RFE/RL Armenian Report – 11/01/2019


Karabakh Assembly Votes Against Ex-Commander’s Presidential Run

        • Artak Khulian

Nagorno-Karabakh -- The parliament building in Stepanakert, September 7, 2018.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s parliament has overwhelmingly voted against constitutional 
changes that would allow Samvel Babayan, the Armenian-populated territory’s 
former top military commander, to run in a presidential election slated for 

The Karabakh constitution stipulates that only those individuals who have 
resided in Karabakh for the past 10 years can participate in the election. 
Babayan has lived mainly in Armenia and Russia since 2004.

Babayan expressed a desire to participate the forthcoming presidential race 
after being released from a prison in Armenia in June 2018. He subsequently 
collected over 21,000 signatures in support of a referendum on the abolition of 
the legal hurdle to his presidential run and presented them to the Karabakh 
parliament this summer. Such a referendum cannot be held without the 
parliament’s consent.

The Karabakh parliament rejected the petition on Thursday by 24 votes of 4, 
with one abstention. Hayk Khanumian, an opposition lawmaker who voted for the 
referendum, criticized the decision. But he acknowledged that that the 
constitutional changes sought by Babayan could not have come in to force before 
the March 31 presidential ballot even if they had been approved by lawmakers 
and put on the referendum.

“There is one good thing about this initiative,” Khanumian told RFE/RL’s 
Armenian service. “Campaigning for the initiative awakened people, especially 
in rural areas. The number of signatures [collected by Babayan] is a clear 
indicator of strong popular demand for change in Artsakh.”

Babayan did not comment on the parliament’s rebuff as of Friday afternoon.

Early this year the once powerful general reportedly threatened to stage street 
protests in Stepanakert if he is barred from running for president. But he has 
kept a low profile in the last few months.

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

Babayan, 54, was the commander of Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army during and 
after the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan. He was widely regarded as the 
unrecognized republic’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 

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 
less than two months after the “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Sarkisian.

Even without Babayan’s participation, the upcoming election promises to be the 
most competitive and unpredictable in Karabakh’s history. At least four local 
political heavyweights have already entered the fray. They include Arayik 
Harutiunian, a former prime minister leading Karabakh’s largest parliamentary 
party, parliament speaker Ashot Ghulian and Foreign Minister Masis Mayilian.

Also running for president is Vitaly Balasanian, another retired general who is 
extremely critical of Armenia’s current political leadership. Balasanian is 
also at loggerheads with Babayan.

Bako Sahakian, the incumbent president who has ruled Karabakh since 2007, is 
not eligible to seek another term in 2020.

Yerevan ‘Not Forced’ To Ratify Contentious European Treaty

        • Naira Nalbandian

Armenia -- A protester holds a poster during a demontration outside the 
Armenian parliament against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, 
Yerevan, November 1, 2019.

The Council of Europe is not pressuring Armenia’s authorities to ratify a 
European treaty rejected by the Armenian Apostolic Church and other groups 
championing traditional family values, a senior lawmaker said on Friday.

The treaty signed in 2011 and known as the Istanbul Convention commits Council 
of Europe member states to combatting violence against women. Armenia has still 
not ratified it despite being among its signatories.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government indicated this summer its intention 
to ensure the treaty’s quick ratification by the Armenian parliament. It 
immediately met with resistance from socially conservative groups and 
individuals, including the chairman of Armenia’s national bar association.

While supporting the protection of women, opponents object to the Istanbul 
Convention’s definition of gender as “social roles, behaviors, activities and 
characteristics that a particular society considers appropriate for women and 
men.” They say this paves way for introducing transsexual or transgender as 
separate categories and legalizing same-sex marriage.

The top clergymen of the state-backed Armenian Apostolic Church added their 
voice to these objections in July. They said that the convention poses a threat 
to traditional marriage defined by Armenian law as a union between a man and a 

The outcry appears to have forced the authorities in Yerevan to at least delay 
the ratification until next year. In late August, they asked a Council of 
Europe body, the Venice Commission, for an advisory opinion on the treaty’s 
conformity with Armenia’s constitution. The commission is understood to 
strongly support its ratification.

Strasbourg-based members of the commission arrived in Yerevan this week to 
discuss the matter with Armenian officials and other stakeholders. They met 
with local lawmakers, including the chairpersons of three standing parliament 
committees, behind the closed doors on Friday amid fresh street protests staged 
by several dozen opponents of the convention.

Armenia -- A protester holds a poster during a demontration outside the 
Armenian parliament against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, 
Yerevan, November 1, 2019.

Vladimir Vartanian, a senior member of Pashinian’s My Step bloc heading the 
parliament committee on legal affairs, was among those lawmakers. He insisted 
after the meeting that the Armenian parliament is not facing pressure from the 
Venice Commission to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

Vartanian stressed at the same time that the convention aims to protect women 
against domestic and other violence “especially in oriental societies.” “The 
convention does not obligate states to legalize same-sex marriages or adoptions 
of children and will not reflect in any way on issues relating to promotion of 
a non-traditional sexual orientation,” he told reporters.

Gevorg Petrosian, an outspoken opposition parliamentarian strongly opposed to 
the treaty as well as LGBT rights in Armenia, also took part in the meeting.

“With all due respect for our colleagues from the Venice Commission, I believe 
that they did not present any convincing arguments as to why we should ratify 
that convention,” said Petrosian. He claimed that they also failed to say which 
national legal mechanisms Armenia lacks in order to tackle violence against 

The Venice Commission officials declined to comment after the discussion.

For the same reasons the convention has also sparked controversy in several 
other Council of Europe member states. Two of them, Bulgaria and Slovakia, 
rejected it last year.

In Croatia, the parliament ratified the treaty in April 2018 amid protests by 
local social conservatives. To placate them, the Croatian government adopted a 
separate statement saying the treaty will not change Croatia’s legal definition 
of marriage as a union between man and woman.

Karabakh Talks Not Deadlocked, Says Mnatsakanian

        • Ruzanna Stepanian

U.S. -- Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian, his Azerbaijani 
counterpart Elmar Mamadyarov and international mediators pose for a photograph 
in New York, September 23, 2019

Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian insisted on Friday that long-running 
efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are not in deadlock, citing 
more high-level talks planned by Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“At least with regard to things relating to us, we do not see a deadlock,” said 
Mnatsakanian. “We are continuing to work very calmly because this work needs to 
be done as it concerns our security, regional security and peace.”

“There is a dynamic in the negotiations and I hope that we can move forward 
quickly if there is mutual constructiveness,” he told reporters.

A senior official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe 
confirmed on Thursday that Mnatsakanian and Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar 
Mammadyarov will meet again on the sidelines of an OSCE ministerial gathering 
to be held Slovakia’s capital Bratislava on December 5-6.

The two ministers most recently met in New York in late September. Mammadyarov 
said afterwards that he was “a bid disappointed” with the results of those 
talks held in the presence of the U.S., French and Russian co-chairs of the 
OSCE Minsk Group. He complained about the mediators’ focus on 
confidence-building measures, rather than “substantive negotiations” sought by 

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev 
reportedly talked to each other at great length on the sidelines of an October 
11 summit of former Soviet republics held in Turkmenistan. Mnatsakanian 
described their conversation as “very useful” earlier this week.

The top Armenian diplomat said on Friday that Aliyev and Pashinian are “not yet 
planning” to meet again. “But anything can happen and develop in any direction, 
if necessary, and there are some understandings, ideas at the level of the two 
leaders regarding how meetings could be organized,” he said.

“There are good ideas which I hope will be put into practice,” Mnatsakanian 
added without going into details.

The mediators met with Pashinian and Aliyev during their October 14-17 tour of 
the Karabakh conflict zone. In a joint statement, they said the two leaders 
promised to make more efforts to “prepare the populations for peace and reduce 

Armenian Tycoon Expands Textile Business

Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (C) visits new textile factories 
opened by businessman Samvel Aleksanian (R), Yerevan, November 1, 2019.

Samvel Aleksanian, a wealthy businessman who was for years closely linked to 
Armenia’s former leaders, inaugurated three new textile factories in the 
presence of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Friday.

Pashinian toured their premises in Yerevan, welcoming the expansion of 
Aleksanian’s textile business first launched a few years ago. He said the 
Armenian government is ready to assist in its further growth “within the 
framework of its legal instruments.”

A government statement on Pashinian’s participation in the ceremony said that 
the new factories employ around 1,000 people and that Aleksanian plans to 
create 2,000 more jobs there. The tycoon will also open to two similar plants 
outside Yerevan next year, said the statement.

Aleksanian, 51, is one of Armenia’s richest men who has long controlled 
lucrative imports of sugar, cooking oil and other basic foodstuffs to the 
country. He also owns the country’s largest supermarket chain.

Aleksanian, who is commonly known as “Lfik Samo,” used to have close ties to 
former President Serzh Sarkisian and his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). He 
was a parliament deputy representing the HHK from 2003-2018, playing a major 
role in the party’s election campaigns.

Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian (L) awards a state medal to businessman 
Samvel Aleksanian in Yerevan, 26 September 2015.

Opposition politicians and media for years claimed that he enjoys privileged 
treatment by the government in return for earning the HHK and Sarkisian many 
votes in Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia district, his stronghold. The blue-collar 
district was notorious for vote buying, violence and other election-related 
irregularities reported by the Armenian media.

Pashinian repeatedly lambasted the “oligarch” when he was in opposition to the 
former regime. In March 2016, for example, he charged on the parliament floor 
that Aleksanian may be evading “tens of millions of dollars” in taxes through a 
fraud scheme allowed by Sarkisian. Aleksanian denied those claims.

Aleksanian defected from the HHK faction in Armenia’s former parliament in June 
2018 just over a month after Sarkisian was overthrown in the “Velvet 
Revolution” led by Pashinian. He has not been openly involved in any political 
activities since then.

Press Review

“Hraparak” says that most Armenians are now more “tolerant” and lenient towards 
the current authorities than the previous ones because they are the ones who 
brought those “young people” to power last year. The paper says their main 
expectation from the government is integrity and dedication. “We are sick and 
tired of crooks, hypocrites and those who place their personal interests above 
public interests,” it writes.

“Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” scoffs at former President Serzh Sarkisian’s declared 
readiness to be arrested if that will make the people “glad and happy.” The 
paper says that Sarkisian already made them happy when he decided to resign in 
April last year. It claims that the resignation of Constitutional Court 
Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian is also a forgone conclusion. The paper also takes a 
swipe at the current authorities, denouncing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s 
confidential decision to double his ministers’ salaries and his possible plans 
to buy a new state aircraft for him. “They have decided to buy a new airplane 
for $55 million just for travelling to the United States on a single flight,” 
it says, decrying this “unmatched extravagance.”

“Haykakan Zhamanak” is also scathing about Sarkisian’s latest public remarks. 
The pro-government paper says Sarkisian did not say that there are no legal 
grounds for his arrest because he never committed any crimes. “Instead, Serzh 
Sarkisian is saying that the people and the state will gain nothing from his 
arrest,” it says, adding that there is no reason why he must not be prosecuted 
if there emerges evidence of his involvement in corruption or other crimes. In 
that case, it says, “future leaders of the state will always bear in mind that 
such a prospect also awaits them and will act only in conformity with the law.” 
The paper controlled by Pashinian notes at the same time that “the imprisonment 
of former heads of state is not a good thing in itself, hampers government 
continuity in some way and even affects the international reputation of the 
state and trust in state institutions.”

(Lilit Harutiunian)

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