2018.
A representative of Armenia must run the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty
Organization (CSTO) until 2020, Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian insisted
Russia and five other ex-Soviet states making up the alliance agreed in 2015
that their representatives will take turns to serve as the organization’s
secretary generals on a rotating basis. They appointed Armenia’s Yuri
Khachaturov to that position in 2017.
The new Armenian government cut shot Khachaturov’s three-year tour of duty
after he was controversially charged in July in connection with the 2008
post-election violence in Yerevan. It hoped that another Armenian official will
be allowed to replace Khachaturov.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian insisted on that at a CSTO summit held in
Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on November 8. Belarusian President Alexander
Lukashenko as well as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev demanded, however,
that a representative of Belarus be named as new head of the CSTO.
The CSTO leaders said they will again try to reach consensus on the issue when
they meet again in Saint Petersburg, Russia on December 6.
In an interview with the Russian TASS agency, Mnatsakanian said this does not
mean that another Armenian official cannot become new head of the CSTO. He said
Armenia must keep the vacant post as it has a “good cadre potential for that.”
“The organization comprises six equal members and they make decisions by
consensus,” stressed the minister.
Lukashenko reiterated his demands when he met on Monday with a senior diplomat
from Azerbaijan, a country which is at war with Armenia and not part of the
CSTO. He noted that another Russian-led bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union, is
also run by an Armenian.
“This is a very heavy burden for a country which is going through a period of
transition,” added Lukashenko. “Can Armenia carry that burden?”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry denounced Lukashenko’s comments.
Lragir.am says concerns about negative consequences of the Armenian
government’s failure to amend the Electoral Code are proving misplaced with the
looming start of campaigning for the December 9 parliamentary elections. The
online publication argues that the existing electoral system no longer bodes
well for vote buying and other illegal practices because the new government has
the political will to counter them.
“Zhoghovurd” reports in this regard that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has
made clear that his government will bear political responsibility for the
proper conduct of the upcoming elections. “Pashinian said in this context that
any use of administrative resources must be ruled out,” writes the paper. It
says this statement is “very important” as it sends a strong message to
election contenders and his loyalists in particular.
“There are already reports that in some electoral districts in the regions
rating-based candidates [running on an individual basis] have started competing
with each other with dishonest methods in order to win as many votes as
possible,” explains “Zhoghovurd.” “And now after the prime minister’s statement
some people really need to sober up. Or else, we will have to conclude that
some representatives of the new government are using old methods of work.”
“Zhamanak” reacts to the Court of Cassation’s decision on Thursday to overturn
a lower court’s decision to free former President Robert Kocharian from
pre-trial custody. The paper says that the ruling precludes any “shadowy”
involvement of Kocharian in the December 9 elections. Kocharian will thus be
held in check in the run-up to the snap polls, it says.
Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
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