Monday, 19 December 2016

Armenian News... A Topalian... Saint Stepanos Monastery

The Saint Stepanos Monastery In The Mountains Of Northwest Iran
13 December 2016 

Sergey Khachatryan, Narek Hakhnazaryan & Lusine Khachatryan
play Komitas - The Sky Is Cloudy [1]
Rebels Retreat from Aleppo as Armenians Mark ‘End of Nightmare’

ALEPPO, Syria—Syrian rebel officials agreed to a cease-fire on Tuesday effectively turning over control of Aleppo to the government, in what many see as the besieged city’s liberation. 

“The liberation of Aleppo put an end to the nightmare facing the Armenian community and the fear of losing relatives. The everyday shelling has ceased, but many complications still remain,” said Zarmig Boghigian, the editor-in-chief of the Aleppo-based Kantsasar weekly on her Facebook page. 

“While we are enthusiastic about the recent developments, we have to remain realistic to not confuse people,” said Boghigian who added that part of the realism is to recognize that the five-year war in Syria was not yet over. 

She said that among the complications facing all citizens of Aleppo is the lack of basic staples and services such as electricity. Boghigian added that municipal officials were working toward restoring services and “giving hope to the people.” 

In a similar post on Monday, Boghigian said that some Aleppo Armenians were returning to their homes, but a complete re-population was still premature. 

“Those who have relatives and friends have decided to return, but we do not have assurances that all can be back now. The city is only now recovering, with lots of parts still lying in ruins,” said Boghigian 

“But safety is a priority, for which there are no guarantees,” said Boghigian ahead of Tuesday’s announcement of the rebels’ retreat. 

Rebel resistance in Syria’s Aleppo ended on Tuesday after years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment that culminated in a bloody collapse of their defenses this week, as insurgents agreed to withdraw in a ceasefire, reported Reuters on Tuesday. 

Rebel officials said fighting would end on Tuesday evening and insurgents and the civilians who have been trapped in the tiny pocket of territory they hold in Aleppo would leave the city for opposition-held areas of the countryside to the west. 

News of the deal was confirmed by Russia’s U.N. envoy. 

“My latest information is that they indeed have an arrangement achieved on the ground that the fighters are going to leave the city,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters. It could happen “within hours maybe,” he said, according to Reuters. 

A surrender or withdrawal of the rebels from Aleppo would mean the end of the rebellion in the city, Syria’s largest until the outbreak of war after mass protests in 2011. 

By finally dousing the last embers of resistance burning in Aleppo, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military coalition of the army, Russian air power and Iran-backed militias will have delivered him his biggest battlefield victory of the war. 

Vestnik Kavkaza
Dec 13 2016

In December 2017, Armenia's government will commence improvements in
provincial towns with the $50 million loan provided from the Asian
Development Bank (ADB), the Minister of Territorial Administration and
Development, Davit Lokyan, said.

Lokyan noted that Vanadzor, resort towns of Jermuk, Tsaghkadzor, as
well as Dilijan and Ashtarak were selected as the first five towns
where this project will be implemented.

General improvement is planned to be carried out with this ADB fund,
and construction of recreation and entertainment facilities - in the
resort towns.

The private sector also will be involved in these projects, reports.

The minister added that several more towns will be selected for the
second phase of this project; and even though the respective final
list has not yet been finalised.
Netanyahu Hails Baku Ties as ‘Beacon of Jewish-Muslim Coexistence’

Aliyev hails $5 billion weapons purchase from Israel
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday has hailed cooperation with Azerbaijan as a beacon of Jewish and Muslim coexistence during his visit to Baku, which some in Israel are calling “historic.” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev cited his country’s purchase of almost $5 billion in weapons as a sign of that truly unholy “coexistence.”

“The world sees so much intolerance and darkness, this [Tel Aviv Baku cooperation] is an example of how the Muslim-Jewish relationship can and should be everywhere,” Netanyahu was quoted by the Times of Israel as saying during the first leg of his trip to Muslim nations in an effort to bolster security and diplomatic ties.

During the same press conference at Baku’s Zagulba Palace, Aliyev took the opportunity to boast about the ongoing military cooperation with Israel and the purchase of those weapons, which were used during Azerbaijan’s aggressive attack on Karabakh last April.

“To give you one figure to illustrate how broad this cooperation is, so far the contracts between Azerbaijani and Israeli companies with respect to purchasing of defense equipment is close to $5 billion. To be more precise, $4.85 billion,” said Aliyev who acknowledged that Baku was open to further weapons purchases from Tel Aviv.

With a dowry of $5 billion in weapons, Netanyahu’s visit to Baku consummated that marriage and only time will tell what menacing fruits it will bear.

Netanyahu, whose government has yet to recognize the crime of Genocide against the Armenians, has opted to align himself– and the Jewish State—with another a criminal regime whose actions thus far have been nothing but barbaric.

The more than 100 soldiers and civilians in Artsakh who were brutally killed when Azerbaijan launched its attack in April seem to have been the beneficiaries of Netanyahu’s so-called “Jewish-Muslim coexistence.”

Simply put, Netanyahu and Israel have blood on their hands.

RFE/RL Report
Armenian Parliament Debates Anti-Corruption Bill
Sisak Gabrielian
December 14, 201

The Armenian parliament began debating on Wednesday a government bill
that would criminalize "illegal enrichment" of high-ranking state

The amendments to Armenia's Criminal Code were drafted by the Justice
Ministry and approved by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian's cabinet
last month. They would apply to some 600 officials, including
ministers and judges, who are legally obliged to declare their assets
to a special state commission.

The officials would have to substantiate the origin of their assets if
those exceed their annual salaries by at least 5 million drams
($10,500). They would risk up to 6 six years in prison in case of
failing to do so.

Presenting the bill to lawmakers, Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian
said it would reduce government corruption. Opposition deputies were
unconvinced, however.

In particular, Hovannes Markarian of the Orinats Yerkir party recently
renamed Armenian Revival complained that the bill will have no
retroactive effect. "They have already plundered [the state] and
enriched themselves," he said. "There is nothing left anymore."

Hovannisian argued that Armenia's constitution forbids retroactive
enforcement of punitive laws.

Naira Zohrabian, the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK),
also claimed that the draft amendments would make no difference. "Look
at the income declarations of many National Assembly deputies and
ministers," she said. "They attribute their incomes to loans
[supposedly extended by them to other individuals.]"

Even Eduard Sharmazanov, the deputy parliament speaker representing
the ruling Republican Party (HHK), questioned the effectiveness of the
proposed measures. He argued many officials register their expensive
properties in their relatives' names.

Many senior Armenian officials are believed to be well-to-do
individuals despite their relatively modest salaries. It is not
uncommon for them to own businesses through their relatives or

The veracity of their income declarations filed with the State
Commission for the Ethics of High-Ranking Officials has long been
questioned by anti-corruption activists and media. Some officials have
attributed their and their relatives' wealth to lavish financial
"gifts" received from other individuals.

Karapetian's cabinet pledged to criminalize "illegal enrichment" in
its policy program approved by the National Assembly in October. The
program promises "more efforts to eliminate the biggest obstacle to
the development of the state: favoritism, embezzlements, bribery and
other manifestations of corruption."

RFE/RL Report
Fuel Importer Said To Lament Increased Competition
December 14, 2016

One of Armenia's leading corporate taxpayers reportedly complained
about increased competition in the hitherto lucrative business of fuel
imports to the country at a meeting with Prime Minister Karen
Karapetian on Wednesday.

Karapetian met with the top executives of ten large Armenian companies
to discuss his government's declared efforts to improve the domestic
investment climate, including through a reform of tax
administration. A government statement said he inquired about
"obstacles" encountered by them in their dealings with tax authorities
and other state bodies.

The business executives spoke about ways of simplifying taxation and
customs procedures and, in that regard, complained of excessive
advance payments collected from them by the State Revenue
Committee. Some of them also brought up the issue of business
competition, according to the statement.

"In response to a remark that the largest fuel-importing companies are
making zero profits as a result of tighter competition in the diesel
fuel market, Prime Minister Karapetian pointed that the competitive
environment will regulate itself," added the statement.

It did not specify who lamented the increased number of players in the
business. Photographs released by Karapetian's press service showed
that there was at least one fuel tycoon among the participants of the
meeting: Barsegh Beglarian.

Beglarian's company called Flash is one of a handful of firms that
have long dominated diesel and petrol imports. They are owned by
government-linked individuals.

Karapetian vowed to improve the business environment and embark on
other economic reforms shortly after he was appointed prime minister
in September. He said last month that a new company has started
importing fuel to Armenia. He claimed that "every citizen of Armenia
can import any product without a hurdle."
Armenia’s Russia problem 
By Christina Gathman
December 13, 2016
The prevalence of domestic corruption is among Armenia’s worst kept secrets. This, coupled with the country’s historically close relationship with Russia, explains the heavy handed influence Russia was able to exert over the Armenian judiciary in the Yukos CIS trials. Auspiciously absent from any discussion surrounding the nature of this relationship, however, is an understanding of the level of economic control Moscow exerts over the country.

Russia exerts this control not simply through the bilateral trade relationship or regional organizations, but also through sweeping ownership by Russian state-owned enterprises (SOEs) of strategic Armenian assets throughout the country's energy, mining, transportation, telecommunications and banking sectors. This level of strategic control transcends economics and, within Armenia, translates to significant Russian political leverage. In Armenia’s post-independence period, debt-for-asset swaps, many of which were negotiated personally by now-President Serzh Sargsyan, turned over critical assets to Russian SOEs in exchange for debt relief. Many top Armenian government officials, not to mention the Armenian public, were left in the dark as these backroom deals were executed.

Since, Russian companies have used various tactics, including debt-for-asset swaps, or the offer of discounts on natural gas prices, to gain economic concessions. As recently as August, Armenia was reportedly mulling the sale of the Yerevan Power Plant to Gazprom (indebted to the company for $52.3 million).

Breaking it down sector by sector, the level of control by Russian state-owned companies is staggering. The country’s energy sector, in particular, is inordinately dependent on Russian state owned, or state linked, enterprises. These companies own or operate an array of power generating assets and chemical plants in the country. Those such assets that remain in Armenian government hands, like the Metsamor nuclear power plant, often still depend entirely on Russian fuel. Many of Armenia’s thermal power plants, for example, are powered with natural gas, the majority (80%) of which comes from Russia and passes through a distribution system fully controlled by Gazprom (via Gazprom Armenia). While the country’s sources of oil imports are more diversified, all oil products are moved via the country’s railway system, which is managed and operated Russian Railways. This Russian economic dominance extends to other of Armenia’s strategic sectors, including mining, banking and telecommunications.

Even in the more traditional soft power realm, Russia holds significant sway over the Armenian public. Roughly 49% rely on Russian television as their daily news source, and just 16% of Armenians watch no Russian television news at all.

Outside of Armenia proper is a diaspora community of roughly 2.3 million, the majority of which resides in Russia. Keeping in mind that Armenia itself is home to just 2.9 million - one-third of whom live in poverty - the country’s inordinate dependence on remittances is blatant. Between 2010 and 2014, remittances constituted roughly 19% of Armenia’s total GDP, and those originating from Russia comprise some 70% of the total.

The question of how exactly this economic dominance translates into political control is not easy to answer, but it starts with the presence of oligarchs friendly to Moscow, who themselves control certain of the country’s most lucrative businesses. Made up of a circle of roughly forty individuals, included amongst the country’s oligarchs are members of the major political parties and Armenian presidents. The deals struck with Russian companies operating in the country serve often to enrich the oligarchs who facilitate the deals or partner with these firms. Thus, Moscow is often able to force Yerevan to make political or economic decisions that fall in line with Moscow’s broader agenda (for example the country’s joining of the Eurasian Economic Union).

There is no clearer recent example of Moscow’s close ties to the Armenian oligarchic class than that of newly appointed Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, who led Gazprom Armenia for some time and was later Vice President of Gazprombank. Even if Karapetyan’s appointment is simply a placeholder until the April 2017 elections, it speaks volumes symbolically. The Prime Minister’s brother, Samvel Karapetyan, heads Tashir Group, which purchased Armenian Electric Networks, which controls the country’s power grid, from Russia’s Inter RAO following the Electric Yerevan protests.

Due in large part to these strong economic ties, Armenia is, in effect, trapped in Moscow’s strategic orbit, despite growing public frustration with Russia. Moscow’s continued defense sales to Azerbaijan continue to be a thorn in the side of Armenia, though the government has found itself able to do little about it. Likewise, Western assistance dedicated to enhancing the country’s democratic institutions, including the recently publicized effort to provide financial support for a new voting process, will not be enough to counter Moscow’s interest in maintaining the status quo. Without accounting for the economic role of Russia in Armenia, any efforts to enhance the country’s democratic institutions will largely fall flat.

Christina Gathman is a Senior Analyst at RWR Advisory Group, focusing on Russia issues.

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