RFE/RL Armenian Report – 09/08/2017

                                        Friday, September 8, 2017

No One Indicted Over Armenian Election Scandal


 . Astghik Bedevian


Armenia - Artak Sargsian, a businessman and parliament deputy.

Armenian law-enforcement authorities will not prosecute anyone in
connection with a secretly recorded audio suggesting that employees of
a pro-government businessman were warned to help him get reelected to
parliament or lose their jobs, it emerged on Friday.

The recording was posted on Hayastan24.com in the wake of the April 2
parliamentary elections. It features the voice of a man threatening to
fire those employees of Artak Sargsian's SAS supermarket chain in
Yerevan who have failed to guarantee in writing that their friends and
relatives will vote for their boss. The man also promises lavish
bonuses to their colleagues who will "bring votes" to the candidate of
President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).

The website said that the SAS staff meeting took place in the run-up
to the elections won by the HHK. Sargsian, who earned the party 12,000
votes and was reelected to the National Assembly, has since refused to
comment on the audio.

Opposition politicians and other critics of the Armenian government
seized upon the revelation as further proof that public and private
sector employees across the country were illegally pressurized to vote
for the HHK. In an April 3 statement, European election monitors
likewise reported "pressure on civil servants and employees of private
companies"

Responding to the uproar, Armenia's Special Investigative Service
(SIS) said on April 19 that it has opened a criminal case under an
article of the Criminal Code dealing with coercion of voters by means
of threats, intimidation or bribes.

A spokeswoman for the law-enforcement agency, Marina Ohanjanian, told
RFE/RL's Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the case has been closed
for lack of evidence of such a crime. She did not comment further.

According to the Hetq.am investigative publication, the man who
threatened to fire SAS employees is Sargsian's elder brother Aram. The
Hetq editor, Edik Baghdasarian, said SIS investigators never asked him
to explain how his media outlet identified the man.

For her part, Yeva Adamian, the Hayastan24.com editor, said she
received recently a letter from the SIS asking for more information
about the scandalous recording. Adamian said although she did not
refuse to cooperate with the investigators they did not make further
inquiries.

"It's a cover-up," she charged. "I'm sure that it was ordered from the
presidential administration. Serzh Sarkisian decided that there is no
need make noise and that one of his prot g s must be a parliament
deputy."

It is not clear whether the HHK-affiliated tycoon or his brother have
been questioned by the SIS. Hetq's Baghdasarian suggested that the SIS
only imitated a probe into the audio.

Varuzhan Hoktanian, the program coordinator at the Armenian branch of
Transparency International, was not surprised by the SIS's decision
not to press charges against anyone. "If a particular force's victory
is to be ensured [at any cost] and that force is the ruling party,
then such methods are not punishable for them," he said. "They would
have been punishable if they had been used by the opposition."



Armenia Dropped Out Of U.S.-Led Drills, Insists Georgia


 . Sargis Harutyunyan


Georgia -- The initial logo of "Agile Spirit 2017" military exercises
published by the Georgian Ministry of Defense.

Armenia confirmed its participation in the latest U.S.-led military
exercises held in Georgia before dropping out of them, the Georgian
Defense Ministry insisted late on Thursday.

The annual "Agile Spirit" exercises began near the town of Akhaltsikhe
on September 3, bringing together around 500 troops from the
U.S. Marine Corps and some 1,000 soldiers from Georgia and five other
countries. Both the U.S. and Georgian militaries said last week that
Armenia will also take part in the ten-day exercises. A Georgian
official said Yerevan "abandoned that intention a few days before
their start."

Deputy Defense Minister Artak Zakarian acknowledged on Monday that the
Armenian military planned to join the exercises. But he said that
"Armenia never officially stated that it will definitely participate."

The Armenian Defense Ministry seemingly contradicted that explanation
in a statement issued later on September 4. It said a decision not to
send Armenian soldiers to the "Agile Spirit 20" wargames was made
"right from the beginning" because they were not deemed of "primary
significance to the Armenian Armed Forces."

The Georgian Defense Ministry countered, however, that Armenian
military officials "confirmed participation of three Armenian officers
in the multinational exercise" when they attended the final planning
conference for the drills in July.

"The Georgian side was notified shortly before the active phase of
Agile Spirit 2017 that the Armenian officers would not be able to take
part in the military exercise," the ministry's press office said in a
written statement to RFE/RL's Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). "The
reason for the refusal was not explained."

Senior representatives of President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party
(HHK) have dismissed suggestions that Armenia dropped out of the
maneuvers under pressure from Russia, its main military ally. Russia's
Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin criticized in July exercises
frequently organized by NATO in Georgia, saying that they undermine
regional security.

As recently as in the first half of August, some 30 Armenian soldiers
took part in larger U.S.-led exercises that were held near
Tbilisi. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited the 2,800 troops
participating in the "Noble Partner" drills during an August 1 trip to
Georgia.

Incidentally, Armenia's arch-foe Azerbaijan skipped the "Noble
Partner" drills but chose to participate in the "Agile Spirit"
wargames.



EU Envoy Backs Karapetian's `Reform Agenda'


Armenia - Prime Minister Karen Karapetian (R) meets with Piotr
Switalski, head of the European Union Delegation in Armenia, in
Yerevan, 8Aug2017.

A senior European Union diplomat reportedly praised on Friday
"ambitious" reforms promised by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian,
saying that the EU stands ready to support them through more economic
assistance to Armenia.

"We strongly support your reform agenda," an Armenian government
statement quoted Piotr Switalski, the head of the EU Delegation in
Yerevan, as telling Karapetian. "With the help of external experts, we
have thoroughly analyzed your reform program. It is an ambitious
program."

"Now we are thinking about how to harmonize our efforts with your
reform agenda. We wish to invest money where you think the reforms
will be effective," Switalski added, according to the statement.

"I want to assure you that we know how to change the country as we are
well aware of our problems and shortcomings," Karapetian was reported
to say for his part.

A separate short statement by the EU delegation said the two men
discussed "EU-funded programs and projects to support economic
development of Armenia." It gave no details.

Karapetian already met with Switalski and the Yerevan-based
ambassadors of key EU member states in July to discuss his
government's five-year policy program approved by Armenia's newly
elected parliament. The program calls for major reforms aimed at
improving the socioeconomic situation in Armenia. It specifically
commits the government to reforming the domestic investment climate,
assisting export-oriented manufacturers and combatting corruption.

Karapetian has repeatedly promised to implement such reforms since
being appointed prime minister in September last year. A senior
official from the International Monetary Fund described his cabinet as
"reform-minded" in April.

Armenian opposition politicians dismiss the premier's economic agenda,
however. They say, in particular, that wealthy businesspeople close to
the government continue to enjoy a monopoly on lucrative imports of
essential goods and commodities. Some of them have also argued that it
is still unclear whether Karapetian will retain his post after
President Serzh Sarkisian's final term expires in April 2018.

According to Karapetian's press office, the premier also discussed
with Switalski on Friday preparations for the signing later this year
of a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement between the EU
and Armenia.



Opposition Bloc Demands Armenia's Exit From Eurasian Union


 . Ruzanna Stepanian


Armenia - The opposition Yelk alliance led by Aram Sarkisian (L),
Edmon Marukian (C) and Nikol Pashinian holds a demonstration in
Yerevan, 30Mar2017.

The opposition Yelk alliance on Friday officially called for an end to
Armenia's membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU),
saying that it has hurt the country's economy and security.

Yelk's parliamentary faction approved a draft statement by the
National Assembly demanding that the Armenian authorities must embark
on a "process" of invalidating Armenia's accession treaty with the
EEU.

The draft statement blames the EEU for the fact that the country's
Gross Domestic Product has shrunk in U.S. dollar terms while public
debt increased since 2015. EEU membership also limits Armenia's trade
with neighboring Georgia and Iran, it claims.

The proposed declaration further says that other EEU member states are
not supporting Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh. It points to Russia's
continued arms sales to Azerbaijan.

Yelk's decision came two months after one of its leaders, Edmon
Marukian, said that Armenia should leave the EEU because of Moscow's
controversial decision to stop recognizing the validity of Armenian
driving licenses used by migrant workers in Russia. Several other
senior members of the opposition bloc backed the idea.

Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker and the spokesman for
the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), rejected those calls
last month. He insisted that the trade bloc with Russia and two other
ex-Soviet states is good for the Armenian economy.

Sharmazanov, whose party has a comfortable majority in the National
Assembly, again ruled out Armenia's exit from the EEU when he met with
a group of university students in Yerevan on Friday.

Yelk was set up by three opposition parties late last year and won 9
of the 105 seats in Armenia's current parliament elected in April. Two
of those parties, Aram Sarkisian's Republic and Marukian's Bright
Armenia, have a pro-Western orientation, while the third one, Civil
Contract, advocates a more neutral foreign policy.

The Civil Contract leader, Nikol Pashinian, opposed Armenia's
accession to the EEU in January 2015. But he repeatedly objected last
year to the country's immediate exit from the union demanded by
pro-Western opposition figures.



Press Review


Armenia -- Newspapers for press review illustration, Yerevan,
12Jul2016

"Haykakan Zhamanak" calls Prime Minister Karen Karapetian's one-year
tenure a failure, saying that he has failed to make good on his
promises to attract multimillion-dollar investments in the Armenian
economy. "There will be no $850 million in foreign investment in
Armenia this year," writes the paper. "Is Karen Karapetian to blame
for a drop in investments in the Armenian economy? He is and he is
not. When he took over as prime minister our economy was already
suffering from a lack of investments. The main reasons for falling
investments are political. If most of an economy is controlled by
monopolies and oligopolies, then such an economy is not attractive to
investors."

"Zhamanak" speculates that Russian-Armenian businesspeople are
exploiting Armenia's problems "for solving their problems with our
country and the Russian authorities." The paper points the finger at
Ara Abrahamian, the chairman of the Union of Armenians of Russia, and
Samvel Karapetian, a billionaire businessman close to the Armenian
premier. "They both are promising to `score goals' but only $40
million has been invested in Armenia so far this year," it says,
adding neither tycoon cares about the country's socioeconomic woes.

"Zhoghovurd" reports that operational losses reported by Armenia's
Russian-owned gas distribution network continued to increase in the
first half of this year year. "This is the highest rate of losses of
the Gazprom Armenia operator in the last five years," writes the
paper. "Never before have losses in the gas distribution network have
approached the 24 percent mark. This is certainly cause for concern
given the fact that the financial burden of solving such problems is
usually placed on ordinary citizens through higher tariffs."

"Chorrord Ishkhanutyun" adds its voice to criticism of President Serzh
Sarkisian's decision to give a medal for academic excellence to the
teenage son of an Armenian town mayor charged with running over and
killing a man with a car. "Serzh Sarkisian was probably not informed
about details. Otherwise, he would have given that promising young man
not only a medal but also a government post," the paper says with
sarcasm.

(Tigran Avetisian)


Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
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1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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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