Wednesday, July 28, 2021 France Open To Defense Cooperation With Armenia July 28, 2021 • Sargis Harutyunyan Armenia - French Ambassador Jonathan Lacote at a news conference in Yerevan, July 12, 2018 France is ready to consider embarking on military cooperation with Armenia that would boost the South Caucasus state’s security, the French ambassador in Yerevan, Jonathan Lacote, said on Wednesday. Lacote cautioned at the same time that the two countries are members of different military alliances and that France’s top priority in the region is to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict together with Russia and the United States, the two other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. “As I said last week in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, France is willing to examine Armenia’s requests relating to defense,” he told a news conference. “But one must also take into account the overall context. First of all, France and Armenia are not part of the same military alliance.” “Generally speaking, our goal is not to prepare for future wars but to prevent wars because we believe that regional problems should not be resolved by force,” he went on. “The issues of Karabakh’s status and the Armenia-Azerbaijan border should be resolved only through negotiations. Any other path would lead to deadlock.” Armenia is allied to Russia through bilateral defense treaties and membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government has pledged to further deepen Russian-Armenian military ties since last year’s war in Karabakh. Lacote spoke with journalists amid fresh fighting on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan which left three Armenian soldiers dead on Wednesday morning. “Naturally, our thoughts are with the families of the killed soldiers,” he said, expressing serious concern at the escalation. The envoy again called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume a “political process” that would address Karabakh’s status and lead to the demarcation of their border. “But the process must be fair and must take place without any use of force,” he said. The latest fighting erupted at some of the several portions of the border where Azerbaijani forces advanced a few kilometers into Armenian territory in May. French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly demanded their withdrawal. “We stand in solidarity with Armenia and we will continue to do so,” Macron said as he met with Pashinian in Paris on June 1. Baku maintains that its troops took up new positions on the Azerbaijani side of the frontier and did not cross into Armenia. Armenian Parliament Said To Restrict Press Coverage July 28, 2021 • Marine Khachatrian Armenia -- Photojournalists and cameramen at an official ceremony held in Yerevan for newly elected members of the Armenian parliament, January 10, 2019. An opposition lawmaker claimed on Wednesday that the Armenian authorities are planning to ban journalists from physically attending sessions of the country’s parliament and impose other restrictions on their work inside the National Assembly building. Taguhi Tovmasian said she has received such information from a reliable source and demanded that the parliament staff comment on it. She said the restrictions would deal a serious blow to press freedom in Armenia. “I need explanations,” Tovmasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Why should the work of journalists be restricted? Why should journalists watch National Assembly sessions only through monitors and be unable to film proceedings on the parliament floor? I am told that they want to eliminate the press gallery and make sure that journalists cannot approach any deputy [in parliament corridors] and ask questions.” “If we live in a democratic, parliamentary country why would members of its parliament avoid being transparent and accountable? What are they afraid of?” said the former reporter. The parliament administration did not immediately confirm or deny Tovmasian’s claims, telling RFE/RL’S Armenian Service to submit its questions in writing. Armenia -- Taguhi Tovmasian, a parliament deputy and the founder of "Zhoghovurd" daily, speaks to reporters at the entrance to its offices, Yerevan, December 19, 2019. A spokesman for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, Vahagn Aleksanian, lent credence to the claims when he strongly defended the restrictions listed by the opposition parliamentarian. “I hope that the National Assembly staff will opt for that,” he wrote on Facebook in response to the concerns voiced by Tovmasian. Aleksanian claimed that parliamentary correspondents have interfered with the National Assembly’s activities by “chasing deputies” and ignoring “all ethical norms” for the sake of asking “sensationalist questions.” The new regulations, if confirmed, will apply to press coverage of Armenia’s recently elected parliament, which is scheduled to hold its inaugural session on August 2. Pashinian’s party will control 71 of the parliament’s 107 seats. Tovmasian edited a major Armenian newspaper before joining the Pashinian-led My Step alliance and becoming a parliament deputy in December 2018. She defected from My Step in December 2020 and got reelected to the parliament last month on the ticket of an opposition bloc led by former President Serzh Sarkisian. Armenia -- Deputies from the ruling My Step bloc attend a session of the Armenian parliament, Yerevan, January 22, 2021. Tovmasian insisted that the planned restrictions make mockery of the democratic credentials of a government that took office as a result of the “velvet revolution” of April-May 2018. She said that the country’s former, supposedly less democratic governments never dared to curb journalists’ freedom of movement inside the parliament building so drastically. “A ‘revolutionary’ government that has declared itself a bastion of democracy is one by one dismantling all democratic safeguards accumulated by us over the years,” said the lawmaker. “I used to work as a parliamentary correspondent for many years and I never saw such treatment of journalists.” Pashinian’s political team faced strong criticism from Armenia’s leading media associations in March when it pushed through the parliament a bill tripling maximum fines for defamation. President Armen Sarkissian refused to sign the bill into law, asking the Constitutional Court to assess its conformity with the Armenian constitution. In February, Armenian prosecutors drafted legislation that would make defamation of state officials a crime punishable by up to two years in prison. All forms of libel and defamation were decriminalized in Armenia in 2010 during Sarkisian’s rule. Fighting Intensifies On Armenian-Azeri Border (UPDATED) July 28, 2021 ARMINIA -- An Armenian flag flies at an Armenian army post at the Sotk gold mine on the border with Azerbaijan, in Gegharkunik province, June 18, 2021 Three Armenian soldiers were killed and three others wounded in heavy fighting with Azerbaijani forces that broke out along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border early on Wednesday. Armenia’s Defense Ministry said Azerbaijani forces attacked at dawn its positions in Gegharkunik province bordering the Kelbajar district in Azerbaijan. “The enemy is trying to improve its positions and create favorable conditions for making advances,” the ministry said in a statement. Armenian army units are “carrying out combat tasks set for them,” it said, adding that hostilities continued as of 8:30 a.m. local time. Another statement released by the ministry shortly afterwards said the Azerbaijani attacks were repelled by 9:20 a.m. “The exchange of gunfire is continuing,” it added. Sources close to the Armenian military claimed that Azerbaijani troops initially seized one of its border posts in Gegharkunik. They said the post was recaptured by the Armenian side a couple of hours later. Armenia - Armenian soldiers take up positions on the border with Azerbaijan, May 17, 2021. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said, meanwhile, that its troops took “adequate measures” after coming under cross-border fire in Kelbajar overnight. It said two Azerbaijani soldiers were wounded in action. Later in the morning the two sides agreed, with Russian mediation, to stop the fighting that reportedly involved mortar fire. “The agreement is largely respected at the moment,” the Defense Ministry in Yerevan reported at noon. It insisted that “no change in the line of contact occurred” as a result of the deadly clashes. One Azerbaijani soldier was killed and three Armenian servicemen wounded in skirmishes reported from the same border sections last Friday. Azerbaijani troops had advanced a few kilometers into in Gegharkunik in mid-May, provoking a continuing standoff with Armenian army units. Armenia - An Armenian military commander inspects troops deployed in Gegharkunik province bordering Azerbaijan, May 20, 2021. The latest fighting is one of the most serious armed incidents in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone since last fall’s Armenian-Azerbaijani war in Karabakh stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire. The Armenian Defense Ministry said the Azerbaijani side provoked it ahead of “negotiations planned in Moscow.” It did not elaborate. The Interfax news agency reported that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will host talks between his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts later on Wednesday. Shoigu reportedly met with Armenia’s acting Defense Minister Arshak Karapetian in Moscow on Monday. The Armenian Foreign Ministry accused Baku of deliberately heightening tensions on the border. It said Armenia will use all “military-political instruments” at its disposal to protect its territorial integrity. For its part, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said Yerevan should stop “military provocations” and start talks with Baku on demarcating the border between the two states. 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.