14:22 / 09/26/2009

Domestic policy

On September 21, Armenia marked the next Independence Day. Eighteen
years ago, amid active disintegration processes and the inevitable
collapse of the USSR, most Armenian citizens voted for Armenia's
secession from the Soviet Union. This year's celebrations have
been quite modest, bad weather, with constant heavy rains, being
a contributory factor. No military parade had initially been
planned (the last parade was held three years ago, when the 15th
anniversary of Armenia's Independence was celebrated), which,
however, would not have been out of place in the context of the
warlike statements regularly made by official Baku. The authorities
only held a solemn reception at the RA presidential residence and
presented government awards. As regards the chief opposition force
led by Levon Ter-Petrosyan, it was even denied a hall designed for
more than 150 people for a traditional holiday party. As a result,
several hundred oppositionists had to gather in the pouring rain
in front of the monument to Martiros Saryan, a traditional place
for daily "political festivities". Ter-Petrosyan invited his most
ardent supporters to the Central Office of the Armenian National
Congress (ANC) and made a short congratulatory speech. In outline,
Armenia marked the 18th anniversary of its independence amid domestic
political confrontation and intense debate over the Armenian-Turkish
rapprochement and Nagorno-Karabakh peace processes.

Vartan Oskanian, who was RA Foreign Minister under President Robert
Kocharyan, has stepped up his activities, which is of interest in the
context of not only appraisals of the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement
process, but also of their domestic political importance. It is common
knowledge that Oskanian is Robert Kocharyan's "right hand." Most
likely he coordinates his actions with Armenia's second president. The
reasonable conclusion is that Oskanian's tone, which is getting sharper
and sharper, is actually attempts to probe into public opinion as to
the possibility of Robert Kocharyan's return to big politics amid the
discontent with President Serzh Sargsyan's foreign policy voiced by
some representatives of the ruling elite and of electorate. It should
be noted, however, that Oskanian's statements may produce effect on
some high-ranking and junior officials "done out of their share" by
Serzh Sargsyan, whereas most people are hardly likely "to give ear"
to the ex-official. All his statements on the necessity for a wave of
public protest against the Armenian-Turkish Protocols "smash into" the
fact of his own active involvement in the suppression of post-election
rallies last year, particularly in the tragic events on March 1-2,
2008. Vartan Oskanian must be the unhappiest candidate for calling
on the public to rise.

The disfavored oligarch Khachatur Sukiasyan, who resigned from
Parliament, went to Germany "for his health." We have no information
on his health problems, but the authorities let him go though he
had earlier been released on his own recognizance. It was common
knowledge that the opposition oligarch had set up a large business
in Germany. The question remains: will Khachatur Sukisyan return to
Armenia or the rumors about his bargain with the Armenian authorities,
"freedom for abandoning politics", will prove true? Anyway, he did not
attend the Opposition rally on September 18: an hour before he had
been summoned to the special investigation group to be interrogated
for several hours. Nor did Mr. Sukiasyan hold a press conference
announced immediately after he was released. Now we have to wait
for further developments and for whether the oligarch will return to
Armenia in two or three weeks, as his office claims.

In turn, Hakob Hakobyan, one more supporter of the ANC leader, is
once again running for Parliament in the December 6 by-election in
election district #8 in Yerevan. Although Hakobyan was amnestied,
a court verdict returned on him took force, which meant he was
to be unseated. Now, the big businessman, who defected to the
Opposition camp during the latest presidential election, decided to
"displease" the authorities by "being in their way" to carrying their
own candidate. With the election process in the Malatiya-Sebastiya
community and an opposition candidate's participation considered,
the election campaign in election district #8 is expected to be a
"noisy" one.

Nagorno-Karabakh peace p The Armenian Revolutionary Federation
(ARF) continues its actions of protest against the Armenian-Turkish
Protocols. It should be noted that, in contrast to similar actions
held by the opposition Miatsum (Unification) movement, the police
do not come into conflict with the ARF representatives, who "hold
hours-long concerts" in font of the Government and the RA Foreign
Office. Although the party claims it has collected tens of thousands
of signatures against the ratification of the Protocols, the action
does not evoke a wide public response: in the daytime, the highest
number of participants in the hunger-strike and sit-in is 70,
with no more than 15 "being on duty" at night. The founder of the
Heritage Party Raffi Hovhannisyan and the leader of the New Times
Party Aram Karapetyan gave "certain impetus" to the ARF's actions
of protest by joining the signature-gathering campaign. However,
as has been noted before, with the ANC, the only force capable of
organizing mass actions of protest, refusing to hold rallies now,
all the other actions of protest are like a voice in the wilderness.

The Heritage Party advanced an initiative, which, however, is most
unlikely to "win the addressee's favor." The party proposed that
Chairman of the RA Constitutional Court (CC) Gagik Harutyunyan
organize a hearing of the constitutionality of the Armenian-Turkish
Protocols. However, since the CC scarcely ever makes any decisions
against the authorities' will, the CC Chairman can hardly be expected
to give a favorable response to the party's initiative.

Vartan Oskanian, Armenia's foreign minister under President Robert
Kocharyan, has harshly criticized the Armenian-Turkish Protocols,
stating their signing is unacceptable. Seeking to wreck the Armenian
authorities' efforts to normalize the Armenian-Turkish relations,
the former top-ranking official went as far as to comparing them
to Armenia's relations with other countries, particularly with
Georgia. Oskanian pointed out it was not until recent times that the
demarcation of the Armenian-Georgian border got under way, and drew
attention to Armenia's good relations with its northern neighbor. The
former Armenian foreign minister referred to the experience of many
European countries having territorial problems along with normal trade
and economic relations. He thus tried to argue for the unacceptability
of the point on the inviolability of frontiers incorporated in
the initialed Armenian-Turkish Protocols. Without dwelling of the
argument over the equity of the statements, we cannot but point out a
rather "peculiar" starting point of Vartan Oskanian. What is another
possible designation of an attempt to compare such a serious issue
as Armenian-Turkish relations to Armenia's cooperation with other
countries - an attempt made by an experienced politician? If we
remember the fact that most school textbooks in Turkey still stir up
hatred for the Armenians, while the Georgian Public Television calls
on Armenians not let their children lose the opportunity to attend
Armenian schools, Oskanian's comparison is really "great." The only
thing that remains is to find out the aim of the statements.

Top-ranking Turkish officials have been active this week as well. They
held numerous meetings during the 64th General Assembly of the United
Nations in New York and discussed the normalization of Armenian-Turkish
relations. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and Foreign Minister
Ahmet Davudoglu have lately made statements in a slightly difference
vein: they have not mentioned the need for "vacating the occupied
territories" of Azerbaijan before the Armenian-Turkish border is
reopened. Talking to journalists, Minister Davudoglu stated that
Turkey continues its policy of cooperation and zero problems toward
its neighbors. As regards the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, the Minister
did not single it out from the entire context of the stabilization in
the South Caucasus. Turkish Premier Recep Erdogan restrained his ardor
as well: although embellished by Azeri mass media, his statements
only contain hope for intensified efforts in the Nagorno-Karabakh
peace process, without any mention of Azerbaijan's territories
"occupied" by Armenia. One can easily notice that the Turkish leaders'
"whereabouts" often account for changes in their rhetoric: they made
rather strongly-worded statements a few days before leaving for New
York. However, as soon as they set their feet on the soil of one of the
principal mediators in the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement, they became
much more careful about words. This must be another manifestation of
Turkey's cunning diplomacy: despite the obvious fact that the initialed
Protocols can by no mean be amended before they are finally signed,
Turkey is trying to get new concessions from Armenia.

Economy and social life

At its sitting the Armenian Government approved the order of granting
economic (tax, customs, etc..) benefits under a framework agreement
between Armenia and the Committee of European Communities. The benefits
include exemption from VAT, exemption of imported products from customs
duties, exemption of nonresident organizations from profit taxes,
etc.. The Government also approved the results of contests held on
the WB-allocated funds under an irrigation system renovation program.

We would remind you that the Armenian Government and the World Bank
signed a credit agreement in Yerevan on July 31. Under the program,
irrigation canals in Talin and Armavir are to be renovated.

At its sitting the RA State Commission for Economic Competition
discussed its 2010 program of action. Commission Chairman Ashot
Shahnazaryan reported that the Commission would take tougher measures
against economic entities abusing heir market positions and simplify
the methods of appraising economic entities' activities.

Head of the RA Supervisory Chamber Ishkhan Zakaryan has shown an
unexpected tendency in his behavior. Over the past year each of his
news conferences was marked by "sensational exposures" of economic
entities' financial activities, whereas he looked good-natured
the last time. He said that relevant measures were taken revealed
financial violations in government agencies in 2007-2008. Zakaryan
made that statement while presenting the financial reports of the RA
Civil Aviation Department, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance,
Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs and the Social Investment Fund. The
only question remains: what is the nature of the Supervisory Chamber's
activities: actual struggle against corruption, which made officials
honest workers, intimidation or the relevant materials may unexpectedly
"come to light" in the future.

Transparency International released a new report, which points out
an extremely high corruption level in Armenia. According to the
report, corruption has affected all the spheres of the country's
life. Corruption takes such forms as mass bribery, political and social
pressure, which seriously impedes Armenia's economic progress. The
part dealing with Armenia specifically mentions the "misfortunes"
that befell the Royal Armenia Company and the Gala TV channel.

Amid the global crisis, "out of season", the European Union (EU)
set 5-year additional duties, up to 30%, for aluminum foil from
China, Brazil and Armenia, to assist European producers, primarily
the Polish Grupa Kety SA, in competing with the cheap import. The
Chinese, Brazilian and Armenian producers exported their products to 27
European countries at below-cost prices thereby practicing dumping. As
a result, the Bloomberg agency reported, such companies as Novelis
(Great Britain), Symetal Aluminium Foil Industry SA (Greece) and
Alcomet (Bulgaria) sustained losses. The EU levied a duty of 17.6%
on the products of Companhia Brasileira de Aluminio and of any other
Brazilian companies, 13.4% on the products of ARMENAL (subsidiary
of RUSAL, Russia), and 30% on any foil exports from China. The EU
accepted the Brazilian companies' offer to raise prices in exchange
for exemption from antidumping duties, whereas it declined a similar
offer made by ARMENAL.

The CE Ministers' Council released a report on the national minorities'
languages in Armenia. The report is not free from bias. The European
officials pointed out the complete lack of TV or radio broadcasts
in national minorities' languages. However, for apparently political
reasons, they did not list the Russian language, which is not only the
mother tongue one of the national minorities, but also the language
spoken by many thousands of Armenians. The Council demanded that the
Armenian authorities ensure broadcasting in the Assyrian, Kurdish
and Yezid languages, whereas they did not say a single word about
the Russian language taken off the air. We hope that the Armenian
authorities will give ear to the European officials' demands and
come to realize the necessity for Russian-language broadcasts on the
Government-financed TV channel - so as not to "be unfair" to one of
the largest national communities, to say nothing of tens of thousands
Russian-speaking Armenians. There is no better way of reducing overseas
media's influence on them, is there?