1 Oct 2015
Armenia – September 2015
Military escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, “Yes” and “No” fronts of constitutional amendments, and energy price shifts
September was marked with the most intense escalation of violence in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since the 1994 ceasefire. The situation has been tense both on the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border and between the Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh. The entire border of the Tavush region including villages came under attack with fighting taking place also along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the Armenian official sources, 9 Armenian servicemen were killed and 17 were wounded in September. Besides these casualties, 3 civilians were killed and 5 were wounded in the same period. The Armenian side issued a statement that it will retaliate. According to the Armenian sources, the Azerbaijani armed forces had over a dozen casualties.
On September 7 after the working visit of President Serzh Sargsyan to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, an official statement was released stating, among other issues, that Sargsyan and Putin touched upon the current stage of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. During the visit, an agreement on a soft loan of $200 million was signed with the aim of upgrading the arsenal of Armenia’s armed forces.
On September 11, 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution by consensus entitled “International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of This Crime” declaring December 9 an international day of commemoration. The Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered the adoption of this resolution a result of its continued efforts since it follows up on another resolution, initiated by Armenia and adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 27, 2015.
This September, the National Assembly of Armenia spent 5 days discussing the draft of the amendments to the Constitution initiated by President Sargsyan that aim to turn Armenia from a presidential republic into a parliamentary one. The National Assembly is expected to give its consent for putting the amendments to a referendum in the first week of October. Two out of 6 factions in the National Assembly, “Heritage” and the Armenian National Congress, are expected to vote against the draft with the rest voting in favor.
25 parties, NGOs and initiatives formed the “No” front against the constitutional amendments holding that the main purpose of the amendments is to provide an alternative avenue for President Sargsyan to stay in power following the expiration of his second term. The proclaimed aim of the “No” front is to stop the reproduction of the ruling regime. “They have put aside the old constitution and are now trying to adopt a new one. This is a new constitution, which destroys the foundations of our country,” Armenia’s first President Levon Ter-Petrosyan said on the matter.
On September 3-15, “Shant-2015” strategic command and staff military exercises were held in Armenia. They were unprecedented with their scope and involved many ministries. Defensive, attacking, and counter-attacking activities were held during the military exercises.
On September 4, according to President Sargsyan’s decree, Republican Party of Armenia MP Arpine Hovhannisyan was appointed Minister of Justice. This post had been vacant since mid-July, when Hovhannes Manukyan unexpectedly resigned from office. The appointment of a young woman as the head of the Ministry of Justice raised controversy in some circles of the Armenian society, and was not accepted unequivocally even within her own party.
On September 21, Armenia celebrated the 24th anniversary of its Independence. A referendum for seceding from the USSR was held on this day in 1991.
An agreement was signed between Armenia and Russia that decreased the gas price for Armenia by $24 from the previous $189 per 1,000 cubic meters. The change was made to cover Gazprom Armenia’s losses caused by the depreciation of the Armenian dram against the US dollar. However, the gas price will not decrease for the resident consumers. They will continue paying 156 dram ($0.32) per cubic meter of gas. The large corporate consumers will also continue paying the existing rate of $0.27 per cubic meter.
It has recently been announced that the Russian Inter RAO UES applied to the Armenian government for selling 100 percent of its shares of Electric Networks of Armenia to Liormand Holdings Limited, an offshore company claimed to belong to Tashir Group. Other details on the deal have not been released leading to various speculations.
Society, Culture, and Sport
On September 1, the “No to Plunder” initiative fighting against the electricity price hike for residents restarted its protests by holding a rally across the street from the Presidential Palace. Eventually, the demonstration transferred to Baghramyan Avenue leading to clashes between the activists and the police. The demonstrators unblocked the Avenue after the detained 7 activists were released.
On September 11, the members of the “No to Plunder” initiative again tried to close Baghramyan Avenue. However, the police gave them only 6 hours and at dawn dispersed the demonstration by force. 48 activists were taken to police stations and were later released. The initiative considers that the government has deceived them, as it has become known that most of the small and medium entrepreneurs must pay a higher price for electricity starting from August 1. The initiative claims that the government has increased the electricity price independent of the results of the audit at the Electric Networks of Armenia.
Vahan Martirosyan, who identifies himself as the head of the Intra-national Liberation Movement, appeared in the center of public attention this September. Despite charges against him for theft of $3,800, he was able to cross the Armenian-Georgian border on September 4. He then crossed the border of Azerbaijan with his family and asked for political asylum. On September 18, he gave a press conference in Baku claiming to be an oppressed civic activist persecuted in his home country.
On the sport scene, 23-year-old Arthur Aleksanyan became World Champion of Greco-Roman wrestling maintaining the Champion’s title, which he had won last year in Tashkent. During the World Championship in Las Vegas, the Armenian wrestler defeated the Iranian wrestler Ghasem Rezaei, Champion of the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Armenian chess player Levon Aronian became the winner of the Sinquefield Cup chess tournament. The world’s top 10 chess players were taking part in this chess tournament held in the city of St. Louis of the USA from August 22 to September 3.
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.