Tuesday, June 7, 2023 Armenian Inflation Falls Sharply • Robert Zargarian Armenia -- Shoppers at a supermarket in Yerevan. Annual inflation in Armenia fell from 8.6 percent in 2022 to just 1.3 percent in May this year amid significant drops in the prices of some food products and fuel, according to government data. The Armenian Statistical Committee said on Monday that the national food price index was 2.1 percent down from May 2022, reflecting a worldwide trend. The government agency recorded roughly 20 percent decreases in the prices of vegetables, wheat and cooking oil. Fuel prices in the country likewise plummeted by an average of 25 percent year on year, it said. This was offset by further sizable rises in the cost of services, clothing and other consumer goods. The continuing robust growth of the Armenian economy suggests that consumer demand for them remains strong. Most people randomly interviewed on the streets of Yerevan on Tuesday said that they have not yet felt the effects of falling inflation on their well-being. “Things are still expensive, very expensive, compared with last year,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “The cost of living has gone up,” complained another Yerevan resident. “Inflationary pressures remain … and I think this explains why the Central Bank is in no rush to soften its [monetary] policy,” said Narek Karapetian, an independent economist. The Armenian Central Bank has raised its benchmark refinancing rate by a total of 625 basis points since December 2020 in an effort to curb rising inflation. Despite expecting the inflation rate to remain below its annual target of 4 percent in the months ahead, the bank has so far indicated no plans to cut the rate. Armenian Gold Mine ‘Partially Operational’ Despite Azeri Gunfire ARMENIA -- An Armenian army post just outside the Sotk gold mine on the border with Azerbaijan, June 18, 2021. A senior Armenian official said on Tuesday that the country’s largest gold mine has not been fully shut down despite the recent cessation of open-pit operations there blamed on cross-border fire from Azerbaijan. The Sotk mine, which employs more than 700 people and is located on the volatile border with Azerbaijan, was seriously affected by an upsurge in skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in mid-April. Its employees say that they have since repeatedly come under fire and been evacuated after trying to return to work. In a statement issued last week, the Russian-owned company GPM Gold operating the mine announced that due to the continuing gunfire it has decided to “stop the operation of the open-pit mine” and put many of its workers on unpaid leave. “We all knew that the open-pit section of the Sotk mine is going to be closed in the coming months,” said Karen Sargsian, the governor of Armenia’s Geghakunik province encompassing Sotk. “But due to the recent security problems its operations there were halted [earlier than planned.] But the operations continue at the underground section.” “The Sotk mine is partially working,” Sargsian told journalists in Yerevan. He did not say how many GPM Gold workers have retained their jobs. The GPM Gold statement said nothing about the switch to underground mining at Sotk which was predicted by an Armenian deputy minister of local government and infrastructures earlier in May. The company, which is part of Russia’s GeoProMining metals group, had already lost control over a large part of the mountainous area’s gold deposits following the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh and the resulting Armenian withdrawal from the Kelbajar district bordering Sotk. This appears to explain why total taxes paid by it plummeted from 20.8 billion drams ($53 million) in 2021 to just 3.2 billion drams in 2022. U.S. To Host More Armenian-Azeri Talks • Ruzanna Stepanian U.S. - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts talks betewen the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign minsters in Arlington, May 4, 2023. The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers will meet again in Washington next week for further U.S.-mediated talks on a peace treaty between their nations. “We look forward to hosting another round of talks in Washington later this month as the parties continue to pursue a peaceful future for the South Caucasus region,” a U.S. State Department spokesman, Vedant Patel, said on Monday. European Council President Charles Michel announced the Washington talks, scheduled for June 12, right after last Thursday’s meeting of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev that took place in Moldova’s capital Chisinau. Michel indicated that their foreign ministers will prepare for another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit which he will host in Brussels on July 21. Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov reported major progress towards the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty during four-day negotiations held outside Washington one month ago. Aliyev and Pashinian tried to build on that progress when they held a trilateral meeting with Michel on May 14. The Armenian leader confirmed afterwards that he is ready to sign a peace deal that will uphold Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. The three men were joined by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during the subsequent talks in Chisinau. They reported no concrete agreements. The secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, Armen Grigorian, said over the weekend that the peace deal could be signed before the end of this year. Hakob Badalian, a Yerevan-based political analyst, cautioned on Tuesday that despite Pashinian’s effective recognition of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan the conflicting sides have yet to eliminate other sticking points. He argued that they still disagree on practical modalities of delimiting the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, an international framework for a dialogue between Baku and Karabakh’s leadership and international guarantees for the sides’ compliance with the peace treaty. Baku’s approach to the border delimitation is very different from Yerevan’s, Badalian said, questioning Aliyev’s readiness to recognize Armenia’s territorial integrity. Mirzoyan admitted on Monday that Aliyev has still not publicly offered such recognition. “I hope that Azerbaijan’s leadership will come up with such words soon,” the foreign minister told the Armenian parliament. Armenian opposition leaders say that Baku is reluctant to recognize Armenia’s existing borders even after Pashinian’s far-reaching concession on the status of Karabakh strongly condemned by them. Reposted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2023 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.