RFE/RL Armenian Service – 02/08/2024

                                        Thursday, February 8, 2024

Pashinian Defends His Party Accused Of Shady Campaign Funding

        • Shoghik Galstian

Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks at a congress of his Civil 
Contract party, Yerevan, October 29, 2022.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has said that his Civil Contract party operates 
transparently in response to a report accusing it of receiving campaign 
donations of “dubious origin” ahead of last September’s municipal elections in 

The party claimed to have raised 506.5 million drams ($1.25 million) for its 
election campaign from about a thousand donors during a single event organized 
in August.

In an extensive article published last week, the investigative publication 
Infocom.am revealed that the bulk of that sum was generated by donations ranging 
from 1 million to 2.5 million drams, the maximum amount of such contributions 
allowed by Armenian law. It said that their nominal donors included presumably 
non-rich people linked to senior government officials and businesspeople as well 
as ordinary residents of Yerevan who could hardly afford such payments.

When contacted by Infocom reporters, many of those residents claimed to be 
unaware of the hefty sums wired to Pashinian’s party on their behalf through a 
commercial bank owned by Khachatur Sukiasian, a wealthy businessman and 
pro-government lawmaker.

“Their living conditions make us think that they could hardly afford donating 
2.5 million drams ($6,200) to the party,” Lucy Manvelian, the main author of the 
article, told RFE/RL’s Armenian.

There are similar doubts even in the case of other, more affluent donors. They 
include five former officials from the Armenian Ministry of Emergencies. The 2.5 
million drams donated by each of them is a sum comparable to their annual 

Armen Pambukhchian, a senior Civil Contract figure, headed the ministry until 
last July. He then managed the ruling party’s Yerevan election campaign.

Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian greets supporters during an election 
campaign rally in Yerevan, September 15, 2023.

Other such donors work for companies belonging to businessmen thought to be on 
good terms with Armenia’s current leadership. Among them are eight senior 
executives of Yeremian Projects, a company that owns dozens of restaurants as 
well as several dairy farms. They too gave Civil Contract 2.5 million drams 
each. The company told Infocom that it has nothing to do with those donations.

“Our sources told us that the company’s money, not the personal money of those 
individuals, was donated,” said Manvelian.

Pashinian was asked about the alleged campaign finance irregularities during his 
government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament on Wednesday. He 
declined to explain the donations deemed suspicious by the investigative 
journalists while denying any lack of financial transparency within his party.

“Did the investigative reporters obtain that from intelligence services?” the 
premier said. “It’s a report based on information taken from the official 
websites of Armenian state bodies. Can transparency be any different from that?”

In fact, none of the websites cited by Pashinian contains any information about 
campaign donations to his party. Civil Contract for months refused to release 
the list of its donors requested by journalists and civic groups. The ruling 
party agreed to do so only after the Yerevan-based Center for the Freedom of 
Information took it to court in December.

Russia Insists On Mediating Armenia-Azerbaijan Talks

RUSSIA -- Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin.

Russia has again urged Armenia to agree to resume Russian-mediated negotiations 
with Azerbaijan and stop pinning its hopes on the West.

In televised remarks publicized on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail 
Galuzin insisted that there is “no alternative” to Russian mediation of 
Armenian-Azerbaijan peace talks.

“It is under the auspices of Russia, at the initiative of President Vladimir 
Putin that the foundations of the settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan were 
laid,” Galuzin told the Rossiya-24 TV channel.

“We hope that they will realize in Yerevan that the implementation of the 
trilateral [Russian-Armenian-Azerbaijani] agreements, rather than efforts to 
involve extra-regional powers, notably the U.S. and the European Union, is the 
most reliable path to the Armenian-Azerbaijani normalization,” he said.

In recent months, Moscow has repeatedly offered to host high-level 
Armenian-Azerbaijani talks in an effort to regain the initiative in the 
negotiation process. The Russian Foreign Ministry rebuked the Armenian 
leadership in December for ignoring these offers. It warned that Yerevan’s 
current preference of Western mediation may spell more trouble for the Armenian 

The ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said in late January Foreign Minister 
Ararat Mirzoyan has again been invited to visit Moscow to discuss a potential 
peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Mirzoyan has announced no plans for 
such a visit or a trilateral meeting with his Russian and Azerbaijani 

Yerevan hoped, at least until now, that an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty 
will be brokered by the U.S. and/or the EU.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev twice cancelled meetings with Prime Minister 
Nikol Pashinian which the EU planned to host in October. Azerbaijan’s Foreign 
Minister Jeyhun Bayramov similarly withdrew from a November meeting with 
Mirzoyan in Washington. Baku accused the Western powers of pro-Armenian bias.

Galuzin reiterated Russian claims that the West’s main regional goal is to 
“squeeze Russia out of the Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement, break up the 
existing balance of forces in the South Caucasus and thus create another source 
of instability near Russia’s borders.” He also said Moscow is “always ready to 
provide a platform for Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations on the peace treaty.”

Russian-Armenian relations have steadily deteriorated since the 2020 war in 
Nagorno-Karabakh, with Yerevan accusing Moscow of not honoring security 
commitments to its longtime regional ally. Azerbaijan’s recapture of Karabakh 
last September only added to those tensions.

Armenian Minister Blasts ‘Disruptive’ Arrests

        • Artak Khulian

Armenia - Economy Minister Vahan Kerobian attends a conference in Yerevan, 
February 1, 2024.

Economy Minister Vahan Kerobian complained on Thursday about last week’s arrests 
of several of his subordinates, saying that corruption charges brought against 
them are baseless and disrupt the work of his ministry and other government 

Speaking during a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan, he accused law-enforcement 
authorities of “punishing people who did not steal” any public funds.

One of Kerobian’s deputies, Ani Ispirian, and several other officials from the 
Ministry of Economy were detained in two criminal investigations jointly 
conducted by Armenia’s Investigative Committee and National Security Service 
(NSS). Most of them, including Ispirian, were moved to house arrest or freed 
pending investigation in the following days.

In of those criminal cases, a ministry official is accused of abusing his or her 
position to help other individuals receive 238 million drams ($590,000) in state 
agribusiness funding in violation of rules set by the ministry. The official was 
not charged with bribery or embezzlement, a fact emphasized by Kerobian.

The minister said that law-enforcement authorities have “paralyzed the work of 
the entire state system.”

“Our agricultural divisions are now wondering how they should continue working 
in order to be sure that their honest work will not be punished in the end,” he 
told Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. “That is why I believe that we need to make 
a cultural change and decide whether we allow people to make mistakes sometimes. 
I am sure, though, that in this case it will turn out that no mistakes were 
really made.”

Pashinian responded ambiguously to the unprecedented complaint: “Was money 
stolen from the budget or not? … If so, then it’s a different matter. If not, 
it’s the kind of mistake which you mentioned.”

Armenia - A fruit orchard in Aragatsotn province, 3Sep2014.

The government grant investigated by the authorities was allocated from a state 
fund tasked with helping private entrepreneurs set up intensive fruit orchards 
in Armenia. The government has provided about 100 billion drams ($248 million) 
in such financial aid since 2018. It decided on Thursday to extend the scheme by 
two more years despite the criminal case.

The other case stems from a procurement tender that was organized by the 
Ministry of Economy and invalidated by a court last summer. Ministry officials 
are accused of illegally disqualifying an information technology company, 
Harmonia, to make sure that the tender is won by another, larger firm, Synergy 
International Systems, which set a much higher price for its services.

The investigators also arrested last week Synergy’s founder Ashot Hovanesian and 
two current and former employees, drawing condemnation from the Armenian Union 
of Advanced Technology Enterprises (UATE). The tech association said that 
“unfounded” detentions of “business representatives and other prominent persons” 
are turning Armenia into a “risky country” for local and foreign tech 

On Tuesday, 64 lawmakers representing Pashinian’s Civil Contract party 
petitioned prosecutors to release the three suspects from custody. One of the 
suspects, Ani Gevorgian, is the sister-in-law of Alen Simonian, the Armenian 
parliament speaker and a senior ruling party figure. She remained in custody as 
of Thursday afternoon.

Some commentators claim that Pashinian personally sanctioned the young woman’s 
arrest in a bid to boost his falling approval ratings by showing Armenians that 
he is serious about combatting corruption. Pashinian allies have dismissed such 

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