Thursday, UAE’s Air Arabia To Launch Major Airline In Armenia • Nane Sahakian Armenia - Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammed Al Thani, chairman of the Air Arabia airline, at a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Yerevan, . The United Arab Emirates-based carrier Air Arabia and an Armenian state agency have announced plans to jointly launch a low-cost “national airline” in Armenia. Under an agreement signed by Air Arabia and the Armenian National Interests Fund (ANIF) on Wednesday, the new airline will operate as their joint venture and use Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airport as its base. “The new company will adopt the low-cost business model operated by Air Arabia,” the two sides said in a joint statement. “Work on securing the Air Operating Certificate (AOC) – which allows the airline to start operating – will commence shortly. More details about the launch date, fleet, and destination network will be announced in due course,” added the statement. “We see tremendous potential for Armenia in building its airline sector, which will add sustained value to the economy through job creation and the development of travel and tourism sector,” it quoted Air Arabia’s chief executive, Adel Al Ali, as saying. Tatevik Revazian, the head of the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Committee, also stressed the economic significance of the deal when she spoke with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Thursday. “The benefits of this project are very clear,” she said. “A large number of jobs will be created directly and indirectly. Aviation is an engine of economic development. We will have a very serious instrument for developing our economy.” Armenia -- An Armenia Airways plane parked on tarmac at Zvartnots Airport, Yerevan, May 3, 2019. Armenia has had no major domestic airlines ever since the state-backed Armavia carrier went bankrupt in 2013. The bankruptcy led the then Armenian government to liberalize the country’s aviation sector. The decision allowed local and foreign carriers meeting safety standards to carry out flights to and from Armenia without any restrictions. The South Caucasus country’s air traffic with the outside world grew rapidly in the following years. Revazian insisted that the new national airline will not be in a privileged position vis-à-vis small private carriers currently operating in Armenia. Nor will it prevent more foreign airlines from launching flights to Armenia, she said. “Competition is a healthy thing for everyone,” said the official. “It makes everyone work better.” Air Arabia already operates a regular flight service between the Emirati city of Sharjah and Yerevan. Its chairman, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammed Al Thani, attended Wednesday’s signing ceremony in Yerevan. Al Thani also held separate meetings with President Armen Sarkissian and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. "Armenia is currently going through a rather difficult period,” Sarkissian told Al Thani. “We appreciate our friends who are by our side, especially at this stage, starting new cooperation with a new project in Armenia.” Armenian Mining Giant Hit By Tax Hike, Crackdown • Artak Khulian Armenia - An ore-processing facility of Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine in Kajaran, February 6, 2016. Armenian lawmakers approved on Thursday a government proposal to impose a new tax on exports of copper and other metals one day after law-enforcement officers raided the offices of Armenia’s largest mining company partly controlled by an opposition leader. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government announced plans to introduce the 15 percent export duty at an emergency meeting held on Monday. It said that international prices of copper and molybdenum, Armenia’s number one export item, have risen significantly over the past year, allowing mining companies to make excessive profits. Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian objected to the measure during the cabinet meeting, saying that its implementation would be fraught with “risks” to the domestic economy. Pashinian dismissed Grigorian’s concerns. The outgoing National Assembly promptly adopted relevant government-drafted amendments to an Armenian law on state duties. Economy Minister Vahan Kerobian said the tax hike is expected to earn the government about 35 billion drams ($70 million) in additional tax revenues in the second half of this year. Kerobian denied that the main purpose of the measure is to hurt owners and senior executives of the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC), the country’s largest industrial enterprise based in Kajaran, a town in southeastern Syunik province. ZCMC’s board of directors comprises Vahe Hakobian, a senior member of the opposition Hayastan bloc led by former President Robert Kocharian. The mayors of Kajaran and several other communities of Syunik are also affiliated with the bloc that finished second in the June 20 parliamentary elections. During the election campaign Pashinian vowed to crack down on ZCMC’s “corrupt” owners and wage “political vendettas” against local government officials supporting the opposition. He claimed that the mining company banned its employees from attending his campaign rally in Kajaran. Over the past week, the elected mayors of Kajaran and the towns of Meghri and Agarak and two local government officials from another Syunik community have been arrested on different charges denied by them. Law-enforcement authorities moved on Thursday to arrest two other Syunik mayors affiliated with Hayastan. Kocharian’s bloc has strongly condemned the arrests, saying that Pashinian’s administration is trying to suppress the country’s leading opposition force. The authorities deny any political motives behind the arrests. Anna Grigorian, a Syunik-based parliamentarian representing Hayastan, insisted the new mining tax is part of the government crackdown. “During the election campaign they [the authorities] made no secret of their plans to go down this path,” she said. On Wednesday masked officers of the National Security Service reportedly searched and sealed ZCMC’s administrative offices in Kajaran and detained three company executives. The NSS did not comment on the raid as of Thursday evening. Earlier this week, ZCMC said that the Armenian customs service is refusing without any explanation to allow more than 70 rail cars laden with its copper and molybdenum ore concentrates to leave the country. According to the State Revenue Committee, the mining giant employing more than 4,000 people paid 41.7 billion drams ($84 million) in various taxes last year, making it Armenia’s third largest corporate taxpayer. Pashinian Rejects Aliyev’s Threats Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, . Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian condemned on Thursday Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s latest statement on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a threat to Armenia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He said Armenia will use its military alliance with Russia to neutralize such threats. Speaking on Wednesday, Aliyev complained that Yerevan is reluctant to sign a “peace treaty” with Baku eight months after a Russian-brokered ceasefire stopped the war in Karabakh. He said such a treaty must commit the two sides to recognizing each other’s territorial integrity. This would presumably mean a formal Armenian recognition of Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh. “The Armenians must think carefully about that because it could be too late for them in the future,” said Aliyev. In that context, he again referred to much of Armenia’s territory, including the capital Yerevan, as “historical Azerbaijani lands” and said Azerbaijanis will eventually “return to their ancestral lands.” Pashinian hit back at Aliyev as he opened a weekly meeting of his cabinet in Yerevan. He said Baku is hampering regional peace and stability with “statements threatening Armenia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” “Armenia will defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity by all possible and impossible means, including the mechanisms of the joint Russian-Armenian military contingent and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, something about which we have been holding consultations with our partners,” he said. Pashinian also pointed to Aliyev’s repeated threats to forcibly open a “corridor” connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhichevan exclave via Armenia’s Syunik province. He said they run counter to the terms of the truce agreement brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 9. The agreement commits Yerevan to opening rail and road links between Nakhichevan and the rest of Azerbaijan. Armenia should be able, for its part, to use Azerbaijani territory as a transit route for cargo shipments to and from Russia and Iran. At a January meeting in Moscow, Putin, Aliyev and Pashinian agreed to set up a trilateral working group tasked with working out practical modalities of reopening the transport links. The group co-headed by deputy prime ministers of the three states held several meetings in the following months. Pashinian claimed that Aliyev’s threats are aimed at disrupting the group’s “quite constructive and productive activities.” Citing statements made by the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-heading the OSCE Minsk Group, he further disputed Aliyev’s fresh claim that Azerbaijani “unilaterally” resolved the Karabakh conflict with its victory in the six-week war. He made clear that Yerevan will continue to pursue “the realization of the Karabakh people’s right to self-determination.” Armen Grigorian Tipped To Become Armenia’s New FM • Astghik Bedevian Armen Grigorian Former secretary of Armenia’s Security Council Armen Grigorian has been appointed first deputy minister of foreign affairs in a move that ruling party representatives see as a prelude to his appointment to the currently vacant ministerial position. Grigorian, 38, is a member of the ruling Civil Contract party. He graduated from the Department of International Relations of Yerevan State University and later from the American University of Armenia, but has no experience of diplomatic work. Grigorian coordinated electoral programs for the anti-corruption organization, Transparency International, before becoming one of the key figures of Armenia’s 2018 “Velvet Revolution.” He was appointed secretary of the Security Council after the revolution. Chief of Pashinian’s staff Arayik Harutiunian introduced Grigorian to the staff of the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday. In his remarks he expressed confidence that Grigorian will encompass the tasks set to him by the government. Grigorian, for his part, said that he was convinced that “we will jointly implement all the tasks outlined in the electoral program of the Civil Contract party that will also be reflected in the government’s program.” Armenia has had no foreign minister since May 31. In his farewell speech to the ministry staff former Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian made it clear that he had resigned because of policy disagreements with Pashinian. “The reason for my decision to resign was to make sure that there are never any suspicions that this ministry could take some steps or agree to some ideas, initiatives going against our statehood and national interests,” he said. Later it was Grigorian who accused Ayvazian of torpedoing the government work on the repatriation of Armenian prisoners of war from Azerbaijan by lying that Yerevan had no minefield maps that it could pass on to the Azerbaijani side. Ayvazian’s resignation was followed by the resignations of all four of his deputies. The resignation of one deputy minister, Armen Ghevondian, was not accepted by the government and he continued to serve not to leave the ministry without the leadership altogether. Lawmaker Artur Hovannisian, a member of the Civil Contract party, confirmed that Grigorian is also their candidate for the post of foreign minister. He said that there was a discussion within the party on this issue. “There are difficult processes that we must go through, and, yes, we need people who can make decisions in difficult situations based on the interests of the Republic of Armenia and implement these decisions,” he said. For the first time since coming to power Pashinian has made an appointment in the Foreign Ministry, bypassing the diplomatic corps. Acting Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian said that “the political appointment is needed for establishing a certain connection between the diplomatic corps and the political leadership in order to remove the differences that have existed to some extent.” “I think that on the whole this is a positive appointment,” Avinian said. Grigorian was one of the few officials who criticized the decision of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) not to support Armenia in its current border standoff with Azerbaijan, advising that the CSTO’s secretary-general show restraint in his public remarks. Political analyst Armen Baghdasarian believes that if Grigorian is appointed foreign minister, there will be drastic changes as Armenia will start pursuing a pro-Western foreign policy. “Considering his track record, his numerous statements, I think it will be very difficult for him to pursue a pro-Russian foreign policy. In case of a sharp change in Armenia’s foreign policy, Russia will try to react as harshly as possible,” Baghdasarian said. Baghdasarian believes that career diplomats would not agree to cardinal changes in Armenia’s foreign policy, so Pashinian has been looking for a candidate for the top post outside the Foreign Ministry. “It is searching for and finding allies that is the main task of diplomacy. But Armenia’s dependence on Russia today in all respects, and primarily in the security sphere, is so great that I think it would not be a reasonable decision to appoint someone whom Russia absolutely does not trust,” he said. Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2021 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.