Wednesday, Police Investigating ‘Insults’ Against Armenian PM • Marine Khachatrian ARMENIA -- People march to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian over his handling of the war over Nagorno-Karabakh with Azerbaijan, in Yerevan, February 22, 2021 Invoking recently enacted amendments denounced by local and Western human rights groups, the Armenian police have launched more criminal investigations into what they see as offensive remarks about Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. The amendments to the Armenian Criminal Code made “grave insults” directed at individuals because of their “public activities” crimes punishable by heavy fines and a prison sentence of up to three months. Those individuals may include government and law-enforcement officials, politicians and other public figures. The first criminal case stemming from the new Criminal Code clauses was reportedly opened a month ago. The police went on to launch about a dozen other investigations of this kind. A police spokesperson declined to clarify on Wednesday whether all of them relate to insults aimed at Pashinian. The police department of Yerevan’s Avan and Nor Nork disticts is conducting several such inquiries. One of its senior investigators, Sargis Papoyan, acknowledged that all of them are targeting individuals who insulted Pashinian, including with social media posts “containing swear words of sexual character.” Papoyan said one suspect identified by police investigators is a woman who posted a picture of Pashinian on Facebook and commented on it in an offensive manner. “That person has said that the reason for her comment containing a grave insult is the situation on the country’s borders,” the officer told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. U.S. democracy watchdog Freedom House deplored the Criminal Code articles shortly after the Armenian authorities began enforcing them. It spoke of a “clear degradation of democratic norms in Armenia, including freedom of expression.” Alen Simonian, the Armenian parliament speaker and a close Pashinian associate, rejected the criticism earlier this week. “When a child gets to see a politician swearing on the Internet is that freedom of speech?” he said. Armenian civic activists also see a threat to free speech. One of them, Zaruhi Hovannisian, argued on Wednesday that the new legal provisions do not clearly define “grave insults” and give excessive discretionary authority to law-enfocement bodies. “As we can see, the new law serves to scrutinize comments about people in the highest echelons of power,” said Hovannisian. The controversial amendments have also been condemned by the Armenian opposition. Opposition leaders claim that Pashinian himself has relied heavily on slander and “hate speech” since coming to power in 2018. All forms of slander and defamation had been decriminalized in Armenia in 2010 during then President Serzh Sarkisian’s rule. Iran’s Top Prosecutor Visits Armenia • Gayane Saribekian • Lusine Musayelian Armenia - Iran’s Prosecutor-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri at a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Yerevan, . Iran’s Prosecutor-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri reaffirmed his country’s readiness to expand relations with Armenia as he visited Yerevan on Wednesday amid continuing tensions between Tehran and Baku. Montazeri met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian after discussing with his Armenian counterpart Artur Davtian Armenian-Iranian cooperation in combatting cross-border crime and extradition of dozens of Iranian nationals jailed in Armenia on mostly drug-related charges. Pashinian hailed that cooperation, saying that it is in tune with his and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s intention to reinvigorate the broader Armenian-Iranian relationship. According an Armenian government statement, he stressed the need for “new impetus” to bilateral commercial ties. “We are interested in developing ties with Armenia to the benefit of our countries,” the statement quoted Montazeri as saying. Those ties allow the two neighboring states to “jointly confront the existing challenges in the region,” he said. The two men, the statement went on, also touched upon “processes taking place in the region,” with Montazeri saying that Iran will not put up with the presence of “terrorists and war-mongering forces” along its borders. The conservative cleric thus echoed recent days’ statements by other Iranian officials accusing Azerbaijan of harboring Sunni Muslim militants and Israeli security personnel near the Iranian border. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev again rejected these accusations in a newspaper interview published on Wednesday. He said Tehran is simply unhappy with Baku’s decision to start levying hefty fees from Iranian trucks transporting goods to and from Armenia. The vehicles are being stopped at a 21-kilometer section of the main Armenia-Iran highway which Yerevan controversially ceded to Baku shortly after last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Aliyev again said that Azerbaijani police and customs set up a roadblock there on September 12 because Tehran failed to stop Iranian trucks from carrying out cargo shipments to Karabakh. Two Iranian truck drivers were arrested there and accused of illegally travelling to Karabakh. They were reportedly set free on Wednesday one day after the Iranian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers spoke by phone in a bid to ease the unprecedented Azerbaijani-Iranian tensions. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was reported to tell his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov that the two Shia Muslim neighbors should not let their enemies damage their relations. He made clear at the same time that the Islamic Republic expects a solution to “the problem of cargo transit.” Bayramov reportedly proposed that Azerbaijani and Iranian customs officials meet and discuss the issue. India, Armenia Agree On Closer Ties • Sargis Harutyunyan Armenia - Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan (R) and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar speak at a joint news conference, Yerevan, . The foreign ministers of Armenia and India pledged to deepen relations between the two countries sharing common geopolitical interests after holding talks on Wednesday for the second time in a month. Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan said he and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar reached “concrete agreements” to that effect during the talks held in Yerevan. He also reaffirmed Armenia’s support for India in its long-running dispute with Pakistan and praised New Delhi’s “principled” position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Pakistan staunchly supports Azerbaijan in that conflict, refusing to not only establish diplomatic relations with Armenia but also formally recognize it. Islamabad underscored that support during last year’s Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Karabakh. But it denied claims that Pakistani soldiers participated in the six-week war on the Azerbaijani side. Pakistani troops regularly take part in joint military exercises held by Azerbaijan and Turkey. Azerbaijan - Special forces of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan start a joint exercise called "Three Brothers 2021," Baku, September 12, 2021. By contrast, India has backed international efforts to settle the Karabakh conflict spearheaded by the United States, Russia and France. It has also effectively sided with Armenia in an Armenian-Azerbaijani border dispute that broke out in May this year. In a statement issued at the time, the Indian Foreign Ministry called on Baku to “pull back forces immediately and cease any further provocation.” Mirzoyan recalled and hailed that statement during his joint news conference with Jaishankar. “For our part, we reaffirm our position in terms of supporting India on the Jammu and Kashmir issue,” he said. Mirzoyan stressed that forging closer ties with India is one of Armenia’s foreign policy priorities. “We need to take joint steps to elevate our relations in the political, economic, military and cultural fields to a new level,” he said. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian echoed that statement when he met with Jaishankar later in the day. “We not only express readiness but also have concrete ideas and proposals regarding what we should cooperate [with India] on,” he said. Jaishankar, who is the first Indian foreign minister to ever visit Armenia, told reporters that he and Mirzoyan approved a “roadmap for future cooperation and mutual visits at different levels.” He singled out closer economic ties between the two nations whose bilateral trade was worth only $128 million last year. Armenia - India's Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar speaks at a joint news conference with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan, Yerevan, . In that regard, both ministers, who previously met in Tajikistan on September 16, stressed the importance of establishing an Armenian-Indian transport link passing through Iran and its Chabahar cargo port in particular. India has built and operates two terminals at the Gulf of Oman port to bypass Pakistan in cargo traffic with Iran, Afghanistan and central Asian countries. New Delhi has also proposed Chabahar’s inclusion in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) project initiated by Russia, Iran and India in 2000. The project envisages a 7,200-kilometer-long network of maritime and terrestrial routes stretching from Mumbai to Moscow. “We support using the Chabahar port and other initiatives that would expand links between our two countries,” said Jaishankar. Mirzoyan said the Iranian port could be used for cargo shipments to not only Armenia but also neighboring Georgia and further north, to Russia and even Europe. He said Armenia and Iran are planning to sign an agreement on such freight transport. Pashinian Praises ‘Productive’ Talks With Putin • Artak Khulian Russia - Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian meet in the Kremlin, Moscow, . Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian described his latest meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as “very productive” but did not divulge its details early on Wednesday. “The meeting was very productive,” Pashinian said in an overnight Twitter post. “We discussed both the bilateral agenda and the situation in the region.” “We will continue our contacts to implement the agreements reached,” he wrote in Russian. It was not clear if he referred to new or earlier understandings reached with Putin. Putin and Pashinian met in Moscow on Tuesday for the fourth time this year. The talks apparently focused on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. An Armenian government statement said they discussed “ongoing developments” in and around the conflict zone, efforts to shore up stability in the region and the implementation of Russian-brokered agreements to establish transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russian-Armenian relations were also on the agenda, added the statement. Neither the government nor the Kremlin announced any agreements reached by the two leaders. Senior representatives of Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party did not comment on Wednesday on the results of the talks. Benyamin Poghosian, an Armenian political analyst, suggested that Pashinian sought to ascertain Moscow’s position on Azerbaijani demands for a permanent land “corridor” that will connect the Nakhichevan exclave to the rest of Azerbaijan via Armenia’s Syunik province. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has threatened to forcibly open such a corridor if Yerevan continues to oppose its creation. Armenian leaders have denounced Aliyev’s threats as territorial claims. They maintain that a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement that stopped last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh only calls for transport links between the two South Caucasus states. The Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani governments set up in January a trilateral working group tasked with working out practical modalities of opening the Armenian-Azerbaijani border for commercial traffic. The group’s Russian co-chair, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk, insisted last month that it has not discussed possible transport corridors. Meanwhile, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, hosted a meeting between the spiritual leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Moscow on Wednesday. Kirill said at the start of the meeting that he will discuss with Armenia’s Catholicos Garegin II and Azerbaijan’s top Shia Muslim cleric, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, ways of “overcoming the consequences” of the Karabakh conflict. 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.