The California Courier Online, January 20, 2022

1-         Pashinyan is Losing His Prized
Trump Card of Democratic Rule
            By Harut Sassounian
            Publisher, The California Courier
2-         In Moscow, Amenia, Turkey Hold First Round of Talks on
Normalizing Ties
3-         Three Armenian Soldiers Killed, Two Wounded After Azerbaijani Attack
4-         COVID-19, Genocide and Orthodox Believers

5-         Armenia Continues Fight Against COVID-19


1-       Pashinyan is Losing His Prized
Trump Card of Democratic Rule
            By Harut Sassounian
            Publisher, The California Courier
The Los Angeles Times published on January 11, 2022, an opinion column
by Jonah Goldberg, titled: “Just meeting with Putin is a
concession—the U.S. should be wary of giving more.”
Goldberg expressed his unhappiness that Russia and other members of
its military coalition, the Collective Security Treaty Organization
(CSTO), which includes Armenia, sent troops to Kazakhstan on a
‘peacekeeping’ mission earlier this month. In his article, Goldberg
made a critical reference to Armenia: “None of CSTO’s members—Russia,
Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—are
democracies. Armenia comes closest; Freedom House designates it a
‘semi-consolidated authoritarian regime’ with a ‘Democracy Score’ of
33 out of 100. The rest are ‘consolidated authoritarian regimes.’”
Goldberg’s derogatory description of Armenia, which has been praised
as a bastion of democracy since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan came to
power in 2018, must have made Armenians feel uncomfortable. Freedom
House, a Washington-based research institute funded mostly by the U.S.
government, regrettably proves that Goldberg was not wrong in his
criticism of Armenia. Freedom House publishes an annual “Freedom in
the World” report which assesses each country’s degree of democracy,
including political freedom and civil liberties. Countries are
classified as “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.”
When Pashinyan became Prime Minister, he was applauded by the
international community and Armenians worldwide for establishing
democratic rule through his “Velvet Revolution.” However, Freedom
House continued to classify Armenia as “partly free” throughout 2018,
2019, 2020 and 2021. Armenia is also designated as “not an electoral
democracy,” based on its low ratings on “political rights” and “civil
liberties.” Just in case Azeris and Turks wish to celebrate Armenia’s
low ratings, both Azerbaijan and Turkey are ranked far worse as “not
Here are highlights from Freedom House’s detailed 30-page report on
Armenia for the year 2020:
In the category of “National Democratic Governance,” with 1 as best
and 7 as worst, Armenia was rated 2.25. This category “considers the
democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence,
effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive
In the category of “Electoral Process,” Armenia was rated 3.25. It
“examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral
framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular
participation in the political process.”
In the category of “Civil Society,” Armenia was rated 4.5. It
“assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of
the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it
operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group
participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by
antidemocratic extremist groups.”
In the category of “Independent Media,” Armenia was rated 3. It
“examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws,
harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation
of a financially viable and independent private press; and the
functioning of the public media.”
In the category of “Local Democratic Governance,” Armenia was rated
2.25. It “considers the decentralization of power; the
responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies;
and the transparency and accountability of local authorities.”
In the category of “Judicial Framework and Independence,” Armenia was
rated 2.5. It “assesses constitutional and human rights protections,
judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights,
guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and
prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions.”
In the category of “Corruption,” Armenia was rated 3. It “looks at
public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top
policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest,
and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives.”
A second report on Armenia was published by Human Rights Watch (HRW)
on January 14, 2022. HRW is an international non-governmental
organization, headquartered in New York City that conducts research
and advocacy on human rights.
HRW reported that even though “the political crisis” after the Artsakh
war “was largely defused in the June 2021 snap elections … domestic
violence, discrimination against people with disabilities, barriers to
effective pain treatment and palliative care, and violence and
discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
persisted. Striving to fight rising incidents of hate speech,
authorities introduced regulations which may undermine freedom of
Regarding “accountability for law enforcement abuse and torture in
custody,” HRW reported that “torture and ill-treatment in custody
remains a problem and it is often perpetrated with impunity. Even when
criminal investigations are launched in response to allegations of
torture, they are rarely effective.”
In the first six months of 2021, there were “documented 15 cases, with
17 victims, of physical violence against journalists perpetrated by
both public officials and private individuals.” There were also
“heated public debates, which often included inflammatory speech by
members of parliament and other public officials that was at times
directed against human rights defenders and activists.”
The HRW also reported that “many children with disabilities remain
segregated in orphanages, special schools, or at home with little or
no education.” In May 2021, “parliament adopted the Law on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities, which includes guarantees of
accessibility, independent living, and access to justice, and bans
disability-based discrimination.”
According to HRW, “violence against women and children … remains a
persistent problem.” In addition, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender (LGBT) people in Armenia continue to face harassment,
discrimination, and violence.”
An indication that Armenia is losing its image of a democratic country
is the fact that last March, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken,
in a call with Prime Minister Pashinyan, counseled him about “the
importance of the rule of law and democratic institutions.”
Prime Minister Pashinyan came to power in 2018 promoting democracy,
thereby gaining much support and praise from international circles.
Regrettably, Pashinyan’s monopoly on power and increasing tendency to
make all governmental decisions single-handedly are turning Armenia
into a one-man rule which will result in the country losing its
democratic credentials and international support.
2-         In Moscow, Amenia, Turkey Hold First Round of Talks on
Normalizing Ties

MOSCOW (RFE/RL)—Representatives of Armenia and Turkey have agreed to
continue negotiations after a first round of talks in Moscow on
January 14 aimed at normalizing relations after years of animosity.

Ruben Rubinyan, the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, and
Serdar Kilic, a former Turkish ambassador to the United States, agreed
during their meeting in the Russian capital that Turkey and Armenia
should work to regulate ties “through dialogue” and without
preconditions, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said.

“The date and place of the second meeting will be determined via
diplomatic channels,” the ministry said.

Going into the talks, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said it expected
the negotiations to result in the establishment of diplomatic
relations with Turkey as well as the opening of the border between the
two countries.

Last month, Armenia lifted a ban on the import of Turkish goods that
had been a burden mostly to Armenians, and Turkey announced charter
flights to Armenia would be allowed.


3-         Three Armenian Soldiers Killed, Two Wounded After Azerbaijani Attack

Azerbaijani forces on Tuesday, January 11 launched an attack on
Armenia’s Gegharkunik Province, killing three soldiers of Armenia’s
Armed Forces and injuring three.

Armenia’s Defense Ministry said that Private Arthur Mkhitaryan (born
2002) and Junior Sergeant Rudik Gharibyan (born 2002) and Vahan
Babayan (b. 2003) were killed when Azerbaijani forces shot at Armenian
positions using artillery and drones.

Two other Armenian soldiers – Artur Mkhitaryan and Rudik Gharibyan
(both born in 2002) – were killed earlier in the day, while two others
were injured in fighting.

“The two wounded servicemen are in stable condition, their lives are
not in danger,” the Defense Ministry added.

Azerbaijani forces violated Armenia’s border in several sections in
the provinces of Syunik and Gegharkunik on May 12 and 13 and are still
refusing to withdraw their troops from the area. On November 16, the
Azerbaijani side launched a fresh offensive in the province of Syunik,
during which Armenian soldiers were killed and taken captive.

The attacks began at around 3:15 p.m. local time when Azerbaijani
forces opened fire at Armenian military positions near the Verin
Shorzha village in the Gegharkunik Province. One soldier was wounded
with “moderately severe” injuries, according to Armenia’s Defense

Azerbaijani forces resumed their attacks at 5:30 p.m. local time, with
Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan reporting that the
military units near Verin Shorzha and Nerkin Shorzha villages were
targeted. Mkhitaryan and Gharibyan were killed during this attack,
while two other soldiers sustained non life threatening injuries,
according to the defense ministry.

The cross-border shooting continued well after 6:30 p.m. local time.

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned what it called in a
statement “the gross violation of the ceasefire by the Azerbaijani
Armed Forces.”

“The provocation of the units of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces is
another manifestation of the continuous encroachments of Azerbaijan on
the territorial integrity of Armenia, which began on May 12, 2021 with
the intrusion into the sovereign territory and continued with regular
armed attacks,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

“The Republic of Armenia draws the attention of the international
community to the fact that official Baku, by continuing its
encroachments on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the
Republic of Armenia, violates the basic principles of international
law, including the UN Charter, and undermines regional security,” the
statement emphasized.

The foreign ministry said that Armenia “has repeatedly stated that one
of the ways to avoid further aggravation of the situation may be the
withdrawal of troops and the launch of an international monitoring
mechanism along the border.” It also called on Azerbaijani authorities
to “refrain from provocative actions, to fulfill their commitment to
establish stability in the region assumed after the meetings in Sochi
and Brussels.”

During a phone conversation, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan briefed
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Karen Donfried about Azerbaijan’s latest ceasefire violation.

The call, which was initiated by Donfried, also focused on the Artsakh
conflict settlement through the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, the
release of all prisoners of war, as well as efforts to normalize
relations between Armenia and Turkey and the situation in Kazakhstan.

“The Azerbaijani authorities are acting in clear violation of
international rules,” said Tatoyan, the Human Rights Defender. “They
are responsible for crimes committed: killing two Armenian servicemen
in Gegharkunik today, for violating their right to life, for harming
the health of wounded servicemen, as well as for disrupting the
security of the civilian population and aggression against people.”

4-         COVID-19, Genocide and Orthodox Believers

By Tessa Hofmann

For The California Courier

I just read Harut Sassounian’s article “Patriarch of Istanbul Spreads
Falsehoods About Covid, Under the Guise of Religion”. The article
refers to a sermon by the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch of Istanbul,
Sahak Mashalian, in October last year. At that time, the patriarch
warned his congregants against covid vaccinations, which he related to
the apocalyptic visions of the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation.
In it, there is talk of a beast that forces people to wear a “mark” on
their forehead or right arm. With this mark or chip, the patriarch
hinted, complete control would be exercised over those vaccinated.

The words of the church leader shocked me, but I was not surprised. In
Germany, about one-fifth of the population belongs to the vaccination
skeptics or even opponents. This anti-vaccination segment of the
population is made up of very heterogeneous segments.

There are also vaccination opponents and vaccination skeptics among
Armenians. Since valid empirical studies on the number and motives of
Armenian vaccination opponents are lacking, I can only draw on
personal experience. For around the same time, in October 2021, I had
my very personal and no less drastic experience with Armenian
vaccination opponents. At that time, “the Working Group Recognition –
Against Genocide, for International Understanding,” which I co-founded
and chair, organized a three-part series of events on the theme
“Berlin Writes Legal History: From Assassination to the United Nations
Genocide Convention.” Public health regulations prescribed that, if
these events were held indoors, participants had to be vaccinated or
recovered from a covid infection within the past six months.

Because of this restriction, we were criticized by an Istanbul-born
Armenian who, in his Facebook comment, compared the exclusion of the
unvaccinated with the extermination of Jews in the “Third Reich” and,
as a descendant of Armenian Genocide victims, now saw himself
victimized again — by a human rights organization based in Germany.
The comparison is also extremely popular among non-Armenian
vaccination opponents in Germany. It represents an unacceptable
trivialization of the Shoah: The victims of the industrial-scale
extermination of Jews by Nazi Germany were never asked if they wanted
to be Jews. The Nazi regime declared them Jews based on its arbitrary
racist definitions. A “non-Aryan” grandparent was enough for
discrimination. Today’s vaccination opponents in European
constitutional states, on the other hand, define themselves as
vaccination opponents and certainly run no risk of being murdered for
their decision.

Is it relevant that our Armenian critic was from Istanbul? A fellow
human rights activist committed to recognizing the Ottoman genocide,
who became an unvaccinated covid victim, was also from Turkey: He had
no pre-existing conditions, followed a healthy diet, exercised, and
believed that he could therefore forgo vaccination. He contracted the
disease from his infected wife. After a tracheotomy in the hospital,
he became further infected with multidrug-resistant germs and died at
the end of October.

However, I know Armenian vaccination opponents also among the
“hayastantsiner,” as well as among young Pontos Greeks of the fourth
post-genocidal generation. Is anti-vaccination more widespread among
Orthodox Christians than in secular or Western Church societies? The
empirical picture is mixed: In Romania, there seems to be a
correlation between the low nationwide vaccination rate of 41.74
percent (first-time vaccinations) and the anti-vaccination attitude of
the Orthodox clergy. In Armenia, the rate of initial vaccinations is
even lower, at only 32.27%. However, the Catholicos of All Armenians,
Garegin II, has clearly distanced himself from the statements of the
Istanbul Patriarch and has professed his own vaccination. But in the
orthodox EU state of Greece, the rate of first-time vaccinations is
72.42%, almost as high as in largely secular Germany (73 percent).

Epidemics or pandemics have accompanied mankind since the beginning of
its history. But for the first time ever, the state has intervened
globally and massively in the individual and collective liberties of
its citizens. In societies where citizens’ trust in the state has
already been shaken for historical or current reasons, this has
intensified the public’s fatigue and irritability. In other societies,
these reactions appeared for the first time. After two years of Covid
regulation, nerves are on edge, especially since governments’ epidemic
policies were often inconsistent due to lack of experience. Political
decision-makers have also neglected to openly communicate to citizens
that they are often in the dark because of the limited knowledge about
Covid; and to err is human.

I expect spiritual leaders, even more than political leaders, to make
us aware of the ethical connections between lifestyles and pandemics.
Patriarch Mashalian, on the other hand, draws on a widespread,
anti-capitalist-tinged conspiracy theory to explain the pandemic,
according to which the apocalyptic beast stands for either Bill Gates,
George Soros, or similar suspects. One can take one’s pick. By thus
shifting the blame, he regrettably deflects attention from the
responsibility we all bear for our environment and our fellow
creatures. And what falls back on us is not Divine punishment, but the
consequence of our own ineptitude.

Dr. Tessa Hofmann is a scholar of genocide and Armenian studies. She
has been a human rights activist for ethno-religious minorities in the
Middle East, including Turkey, and the South Caucasus for nearly 50


5-         Armenia Continues Fight Against COVID-19

Armenia continues the fight against COVID-19, as the country continues
promoting the vaccination phase. Armenia's Ministry of Health
announced on January 11 new restrictions to curb the fast spreading of
the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. From January 22, people above 18
must present either a vaccination certificate or a negative recent
test result prior to entering restaurants, hotels, cinemas and other
similar venues, Xinhua news agency reported citing the MInistry as
saying. As of Monday, January 10 the country had administered a total
of 1,694,518 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, according to the Ministry.

The U.S. State Department on July 26 warned American citizens to
reconsider travel to Armenia due to the increase in cases of the

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a
Level 3 Travel Health Notice for Armenia due to COVID-19, indicating a
high level of COVID-19 in the country,” said the State Department.

The State Department also urged U.S. citizens not to travel to the
Nagorno-Karabakh region due to armed conflict. “The U.S. government is
unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in
Nagorno-Karabakh as U.S. government employees are restricted from
traveling there,” the State Department added.

WHO, with funding from the European Union, in September supplied X-ray
equipment to 7 COVID-19 frontline hospitals – 1 in the capital Yerevan
and in 6 other cities in Armenia.

A new law came into effect on December 10, by order of the Armenian
Ministry of Health, that would allow employers to fire workers who
refuse to provide proof of vaccination. Armenia has the lowest
vaccination rate in the region and Europe. Armenia began its mass
vaccination campaign in April with authorities planning to inoculate
700,000 of the country's 2.9 million citizens by the end of the year.
However, only 516,989 citizens had been fully vaccinated by Dec. 6.

620,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine were donated to Armenia by Norway
with the support of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism within the
framework of the Team Europe initiative is already in Armenia.

"The entire infrastructure is ready to carry out a large number of
vaccinations. I add that vaccination does not exclude the disease, but
reduces the risk of contagion", Armenian Health Minister Anahit
Avanesyan reported during a recent press conference, adding that the
late entry into force of the restrictive measures was a shortcoming of
her department. According to the minister, they are currently
considering the option of requesting certification of negativity from
Covid or vaccination to enter restaurants and attend concerts.

There were 6,110 active cases in Armenia as of .
Armenia has recorded 347,785 coronavirus cases and 8,020 deaths;
333,655 have recovered.


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