RFE/RL Armenian Report – 06/18/2020

                                        Thursday, 

Yerevan Rejects Criticism From European Center-Right Umbrella Group

        • Sargis Harutyunyan

Armenia-- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and European Council President 
Donald Tusk walk in downtown Yerevan after their meeting on July 10, 2019.

Armenia’s political leadership hit back on Thursday at the head of a coalition 
of Europe’s center-right parties who accused it of suppressing political 
opponents and rolling back democracy.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European People’s Party (EPP), tweeted on 
Wednesday that the pan-European umbrella group is “concerned by numerous 
instances of backsliding of democracy in Armenia.”

“We call on Armenian authorities to refrain from pressuring the opposition,” he 
wrote without specifying any of those instances.

In a separate tweet, Tusk also said that the EPP will support the implementation 
of Armenia’s Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the 
European Union signed in 2017.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian clearly responded to Tusk when he chaired a 
weekly session of his cabinet the following day.

“There are bodies that told Armenia to fight against corruption, vote buying and 
electoral fraud for 30 years,” said Pashinian. “Now that a real fight is 
underway they are saying, ‘Why are you suppressing the opposition?’ Because 
corrupt individuals [who were in power] for 30 years are now in opposition.”

“I have the impression that they are trying to tie our feet and hands and 
telling us not to do anything,” he said.

A close Pashinian associate, deputy parliament speaker Alen Simonian, went 
further, accusing Tusk of meddling in Armenia’s internal affairs and siding with 
former President Serzh Sarkisian.

“I think that Mr. Tusk sees Armenia through the eyes of Serzh Sarkisian,” 
charged Simonian. “Eyes that are detached from reality.”

Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) is affiliated with the EPP, as are 
most of Europe’s major conservative and centrist parties, including German 
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. The EPP has had the biggest 
representation in the European Parliament for the past 20 years.


Belgium -- Former European Council President Donald Tusk (R) and former Armenian 
President Serzh Sarkisian meet in Brussels, March 5, 2020.

Tusk, who headed the EU’s top decision-making body from 2014-2019, voiced the 
criticism after a video conference with leaders of the EPP parties, including 
Sarkisian.

Sarkisian strongly criticized the current Armenian authorities when he addressed 
the conference from Yerevan. He accused them of populism, “inept” governance and 
undemocratic practices.

The former Armenian president also slammed the Pashinian administration when he 
spoke at an EPP congress in Croatia last November. He was charged with 
corruption two weeks later.

Sarkisian continued to reject the charges as politically motivated when he went 
on trial in late February. Despite the trial, he was allowed to visit Brussels 
and meet with Tusk and other European politicians in early March.

Sarkisian, 65, faced opposition allegations of vote rigging and corruption when 
ruled Armenia from 2008-2018. He resigned amid Pashinian-led mass protests 
sparked by his attempt to extend his decade-long rule.

Tusk criticized Yerevan one day after the Armenian parliament allowed 
law-enforcement authorities to arrest and prosecute Gagik Tsarukian, the leader 
of its largest opposition faction, on vote buying charges. Tsarukian rejects the 
charges as government retribution for his recent calls for Pashinian’s 
resignation.

Pashinian insisted on Wednesday that the criminal proceedings against the 
wealthy leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party are not politically motivated.




Former Armenian President Granted Bail

        • Naira Bulghadarian

Armenia -- Former President Robert Kocharian greets supporters during his trial, 
Yerevan, February 25, 2020.

Armenia’s Court of Appeals ordered on Thursday that Robert Kocharian be released 
from prison on bail pending the outcome of the ongoing trial of the former 
president facing coup and corruption charges denied by him.

Anna Danibekian, a district court judge presiding over the trial, again refused 
to grant Kocharian bail or free him on health grounds on May 13. His lawyers 
appealed against both decisions.

The Court of Appeals overturned one of those decisions over prosecutors’ 
objections. It set a 2 billion-dram ($4.2 million) bail for the release of the 
man who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008.

Kocharian personally assured the court on Wednesday that he will not go into 
hiding or obstruct justice if set free. “Had I been a fleeing person, I would 
not have had such a biography in the first place,” he said.

The prosecution insisted, however, that Kocharian could obstruct justice and 
should therefore remain under arrest. They said they will challenge in the Court 
of Appeals ruling in the higher Court of Cassation.

Kocharian’s lawyers welcomed the ruling. But one of them, Aram Vartevanian, 
questioned the “unprecedented” amount of the bail set by a Court of Appeals 
judge, Arsen Nikoghosian. Vartevanian would not say whether his client can pay 
the hefty sum.

Kocharian said in the courtroom on Wednesday that his assets remain frozen and 
that he can only use his children’s properties as bail collateral. His lawyers 
told the court afterwards that 700 million drams worth of such assets belonging 
to his younger son Levon and daughter Gayane could be used for this purpose.

The 65-year-old ex-president has been kept in a Yerevan hospital since 
undergoing another surgery there in late April. Last month another court allowed 
him to stay there until the end of the coronavirus pandemic. Armenia’s 
Penitentiary Service appealed against that decision.

Kocharian was held in Yerevan’s Kentron jail prior to his hospitalization. His 
lawyers have insisted in recent months that the COVID-19 pandemic is another 
reason why he should be freed. Law-enforcement authorities have dismissed those 
demands, saying that his chances of catching the disease at Kentron are minimal.

Kocharian, his former chief of staff and two retired army generals went on trial 
more than a year ago on charges mostly stemming from the 2008 post-election 
unrest in Yerevan. The ex-president also stands accused of bribery. He rejects 
all accusations leveled against him as politically motivated.




COVID-19 Continues To Spread In Armenia

        • Marine Khachatrian

Armenia -- A medical worker wearing protective gear is seen outside the Grigor 
Lusavorich Medical Center in Yerevan on June 9, 2020.

The new coronavirus is continuing to spread in Armenia despite its government’s 
intensifying efforts to make people practice social distancing and wear face 
masks, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Thursday.

“We are not succeeding in lowering [infection] numbers and we know the reason 
for that,” he said. “The reason is that the anti-epidemic rules are not widely 
followed, and we have to use increasingly tougher administrative methods for the 
purpose of [greater] compliance with the anti-epidemic rules.”

The Armenian Ministry of Health reported earlier in the day that the number of 
confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 665 to almost 18,700 in the past 24 hours. 
It is sharply up from about 9,500 cases that were recorded as of June 1.

The ministry also reported the deaths of 9 more people infected with COVID-19. 
It said the virus was the primary cause of seven of those deaths.

The official death toll from the epidemic thus rose to 309. According to the 
health authorities, 101 other infected citizens have died from other, 
pre-existing diseases.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Health Minister Arsen Torosian warned 
that the authorities are struggling to keep up with the continuing spread of the 
disease. Torosian argued that the number of new coronavirus infections is 
growing faster than that of new hospital beds made available for COVID-19 
patients.

In particular, he said, although the total number of intensive-care beds has 
risen by over 30 percent in the last two weeks virtually all of them are 
occupied now.


Armenia -- A medical worker drinks water at the yard of the Grigor Lusavorich 
Medical Center in Yerevan, June 9, 2020
According to Pashinian, the authorities believe that there are also “tens of 
thousands of asymptomatic cases” in the country of about 3 million. All 
Armenians should therefore treat each other as potential carriers of the virus, 
said the premier.

Pashinian said that unprotected people gathering in neighborhood courtyards or 
visiting each other’s homes in Yerevan and other large communities are “the main 
source of infections.”“Here too we should step up our administrative enforcement 
measures even if our resources are limited,” he told ministers.

Pashinian already announced on Tuesday that the authorities will double the 
number of special teams tasked with ensuring that citizens wear face masks in 
public and observe social distancing when queuing up outside various offices. In 
a related move, the government decided to require Armenians to carry passports 
or other IDs when leaving their homes.

Torosian suggested that a tougher enforcement of those rules alone would not 
remedy the situation. “No matter how much we beef up police forces I can’t 
imagine a [more effective] tool than relying on people’s consciousness,” said 
the minister.

Critics of the Armenian government are skeptical about the effectiveness of the 
strategy advocated by Torosian. They argue that the spread of the virus 
accelerated significantly after the government began easing lockdown 
restrictions in mid-April.

Pashinian and other senior government officials have repeatedly spoken out 
against a renewed nationwide lockdown. The premier insisted earlier this week 
that even such a drastic measure would not end the coronavirus crisis in the 
absence of greater public awareness of the health risks.


Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
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