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09:54, 29.05.2020

CIVILNET.Revealed: US-funded website spreading COVID misinformation in Armenia



The article was originally published on

US taxpayer money has funded a controversial health news website in Armenia that is spreading “incredibly dangerous” COVID-19 misinformation, openDemocracy can reveal. 

Public health experts in the US and Armenia denounced this content – which includes claims that vaccines currently being developed are actually “biological weapons”.

The website,, was launched in 2019 – amid a mushrooming of new ultra-conservative groups following Armenia’s 2018 ‘velvet revolution’ – by an NGO led by a locally well-known doctor with anti-LGBT views and far-right connections. was established with money from the Democracy Commission Small Grants programme, awarded to the NGO by the US embassy in Armenia last year. These grants, intended to “promote democracy”, are worth up to $50,000 a year.

In May, the site’s most-read page called on Armenians to “refuse all potential [COVID-19] vaccination programmes”. It has had 131,000 views and 28,000 social media likes (big numbers in a country with a population of less than 3 million).

The second most popular piece claimed, incorrectly, that a morgue offered 100,000 AMD ($205) to a dead patient’s relatives to sign a document saying the death was caused by COVID-19. Other recent pieces have described COVID-19 as a “fake pandemic”.

Paul Offit, a US doctor, immunology expert and co-inventor of a vaccine against rotavirus (a leading cause of severe diarrhoea in children under five years old), told openDemocracy: “I think that this misinformation is incredibly dangerous.”

Gayane Sahakyan, National Immunisation Project Leader at the Ministry of Health in Armenia, warned that “such misinformation could worsen COVID-19 infections.” 

Those pushing false claims during the crisis “are trying to sow havoc,” she said, “and cut the demand for the vaccine long before it is even developed.” 

On 28 May, Armenia had had just over 8,200 coronavirus cases to date – but this number has almost quadrupled from around 2,200 at the start of May. Infections are rising, and on 25 May the country reported a single-day record of 452 new cases.

Officials fear that conspiracy theories could impede the country’s COVID-19 response – and its recovery. Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan said that “if the anti-vax campaign continues at the same pace, Armenia will criminalise it.”

Sahakyan added that the country already saw a drop in childhood vaccination rates in 2019 as anti-vax theories spread before the onset of coronavirus. 

A disclaimer at the bottom of the website says that it has been “funded through a Department of State Public Affairs Section grant” but that its articles “do not necessarily reflect” the views of the US government.

The US embassy in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, confirmed that was “created” last year under a grant it gave to a local NGO. But it would not confirm the exact value of this grant or comment on the misinformation published on the website. publishes short news articles, videos and interviews on a range of topics including nutrition and dental health. But there is no masthead page listing its editors and reporters; few of its articles have bylines; and no other funders are disclosed. 

Its most popular pieces are opinion articles – most of which are republished Facebook posts (which is not uncommon in Armenian media).

Over the last month, has republished dozens of these posts including incorrect or unverified information about COVID-19 or vaccines, which have been laid out on article pages with photographs, headlines and “Med Media” in the byline. 

At the bottom of these pages are links to the original Facebook posts, which show that many were written by the same people – and that they’ve received far more attention via than they would have done on Facebook alone. 

The above-mentioned most popular piece had only 129 likes on the social media platform before reposted it (giving it 131,000 views on the website).

Claire Wardle, misinformation expert and director of First Draft News, a US non-profit, said: “There is no excuse for a professional ‘news site’ to be pushing these kinds of theories […] People are more likely to believe it and then share with others as they would believe it had been checked out by an ‘official source’.”

Wardle said that the US government seems to be “supporting information initiatives globally, without the capacity to undertake adequate oversight”.

“This example should be a wake-up call, that dangerous conspiracies and rumours are being pushed by multiple actors, and there is a need to remain vigilant.” 

The NGO that received the US embassy grant, and launched, is called the Armenian Association of Young Doctors. It was founded by a young urologist, Gevorg Grigoryan.

Last year, he claimed, incorrectly, that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (which, among other things, protects women from cervical cancer) is intended for gay people – and that its side effects are riskier than cancer rates.

On social media, he has also previously said that “gays should be burnt and in a public place” and that he will “always be one of those who fight against homosexuality”.

Grigoryan is connected to local far-right activists too. Recently, he launched a new NGO whose co-founders include a member of the far-right movement VETO that was established last year following the 2018 ‘velvet revolution’. 

In 2019, Grigoryan also founded the Armenian National Health Council, which has also campaigned against the HPV vaccine and appealed to citizens to oppose its “spread”.

This council has benefited from foreign funding as well. It was set up with money from a European Union-funded project that said it aimed to unite Armenian civil society organisations and enhance their influence over the public policy process. 

The EU delegation to Armenia told openDemocracy that almost €10,000 in EU funds from this project were ‘sub-granted’ by another NGO to the Armenian Association of Young Doctors, the group that set up and also received US money.

It said that this association, along with 14 other local groups, then established the Armenian National Health Council, which “was not directly supported by the EU” and whose position on vaccines was “developed well after the end of the EU-funded grant”.

“Through its funding the EU does not take responsibility for the opinions expressed by its grantees,” the delegation said, adding that it “strictly follows” World Health Organization recommendations during COVID-19 and that it is working to curb disinformation too. 

The US embassy in Yerevan said that its grant to the Armenian Association of Young Doctors was for a project to increase transparency, accountability and civil society monitoring of healthcare in Armenia, to “reduce corruption risks” in the sector. 

It said that the website “created as one of many components of the project, posts primarily official news, in addition to a variety of opinion pieces and interviews”. 

It added that these opinions do not reflect the views of the US government, and that the embassy “conducts periodic monitoring of all grants to ensure that projects proceed as intended and in accordance with US policies and priorities”.

Grigoryan also confirmed to openDemocracy that the website “was created within the framework of a grant programme funded by the US Embassy”. 

He did not respond to questions about his previous anti-LGBT statements and far-right connections. About, he said: “The content of the materials posted on our website may not coincide with the opinion of the editorial board, but as a media outlet, we are obliged to cover both the opinion of the civil society (regardless of the content and the coincidence of opinions) and the opinion of the authorised body.”

Grigoryan added – in contrast to the message in some of’s most popular articles: “Our website is also ready to cooperate with and implement a programme aimed at increasing the coverage of vaccinations in our country.” 

CIVILNET.As Armenia and Georgia Reopen Economies, Countries’ Coronavirus Trajectories Remain Starkly Different



By Mark Dovich

In early May, both Armenia and Georgia announced plans to begin reopening their economies following roughly two months of coronavirus-related lockdowns. By the end of May, both countries are poised to reopen most businesses, stores, and restaurants, as well as public transport. Authorities in Armenia and Georgia alike have argued that maintaining restrictions on social activity has proven economically unsustainable.

Nonetheless, the two countries’ coronavirus trajectories remain starkly different: while Armenia continues to suffer from a steady rise in the number of infections, Georgia now records daily infections in the single digits.

According to analysis from Caucasian Knot, Armenia’s relatively higher rates of infection may reflect higher levels of non-compliance with quarantine measures among the general population as compared to other countries in the region.

Using geolocation data from the popular Russian search engine Yandex, Yerevan has seen significantly higher levels of social activity during its period of quarantine than Tbilisi, Baku, and Moscow. Moreover, Yerevan’s quarantine was maintained for the fewest number of days compared to a number of major world cities, including New York City and Paris. The Yandex data for Armenia also indicate a direct correlation between the level of social activity in the country and its number of infections.

According to Caucasian Knot, these data reflect both a public attitude toward the pandemic that does not take the threat of the disease seriously and an inability or unwillingness on the part of Armenia’s authorities to require that citizens comply with the quarantine.

To that end, Armenia’s relatively high rate of infection vis-a-vis Georgia has been compounded by several other factors—namely, a relatively late implementation of social restrictions in Armenia, a lack of testing facilities and equipment, and longstanding public health issues, including widespread obesity and high smoking rates.

As with quarantine measures, the Armenian and Georgian governments appear to be taking rather different approaches to reopening their respective countries to international tourism. For their part, the Armenian authorities have so far not pushed the topic, focusing instead on getting the pandemic under control and promoting domestic tourism within the country.

On the other hand, the Georgian government has unveiled a detailed plan to help the country’s tourism industry, a reflection of the crucial role international tourism plays in the country’s economic development. Last year, tourism accounted for more than 10 percent of Georgia’s GDP and generated more than 3 billion U.S. dollars in revenue for the country.

Under the government’s roughly 60-million-dollar plan, tourism-related businesses and their employees will be eligible for a number of relief measures, including tax breaks and exemptions, direct subsidies, monthly wages, and other fiscal incentives.

At the same time, the Georgian authorities have announced that the country will begin welcoming foreign tourists again on July 1, directing them to special “tourist zones” where strict anti-coronavirus measures have been implemented. Though several popular resort towns, including Borjomi, Gudauri, and Tskaltubo, have been floated as possible “tourist zones”, the government has yet to confirm exactly which places will be designated as such. Likewise, the specific measures to be put into place in the zones to combat the coronavirus remain unclear.

In late May, tensions rose between Armenia and Georgia when Armenian Health Minister Arsen Torosyan accused the Georgian government of both underreporting coronavirus-related deaths and purposefully testing at low rates in an effort to artificially lower the number of confirmed infections in the country. Rigorous statistical analyses of Georgia’s negative-to-positive test result ratios have consistently supported the idea that the country’s low testing rate simply reflects its low infection rate, with no evidence of a government cover-up.

Torosyan’s comments provoked outrage both among Georgian public health officials and on Georgia’s vibrant social media networks, with many demanding Torosyan apologize. Several days later, an Armenian Health Ministry spokesperson apologized on Torosyan’s behalf, saying “we regret that the minister’s words led to a misunderstanding”. In an apparent effort to defuse tensions, Georgian Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze responded to the Armenian Health Ministry’s comment by also referring to Torosyan’s statement as a “misunderstanding”.

As of late May, Armenia had reported nearly 8,000 coronavirus infections and almost 100 deaths. In a recent Facebook post, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who earlier announced that the country would grapple with the disease “for at least a year”, said that Armenia will record 20,000 cases by mid-June if current trends hold.

CIVILNET.The Thread That Led Vani From Syria to Armenia



Vani Nalbandian moved to Armenia with her family in 2012. Originally from Syria, the family fled the war which started in 2011. Eight years later, she is managing Nor Arev company in Armenia.

Under her leadership, the Syrian Armenians of Nor Arev switched from eco-bag and clothing manufacturing to producing 100 to 200 masks a day to help Armenians combat the spread of COVID-19. 


CIVILNET.Despite Challenges, Growth Continues for Small Businesses in Armenia



By Shant Mirzaians

In a report by the World Bank comparing business regulations in 190 economies, Armenia ranked 47 with a score of 74.5. Although there are areas that could be improved, Armenia is considered to be business friendly, especially in respect to the ease of starting a new one.  

The latest figures put the number of small to medium enterprises in Armenia at just under 60,000, with over half of those including enterprises without employees. 

Small and medium sized businesses are a significant driving force in Armenia’s economy. Micro-businesses, enterprises that employ 1-9 people, make up a significant portion of Armenia’s small to medium businesses at over 23,000. Meanwhile small enterprises that employ 10-49 people make up a little over 3,000. Small and medium enterprises make up 97.9% of all businesses in Armenia. They also account for 19% of all employment and 25% of the country’s GDP. 

For businesses involved in retail trade, shipping to customers outside of Armenia is a common challenge. Haypost, the national mailing service for Armenia, currently does not have an effective method for registering small companies that want to export. The registration process is bureaucratically difficult, and many small businesses instead opt to declare their exports under an individual name instead of their company. Although taxes are still paid through this method, there is a loss of potential revenue and more importantly, statistics on the businesses and exported products are not properly recorded. Without proper data, both the government and private entities cannot make informed economic decisions. 

There is also a lack of an easy to use electronic money moving method in Armenia. Paypal is widely used across the world, but it is not available in Armenia. Instead, there is a domestic internet payment system called Idram. Idram operates within Armenia, but it is not commonly used by clients outside of the country. The lack of Paypal’s availability in Armenia is due to a business decision by Paypal. 

Paypal currently does not find it economically viable to make their services available within Armenia. There have been meetings in the past between the government and Paypal representatives, but one way to make a strong case for Armenia is to present the correct statistics on business operations. These statistics are not wholly accurate when Small-Medium Enterprises (SME) are not properly registering their international sales due to the bureaucratic registration process. 

Aside from government involvement, there have been efforts by NGOs to encourage growth among SMEs in Armenia. The Homeland Development Initiative Foundation (HDIF) works to initiate, facilitate, and nurture sustainable economic opportunities in rural villages, towns, and cities throughout Armenia, especially in vulnerable communities. HDIF helps create jobs that generally pay above the minimum wage. Its founder and president, Tim Straight, has led workshops with local entrepreneurs and producers to assess challenges and provide an opportunity for small business growth. 

A sentiment from most SMEs is that the government is not a major roadblock for businesses. Taxes are not particularly intrusive and basic business registration is readily available. If a business is not doing well, it is likely an internal problem than one imposed by the government. 

“I don’t think that the issue is necessarily legal framework or the practice of legal framework. I think it’s more marketing skills, and supply chain management generally. You have to have a good product at the right price. You have to have good communication. You have to have access to the materials you need to make your product in quantity,” notes Tim Straight.

“If you look at Guatemala, India, Kenya, and you look at the percentage of GDP in those countries that is based on cottage industries, small production units in villages, in kitchens around the country and then sold locally or exported. This is what Armenia needs to understand it can do as well,” he adds.  

By recognizing and focusing on SMEs, the government can address their concerns and promote further growth for the economy.

Another challenge for some businesses has been to keep up creativity amidst new competition. Aylkerp is a company that creates Armenian language board games for all ages. Since its founding in 2014, they have created 10 products ranging from games that involve brainstorming, math, image matching to alphabet puzzles and stickers for young children. They have clients within Armenia, the US and Russia. In 2017, Aylkerp received the Prime Minister’s Best Female Entrepreneur Award. Founders Sofya Khachatryan and Anahit Hakobyan are proud of creating a market for Armenian board games in the country from scratch. 

“A year after creating Aylkerp, our games began to fill the stores, and people understood that it could be profitable. Now there are so many games that we can’t even find our games,” Sofya remembers. 

She adds that, “There are positive points to this, it creates competition. Everyone tries to create a good product. But it has it’s negative effects because they try to copy each other. For example, if you put out a game, someone may make small changes and basically put out the same product.” 

This prompted Aylkerp to adapt and continue to innovate new game types in order to keep up with competition. 

Another challenge for businesses is maintaining confidence in new ideas and products. Pes-Pes was founded in 2019. They create cartoon maps and locations of Armenia for children to color and learn. Founder Yana Babajanyan was motivated by her childhood in Tbilisi where her grandmother would encourage her to learn more about Armenia. Outside of visiting her local library for research, she found it difficult to find information about Armenia. Thus, the vision for Pes-Pes came about to educate young children about Armenia in an entertaining way through coloring various city maps that include prominent landmarks. 

Pes-Pes products can now be found in local bookstores and children’s toy stores. They also service businesses internationally as well as local companies that provide gifts for their employee’s families during holidays. 

Given the challenges small and medium sized businesses face, the economy continues to grow. SMEs are an important contributing factor to that growth. Cooperation between the public and private sectors to address key issues can help encourage further growth and development within Armenia. 

The current Covid-19 situation has presented a particularly difficult challenge for small and medium businesses in Armenia and around the world. Not only have small businesses been forced to close storefronts in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, but consumers are now making fewer purchases outside of basic living expenses. Many workers have been furloughed or outright fired due to the situation. The demand for nonessential products and services has plummeted, which has already begun to affect the welfare of small businesses. This coming year will be a particularly new challenge for small and medium sized businesses, and the private, public, and the non-profit sectors will need to work together to work towards a sustainable future for business in Armenia. 

RFE/RL Armenian Report – 05/29/2020


Kocharian’s Lawyers, Foes Disagree On European Court Opinion

        • Naira Bulghadarian
        • Astghik Bedevian

France - This inside of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, 
eastern France, on February 7, 2019.

Former President Robert Kocharian’s lawyers and detractors offered on Friday 
different interpretations of conclusions drawn by the European Court of Human 
Rights (ECHR) regarding the legality of coup charges brought against him.

Kocharian is prosecuted under Article 300.1of Armenia’s Criminal Code dealing 
with “overthrow of the constitutional order.” The accusation rejected by him as 
politically motivated stems from the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan that 
left ten people dead.

The current code was enacted in 2009. Kocharian’s lawyers maintain that the 
article in question cannot be used retroactively against him. They argue that 
the previous code, which was in force during the dramatic events of March 2008, 
had no clauses relating to “overthrow of the constitutional order” and contained 
instead references to “usurpation of state power.”

Prosecutors insist that there are no significant differences between the two 
definitions of a crime allegedly committed by the man who ruled Armenia from 

Kocharian’s legal team last year asked Armenia’s Constitutional Court to declare 
the coup charge illegal. A Yerevan judge who initially presided over the 
ex-president’s trial likewise asked the court to pass judgment on the legality 
of the accusation.

The Constitutional Court in turn decided in July 2019 to request an “advisory 
opinion” on the matter from the ECHR as well as the Venice Commission of the 
Council of Europe. It asked the Strasbourg-based court, among other things, to 
conclude whether or not the recourse to Article 300.1 violated the European 
Convention on Human Rights

The ECHR’s Grand Chamber released a lengthy and complex opinion on Friday. 
Citing the European convention and “case-law,” it concluded that Kocharian 
cannot be prosecuted for overthrowing the constitutional order if that entails 
“more serious consequences” for the ex-president than “usurpation of state 
power” would.

“If the subsequent law is more severe than the law that was in force at the time 
of the alleged commission of the offence, it may not be applied,” reads the ECHR 

The Grand Chamber stressed at the same time that it is up to Armenian courts to 
look into “specific circumstances of the case” and “establish whether all 
constitutive elements of the offence … were fulfilled under the provisions of 
the Criminal Code in the version in force at the time of the impugned events.”

“Should this not be so, the subsequent Article 300.1 of the 2009 [Criminal Code] 
cannot be considered as more lenient and, consequently, may not be applied in 
the case,” it added.

Armenia -- Former President Robert Kocharian attends hearins at the Court of 
Appeals, Yerevan, December 9, 2019.

Kocharian’s lawyers were quick to hail this conclusion. One of them, Aram 
Vartevanian, claimed that it essentially reflects what they have said all along.

But Tigran Yegorian, a lawyer representing relatives of anti-Kocharian 
protesters killed in the March 2008 clashes with riot police in Yerevan, claimed 
the opposite. He argued that the ECHR did not say that Kocharian was indicted in 
breach of the European Convention.

“This question has to be answered by the national court dealing with this case,” 
Yegorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

Vladimir Vartanian, the pro-government chairman of the Armenian parliament 
committee on legal affairs, also insisted that the ECHR did not side with 
Kocharian. “The ECHR said that it does not consider the existence of Article 
300.1 a violation of the European Convention in itself,” he said.

The Constitutional Court has yet to receive a similar opinion from the Venice 
Commission. Vartanian suggested that it will resume hearings on Kocharian’s and 
the district court judge’s appeals only after the commission’s response.

The Constitutional Court announced its decision to appeal to the two European 
bodies one day after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian launched a scathing attack 
on its chairman, Hrayr Tovmasian. Pashinian accused him of cutting political 
deals with former President Serzh Sarkisian to “privatize” the country’s highest 
court. Tovmasian rejected the accusations.

Tovmasian and six other judges of the 9-member court have since been under 
strong government to pressure to resign. They have refused to quit.

Armenia’s Coronavirus Crisis Worsens

ARMENIA -- A hospital worker (C) wearing a protective face mask and outfit, 
speaks with two ambulance doctors wearing yellow protective suits at the Grigor 
Lusavorich Medical Center in Yerevan, May 27, 2020

The daily number of coronavirus cases registered in Armenia reached a new record 
high on Friday, with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian saying that his country now 
has a higher infection rate than neighboring Iran hit hard by the COVID-19 

“The situation with the coronavirus epidemic in the country is continuing to 
deteriorate,” he said.

Even so, Pashinian made clear that his government is still not planning to 
re-impose a nationwide lockdown. He said it will continue instead to promote and 
enforce social distancing and hygiene rules set by the health authorities.

The Ministry of Health said in the morning that 460 people tested positive for 
coronavirus in the past 24 hours, up from the previous daily high of 452 cases 
reported on May 24. It said a total of 1,100 of coronavirus tests were carried 
out on Thursday.

The total number of COVID-19 cases registered in the country of about 3 million 
thus reached 8,676. The ministry also reported 7 new fatalities which raised the 
official death toll from the epidemic to 120.

“I want to stress that in terms of the number of cases per 1 million people we 
have already surpassed Iran and France and are practically on a par with 
Russia,” Pashinian told a daily news briefing in Yerevan. “At this pace, we will 
reach Italy’s indicator.”

“The reason for this situation is widespread non-compliance with anti-epidemic 
rules and our citizens’ failure to take epidemiological alarms seriously 
enough,” he said, again calling on people to wear face masks, practice social 
distancing and disinfect their hands.

Armenians are obliged to wear masks in shops, buses, taxis and all other 
enclosed public spaces. They must also possess masks when walking in the streets 
or parks.

The Armenian police claim to have fined or reprimanded in recent days hundreds 
of people not abiding by this requirement. For their part, sanitary authorities 
have ordered one-day closures of many restaurants, shops and other businesses 
flouting other safety rules.

ARMENIA - A doctor adjusts a protective face mask at the Grigor Lusavorich 
Medical Centre in Yerevan on May 27, 2020.

Critics of the Armenian government are skeptical about the effectiveness of this 
strategy of containing the virus. They say that only a renewed lockdown can slow 
and ultimately stop the spread of the disease.

Pashinian again spoke out against re-imposing lockdown restrictions now, 
however. “I hope that there will be such changes in our social behavior that we 
won’t have to revert to a strict lockdown,” he said. “None of us wants such a 

“I want to again assure that … if Armenia’s citizens follow the proposed rules 
-- namely, wear masks, practice social distancing and periodically disinfect 
hands and don’t touch their faces with unwashed hands -- we will very quickly 
have a drop in new coronavirus cases and reduce them to zero. We will follow 
this path as long as possible,” added the prime minister.

The government had issued stay-at-home orders and shut down most nonessential 
businesses in late March. But it began relaxing those restrictions already in 
mid-April. The daily numbers of new COVID-19 infections and deaths have 
increased significantly since then.

Pashinian dismissed arguments that his government has ignored World Health 
Organization warnings against a quick lifting of lockdowns. “The World Health 
Organization is guided by health standards, while Armenia, like many other 
countries, also has socioeconomic, financial and security needs,” he said. “Many 
countries of the world are lifting lockdowns despite not meeting those 

The crisis is putting a growing strain on Armenia’s underfunded healthcare 
system. Faced with the rising number of coronavirus cases, the health 
authorities stopped late last week hospitalizing or isolating infected people 
who show mild symptoms of the disease or none at all.

Officials have also warned that intensive care units of the Armenian hospitals 
treating COVID-19 patients are running out of vacant hospital beds. Arman 
Hovakimian, the director of the largest of those hospitals, said on Friday that 
95 percent of intensive care beds at the Surp Grigor Lusavorich Medical Center 
are already occupied.

Health Minister Arsen Torosian said on Thursday that the authorities will set up 
100 more such beds at Surp Grigor Lusavorich and another Yerevan hospital over 
the next month.

Torosian also signaled a shortage of medical personnel, urging more Armenian 
doctors to join their colleagues fighting against the virus.

“This is especially true for anesthesiologists and resuscitation specialists,” 
he wrote on Facebook. “We need them the most because there are now more than 350 
patients in a severe or critical condition and in need of their care.”

New Karabakh Leader Gives Key Posts To Rivals

        • Sargis Harutyunyan

Nagorno-Karabakh -- President Ara Harutiunian and Samvel Babayan sign a 
memorandum of cooperation, Stepanakert, May 25, 2020.

In what amounted to a power-sharing deal, Nagorno-Karabakh’s new President Ara 
Harutiunian on Friday appointed two rival political figures, who challenged him 
in the recent presidential and parliamentary elections, to key positions in his 

Harutiunian said Masis Mayilian, who finished second in the presidential 
election, will continue to serve as Karabakh’s foreign minister while Samvel 
Babayan, the Armenian-populated territory’s former military leader, will take 
over as secretary of his security council.

Mayilian won more than 26 percent of the vote in the first round of voting held 
on March 31 amid serious concerns about the spread of coronavirus in Karabakh. 
Citing those concerns, he did not campaign for the run-off ballot held on April 
14 and urged supporters to boycott it. As a result, Harutiunian cruised to a 
landslide victory in the race.

“We did not engage in political horse-trading,” Harutiunian said when he 
announced Mayilian’s appointment. He said they simply agreed to jointly shoulder 
“responsibility for our country’s future” in view of serious “challenges and 
dangers” facing it.

Nagorno-Karabakh -- President Ara Harutiunian airs a video address, Stepanakert, 

Harutiunian offered a similar explanation for his deal with Babayan which 
appears to be even more significant. In a live Facebook broadcast, he argued 
that the latter’s United Homeland bloc won the second largest number of seats in 
the Karabakh parliament also elected on March 31.

Harutiunian’s Free Homeland bloc won 16 seats in the 33-member legislature, 
falling just short of a parliamentary majority. With Babayan’s bloc holding 9 
seats, the power-sharing deal should allow the new president to push through key 

The two men signed a “memorandum of cooperation” between their political forces 
in Stepanakert on Monday. “For our team the most important thing will be the 
implementation of our program so that there is public trust and we improve the 
socioeconomic situation and manage to achieve development in all spheres,” 
Babayan said at the signing ceremony.

According to Harutiunian, they made a “final decision” on Babayan’s appointment 
at a meeting held in Yerevan on Thursday. The 46-year-old Karabakh leader also 
met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on the same day.

Babayan, 55, has held no government posts in Stepanakert for the last two 
decades. The once powerful general was the commander of Karabakh’s 
Armenian-backed army during and after the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. He was 
widely regarded as the region’s most powerful man at that time.

Babayan was arrested in 2000 and subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison 
for allegedly masterminding a botched attempt on the life of the then Karabakh 
president, Arkadi Ghukasian. He was set free in 2004.

Babayan lived in Russia for five years before returning to Armenia in 2016. He 
was arrested in Yerevan in 2017 on charges of illegal arms acquisition and money 
laundering which he strongly denied. The arrest came two weeks before Armenian 
parliamentary elections. Babayan unofficially coordinated the election campaign 
of an opposition alliance challenging then Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian.

Armenia - Samvel Babayan is greeted by supporters in Yerevan after being 
released from prison, 15 June 2018.

A Yerevan court sentenced the Karabakh general to six years in prison in 
November 2017. Armenia’s Court of Cassation overturned the verdict in June 2018 
two months after the “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Sarkisian and brought 
Pashinian to power.

After his release from jail, the former strongman hoped to run in the 2020 
presidential election but was deemed ineligible because of not having lived in 
Karabakh for the past 10 years. He reportedly threatened to stage street 
protests last year after the authorities in Stepanakert refused to abolish this 
legal requirement for presidential candidates.

Babayan, who is known for favoring a hard line on the conflict with Azerbaijan, 
eventually agreed to participate only in the legislative elections. He 
unofficially supported Mayilian in the presidential race.

Azerbaijan has strongly condemned the Karabakh polls, saying that they run 
counter to Azerbaijani and international law. It says that that Karabakh, which 
had broken away from Azerbaijani rule in 1991, is governed by an “illegal regime 
installed by Armenia.”

By contrast, Armenia has defended the holding of the polls. It has cited a 1992 
OSCE document saying that “elected representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh” should 
also participate in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.

Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.


Pakistani News: Similarities between Kashmir and Nagorno-Karabakh: Two Countries, Same Issues

Daily Times, Pakistan

  • UNHCR helps displaced Syrian-Armenians facing hardship amid pandemic

    Relief Web
    Source: UNHCR
    Originally published:
    Origin: View original

    Syrians who fled conflict to the land of their ancestors in Armenia are struggling to restart their lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic. UNHCR has stepped in to provide support.

    By Anahit Hayrapetyan in Yerevan

    Life was tough for George, his wife Ani and their twins after they fled Syria’s war to Armenia but the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it harder. His work as a taxi driver dried up and Ani’s business baking bread for neighbours stalled.

    They once had a prosperous lifestyle in the Syrian city of Aleppo and they tried as hard as they could to make ends meet in their new home. But as a national lockdown took hold, it was even difficult to pay rent on their apartment on the outskirts of the capital, Yerevan.

    “We have to struggle every day of our life in Armenia relying on the support from others, hoping for a better future for ourselves and our children,” said Ani. “We can hardly pay the bills.”

    The family came to Armenia rather than heading somewhere new because it was the land of their ancestors. In some ways, that decision made their lives easier.

    The family knew the language and, though they had to adapt to a different dialect and customs, it was easier than starting from scratch.

    Around 22,000 Syrians have fled to Armenia since the war began in 2011 of which an estimated 14,000 remain.

    The Syrian-Armenians have links to Armenia dating back a century and the government has welcomed them warmly, in part because of the cultural and historical connection. Their ranks include professionals such as doctors, engineers, IT specialists and teachers and many have business and artisanal skills valued in their new country.

    “We welcome the support given by Armenians to displaced people.”

    But life for many is difficult especially since the pandemic and it is estimated that some 500 families are in dire need of help with sustainable housing.

    UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is providing humanitarian support in the form of cash assistance and other support to some of the most vulnerable. The support includes vocational training, micro-credit loans, tools to generate income, education in local marketing, as well as counselling and coaching.

    In addition, UNHCR also advocates for the social and economic rights of Syrians and other displaced populations and promotes their inclusion in state programmes and development schemes on an equal basis with locals.

    “We welcome the support given by Armenians to displaced people, who have struggled along with many local people during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNHCR has always advocated for the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced people in line with our mandate,” said Anna-Carin Öst, UNHCR’s representative in Armenia.

    “Without this support, we would not be able to cope.”

    The emergency assistance, distributed by the non-governmental organization Mission Armenia, has enabled the families to meet basic needs. UNHCR is also providing psycho-social support and counselling during the pandemic.

    “Without this support, we would not be able to cope with the challenges that accumulate day by day,” said George. We started from scratch … but we were reaching some progress… but now the COVID-19 lockdown pushed us backwards, and that has been so painful.”

    “The assistance we receive is life-saving for us,” said Ani, adding that they needed to juggle rent, food and paying for electricity.

    For the 12-year-old twins, Salpie and Sahag*, lockdown has meant doing lessons online on a computer lent to them by their school, even though the internet connection is sometimes shaky.

    Salpie said she wanted to become a singer, while Sahag, remembering the country where he spent his early childhood, imagined a career that could give his hopes for a better life concrete form.

    “I want to become an engineer and construct beautiful houses with gardens. One day, I will build a big house like the one we had in Aleppo,” he said.

    *Names changed for protection reasons

    Primary country: Armenia
    Other country: Syrian Arab Republic
    Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
    Format: News and Press Release
    Theme: Health
    Vulnerable group: Refugees
    Disaster type: Epidemic

    Music: "An Armenian Trilogy," documentary about music’s Dan Yessian, debuts on Amazon

    Shoot Online
    Music Notes
    "An Armenian Trilogy," documentary about music’s Dan Yessian, debuts on Amazon
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    Dan Yessian

    An Armenian Trilogy, a new documentary about Dan Yessian’s  journey from advertising music creator to writing his first classical composition in honor of the victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, has been released on Amazon. In addition, his three-movement classical composition, “An Armenian Trilogy–Live in Yerevan,” performed by the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra, is now available on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon. This concert is also included as bonus footage at the end of the film. Yessian is the founder of Yessian Music Inc., an international music and sound company responsible for creating original music for TV commercials and programs, movie trailers, video games, theme parks and memorials, including the One World Observatory at the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City.

    “When my Armenian church priest asked me to create a piece of music to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, it proved to be a life changing request. I discovered the path my ancestors had taken during this dark time and I began to tell their story through music, then ultimately film,” said Yessian, who is Armenian-American. His film, in surround sound and closed-captioned in English, has been shown at festivals throughout the U.S. and has won numerous awards including Best Score, Audience Choice and Exceptional Merit.

    The Armenian Genocide, when 1.5 million Armenian citizens were massacred by the Turkish Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1922, made headlines in December 2019 when the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to recognize the mass killings as genocide and then again mid-February, 2020, when the Syrian Parliament also recognized the massacres as genocide.

    Yessian initially wrote “An Armenian Trilogy” as a duet arrangement for violin and piano creating three movements:  The Freedom, The Fear and The Faith, which debuted in Michigan in 2015. Yessian then took on the immense task of orchestrating his composition for 91 pieces, which was performed at the Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall by the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra in Armenia in 2017.

    The documentary film, An Armenian Trilogy, follows Yessian through his childhood as a budding clarinet player, the early years of his company which was started in a 200-square-foot bait shop in metro Detroit, through to the success of the international company he heads with offices in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City and Hamburg, Germany. The film centers on Yessian’s visit to his ancestral homeland of Armenia, where he and his family explore their rich heritage and the composer hears, for the first time, his composition performed by a full orchestra.

    Yessian was inducted into the 2018 Adcraft Hall of Fame in Detroit and was recognized for Lifetime Achievement at the Detroit Music awards in 2016. Nowadays, he can be found working alongside his sons Brian and Michael, on campaigns for companies such as United Airlines, Ford Motor Company, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Nintendo, Disney, Walmart, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz. Yessian Music has also provided music for many television shows including NBC’s Sunday Night Football, The Voice and America’s Got Talent, ESPN’s College Football and all Major League Baseball,  A&E’s Veteran’s Day with A&E and Live PD, PBS’ Sesame Street and other themes and promos on channels including NBC, Disney Channel, HGTV, Lifetime, PBS and CBC.  This year Yessian was responsible for preparing a 360 audio experience for Aerosmith’s Las Vegas residency.

    Letter to Editor of The Guardian (UK): Nagorno-Karabakh and Ramil Safarov by Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the UK

    The Guardian, UK
    Nagorno-Karabakh and Ramil Safarov

    Azerbaijani ambassador Tahir Taghizade responds to a recent article

    Nagorno-Karabakh is not a “disputed territory” as described in your article about the case of Ramil Safarov (Relatives of Armenian axed to death by Azeri officer call for justice, 25 May). It is an integral, internationally recognised part of Azerbaijan which, together with seven other regions of Azerbaijan, has been occupied by Armenia for more than 25 years. More than a million Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). In 1993 the United Nations security council adopted four resolutions demanding the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from the territory of Azerbaijan. These resolutions are yet to be implemented.

    Ramil Safarov was forcibly expelled as a child from his home town, Jabrayil, which is also under Armenian occupation. His extradition from Hungary – where he had already served eight years in prison – to Azerbaijan was done on a legal basis, and it is the constitutional right of the head of any sovereign state to pardon its citizens. While Azerbaijan is calling for justice for its refugees and IDPs, Armenia employs all instruments and platforms to solidify its occupation of Azerbaijan’s territories.
    Tahir Taghizade
    Ambassador of the Republic of to the UK