RFE/RL Armenian Report – 09/24/2021

                                        Friday, 


Armenian Parliament Approves Community Enlargement

        • Karine Simonian

Armenia - Deputies from the ruling Civil Contract party preside over 
parliamentary hearings on a controversial enlargement of Armenia's communities 
sought by the government, Yerevan, September 22, 2021.


In a move strongly condemned by its opposition minority, the National Assembly 
approved on Friday a controversial government proposal to merge the vast 
majority of Armenian cities and villages into much bigger communities.

A government bill passed by lawmakers will turn 441 existing communities into 38 
administrative units that will resemble districts. Armenia will have a total of 
79 communities, including the capital Yerevan, as a result.

Most of the current communities already consist of multiple villages and/or 
small towns consolidated by the former Armenian government.

The current government has opted for a further community consolidation, saying 
that it will make local self-government and budgetary spending on communities 
more efficient.

Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Gnel Sanosian 
defended the measure during a parliament debate. He said government experts have 
concluded that good governance and socioeconomic development is highly 
problematic in rural communities with fewer than 3,000 residents.

Sanosian assured their residents that every small Armenian village will retain 
its administration subordinate to the wider community leadership. “No settlement 
in Armenia will be liquidated or renamed,” he said.

Many elected community heads are strongly opposed to the consolidation. The 
country’s two main opposition groups have also denounced it as arbitrary and 
unfounded.

Lawmakers representing them walked out of the parliament at the start of 
Friday’s debate in protest against what they called an unconstitutional bill.

Hayk Mamijanian of the opposition Pativ Unem bloc claimed that the government is 
pushing through the bill to get rid of elected local officials affiliated with 
or sympathetic to opposition parties.

Government officials have denied any political reasons for the community 
enlargement.



Armenian Speaker’s Brother Wins Government Contracts

        • Naira Nalbandian

Armenia- Speaker Alen Simonian chairs a session o f the National Assembly, 
Yerevan, September 13, 2021


A road construction company run by parliament speaker Alen Simonian’s brother 
has won in the last few months two government contracts worth $1.4 million, 
raising suspicions of a conflict of interest and even corruption.

The investigative publication Hetq.am revealed this week that the relatively 
small firm called EuroAsphalt won a recent government tender for paving rural 
roads around Aparan, a small town in Armenia’s central Aragatsotn province. It 
signed a relevant contract with the local government on September 19 after 
pledging to carry out the road works for 287 million drams ($595,000).

In June, EuroAsphalt was contracted by the Armenian Ministry of Territorial 
Administration and Infrastructures to repair country roads in northwestern 
Shirak province. The repairs were supposed to cost the state 386 million drams.

EuroAsphalt had an authorized capital of just over $100 when it was founded by 
two little-known individuals in 2018. Simonian’s brother Karlen became its 
executive director early this year.

Karlen Simonian also manages another construction company called EuroAsphalt-1. 
It was registered in February 2021 and was worth 140 million drams at the time.

Deputy Prime Minister Suren Papikian, who served as minister of territorial 
administration until recently, insisted on Thursday that EuroAsphalt won the two 
contracts as a result of transparent and fair tenders, rather than its chief 
executive’s government connection.

“If people have information about corruption schemes, let them make it public, 
for God’s sake,” said Papikian.

Civic activists see a cause for concern, however. Varuzhan Hoktanian of the 
Armenian affiliate of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International 
said that the integrity of tenders won by individuals linked to state officials 
has long been in serious doubt in Armenia. He said an Armenian Finance Ministry 
division in charge of state procurements must therefore scrutinize the contracts 
granted to EuroAsphalt.

“When such tenders are won with amazing consistency by relatives or cronies of 
state officials there are corruption risks involved,” agreed Artur Sakunts, a 
veteran human rights campaigner. “This must definitely become a subject of 
investigation.”

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian for years alleged corrupt practices in the 
administration of tenders won by such individuals when he was in opposition to 
Armenia’s former governments. He claimed to have eliminated “systemic 
corruption” in the country after coming to power in 2018.

Alen Simonian is a close associate of Pashinian. A spokeswoman for the 
parliament speaker told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Friday that he will not 
comment on his brother’s business activities for now. She said at the same time 
that he is ready to answer questions submitted in writing.

Simonian also raised eyebrows when he appointed a businessman and friend of his 
as chief of the Armenian parliament staff days after becoming its speaker in 
August.

The businessman, Vahan Naribekian, owns a company supplying furniture to the 
National Assembly and various government and law-enforcement agencies. According 
to Hetq.am, the company has won 148 supply contracts since the 2018 regime 
change.



Karabakh Conflict Unresolved, Insists Armenia

        • Astghik Bedevian

Nagorno Karabakh -- Pedestrians walk past a poster bearing a flag of 
Nagorno-Karabakh in Stepanakert on November 24, 2020,


Official Yerevan dismissed on Friday Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s fresh 
claim that Azerbaijan ended the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with its victory in 
the six-week war stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire last November.

“The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a thing of the past,” Aliyev declared on late 
on Thursday, addressing a session of the UN General Assembly.

“Azerbaijan no longer has an administrative-territorial unit called 
Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said, adding that the international community should stop 
using the Armenian-populated territory’s name.

“The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved,” countered Armen Grigorian, 
the secretary of Armenia’s Security Council. “The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s 
status still awaits a solution and we see that solution within the framework of 
the OSCE Minsk Group.”

The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Lynne Tracy, has repeatedly made similar 
statements in recent weeks.

“We do not see the status of Nagorno-Karabakh as having been resolved,” Tracy 
insisted on September 13 in remarks condemned by the Azerbaijani Foreign 
Ministry.

Aliyev ruled out on July 22 any negotiations on Karabakh’s status, saying that 
Yerevan must instead recognize Azerbaijani sovereignty over the disputed 
territory.

Later in July, the U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the Minsk 
Group issued a joint statement calling for a “negotiated, comprehensive, and 
sustainable settlement of all remaining core substantive issues of the 
conflict.” They said the conflicting parties should resume talks “as soon as 
possible.”

The Karabakh issue was on the agenda of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s 
talks with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian held on Thursday on the 
sidelines of the UN General Assembly. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, 
the two men reaffirmed their governments’ intention to continue to strive for 
“stabilizing the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, first and foremost in the OSCE 
Minsk Group format.”

Le Drian also met separately in New York with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat 
Mirzoyan.



Yerevan Still Hopeful About Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement

        • Sargis Harutyunyan

Armenia -- Armen Grigorian, the secretary of the Security Council, at a news 
conference in Yerevan, .


The Armenian government still hopes to normalize Armenia’s relations with Turkey 
despite apparent preconditions set by Ankara, a senior official in Yerevan said 
on Friday.

Armen Grigorian, the secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, said Yerevan is 
ready to start a Turkish-Armenian “dialogue without preconditions” and discuss 
all thorny issues during a “gradual” normalization process.

Grigorian did not explicitly deny that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian offered 
earlier this month to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We 
believe that a dialogue at a high and the highest levels is one of the ways of 
normalizing those relations,” he told reporters.

Erdogan claimed last week to have received the offer from Pashinian through 
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili. He appeared to make such a meeting 
conditional on Armenia agreeing to open a transport corridor that would connect 
Azerbaijan to its Nakhichevan exclave.

In his earlier comments on Yerevan’s overtures to Ankara, Erdogan cited 
Azerbaijan’s demands for a formal Armenian recognition of Azerbaijani 
sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Asked about the apparent Turkish preconditions, Grigorian said: “The Armenian 
side has stated on numerous occasions … that relations with Turkey should be 
normalized without preconditions because whenever there are preconditions it’s 
hard to make progress on any issue. So we hope that the normalization of 
relations will be without preconditions.”

Armenian opposition leaders have denounced what they see as Pashinian’s secret 
overtures to Erdogan. They say that Ankara continues to make the establishment 
of diplomatic relations with Yerevan and the opening of the Turkish-Armenian 
border conditional on a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement favorable to Baku.

Turkey provided decisive military assistance to Azerbaijan during the six-week 
war in Karabakh stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire last November.


Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
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