US House resolution urges Turkey to uphold media freedom, rights

A non-binding resolution, H.RES. 279, backed by 30 members of the US House of Representatives is urging Turkey to immediately “lift restrictions on freedom of expression” and respect universal human rights, adding fuel to already tense relations between the US Congress and Turkey’s embattled President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄźan< reports. 

The proposed resolution, sponsored by Rep. Alan Grayson, was introduced in the House last week. Congressional sources said it would be debated in the Committee on Foreign Affairs on June 2. It is highly unlikely that the resolution will be approved by the House before a key parliamentary election in Turkey slated for June 7, but it will join a chorus of international rights groups and Western governments expressing deep concern over Turkey’s increasingly intolerant stance toward critics.

“The House of Representatives calls on the Government of Turkey to immediately lift restrictions on freedom of expression, including expression online or in social media,” the first recommendation of the resolution said, recalling that prominent human rights monitors and the US government have expressed concern about the erosion of freedom of expression under ErdoÄźan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) he founded.

 

The resolution notes that “respect for universal human rights, especially freedom of expression, is essential to maintain a democratic, open society” and urges the Turkish government to fully respect universal human rights consistent with Ankara’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments.

The resolution highlights that the Turkish government “has increasingly conducted widespread intimidation and manipulation of media, private companies and other civil society actors through a number of means, including active interference in their operations and regulatory action to compel government-friendly outcomes.”

It added that “criminal prosecution or intimidation based on overly broad terrorism laws and other measures taken by authorities in Turkey in recent years have been widely criticized as ideologically driven and unusually severe.” In February 90 members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to raise his voice more loudly to defend Turkey’s media freedom.

Armenian Foreign Minister to visit Lebanon

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian will visit Beirut on May 26 at the invitation of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

Within the framework of the visit Edward Nalbandian will have meetings with the leadership of the country.

In Beirut the Armenian Foreign Minister will meet with the leaders of the Armenian community organizations.

Eurovision 2015: Armenia performs 6th in the Grand Final

The organisers of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest, ORF and the EBU, have revealed the running order for the Grand Final on Saturday, according to the Eurovision’s official website.

The running order was determined by the producers of the show (ORF) and approved by the EBU Executive Supervisor, Jon Ola Sand and by the Chairman of the Reference Group, Dr. Frank-Dieter Freiling.

The Grand Final of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest takes place this Saturday in Vienna, Austria.

The running order for the Grand Final:

  1. Slovenia
  2. France
  3. Israel
  4. Estonia
  5. United Kingdom
  6. Armenia
  7. Lithuania
  8. Serbia
  9. Norway
  10. Sweden
  11. Cyprus
  12. Australia
  13. Belgium
  14. Austria
  15. Greece
  16. Montenegro
  17. Germany
  18. Poland
  19. Latvia
  20. Romania
  21. Spain
  22. Hungary
  23. Georgia
  24. Azerbaijan
  25. Russia
  26. Albania
  27. Italy

South Africa Ambassador hands over copies of credentials to Armenia

On May 18, the newly-appointed Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa Christian Albertus Basson (residence in Kiev) handed over copies of his credentials to Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia Sergey Manassarian.
Congratulating the Ambassador on his appointment, Deputy Foreign Minister attached significance to the development of Armenian-South-African relations and expressed confidence that during his mission the Ambassador will bring a new impetus to the deepening of political, economic development as well as in other areas both in bilateral and multilateral frameworks.
Expressing gratitude for the reception and good wishes, Ambassador Basson mentioned that the Republic of South Africa too places great importance on the relations between the two states and assured that he will spare no effort to further  the development of comprehensive cooperation.

Caucasus, Central Asia feel impact of adverse shocks: IMF

Growth in the Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA) is expected to decline by 2 percent this year as a result of lower commodity prices and the economic slowdown in Russia, says the latest regional forecast by IMF staff.

The Regional Economic Outlook Update for the Caucasus and Central Asia, released on May 19, predicts growth in the region will reach just over 3 percent this year (see table). This latest forecast represents a downward revision of 2½ percentage points from the one released by the IMF in October 2014.

“The twin shocks of the economic slowdown in Russia, a key trading partner, and lower oil prices are taking a toll on the region,” Juha Kähkönen, Deputy Director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department told reporters in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

“Exchange rate developments—such as the appreciation of the U.S. dollar and the depreciation of the ruble—are compounding the problem. Overall, the outlook for the region has not been this weak since the global financial crisis in 2008-09.”

Oil exporters use cushions to soften impact of oil price shock

The CCA’s oil and gas exporters—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—should see growth decline to 3 ½ percent in 2015 from 5½ percent last year. In some of these countries, the impact from lower oil prices and Russia’s contraction is being amplified by a slowdown in domestic oil production and delays in development of new oil fields, the IMF report says (see Chart 1).

The oil and gas exporters’ external position is set to weaken sharply in 2015. The current account balance is expected to turn from a surplus of 3 percent of GCP in 2014 to a deficit of 2 ½ percent in 2015, reflecting both oil export revenue losses and stronger import growth.

The drop in oil prices is also having a budgetary impact. Some of the region’s oil and gas exporters—such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan—are dipping into the large reserves built up in recent years to blunt the impact of the oil price shock. As a result, the oil and gas exporters’ fiscal balance is shifting from a surplus of about 1½ percent in 2014 to a deficit of close to three percent in 2015, according to the report.

Given that many of the oil and gas exporters cannot balance their budgets at currently projected prices, the IMF says these countries should consider taking steps toward fiscal consolidation as soon as conditions allow, to rebuild buffers, strengthen fiscal sustainability, and share the natural resource wealth with future generations.

Oil importers feel strain of lower remittances

In the CCA’s oil importers—Armenia, Georgia, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan—growth will slow to 1½ percent this year, the report says. These countries are heavily dependent on remittances from Russia, which have fallen sharply. The drop in remittances has erased any gains from lower oil prices, and the current account deficit for these countries is expected to reach 11 percent this year, the IMF says.

These countries are also experiencing a reduction in export revenues as a result of lower commodity prices in general, as many of them export minerals such as gold, copper, and aluminum.

The oil importers will see a rise in their fiscal deficits, from just over 2 percent in 2014 to about 4½ percent in 2015. While some countries, such as Armenia and the Kyrgyz Republic, are temporarily increasing spending to boost domestic demand, all the oil importers will need to return to fiscal consolidation soon in order to preserve their long-term fiscal health, the report emphasizes.

Financial sector vigilance, structural reforms needed

Across the region, the current economic environment in the CCA is proving difficult for banks, as financial systems are facing pressures from multiple sources. Currency depreciations are increasing credit and solvency risks—especially in the context of dollarized banking systems and foreign currency lending. And the region’s slowing economic growth is heightening credit risks, particularly in countries where bank governance and underwriting standards are weak.

Because of these risks, banking supervisors will need to intensify surveillance of financial systems in the region, the IMF report says, and crisis management frameworks should be strengthened.

The report also suggests that greater exchange rate flexibility would be needed to help the region’s economies absorb shocks, retain competitiveness in the face of exchange rate pressures, and prevent a drain on reserves (see Chart 2).

As for the region’s medium-term prospects, bold structural reforms will be vital. Policymakers should intensify efforts to enhance the business environment, improve governance, and diversify economies away from their reliance on commodity exports and remittances, the IMF says.

Participants of 9th Bologna Process Ministerial Conference adopt Yerevan Communiqué

Participants of the 9th Bologna Process Ministerial Conference and the Fourth Bologna Policy Forum in Yerevan unanimously adopted the Yerevan Communiqué and the Statement of the Statement of the Fourth Bologna Policy Forum. The final sitting was chaired by Armenian Minister of Education and Science Armen Ashotyanand was attended by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan.

The Ministers responsible for Higher Education and Heads of Delegation to the Fourth Bologna Policy Forum reaffirmed their cooperation in developing higher education.

“Political instability in many of the countries, a high level of unemployment and migration arising from economic and social crisis and lack of access to higher education are among the challenges that we are facing. At the same time national awakening in the countries is arising hopes of the people for more democratic and tolerant societies, providing opportunities for personal development, as well as development of quality higher education. Reforms of higher education should further the development of democratic culture and equip our societies with the knowledge, understanding and skills to help address the challenges we face. Protect staff and students in answering the academic freedom, integrity and autonomy of higher education institutions is a key to achieving this,” the Ministers said.

“Mobility of students and staff facilitates exchange and creation of new knowledge and helps to build mutual trust and understanding. The rapid technological developments will impact on higher education and the way in which it will be reformed,” the document reads.

The next Bologna Policy Forum will be organized in 2018 in France in conjunction with the Ministerial conference.

11th Aram Khachaturian International Competition kicks off of June 6

The 11th Aram Khachaturian International Competition (violin) will start in Yerevan on June 6. Twenty-nine young violinists from 17 countries will participate in the first stage of the competition.

The musicians will represent Armenia, Russia, Romania, Austria, Korea, Japan, Serbia, Estonia, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Iran, France, UK, the United States, Belarus and China.

Aram Khachaturian International Competition is a result of joint efforts of the Armenian Ministry of Culture, the Aram Khachaturian Competition Cultural Foundation and the Yerevan Conservatory and is held under the high auspices of First Lady Rita Sargsyan, the Honorary President of the Competition’s Board of Trustees.