28 Dec 2015
Armenia – December 2015
Start of Armenia-EU negotiations, Turkey’s increased engagement in the region, use of heavy combat vehicles in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and Yerevan’s dissatisfaction with the CSTO
Brussels and Yerevan officially started the negotiations around the new document on bilateral relations. Armenpress reports that after the meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Edvard Nalbandyan, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini announced that the beginning of the new stage of negotiations will turn over the page of uncertainties that emerged after 2013, and the intense work carried out over the course of 3.5 years will not be lost. In Mogherini’s words, the new document will create conditions for close cooperation between the EU and Armenia in sectors of transport, environment, and energy.
After the deterioration of Russian-Turkish relations, the situation in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict also worsened. Firing between the conflict sides intensified leading to losses for both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides. Turkey, whose supreme leadership visited Azerbaijan twice after the incident with the Russian jet, also intensified engagement in the direction of Nagorno-Karabakh. In particular, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said that Ankara will do everything to free the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. In response to the increased attention, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia said that if Ankara really intends to contribute to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it should keep away from the resolution process. Russia did not remain uninvolved either. According to Panorama.am, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation in OSCE Alexander Lukashevich said that Turkey’s attempt to support one of the sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is harmful.
On December 19, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev met in Bern for the first time in 2015. Issues such as steps towards de-escalation in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, possible progress in the resolution process, as well as suggestion on the mechanism of incident investigation in the zone of the confrontation were discusses, as reported by Armenpress.am. However, the escalation that followed the meeting demonstrated its futility. Several days later, on December 22 in Moscow, Serzh Sargsyan participated in the CSTO summit presided over by Armenia. The Armenian president expressed dissatisfaction with the politics of the CSTO partners and, as quoted by Rusarminfo, said that “every time the armed forces of Azerbaijan use firearms of all calibers, mortars, artillery guns against Armenia, they are firing at Astana, Dushanbe and Bishkek, Moscow and Minsk”.
On December 6, the referendum on the constitutional reform was held in Armenia. Armenpress.am reports that the Central Electoral Commission reported the results of the preliminary count of votes on the next day. 825,851 voters (63.35 percent) cast their vote in favor of the constitutional reform and 421,600 (32.35 percent) voted against the reform. The number of invalid ballots was 53,332. The turnout for the referendum was 1 million 303 thousand 466 voters (50.51 percent). The opposition declared that it does not recognize the results of the referendum due to numerous violations and falsifications and called its supporters to participate in the demonstrations on Freedom Square in Yerevan. Although the demonstrations lasted a few days, they were not crowded, and the opposition achieved no visible results. Thus, through the new Constitution, Armenia became a parliamentary republic.
In the second half of December, the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict saw an escalation that was unprecedented since the ceasefire agreement between the conflict sides. PanArmenia.net reports that the positions of Nagorno-Karabakh were subject to tank shelling by Azerbaijan. In total 5 tank shells were launched. Since 1994, this was the first time that heavy combat vehicles fired at the posts. The same outlet notes, that after Personal Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office, Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk was informed about the incident, he expresses concern over the situation and vowed to take corresponding measures. In mid-December, the situation escalated sharply. According to PanArmenian.net, from December 13 to 19, 13 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed and 30 were wounded, and the Armenian side registered 5 deaths. On December 22, Spokesman of the Armenian Defense Ministry Artsrun Hovannisyan noted at a press-conference, that what is happening in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh is war and needs to be qualified as such.
After the incident with the Russian jet Su-24, Moscow applied sanctions against Turkey. The agency Armenpress.am quotes the Armenian Vice Minister of Agriculture Armen Harutyunyan who said that Yerevan is considering to expand the export of agricultural produce to the Russian markets offering more of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as processed products. However, economists note that the Armenian manufacturers will not be able to increase the volumes of exports because of the low-season, and the cost of the greenhouse products will be much higher than the products imported into Russia from other countries. It is worth of notice that agriculture is the only sphere of economy in Armenian that shows progress.
Arka.am reports that Prime Minister of Armenia Hovik Abrahamyan noted that the Armenian economy showed its vitality as a 3.5 percent increase in the GDP was registered at the outcome of 9 months. Major growth in the economy was achieved in the spheres of agriculture and the mining industry. However, the growth of the country’s economy greatly depends on Russia. Due to the fall of the ruble, money transfers from Russia to Armenia have shrunk leading to a reduction in trade by 5 percent.
Society, Culture, and Sport
The November success of the Armenian chess players inspired the achievements of the weightlifters in December. Armnoc.am reports that at the world weightlifting championship in Huston, Armenian athletes accumulated 157 points taking the 8th place in the team titles. The Armenian team consequently secured 7 passes to the Olympic Games. In the words of the trainer of the Armenian weightlifters’ team Pashik Alaverdyan, such a result is unprecedented in the history of Armenian weightlifting.
At the beginning of December, the world union of wrestling summed up the results of the wrestlers in the Greco-Roman style. In the table of the best wrestlers, Armenian athletes took the leading positions, reports Armenpress.am. In the weight category of up to 98 kilograms, for already two years, the leading position is taken by bronze medal-winner of London Olympics, vice-champion of the first European games, the fifth prize-winner of the world championship Mihran Harutyunyan (66 kilograms) who is the 5th in the rating. The world champion of 2014 Arsen Julfalakyan (75 kilograms) is the 8th.
December was marked with success for the Armenian startuppers in the IT sphere. Yerkirmedia.am reports that the game Shadowmatic which is a 3D puzzle written by Armenian programmers for the iOS platforms was recognized as the best game by the AppStore. Similarly, Armenpress.am reports that the “hottest startups of 2015” by Forbes included the mobile app PicStart – an Armenia-produced multifunctional editor. According to Forbes estimates, the Armenian application already costs $250 million.
This news review reflects the major events of the month and is based on media publications. The views expressed in the Review may be different from the views of the editors of the Caucasus Edition.
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