Sunday, 8 April 2018

RFE/RL Report
Sarkisian Privatizes Official Residence
April 02, 2018
Nane Sahakian

In a move condemned by the opposition, the Armenian government has granted the outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian ownership of a mansion in Yerevan where he and his predecessors have lived while in office.

The government formally approved the free privatization of the property and 
specified its address on Thursday. A senior official from the presidential 
staff, Varuzh Grigorian, confirmed on Monday that it is the very house where 
Sarkisian has lived with his family since becoming president ten years ago.

The house is part of a secluded government compound just outside the city 
center which has also been home to other high-ranking state officials. The two 
former Armenian presidents, Levon Ter-Petrosian and Robert Kocharian, also 
lived there with their family members when they governed the country. Both men 
were provided with free housing in other, more remote parts of Yerevan after 
leaving office.

Sarkisian’s decision not to leave the heavily guarded mansion after completing 
his second term on April 9 is widely seen as a further indication that he will 
become prime minister and thus stay in power. The Armenian parliament dominated by his loyalists is scheduled to appoint the next premier on April 17.

Opposition leaders said the development also means that he is keen to extend 
his rule indefinitely.

“It wasn’t just a decision to give Serzh Sarkisian a house. It was also a 
decision about the future of that government compound,” said Levon Zurabian, 
deputy chairman of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), an opposition party 
headed by Ter-Petrosian.

“He has already perpetuated his power in his mind and doesn’t want to leave 
that property,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service ( He 
suggested that Sarkisian may also be seeking “additional security guarantees” 
that might be necessary after his eventual retirement.

Nikol Pashinian, another opposition leader, condemned the privatization in even 
stronger terms. “It’s a crime tantamount to a coup d’etat,” he told members of 
his Civil Contract party. “All members of the government are accomplices to 
that crime.”

Pashinian, who holds a seat in the Armenian parliament, said he will demand an 
“official explanation” from the government. The latter has so far given no 
reason for the controversial decision.

Civil Contract and other opposition groups are planning to hold rallies in 
Yerevan later this month to try to force Sarkisian to quit power.
April 2 2018
Armenians and Azerbaijanis commemorate two years since breakout of “April War”
Perhaps counterintuitively, the situation on the front line is the most peaceful it's been since the fighting in 2016.
Bradley Jardine
On April 2, Armenians and Azerbaijanis marked the second anniversary of the outbreak of heavy fighting now known as the “April War” or “Four-Day War,” in which at least 200 died in the worst bloodshed since the two sides signed a cease fire in 1994. 

The two sides took the occasion to blame each other for the violence and to reiterate maximalist claims, suggesting that lasting peace is as far off as ever. 

“Two years ago, Azerbaijan unleashed aggression against Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh, accompanied by gross violations of international humanitarian law,” Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan wrote on Twitter. (Artsakh is the Armenian name for Karabakh.) “We stand ready to impose peace upon barbaric Azerbaijan.” 

Azerbaijani officials, meanwhile, claimed that their offensive was the result of Armenian artillery attacks on civilians. Trend News, a pro-government news site, commemorated the anniversary with an article arguing that “On the night of April 2, 2016, and during the day, all the frontier positions and settlements of Azerbaijan were subjected to heavy fire by the Armenian Armed Forces. Six civilians were killed, including two children aged under 16.” 

Armenians argued that it was the Azerbaijanis who targeted civilians. “Two years ago, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale offensive against Artsakh/Karabakh, using artillery, rocket systems, helicopters and tens of thousands of forces,” Artak Beglaryan, the deputy ombudsman of the unrecognized Nagorno Karabakh Republic, tweeted . “Azerbaijani forces perpetrated brutal atrocities against civilians and servicemen, but got a relevant military reaction.” 

Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hikmat Hajiyev tied the commemorations with another anniversary, 25 years since Azerbaijan lost the strategically vital Kalbajar district on April 2, 1993. 

“Armenia has to understand that the occupation of Azerbaijan’s lands, including the Kalbajar district, is temporary,” he said in a statement . “All responsibility falls on Armenian side for the maintenance of the status quo of occupation.” 

President Ilham Aliyev, for his part, posted an image on Instagram of himself wearing military fatigues with the caption, “The April War was our glorious historical victory.” It was ostensibly posted from Lala Tepe, a bit of land that the Azerbaijanis conquered during the fighting, the first time any territory had changed hands since 1994. 

Some Azerbaijanis used the anniversary to promise more territorial gains. “Azerbaijan’s military victory in 2016 has once again demonstrated that Azerbaijan has a powerful army capable of liberating its occupied territories,” Azerbaijani MP Bakhtiyar Aliyev told Trend . 

He went on to argue that the Armenian side has been “creating myths” about its military capabilities, but that the 2016 conflict exposed limitations in Armenian capabilities. “If [we can’t achieve peace through negotiations], there is a mighty Azerbaijani army. According to assessments by international organizations and experts, Azerbaijan has a strong army and equipment,” the MP said. 

Meanwhile, at an arms exposition in Yerevan, at which Armenia showed off its own progress in the weapons industry, visitors were shown a live feed of the line of contact with Azerbaijan. 

In spite of the bellicose rhetoric, the situation around the front line is in fact unusually peaceful these days. Analyst and sometime Eurasianet contributor Emil Sanamyan noted that March 2018 was the first month since June 2016 that neither side reported a combat death: “[S]omewhat counterintuitively #Aprilwar has had a stabilizing effect on #Karabakh LoC [line of contact], at least in this short-term.”
April 3 2018
Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenian village becomes showcase of postwar reconstruction
Talish has become a cause célèbre with Armenians both in the region and in its wealthy diaspora.
Armine Avetisyan
Two years ago, Azerbaijani troops entered the village of Talish, less than a kilometer from the line of contact separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. In the fighting that ensued, Armenian forces managed to beat back the advance, but the village of about 540 residents – all ethnic Armenians – was virtually destroyed. 

While some of Talish's men stayed behind to fight, all the women and elderly were evacuated. Agnesa Ohanyan, 81, says she was the last woman to leave the village. And late last year, she became the first woman to return. 

“I couldn’t resist, missed my home and my bed. I wanted my Talish,” Ohanyan told Eurasianet from the yard of her newly rebuilt home. “There is no better place in the world than my house.” Agnesa Ohanyan, 81: There is no better place in the world than my house.” 

Talish was the only inhabited area to see fighting in what has become known as the “Four-Day War” or the “April War,” the worst outburst of violence in Karabakh since the two sides signed a ceasefire in 1994. Since then, Karabakh – including Talish – has been controlled by the Armenian armed forces and an unrecognized, Armenian-controlled government. 

Now, Talish has become a cause célèbre with Armenians both in the region and in its wealthy diaspora. The financing of the reconstruction has been shared by the de facto Karabakh government and the diaspora-run “Hayastan” All-Armenian Fund. The fund, via a donation from prominent Armenian-American philanthropist Antranig Baghdassarian, has paid $5 million toward the reconstruction. A spokesman for the de facto government declined to provide Eurasianet with details on government financing. 

So far, 17 houses and an events hall have been reconstructed, and the water system totally renovated. 

“Our house is completely new and beautiful, but I regret that I am alone, that my neighbors are not here to have a cup of coffee together, to talk,” Ohanyan said. “I dream that soon the village will be reconstructed, there will be a final peace and we will live a quiet life.” Reconstruction efforts 

Further reconstruction plans include 25 additional houses and rebuilding curbs and sidewalks with decorative bricks, new streetlights. A new school and kindergarten are scheduled to open in September for the beginning of the school year. The de facto Ministry of Agriculture has developed a program to boost the region's economy, including supplying new farm equipment. 

But not everything is being rebuilt: The houses closest to the line of contact with Azerbaijani forces are going to remain in ruins. “They are on the frontline and visible by the enemy, so they won't be rebuilt or inhabited,” said Vilen Petrosyan, the village's mayor. 

Talish isn't only on the literal battlefield, but in the virtual one as well. The Armenian government and media have heavily promoted the reconstruction. Karabakh’s de facto president Baho Sahakyan visits Talish regularly to oversee the construction works. At a June 2017 unveiling of a new monument called “Revived Talish,” Sahakyan called the reconstruction a “significant state strategic program.” 

As such, the village has become the source of conspiracy theories from Azerbaijan. In January, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense alleged that the Talish reconstruction was a sort of hoax, “intended for the domestic audience and are part of the propaganda on the eve of the upcoming presidential election.” The MoD claimed that the much-hyped reconstruction was being done “in another area, far from the front line,” the news agency APA reported. A house that suffered damage in the “April War” 

There were rumors in Armenia, following the 2016 war, that Talish might become a bargaining chip with Azerbaijan, said political scientist Gagik Hambaryan. And some former residents remain afraid to go back, fearing that they will be subject to attack again. But the security of the village has taken on substantial political significance for Yerevan, Hambaryan said: “If suddenly the danger hanging over Talish increases and it happens because of the Armenian authorities, the public will not forgive them.” 

“Talish is the Armenian Stalingrad,” he added. 

“Our society more or less accepted the loss of 800 hectares with understanding,” Hambaryan said, referring to Azerbaijan gaining control of territory around the area of Lala Tepe, the first significant territorial shift since the 1994 ceasefire. “But the president who loses a settlement, especially if it has strategic importance like Talish, will lose people's confidence.” 

Armine Avetisyan is a freelance journalist based in Yerevan. 

PanArmenian, Armenia
April 4 2018
Google Maps adds 39 new languages, including Armenian 

Google Maps is adding 39 new languages — spoken by an estimated 1.25 billion people worldwide — including Armenian , the company said in a blog post. 

Among the newly-added languages are Afrikaans, Bosnian, Burmese, Croatian, Filipino, Finnish, Georgian, Hebrew, Icelandic, Khmer, Lao, Malay, Mongolian, Norwegian, Persian, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, Zulu and dozens of others. 

Fourteen years ago, Google Maps looked a lot different, and it was only in English. When you fast forward to now, and now more than 1 billion people use Google Maps to discover new places, find the best driving, biking, and walking routes, and get things done in the real world. 

ARKA, Armenia
April 3 2018
Armenian water reservoirs contain 30 million cubic meters less water than in 2017 

Water reservoirs in Armenia contain now 30 million cubic meters less irrigation water than in 2017, Levon Azizyan from the Hydrometeorology and Environmental Impact Service of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, told a news conference today. 

Armenia has five large water reservoirs used to irrigate agriculture land - the Akhuryan reservoir, the Arpi Lich reservoir, the Azat reservoir, the Marmarik reservoir and the Aparan reservoir. Of them only the Akhuryan reservoir is 60% full now, the others are full from 22 to 56%, he said. 

He said the dramatic shortage of water is caused by snowless winter. In December and February in most of the regions of Armenia the amount of precipitation was below the norm, in March - within the norm, and above the norm in Shirak, Kotayk and Gegharkunik regions. 

In view of these factors, the anticipated spring floods in most of the rivers will be significantly lower than normal, said Azizyan. He noted that in case of high temperature and abundant rains, floods are possible in the rivers of Araks, Debed, Pambak, Astkh, Akhuryan, Hrazdan, Azat and Arpa. 

He said also that since the beginning of the year, the water level in the lake Sevan has increased by 11 centimeters and is expected to rise by another 40-45 cm in July. 

Earlier the State Water Committee said it might ask the parliament to allow additional release of water from Lake Sevan for irrigation. 

According to official data, some 267 million cubic meters of water were released from Lake Sevan for irrigation purposes in 2017, by 99.622 million cubic meters more than in 2016 and down from the planned 270 million cubic meters. 

Lake Sevan is the largest body of water in Armenia and the Caucasus region and is one of the largest freshwater alpine lakes in Eurasia. It is situated in Gegharkunik province at an altitude of 1,900 m above sea level. The lake is fed by 28 rivers and streams. Only 10% of the incoming water is drained by the Hrazdan River, while the remaining 90% evaporates. By 2030, the lake level is to be raised to 1903.5 m above sea level. -0- 

ArmenPress, Armenia
April 2 2018
The only Armenian living in Derik district of Turkey's Mardin Province celebrates Easter at Armenian Church 

Zekeria Sabuncu of Armenian origin who returned to Derik district of MardinProvincefrom Istanbul 5 years ago celebrated Easter at St. Gevorg Church, ARMENPRESS reports Istanbul-based “Agos” informs. 

Zekeria Sabuncu visited St. Gevorg Church, rang the church bells, lit a candle, prayed and again left for Istanbul to celebrate the holiday with the family”, the periodical writes. 

Derik’s St. Gevorg Church was built in 1650. The settlement was looted by Turks in 1895 during the Hamidian massacres of Armenians . 

In late 19th century 60 families lived in Derik. 

RFE/RL Report 

Tax Breaks Fuel IT Startup Growth In Armenia
April 03, 2018
Emil Danielyan

The Armenian government reported on Tuesday a sharp rise in the number of new information technology (IT) firms that have qualified for tax breaks introduced three years ago to boost Armenia’s rapidly growing IT sector.

Under a government bill passed by the Armenian parliament in late 2014, such
firms employing up to 30 people can be fully exempt from profit tax. They are
also eligible for a preferential income tax rate for their employees,
equivalent to 10 percent of their gross wages.

Nearly 430 IT startups have been granted the tax breaks, valid for five years,
by a special government commission since then. According to the Armenian
Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, 281 of them
received such exemptions last year, up from around 100 in 2016.

The ministry touted the privileged tax regime on Tuesday in a statement and a
video report attached to it. The footage featured interviews with the founders
of three Armenian tech firms set up in the last few years.

One of them, Himnark, specializes in accounting software development. “We
provided services to one foreign company and our resulting profit wasn’t
taxed,” said its young owner, Ruben Osipian. “We invested it in developing new
software. Had it not been for the tax exemption, we would have obviously
invested less.”

“Our income tax is lower and that allows us to pay higher [real] wages,” said
Vahram Bleyan, one of the two founders of another startup, Mamble. The company
claims to mainly sell software to a large corporate client in the United States.

IT is the fastest-growing sector of the Armenian economy, having expanded by
over 20 percent annually in the past decade. The sector employing more than
15,000 people grew by almost 30 percent last year, according to government data.

Deputy Transport Minister Amalya Yeghoyan predicted last week that this rapid
growth will continue unabated this year. “I am sure that the number of jobs
will increase,” she said, according to the Armenpress news agency.

The government-funded Enterprise Incubator Foundation (EIF) estimates that the combined turnover of at least 650 IT firms currently operating in Armenia
reached $765 million in 2017. The figure, which includes Internet service
provision, was equivalent to over 6.5 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic

The sector’s largest companies include the Armenian branches of U.S. tech
giants like as Synopsys, National Instruments, Mentor Graphics and VMware. Its steady expansion is also increasingly driven by homegrown Armenian companies.

“Local firms are now in better shape than they were five years ago,” the EIF
said in a recent report. “They have more employees, attract venture investment,
and demonstrate an improvement in technical expertise and knowledge of the
market. In addition, they are implementing more complex and value-added

A lack of skilled personnel is widely seen as the main challenge facing the
sector. Local IT executives have long complained about the inadequate
professional level of many graduates of IT departments of Armenia universities.
The latter often need to undergo on-the-job training after graduation.

This is a problem,” said Yeghoyan. In her words, there are now at least 2,000 job vacancies in the sector. 

BNE IntelliNews
April 2 2018
CAUCASUS BLOG: Baku and Yerevan offer more bread and circuses
By Carmen Valache in Berlin
Ostensibly, April promises to be an eventful month politically in the South Caucasus, as both Armenia and Azerbaijan will elect the most powerful person in the state this month. In practice, the votes are foregone conclusions, the winners are already known, and rather than exercising the right to choose their political leaders, the by now blasé electorates in the two countries will have to make do with what they have become accustomed to — bread and circuses.

The main reason the upcoming parliament vote on Armenia’s new government is of interest is because President Serzh Sargsyan's bid to become prime minister with extended powers when his second presidential term ends on April 9 has been shrouded in secrecy. A veteran military man, Sargsyan has strategically planned his political capital to ensure that he will retain power, despite his growing unpopularity in Armenia.

Sargsyan is the chairman of the ruling Republican Party (HHK), which has controlled Armenian politics for almost two decades. In 2013, the HHK proposed a series of constitutional changes that received popular support in a 2015 referendum to expand the powers of the parliament to the detriment of those of the president, effectively turning Armenia into a parliamentary republic.

The wide-ranging constitutional changes, voted into law in 2016, shrank the parliament from 131 to 101 seats, turned the presidency into a ceremonial office limited to appointing diplomats and okaying decisions made by the parliament, and transferred most presidential powers, including the oversight of the oh-so-important military, into the hands of the prime minister.

In power since 2008, when he won a heavily contested presidential election that was followed by mass protests in which 10 demonstrators died, Sargsyan has gambled his way towards what looks like a highly probable conclusion: he will become Armenia's next prime minister.

Enough is enough 

A former military commander and defence minister hailing from the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, Sargsyan's credibility as head of state has always raised question marks and reached its nadir in 2016 amidst month-long protests that demanded that he step down. Starting as Armenians' show of support for a fringe group that had taken over a police station, the demonstrations in the summer of 2016 signalled to Sargsyan and his government that Armenians had had enough. Enough of the power- and money-hungry HHK (Armenia is notorious for the large number of business tycoons in its parliament), enough of corruption, enough of poverty (almost a third of Armenians still live in poverty, according to the World Bank), enough of the continued economic blockade against the country on its Turkish and Azerbaijani flanks which has hampered its economic growth, and enough of the ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

It didn’t help that in April that year Armenia lost a small portion of Nagorno-Karabakh and over 100 soldiers in a five-day war with Azerbaijan. It was later revealed — or rather surmised based on a number of layoffs of high-ranking military officials — that Armenia's loss that spring was due to crass military miscalculations and incompetence, something one would not expect when a former military commander is in charge of the country and its military.

To deflect attention and pressure from himself, Sargsyan moved to fire the then prime minister, Hovik Abrahamyan, in September 2016 and to replace him with a former corporate executive, Karen Karapetyan.

The gamble has played off. A well-connected Karapetyan has made it a priority of his government to reduce red tape and corruption as much as possible without upsetting vested interests, in order to make Armenia into an attractive investment destination. He has also reached out to the wealthy Armenian diaspora, brokered partnerships with foreigners, and attracted a record (in the past decade) $880mn in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2017.

Capitalising on the Karapetyan government's results, Sargsyan in January moved to propose that a benign diplomat that has mostly resided abroad since the 1990s, Armen Sarkissian (no relation), take over the now ceremonial presidency in April. According to the 2016 constitutional changes , the head of state was to be elected by the parliament, and not through a direct vote, starting in 2018. The opposition tried in vain to protest against Sarkissian's appointment on the grounds that he would be a pawn in Sargsyan's and the HHK's power-grabbing schemes, rather than a person that would support democracy and the rule of law in Armenia. In early March, the HHK-dominated parliament voted for Sarkissian to become the country's next president.

A taste for power 

With that piece of the puzzle in place, Sargsyan has had time to focus on his own future over the past month. As part of the switch from a presidential to a parliamentary regime, the parliament is required to elect a new government after the first president is inaugurated under the new system. If up until now Sargsyan had given ambiguous answers when asked whether he wanted to be the country's next prime minister — and famously denied that he would run in a 2014 interview — he has since retracted those statements, and this past month he has given ever stronger indications that he would step up to the challenge if the party that he presides asks him to do so. For the country's sake, of course. The party will almost certainly ask him, in his quality as their chairman, to become head of government. And he is likely to accept because the formerly reserved military man appears to have developed a taste for power.

In recent weeks, not a day has gone by without a new member of parliament making public statements about what a great prime minister Sargsyan will make and how there are no other contenders for the role that could compete with his skills and experience. The stars are aligned for the Armenian president to switch to a new office while retaining all his powers. Through proxies and sycophants, Sargsyan has been priming the electorate for the point in time when nothing will change, when, come April 17, 2018, he will continue to rule Armenia while wearing a new hat, very much like Vladimir Putin did in 2008 when he appointed Dmitry Medvedev as his boss.

That is not to say that his appointment will necessarily be smooth sailing. In response to the almost certainty of his bid for power, a new opposition group formed in Armenia in March. The Front for the State of Armenia has already staged a first protest against Sargsyan's bid to become prime minister, and has vowed to intensify demonstrations in early April. A minority opposition party in the National Assembly, the Yelk Alliance, has also threatened to disrupt parliament sessions in early April by organising peaceful protests in order to prevent Sargsyan's nomination as prime minister.

But, if the past is anything to go by, protests will not deter Sargsyan. In fact, the only dilemma left for him to solve is what to do with Karapetyan, the current prime minister. For the parliamentarians who vouch that there are no viable contenders for the role other than Sargsyan appear to conveniently forget a candidate hiding in plain sight — the current prime minister, who has been doing a fairly good job for the past year and a half at promoting economic growth and attracting investment.

Sidelining Karapetyan would risk alienating his wealthy supporters in the Armenian diaspora, something that Sargsyan is likely to want to avoid. Just how exactly he will dethrone Karapetyan while retaining his support base remains to be seen, but the next two weeks should help elucidate this conundrum.

Who’s laughing? 

More so than Armenia, Azerbaijan will bring out the big guns in April. It will carry out the charade of a presidential election on April 11 that will likely be as much of a joke as past elections (the joke is on the people of Azerbaijan). It will bring out an entrenched oligarch, a bunch of make-believe opponents, and international election monitors whose reports no media outlet in the country cites because they paint a fairly grim picture of the reality on the ground, and because there is no media freedom in the country so if they reported on inconvenient truths they would face severe repercussions.

To top it all off, Baku will also bring out the glitz and the glamour this month, for the third edition of Formula 1 Baku will take place at the end of April and the event will be graced, as always, by A-list names like Christina Aguilera, as well as the UK's up-and-coming solo artist Dua Lipa and funk band Jamiroquai. If there was ever a situation that most closely resembled the definition of "bread and circuses", it would be Azerbaijan this April.

But let us start at the beginning. The country is currently ruled by President Ilham Aliyev, who has been in power since 2003, and the party that he chairs, the New Azerbaijan Party (YAP). De facto, Aliyev and those close to him control all the branches of the government, the legislative power, much of the economy, the central bank, the media and, effectively, most of the country. Aliyev came to power in the aftermath of his late father's death. Heydar Aliyev was widely respected in Azerbaijan, and deemed to be the man who helped end the bloody war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh and, by signing the country's first oil contract with foreign companies in 1994, set in motion an oil-fuelled economic boom.

A charismatic man of the people, Heydar Aliyev was a former KGB operator who was wise enough to understand that a certain degree of freedom was necessary to keep people happy amidst the post-war mess in which the country was enmeshed in the 1990s. However, when his son took the reins of the country, things took a turn for the worse.

Slowly, but surely, government critics began to be targeted in premeditated attacks and arrested over weirdly similar charges — drug possession, disturbing public order, tax evasion (how many tax evading, drug addicted journalists can there be in a country of less than 10mn?). Some of them were killed in public places , on their way home from work. Fearful opposition politicians, civil society representatives and journalists started leaving the country. Some brave ones chose to stay, and suffered dire consequences.

As the number of investigations into the wealth of Aliyev's family mounted, so did the extent of the crackdown on freedom of speech. Government surveillance further intensified during and after the Arab Spring, for Aliyev was the textbook case of a dictator that could have been toppled in a popular uprising, and made sure to do everything in his power to stay in power. The failure in governance has been coupled with two waves of economic recession in the past decade. The most recent one started in 2014 on the back of a dramatic drop in oil prices, a commodity on which Azerbaijan continues to rely for budget and export revenues.

But through it all, Aliyev has put on a brave face, resorting to all sorts of diversionary tactics to gain the sympathy of Azerbaijanis and of the international community. Since 2012, his government has hosted numerous international sporting and cultural events, ranging from the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 to its own (costly) version of the Olympic Games in 2015. Oil money has attracted stars like Shakira, Rhianna, Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias, Pharrell Williams, Lady Gaga, Nicole Sherzinger and the Black Eye Peas to come and perform in its capital city Baku.

Aliyev under pressure 

But while Aliyev's tactics may have fooled some of the electorate in Azerbaijan, who believe (correctly) that there is no viable alternative to him (that may have to do with the fact that he has rid himself of all the alternatives), it backfired on a large scale internationally. Repeated revelations in recent years have shed light on the Azerbaijani government's corrupt practices , on its bribery of European officials and companies , and on its relentless pursuit of government critics . Azerbaijan's image has suffered so much, that it is rare to find a self-respecting European leader that would hold a bilateral meeting with Aliyev these days. Additionally, the anti-Azerbaijani corruption campaign is gaining steam thanks to celebrities like Bono and the Clooneys .

Fast-forward to 2018: Aliyev is still ploughing on. Oil prices are up as of the second half of 2017, and, timidly, the economy is beginning to recover. In 2019, Baku will start exporting 16bn cubic metres of gas to Turkey and Europe — given its fall from grace with the international community, oil and gas are among the few arguments that Baku has left to remain internationally relevant. Gas will also bring in additional state revenues, so the medium-term economic prospects for the country are good.

Aliyev has a good stomach for politicking, and his pawns still maintain, with a straight face, to anyone who cares to listen that "all the democratic freedoms are respected in Azerbaijan", that "the aggressor [Armenia] has staged a slander campaign against Azerbaijan", and that "Azerbaijan is the subject of an international conspiracy" which is responsible for all the bad press it has been getting lately. The tractable Azerbaijani media reports these statements ad literam, people read them, some believe them, and so the story goes. A never-ending vicious circle of make-believe democracy.

But back to the presidential election in April. The election was originally supposed to take place in October. In February, Aliyev decided to move it to April . He did not explain why, so people speculated that it was so that it would coincide with the Armenian election, among other possible reasons. That Aliyev will win the election is very likely, for the election process in Azerbaijan is a farce. In theory, a central election commission (CEC) oversees the democratic process, opponents are free to register to run in the race and to receive fair coverage in the media, and international election monitors ensure that Azerbaijan abides by its international commitments related to human rights and democracy.

In practice, Aliyev threw his most serious rival, Ilgar Mammadov, behind bars in 2013; 141 other political prisoners are also in jail at the moment, according to a recent report by a group of civil society representatives, and many more are in exile. Seven presidential candidates were banned from registering in the race his year without explanation. Those that were allowed to run are mostly old-timers that have competed before but barely gathered any votes. One of them, Hafiz Hajiyev, nicknamed Hafiz the Fish, is an eccentric character known for his boisterous and crass behaviour in public places; definitely not presidential material in a country of conservative social mores like Azerbaijan.

Like Armenia, Azerbaijan had a recent referendum to expand the president's powers; in 2016 an overwhelming majority of the electorate voted for the presidential term to be prolonged from five to seven years and for the president to decide on his line of succession, among other things. (Spoiler alert: Aliyev appointed his wife Mehriban as his vice president in 2017 and, as per the referendum, the requirement for presidential candidates to be over the age of 35 has been scrapped, meaning that his son will soon be eligible to run when his father steps down. Chances are that ruling Azerbaijan will remain a family business for a little while longer.)

This has been a lengthy and opinionated blog rather than straightforward reportage. But that is because this writer does not know how else to cover the sham that are the elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan. For more objective, factual information, you could refer to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent an election monitoring mission to Azerbaijan in March. Their report describes in perhaps more objective language the situation I wrote about above. To quote a few snippets from it, "many election observation mission interlocutors stated that they do not expect the election to be genuinely competitive"; "the composition of [the] CEC reflects the representation of political forces in parliament. Some interlocutors opined that this may limit the impartiality and independence of the election administration"; "other interlocutors noted a large discrepancy between the number of registered voters and the number of citizens of voting age"; "interlocutors noted that traditional media lack impartiality"; "interlocutors expect very few complaints to be filed in this election".

There you have it — what to expect from Armenian and Azerbaijani politics this April. The answer, in a nutshell, would be more of the same. For all their differences, the political leaders in the two countries appear to be cut from the same cloth. The type of cloth that likes to cling on to power.

Though the reporter writes with factual reality, his attitude toward the situation regarding the politicians equates them to one of power grabbing analagy. 

May I remind him, (the reporter) that it is the price of lives we are speaking of, waybefore they became politicians this conflict has been on going! Armenians have lost so much land, lives and posetions, they will not allow it to happen again. 
So before you liken Armenian politicians to that of their opposing numbers, in war and peace no one must be seen to be the weaker party. It is a hard fact that Armenians are facing and if politicians do not fight their conrner what else is there to be looking to. Politics is a nasty game and everyone below power gets hurt! 


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