RFE/RL Armenian Report – 03/07/2019

                                        Thursday, 
New Armenian Government Structure Approved
Մարտ 07, 2019
• Nane Sahakian
Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian holds a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, 
March 7, 2019.
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• 9
Կարդալ մեկնաբանությունները
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The Armenian government on Thursday made the final decision to reduce the 
number of its ministries from 17 to 12 and lay off some of their employees.
A government bill setting a new structure of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s 
cabinet was sent to the parliament for approval. Its passage by the National 
Assembly controlled by Pashinian’s My Step alliance is widely seen as a forgone 
conclusion.
As expected, the bill would abolish the post of first deputy prime minister, 
meaning that Pashinian will have only two deputies. More importantly, it would 
dissolve the Armenian ministries of agriculture, energy, culture, Diaspora, and 
sports and youth affairs.
In particular, the ministries of education, culture, and sports and youth 
affairs would be turned into a single agency. A similar merger of the 
ministries of energy and local government would lead to the creation of a new 
Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures. The Diaspora 
Ministry is due to be scrapped altogether.
The government announced plans for such a restructuring in December, sparking 
street protests by hundreds of Diaspora and culture ministry employees fearing 
a loss of their jobs. Pashinian countered that the planned change is in tune 
with his repeated pledges to downsize the government made during campaigning 
for the December 9 parliamentary elections won by his bloc.
Pashinian insisted on Thursday that the government will operate more 
efficiently as a result of the changes. He also confirmed that at least some 
employees of the affected ministries will be laid of s but did not give any 
numbers.
“Yes, there will be staff cuts but those staffs will follow an evolutionary 
pattern,” he said at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
A leaked government document publicized this week by a senior member of the 
former ruling Republican Party (HHK) suggested that as many as 10,000 civil 
servants will be laid off in the coming weeks or months. Finance Minister Atom 
Janjughazian effectively denied that when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian on 
Tuesday.
Some public administration experts have questioned the wisdom of having fewer 
government ministries. They say that the new “super ministries” would only slow 
down the work of the state bureaucracy.
Armenia Reports ‘Political’ Deal On Greater Imports Of Iranian Gas
• Sargis Harutyunyan
Iran - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian inspect an Iranian honor guard at a welcoming ceremony in Tehran, 
February 27, 2019.
Armenia has reached a “political” agreement with neighboring Iran on importing 
larger amounts of Iranian natural gas, outgoing Energy Minister Garegin 
Baghramian said on Thursday.
Baghramian also told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that Armenian and Georgian 
officials are already negotiating on possible Iranian gas supplies to Georgia 
that would be carried out via Armenia.
The gas issue featured large during Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s official 
visit to Tehran last week. Speaking after talks with Pashinian, Iranian 
President Hassan Rouhani said his hydrocarbon-rich country is ready to sell 
more gas to Armenia and also use Armenian territory for gas exports to Georgia.
Pashinian said that Yerevan is willing to boost imports of Iranian gas. He 
admitted, though, that the two sides have yet to agree on its price.
Armenia currently receives up to 500 million cubic meters of Iranian gas each 
year under a swap scheme that also involves exports of Armenian electricity to 
the Islamic Republic. Its overall gas imports total roughly 2 billion cubic 
meters per annum and they mostly come from Russia. According to the current and 
former Armenian governments, Russian gas is cheaper for the South Caucasus 
state than Iranian.
In Baghramian’s words, Rouhani and Pashinian instructed relevant Iranian and 
Armenian bodies to look into ways of implementing their “political 
understandings” on the gas issue, and a commercial deal could take different 
forms.
“There could be an increase in [Iranian gas] volumes for the purpose of a 
transit to Georgia,” explained the minister. “If there is a mutually beneficial 
price offer, there could be an increase in gas volumes in the form of direct 
sales [to Armenia.]”
“Not only we are negotiating [with Georgia] but also Iranian companies have 
reached certain understandings with Georgian companies,” Baghramian, adding 
that Armenia is ready to serve as a transit route for Iranian gas supplies to 
Georgia.
Baghramian further insisted that Russia’s Gazprom gas giant cannot block or 
impede greater Iranian gas supplies to Armenia.
Gazprom not only meets the bulk of Armenia’s gas needs but also owns the 
country’s gas distribution network. The latter in turn controls the Armenian 
section of a pipeline delivering Iranian gas. The pipeline can pump at least 2 
billion cubic meters of gas annually.
Report Details Destruction Of Ancient Armenian Cemetery In Azerbaijan
• Harry Tamrazian
Iran -- An Armenian priest prays on the Iranian-Azerbaijani border against the 
backdrop of Azerbaijani soldiers destroying Armenian cross stones at the Djulfa 
cemetery, December 2005. (Photo couresty of Djulfa.com)
A detailed report published in an American art journal sheds more light on the 
reported destruction of an ancient Armenian cemetery in Azerbaijan’s 
Nakhichevan exclave.
The cemetery located near Djulfa, a small town close to the Iranian border, 
used to have the largest collection of traditional Armenian cross stones, or 
“khachkars,” dating from the 9th to the 16th centuries. Amateur videos that 
emerged in late 2005 showed Azerbaijani troops smashing the UNESCO-protected 
gravestones. They prompted condemnation from the European Parliament and other 
bodies.
The Azerbaijani government denied their destruction at the time. However, a 
2006 article by the London-based by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting 
(IWPR) confirmed that the cemetery has vanished.
The report published by the Hyperallergic.com journal last month presents more 
details of the destruction of thousands of stones encrusted with crosses, 
Armenian inscriptions and patterns. Its authors, Armenian-born political 
science lecturer Simon Maghakyan and Yale University scholar Sarah Pickman, 
compare the “erasure of indigenous Armenian culture” in Nakhichevan to the 
destruction of Syria’s ancient Palmyra by the Islamic State.
Azerbaijan - Soldiers in Nakhichevan are photographed destroying tombstones at 
the Djulfa cemetery, December 2005. (Photo courtesy of Djulfa.com)
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Maghakyan, who is based in 
Denver, insisted that Azerbaijan’s government committed a “cultural genocide” 
and “crime against humanity.”
“It’s not just about the Djulfa khachkars,” he said. “We are talking about a 
complete destruction of Armenian heritage of Nakhichevan.”
Maghakyan claimed that 89 Armenian churches, 5,800 “khachkars” and 22,000 
tombstones were destroyed in Nakhichevan from 1997 to 2006.
“Even in [historical] western Armenia where Turkish authorities wiped out 
around 3,000 Armenian churches we can still find remnants of churches and some 
churches there were even renovated. But in Nakhichevan no traces of Armenian 
culture have been left,” he said.
“I am very happy that many Azerbaijanis who assisted in our research also 
condemn that,” said Maghakyan. He singled out Arif Yunus, an exiled human 
rights campaigner, and Akram Aylisli, a prominent author who has endured years 
of intimidation after writing about massacres of ethnic Armenians in Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani authorities have refused to allow international inspectors to 
visit the Djulfa cemetery site. In 2011, the then U.S. ambassador in Baku, 
Matthew Bryza, travelled to Nakhichevan but was barred from inspecting the site.
“Such stonewalling renders independent verification difficult, but the sheer 
amount of forensic evidence that Maghakyan and Pickman present makes a 
rock-solid case for at least not being deterred,” Britain’s “The Guardian” 
newspaper wrote in a March 1 article about the Hyperallergic.com report.
Pashinian Reveals Conditions For Major EU Aid To Armenia
Belgium - European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (C), Commissioner 
for European Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn (R), and Armenian Prime Minister 
Nikol Pashinian at a press conference in Brussels, March 5, 2019.
Armenia may have to increase its public debt in order to receive large-scale 
economic assistance from the European Union, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian 
said on Thursday.
Speaking two days after his latest visit to Brussels, Pashinian said that the 
EU is prepared to finance “mega-projects” proposed by the Armenian government. 
The projects relate to the construction and renovation of roads, schools, water 
reservoirs and even prisons, he told members of his cabinet.
“While being ready to help, the EU is not prepared to finance those projects by 
100 percent and it expects Armenia to seriously participate in those projects,” 
Pashinian went on. In order to be able to co-finance those projects the 
Armenian government needs to significantly improve tax collection and/or obtain 
more foreign loans, he said.
Pashinian added that he will discuss the matter with relevant government bodies 
and the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) in the coming weeks to see whether the 
country could manage a higher public debt.
The premier said nothing about the amount of additional aid which the EU is 
ready to provide to Armenia or possible external borrowing required for 
obtaining it. He hinted only that the government could consider raising a legal 
limit on the size of its outstanding debts to local and foreign creditors. That 
debt ceiling is currently set at 60 percent of GDP.
Armenia’s overall public debt, which also includes sums owed by the Central 
Bank, was on course to reach $7.1 billion in December 2018. The figure is 
equivalent to roughly 57 percent of the country’s GDP.
The Armenian state budget for this year sets aside $735 million for debt 
servicing. The sum will account for over one-fifth of the government’s overall 
budgetary expenditures. Debt repayments are projected to peak at $800 million 
in 2020.
Pashinian met with European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission 
President Jean-Claude Juncker and other senior EU officials in Brussels on 
Tuesday.
Speaking after the talks, Tusk praised the Armenian government’s ambitious 
reform agenda and said the EU is ready to support it with “enhanced technical 
and financial assistance.” But he did not give any numbers.
Press Review
“Zhoghovurd” quotes Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian as reporting a major 
increase in cash receipts issued by Armenian shops, restaurants and other 
businesses in January and February. Speaking in the parliament, Pashinian said 
Armenians thus responded to his appeals to help the government tackle tax 
evasion and thus make their contribution to an “economic revolution” promised 
by him. “There is now a much more serious obstacle to the economic revolution: 
the current state of economic legislation,” comments the paper, calling for 
“revolutionary” amendments to those laws.
“Zhamanak” reports on Pashinian’s renewed calls for Nagorno-Karabakh’s 
involvement in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace negotiations. “In essence, Pashinian 
declared in the Armenian parliament that the problem is the format of the 
negotiations,” writes the paper. “Baku has said that there will be no change in 
that format. Pashinian said in Brussels that at their upcoming meeting he and 
[Azerbaijan’s President Ilham] Aliyev will talk about this as well.” The paper 
wonders whether these public statements could lead to the cancellation or delay 
of the meeting.
“Aravot” says that Pashinian’s recent visits to Berlin, Brussels and Tehran 
were a success. “Any unbiased person will agree that the changes which have 
occurred in Armenia in the past year have had a positive impact on our foreign 
relations developing in these directions and our partners are now ready for 
closer cooperation with our country,” editorializes the paper. But it cautions 
that this will not quickly translate into tangible benefits for Armenia and its 
people. It says Armenian government bodies need to work hard to capitalize on 
these foreign policy gains.
(Lilit Harutiunian)
Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
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