Wednesday, Armenia Bars Turkish Weapons Inspectors • Emil Danielyan Turkey - Turkish officers (L) greet Armenian colleagues inspecting their army unit near Igdir, 28Nov2012. Citing “unprecedented” security threats emanating from neighboring Turkey, Armenia on Wednesday banned Turkish officers from inspecting Armenian military bases and verifying Yerevan’s compliance with an international arms control treaty. It announced the decision as Turkey and Azerbaijan began joint military exercises in the wake of deadly hostilities on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border which heightened tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Signed in 1990 and revised in 1999, the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) places specific limits on the deployment of troops and heavy weapons from the Atlantic coast to Russia's Ural mountains. Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan signed it after gaining independence. Signatories to the treaty are allowed to inspect each other’s compliance with the arms ceilings through random visits to practically any military base. Military inspectors from Turkey and other NATO member states have regularly visited Armenia since the mid-1990s. The Armenian Defense Ministry had first sent a group of CFE inspectors to eastern Turkey in March 2010. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said it informed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Wednesday that Yerevan has decided to “suspend” Turkish inspections of its armed forces. Azerbaijan -- A Turkish military-transport plane lands at Nakhichevan airport, - In a statement, the ministry attributed the move to Turkey’s “unilateral support to Azerbaijan” and “unprecedented threats against Armenia” voiced following the border clashes that broke out on July 12. It also pointed to the Turkish-Azerbaijani war games, saying that they “further aggravate the situation” in the Karabakh conflict zone. “Any [further] military inspection conducted on the territory of Armenia by Turkey … would adversely impact Armenia’s security interests and may jeopardize the security of its population,” read the statement. It indicated that weapons inspectors from other OSCE member states will be allowed to continue to visit Armenia. Turkey has blamed Armenia for the border clashes and vowed to boost its military and diplomatic support for Azerbaijan. Yerevan has responded by accusing Ankara of trying to destabilize the region. The Armenian military said on Tuesday that it will be closely monitoring the Turkish-Azerbaijani drills which will be held in various parts of Azerbaijan for nearly two weeks. Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan said Armenian army units as well as Russian troops stationed in Armenia will use “all reconnaissance means” at their disposal for this purpose. Turkey - Senior Armenian and Turkish army officers sign a protocol, 29Nov2012. Armenia and Turkey have carried out mutual on-site arms inspections despite not having diplomatic relations and an open border. Neither country has accused the other of violating the CFE. By contrast, the Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries have never inspected each other in line with a gentlemen’s agreement dating back to the 1990s. Yerevan and Baku have long traded accusations of exceeding arms quotas set by the Cold War-era treaty. Lawmakers Want To Extend Tax Breaks, Subsidies For Armenian Border Villages • Marine Khachatrian ARMENIA -- Aram Vardazaryan stands inside his home which suffered of bombing attacks in the village of Aygepar, Tavush region, recently damaged by shelling during armed clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, July 18, 2020 Pro-government lawmakers have introduced legislation that would extend and expand wide-ranging economic benefits enjoyed by residents of Armenian towns and villages close to the border with Azerbaijan. People living in the 36 mostly rural communities affected by periodical Armenian-Azerbaijani border skirmishes have been exempt from property and agricultural land taxes since 2015. A law initiated by the former Armenian government also requires the state to subsidize the prices of electricity, natural gas and water supplied to them. Amendments to the law drafted by parliament deputies from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc would extend the tax exemptions by three more years, until January 2024. They also call for the government to continue paying half of the local residents’ utility bills. Irrigation water used them would also be covered by the subsidies. And their children going to school would receive textbooks for free or at knockdown prices. The proposed amendments would further commit the government to repairing homes damaged by cross-border gunfire from Azerbaijan, which has been a regular occurrence ever since the early 1990s. The government has until now been legally obliged to help only the owners of homes completely destroyed by Azerbaijani shelling. The latter are eligible for new and free housing. Armenia -- A view shows a house which locals said was damaged during a recent shelling by Azerbaijani forces in the village of Aygepar, Tavush Province, July 15, 2020. In addition, the bill stipulates that residents of the border towns and villages severely wounded as a result of truce violations would not only receive free healthcare but also financial compensation ranging from 1 million to 3 million drams ($2,100-$6,300). The state would pay 5 million drams to the families of civilians killed by enemy fire. The bill, which the Armenian parliament is due to debate this fall, was circulated in the wake of deadly fighting that broke out along the border between Armenia’s northern Tavush province and the Tovuz district in Azerbaijan on July 12. Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of shelling border villages during the hostilities that lasted for several days and left at least 17 soldiers dead. According to the provincial administration, 89 houses in three Tavush villages were damaged as a result of the border clashes. The Armenian government has pledged to fully repair those properties. The repairs reportedly began last week. Armenia Reports Further Drop In Coronavirus Cases • Robert Zargarian Armenia -- Pedestrians wear face masks in downtown Yerevan, July 10, 2020. The Armenian health authorities reported on Wednesday another decrease in the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths caused by them. The Ministry of Health said in the morning that 308 people have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, down from an average of 550-600 single-day infections registered in the first half of July. They brought to 37,937 the total number of confirmed cases in Armenia. The ministry recorded more than 730 cases a day at one point in late June. This might explain a subsequent rise in coronavirus-related deaths. Around 15 fatalities a day were reported from July 6 through the end of last week. Significantly fewer people infected with COVID-19 have died in recent days, according to the Ministry of Health. The ministry said on Wednesday that six people infected with COVID-19 have died in the past day. It said the virus was the primary cause of four of those deaths. Armenia’s official death toll from the pandemic thus rose to 723. The health authorities say 225 other infected people have died from other, pre-existing diseases. Armenia -- A healthcare worker in protective gear tends to a COVID-19 patient at the Surp Grigor Lusavorich Medical Center, Yerevan, June 5, 2020. Government data also shows that less than 17 percent of the latest coronavirus tests carried out across the country of 3 million came back positive. The positive test rate hovered between 20 percent and 25 percent in previous days. It averaged around 30 percent throughout June and early July. The Ministry of Health spokeswoman, Alina Nikoghosian, described the latest figures as further proof of a continuing fall in the country’s infection rates. She attributed it to an increased number of Armenians wearing mandatory face masks in all public spaces and following other anti-epidemic rules set by the government. “We have been more vigilant during the last few months,” Nikoghosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “I hope that this pace [of improvement] will continue.” Nikoghosian emphasized the fact that for several consecutive the daily number of people recovering from COVID-19 has exceeded that of new infections. But she cautioned that so far there has been no sizable drop in the number of COVID-19 patients that are in a severe or critical condition. The deputy director of the Surb Grigor Lusavorich Medical Center, Armenia’s largest hospital treating such patients, also spoke of an improving epidemiological situation. “I can say for certain that the number of deaths will fall further in the coming weeks given the decrease in severe cases,” said Petros Manukian. Armenia -- A priest wears a face mask at the Echmiadzin-based Mother See of the Armenian Apostolic Church, June 11, 2020. Manukian said that around one-fifth of intensive-care beds at his hospital are currently vacant. As recently as on July 13, Health Minister Arsen Torosian noted a continuing lack of such beds at the Surb Grigor Lusavorich and other Armenian hospitals dealing with the coronavirus. Opposition groups have for months decried the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, saying that Armenia has one of the highest infection rates in the world. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Torosian and other government officials have dismissed the criticism. Ever since controversially lifting nationwide lockdown restrictions in early May, the government has put the emphasis of getting Armenians to practice social distancing, wear face masks and follow other safety rules. It says that this strategy is working. Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian told the Armenian parliament on July 14 that the government hopes to cut the daily number of new cases to roughly 140 by the beginning of September. He said this would allow the government to reopen the country’s schools shut down by it in March. Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.