RFE/RL Armenian Report – 03/31/2021

                                        Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Pashinian Installs New Senior Security Official
March 31, 2021
        • Sargis Harutyunyan

Armenia -- The main entrance to the National Security Service headquarters in 

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has installed a 31-year-old judge as a deputy 
director of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS).
President Armen Sarkissian formalized Andranik Simonian’s appointment with a 
decree signed on Wednesday.

Simonian has been a judge of the court of first instance of the country’s 
northern Lori province since June 2020. He previously worked as a prosecutor in 

Some Armenian media outlets said the presidential decree initiated by Pashinian 
is a prelude to Simonian’s appointment as director of the NSS. The prime 
minister’s office did not comment on the media speculation.

Pashinian has replaced five heads of Armenia’s most powerful security service 
since coming to power less than three years ago. Two of them, Argishti Kyaramian 
and Mikael Hambardzumian, were fired during last fall’s war with Azerbaijan.

Kyaramian, 29, was sacked after four months in office, while Hambardzumian 
served as acting head of the NSS for only one month. The latter was replaced by 
the current NSS director, Armen Abazian, in November.

Hambardzumian and another former NSS director, Artur Vanetsian, are now 
outspoken critics of Pashinian. Vanetsian also leads a political party which is 
affiliated with an opposition alliance trying to oust Pashinian over his 
handling of the six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Areg Kochinian, a political analyst, said the frequent changes of the NSS chiefs 
as well as their deputies reflect Pashinian’s “spontaneous and emotional” 
leadership style and “the current authorities’ terrible staffing policy.” He 
said they have a negative impact on the NSS’s activities.

“That reflects [negatively] on the predictability of this agency for both its 
personnel and our partner countries,” Kochinian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. 
“It also definitely affects the effectiveness of the NSS.”

Ruling Team Names Election Campaign Managers
March 31, 2021
        • Artak Khulian

Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his political allies hold a rally 
in Yerevan, March 1, 2021.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his political team have named four senior 
government officials to run their parliamentary election campaign.
Deputy parliament speaker Alen Simonian, another leading Pashinian ally, said on 
Wednesday that Minister for Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Suren 
Papikian will be the ruling team’s chief campaign manager.

Papikian oversees Armenia’s provincial governors and elected heads of local 

Simonian said that Environment Minister Romanos Petrosian, the chief of 
Pashinian’s staff, Arsen Torosian, and a senior aide to the prime minister, 
Arayik Harutiunian, will also play a major role in the campaign for snap 
elections expected in June.

All four officials are senior members of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, the 
dominant component of the ruling My Step bloc that won 70 percent of the vote in 
the last general elections held in December 2018.

Armenia -- Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure Suren 
Papikian speaks at a news conference in Yerevan, February 26, 2020.
Simonian told reporters that Pashinian and his party have not yet decided 
whether to preserve My Step, form a new electoral alliance or participate in the 
elections on their own.

Asked whether new figures could join the ruling team ahead of the polls, he 
said: “I cannot name any names. But nor can I exclude that there will be new 
people on our list.”

Pashinian announced on March 18 plans to dissolve the current Armenian 
parliament and hold the elections on June 20 amid continuing opposition protests 
against his rule. He has since toured two Armenian provinces to hold rallies in 
about a dozen local villages.

Opposition leaders say Pashinian has effectively launched his election campaign 
in breach of Armenian law and is abusing his government levers in a bid to hold 
on to power.

“It is clear that Pashinian has used and will use all [government] resources at 
his disposal to do well in the race,” said Gevorg Gorgisian of the opposition 
Bright Armenia Party.

Simonian dismissed the opposition allegations of foul play. He insisted that 
Pashinian’s rallies in Armavir and Aragatsotn provinces did not amount to 
illegal campaigning.

“The Armenian authorities are now in the most disadvantaged position because 
they have not only moral but also legal obligations,” he claimed. “They don’t 
have the kind of financial resources that the opposition has now. The Armenian 
opposition is now much wealthier and more competitive in terms of resources than 
the current authorities.”

World Bank Expects Slow Economic Recovery In Armenia
March 31, 2021

Armenia -- Workers rebuild a road in Gegharkunik province, Juy 4, 2020.

Armenia’s economy will return to growth this year after contracting by 7.6 
percent in 2020 mainly because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the 
World Bank.

“GDP growth is projected to recover partially in 2021 (to 3.4 percent) and more 
strongly in 2022 (4.3 percent). The recovery will be slow; the economy is 
unlikely to return to pre-COVID output levels until 2023,” the bank said in its 
latest Economic Update for Europe and Central Asia released late on Tuesday.

“Private consumption and the services sector are expected to recover gradually. 
Private investment will likely remain subdued, reflecting weak investor 
confidence,” added the report.

The Armenian government has forecast a similar growth rate for 2021. However, 
the country’s Central Bank said on March 17 that the domestic economy will 
likely expand by only 1.4 percent.

Data from the government’s Statistical Committee shows that GDP continued to 
shrink in January and February 2021.

The World Bank cautioned that its growth projections are a “baseline scenario” 
which assumes that Armenia will avoid coronavirus-related lockdowns and further 
political upheavals.

“The risks to the outlook are weighted heavily to the downside,” it said, adding 
that they include a “slow pace of immunization” of the population and “elevated 
political uncertainty.”

“Although the pace of vaccinations will gradually ramp up, the authorities do 
not expect to vaccinate a significant share of the population until 2022,” read 
the report.

The bank also noted the pandemic’s “severe” impact on low-income Armenians, 
saying that poverty in the country increased considerably in 2020. “The 
unemployment rate rose by 1 percentage point year on year, reaching 18.1 percent 
at end-September 2020,” it said.

Armenian Minister Resigns After Assault
March 31, 2021
        • Narine Ghalechian

Armenia -- Minister of High-Tech Industry Hakob Arshakian speaks at a press 
conference in Yerevan, December 18, 2019.

Armenia’s Minister of High-Tech Industry Hakob Arshakian announced his 
resignation on Wednesday almost two weeks after assaulting a journalist at a 
restaurant in Yerevan.

“As a citizen of the Republic of Armenia, I find it unacceptable for an official 
to use violence against any citizen,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Arshakian referred to a violent incident at the restaurant where he dined with 
his wife on March 18. Footage from a security camera publicized afterwards 
showed him hitting Paylak Fahradian, the editor of the Irakanum.am news website, 
in the face and damaging his laptop computer.

The assault reportedly occurred moments after Fahradian approached Arshakian and 
asked him to explain why he is not at work.

The video sparked an uproar from Armenian journalists and media associations. 
Some of them demanded the minister’s resignation.

Law-enforcement authorities pledged to investigate the assault. The Special 
Investigative Service told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Wednesday it has yet to 
decide whether to prosecute Arshakian.

In his first reaction to the incident, Arshakian implicitly accused Fahradian of 
violating his privacy but said he is ready to bear responsibility for his 
actions. He later apologized to the journalist.

Rumors about Arshakian’s resignation began circulating on Wednesday morning. A 
spokeswoman for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian pointedly declined to refute them.

Arshakian confirmed his resignation in the afternoon. “I am thereby expressing 
my intolerance towards both physical and psychological violence,” he said. “I 
hope that the incident will serve as a lesson for our society and that we will 
love each other and respect everyone’s right to privacy a bit more.”

Arshakian is a senior member of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party. He has held 
the ministerial post since October 2018.

The 35-year-old also found himself in hot water earlier this year after it 
emerged that his ministry, which oversees the domestic defense industry, failed 
to properly organize Armenia’s participation in an international arms exhibition 
held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Armenian government had allocated 23 
million drams ($44,000) for that purpose.

Armenian defense firms displayed no items at the Abu Dhabi exhibition for at 
least three days. Arshakian blamed that on “logistical problems.”

The Ministry of High-Tech Industry said on Tuesday that three of its officials 
have been formally reprimanded as a result of an internal inquiry conducted 
after the scandal.

Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2021 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
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