Friday, Armenian Businessman Named Economy Minister ' Armenia - Businessman Vahan Kerobian at a news conference in Yerevan, January 17, 2019. The founder and chief executive of Armenia’s largest food delivery company has been appointed as economy minister in a government reshuffle announced by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian following the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The 44-year-old businessman, Vahan Kerobian, is the sixth new cabinet member named by Pashinian over the past week. The five others are the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, labor, emergencies and education. Pashinian announced the cabinet shakeup on November 18 amid anti-government demonstrations sparked by significant Armenian territorial losses suffered during the war. He has since continued to reject opposition demands for his resignation and snap parliamentary elections. Kerobian set up the Menu.am company together with his wife and a friend in 2012. He previously managed an Armenian supermarket chain that went bankrupt and was purchased and rebranded by other investors. Kerobian has publicly supported the current government and Pashinian in particular. Still, he criticized government policies during the prime minister’s meeting with a group of entrepreneurs held this summer. Pashinian recalled this fact when he introduced Kerobian to senior Ministry of Economy officials on Friday. “He now has an opportunity to carefully listen to business and the private sector and not only raise the sector’s problems with the government but also personally address them,” said Pashinian. Kerobian said, for his part, that the war and the continuing coronavirus pandemic have created new economic challenges for Armenia. He also said that the Armenian economy could grow by 10 percent annually in the near future, an ambitious target set by Pashinian earlier this year. The economy is now projected to shrink by about 7 percent in 2020 after three consecutive years of robust growth. The government forecast a less drastic GDP contraction before the war with Azerbaijan that broke out on September 27 and was stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10. In its budget bill submitted to the Armenian parliament early this month, the government said economic growth will resume and reach a 4.8 percent rate already next year. The International Monetary Fund offered last week a less optimistic outlook for the Armenian economy. More Aid Pledged By Armenian Diaspora For Karabakh NAGORNO-KARABAKH -- The Mayor of Martakert Misha Gyurjian inspects a house destroyed by shelling in Martakert, October 19, 2020. A pan-Armenian charity has raised over $26 million in fresh funds in the United States and France for humanitarian and economic aid to Nagorno-Karabakh. The Hayastan All-Armenian Fund said on Friday that it attracted the bulk of the donations pledges, worth almost $23 million, during an annual telethon broadcast from Los Angeles. The remaining $3.1 million was raised by its French branch in an annual phonethon held on November 22. “In light of recent developments in Artsakh (Karabakh) and Armenia, all proceeds of Telethon 2020 will be directed to supporting 100,000 displaced individuals and families of our fallen soldiers who lost their lives to protect the sovereignty of both republics,” the head of the fund’s U.S. branch, Maria Mehranian, said in a statement. Nagorno-Karabakh - Rita Khachatryan, 50, whose husband and son were sent to the front line, walks in a basement shelter in Stepanakert, October 23, 2020. Hayastan launched an international fundraising campaign immediately after the outbreak of the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in and around Karabakh on September 27. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians from around the world responded to its appeal for urgent aid to Karabakh and its population severely affected by the fighting. Hayastan collected $170 million from them before its latest fundraisers in the U.S. and France. It emerged earlier this month that the charity headquartered in Yerevan redirected more than $100 million of those proceeds to Armenia’s government. The Armenian Finance Ministry said on Tuesday that the hefty contribution will finance the government’s “infrastructure, social and healthcare expenditures” necessitated by the war. The six-week hostilities, halted by a Russian-brokered truce on November 10, displaced most of Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population and destroyed or seriously damaged much of its civilian infrastructure. Encouraged by the deployment of Russian peacekeeping troops, tens of thousands of refugees have returned to Karabakh in the last ten days. Hayastan has implemented $370 million worth of various infrastructure projects in Karabakh and Armenia since being set up in 1992. Its board of trustees mostly comprises Armenia’s political leaders and prominent Diaspora philanthropists. Pashinian Blasts, Warns Armenian Opposition Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian delivers a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian lashed out at his political opponents on Friday, saying they want to “spread chaos” in Armenia in a bid to oust him from power in the aftermath of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Pashinian insisted that most Armenians continue to support him and his government despite Azerbaijan’s victory in the war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10. “In Armenia and outside it, there are people and groups who are trying to create a semblance of anarchy and spread chaos in our country,” he said in a televised address to the nation. “They want to bring the war into Armenia and, using assault rifles and criminal groups, leave the country in a state of freefall in order to ensure their return [to power] as saviors. “I want to state clearly and unequivocally that we will not allow that to happen. Not because we are clinging to power but because the people do not want that.” “Yes, the people have questions and are sometimes bitter and angry, sometimes disappointed and sometimes hopeless. But I see in all this the people’s trust [in the government] and want to thank the people for that trust,” added Pashinian. The embattled premier thus pointed the finger at Armenia’s former leaders but did not name any of them. Nor did he specify “external forces known to you” who he suggested are helping the former regime topple him. Pashinian’s latest speech came amid continuing calls for his resignation made not only by opposition forces but also President Armen Sarkissian, some public figures and media commentators. They blame him for significant territorial gains made by Azerbaijan during the six-week war. The opposition criticism intensified on Thursday amid media reports that Azerbaijani soldiers entered a large gold mine on Armenia’s border with the Kelbajar district west of Karabakh which was handed back to Azerbaijan on Wednesday in line with the truce agreement. Some opposition figures accused Pashinian of ceding Armenian territory to Baku. NAGORNO-KARABAKH -- Azerbaijani army soldiers sit atop of their military vehicle on a road in Kelbajar, A deputy chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, General Tiran Khachatrian, denied those claims at a late-night news conference in Yerevan. But he said at the same time that the Armenian military agreed to pull out of a checkpoint set up near the Sotk mine after “lengthy negotiations” with Azerbaijani and Russian military officials. More importantly, Khachatrian acknowledged that half of the gold mine, the largest in Armenia, is technically located on the Azerbaijani side of the internationally recognized border and will no longer be under Armenian control. He said the talks followed a brief standoff between Armenian and Azerbaijani servicemen deployed in the mountainous area. Pashinian too insisted that the border cuts across the mine operated by a Russian company. He accused the opposition of spreading “disinformation” about the loss of territory in Armenia proper. Armenia - A gold mine at Sotk. Pashinian also faced late on Thursday more protests by parents and other relatives of Armenian soldiers who went missing during the war. They rallied outside the prime minister’s office before being received by Pashinian after midnight. Pashinian’s press secretary, Mane Gevorgian, said afterwards that the premier “heard their demands” and briefed them on the Armenian side’s efforts to find the missing soldiers or recover their bodies believed to be lying on Azerbaijani-controlled territory. Pashinian wrote on Facebook at around the same time that he has twice spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone over the past hour to discuss a wide range of issues relating to the implementation of the truce accord. He said they included the mutual search for and handover of dead soldiers’ bodies as well as the exchange of prisoners of war. Karabakh Not Recognized By France NAGORNO-KARABAKH -- Men walk along a street in Stepanakert, November 16, 2020 The French government has made clear that it does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent republic despite a resolution adopted by France’s Senate on Wednesday. The resolution calls on the government to “recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and use this recognition as an instrument of negotiations for the establishment of a sustainable peace.” It also urges the government to pursue a tougher European response toward Turkey, which has supported Azerbaijan in Karabakh the conflict, and an international war crimes investigation. In a statement on the resolution issued late on Thursday, a French Foreign Ministry spokesperson said: “During the [Senate] debate preceding the vote, Mr. Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Secretary of State for Tourism, French People Abroad and the Francophonie, recalled the French government's position on this issue: France does not recognize the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.” “Our responsibility as co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group is to work towards a negotiated solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in particular on the issue of the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the outcome of this negotiation cannot be determined beforehand and unilaterally,” added the statement. “Our priority today must be to ensure the safe return of those displaced by the conflict of the past few weeks. In his address to the Senate, the Secretary of State further noted that no state has yet recognized Nagorno-Karabakh.” Armenia was quick to welcome the resolution, with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian calling it “historic.” Azerbaijan condemned the measure introduced by several pro-Armenian French senators. The Azerbaijani parliament on Thursday accused Paris of pro-Armenian bias and demanded an end to French co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group. French President Emmanuel Macron criticized Azerbaijan’s military action in Karabakh shortly after the outbreak of the war on September 27. Macron has been even more critical of Turkey’s strong political and military support for Baku. Earlier this week, the French government sent two planeloads of humanitarian aid to Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian residents displaced by the fighting. 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.