Armenian spring

Armenia authorities to fully subsidize electricity price hike for residents

electric YerevanYEREVAN. – The Government of Armenia will completely subsidize the increased price for the electricity consumed by the country’s residents.

The respective decision was reached at Monday’s Cabinet session.

The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Yervand Zakharyan, stated that in the case of the residents, the subsidy will be made in the amount of 6.93 drams per kilowatt/hour, for all consumed electricity.

The country’s enterprises and organizations, on the other hand, will get a partial subsidy. These electricity consumers will receive a monthly subsidy for up to 250 kilowatts per hour.

Zakharyan told reporters, however, that the subsidies allocated to public as of August 1 have not yet been calculated.

“[But] we will soon calculate and present [them],” added the minister.

Electricity prices in Armenia have increased as of August 1. The aforesaid subsidization of these price hikes will continue until Deloitte & Touche CIS consulting firm submits conclusions. The company will analyze the country’s energy system, and provide the government consulting on energy management.

Armenian Government Chooses U.S. Firm to Probe Electricity Networks

ENA_protestsYEREVAN (Combined Sources)—The Armenian government has selected Deloitte & Touche to determine whether a decision by Armenia’s Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) to allow Armenia’s national power distribution company to raise electricity price was economically justified or resulted from alleged corruption and mismanagement.

Deputy Prime Minister Vache Gabrielyan said that the government had sent requests to top international consulting companies to take part in a tender that would select one of them to conduct a probe of the Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA). Two firms—McKinsey and Deloitte & Touche—responded to the request. Deloitte & Touche was chosen because they reportedly offered a lower commission price for their service.

“Deloitte and Touche is an internationally renowned company, and I think that after their conclusions we will have sufficient grounds to move forward,” Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian said at a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.

The decision to conduct an audit of the company was reached on June 26 during President Serzh Sarkissian’s meeting in Yerevan with Russian transport minister Maxim Sokolov, the Russian co-chairman of the joint Armenian-Russian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation.  The following day, Sarkissian said the government will keep electricity prices unchanged for consumers by subsidizing their increased cost at least until the release of findings of a future audit.

Earlier, Sarkissian said that an audit would find out whether the price hike approved by state regulators was economically justified or resulted from alleged corruption and mismanagement in the ENA.

The government has yet to select a foreign consulting firm that will conduct the audit. Abrahamyan said on Thursday that it is still negotiating with “the Russian side” on the matter.

The PSRC’s decision on June 17 to increase the electricity price for consumers by 6.93 drams (16.7%) sparked a vigorous public backlash and street protests against the increase.

Armenia Public Services Regulatory Commission to invite consulting companies to study advisability of electricity price rise

f55b62fd01e6fc_55b62fd01e733.thumbThe Public Services Regulatory Commission held a meeting on Monday approved an invitation to consultations on operation of Armenia’s electric energy system.

The Commission approved the decision in the context of Armenian President Serzh Sagsyan’s statement at a meeting with officials in charge of Armenia’s economic policy on June 27, 2015, with a view to raising the level of public confidence in the Commission and ruling out any comments on the legal or economic grounds for an electricity price rise.

In conformity with the decision, the Commission’s working group has been instructed to send out invitations to the best five international consulting companies and, within three days after the deadline for their offers expires, sum up their offers and present the results to the government staff.

According to the decision, the consultations are supposed to provide reasonable answers to the following questions: Is a planned electricity price rise justified? Is no raising electricity prices a potential threat to Armenia’s energy system?

A consulting company is to conduct an in-depth survey of different options of reducing electricity prices, considering the relevant regional and international procedures and present a list of priority measures as soon as possible.

After the two phases, considering unfolding discussions of the 2016-2036 strategic energy sector development program and a need to compare the results, the consulting company may be involved in further development of a long-term strategic program and in relevant consultations.

“Stand up, Armenia” hands over letter to president

IMG_4366YEREVAN. – Members of new movement “Stand up, Armenia” fighting against increase in electricity prices have handed over a letter addresed to the president to the office of the Republican Party of Armenia.

They demand that the decision to increase electricity prices should be canceled. Unless the decision is canceled by August 1, the activists will continue their struggle in three stages and will block the main roads in the largest cities.

As stated by initiative member Davit Sanasaryan, who is also a spokesperson for Heritage party, an audit is useless, since it will not reveal embezzlement in the Electric Networks of Armenia.

PSRC won’t revise electricity price hike despite mass protests #ElectricYerevan

194169Public Services Regulatory Commission(PSRC) of Armenia will not revise its decision on electricity price hike coming into force August 1, 2015 despite mass protests in Yerevan.

“We do not make decisions that require adjustments,” spokesperson for PSRC Mariam Stepanyan said, according to Interfax.

She noted that PSRC is an independent entity that makes economically sound decisions as a result of lengthy discussions.

“The issue of the social burder is beyond the Commission’s responsibility. It is necessary to maintain the economic balance: reliable and high quality service requires commensurate payments,” Stepanyan said.

An Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) CJSC representative also stated that the company does not consider withdrawing its application for electricity tariff hike.

“Our company is not the only problem. Power-generating companies of Armenia have also applied to PSRC for tariff increases,” ENA spokesperson Natalya Sarjanyan said.

Armenia Electricity Price Hike Sparks Sit-In Protest in Yerevan


From The Armenian Weekly

Protesters vowed to stay put until June 22 (Photo: Serouj Aprahamian)

YEREVAN—Thousands of people gathered in Yerevan’s Liberty Square Friday evening to protest the government’s adoption of a 17 percent rise in electricity rates. What was initially slated as a march in the city center against the price hike turned into an unexpected mass sit-in.

Maxim Sargsyan, a member of the “No to Plunder” civic initiative that organized the protest, stood before the crowd and put forth the following proposition, “We can either go out to march and then disperse back to our homes as usual or we can stay here until Monday, stage a sit-in, and demand a suspension of the illegal price hike.” The demonstrators opted for the latter.

The mostly young protesters could be seen huddled in various groups throughout the square, sitting on carpets, pieces of cardboard, tires, or simply the ground. They held banners reading “High Voltage” and “No to Plunderers” as they chanted “We are the owners of our country.”

Music blared from the podium, playing everything from patriotic songs and traditional Armenian rhythms, to System of a Down and a hip-hop song made specifically for the campaign. Several large circles of traditional Armenian dancing also spontaneously broke ou
Demonstrators vowed to stay in the square until June 22 and declared that they will march to the presidential palace if the price hike is not reversed by then.

The mass sit-in comes on the heels of the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) of Armenia voting unanimously on June 17 to raise electricity prices from 42 AMD/kWh to 49 AMD/kWh. This is the third consecutive price hike by the government in the last 3 years and the fourth since 2009, making Armenia the country with the highest electricity rates in the region.

Both protesters and members of the government agree that the price increases are due to the mismanagement and indebtedness of RAO Unified Energy Systems (UES), a Russian-owned company that operates Armenia’s power distribution network. The government insists that rates have to be raised in order to ensure that UES gets out of debt and is operational, leaving average citizens and small businesses—that are already overburdened with socio-economic hardship—to foot the bill.

Widespread anger ignited as soon as the proposed price increase was made public early last month. The “No to Plunder” initiative organized a mass rally in Yerevan on May 27, while the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) led a tense demonstration in front of the PRSC building on the day of the vote. They called for the resignation of the head of the regulatory body and demanded to enter the meeting before the vote. One AYF representative was eventually allowed in but news of the unanimously approved price hike was met with demonstrators throwing eggs and tomatoes toward the building. Several protesters were also detained in minor skirmishes with the police.

This current episode is the latest in a string of civic struggles that have arisen over recent years in response to regressive government policies. These struggles have achieved several victories, including the preservation of a waterfall, prevention of illegal construction in a public park, reversing a transportation fee hike, and partially overturning the privatization of the country’s pension system.

Members of the “No to Plunder” initiative repeatedly made reference to these victories, noting that the only way to bring about social change in the country has been grassroots direct action and civic protest—while traditional politics have failed.

“This is the struggle of all Armenian citizens, independent of their political or partisan views,” said “No to Plunder” member Aram Manukyan from the podium. “Taking into account the experiences and successes of past movements, we have concluded that the struggle must be waged on the streets in an organized and united fashion, strictly excluding any dialogue with the authorities.”

As the sit-in went into the night, demonstrators gathered into open assemblies where they discussed issues such as orderliness, keeping the square clean, meeting basic needs, and forming groups of security for the protest. Participants also urged one another to remain peaceful and not engage in any confrontations with the police.

Organizers maintain that they will continue their struggle and use all manner of lawful civil disobedience until the price hike is fully repealed

Report: Turkish authorities providing electricity to ISIL in Tel Abyad

Pickup trucks loaded with fertilizer and ammonium nitrate, which is widely used in agriculture but also for building explosives, head to Tel Abyad. (Photo: Cihan)

In the latest of a series of revelations, the Turkish authorities have allegedly been providing electricity to Tel Abyad — a northern Syrian city just across the border from the Turkish city of Akçakale — which is controlled by militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

More stunning is the not-so-secret presence of ISIL militants on the streets of Akçakale, in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, a reporter with the Birgün daily claimed in a piece published on Friday. His account echoes many other reports, revealing the risks Turkey is facing as fighting between Kurdish forces and ISIL militants in and around Tel Abyad continues to rage on.

Before the uprising in Syria broke out, Turkey was delivering electricity to Tel Abyad as part of a deal with the Bashar al-Assad regime to address the energy shortage in northern Syria. The Dicle Electricity Distribution Company (DEDAŞ) continued to deliver power to the northern Syrian city even after the outbreak of the Syrian conflict.

What is more intriguing, the Birgün report reveals, is that the delivery continued even after ISIL captured Tel Abyad, thanks to the alleged collusion between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government in Turkey and ISIL, and has not been affected by later developments. The electricity is provided by three wires near the warehouse of the regional branch of the Turkish Agricultural Board (TMO), right on the border.

While locals in Akçakale sometimes face several cuts during the day, Tel Abyad residents do not endure such problems as DEDAŞ continues to provide electricity to the Syrian town uninterruptedly. The power cuts disrupt irrigation in the rural areas of Akçakale, leading to troubles in the agricultural sector. Turks are paying the price of the electricity provided to ISIL. DEDAŞ, in a written statement on Friday after the piece was published, denied claims of supplying electricity to Tel Abyad.

Locals in Akçakale have been enduring extreme difficulties including the growing number of refugees and the collapse of local economy while a war economy has firmly taken root in the town.

Enemy at the gate and ghost of ISIL in Akçakale

Akçakale on the Syrian border is one of the frontlines where locals have experienced firsthand the spillover effects of the war in Turkey’s southern neighbor. It is still haunted by ongoing fighting just across the other side of the border in Tel Abyad.

On Oct. 3, 2012, a mortar bomb fired from Syria landed in a residential district of Akçakale, killing two women and three children and wounding at least 13 other people. The Turkish military struck targets inside Syria in response to the mortar bomb attack.

Since that day, locals have endured various difficulties. Sometimes sporadic stray bullets from Tel Abyad, sometimes clashes just on the border, prompting Turkish authorities to close schools and other official buildings in town on numerous occasions.

The enemy is no longer at the gate, locals have bemoaned. It is here, in Akçakale. They are, of course, talking about ISIL.

ISIL prompts boom in smuggling on border

One of the dramatic fallouts of ISIL’s reach in the region is the explosion in smuggling of goods and people, as some people and groups have exploited the humanitarian catastrophe by offering help to refugees and civilians stranded on the Syrian side of the border to cross the Turkish border through illegal ways.

According to the Birgün report, ISIL gets $100 per person in return for allowing people to cross into Turkey. The smuggling of goods is also another crucial aspect of the local economy. The amount of money being exchanged per day at the border is unheard of in recent years. Locals claim the cross-border trade is worth $7-13 million per day.

One of the most in-demand items from Turkey to Tel Abyad, a local says, is fertilizer, or ammonium nitrate, which is widely used in agriculture but is also used by terrorist groups around the world to build explosives. The flow of fertilizer to Tel Abyad leaves no doubt about what it is being used for. Medical supplies are also among the items that flow through Akçakale to ISIL-controlled Tel Abyad.

ISIL seeking to lure unemployed in Turkish town

The militant group is seeking to lure locals in Akçakale as unemployment continues to affect the refugee-hit town. The influx of refugees has radically altered social balances, disrupted the social fabric and irrevocably damaged the city’s urban landscape, also causing apartment rates to skyrocket and rippling through the labor market, with Turkish workers being unable to compete with their Syrian counterparts who agree to work for lower salaries with no social insurance whatever.

Tapping into growing opportunities after the collapse of social and economic order, ISIL is offering Turks high pay in return for fighting within its ranks. Summing up his dilemma in remarks to the daily, a local said: “If I didn’t have a family, I probably wouldn’t be able to resist their offer. They offer to write off your credit card debt, give you a high salary.”

The people of Akçakale seem to be accustomed to the ISIL presence in the town, the same local said. ISIL uses hotels in Harran as a gathering point for its recruitment efforts while it transport them through Akçakale to Tel Abyad. It has exchange bureaus operating in Harran, another district of Şanlıurfa province.

Looming YPG advance to stir new refugee wave

The main fighting Kurdish force, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), is set to lay a siege on Tel Abyad from three fronts, leading to expectations of another looming intense confrontation with ISIL.

Already raging clashes have placed Akçakale on knife’s edge, prompting prompting fears of a new refugee exodus. Battered by overcrowding and an endless refugee flux, the town is also set to face another risk: Arab-Kurdish fighting on the Turkish side of the border given the increasing tensions among communities. The growing support for the YPG in Turkey will force Akçakale residents to revisit their approach to ISIL.

Gendarmerie acknowledges ‘deadly’ weapons found on MİT trucks

The Birgün report came at a time when Turkey is still discussing the role of the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT) in transporting and arming ISIL fighters.

Ballistic analysis reports of the weapons found in trucks owned by MİT that were stopped by investigators during a raid in January of 2014 have both acknowledged and documented the existence of weapons.

The report prepared by the Gendarmerie General Command four days after the investigation into the trucks took place states the weapons as being “able to explode on impact or with delay.” The report also noted that the arms could be deadly or injurious towards living things, destructive against non-living things and are classified as a weapon according to the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

The report signed by Sgt. Maj. Celalettin Bardakçı, a bomb disposal expert and authorized by Celal Kara, the former public prosecutor who was in charge of the investigation, was compiled on the bullets and small missile warheads found in the trailers of the trucks. The larger components of the weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades could not be analyzed as they could not be transported to Ankara.

Four of the prosecutors and one of the commanders were imprisoned in early May in connection with the investigation of the trucks. Earlier this month the top judicial body formally cleared the way for legal proceedings to begin against five prosecutors and three gendarmerie commanders who were involved in the search of Syria-bound trucks in January of 2014.

The 2nd Chamber of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) allowed the prosecution of former Adana Chief Public Prosecutor Süleyman Bağrıyanık, former Adana Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Ahmet Karaca and Adana prosecutors Aziz Takçı, Özcan Şişman and Yaşar Kavalcıoğlu. It also ruled to investigate Gendarmerie Commanders Col. Özkan Çokay, Erdal Yılmaz and Kubilay Ayvaz.

Bağrıyanık, Karaca, Takçı and Şişman as well as former Adana provincial gendarmerie commander Col. Çokay were imprisoned in early May on charges of “attempting to topple or incapacitate the Turkish government through the use of force or coercion and exposing information regarding the security and political activities of the state” in connection with the search of what turned out to be weapon-filled trucks being operated by the MİT.