Sunday, 2 April 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... Armenians to vote for new parliament, MA
Armenians to vote for new parliament as power shift begins
March 31 2017 

Armenia holds parliamentary elections on Sunday in the next stage of constitutional reforms intended to shift power away from the presidency. International observers worry the results may be tainted by fraud. 

The ruling Republican Party of President Serzh Sargsyan faces four other parties and four political alliances in elections held under a complicated new system of proportional representation. Parties need at least 5 percent of the vote and alliances 7 percent to enter parliament. 

The campaign has been marred by allegations of “widespread vote-buying” and a “perception that pressure and intimidation of voters will occur,” despite new measures to prevent ballot fraud, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in an interim report. 

The Caucasus republic of 3 million people is switching from a mainly presidential system to one in which power will rest with the government in parliament once Sargsyan’s second and final term ends in March next year. The changes approved in a December 2015 referendum give Sunday’s results particular significance, with critics alleging that Sargsyan is preparing the ground to continue to rule as premier after he steps down. Sargsyan hasn’t said that’s his intention, though he hasn’t ruled it out. 

The U.S. and the European Union took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement on Wednesday that raised concerns about “voter intimidation” and “the systemic use of administrative resources to aid certain competing parties.” They urged officials to enforce election laws “in an unbiased and credible manner.” 

While some candidates may be tempted by “unacceptable methods,” the authorities have strengthened election safeguards to “increase voters’ confidence” in the results, Sargsyan told OSCE monitors in comments posted on the presidential website on Friday. “The government will do everything possible within its powers” to “conduct good elections” and support the work of observers, he said. 

The elections are “more a confrontation between strong personalities” than a contest of parties, said Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center, a think tank, in the capital, Yerevan. There’s a “paucity of any substantial policy debate,” he said. 

The Republicans held 69 of 131 seats in the outgoing parliament. Under the new system, there’ll be a minimum of 101 seats and a second round of voting if no party wins at least 50 percent of mandates or can create a majority coalition. In that case, the top two parties will contest a run-off and additional seats will be allocated to ensure the winner has at least 54 percent of places to form a government. 

The ruling party has 29 percent support compared to 28 percent for an alliance headed by Gagik Tsarukyan, a flamboyant local oligarch and former arm-wrestling champion, according to a March 12-19 opinion poll of 1,145 people by Gallup International Association Armenia. The Yelk (Way Out) alliance of opposition parties is their nearest rival, with 6 percent. 

Tsarukyan, whose Prosperous Armenia faction had 33 seats in the previous parliament, was described as having a personal style that “would make Donald Trump look like an ascetic” in a 2006 U.S. embassy cable published by WikiLeaks. He’s running in the elections after being out of politics for two years following a confrontation with Sargsyan. 

Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan has led the Republicans’ campaign though he isn’t on their list of candidates. The party has said it will nominate him to remain in office if it wins the elections. Sargsyan appointed the former executive of Russia’s Gazprom PJSC as premier in September, saying he’d lead a “wave of changes.” 

The impoverished former Soviet republic, which is a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, needs “profound change” to tackle corruption and speed growth, Karapetyan said in a November interview. Armenia’s economy grew just 0.2 percent in 2016 compared to a year earlier, its lowest since 2009, according to the National Statistics Service. 

The elections will be won by “the current political elite that controls the economy,” said Lilit Gevorgyan, a senior economist at IHS Markit in London. The constitutional changes are designed to allow the Republicans “to hold on to power” and “safeguard their large business interests,” she said. 

Huffington Post
Armenia’s choice: Trump-style populist or power-hungry president?
Mikayel Zolyan , Yerevan State University of Languages and Social Sciences 

March 31 2017
On April 2 Armenians will vote in a parliamentary election , a major step in the country’s transition from a presidential to a parliamentary system.

The Conversation
The process, which began with a constitutional referendum in December 2015 , will be complete in April 2018 when the incumbent president, Serzh Sargsyan, leaves office and executive power is transferred to the prime minister, who will be appointed by parliament.

The upcoming election will turn Armenia’s parliament into its most powerful legislative force, making the country something of an outlier among post-Soviet countries, most of which have strong presidential systems.
Hidden agenda
To its critics, Armenia’s transition to parliamentarism may have more to do with political elites’ preservation of power than with a national quest for democratisation.

Some have argued the constitutional reform process President Sargsyan launched in 2013 was conceived with one aim: to preserve his influence after his [constitutionally limited](( gearing-towards-consensualism- or-unrestrained- majoritarianism- constitutional-reform-armenia ) two terms expire in April 2018.

The new constitution will leave plenty of options for the president to retain power, from assuming the role of prime minister to a more complicated schemes in which Sargsyan can appoint “a successor” but continue to exercise influence as the head of the ruling party (if it wins next month’s election).

Sargsyan has sent clear signals that he doesn’t plan to retire, saying in his latest statement that he would continue “to play a role in ensuring our people’s security”.

Such machinations are not unusual in post-Soviet nations. Azerbaijan’s president modified the constitution to prolong his term, while neighbouring Georgia, like Armenia, opted for a constitutional reform, also initiated by its president , to transform the country into a parliamentary republic that created options for President Mikheil to remain in power.

But Saakashvili’s party suffered a surprising defeat in 2012 elections as the opposition alliance “Georgian Dream” - led by a Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili - won the elections.
Party of power re-branded

Will Serzh Sargsyan succeed in prolonging his political power? His Republic Party of Armenia (RPA), won the two previous parliamentary elections, in 2007 and 2012 , seems to have a strong chance of victory this year.

But the party may still face some problems. Due to troubled economy, accusations of corruption and deteriorating security situation, many Armenians are unhappy about Sargsyan’s and RPA’s long-lasting rule. This discontent has manifested itself in various forms of protests, from peaceful rallies to armed revolt .

In the run-up to these elections, the RPA underwent a re-branding process, which included the appointment of a new, energetic prime minister, Karen Karapetyan, a businessman and former GazProm manager . The party also ousted several controversial members who had been previously accused of corruption and conflicts of interest.

It’s not yet clear whether Karapetyan is being groomed as Sargsyan’s heir. Another possible candidate for this role is Minister of Defense Vigen Sargsyan (no relation to Serzh Sargsyan), a close ally of the president.
Republicans own the political arena
Karapetyan is not the RPA’s only asset. Typically, in post-Soviet countries the ruling party can count on the so-called “ administrative resource ” – the use of government structures to support the election campaign.

On March 25 an investigation by a pro-democracy Union of Informed Citizens revealed that in breach of electoral legislation, more than a hundred school and kindergarten headmasters have been working for RPA . Posing as RPA campaigners, the NGO’s staff telephoned school headmasters, who boasted of their success in recruiting students’ parents to vote for RPA; one even admitted intimidating voters.

While the findings created a media storm , the scandal is unlikely to affect RPA’s chances in the election: in one form or another, using the state apparatus to advance the ruling party’s agenda has been an effective political tool in Armenia for years . It could boost public opinion of the opposition, but that outcome is not yet clear.
A billionnaire contender
Unlike Georgia, where in 2012 the government lost to a united rival front , Armenia’s opposition is weak, divided into various political forces with little support. This fragmentation is worsened by endless arguments over who is “the real opposition”.

Whether the fragmented opposition does or does not manage to thwart the RPA in April, the bing winner either way may be billionaire candidate Gagik Tsarukyan, who built a beer empire thanks to state contracts under Armenia’s second president Robert Kocharyan .

Having not been a part of government coalition during the recent years, he and his Tsarukyan Alliance are perceived by many Armenian voters as an alternative to RPA. But, like other post-Soviet “oligarchs” , his fortune is, to a large extent, a result of continued close links to the government, raising suspicions that his participation in this year’s election is actually part of a backroom deal with President Sargsyan. Tsarukyan and his supporters vehemently deny this rumour.

As a business tycoon, Tsarukyan built a name for himself through various charitable activities, which had been widely publicised by the media, including by the outlets he himself owns.

Tsarukyan has been compared to the United States billionaire president, Donald Trump, on several accounts – including for his lavish lifestyle. Per a 2006 US State Department cable : “Tsarukyan has a personal style which would make Donald Trump look like an ascetic”.

Back then Trump was, like Tsarukyan, just a famous billionaire. Today’s candidate Tsarukyan also recalls President Trump: he uses populist rhetoric, promises “everything to everybody” and projects himself, incongruously, as a man of the people (this claim may be more justified from Tsarukyan, a former arm-wrestler who, in his own words, is “from a working family” and “no Harvard graduate” ).

Like the Republicans of the RPA, Tsarukyan has been accused of bribing voters. In recent polls, Tsarukyan’s alliance has outperformed the ruling RPA , an unusual feat in the post-Soviet context. If he wins in April, it would end almost two decades of the Republicans’ hold on power.

Though most other Armenian political forces at this point appear uncompetetive, surprise developments cannot be excluded. One new alliance, Ohanian-Raffi-Oskanian (ORO), named after the three politicians who formed it (two former foreign affairs ministers and a former defence minister), is apparently making the government nervous . Lacking clear ideological orientation, the ORO has combined criticism of the RPA with overtures toward Tsarukyan .
Free and fair?
At this juncture, the biggest question in Armenia is probably not who will win the election, but whether the population will consider it free and fair.

Almost all prior national elections in Armenia have become the subject of debate, with opposition forces accusing the government of fraud as early as 1999 . In March 2008 , post-election demonstrations in protest of an election many considered stolen were violently suppressed by government forces, and ten people were killed.

This year, 2,300 independent observers have registered to monitor the April 2 election . Against the backdrop of recent protests in Russia and in Belarus , the Armenian government will be especially eager to avoid a mass street protests.

Whether Armenia’s rulers be ready to hold free and fair elections, even if it means conceding defeat, will become clear on April 2 and in the days that follow.

Mikayel Zolyan , Associate professor in nationalism studies and conflict studies, political analyst at Regional Studies Center, Yerevan, Yerevan State University of Languages and Social Sciences .

Conservative Home
Gagik Tsarukyan: Britain shows Armenia the path to prosperity
By Gagik Tsarukyan
March 31 2017   
Gagik Tsarukyan is President of the Prosperous Armenia Party, which is a member of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe.

Armenia has come a long way since regaining its independence in 1991. Years of steady growth following the collapse of the Soviet Union have significantly raised the living standards of Armenians.

In 1994, Armenia was the first among the former Soviet republics to return to growth. This economic revival was a remarkable achievement, especially when one remembers that the country was still recovering from the devastating 1988 earthquake that killed over 25,000 people, and that armed conflict had broken out in Nagorno-Karabakh and other parts of the Caucasus at that time.

However, the Armenia of today also remains crippled by the legacies of the past and our inability to fully adapt to the modern global economy. These shortcomings threaten to exclude many of our entrepreneurs and businesses from being able to compete at the regional and international level.

The Prosperous Armenia Party greatly values the strong bond that has developed between us and the Conservative Party since we joined the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE) in 2010.

As a relationship founded on a shared set of values, we watched with admiration when the Conservative Party won the 2015 general election. Your example has served to guide us as we fight to foster greater prosperity, fairness, and pride in our own country.

The UK is a case in point of how, if allowed to flourish, small and medium sized enterprises can form the backbone of an economy. Their activities are the largest share of private sector business. They are the main driver of an economy and what creates jobs and prosperity.

If Armenia is to thrive, we must offer a more favourable environment for our SMEs. That is why the Tsarukyan Alliance, comprising Prosperous Armenia and several smaller parties, proposes to exempt small and medium sized businesses from all taxation for three years should it win this Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

Setting our SME’s free from the shackles of overbearing taxation can provide a stimulus to our economy that will encourage innovation, investment and growth.

But you cannot build a strong, homogeneous society by focusing solely on the business sector. Nor, despite my support for many excellent charitable causes in Armenia that try to help those most in need, can we build a country on charity alone. The state must assume the responsibility of providing certain basic provisions for its people.

To address these injustices, should the Tsarukyan Alliance gain the support of the voters this weekend we will raise the average pension by 25,000 drams (€48) and index it periodically. We will also raise the minimum salary to 80,000 drams (€153) from January 1st, 2018. The modern Armenia must not leave anyone behind.

Armenia cannot today provide what the UK provides to its citizens, but with sensible policies, a reasonable tax regime, and a concerted effort, we can make big steps in the right direction.

We are happy to note that our manifesto appears to be resonating with the Armenian people. The Tsarukyan Alliance recently topped a VTsIOM poll with 26 per cent of respondents saying they would support us. We have worked hard to identify the areas where we could make the reforms needed to improve the living standards of all Armenians, and this is a clear indication that the voters have noticed.

We remain hopeful about the future of our great country. With improvements in governance and the elimination of corruption, there is no reason why, with strong and democratic political leadership, the people cannot unite behind a modernising programme that can attract the investments and expertise we need lead Armenia to growth and prosperity.

Should the Tsarukyan Alliance win the upcoming parliamentary elections, we will work tirelessly to put in place a government that understands the modern world and the challenges we face, and offers a meaningful way forward. Despite the geographic and security constraints our proud country is bound by, there is little that stands in the way of Armenia and what it can achieve.

Interfax - Russia & CIS Military Newswire
Armenia working on restoring upset balance of arms in region -
Armenian defense minister
March 29

Armenia is interested in buying military hardware from Russia to
balance the military potential accumulated by Azerbaijan, Armenian
Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan said.

"We are interested in such equipment that can balance the arsenal
increased by Azerbaijan and prevent the possibility of the use of some
weapons that are on combat duty in Azerbaijan," Sargsyan said while
meeting with Russian journalists in Yerevan on Wednesday. The armament
process takes place continually in the Armenian army, he said.

"We are having dialogue not only with our Russian allies, but also
with other partners on the modernization of the armed forces. We buy
various weapons on the basis of the plan to develop the Armed Forces.
Most of them are labeled 'top secret'. But the process is continual,"
Sargsyan said.

The balance of weapons in the region is upset, he said.

"In the course of a long period of time, Azerbaijan spent a lot of
public funds on buying weapons in various countries, which has upset
the balance of weapons in the region, But the balance of forces, as
international experts say, exists. Armenia can even out the upset
balance of arms. One needs to work on restoring this upset balance of
arms," Sargsyan said.

APA, Azerbaijan
Ilham Aliyev: April battles showed Armenia will be unable to continue occupation of Azerbaijani lands without foreign support
March 31 2017
The April battles have showed that Armenia will be unable to continue the occupation of Azerbaijani lands without foreign support, said Azerbaijan’s President and Supreme Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev on Friday.

He made the remarks at a meeting with a group of servicemen on the anniversary of the April victory of the Azerbaijani army. 

“Armenia has long spread myths about its army, claiming that their powerful army has gained a major victory. However, we do know what really happened back in the early 1990s,” said President Aliyev.

In that period, chaos and anarchy were prevailing in Azerbaijan, and there was a fierce struggle for power, noted the president.

“In 1992, the alliance between the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and Musavat made a coup attempt. So we began losing our lands,” said Ilham Aliyev , adding. “Following the occupation of Shusha, Lachin in 1992, Kalbajar 1993, a geographical link was established between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. That’s when we lost our strategic positions.”

This was treason against state and people of Azerbaijan, said the president, stressing that Armenia and its backers took the advantage and occupied Azerbaijani lands thanks to foreign support and intervention.

“That’s part of our history and we know this. The younger generation must know it too,” he added.

President Aliyev continued: “Armenia’s leadership had been spreading myths. However, these myths were shattered by the April battles. It showed that Azerbaijan is the only country in the region with a powerful army. These battles showed that Armenia will be unable to continue the occupation of Azerbaijani lands. They had to admit this themselves.”
Tigran Hamasyan: An Ancient Observer review – accessible Armenian-inspired solo piano
John Fordham
Thursday 30 March 2017 

With the 2015 album Mockroot , Tigran Hamasyan and a powerful trio injected shots of 21st-century hip-hop and funk into folk melodies inspired by the young pianist/composer’s Armenian heritage. An Ancient Observer is a quieter solo piano trip to similar sources, inspired by the ancient and modern contrasts Hamasyan observed on his return home after more than a decade living in the US. His polished classical touch often combines with his affection for the struts and pirouettes of folk dances on this accessible set, while the falsetto vocal chant and catchy melodic twists of The Cave of Rebirth recalls the vibrant music of the Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen. Short baroque interludes and brief etudes glimmer between the longer pieces. Hamasyan merges beat-boxing and percussive Indo-scat in the vivid Nairian Odyssey, while he is organ-like and ethereally churchly on Leninagone. On the title track he blends spacey vocals and jazzy grooving. It is evocative and often gracefully pretty music, even if Hamasyan’s genre shuffling occasionally sounds more irresolute than inclusive.

Extracts from The Economist of 18 March 2017
High notes Sensational music from Syria
How the civil war is helping to spread Syrian music across the globe 

“The Voice of Ancient Syria” concert will include Mr Keivo’s celebrated “Lamento” in his own variant of maqam , the musical style that links Syria with the rest of the Middle East. Maqam is microtonal music, which allows the pitch to slide between the Western intervals in a way that lends itself readily to surges of emotion. Mr Keivo is from an Armenian family that left Turkey in 1915, and he grew up in a part of northern Syria where many cultures mingled. He trained in Aleppo, and only fled Syria in 2014 when IS was approaching his village and his family were put in danger. Accompanying himself on the lute, his singing pours out with ecstatic power in a mixture of Arabic, Kurdish and Armenian. 

Syrian instrumentalists who have been trained in the Western classical tradition have one obvious escape route—they can pick up orchestral jobs anywhere in the Western world. And if they are soloists, like Syria’s star pianist Riyad Nicolas, they can give recitals; he is now championing the music of Syrian composers in America, and performing on behalf of refugee charities. And despite all the odds, Western classical music also lives on in Syria. Until 2011, Damascus was the most liberally multicultural city in the Middle East. The Syrian National Symphony Orchestra has inevitably lost many of its players, but under its conductor, Missak Baghboudarian, it still flies the flag. Last month he presided over a weeklong organ festival in Damascus, followed by a choral festival of Western music with choirs from five Syrian cities.

No comments: