RFE/RL Armenian Report – 05/01/2019


Communists See No Major Changes In Armenia

        • Susan Badalian

Armenia -- The Communist Party of Armenia holds a May Day demonstration in 
Yerevan, May 1, 2019.

The leader of the Communist Party of Armenia (HKK) said little has changed in 
the country since last year’s “velvet revolution” as he led a traditional May 
Day demonstration in Yerevan on Wednesday.

The HKK was again the only Armenian political group that rallied supporters in 
the capital to mark the public holiday officially called Labor Day. Hundreds of 
them marched through the city center, waving red flags and holding big banners.

The crowd included not only elderly people nostalgic about the Soviet past, the 
HKK’s core support base, but also young Armenians and even schoolchildren. Some 
of them came from the country’s regions.

Radik Harutiunian, the head of the HKK chapter in the northeastern town of 
Martuni, said he tapped his modest pension to cover the travel expenses of 
local young Communists.

Harutiunian proudly sported a hammer-and-sickle insignia on his chest. “This 
symbol had given me free education, free healthcare and guaranteed employment,” 
he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

“Our ideology is the most progressive in the world. Humanity has not managed to 
create anything better than that,” said Yerjanik Ghazarian, the HKK’s acting 
first secretary.

Ghazarian was unimpressed with last year’s mass protests that toppled the 
former Armenian government opposed by his party. He said it was mere “regime 
change,” rather than a revolution.

“The system has remained the same, only individuals [in government] have 
changed,” Ghazarian told reporters. He argued that just like its predecessors 
the current government opposes “socialism.”

Still, Ghazarian said his party stands ready to help Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian make Armenia’s relations with Russia “spotless.” Pashinian should get 
rid of his associates hostile to Moscow, added the HKK leader.

Pashinian congratulated Armenians on May Day in a written statement. He said 
his government is committed to protecting worker rights while carrying out an 
“economic revolution” promised by him.

The Communists were a major political force in Armenia in the 1990s, winning 
roughly 10 percent of the vote in various national elections. However, their 
influence has since declined significantly.

The HKK, which claims to have 20,000 members, has not been represented in the 
Armenian parliament since 2003. It won less than 1 percent of the vote in the 
April 2017 parliamentary elections and did not run in snap polls held in 
December 2018.

‘Oligarch’ Questioned Over Kidnapping Claim

        • Artak Khulian

Armenia -- Businessman Samvel Aleksanian attends a parliament session in 
Yerevan, September 10, 2018.

Samvel Aleksanian, one of Armenia’s wealthiest and most influential 
businesspeople, has been questioned by law-enforcement authorities on suspicion 
of kidnapping a once prominent journalist.

The veteran journalist, Hamlet Ghushchian, alleged in March that he was forced 
into Aleksanian’s car and driven away “year ago.” “He then got me out of his 
jeep and put a gun to my neck,” said Ghushchian, who was a well-known sports 
reporter in Soviet times and hosted TV talk shows in the 1990s and early 2000s.

He claimed that Aleksanian unjustly accused him of airing slanderous 
information about vodka produced by of the tycoon’s firms.

Armenia’s Investigative Committee launched a criminal investigation into 
Ghushchian’s allegations early this month. Aleksanian confirmed on Wednesday 
that the law-enforcement agency has interrogated him as part of the inquiry.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone, he strongly denied kidnapping 
the journalist and insisted that he had never even met the latter.

“I’m not a kidnapper, my dear,” said Aleksanian. “I hope you guys don’t kidnap 
me. How can I kidnap others?”

Ghushchian stood by his allegations, however. He said he is outraged by the 
fact that Aleksanian was questioned as a witness and not charged.

Aleksanian, who is commonly known as “Lfik Samo,” owns some of Armenia’s most 
lucrative firms, including the ones that have long controlled imports of sugar 
and other foodstuffs.He was a member of the Armenian parliament from 2003-2018, 
a fact that highlighted his close ties with the country’s former leaders.

The 50-year-old “oligarch” quit former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican 
Party (HHK) in June 2018 more than a month after the latter resigned amid mass 
protests against his continued rule. Aleksanian has kept a very low profile 
since then. According to media reports, the 2018 “velvet revolution” has not 
had a serious impact on his businesses.

Man Told To Retract ‘False’ Claims About Armenian Security Chief

        • Naira Nalbandian

Armenia -- Garegin Miskarian, a member of the Citizen's Decision party, speaks 
to RFE/RL in Yerevan, May 1, 2019.

Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) has told a member of a small 
political party to retract his allegations that the NSS director, Artur 
Vanetsian, is engaged in illegal entrepreneurial activity.

Garegin Miskarian of the Citizen’s Decision party attacked Vanetsian in a 
recent Facebook post. Miskarian claimed that Vanetsian and his family had 
smuggled diesel from Iran and have continued fuel imports after last year’s 
“velvet revolution.”

The security service categorically denied that in a letter to Miskarian which 
was signed by an NSS official, Vahe Yengibarian. The latter demanded that the 
activist retract his “article” in writing.

Miskarian accepted the demand but defended his post on Wednesday, saying that 
it was based on media reports. He also objected to the fact that the retraction 
was demanded by the NSS, rather than Vanetsian. “I did not mention the NSS in 
that status,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

Yengibarian insisted, meanwhile, that Vanetsian did not abuse his 
administrative resources to protect his reputation. Nor did the NSS chief seek 
to restrict freedom of speech in the country, the official said.

Vanetsian, 38, was appointed as NSS director shortly after the 2018 revolution. 
He is widely regarded as an influential member of Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian’s entourage. Over the past year the NSS has launched high-profile 
corruption investigations into some former senior government officials as well 
as their relatives and cronies.

Press Review

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

“Haykakan Zhamanak” comments on Tuesday’s meeting in Yerevan of the prime 
ministers of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) member states. The 
pro-government paper condemns media outlets sympathetic to Armenia’s former 
leadership of using the occasion to “remind” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry 
Medvedev of his Armenian counterpart Nikol Pashinian’s 2017 criticism of the 
EEU and anti-Russian rallies organized by some of his associates in the past. 
It says that the former regime, which constantly advocates Armenia’s continued 
alliance with Russia, is now trying to “spoil” Russian-Armenian relations.

Andranik Kocharian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on 
defense and security, tells “Zhamanak” that the upcoming trial of former 
President Robert Kocharian (no relation), his former chief of staff Armen 
Gevorgian and three retired army generals promises to be “very difficult.” “For 
us, it will be the same as the Nuremberg trial held after the [Second World] 
war,” he says. “The March 1 case has such a resonance. Fully solving the March 
1 case means understanding as a result of what decisions the March 1 [violence] 
occurred. It’s not just about the ten victims [of the March 2008 clashes in 
Yerevan.] The trial will ascertain the political aims of the gunshots that were 
fired at people.”

“Zhoghovurd” dismisses Dashnaktsutyun’s strong criticism of the current 
Armenian government voiced in a statement adopted at a party conference held 
this week. The paper compares the opposition party’s claims that the government 
has failed to achieve “tangible results in any area of public life” and is 
undermining “traditional and spiritual values” to “fake news.” It also deplores 
Dashnaktsutyun’s claim that Pashinian’s policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh 
conflict is “evasive.”

(Sargis Harutyunyan)

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