Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Armenian News... A Topalian... Anti-Corruption Sweep

RFE/RL Report
Armenian Security Service Vows Anti-Corruption Sweep
May 21, 2018
Harry Tamrazian

The new head of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) claimed to have launched an unprecedented crackdown on government corruption, saying that 
individuals who have for years embezzled large amounts of public funds will be “held accountable” soon.

“In a short period of time you all will witness the exposure of people, who have enriched themselves through large-scale corruption schemes, and their 
being held accountable in a legal manner,” Artur Vanetsian told representatives of Armenian and foreign media outlets at the weekend. “It doesn’t mean that we 
will be resorting to some repressions or vengeance. Everything will be done publicly.”

“My approach is as follows: those people who have illegally enriched themselves must return those sums to the state budget, rather than go to jail,” he said.

Vanetsian declined to name any of the “persons who have stolen money from the state.” It was thus not clear whether any of them was a member of former 
President Serzh Sarkisian’s government or entourage.

In the same context, Vanetsian also spoke of another type of fraud detected by the NSS. “We have many cases where people don’t know that some company has been 
registered in their name, has engaged in business but hasn’t paid taxes,” he said. “We know of 350 such persons.”

“These are ordinary people living in harsh socioeconomic conditions who had their passports taken away for 5,000, 10,000 or 20,000 drams ($10-40) and had companies registered in their name. You will hear about that very soon,” he added.

Vanetsian, 38, is a career NSS officer who was named to run the feared security agency on May 10 two days after the Armenian parliament voted to elect Nikol Pashinian as the country’s new prime minister. Pashinian has ledged, among other things, to “root out” endemic corruption in the country.

Vanetsian said that he received a blank cheque from the new premier to prosecute any state official engaged in corrupt practices. He claimed that corruption in Armenia has already declined considerably in the past ten days.

“According to my information, since the election of the prime minister traditionally corrupt structures have stopped their illegal activities,” Vanetsian said. He referred to “corruption chains” that have long existed 
within the country’s tax and customs services, judicial system and “some police units.”

In the past, the NSS has never played a central role in crackdowns on corruption declared by the previous Armenian governments. Those stated anti-graft efforts were dismissed as a gimmick by opposition politicians and civil society members.

Armenia ranked, together with Macedonia, Ethiopia and Vietnam, 107th out of 180 countries and territories evaluated in Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index released in February., Armenia
May 21 2018
Minister says “Come Home” program for Diaspora Armenian youth will be rebranded 
YEREVAN. – The “Come Home” motherland visiting program for Diaspora Armenian youth will not be stopped in 2018.

The new Minister of Diaspora of Armenia, Mkhitar Hayrapetyan, stated the abovementioned at an informal conversation-talk on Sunday.

“But for later, I have given an instruction that rebranding should be done; there will be changes,” added the minister. “We must implement those programs in a completely new way.”

And reflecting on Diaspora Armenians’ integration in Armenia, Hayrapetyan said he particularly liked the respective Dutch track-record which, in his view, they can make use of in Armenia too.

“Of course, it will require great expenses,” the minister added. “But we can find money for that.”

Carnegie Europe
May 22 2018
Armenia’s Revolution and the Karabakh Conflict
Thomas de Waal

Armenia’s new prime minister has so far taken a tough stance on the unresolved Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. The moribund Karabakh peace process needs shaking up—but not too much.

For the past month Armenia has coasted on a wave of popular emotion and international goodwill, ever since peaceful protests forced the resignation of veteran leader Serzh Sargsyan and brought to power opposition leader Nikol Pashinian.

Pashinian, who is 42, has appointed a new government even more youthful than himself. He has also promised to crack down on corruption and clean up the old oligarchic system. A country that many had characterized as isolated, stuck, and completely dependent on Russia has confounded stereotypes and now looks dynamic—trendy even. The revolution is still only half-finished, but for the first time in two decades, Armenia is a good news story.

Yet all this promise and hope could be swept away if Armenia’s new government gets one thing wrong: its stance on the unresolved Nagorny Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan, now three decades old. The tired negotiating process could certainly do with some shaking up—but not too much.

In his first actions and comments on the conflict, Pashinian has certainly shaken things up. He has spoken more like a member of the crowd than a diplomat, saying that Karabakh “is an inseparable part” of Armenia. 

The day after being elected prime minister, Pashinian flew to Armenian-run Karabakh to take part in the annual victory ceremonies on May 9. There he insisted that the Armenians of Karabakh “should take a direct part in negotiations on the settlement of the conflict and sit at the negotiating table.”

The tough stance can in part be put down to domestic politics. Pashinian is following in the footsteps of two Karabakh Armenians who had fought in the conflict of the 1990s and ruled Armenia for the past 20 years. He evidently feels a need to assert his national security credentials and reassure the Karabakh Armenians that he stands for them as well. But he is probably also being quite sincere. Most Armenians share a “no compromise” outlook toward the region. In a 2016 radio interview, Pashinian said, “There is no land to hand over to Azerbaijan.”

The danger here is that if an Armenian leader openly asserts sovereignty over Nagorny Karabakh and says that the Azerbaijani lands around it, which Armenian forces captured in 1993-1994, cannot be returned, there is nothing left to negotiate about with Baku, and the two sides are back on the road to war. The Four-Day War of 2016, which claimed about 200 lives, is a recent grim reminder of how costly this can be. The ceasefire continues to be broken, with an Azerbaijani soldier reported killed on May 20.

For those who watch the conflict from afar, the contours of a workable Karabakh peace agreement are fairly clear. They approximate the Basic Principles document, drawn up by the mediators of the OSCE’s Minsk Group. There are two essential elements: that Azerbaijan recognizes the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-govern; and that the Armenian side gives up the territory it controls around Karabakh, with the exception of a land corridor to Armenia. It also helps if the issue of the final status of Nagorny Karabakh—the question which kicked off the whole conflict in 1988—remains sufficiently ambiguous to allow the sides to try to agree on other issues first.  
The ideas are sound—but few in the region still believe in them. That is because over the past fifteen years the process has become what one former diplomat called “kabuki negotiations.” Each side strikes poses and does just enough to keep the OSCE mediators in a job, but no serious work is done or real progress is made. The internationals also tend to go through the motions. The conflict has slipped way down the agenda of the United States—although, fortunately, the Trump administration resisted the temptation to abandon an American mediating role and appointed a new U.S negotiator, Andrew Schofer.

A new Armenian government with public legitimacy changes that cozy situation. So far, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev—who is certainly capable of aggressive rhetoric against Armenia—has done the right thing by keeping quiet, leaving his defense minister to make some typically bellicose comments and the foreign ministry spokesman to object in a slightly more diplomatic manner.

But how long will the Azerbaijani president keep his vow of silence? In what could be a protracted election campaign, Pashinian and his comrades will not want to sound conciliatory on this issue for fear of having their patriotic credentials questioned. It could be many months before there is a new, consolidated Armenian policy on the conflict.

If the process survives in the short term, there are positive scenarios. New thinking is needed and may be provided by Armenia’s new foreign minister, Zohrab Mnatskanian, who replaces the hyper-cautious Eduard Nalbandian. Mnatskanian was a well-respected lead negotiator in the country’s Association Agreement talks with the European Union, curtailed at the last minute in 2013. The EU is one of several actors who can breathe some more life into this process, by playing a more active role to support the formal negotiators of the Minsk Group.

If political point-scoring can ever be left aside, the debate about how the Karabakh Armenians should take part in the talks is also a relevant one. After all, their homeland is the original subject of the dispute. They did take part until 1998, when Robert Kocharian, formerly the leader of the Karabakh Armenians, became president of Armenia and decided he could speak on their behalf. That suited Azerbaijan, which wants to frame the conflict as being only between Baku and Yerevan. But the voices of the Karabakh Armenians—as in a different way, those of the displaced Karabakh Azerbaijanis—do need to be heeded. Including them on the inside would also of course be a test of whether they have something constructive to contribute.

In short, a moribund peace process is in need of reinvigorating, but Armenia’s new leaders need to be careful how they use the legitimacy they have won from the street. The Karabakh negotiating process is a delicate structure. Its collapse would point only one way, toward new conflict.

ARKA, Armenia
May 23 2018
IMF: Armenia is the poorest country in South Caucasus

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has released a fresh report on the economic power of the world's nations, in which it ranks the world's countries according to their GDP based on purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita.

According to this report, Armenia’s per capita GDP based on PPP by the end of 2018 will be $10,000, up from $9,400 in 2017. The IMF ranks Armenia 113th among 192 countries surveyed. Armenia has the lowest indicator among the countries of the South Caucasus.

For example, in Georgia the per capita GDP based on PPP is projected at $11,480 (108th place), in Azerbaijan – at $18,040 (81st place), in Iran – at $21,240 (68th place) and in Turkey – at $28,350 (56th place).

According to the National Statistical Committee of Armenia, the country’s GDP in 2017 was 5.580.1 trillion drams or about $11.5 billion. The economic growth in Armenia in 2017 was 7.5%.

The per capita GDP based on PPP for Kyrgyzstan, which is like Armenia is a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union is  projected at $3,800 for 2018 (150th place), for  Russia - at $28,960 (55th place), for Kazakhstan - $27,290 (59th place), and for  Belarus - $20,010 d (71st place). All are members of the Eurasian Economic Union.

The leader in the world in terms of per capita GDP based on PPP is Qatar ($128,700). The lowest figure is projected for the Central African Republic - $705,800.

According to Business Insider, the small countries that dominate the top ten all have small populations compared to countries that lead the world purely in terms of GDP — such as the United States, China, or Germany.

Most of these small nations heavily depend on immigrant workers who often do not reside in the country they are working in or are not granted resident status, and are therefore not counted in the GDP per capita calculations. 

ARKA, Armenia
May 22 2018
Mining damages Armenia’s biodiversity

Mining causes serious damages to Armenia’s biodiversity, Aram Aghasyan said Aram Aghasyan, the head of a department at the Ministry of Nature Protection, overseeing specially protected natural areas and arboretums, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

"The question is how much the territories where mining is carried out are valuable from the point of view of nature protection. One can not say unequivocally that extraction of minerals must be banned. The question is that valuable natural areas must be protected," Aghasyan said.

He also noted that no research has been done on the territory of Armenia regarding the amount of damage caused to nature by the extraction of minerals.

The head of the Armenian branch of the World Wildlife Fund Karen Manvelyan, in his turn, noted that the extracting companies should direct part of their proceeds to environmental activities.

"I agree that mines should function to develop the economy, but there should not be agricultural, tourist or other programs on these areas," Manvelyan said.

As for the damage, he noted that some mines are located on the migration routes of animals, and they are forced to travel long distances in order to bypass them. 

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