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RFE/RL Armenia Report - 09/29/2009

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  • RFE/RL Armenia Report - 09/29/2009

    Tuesday, September 29, 2009

    U.S. Expects Quick Results From Turkish-Armenian Talks

    Armenia -- Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian meets U.S. Secretary of
    State Hillary Clinton in New York.

    Emil Danielyan
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Armenia and Turkey to
    complete the normalization of bilateral relations within a
    `reasonable' period of time as she met with the two countries' foreign
    ministers late on Monday.

    The Turkish-Armenian dialogue was a key focus of her separate talks
    with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Armenia's Eduard
    Nalbandian held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

    Clinton praised both governments for their `strong commitment' to
    pushing forward the process hailed by the international community and
    United States in particular. `I want to reiterate our very strong
    support for the normalization process that is going on between Armenia
    and Turkey, which we have long said should take place without
    preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe,' she said after
    meeting Nalbandian.

    U.S. -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) meets with Turkish
    Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) during a bilateral meeting in New
    York, 28Sep2009
    Clinton later delivered a similar message to Davutoglu, according to
    U.S. officials cited by Western news agencies. `When we say reasonable
    'time frame,' we mean just that, that it's not just the process that
    we want to see,' U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon was
    reported to tell journalists. `We welcome the process, but we also
    want to see a conclusion to the process and that's what we're
    underscoring when we say that.'

    The U.S. officials' message should have been heartening for official
    Yerevan which has long complained about Turkish linkage between the
    normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties and a resolution of the Nagorno-
    Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan. Armenian leaders fear that
    Ankara could still avoid implementing two fence-mending agreements
    with Yerevan if international efforts to settle the dispute yield no
    breakthrough in the coming months.

    The agreements, which envisage the establishment of diplomatic
    relations and the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border, are due to
    be signed by October 14. The documents need to be ratified by the
    parliaments of both countries before they can take effect.

    According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Nalbandian thanked Clinton
    for Washington's strong support for the ongoing Turkish-Armenian
    rapprochement that began shortly after President Serzh Sarkisian took
    office in April 2008. Clinton underscored that support when she
    telephoned Sarkisian to discuss the process on September 19. It was
    their second phone conversation in a month.

    In Gordon's words, Washington hopes that Sarkisian will accept Turkish
    President Abdullah Gul's invitation to watch with him the return match
    of the two countries' national football teams that will be played in
    the Turkish city of Bursa on October 14. "We think it would be a good
    thing if he attended it, reciprocating the attendance of the Turkish
    president of the match when it was in Armenia," the diplomat said.

    `This is a difficult process that faces some political opposition in
    both places and it's hard for both governments,' added Gordon. `It
    shouldn't wait for other things to get done, or be linked to other
    things. It should go ahead.'

    Nalbandian sounded cautiously optimistic on that score in his speech
    at the General Assembly earlier on Friday. `The process of the
    normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations ... promises to bear
    fruit despite all difficulties,' he said.

    Opposition Youth Risks 10 Years In Jail

    Armenia -- Jailed opposition activist Tigran Arakelian is taken to a
    Yerevan court, 08Jul2009

    Tatevik Lazarian
    The Armenian police have leveled a new and graver accusation against a
    young opposition activist who was controversially arrested after
    distributing opposition leaflets in Yerevan three months ago.

    Tigran Arakelian was initially accused of `hooliganism,' a crime
    punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. He was charged on Monday
    also under another article of the Armenian Criminal Code that deals
    with assaults on `representatives of the state authority.' The charge
    carries up to 10 years in prison.

    Arakelian was one of several young members of the opposition Armenian
    National Congress (HAK) who clashed with plainclothes police on July 1
    as they publicized an HAK rally held in Yerevan the next day. He and
    two other youths were injured in the incident and required
    hospitalization. They said they were punched, kicked and pistol-
    whipped for informing city residents about the rally.

    The police insist, however, that law-enforcement officers themselves
    came under attack when they tried to stop a brawl involving 60 young
    people. Three policemen sustained injuries as a result, according to
    the police. Testimony given by one of them, Erik Poghosian, forms the
    basis of the criminal case against Arakelian.

    According to Arakelian's lawyer, Vartuhi Elbakian, the police
    attributed their decision to toughen the charges against her client to
    police doctors' conclusion that Poghosian suffered `light bodily
    injuries' in the July 1 incident. `Poghosian is a distinguished
    victim,' Elbakian noted with sarcasm, referring to the fact that the
    policeman had also given incriminating testimony against several
    prominent opposition figures arrested following last years' post-
    election unrest in the capital.

    The police decided to seek a longer prison sentence for Arakelian
    despite his poor health. The oppositionist was taken to a prison
    hospital shortly after his July 5 and has been kept there since then,
    complaining of persistent headaches, dizziness and vision problems.
    Doctors found last week serious damage caused to his optical nerve.

    `I saw Tigran yesterday,' said Elbakian. `His condition wasn't good ...
    He was unable to walk without help and was shaking terribly.'

    The lawyer spoke to RFE/RL after hearings in Armenia's Court of
    Appeals on her demands for Arakelian's release from pre-trial
    detention that have been repeatedly rejected by the police and state
    prosecutors. The court is due to rule on the petition on Wednesday. `I
    have no hopes,' said Elbakian.

    Ruling Party Members `Concerned' About Turkey Diplomacy

    Armenia -- The ruling Republican Party holds a conference in Yerevan.

    Anush Martirosian, Ruzanna Stepanian
    Senior members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK)
    expressed concern about the ongoing Turkish-Armenian rapprochement at
    a meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian on Monday night, top party
    representatives said on Tuesday.

    Sarkisian, who is the HHK's chairman, met with members of the party's
    board to discuss his conciliatory policy on Turkey that has earned him
    praise in the West but is criticized by many in Armenia and its
    worldwide Diaspora.

    According Samvel Nikoyan, a senior HHK member and deputy speaker of
    the Armenian parliament, board members asked Sarkisian numerous
    questions about various aspects of that policy. `All kinds of
    questions were asked,' he told RFE/RL. `Including ones expressing
    concerns, asking for clarifications and making some points.'

    `I don't think that everyone in the Republican Party of Armenia, which
    has 150,000 members, can be fully informed about those protocols and
    fully support them,' said Nikoyan. `Of course, there are people who
    have concerns. Everyone, including myself has concerns.'

    Sarkisian himself acknowledged that his fence-mending talks with
    Turkey are fraught with pitfalls for the Armenian side when he met
    with leaders of 52 Armenian parties on September 17. But he said
    Armenia should continue them and demonstrate to the outside world that
    it is genuinely committed to making peace with his historical foe.

    Sarkisian will start on October 1 a tour of the United States, France,
    Russia and Lebanon aimed at explaining his policy to sizable Armenian
    communities existing in those countries. Many community leaders have
    strongly criticized the agreements and, in particular, the planned
    formation of a Turkish-Armenian `sub-commission' charged with studying
    the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Thousands of
    Armenians took to the streets of Los Angeles on Sunday to condemn the

    Razmik Zohrabian, the HHK's deputy chairman, downplayed the Diaspora
    outcry. `I would be surprised if the Diaspora Armenians were silent or
    fully supported this policy,' he told RFE/RL.

    Neither Zohrabian, nor Nikoyan elaborated on the concerns which fellow
    Republicans conveyed to Sarkisian the previous night. Their unease
    contrasted with unconditional support for the draft Turkish-Armenian
    agreements expressed by HHK leaders earlier. The party, which holds
    the majority of seats in the National Assembly, is still expected to
    ensure the documents' ratification by the Armenian parliament.

    The two opposition parties represented in parliament, Dashnaktsutyun
    and Zharangutyun, said on Monday they are joining forces to try to
    block the ratification. They control only 23 of the 131 parliament

    A leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), a larger and more
    radical opposition force, dismissed on Tuesday the potential alliance
    between Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun, saying that none of them has
    demanded Sarkisian's resignation yet. Levon Zurabian said that the two
    parties should take `more serious steps' if they are to force a policy
    change on Turkey.

    `If Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun decide today to give up their
    parliament mandates in protest against the ongoing process, they will
    ... generate an extremely serious political crisis,' Zurabian told
    journalists. `There would no longer be any opposition in the
    parliament.' That would send a strong message to the international
    community, he said.

    Zharangutyun's chairman, Armen Martirosian, and a senior
    Dashnaktsutyun member, Spartak Seyranian, rejected the call.

    Government Moves To Cut Spending In 2010

    Armenia -- A cabinet meeting in Yerevan.

    Anush Martirosian
    The Armenian government announced on Monday plans to slash its
    budgetary expenditures by 9 percent next year, citing the ongoing
    economic recession and the resulting serious shortfall in its tax

    The government's draft budget for 2010 approved by ministers envisages
    an even sharper reduction in state revenues which would dramatically
    widen Armenia's public deficit.

    Finance Minister Tigran Davtian said the austerity measures reflect
    the economic situation in the country that has progressively worsened
    this year amid a deepening fallout from the global financial crisis.
    `We drew up the budget in a conservative regime,' he told journalists
    after an extraordinary session of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian's

    Armenia's state budgets have steadily and rapidly grown over the past
    decade on the back of robust economic growth that came to an end last
    year. The proposed 2010 budget, if adopted by parliament, will mark
    the first cut in Armenian government spending since the economic
    turmoil of the early 1990s.

    A relevant bill drafted by the Finance Ministry calls for 859.6
    billion drams ($2.23 billion) in budgetary expenditures, down from
    945.4 billion drams budgeted for this year. The government has been
    struggling to meet the 2009 target due to a significant fall in its
    tax revenues resulting from the recession. The Armenian economy
    contracted by as much as 18.4 percent in the first eight months of 2009.

    The revenue shortfall will be mostly offset by anti-crisis loans
    allocated to Armenia by Russia, the International Monetary Fund, the
    World Bank and other international institutions. One of Davtian's
    deputies, Vahan Aramian, told RFE/RL in late July that the government
    will still have to cut its projected 2009 spending by about 4 percent.

    The government has already failed to keep the 2009 budget deficit from
    rising above the projected level of 40 billion drams. The deficit
    totaled 67.5 billion drams in January-July 2009, according to the
    Finance Ministry.

    It is projected to surge to 183 billion drams as a consequence of a
    25.2 percent drop in state revenues envisaged by the draft 2010
    budget. According to Davtian, the government plans to use external
    loans for financing half of the fiscal gap.

    `Unfortunately, spending on debt servicing will rise next year,' said
    the finance minister. `That is one of the reasons why we will be as
    cautious as possible in attracting new credit resources.' That is why,
    he added, the government will abandon earlier plans for further rises
    in pensions, poverty benefits and other social spending.

    Labor and Social Security Minister Gevorg Petrosian openly criticized
    the measure. In particular, he demanded more government funding for
    boarding schools, orphanages and seniors houses, offering to
    personally show fellow cabinet members the dire conditions of those

    The complaint prompted a stern rebuke from Prime Minister Sarkisian,
    who recalled a recent corruption scandal over the alleged misuse of
    government funds by Petrosian's ministry. `When it comes to the
    allocation of financial resources, we all recall the difficult plight
    of our compatriots,' he said. `But once we start spending money
    somehow we forget that those people live in dire conditions.'