RFE/RL Armenian Report – 05/16/2018


Trump Congratulates New Armenian Leader

        • Sargis Harutyunyan

US President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Elkhart, Indiana on May 10, 

U.S. President Donald Trump has congratulated Nikol Pashinian on becoming 
Armenia’s prime minister and said his administration will cooperate with the 
new Armenian government on “the many areas of mutual interest.”

“I look forward to working with you on the many areas of mutual interest for 
our two countries, including strengthening trade ties, democratic institutions, 
and regional security,” Trump said in a letter posted on the Armenian premier’s 
website on Wednesday.

“Progress on fighting corruption, bringing all political parties together, and 
peacefully solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will help these efforts and 
ensure Armenia’s bright future,” he wrote.

The U.S. State Department issued a similar statement hours after the Armenian 
parliament voted to elect Pashinian as prime minister following weeks of 
massive anti-government protests organized by him. It said Washington will 
“work closely” with his government.

Pashinian’s chief of staff, Eduard Aghajanian, welcomed the congratulatory 
letter from Trump. “I think this testifies to the existence of a new kind of 
government [in Armenia] and its perception by the world,” he told RFE/RL’s 
Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Aghajanian said that a deepening of U.S.-Armenian ties is “inevitable.” “I am 
confident that our relations with all countries and the U.S. in particular have 
a very serious potential for development,” he said.

“We too are ready to cooperate on the areas mentioned by the U.S. president,” 
added the Armenian official.

Washington closely monitored the recent dramatic developments in Armenia that 
led to the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and his replacement by 
Pashinian. The State Department repeatedly urged Armenia political factions to 
embark on dialogue.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell had phone conversations with 
Pashinian and then Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on April 30. A few days 
earlier, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, Richard Mills, met with Pashinian and 
then acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian to try to help ease political 
tensions in the country.

New Armenian Defense Chief Sees Closer Ties With Russia

        • Emil Danielyan

Armenia - Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan at a meeting with senior Russian 
officials in Yerevan, .

Armenia’s new government will maintain and even deepen close military ties with 
Russia, Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan said on Wednesday.

The newly appointed minister met with Russia’s charge d’affaires, Andrey 
Ivanov, and military attaché, Major General Yevgeny Bulavintsev, in Yerevan to 
discuss long-running military cooperation between the two nations.

According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, they discussed “ways of further 
developing joint interaction at the military, military-political and 
military-technical levels” and “mapped out upcoming tasks.”

A ministry statement said Tonoyan stressed the significance of “strategic 
allied relations” with Russia for his country’s defense and national security. 
He said they “will continue to be expanded using the great potential existing 
in a number of areas.”

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian gave similar assurances to Russian President 
Vladimir Putin when they met in Sochi on Monday. In particular, he reiterated 
that his government is committed to Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led 
Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Pashinian told also told Putin that he was “very impressed” with Russian 
military hardware that was put on display at a May 9 military parade in Moscow.

Russia has long been the principal supplier of weapons and other military 
equipment to the Armenian army. Membership in the CSTO entitles the South 
Caucasus state to receiving them at discounted prices or even for free.

Russia -- A Russian TOS-1A multiple rocket launcher fires during the opening of 
the Army-2015 international military forum in Kubinka, outside Moscow, June 16, 

Last October, Moscow agreed to provide the Armenian government with a fresh 
$100 million loan that will be spent on buying more Russian weapons at internal 
Russian prices set well below market-based levels. It already lent Yerevan $200 
million for the same purpose in 2015.

The weapons acquired with the 2015 loan reportedly include, among other things, 
Smerch multiple-launch rocket system, thermobaric and anti-tank rocket systems, 
shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, and army radios.

Armenia also hosts a Russian military base that has been reinforced with 
modernized warplanes, combat helicopters and new artillery systems in recent 
years. Successive Armenian governments have regarded the Russian troops as a 
crucial deterrent against neighboring Turkey, which fully supports Azerbaijan 
in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

By choosing Tonoyan as defense minister, Pashinian clearly sought to underline 
continuity in Armenian defense policy. Tonoyan, 49, served as minister for 
emergency situations in the previous Armenian government and was the country’s 
first deputy defense minister from 2010-2017.

Parliament Majority Leaders Object To Fresh Elections

        • Sisak Gabrielian

Armenia - Deputies from the Republican Party of Armenia at a parliament session 
in Yerevan 28 February 2018.

Senior lawmakers from former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party 
(HHK), which holds a majority of seats in the Armenian parliament, on Wednesday 
spoke out against fresh parliamentary elections sought by Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian and his political allies.

Pashinian called for such elections immediately after tens of thousands of his 
supporters demonstrating in the streets of Yerevan forced Sarkisian to resign 
on April 23. He said on Tuesday that he expects them to be held later this year.

However, Eduard Sharmazanov, the chief HHK spokesman and a deputy parliament 
speaker, said that any talk of snap polls is premature now. “Pre-term 
parliamentary elections are called when there is a political crisis, when the 
government is facing insurmountable obstacles to implementing its programs,” 
Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

“We have repeatedly said that we will not be artificially impeding the work of 
Pashinian’s government,” he said. He also argued that Pashinian himself is in 
no rush to force elections within the next one or two months.

Gevorg Kostanian, the chairman of a key parliament committee also representing 
the HHK, likewise objected to an early dissolution of the National Assembly. 
“If the political situation is such that government and opposition actions are 
only aimed at the country’s well-being, then I am deeply convinced that there 
is no need for fresh elections,” he said.

The idea of snap polls is supported not only by Pashinian’s Yelk alliance but 
also the two other parliamentary minority factions: the Tsarukian Bloc and the 
Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). Both groups have received 
ministerial posts in the new government headed by the protest leader.

Naira Zohrabian, a leading member of the Tsarukian Bloc, insisted that the 
current parliament has lost its legitimacy as a result of the democratic 
“velvet revolution.” Pashinian is therefore right to press for the holding of 
general elections this year, she said.

Zohrabian said the HHK is reluctant to agree to the elections because it knows 
that it would suffer a crushing defeat. “If the two main tools for their 
reproduction -- administrative resources and money – are not used, then I think 
only those considering themselves ideological members of the party will vote 
for the Republicans,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We 
all understand that their number will be very small.”

Like Pashinian’s Yelk alliance and Dashnaktsutyun, the bloc led by businessman 
Gagik Tsarukian believes that the parliament must call general elections after 
amending the Armenian Electoral Code. Several provisions of the code are widely 
believed to have facilitated the HHK’s victory in the last elections held in 
April 2017.

Under the Armenian constitution, pre-term general elections will have to be 
called if the prime minister resigns and the parliament twice fails to elect a 
new premier or if the government’s policy program is not approved by most 

Yerevan Mayor Refuses To Quit Despite Protests

        • Hovannes Movsisian

Armenia - Protesters break into the Yerevan municipality building to demand the 
resignation of Mayor Taron Markarian, .

Yerevan’s Mayor Taron Markarian ruled out his resignation on Wednesday in the 
face of continuing protests by supporters of Armenia’s new central government 
who accuse him of corruption and mismanagement.

Markarian has been under pressure to step down since opposition leader Nikol 
Pashinian replaced Serzh Sarkisian as the country’s prime minister on May 8 
after weeks of massive anti-government protests. Groups of Pashinian supporters 
have demonstrated outside the mayor’s office on a daily basis.

Over 30 protesters broke into the municipality building on Wednesday morning 
after it emerged that trees have been cut down in a nearby public park 
undergoing a complete reconstruction financed by a private charity. Police 
officers stopped them from advancing further towards Markarian’s office.

The angry protesters blocked a corridor leading to the office for nearly three 
hours, demanding that the mayor explain what they see as the park’s destruction 
and resign. They rejected a proposal by Markarian’s two deputies to vacate the 
building and meet with the mayor in an adjacent conference hall.

Armenia - Protesters hold a sit-in inside the Yerevan municipality building, 16 
May 2018.

The municipal administration publicly demanded that the Armenian police take 
action against the intruders. The police chief, Valeri Osipian, discussed the 
incident with Markarian by phone afterwards.

“Why didn’t they inform us before cutting the trees?” one protester told 
RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Why didn’t they say what they are 
going to do?”

Alen Simonian, until now a member of Yerevan’s municipal council representing 
Pashinian’s Yelk alliance, backed the protesters’ demands when he arrived at 
the scene. He said that Markarian, who is affiliated with Sarkisian’s 
Republican Party (HHK), must quit because he is part of a “political team” that 
has lost power in the country. Simonian also criticized Markarian’s track 

Armenia - Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian speaks to reporters outside his 
headquarters, .

The mayor rejected these demands when emerged from the building later in the 
day to speak to reporters in the presence of several dozen supporters holding a 
counterdemonstration there.“I condemn that,” he said. “It’s clear that there 
was a violation of the law. The activists broke into the municipality building 
and tried to disrupt the normal work of the municipality.”

Markarian insisted that he is not obliged to quit because of the regime change 
in Armenia. “All over the world it’s not common practice for a political force 
to try to suppress elected local government bodies after coming to power,” he 
said. “We will continue our work. We will make Yerevan a better place.”

The HHK again won a majority of seats in the municipal council in local 
elections held last year. The council in turn reelected Markarian, 40, as 
Yerevan mayor.

Press Review

“Zhamanak” says that further political developments in Armenia depend in large 
measure on the socioeconomic situation in the country. The paper says the key 
question therefore is “what economic solutions the new government has.” “Even 
if we are talking about an interim government,” it says.

“Zhoghovurd” says that regime change in Armenia has “restored people’s faith 
and trust in the authorities.” “But everyone knows that public sentiment can be 
quickly turned upside down and euphoria can fade away unless public 
expectations are met,” writes the paper. “Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian is 
hardly immune to such a prospect.” It says that Pashinian must therefore not 
hesitate to take swift unpopular measures vital for the country. Those include 
the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The paper hopes that Pashinian will, among other 
things, accept a framework peace agreement drafted by international mediators 
as a basis for peace talks with Azerbaijan.

“Aravot” notes that Pashinian initially planned to force fresh parliamentary 
elections within weeks after taking office but now seems willing to delay their 
holding by at least several months. The paper suggests that Serzh Sarkisian’s 
Republican Party (HHK) is not interested in such polls because it realizes that 
it would hardly win any parliament seats.

“Everyone probably knows or at least feels that the HHK elite is dreaming about 
and waiting for a counterrevolution every minute,” writes “Haykakan Zhamanak.” 
The paper edited by Pashinian’s wife Anna Hakobian says it is this hope that 
has so far prevented the party’s disintegration. Citing “reliable information” 
from HHK circles, it says Sarkisian’s political allies hope that Pashinian’s 
cabinet will fail miserably within two or three months. “According to our 
information, the counterrevolution is not succeeding in attracting a sizable 
following,” it says. “The apparent reason for that is an extremely low 
likelihood of the realization of this scenario … and many, including in the HHK 
leadership, understand this.”

(Tigran Avetisian)

Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
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