Sunday, 17 June 2018

Armenian News... A Topalian... Changes needed in Church.

Changes needed in the Armenian Apostolic Church?

There ha been agitation about aspects of the Armenian Church over many years, but this one filmed during a gathering in Armenia seems significant and substantive. 

Persist with the questioning by reporters in the first section. Later, the speech by the priest from the South of Holland strikes a chord.

You may agree or not that changes in attitude and direction are needed but you should think about the arguments being made.

RFE/RL Report
Top Armenian Judge Resigns
June 05, 2018

One of Armenia’s most powerful judges who has long been accused by lawyers of 
restricting judicial independence in the country stepped down on Tuesday.

Arman Mkrtumian has headed the Court of Cassation, the highest body of criminal and civil justice, for the last ten years. He joined the court as a senior judge in 1998.

In a statement announcing his resignation, Mkrtumian, 57, cited the need to let “experienced young people” play a greater role in Armenia’s judicial system. He made no mention of the recent change of government that followed weeks of nationwide mass protests led by Nikol Pashinian.

Shortly after being elected as the country’s prime minister on May 8, Pashinian said that Armenian courts will no longer be acting on government orders. He urged judges to strictly adhere to laws and ignore possible pressure from state institutions or non-state actors.

Despite having undergone frequent structural changes over the past two decades, the domestic judiciary is still regarded by many Armenians as corrupt and not 

The Court of Cassation and Mkrtumian in particular have long been the main source of complaints from Armenian trial attorneys. The latter have accused Mkrtumian of severely limiting the independence of lower courts.

In particular, Mkrtumian came under fire in 2011 after engineering the controversial sacking of a Yerevan judge who granted bail to a criminal suspect contrary to prosecutors’ wishes.

The judge, Samvel Mnatsakanian, was dismissed by then President Serzh Sarkisian upon the recommendation of the Justice Council, a state body overseeing Armenian courts. The council was headed by Mkrtumian at the time.

Mnatsakanian claimed after his sacking that many Armenian judges are primarily concerned with not upsetting the Court of Cassation, rather than enforcing laws.

In June 2013, about 200 Armenian lawyers went on a two-day strike to protest against what they called arbitrary decisions routinely made by the high court. They specifically denounced the court’s refusal to consider the vast majority of appeals lodged by them in criminal or civil cases.

Later in 2013, the then human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, released an extensive report that accused judges of routinely taking bribes in return for corresponding rulings.

The report, based on confidential interviews with lawyers, judges and prosecutors, singled out the Court of Cassation. It alleged that the bribes paid to the court’s judges typically range from $10,000 to $50,000 per case.

Both the court and the Judicial Council denied the allegations.

RFE/RL Report
Former Ruling Party Loses Majority In Armenian Parliament
June 06, 2018
Ruzanna Stepanian

Former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) technically lost its majority in Armenia’s parliament on Wednesday when yet another deputy defected from its parliamentary faction.

The lawmaker, Samvel Aleksanian, did not immediately make a public statement on his exit announced by the HHK’s parliamentary leader, Vahram Baghdasarian.

The defection reduced to 52 the number of seats officially controlled by the HHK in the 105-member National Assembly. The party held 58 seats until Sarkisian resigned as prime minister on April 23 amid mass protests against his continued rule. The defections from its ranks began shortly after the protest leader, Nikol Pashinian, was elected prime minister last month.

Aleksanian, 49, is one of Armenia’s richest men who has long controlled lucrative imports of sugar, cooking oil and other basic foodstuffs. He has had close ties with the country’s former leaders, notably Sarkisian. The tycoon has 
been a parliament deputy representing the HHK since 2003.

Aleksanian left the HHK faction one week after a food supermarket chain owned by his family was accused by the National Security Service (NSS) of large-scale tax evasion.

An NSS statement said Yerevan City supermarkets have illegally sold agricultural products and many other items through 461 small firms mainly registered in the name of its employees and their family members. Some of those 
workers were not even aware of that, it said.

Under Armenian law, small firms with an annual turnover of up to 115 million drams ($237,000) are exempt from profit and value-added (VAT) taxes paid by larger businesses. They are only required to pay “turnover tax” equivalent to 2 percent of their revenue. The VAT rate is set at 20 percent.

Aleksanian has still not commented on the tax evasion allegations. But the chief executives of Yerevan City and a dozen other supermarket chains, also accused by the NSS of tax fraud, issued a joint statement last week saying that 
they were allowed by the previous leadership of the State Revenue Committee (SRC) to avoid paying VAT in order to keep food prices low. They warned that the NSS crackdown could put their continued operations at serious risk.

June 7 2018
A series of defections leaves Armenia's parliament in Pashinyan’s hands
Exodus from the Republican faction puts an end to its decade-long hegemony — and opens a path to a snap election.
Grigor Atanesian 

The Republican Party of Armenia lost its parliamentary majority when MP Samvel Aleksanyan announced on June 6 that he was leaving the faction.

Aleksanyan's defection now leaves the formerly ruling Republicans with 52 out of 105 seats. He joined five other Republican lawmakers who have jumped ship in recent days and are expected to support Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's Yelk bloc, as well as their allies in the ARF Dashnaktsutyun and Prosperous Armenia parties.

This new balance of power in parliament opens a path for a snap election, a priority of the new government that brands itself as an interim one. Earlier this month, Republican bosses had signaled that they were ready to discuss a snap election. They also were expected to approve the government program, a blueprint of new cabinet’s social and economic policies that should be presented in the National Assembly this month. Now, however, any potential drama has been averted: by effectively controlling the majority of votes, Pashinyan and his team are no longer in need of favors from the Republicans.

Aleksanyan’s move comes one week after the National Security Service accused his family-controlled holding of large-scale tax fraud worth of estimated $15 million. The episode was a part of an anti-corruption purge announced on May 19.

Unlike high-profile anti-corruption campaigns in Russia and elsewhere in the post-Soviet space, Pashinyan’s cabinet is not aiming to jail those involved in economic crimes. The NSS head Artur Vanetsyan has said he considers reimbursement of damages made to the state sufficient grounds for dropping criminal charges. Also on June 6, Armen Unanyan, a businessman accused of customs brokerage fraud totaling $7 million, said that he had already repaid $4 million to the state and was preparing to return more.

The Republicans are also being stripped of governorates, which in the past have been a key tool for the party to gain its electoral victories. Pashinyan is in the process of appointing new governors for all of Armenia’s 10 regions from the ruling coalition of Yelk, Prosperous Armenia and ARF Dashnaktsutyun.

With the end of Republican control in parliament, Yerevan city government becomes the party's last legislative stronghold. RPA controls 46 of 65 seats in the city council, and Republican mayor Taron Margaryan has made clear that he had no plans of resigning. The party also maintains control over other local legislatures.

Perhaps the key Republican holdover is Armenia’s General Prosecutor, Artur Davtyan, who has insisted that there are no political prisoners in the country. Through the prosecutor’s office, as well as several judges suspected of taking orders from the Republicans, the party may still exercise indirect control over the judiciary.

Nevertheless, more and more court hearings have been ending in a fashion that suggests the erosion of Republican influence. Since mid-May, half a dozen jailed opposition figures have been released on bail or police bond. Guarantee letters for some of them were signed by Yelk bloc MPs, including the current First Deputy Prime Minister Ararat Mirzoyan.
Grigor Atanesian is a freelance journalist who covers Armenia.

RFE/RL Reports 
Karabakh Premier, Security Chiefs Resign After Protests
June 06, 2018
Sisak Gabrielian

The second most important official in Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership and the heads of the local police and security service resigned on Wednesday following anti-government protests in Stepanakert.

The unprecedented protests were sparked by a violent dispute on June 1 between security officers and other local residents. The men came to blows outside a Stepanakert car wash for still unclear reasons. Several of them turned out to be officers of Karabakh’s National Security Service (NSS).

The brawl triggered angry demonstrations against what their participants see as impunity enjoyed by law-enforcement officials and their relatives. They blocked 
Stepanakert’s main avenue for four days, demanding the resignation of the NSS and police chiefs.

Several individuals, including two NSS officers, were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the incident. The Karabakh government pledged to ensure an objective criminal investigation. These assurances failed to satisfy the protesters, however.

The protests ended only after an appeal from Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. The latter urged the protesters on Monday to give Bako Sahakian, the 
Karabakh president, more time to draw “concrete conclusions” from the violence.

The chief of the Karabakh police, Kamo Aghajanian, cited “public demand” for his exit when he tendered his resignation on Wednesday morning.

The head of the NSS, Arshavir Gharamian, and his deputy, Gagik Sargsian, followed suit later in the day. Unlike Aghajanian, they did not issue statements.

Also stepping down was Arayik Harutiunian, the Karabakh state minister responsible for the government’s day-to-day affairs. He previously served as prime minister, a position formally abolished after local lawmakers controversially voted last year to extend Sahakian’s decade-long rule until 

Harutiunian attributed his unexpected resignation, which was not demanded by the protesters, to popular expectations of a “new phase of reforms” in Karabakh. He said those expectations were heightened by the recent democratic revolution in Armenia which brought Pashinian to power.

“Of course we have made serious progress in terms of democratic development,” he told a news conference in Stepanakert. “But those events [in Armenia] increased popular demand [for change] in Artsakh and the authorities led by the president must take that into account.”

He said that Sahakian decided to embark on major reforms late last month and that his resignation will help to speed up their implementation.

The premier also defended his track record. He argued, in particular, that the Karabakh economy has grown by more than 10 percent annually for the last decade.

Harutiunian’s Free Fatherland party has the largest faction in the Karabakh parliament.

Harutiunian was replaced by Grigori Martirosian later in the day. Martirosian served as finance minister until now.

Sahakian also appointed the new heads of the Karabakh police and NSS., Armenia
June 7 2018
Ambassador: UK government is in process of ratifying EU-Armenia deal
The UK government is in the process of ratifying the EU-Armenia agreement, and it is one of our priorities, UK Ambassador Judith Farnworth told reporters ahead of the opening of UK-Armenia business forum in Yerevan.

The Ambassador emphasized that it is not absolutely a trade agreement but it provides a framework for continuous support of reforms in Armenia which will improve business environment.

“We have a very thorough and detailed process of consideration across of all our government ministries that have an interest in such agreements. UK is a parliamentary democracy and it has to be considered by the parliament. And the parliamentary process is going to start within the next few weeks and we expect that in a number of months it will be ratified,” Judith Farnworth said.

Geo Super
June 7 2018
Five Armenians charged in Belgium over tennis match-fixing

Five Armenians have been charged in Belgium with corruption, money laundering and other crimes as part of a major international investigation into match-fixing in tennis, Belgian federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

They were among 13 people detained in Belgium on Tuesday amid simultaneous raids also launched in the US, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Netherlands.An investigating judge in Belgium issued an arrest warrant for five people, “all of Armenian nationality,” the federal prosecutor’s office said.

“They were charged with corruption, money laundering, forgery and membership of a criminal organisation.” The judge ordered the release of the eight other people following questioning, the office said.

The raids were part of an international probe into an Armenian-Belgian criminal network suspected of bribing players to throw games.Belgian prosecutors said the matches involved were on the low-level Futures and Challenger circuits, away from the gaze of television coverage and where meagre prize money leaves players susceptible to backhanders., Armenia
June 7 2018
FIFA: Armenia drops in world ranking

The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) on Thursday issued its new World Ranking.

Accordingly, the Armenian national squad ranked 100th in the FIFA standings.

Reigning world champions Germany still top the FIFA World Ranking where Brazil are still second, and Belgium—still third.

The top ten includes Portugal, Argentina, Switzerland, France, Poland, Chile and Spain.
As reported earlier, Armenian squad has played friendlies with Moldova (0-0) and Malta (1-1).

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