The California Courier Online, November 26, 2020

1 -        Putin: Armenia Not Recognizing

            Artsakh was ‘a Significant Factor’

            By Harut Sassounian

            Publisher, The California Courier

            www.TheCaliforniaCourier.com

2-         Pashinyan’s Future as Prime Minister Uncertain in Face of
Political Crisis

3 -        Armenia continues to fight COVID-19 pandemic

4-         Ara Ayvazyan Named Armenia’s New Foreign Minister

5-         Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Shines In Clinical Trial

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1 -        Putin: Armenia Not Recognizing

            Artsakh was ‘a Significant Factor’

            By Harut Sassounian

            Publisher, The California Courier

            www.TheCaliforniaCourier.com

Pres. Vladimir Putin of Russia made several important comments in his
response to journalists on Nov. 17, 2020, regarding the recent Artsakh
War ceasefire that he brokered between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Russian leader started by providing the background of the Artsakh
conflict: “It all started in the already remote year of 1988, when
ethnic clashes took place in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait. Armenian
civilians fell victim to these events, and later it spread to
Nagorno-Karabakh. And since Soviet Union’s leaders did not react duly
to these events… let me say it again: these are sensitive issues, and
I do not want to side with anyone or decide who was right or wrong. It
is no longer possible to determine this now, but it was necessary to
put things in order and protect civilians, and this was not done. At
that point, the Armenians themselves took up arms, and this protracted
conflict, a conflict building for many years broke out. Eventually, it
led to a declaration of independence, sovereignty and self-reliance by
Karabakh in 1991. The Bishkek agreements were signed in 1994 and this
Bishkek memorandum stopped the hostilities at that time. What happened
as a result? Karabakh declared independence, as I have said, and
another seven adjacent regions came under the control of Armenians,
that is, Armenia.”

In response to a journalist’s comment that “no one recognized
Karabakh’s status,” Putin stated: “That is true: no one recognized it
then or later. By the way, Armenia itself did not recognize it. …With
regard to recognizing or not recognizing Karabakh as an independent
state, there may be different approaches, but this undoubtedly was a
significant factor, including in the course of the bloody conflict
that I hope has ended. Because the very fact of the non-recognition of
Karabakh, including by Armenia, has left a deep imprint on the course
of events and the way it is perceived. To put it bluntly, after the
former Georgian leaders’ undoubtedly criminal moves, I mean the
attacks against our peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Russia recognized
the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We recognized the
_expression_ of the will of the people living in Crimea to reunite with
Russia as just, and we met the people halfway, we did so openly. Some
people may like it, others may not like it, but we did it in the
interests of the people who live there and in the interests of Russia,
and we are not ashamed to speak about it openly. This did not happen
with Karabakh, and this, of course, has significantly influenced the
developments there.” Later in the interview, Putin added: “Armenia did
not recognize the independence and sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh. In
terms of international law, it meant that Nagorno-Karabakh and the
adjoining districts were an inalienable part of the Republic of
Azerbaijan.”

This is an important declaration by Pres. Putin. Armenia has been
reluctant to recognize Artsakh’s independence out of a concern of a
backlash from the international community. It was feared that such a
move would have disrupted the peaceful negotiations and could have
possibly resulted in war or at least rejection and sanctions against
Armenia by the United Nations.

Armenia’s leaders, up until Putin’s above comments, had no idea that
not recognizing Artsakh’s independence was viewed by the Russian
leader as a mistake, negatively affecting Russia’s support. During the
past decades of negotiations with the Minsk Group of mediators,
including Russia, one wonders if any of Armenia’s leaders ever asked
Putin or his predecessors for their reaction to Armenia’s possible
recognition of Artsakh. If Armenia’s leaders did not raise this issue,
it was a major mistake. Had Armenia known that Russia would have
welcomed its recognition of Artsakh, the subsequent events, including
the recent war, would have turned out much differently. Some Armenians
had suggested that if Artsakh had been united with Armenia, that would
have compelled Russia to defend Artsakh from any foreign attacks based
on the mutual defense treaty between Russia and Armenia. As I
suggested previously, maybe at this late stage, Armenia would finally
listen to Putin’s advice and recognize Artsakh’s independence or unify
it with Armenia in order to have a bargaining chip in the negotiations
with Azerbaijan.

In response to another question regarding the status of Artsakh, Putin
stated: “Yes, there is this problem since Karabakh’s final status has
not been settled. We have agreed to maintain the status quo. What
happens next will be decided eventually by future leaders and future
participants in this process. I think if proper conditions are created
for normal life and relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, between
people in everyday life, especially in the conflict zone, are
restored, it will create an environment for determining Karabakh’s
status.” This response provides a ray of hope that with time, Artsakh
may be able to attain its goal of securing an independent status.
Interestingly, Pres. Putin left such a decision to “future leaders and
future participants in this process.”

Another question was regarding the territories surrounding Artsakh and
the status of Shushi prior to its occupation by Azerbaijan. Pres.
Putin explained that the return of the territories surrounding Artsakh
to Azerbaijan was first suggested by Russia in 2013 and supported by
France and the United States. He said that this would have preserved
Artsakh’s status quo “as an unrecognized state,” and its final status
to be resolved in the future. Putin stated that there would have been
no war if Armenia had agreed to the return of refugees of both sides
to their previous homes.

Regarding the City of Shushi, Putin confirmed that its transfer to
Azerbaijan was never raised. Putin recalled that 20 days before the
end of the war, while Azerbaijan had only conquered “an insignificant
part” of Artsakh, he had managed to convince Pres. Aliyev to end the
hostilities on condition that Azeri refugees would be able to return
to Shushi, under Armenian control in the presence of Russian
peacekeepers. However, Prime Minister Pashinyan told Putin that this
condition is unacceptable to Armenia and continued the fighting,
resulting in the loss of Shushi. Pres. Putin added that there was no
“treason” on the part of Pashinyan.

Pres. Putin also made several important deferential remarks regarding
Turkey. The Russian leader acknowledged that “Azerbaijan is an
independent sovereign state, and has every right to choose allies as
it deems fit. Who can deny it this right? This is my first point.
Second, as I have already mentioned, nobody has recognized Karabakh’s
independence, [not] even Armenia. What does this mean in terms of
international law? It means that Azerbaijan sought to recover
territories which Azerbaijan and the entire international community
view as Azerbaijani territory. In this context, it had the right to
choose any ally who could assist it in this endeavor…. You can assess
Turkey’s actions any way you want, but it can hardly be accused of
violating international law.”

It is noteworthy that Putin did not mention Turkey’s violations of
international law by recruiting terrorists from Northern Syria and
transporting them to Azerbaijan to fight against Artsakh. Given
Russia’s multiple interests in cooperating with Turkey, it is not
surprising that he ignored Turkey’s crimes.

Pres. Putin gave an unexpected reason for blocking Turkish
peacekeepers from joining Russians in Artsakh. He stated that it was
because of “the bitter legacy of the past, the tragic and bloody
events that took place during the First World War, the genocide. This
is a factor that can be recognized or rejected; some people do and
others don’t recognize it. This is not a problem for Russia; we have
long recognized it. But why provoke the Armenian side by the presence
of Turkish military personnel on the contact line? I believe that
President Erdogan was and is fully aware of this.”

Finally, Pres. Putin justified Prime Minister Pashinyan’s agreement to
cease the hostilities. He added that any rejection of the signed
agreement would be “suicidal” for Armenia…. “It would be a huge
mistake.” Putin also acknowledged that even though he had good
relations with Armenia’s previous leaders, Russia’s relationship with
Armenia did not change after Pashinyan came to power. This statement
could be explained by the fact that since the Armenian opposition is
critical of Pashinyan signing the ceasefire agreement, Putin is
reluctant to criticize him because his opponents, should they come to
power, would reject the agreement which could possibly restart the war
with Azerbaijan.

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2-         Pashinyan’s Future as Prime Minister Uncertain in Face of
Political Crisis

            By Lillian Avedian

(The Armenian Weekly)—Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan presented a
roadmap of government activities on November 18 for the next six
months with the goal of overcoming the “present state" in Armenia and
establishing stability and security. The plan was created in response
to the political unrest and mounting calls for his resignation
following his signature on a trilateral agreement signaling Armenia’s
defeat in the 2020 Artsakh War.

The agreement, signed on November 9 and brokered by Russia, ended 45
days of military hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan and
established a timetable by which Armenia must withdraw its armed
forces from the regions of Kelbajar, Aghdam and Lachin while
surrendering areas captured by Azerbaijan during the course of the
war, including Shushi and Hadrut. Russian peacekeeping forces have
already been dispatched along the new Line of Contact as per the
agreement.

Pashinyan’s agenda includes the resumption of the Nagorno-Karabakh
peace process under the OSCE Minsk Group format with an emphasis on
the status of Artsakh, the restoration of infrastructure in Artsakh
and Armenia, the provision of expansive social guarantees, the
reformation of the Armenian Armed Forces and the creation of a system
of psychological rehabilitation. “I have already said that I consider
myself primarily responsible for the present state. I am also
primarily responsible for overcoming the situation and establishing
national stability and security,” he wrote. “I emphasize that not only
do I have no intention of relinquishing those responsibilities, but I
am also fully committed to that work.”

The disclosure of the deal on November 10 triggered several days of
protests in Yerevan. Yet the challenge facing the future of the
Pashinyan administration was cemented by a series of controversial
statements and Facebook posts by the PM following the announcement of
the ceasefire agreement. On the evening of November 15, in a comment
perceived as a call for civil war, Pashinyan wrote on his Facebook
page, “Today I watched dozens of videos of soldiers from the front
line. I was struck by the soldier’s wisdom. Boys, you are right. I am
waiting for you in Yerevan. To finally resolve the issue of whiners
under the walls.” In response to this comment, four members of
parliament as well as two Deputy Ministers from the ruling My Step
bloc tendered their resignations.

The Prime Minister clarified that he was not calling for violence
against his political opponents during a livestream the following
morning. However, later that day, he was once again mired in scandal
when he told Parliament that the war had been inevitable unless
Armenia had handed Shushi over to Azerbaijan. Armenian Foreign
Ministry spokesperson Anna Naghdalyan publicly refuted this claim,
asserting that “there has been no question about renouncing the city
of Shushi in any stage of the peace process.” Just minutes after this
statement, Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, who had been at the
helm of diplomatic relations during the war, announced his
resignation. Several days later on November 18, former deputy foreign
minister Ara Ayvazyan was appointed as his replacement.

During that same speech, Pashinyan also said, “Shushi was an
unfortunate, colorless city. Did we need Shushi? If we needed it, why
was it left in that condition?” He said in a Facebook post the next
day that he had been lamenting that enough private and public
investments had not been devoted in the past decades to Shushi’s
development.

In response to criticisms facing Pashinyan, President Armen Sarkissian
called for the PM’s resignation, early parliamentary elections and the
creation of a “high quality National Consensus Government” that would
rule in the interim period during a speech broadcast this week,
effectively distancing himself from the Pashinyan administration in
case of a snap election.

After the announcement of the trilateral agreement, Chief of the
General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Onik Gasparyan asked the
parliamentary opposition political parties to wait one week before
calling for an end to martial law in order to provide the military
leadership an opportunity to explain the security issues undergirding
the ceasefire agreement. As promised, he released a statement on
Tuesday in which he argued that, presented with a “very bad scenario
and a tragedy,” the military “chose the very bad.” “Yet the
realization that as a result of that decision we succeeded in keeping
most of Artsakh and defending the primary military potential of the
Armenian Armed Forces says that we do not have a right to despair. We
must unite, recover quickly and prepare to continue the fight,” he
wrote.

Nonetheless the Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia parliamentary
factions have been leading calls to lift the currently imposed martial
law and remove Pashinyan from power through a vote of no confidence.
These two opposition parties have declared that they will boycott
parliamentary sessions until a motion of no confidence is placed on
the agenda. “Only one issue should be discussed in this hall: the end
of martial law, the resignation of Nikol Pashinyan, new leadership and
new negotiations,” said MP Naira Zohrabyan during a National Assembly
session.

On November 18, simultaneous rallies in support of and in opposition
to the Prime Minister were held in Yerevan. “We have no goal or desire
to rise to power,” spokesperson of the Republican Party Eduard
Sharmanazov emphasized during the opposition rally. “The salvation of
the homeland must begin with the removal of this landlord and
traitor.”

The rally in support of the PM, which his administration claims it did
not organize, was largely attended by members of the military. “If
[his detractors] found themselves in Karabakh for one minute, they
would understand that if now we unfortunately have 2,000 casualties,
if that agreement was not signed, we would have 15,000 casualties,”
one soldier in attendance told Radio Liberty.

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3 -        Armenia continues to fight COVID-19 pandemic

Armenia continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic as the country is
reeling from the news that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a
trilateral agreement brokered by Russia to end the war with with
Azerbaijan, in which much of Artsakh was ceded to Azerbaijan.
Thousands have taken to Republic Square in Yerevan to protest and
demand the resignation of Pashinyan. According to the Ministry of
Health, there were 29,634 active coronavirus cases in Armenia as of
Monday, November 23. The Ministry has recorded 126,709 coronavirus
cases and 1,976 deaths; 95,099 have recovered.

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4-         Ara Ayvazyan Named Armenia’s New Foreign Minister

YEREVAN—Career diplomat Ara Ayvazian was appointed as Armenia’s new
foreign minister on Wednesday, November 18. Ayvazian also served as
deputy foreign minister before being named to replace Mnatsakanyan.
The 51-year-old was appointed to that position as recently as on
October 16. He had previously worked as Armenia’s ambassador to Mexico
and various European countries.

President Armen Sarkissian signed a relevant decree, initiated by
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, two days after the resignation of
Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.

Pashinyan announced on Monday that he had dismissed Mnatsakanyan. The
latter insisted, however, that he himself tendered his resignation.
Mnatsakanyan gave no reason for the move. It appears based on comments
made by Mnatsakanyan throughout his recent negotiations, however, that
Pashinyan’s decisions was tripartite internationally—and unilateral
domestically.

In April 2020, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov had called for
‘liberating’ lands, and Yerevan had said it would make ‘no
concessions.’

Citing the Madrid Principles—prepared by the Russian Federation in
2010-2011—Lavrov said that the eventual settlement of the conflict
will be done in phases, or a stage-by-stage approach.

Lavrov said in April that “the first stage the solution of the most
pressing problems, which are the liberation of a number of areas
around Nagorno-Karabakh and the unlocking of transport, economic and
other communications.”

“I am convinced that when we come to the decision to sign these
documents, it will be the most important step in the implementation of
the resolutions of the UN Security Council, which are in question and
which, once again, demanded to stop the war and start negotiating,”
said Lavrov in April. “We started to negotiate, we need to agree now.
This is what we are achieving as Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.”

Former Foreign Minister Mnatsakanyan at the time said that Lavrov’s
approaches were “unacceptable for the Armenian sides.”

“There have not been and will not be concessions. The Armenian sides
will never exercise that approach,” Mnatsakanyan had said at the time.

“Since 2018, the talks on the Karabakh conflict have been limited to
the discussion and assessment of approaches which the sides exercised
during specific times. The option of settlement, suggested in 2014, is
not on the negotiating table now. We have expressed our position
clearly, stating that security is the priority for the Armenian
sides,” explained Mnatsakanyan in April. “We have expressed our stance
and our approaches very clearly.”

The former Armenian Foreign Minister also added that the principle of
self-determination was a key factor being presented by Armenia during
the negotiations.

“Those who think that it is possible to negotiate one thing and
present something else to the public are mistaken. No decision can be
made without the people of Artsakh,” Mnatsakanyan had said in April.

Earlier on Monday, November 16 Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman
Anna Naghdalyan publicly contradicted Pashinyan’s comments regarding
Shushi, Nagorno-Karabakh’s second largest city captured by Azerbaijani
forces during the recent war.

The prime minister claimed that peace proposals made by U.S., Russian
and French mediators in recent years called for the restoration of
Azerbaijani control over Shushi.

“The issue of giving up [Karabakh Armenian control of] Shushi was not
raised during any stage of the peace process,” Naghdalyan said in a
short statement.

One of Mnatsakanyan’s deputies, Shavarsh Kocharyan, also stepped down
following a Russian-mediated ceasefire that stopped the bloody war in
Karabakh.

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5-         Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Shines In Clinical Trial

(NPR)—Clinical data for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine showed it was
nearly 95% effective in preventing disease, according to an interim
analysis described in a company release Monday, November 16.

The news comes a week after Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine was
more than 90% effective.

The results for both vaccines come from interim analyses of large
clinical studies. In the Moderna study there were 30,000 volunteers.
Half got two doses of the vaccine 28 days apart; half got two shots of
a placebo on the same schedule.

There were 95 instances of COVID-19 illness among the study
participants; only five of those cases were in the vaccinated group.
Ninety were in the group receiving the placebo. Of these, there were
11 cases of severe disease. The results indicate the vaccine was
inducing the kind of immune response that protects people if they were
exposed to the coronavirus.

“This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us
the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19
disease, including severe disease,” Stéphane Bancel, chief executive
officer of Moderna, said in a statement.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use the same technology to make
their vaccines. It’s based on a molecule known as mRNA, or messenger
RNA. That molecule contains genetic instructions for making proteins
inside cells.

For the vaccine, researchers created an mRNA with the code for making
the coronavirus spike protein. The protein is the key to the virus
infecting cells. It’s also what can trigger someone’s immune system to
make antibodies against the virus, but without causing infection since
the rest of the virus is missing.

That two mRNA vaccines appear to be working is remarkable, since the
technology is new and there hasn’t been an mRNA vaccine approved by
the Food and Drug Administration made to date.

The Moderna and Pfizer studies were conducted using slightly different
protocols. To be counted as a COVID-19 case, participants in the
Moderna study had to have at least two symptoms of disease in addition
to a positive test for the virus. The Pfizer study required only one
symptom. Also, Moderna waited 14 days following the second injection
to begin counting cases; Pfizer’s study started counting at seven
days.

The vaccines also differ in their storage requirements. Moderna says
its vaccine can be safely stored in freezers at about 25 degrees
Fahrenheit (minus 4 degrees Celsius), a temperature easily reached by
a home refrigerator freezer. Pfizer’s vaccine required storage in
specialized ultracold freezers capable of cooling below minus 94
degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 degrees Celsius). Moderna also says its
vaccine will remain potent for up to 30 days at normal refrigerated
temperatures, which should ease distribution.

Both companies’ vaccine studies managed to recruit a reasonably
diverse group of people. Moderna reports 6,000 enrollees who
identified as Hispanic or Latinx and more than 3,000 participants who
identified as Black or African American, as well as 7,000 people older
than 65, and 5,000 with high-risk chronic diseases.

Pfizer and Moderna are still gathering safety data the Food and Drug
Administration has said is necessary for consideration of an emergency
use authorization that would allow the companies to distribute the
vaccine during the pandemic.

Side effects seen for the Moderna vaccine at the interim analysis
included pain at the injection site, fatigue and aching muscles and
joints. The data safety and monitoring board didn’t identify “any
significant safety concerns.”

Moderna said it intends to file “in the coming weeks” with the FDA for
authorization of the company’s vaccine for emergency use.

The federal Operation Warp Speed project to hasten development of
COVID-19 vaccines awarded Moderna a $1.5 billion contract in August to
ramp up manufacturing and deliver 100 million vaccine doses, enough
for 50 million people. The government has an option to buy up to 400
million more doses.

Moderna said Monday that it expects to be able to ship about 20
million vaccine doses in the U.S. by the end of 2020. Next year, the
company said it expects to be able to make 500 million to 1 billion
doses worldwide.

The research and development of the Moderna vaccine was aided by $955
million in federal funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and
Development Authority. Moderna has also been developing this vaccine
alongside the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases,
which in July told NPR it expects to spend about $410 million on the
effort.

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS