RFE/RL Armenian Report – 02/13/2020


Armenian Parliament Approves Gradual Ban On Indoor Smoking

        • Robert Zargarian

A No Smoking sign in Armenian and English.

Armenia’s parliament voted on Tuesday to accept a government proposal to 
gradually ban smoking in cafes, restaurants and all other indoor public places 
in the country.

Under a government bill passed in the second and final reading by 76 votes to 16 
with 7 abstentions, Armenians will also not be allowed to smoke while driving 
cars or buses. In addition, the bill imposes a blanket ban on any form of 
tobacco advertising.

Indoor smoking will be punishable by up fines ranging from 50,000 drams ($105) 
to 200,000 drams.

The bill was drafted by the Ministry of Health and submitted to the Armenian 
government for approval one year ago. It underwent some changes before being 
approved by the National Assembly in the first reading in December. In 
particular, it was decided that the ban on smoking in cafes and restaurants will 
come into force in March 2022.

Deputies representing the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) voted against 
the final version of the bill, saying that it will hurt many businesses. One of 
them, Gevorg Gorgisian, argued that Armenia’s leading cigarette manufacturer, 
the Grand Tobacco company, is now the country’s number one corporate taxpayer.

“Let’s develop other sectors of the economy before starting to hit this one,” 
Gorgisian said during a parliament debate that preceded the vote.

Deputy Health Minister Lena Nanushian, who presented the bill to lawmakers, 
dismissed such arguments.

“Ten percent of annual deaths [in Armenia] result from smoking,” said Nanushian. 
“This 10 percent is a serious figure, my dear deputies: every year 3,000 people 
die as a result of smoking.”

Armenia is a nation of heavy smokers with few restrictions on tobacco sales and 
use enforced to date. According to Ministry of Health estimates, 52 percent of 
Armenian men are regular smokers. Medics blame this for a high incidence of lung 
cancer among them. The smoking rate among women is much lower.

Nanushian also warned of health risks posed by passive smoking when she spoke in 
the parliament in December. Citing surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017, she said 
that more than 70 percent of pregnant women in the country are “exposed to 
secondhand smoke every day.”

Sarkisian’s Ex-Bodyguard Cleared Of Extortion

        • Naira Bulghadarian

Armenia - Vachagan Ghazarian empties his bag filled with cash after being 
arrested by the National Security Service in Yerevan, 25 June 2018.

An Armenian law-enforcement has decided not to bring additional criminal charges 
against Vachagan Ghazarian, the former chief bodyguard of ex-President Serzh 

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) had launched an inquiry after the former 
chief accountant of a Yerevan night club owned by Ghazarian’s wife had accused 
him of extorting 40 million drams ($84,000) from her.

An SIS spokeswoman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Thursday that the criminal 
case has been closed due to a lack of evidence.

Ghazarian was charged with illegal enrichment and false asset disclosure shortly 
after the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Sarkisian. They stem from his 
failure to declare to a state anti-corruption body more than $2.5 million in 
cash that was mostly held in his and his wife’s bank accounts.

Ghazarian, who headed Sarkisian’s security detail for over two decades, was 
obliged to do that in his capacity as deputy chief of a security agency 
providing bodyguards to Armenia’s leaders. He was first detained in June 2018 
after police raided his apartment in Yerevan and found $1.1 million and 230,000 
euros ($267,000) in cash there. The National Security Service (NSS) confiscated 
more cash from him in the following days.

A Yerevan court released Ghazarian on bail in December 2018 after he offered to 
transfer as much as $6 million to the state.

The SIS announced in October 2019 that the once powerful officer and his wife 
have completed the payment. It described the cash transfer as a recovery of 
financial “damage” inflicted on the state.

Germany’s Merkel Praises ‘Deepening’ Ties With Armenia

        • Karlen Aslanian

Germany -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and German Chancellor Angela 
Merkel meet at the Chancellery in Berlin, 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed Germany’s increased cooperation with 
Armenia and significant changes in the South Caucasus state when she met with 
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in Berlin on Thursday.

It was their third meeting in 18 months. Merkel noted with satisfaction that 
German-Armenian relations have “intensified” since her previous talks with 
Pashinian held in August 2018 in Yerevan and in February 2019 in Berlin.

“We will continue to talk today about deepening bilateral relations,” she said 
in a statement to the press made at the start of their latest meeting.

Merkel stressed that “a lot has changed in Armenia” since Pashinian swept to 
power in the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2019.

“There is a parliamentary democracy, elections have been held, and there is also 
a major renewal process … for example in the legal system,” she said. “We 
naturally hope that Armenia will be very successful here because that's not an 
easy process.”

“We are therefore very happy about your courage and your determination to follow 
this path,” she told Pashinian.

“Germany is a close friend and partner of Armenia and we feel the power of that 
friendship in both emotional and practical senses,” Pashinian said for his part. 
“Germany is one of the powerful bridges connecting Armenia to the European 
Union, European civilization and culture.”

The Armenian leader went on to thank Germany as well as the EU for their “moral, 
political technical and financial assistance” to ongoing reforms announced by 
his administration. He said he will discuss his “reform agenda” with Merkel.

An Armenian government statement issued after the talks said Merkel promised 
continued German assistance to “democratic reforms” in Armenia. It said 
Pashinian briefed her on his political team’s controversial decision to hold on 
April 5 a referendum on dismissing seven of the nine members of Armenia’s 
Constitutional Court.

Economic issues were also high on the agenda of the talks, according to the 
statement. Pashinian was reported to urge German companies to invest in various 
sectors of the Armenian economy.

Germany is already Armenia’s number European Union donor and trading partner. It 
has provided the South Caucasus nation with hundreds of millions euros in aid 
and low-interest loans since the 1990s. German-Armenian trade rose by over 4 
percent, to $451 million, last year, according to official Armenian statistics.

In her public remarks, Merkel said she will also discuss with Pashinian the 
unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Armenian government statement on the 
talks made no mention of the conflict.

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