Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Armenian News... A Topalian... Emperor's new clothes...Look again...

Armenia’s President Sargsyan: The Emperor Has No Clothes
Hrant Gadarigian
August 2, 2016 

Watching President Serzh Sargsyan’s deadpan and monotone speech the other night regarding the two-week standoff between the armed Sasna Dzrer group and what passes as “law enforcement” in Armenia, I wonder if the Armenian head of state realizes that a sizeable majority of citizens just don’t trust him and that most despise him and the regime he symbolizes.

Maybe Sargsyan just doesn’t care what people think of him. It could also be that he and his cronies live in a world so far removed from the trials and tribulations of the common-folk, that they really can’t see beyond their villas and the walls of the presidential palace.

In front of a zombie-like assemblage of so-called intellectuals, clergy, and representatives of different segments of society (whatever the hell this means), Sargsyan took a hardline approach, proclaiming:

From now on we will allow no one to take our country hostage.
We will allow no one to undermine the foundation of our state.
Problems in Armenia will not be solved through violence or arms. 

Is Sargsyan for real? Does he realize just how hollow and hypocritical he sounds by mouthing such declarations?

Such smoke and mirrors; truly a shining example of doublespeak that even Orwell would have been proud of.

The “country”, far from being held hostage by a band of Artsakh War vets and disgruntled citizens who “were mad as hell and couldn’t take it anymore”, was actually held hostage for two weeks by the regime’s law enforcement arm and the thugs they payroll to quash any political dissent.

When cops and special forces rampage through residential neighborhoods detaining protestors left and right and see fit to beat journalists and citizens exercising their constitutional rights of freedom of _expression_ and assembly, whose “country” is actually being held hostage.

If Sargsyan were to come clean, he would have proclaimed: “We will not allow anyone to undermine the foundation of our power and authority”.

If, as Sargsyan states, “Problems in Armenia will not be solved through violence or arms”, the logical question arises – “What alternatives do you suggest, Mr. President?”

When Sargsyan makes superficial reference to the civil war in Syria, stating that such a development is ruled out in Armenia, the president really needs to do his homework. It’s actually because Assad failed to provide viable options to those Syrians who opposed his authoritarian regime that the civil war there spiraled out of control. Sargsyan would do well to learn some lessons from the mistakes made by Assad who countered public protest with increasing violence and a clampdown on dissent.

Further along in his speech, Sargsyan says:

In Armenia a simple truth, which it seems could not be debatable in the first place, has prevailed. That truth lives in our system of values, in our mentality, in our kind, and is about our heritage. Anyone can dislike the authorities, or the government, or the President, can be categorically against our policies. However, dislike cannot be a reason for glorifying those who attempt to solve problems with arms. 

Such rhetoric turns the issues that gave rise to Sasna Dzrer and the simmering public discontent in Armenia on their head.

Nowhere, in his speech does the president say what measures he and the government will take to alleviate the root causes of the underlying problems facing society today in Armenia. It’s as if he shares none of the responsibility and that all his pronouncements over the past seven years since he “seized” control of the country to initiate real reforms – throughout all sectors of society – have been mere window dressing; more to appease the international community than to address the festering disillusionment and despondency of average citizens.

Does anyone actually take Sargsyan at his word when he stated the following?

Yes, it is true that the Armenian authorities are not perfect. Yes, it is true that there are many problems and complex issues in Armenia. Our goal is to give them a speedy resolution…At this stage our goal is also to form the authorities of national accord, in which issues will be solved under a wide consensus. 
Not perfect? Who is asking for perfection? People want to see a sustainable process of real change. Most don’t see such a process. Repeated election fraud, economic monopolization, a judiciary in the pocket of the authorities, lack of engagement between citizens and civil administration, exploitation of the country’s natural resources by a privileged few…the list goes on and on.

Speedy resolution? National accord? Is Sargsyan living on the same planet as the rest of Armenia’s citizens.

What’s Sargsyan’s concept of a “speedy resolution” to the ills holding Armenia back for realizing its true potential. Other than platitudes, what’s his, and by extension, the master plan of the ruling Republican Party. I shudder at the thought. Maybe he refers to his overnight decision to join the Russian-backed Eurasian Economic Union rather than greater political and economic ties to the EU.

National accord? The country, under his “leadership” is becoming increasingly polarized, not the other way round. Doesn’t Sargsyan realize that the seeds for the civil war he ostensibly seeks to avoid have already been sown? It will pit the haves against the have-nots, the powerful against the powerless.

The regime may see fit to cut the budding stalks of the civil war to come, but the seeds underground will keep flowering.

Can Sargsyan, or whoever the figurehead of the ruling powers that be in Armenia, push through the necessary changes to avoid such a clash of interests in the future? I truly have my doubts.

Nor can I say, with any degree of conviction, who or what political force, has the vision and ability to get Armenia back on the right track.

All I can say for sure is that the man who currently presides at 26 Baghramyan Avenue in Yerevan has become the proverbial Hans Christian Andersen emperor stripped of his clothes and credibility.

The sooner people, in Armenia and overseas, see Sargsyan for what he really is, a man who rules through coercion rather than consent, the sooner we can agree that he and the powers he represents need to go.
Economist: Armenian authorities have to sacrifice at least some 
of oligarchs

YEREVAN. – Armenian authorities have to sacrifice at least some of the oligarchs to somehow exitnguish public discontent over the July events when police regiment was captured by an armed group followed by demonstrations and actions of protest. This was stated by Gagik Makaryan, chairman of the Republican Union of Employers of Armenia.

Makaryan believes discontent accumulates because all the economic opportunities are usurped by people close to those in power. This refers to not only the senior management level, but starts from heads of village administrations and up to senior officials who are using their position to grab business.

“They do nothing for the development of the country. The authorities have to meet compromise and get rid of at least part of those figures peacefully in order to end 2016 without new shocks,” he said.
Ara Papian: Armenia will never be the same again

YEREVAN. – The July events in Armenia have changed situation in the country, political analyst Ara Papian said.

He believes the situation will never be the same as it used to be before the seizure of police regiment, and it is too early to tell whether Armenia will change for the better or for the worse.

“It depends on the authorities, on president,” Papian told reporters.

The experts made several conclusions: there was no executive power, and only police methods were applied, and, secondly, the legislative power was did nothing, except for several deputies which causes concerns especially in the context of upcoming parliamentary elections.

“No reform was carried out in law enforcement agencies despite numerous grants. Massive violations of human rights were registered in the last two weeks,” he added.
Human Rights Watch: Armenian police used excessive force against peaceful protesters

Armenian police used excessive force against peaceful protesters on July 29, 2016 and assaulted journalists reporting on the demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said today. Police used stun grenades, which wounded dozens of demonstrators and some journalists, some severely. The police also beat journalists and protesters and detained dozens of people.

“Armenia’s investigation of the police assaults on demonstrators on July 29 should be swift and thorough,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “While the police have an obligation to maintain public order, they do not have carte blanche to use violence against people gathered to peacefully express their views.”

Protests have been ongoing in Armenia since July 17, when armed men from a radical opposition group seized a police station in Yerevan’s Erebuni district, killing one policeman and taking several hostages, demanding political concessions from the government. Before the gunmen surrendered on July 31, public support for them grew into a wide protest movement in Yerevan.

Human Rights Watch spoke with victims and witnesses of the violence. Several said that at about 11 p.m., police rapidly fired numerous rocket-projected stun grenades and threw hand-held stun grenades into the peaceful crowds near the police station in the Erebuni district. When the grenades landed, they emitted thick smoke and a loud sound, stunning many people for several seconds. The grenades then exploded, causing first- and second-degree burns and fragmentation wounds on the legs of people standing nearby.

Human Rights Watch interviewed several injured journalists and protesters in a Yerevan hospital. “Suren,” 25, whose name was changed for his protection, had just joined the protest when a stun grenade landed at his feet. He was briefly blinded by thick smoke and felt severe pain in his head. As he struggled to flee, he saw that his pant legs were almost entirely burned and his legs were covered in blood. Suren has 30 lacerations and first- and second-degree burns covering both legs. Doctors removed five plastic fragments from the stun grenade from his legs. He was not able to walk normally at the time of the interview.

Interviewees told Human Rights Watch that the crowd was not attempting to cross the cordon when police started launching the stun grenades. Video footage of the events reviewed by Human Rights Watch supports the witness accounts.

While police could legitimately seek to prevent protesters from getting too close to the police station, they were still bound to uphold human rights and respect standards on the use of force, Human Rights Watch said.

Security forces should not fire stun grenades directly into crowds. Although the grenades are technically non-lethal, their fragmentation can foreseeably cause serious injuries in an indiscriminate manner, exposing non-violent protesters and on-lookers to grave harm. Polystyrene in some stun grenades will melt in the heat created when they are discharged, and cause serious burn wounds. Human Rights Watch documented that many protesters had first- and second-degree burns.

“Police should not interfere with the legitimate work of journalists, let alone attack and punish them for doing their jobs,” Gogia said.
Armenia’s second president settles in the USA
1 August 2016

For already the second year Armenia’s second president Robert
Kocharyan has settled in the USA with his spouse and family of the
younger son. He visits Armenia from occasion to occasion and travels
to Moscow due to work there.

According to the source Kocharyan comes to Armenia very seldom and
gives interviews from far away. As to his eldest son, Sedrak, he is
permanently in Armenia and successfully heads the multi-profile
business of Kocharyans family.

Moscow 'Bypassing' Armenia to Reach Azerbaijan, Iran and India
Paul Goble 

Perhaps the most important geopolitical development of mid- July 2016 was not the continuing conflict in the South China Sea , the failed coup in Turkey, or terrorist violence in France—all of which attracted considerable international attention—but rather the quiet signing, in Moscow, of an agreement by Russian, Iranian, Azerbaijani and Indian officials to open a north-south rail line in the Caucasus. That accord will not only link those three countries, but ultimately tie together rail systems from India, by ship to Iran (see EDM , December 4, 2015), and on to Europe, via Azerbaijan and Russia. This will have profound consequences for the states and territories along its route. However, the country most immediately and negatively affected by this new rail system will be Armenia, which is not a party to these arrangements ( , July 11 ). 

The Russia-Iran-Azerbaijan-India railroad accord represents Moscow's ongoing efforts to reach an agreement with Baku. These Russian efforts include closer consultations on a range of foreign policy issues as well as an agreement to train Azerbaijani military officers in Russian military academies after a break of two decades. Furthermore, there are indications that the Russian government is now prepared to push harder for a two-step solution to the Karabakh conflict (see EDM, May 2 , July 7 ) by pressing Armenia to withdraw its forces from the seven regions of Azerbaijan other than Karabakh and then later to negotiate about some future autonomous status for the separatist Karabakh territory after that happens. That is something most Armenian political leaders and the Armenian public more generally oppose, but now their country may not be able to block such a resolution of this "frozen" conflict. 

In addition, the July rail agreement underscores Armenia's declining importance both economically as well as in Moscow's political calculations, highlighting that country's inability to count on what it had assumed was Russia's inevitable support for a fellow Orthodox Christian country (Armenians are overwhelmingly members of the Armenian Apostolic Church—a part of Oriental Orthodoxy). Instead, Russia is moving to increase its ties with majority Shia Islamic Azerbaijan, Armenia's longtime enemy, and now with Sunni Turkey ( , June 18 ; see EDM, July 7 , 18 ). In this situation, Armenia has no good choices. Moreover, Iran is likely to back away from plans to build a rail line to Yerevan, preferring to concentrate on Azerbaijan. And the outbreak of violence in Yerevan this week (starting July 17 ), where self-proclaimed "revolutionaries" seized a police station and took hostages, may be yet another sign of Armenia's combination of domestic and foreign policy problems ( , July 19 ). 

Unlike many similar protocols Moscow signed in recent years, the north-south railroad agreement is not about some distant future. Instead, it is about events that are already ongoing or will take place in the coming weeks. According to Aleksandr Misharin, the vice president of Russian Railways, India will dispatch the first demonstration container train on this new line on August 7. Moreover, the four parties to this agreement predict that annual cargo traffic along the line will reach five million tons the first year, an amount they hope will rise to "more than ten million tons" in the future. But even if that latter figure takes some time to reach, the new rail network will tie these countries together and add to the difficulties of those in the West who have been promoting east-west corridors in the region ( , July 11 ). 

The most significant factor limiting the expansion of this route is the difference in track gauge between Russian and Azerbaijani railroads versus those of India and Iran. The former two use the Russian standard of 1,520 or 1,524 millimeters, while the latter use the international standard gauge of 1,435 mm. That makes it necessary for any cargo cars to be shifted from one wheel bed to another at the Azerbaijan-Iran border. But in this case, that could work to Azerbaijan's advantage and hence to Armenia's disadvantage: That requirement would appear likely to cement Azerbaijan's role as regional transshipment center and further integrate it with Russia. 

Around two decades ago, in 1997, then–Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev's national security advisor, Wafa Galuzade, told this author that in the South Caucasus, as far as Russia is concerned, "Armenia is the tool, Georgia is the way, but Azerbaijan is the prize." It would appear with this recently signed railways accord that at least some in the Russian capital think that "the prize" is within reach and that they can dispense with "the tool," at least for the time being, because "the tool" has no good choices. What that means for "the way," of course, remains to be seen. But it is clear that a little-publicized agreement continues to receive scant public attention even as an Indian train is preparing to travel to Moscow via Iran and Azerbaijan. Nonetheless, this important event has the potential to transform the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and reorder those regional countries' relations with others both near and far.

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