1 Dec 2015
Armenia – November 2015
Sergey Lavrov’s visit, new Armenia-EU agreement, 2016 budget, constitutional reforms, economic decline, and foreign policy failures
On November 9, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Armenia where he met his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian and President Serzh Sargsyan. During the meetings, a range of issues were discussed on bilateral cooperation, the Nagorno-Karabkah conflict settlement, as well as current international challenges. After the visit, the Russian newspaper “Kommersant” published an article according to which Lavrov has allegedly offered Nalbandian a settlement plan for the Nagorno-Karabkah conflict. According to the plan, Armenia would hand over to Baku all the regions around Nagorno-Karabakh except for the Lachin corridor, which would be followed by the deployment of UN and CSTO peacekeepers in Karabakh. However, neither side has officially confirmed this information.
On November 12, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Karen Nazaryan stated that the European Union (EU)-Armenia negotiations on a new cooperation agreement will start in early December. Arrangements for this were made during the discussions with the delegation of the EU External Action Service. It is expected that the negotiations will not start from square one, and the achievements of the previous association agreement will be retained in this new agreement. The clauses on free and comprehensive trade area are likely to be reconsidered in the new agreement.
On November 16, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev participated in G20 Leaders Summit in Antalya at the invitation of Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Aliyev stated that his country also suffers from terrorism “which is an integral part of Armenia’s policy of occupation against Azerbaijan”. Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan called Ilham Aliyev’s statement “ridiculous and immoral” and in response accused Baku of supporting international terrorism. Armenia’s retort, however, was mainly covered by the local media.
Domestic critics of Armenia’s foreign policy have gained new grounds. On November 4, the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a report by British MP Robert Walter on “The Increase in Violence in Nagorno-Karabakh and Other Occupied Territories of Azerbaijan”. Another report called “Deliberate deprivation of water of the residents of Azerbaijan’s border regions” was adopted by the PACE Committee on Social Affairs at the end of November. The report was on the situation around the Sarsang Reservoir and details that the Armenian side is using the water resources only in its own interest – utilizing the reservoir as a leverage tool against Azerbaijan and creating an ecological crisis. The report was presented by MP from Bosnia and Herzegovina Milica Markovic. It is due of mention that the authors of the reports have not visited the conflict zone, which is possibly conditioned by the conflict sides’ mutually exclusive policies on the regulations of the visits to the disputed territories.
The campaign phase of the constitutional reform that implies a transition to the parliamentary form of government kicked off in Armenia. On the side of the ruling Republican Party, the campaign is led by Prime-minister Hovik Abrahamyan. The opposition to the constitutional reform is represented by two camps – the “NO” front which is led by the head of the Armenian National Congress Levon Zurabyan, and “New Armenia”, which is led by the coordinator of the opposition civic initiative “Founding Parliament” Zhirayr Sefilyan. The campaign will conclude on December 4.
On November 2, the country’s main financial document – the draft budget for 2016, was presented at the National Assembly. Prime-minister Hovik Abarahamyan stated that the draft budget is based on realistic and stable provisions. He also underlined that “the budget is clearly socially-oriented: almost half of the budget expenditure in 2016 is for education, social protection, and healthcare”. However, economists point out that the draft budget may be insurmountable leaving little room for optimism since Armenia’s economy took a serious hit after the country’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
In November, the US Ambassador in Armenia Richard Mills criticized the Armenian government for the high levels of corruption in the country. In response, Speaker of the National Assembly Galust Sahakyan called the US Ambassador’s statement unacceptable and his remarks on the high levels of corruption incorrect. “No ambassador has the right to speak with ultimatums. His imperative statements are neither clear nor admissible to us,” the speaker said.
On November 20, the second president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan gave an interview to “Deutsche Welle” where he harshly criticized the internal and foreign policy of the Armenian authorities. He stated that Armenia’s international image was significantly damaged when Serzh Sargsyan made a single-handed decision on the country’s accession to the EEU. He also expressed surprise about the constitutional changes initiated by Serzh Sargsyan, noting that it would lead to the total dominance of one party, as it was in the Soviet Union.
Armenia’s economy is in a dire condition. The turnover of goods has decreased by 20 percent. The population is increasingly dissatisfied with the government. The only sector of economy showing growth is agriculture. According to data published by the Ministry of Agriculture, as of November 68,400 tons of fresh fruit and vegetables have been exported from Armenia compared to 40,900 tons during the same period last year. The main consumer markets for Armenian agricultural products this year have been Russia, Georgia, Iran, and Belarus.
In a short period, the Armenian government increased the foreign debt by $600 million – a $340 million loan was provided by the Eurasian Economic Partnership anti-crisis fund, $241.5 million by the Asian Development Bank, and $16.3 million by the International Monetary Fund. According to Deputy Finance Minister Pavel Safaryan, Armenia’s foreign debt by the end of 2016 is forecasted to be $5 billion 565 million. Since 2010, the debt almost doubled from the initial $2.9 billion.
Society, Culture, and Sport
Early November shocked the public with several deadly catastrophes. On November 4, the Tajik company Asia Airways’ AN-12 plane crashed in Southern Sudan killing 40 people, including the crew members. Five Armenian citizens were among the victims of the plane crash. On November 3, the Moscow-Yerevan passenger bus crashed in Russia near the region of Tula. 8 people out of 60 passengers were killed in the crash, others have been hospitalized with injuries.
The European Team Chess Championship closed in Iceland on November 22. The Armenian team became a runner-up falling behind Russia in total points and winning the title of vice-champions. In addition to silver medals, the Armenian chess team players Levon Aronian, Hrant Melkumyan, and Gabriel Sargsyan were awarded medals for the best individual game.
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 authors or editors of the Caucasus Edition.