RFE/RL Armenian Report – 03/27/2020

                                        Thursday, March 03, 2020

Coronavirus Cases In Armenia Keep Rising
March 27, 2020
        • Tatevik Lazarian

Armenia -- Healthcare workers are seen outside the Nork hospital in Yerevan 
which deals with most coronavirus cases in Armenia, March 20, 2020.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Armenia rose by 39 to 329 in the 
past 24 hours, health authorities reported on Friday morning.

Health Minister Arsen Torosian said later in the day that a 72-year-old person 
who died in hospital on Thursday remains the country’s sole fatality from the 
deadly virus.

Torosian said another elderly patient remains in critical condition. “We also 
have one citizen who is in serious condition,” he added in a live Facebook 
transmission. “The lives of the other [infected persons] are not at risk right 
now. Many patients are asymptomatic.”

The latter include a young woman and her two-month-old baby, the minister went 
on. “The child has showed no symptoms [of the disease] while the mother had a 
fever for two days but is showing no symptoms now. They both are in hospital.”

Torosian also reported that ten more people have been cured of the COVID-19 
virus, raising to 28 the total number of such recoveries in Armenia.

According to Armenian government data, Yerevan accounts for around half of the 
infections. The vast majority of the other coronavirus cases were registered in 
the surrounding Armavir, Ararat and Kotayk provinces.

Health authorities have quarantined at least 3,000 people in the last two weeks. 
Officials say around 150 of them have been released from the two-week quarantine 
after repeatedly testing negative for the virus.


Armenia -- A police officer enforcing a coronavirus lockdown checks a woman's 
documents, Yerevan, March 25, 2020.

The Armenian government declared a state of emergency and closed all schools and 
universities on March 16 shortly after reporting the first coronavirus cases. 
Earlier this week, it also ordered the closure of most businesses and imposed 
stringent restrictions on people’s movement in an effort to slow the spread of 
the disease.

Armenians are only allowed out to buy food, receive medical care and briefly 
exercise. When leaving their homes they must carry IDs and filled-out forms 
explaining their reasons for not staying indoors. The Armenian police said that 
in the last three days they have fined more than 1,400 people for not complying 
with these restrictions.

The authorities have also suspended bus services between Yerevan and the rest of 
the country. Deputy Minister for Local Government Armen Simonian told reporters 
on Friday that public transport links among communities located within each of 
the ten provinces outside the Armenian capital will also be temporarily banned.

Armenia’s borders with Georgia and Iran were closed for travel earlier this 
month. People have since been able to enter and leave the country only by air. 
According to Simonian, only one Belarusian and four Russian airlines continued 
to fly to and from Yerevan on Friday.

This means that Armenia will be effectively cut off from the outside world after 
a Russian government ban on all commercial flights abroad comes into force early 
on Saturday.



‘An Eastern Partnership that delivers for all’
March 27, 2020

An op-ed by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and 
commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi.

In this challenging time, marked by the coronavirus outbreak, we can see how 
important international cooperation is. Over the last decade, the Eastern 
Partnership has brought concrete benefits for people in Armenia and across the 
European Union’s eastern neighbourhood.

The European Union provides Armenian companies, which will be economically hit 
the hardest by the pandemics, with funding, training, and export support to new 
markets, through the EU4Business initiative. Since 2009, the European Union 
loaned the companies in Armenia €500 million, supported 25,000 enterprises and 
created 2,500 new jobs.

The European Union also supports one of the most growing industries in the 
country – tourism. For example, with our help the Dilijan Tourist Information 
Centre and Arts and Crafts Centres were established, together with 11 hiking 
trails in Dilijan National Park and 300 km trails in Syunik, Gegharkunik and 
Vayots Dzor. The tourism projects in Armenia created over 100 new jobs for the 
local population and supported more than 300 local SMEs.

The Pilot Regional Development Programme Grant Scheme ‘EU4Regions: support to 
Regional Development in Armenia’ supported regional and local economic 
development and created 544 new jobs. Under the project, support was provided to 
2,831 individuals to improve their employability, as well as to 719 enterprises. 
This allowed creating 460 new, sustainable jobs.

Over the past 14 years, the European Union has supported Armenian colleges’ 
educational reforms, renovation and upgrading. Over 4,500 students have 
benefited from the reforms supported by the EU, and 17 colleges have been 
renovated. The ‘Organic Agriculture’ training module has been introduced in 15 
colleges. Under Erasmus+ (2014-2020), over 1,800 students and academic staff 
from Armenia have studied or taught in Europe, and 885 Europeans went to 
Armenia. In addition, over 6,800 young people and youth workers took part in 
short-term exchanges, mobility, training and volunteering projects.

To ensure our partnership continues to deliver in the fast changing world of 
today, we need to do even more and better. To shape our priorities, we consulted 
last year with people, businesses, organisations and governments of 33 countries 
from across our shared region. While there was an appreciation for the results 
achieved, there was also a clear expectation that we enhance our cooperation 
when it comes to jobs and prosperity, investments, connectivity, good governance 
and common challenges such as climate change and the digital transformation.

And now we presented our response to these consultations with long-term 
objectives for our policy beyond 2020. Our continued engagement with the Eastern 
Partnership countries remains a key priority for the European Union. Our 
proposals for the future are ambitious yet achievable. They build on existing 
cooperation but also identify areas where we need to go further. They are built 
on fundamental values as the heart of the EU project, such as the rule of law, 
protection of human rights and fight against corruption.

Concretely, we are proposing to our partners to work together on the following 
objectives:

--Together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies: Strengthening 
the economy is key to meeting citizens’ expectations and reducing inequality and 
for making our partnership a success. We will focus on job creation and economic 
opportunities, through increased trade, investments, stronger connectivity, in 
particular in transport and energy, and linking education, research and 
innovation better with private sector needs.

--Together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security: Good 
governance and democratic institutions, the rule of law, successful 
anti-corruption policies and security are essential for sustainable development 
and the consolidation of democracy. They are the backbone of resilient states 
and societies as well as strong economies.

--Together for environmental and climate resilience: To protect our world for 
generations to come, we all need to take responsibility. The EU will work with 
its partners to improve the resource-efficiency of economies, develop new green 
jobs and promote local and renewable sources of energy.

--Together for a resilient digital transformation: The EU will further invest in 
the digital transformation of our partners, aiming to extend the benefits of the 
Digital Single Market to partner countries. Our joint work will also focus on 
strengthening e-Governance, scaling up digital start-ups and supporting the 
cyber resilience of partner countries.

--Together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies:Free and fair elections 
together with transparent, citizen-centred and accountable public 
administrations are essential for democracy. The EU will continue to focus on 
these key areas, engaging with civil society, which needs to be given sufficient 
space, and supporting free, plural and independent media and human rights, as 
well as ensuring mobility and people-to-people contacts, all particularly 
important also due to growing disinformation against EU values.

Over the past decade, trade between the EU and its eastern partners has nearly 
doubled. Over 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses have directly benefitted 
from EU funding, creating or sustaining more than 250,000 jobs. We are better 
connected thanks to improved transport links and easier access to high capacity 
broadband. And according to recent surveys, the EU is the most trusted 
international institution among Eastern Partnership citizens. We will keep this 
results-oriented approach and look to do much more together in the face of 
today’s challenges, including when it comes to crises such as COVID-19 pandemic.

And through this we will build an even more ambitious Eastern Partnership that 
delivers for all and continues to bring our shared continent closer together.



Armenian Banks Defer Loan Repayments
March 27, 2020

Armenia -- Closed shops in an underground pass in Yerevan, March 27, 2020.

Armenian banks have agreed to suspend loan repayments for tens of thousands of 
individual borrowers and businesses hit hard by economic fallout from by the 
coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian announced on Friday.

“The volume of the restructured loans is around 200 billion drams ($404 
million),” Pashinian wrote on Facebook. They were borrowed by around 97,000 
individuals and nearly 3,400 local firms, he said.

The Armenian government last week imposed strict restrictions on people’s 
movement and ordered the closure of most firms to tackle the spread of 
coronavirus. The lockdown has left scores of Armenians facing a loss of jobs and 
income.

The government has faced opposition calls for imposing a blanket freeze on all 
loan repayments. Pashinian rejected those calls when he spoke in the parliament 
on Wednesday. He said the banks should deal with defaulting clients on a 
case-by-case basis.

Pashinian also said on Wednesday that Armenia’s public utility companies have 
agreed not to cut off electricity, natural gas and water supplies to people 
failing to pay their bills because of the economic shutdown.

The national gas distribution network, Gazprom-Armenia, confirmed on Friday that 
it will stop collecting gas fees for February at least until the state of 
emergency in the country ends on April 14.

In a statement, Gazprom-Armenia put the total amount of unpaid gas bills at 4.8 
billion drams. It stressed that only about 7 percent of the sum is owed by 
low-income families receiving poverty benefits.

In a related development, Pashinian’s government approved on Thursday a 
multimillion-dollar stimulus package designed to cushion the broader impact of 
coronavirus. It includes one-off cash payments to citizens who have lost their 
jobs this month as well as financial assistance or credit subsidies to 
businesses and farmers. Pashinian said many banks will also benefit from the 
relief.


Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

 


RFE/RL Armenian Report – 03/27/2020

                                        Thursday, March 03, 2020

Coronavirus Cases In Armenia Keep Rising
March 27, 2020
        • Tatevik Lazarian

Armenia -- Healthcare workers are seen outside the Nork hospital in Yerevan 
which deals with most coronavirus cases in Armenia, March 20, 2020.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Armenia rose by 39 to 329 in the 
past 24 hours, health authorities reported on Friday morning.

Health Minister Arsen Torosian said later in the day that a 72-year-old person 
who died in hospital on Thursday remains the country’s sole fatality from the 
deadly virus.

Torosian said another elderly patient remains in critical condition. “We also 
have one citizen who is in serious condition,” he added in a live Facebook 
transmission. “The lives of the other [infected persons] are not at risk right 
now. Many patients are asymptomatic.”

The latter include a young woman and her two-month-old baby, the minister went 
on. “The child has showed no symptoms [of the disease] while the mother had a 
fever for two days but is showing no symptoms now. They both are in hospital.”

Torosian also reported that ten more people have been cured of the COVID-19 
virus, raising to 28 the total number of such recoveries in Armenia.

According to Armenian government data, Yerevan accounts for around half of the 
infections. The vast majority of the other coronavirus cases were registered in 
the surrounding Armavir, Ararat and Kotayk provinces.

Health authorities have quarantined at least 3,000 people in the last two weeks. 
Officials say around 150 of them have been released from the two-week quarantine 
after repeatedly testing negative for the virus.


Armenia -- A police officer enforcing a coronavirus lockdown checks a woman's 
documents, Yerevan, March 25, 2020.

The Armenian government declared a state of emergency and closed all schools and 
universities on March 16 shortly after reporting the first coronavirus cases. 
Earlier this week, it also ordered the closure of most businesses and imposed 
stringent restrictions on people’s movement in an effort to slow the spread of 
the disease.

Armenians are only allowed out to buy food, receive medical care and briefly 
exercise. When leaving their homes they must carry IDs and filled-out forms 
explaining their reasons for not staying indoors. The Armenian police said that 
in the last three days they have fined more than 1,400 people for not complying 
with these restrictions.

The authorities have also suspended bus services between Yerevan and the rest of 
the country. Deputy Minister for Local Government Armen Simonian told reporters 
on Friday that public transport links among communities located within each of 
the ten provinces outside the Armenian capital will also be temporarily banned.

Armenia’s borders with Georgia and Iran were closed for travel earlier this 
month. People have since been able to enter and leave the country only by air. 
According to Simonian, only one Belarusian and four Russian airlines continued 
to fly to and from Yerevan on Friday.

This means that Armenia will be effectively cut off from the outside world after 
a Russian government ban on all commercial flights abroad comes into force early 
on Saturday.



‘An Eastern Partnership that delivers for all’
March 27, 2020

An op-ed by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and 
commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi.

In this challenging time, marked by the coronavirus outbreak, we can see how 
important international cooperation is. Over the last decade, the Eastern 
Partnership has brought concrete benefits for people in Armenia and across the 
European Union’s eastern neighbourhood.

The European Union provides Armenian companies, which will be economically hit 
the hardest by the pandemics, with funding, training, and export support to new 
markets, through the EU4Business initiative. Since 2009, the European Union 
loaned the companies in Armenia €500 million, supported 25,000 enterprises and 
created 2,500 new jobs.

The European Union also supports one of the most growing industries in the 
country – tourism. For example, with our help the Dilijan Tourist Information 
Centre and Arts and Crafts Centres were established, together with 11 hiking 
trails in Dilijan National Park and 300 km trails in Syunik, Gegharkunik and 
Vayots Dzor. The tourism projects in Armenia created over 100 new jobs for the 
local population and supported more than 300 local SMEs.

The Pilot Regional Development Programme Grant Scheme ‘EU4Regions: support to 
Regional Development in Armenia’ supported regional and local economic 
development and created 544 new jobs. Under the project, support was provided to 
2,831 individuals to improve their employability, as well as to 719 enterprises. 
This allowed creating 460 new, sustainable jobs.

Over the past 14 years, the European Union has supported Armenian colleges’ 
educational reforms, renovation and upgrading. Over 4,500 students have 
benefited from the reforms supported by the EU, and 17 colleges have been 
renovated. The ‘Organic Agriculture’ training module has been introduced in 15 
colleges. Under Erasmus+ (2014-2020), over 1,800 students and academic staff 
from Armenia have studied or taught in Europe, and 885 Europeans went to 
Armenia. In addition, over 6,800 young people and youth workers took part in 
short-term exchanges, mobility, training and volunteering projects.

To ensure our partnership continues to deliver in the fast changing world of 
today, we need to do even more and better. To shape our priorities, we consulted 
last year with people, businesses, organisations and governments of 33 countries 
from across our shared region. While there was an appreciation for the results 
achieved, there was also a clear expectation that we enhance our cooperation 
when it comes to jobs and prosperity, investments, connectivity, good governance 
and common challenges such as climate change and the digital transformation.

And now we presented our response to these consultations with long-term 
objectives for our policy beyond 2020. Our continued engagement with the Eastern 
Partnership countries remains a key priority for the European Union. Our 
proposals for the future are ambitious yet achievable. They build on existing 
cooperation but also identify areas where we need to go further. They are built 
on fundamental values as the heart of the EU project, such as the rule of law, 
protection of human rights and fight against corruption.

Concretely, we are proposing to our partners to work together on the following 
objectives:

--Together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies: Strengthening 
the economy is key to meeting citizens’ expectations and reducing inequality and 
for making our partnership a success. We will focus on job creation and economic 
opportunities, through increased trade, investments, stronger connectivity, in 
particular in transport and energy, and linking education, research and 
innovation better with private sector needs.

--Together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security: Good 
governance and democratic institutions, the rule of law, successful 
anti-corruption policies and security are essential for sustainable development 
and the consolidation of democracy. They are the backbone of resilient states 
and societies as well as strong economies.

--Together for environmental and climate resilience: To protect our world for 
generations to come, we all need to take responsibility. The EU will work with 
its partners to improve the resource-efficiency of economies, develop new green 
jobs and promote local and renewable sources of energy.

--Together for a resilient digital transformation: The EU will further invest in 
the digital transformation of our partners, aiming to extend the benefits of the 
Digital Single Market to partner countries. Our joint work will also focus on 
strengthening e-Governance, scaling up digital start-ups and supporting the 
cyber resilience of partner countries.

--Together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies:Free and fair elections 
together with transparent, citizen-centred and accountable public 
administrations are essential for democracy. The EU will continue to focus on 
these key areas, engaging with civil society, which needs to be given sufficient 
space, and supporting free, plural and independent media and human rights, as 
well as ensuring mobility and people-to-people contacts, all particularly 
important also due to growing disinformation against EU values.

Over the past decade, trade between the EU and its eastern partners has nearly 
doubled. Over 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses have directly benefitted 
from EU funding, creating or sustaining more than 250,000 jobs. We are better 
connected thanks to improved transport links and easier access to high capacity 
broadband. And according to recent surveys, the EU is the most trusted 
international institution among Eastern Partnership citizens. We will keep this 
results-oriented approach and look to do much more together in the face of 
today’s challenges, including when it comes to crises such as COVID-19 pandemic.

And through this we will build an even more ambitious Eastern Partnership that 
delivers for all and continues to bring our shared continent closer together.



Armenian Banks Defer Loan Repayments
March 27, 2020

Armenia -- Closed shops in an underground pass in Yerevan, March 27, 2020.

Armenian banks have agreed to suspend loan repayments for tens of thousands of 
individual borrowers and businesses hit hard by economic fallout from by the 
coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian announced on Friday.

“The volume of the restructured loans is around 200 billion drams ($404 
million),” Pashinian wrote on Facebook. They were borrowed by around 97,000 
individuals and nearly 3,400 local firms, he said.

The Armenian government last week imposed strict restrictions on people’s 
movement and ordered the closure of most firms to tackle the spread of 
coronavirus. The lockdown has left scores of Armenians facing a loss of jobs and 
income.

The government has faced opposition calls for imposing a blanket freeze on all 
loan repayments. Pashinian rejected those calls when he spoke in the parliament 
on Wednesday. He said the banks should deal with defaulting clients on a 
case-by-case basis.

Pashinian also said on Wednesday that Armenia’s public utility companies have 
agreed not to cut off electricity, natural gas and water supplies to people 
failing to pay their bills because of the economic shutdown.

The national gas distribution network, Gazprom-Armenia, confirmed on Friday that 
it will stop collecting gas fees for February at least until the state of 
emergency in the country ends on April 14.

In a statement, Gazprom-Armenia put the total amount of unpaid gas bills at 4.8 
billion drams. It stressed that only about 7 percent of the sum is owed by 
low-income families receiving poverty benefits.

In a related development, Pashinian’s government approved on Thursday a 
multimillion-dollar stimulus package designed to cushion the broader impact of 
coronavirus. It includes one-off cash payments to citizens who have lost their 
jobs this month as well as financial assistance or credit subsidies to 
businesses and farmers. Pashinian said many banks will also benefit from the 
relief.


Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

 


Armenia’s Constitutional Reform Delayed Indefinitely

Institute for War & Peace Reporting, UK
Flagship vote put on back burner while country deals with Covid-19.
By Manya Israyelyan

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan’s signature policy of judicial reform has been thrown into jeopardy by the coronavirus pandemic, with a promised referendum on constitutional reforms postponed indefinitely.

The state of emergency imposed on March 17 means the scheduled April 5 vote, which envisages the dismissal of seven of the nine acting members of the constitutional court, can no longer go ahead.

(See Armenia: Can Government Popularity Weather Covid-19?)

The range of nation-wide limitations imposed in response to the pandemic, which include restrictions on freedom of movement, the closing of restaurants and cafes as well as all educational institutions, will last at least until April 16. However, it is likely that this period will be extended.

The official referendum campaign began on February 17 and was intended to last until April 3, with Pashinyan himself having intended to take leave from his prime ministerial duties to focus on the vote.

“In a state of emergency, a referendum cannot be held in the country. It must take place after the state of emergency, no earlier than 50 days and no later than 65 days,” he told a special meeting of the national assembly on March 16.

The postponement was a particularly severe blow as Pashinyan’s administration has repeatedly advocated the necessity of restoring judicial independence as an essential conclusion to 2018’s so-called Velvet Revolution.

The amendment envisages the removal of judges, most notably Hrayr Tovmasyan, who are widely perceived as too close to the former government.

Tovmasyan is seen as one of the last prominent representations of the Republican Party, and widely credited with tailoring the December 2015 constitutional amendments to fit former premier Serzh Sargsyan’s ambitions for life-long governance. This also resulted in Tovmasyan’s appointment as head of the constitutional body until he reached pension age in 2035. 

Nina Karapetyants, chairwoman of the Helsinki Association for Human Rights, told IWPR that the constitutional court represented the previous authorities rather than the country.

 “This is a fact that was proven each time the court made a decision regarding post-election cases,” Karapetyants said.  

Political commentator Hakob Badalyan said that while the proposed changes to the court would only tackle the issue of its composition rather than its independence, the move would still increase public trust in the judicial process.

“Having an independent judiciary is a matter of a rather long process, it is not realistic to expect an independent judiciary within a few months,” he continued.

“Independence requires institutional solutions for which we have a long way to go. But in this case we will at least have a Constitutional Court that truly enjoys public trust because public attitude towards that court is mediated by the attitude towards the government.”

Delaying their flagship policy will come as a blow to the ruling party, especially as some have criticised the government as having been too slow to respond to the Covid-19 crisis.

But political scientist Armen Baghdasaryan told IWPR that this would not permanently frustrate the plans for judicial reform.

“The measures taken over the virus, though belated, inspire hope that it will be overcome in the emergency period,” he said. “Whether the referendum will or will not take place in the summer, I can’t say. But it is also possible that it will be delayed for a longer period to carry out overall constitutional amendments instead of merely changing judges.”

Meanwhile, Nagorno-Karabakh is not going to change the date of its parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for March 31. The central election committee introduced a number of preventive measures to try and hamper the spread of infection when people turn out to vote.

Armenia’s Constitutional Reform Delayed Indefinitely

Institute for War & Peace Reporting, UK
Flagship vote put on back burner while country deals with Covid-19.
By Manya Israyelyan

Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan’s signature policy of judicial reform has been thrown into jeopardy by the coronavirus pandemic, with a promised referendum on constitutional reforms postponed indefinitely.

The state of emergency imposed on March 17 means the scheduled April 5 vote, which envisages the dismissal of seven of the nine acting members of the constitutional court, can no longer go ahead.

(See Armenia: Can Government Popularity Weather Covid-19?)

The range of nation-wide limitations imposed in response to the pandemic, which include restrictions on freedom of movement, the closing of restaurants and cafes as well as all educational institutions, will last at least until April 16. However, it is likely that this period will be extended.

The official referendum campaign began on February 17 and was intended to last until April 3, with Pashinyan himself having intended to take leave from his prime ministerial duties to focus on the vote.

“In a state of emergency, a referendum cannot be held in the country. It must take place after the state of emergency, no earlier than 50 days and no later than 65 days,” he told a special meeting of the national assembly on March 16.

The postponement was a particularly severe blow as Pashinyan’s administration has repeatedly advocated the necessity of restoring judicial independence as an essential conclusion to 2018’s so-called Velvet Revolution.

The amendment envisages the removal of judges, most notably Hrayr Tovmasyan, who are widely perceived as too close to the former government.

Tovmasyan is seen as one of the last prominent representations of the Republican Party, and widely credited with tailoring the December 2015 constitutional amendments to fit former premier Serzh Sargsyan’s ambitions for life-long governance. This also resulted in Tovmasyan’s appointment as head of the constitutional body until he reached pension age in 2035. 

Nina Karapetyants, chairwoman of the Helsinki Association for Human Rights, told IWPR that the constitutional court represented the previous authorities rather than the country.

 “This is a fact that was proven each time the court made a decision regarding post-election cases,” Karapetyants said.  

Political commentator Hakob Badalyan said that while the proposed changes to the court would only tackle the issue of its composition rather than its independence, the move would still increase public trust in the judicial process.

“Having an independent judiciary is a matter of a rather long process, it is not realistic to expect an independent judiciary within a few months,” he continued.

“Independence requires institutional solutions for which we have a long way to go. But in this case we will at least have a Constitutional Court that truly enjoys public trust because public attitude towards that court is mediated by the attitude towards the government.”

Delaying their flagship policy will come as a blow to the ruling party, especially as some have criticised the government as having been too slow to respond to the Covid-19 crisis.

But political scientist Armen Baghdasaryan told IWPR that this would not permanently frustrate the plans for judicial reform.

“The measures taken over the virus, though belated, inspire hope that it will be overcome in the emergency period,” he said. “Whether the referendum will or will not take place in the summer, I can’t say. But it is also possible that it will be delayed for a longer period to carry out overall constitutional amendments instead of merely changing judges.”

Meanwhile, Nagorno-Karabakh is not going to change the date of its parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for March 31. The central election committee introduced a number of preventive measures to try and hamper the spread of infection when people turn out to vote.

Russia’s border restrictions not to affect cargo transportation to Armenia

Public Radio of Armenia

Russia’s border restrictions not to affect cargo transportation to Armenia

Public Radio of Armenia

Armenia: Can Government Popularity Weather Covid-19?

Institute for War and Peace Reporting, UK
Critics claim leadership was too slow to focus on challenge ahead.
By Gayane Mkrtchyan

Analysts warn that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government, which came to power on a huge wave of optimism for change, may be stumbling as it faces its first major crisis in the form of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Armenia’s first case of Covid-19 was reported on March 1, when a 29-year-old citizen tested positive after returning from Iran. For ten days he was the only coronavirus patient in the country.

There was no real sense of panic until March 11, when three new cases were detected in the city Echmiadzin, 20 kilometres from Yerevan.

In a Facebook post on March 14, Pashinyan alleged that the 45-year-old who caused the outbreak had returned from Italy and “hid her illness”.

“Now we are facing the situation where three family members are infected with coronavirus – a woman from Echmiadzin, her husband and a nephew,” he wrote.

The following day, a quarantine was announced in Echmiadzin, followed on March 16 by a general state of emergency throughout the country.

All schools, universities, restaurants and shopping centres were closed with gatherings of more than 20 people banned and restrictions applied to the country’s border crossings.

The measures, which will stay in place until April 14, were announced at a cabinet meeting which was broadcast live to emphasise that the government was acting with full transparency.

Championing accountability has been at the core of Pashinyan’s political success. He came to power in May 2018 after protests brought down then-President Serzh Sargsyan and his Republican party.

His major election pledge in the subsequent December 2018 elections was to fight corruption and deal with the consequences of decades of endemic graft.

Although his popularity has remained high, analysts say that his administration has been slow to institute decisive reforms, and his response to this major crisis has also been deemed patchy.

The state of emergency in the country also postponed the much-anticipated constitutional referendum, which would remove seven of the nine current judges, and was set to take place on April 5.

(See Armenia’s Constitutional Reform Delayed Indefinitely).

Pashinyan’s commitment to his signature policy of judicial reform had been so strong that he had earlier announced he would take leave from his prime ministerial duties to campaign on the referendum, although he reversed this decision on March 12.

Political strategist Armen Badalyan said that not only had the government been slow to act but that the prime minister himself had appeared to prioritise the upcoming referendum over public safety.

“I think the steps taken by the Prime Minister in this situation were wrong, because in the beginning there was a very frivolous attitude to the epidemic,” Badalyan said. “Let's remember he said, ‘our nation has immunity, we will disinfect this virus with homemade vodka’. The prime minister was fully involved in the April 5 referendum to ensure good results… so he started fighting the epidemic late and didn't take it seriously because the referendum was more important to him.”

Badalyan warned that Pashinyan handling of the situation had left him politically vulnerable.

“We see that the number of infected people in our country is increasing, in contrast to Georgia and Azerbaijan,” he contninued. “If the opposition conducts a decent campaign in the future using this fact, Pashinyan’s rating will fall significantly. If not, it will decrease, but not significantly. I think everything will depend more on the steps of the opposition, how well they can act professionally.”

Political scientist Abraham Gasparyan said that although the 2018 parliamentary elections had provided the authorities with a high level of legitimacy, trust in them had subsequently begun to fall. People’s expectations had not been met, and predicted increases in salaries and pensions had only been small.

He agreed that the response to the crisis had been less than decisive.

“The biggest criticism of Pashinyan was caused by the fact that he continued his own PR campaign,” Gasparyan said. “Then after the first incident in Etchmiadzin, serious steps had to be taken immediately. It was necessary to urgently convene a meeting of the national security council, because this is a question of national security. But the council did not act. In the meantime, they called a government meeting which was limited to speeches.

“The citizens of our country need to learn not only the daily news, but also to understand that the state… has a strategy and packages designed for such situations. They should have taken action sooner, when the virus was first detected,” Gasparyan said.

Public perceptions had been further damaged by the 57.5 million dollars of bonuses awarded to ministries and departments in 2019, he continued.

“All this affects the reputation of the prime minister,” Gasparyan said. “People today understand that with this money it would be possible to purchase more serious medical equipment, solve the problem of food security, evacuation or isolation. He has to take serious steps, otherwise I think that the 70 per cent legitimacy [the government] had two years ago will reach to a low of 50-55 per cent,” Gasparyan concluded.

Despite such criticism, others argued that Pasjinyan had shown resilience and flexibility in managing the situation.

“This government is in direct, permanent communication with the public working openly and transparently,” Edgar Vardanyan, the editor of Detector.am, told IWPR. “They do make mistakes, but what we see is that they also learn the lessons and correct the mistakes, they understand and are responsive to the public pressure and criticism.”

Indeed, the government quickly backtracked over a decision to curtail media freedom, having announced shortly after the state of emergency was introduced that journalists covering the virus could report only official, government-sanctioned information or face large fines.

Ashot Melikyan, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech told IWPR that the decision “seriously limits the functioning of the media.  It is now the police who decide which message may cause panic and which does not”.

However, after 11 media and human rights organisations issued a letter of protest, Pashinyan rescinded much of these restrictions at a March 26 cabinet meeting, allowing journalists to cover virus-related issues freely as long as they included official comment.

The next challenge for the government will be how to weather the significant economic ramifications of the crisis, not least the country’s close ties with Russia. Not only do many Armenians work in the fields of construction, trade and services there, but Russia is also their largest trade partner and market for agricultural products and raw materials.

“The deterioration of the economy in Russia will lead to the emergence of many economic and social problems: the reduction of purchase of goods, including goods exported from Armenia, which are mainly in demand on the Russian market,” Asatryan told IWPR.

Armenians due to leave the country for seasonal work in the early spring will be unable to travel due to closed borders, with domestic and foreign tourism also badly hit.

Former Central Bank chairman Bagrat Asatryan said the knock-on effect would be considerable.

“The decline in tourism will have a large and significant impact on the country's economy, resulting in shrinking services and trade, which are currently a significant area of employment in Armenia,” Bagrat Asatryan told IWPR.

To alleviate some pressure, 11 out of Armenia’s 17 banks announced that they would suspend loans, which means that both individuals and individual entrepreneurs will be exempt from paying installments until May 15.

Armenia: Can Government Popularity Weather Covid-19?

Institute for War and Peace Reporting, UK
Critics claim leadership was too slow to focus on challenge ahead.
By Gayane Mkrtchyan

Analysts warn that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government, which came to power on a huge wave of optimism for change, may be stumbling as it faces its first major crisis in the form of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Armenia’s first case of Covid-19 was reported on March 1, when a 29-year-old citizen tested positive after returning from Iran. For ten days he was the only coronavirus patient in the country.

There was no real sense of panic until March 11, when three new cases were detected in the city Echmiadzin, 20 kilometres from Yerevan.

In a Facebook post on March 14, Pashinyan alleged that the 45-year-old who caused the outbreak had returned from Italy and “hid her illness”.

“Now we are facing the situation where three family members are infected with coronavirus – a woman from Echmiadzin, her husband and a nephew,” he wrote.

The following day, a quarantine was announced in Echmiadzin, followed on March 16 by a general state of emergency throughout the country.

All schools, universities, restaurants and shopping centres were closed with gatherings of more than 20 people banned and restrictions applied to the country’s border crossings.

The measures, which will stay in place until April 14, were announced at a cabinet meeting which was broadcast live to emphasise that the government was acting with full transparency.

Championing accountability has been at the core of Pashinyan’s political success. He came to power in May 2018 after protests brought down then-President Serzh Sargsyan and his Republican party.

His major election pledge in the subsequent December 2018 elections was to fight corruption and deal with the consequences of decades of endemic graft.

Although his popularity has remained high, analysts say that his administration has been slow to institute decisive reforms, and his response to this major crisis has also been deemed patchy.

The state of emergency in the country also postponed the much-anticipated constitutional referendum, which would remove seven of the nine current judges, and was set to take place on April 5.

(See Armenia’s Constitutional Reform Delayed Indefinitely).

Pashinyan’s commitment to his signature policy of judicial reform had been so strong that he had earlier announced he would take leave from his prime ministerial duties to campaign on the referendum, although he reversed this decision on March 12.

Political strategist Armen Badalyan said that not only had the government been slow to act but that the prime minister himself had appeared to prioritise the upcoming referendum over public safety.

“I think the steps taken by the Prime Minister in this situation were wrong, because in the beginning there was a very frivolous attitude to the epidemic,” Badalyan said. “Let's remember he said, ‘our nation has immunity, we will disinfect this virus with homemade vodka’. The prime minister was fully involved in the April 5 referendum to ensure good results… so he started fighting the epidemic late and didn't take it seriously because the referendum was more important to him.”

Badalyan warned that Pashinyan handling of the situation had left him politically vulnerable.

“We see that the number of infected people in our country is increasing, in contrast to Georgia and Azerbaijan,” he contninued. “If the opposition conducts a decent campaign in the future using this fact, Pashinyan’s rating will fall significantly. If not, it will decrease, but not significantly. I think everything will depend more on the steps of the opposition, how well they can act professionally.”

Political scientist Abraham Gasparyan said that although the 2018 parliamentary elections had provided the authorities with a high level of legitimacy, trust in them had subsequently begun to fall. People’s expectations had not been met, and predicted increases in salaries and pensions had only been small.

He agreed that the response to the crisis had been less than decisive.

“The biggest criticism of Pashinyan was caused by the fact that he continued his own PR campaign,” Gasparyan said. “Then after the first incident in Etchmiadzin, serious steps had to be taken immediately. It was necessary to urgently convene a meeting of the national security council, because this is a question of national security. But the council did not act. In the meantime, they called a government meeting which was limited to speeches.

“The citizens of our country need to learn not only the daily news, but also to understand that the state… has a strategy and packages designed for such situations. They should have taken action sooner, when the virus was first detected,” Gasparyan said.

Public perceptions had been further damaged by the 57.5 million dollars of bonuses awarded to ministries and departments in 2019, he continued.

“All this affects the reputation of the prime minister,” Gasparyan said. “People today understand that with this money it would be possible to purchase more serious medical equipment, solve the problem of food security, evacuation or isolation. He has to take serious steps, otherwise I think that the 70 per cent legitimacy [the government] had two years ago will reach to a low of 50-55 per cent,” Gasparyan concluded.

Despite such criticism, others argued that Pasjinyan had shown resilience and flexibility in managing the situation.

“This government is in direct, permanent communication with the public working openly and transparently,” Edgar Vardanyan, the editor of Detector.am, told IWPR. “They do make mistakes, but what we see is that they also learn the lessons and correct the mistakes, they understand and are responsive to the public pressure and criticism.”

Indeed, the government quickly backtracked over a decision to curtail media freedom, having announced shortly after the state of emergency was introduced that journalists covering the virus could report only official, government-sanctioned information or face large fines.

Ashot Melikyan, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech told IWPR that the decision “seriously limits the functioning of the media.  It is now the police who decide which message may cause panic and which does not”.

However, after 11 media and human rights organisations issued a letter of protest, Pashinyan rescinded much of these restrictions at a March 26 cabinet meeting, allowing journalists to cover virus-related issues freely as long as they included official comment.

The next challenge for the government will be how to weather the significant economic ramifications of the crisis, not least the country’s close ties with Russia. Not only do many Armenians work in the fields of construction, trade and services there, but Russia is also their largest trade partner and market for agricultural products and raw materials.

“The deterioration of the economy in Russia will lead to the emergence of many economic and social problems: the reduction of purchase of goods, including goods exported from Armenia, which are mainly in demand on the Russian market,” Asatryan told IWPR.

Armenians due to leave the country for seasonal work in the early spring will be unable to travel due to closed borders, with domestic and foreign tourism also badly hit.

Former Central Bank chairman Bagrat Asatryan said the knock-on effect would be considerable.

“The decline in tourism will have a large and significant impact on the country's economy, resulting in shrinking services and trade, which are currently a significant area of employment in Armenia,” Bagrat Asatryan told IWPR.

To alleviate some pressure, 11 out of Armenia’s 17 banks announced that they would suspend loans, which means that both individuals and individual entrepreneurs will be exempt from paying installments until May 15.