Azerbaijan Launches Military Offensive Against Armenia Despite Global Ceasefire Appeal, Incites Pro-War Protests in Baku Calling for “Death to Armenians”
YEREVAN—Gagik Tsarukyan, Armenia’s wealthiest businessman and leader of the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, has been formally charged with corruption and bribery. According to his lawyer, Emin Khachatryan, late on Tuesday night, the National Security Service (NSS) filed a motion with the Yerevan Municipal Court to detain Tsarukyan under Article 154.2 of Armenia’s criminal code which deals with political bribery.
This development comes hours after the National Assembly voted to revoke Tsarukyan’s immunity from prosecution—which he was entitled to as a parliamentarian—upon the request of Prosecutor-General Artur Davtyan. In his speech to lawmakers, Davtyan accused Tsarukyan of creating and leading “an organized group that bought more than 17,000 votes for his Prosperous Armenia Party during parliamentary elections held in April 2017.” Alleged evidence of these claims was found in the businessman’s mansion in an early-morning raid on Sunday. Investigators purportedly uncovered piles of handwritten and signed letters from Tsarukyan’s known deputies formally pledging to provide him with a desired amount of votes by any means necessary for the 2017 parliamentary election. According to Davtyan, the documents even included voter names, passport numbers and the amount of bribes provided.
As Parliament debated the motion, employees of Tsarukyan’s various business interests attempted to block Yerevan’s Acharyan Street which leads to the tycoon’s mansion using buses and trucks registered to his Multi Group holding company. However, a video posted online depicted passersby removing those vehicles from the road. Another group of Tsarukyan supporters was detained by police in front of the National Assembly for violating the ban on mass gatherings under the State of Emergency.
Parliament passed the motion in a secret ballot on Tuesday with 87 of the 137 MPs voting in favor. Judging by the figures, Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia legislators abstained from voting.
Tsarukyan has dismissed the accusations as a politically motivated retaliation against his recent public calls for the government’s resignation over what he claims was poor handling of the ongoing pandemic. “Going against Tsarukyan marks the end of your Revolution,” Tsarukyan declared on the debate floor, addressing himself in the third person. Parliamentary Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan responded that he is guaranteed a fair trial under Armenia’s constitution.
Several extra-parliamentary opposition parties joined the two parliamentary opposition factions in condemning the charges on Tsarukyan as ‘politically motivated.’ In a written statement, the Bright Armenia Party claimed to “strongly condemn” the criminal prosecutions “resulting from political expediency and carried out through a selective enforcement of the law.” This statement was echoed by the now-ousted Republican Party communiqué which called for the “resignation of the impotent government of Nikol Pashinyan” for his alleged authoritarian behavior. Incidentally, the Republican Party itself successfully silenced a similar bout of public descent by Tsarukyan through threats of auditing and corruption charges a mere five years earlier.
The raid and ensuing charges have sparked vigorous debate among analysts and the public alike over the state of the country’s transitional justice and anti-corruption efforts. While there is widespread consensus that the charges are valid, some have questioned whether Pashinyan’s government was employing intimidation tactics against political opponents not unlike those used by the previous regime.
Tsarukyan, who is widely accused of using his close relationship with former president Robert Kocharyan (who is currently in pre-trial detention himself) to amass millions in assets and wrest control over a vast business empire, became somewhat of an oddity as one of the few oligarchs to survive the Velvet Revolution as a political force. The oligarch-turned-politician had managed to cultivate an image of an uneasy, yet mutually beneficial alliance with the Pashinyan government, begging the question as to whether Pashinyan simply cracked down on him when he turned into a political liability.
While the timing for these charges may seem on the nose, Dr. Nerses Kopalyan, a political science professor at the University of Nevada postulates that such a causation/correlation argument “makes no chronological sense.” Tsarukyan and his various business dealings have been subject to a series of separate investigations long before this apparent public spat with the Pashinyan government. Tsarukyan’s holding company Multi Group has been audited by both tax and health and safety inspectors on several occasions. His personal bodyguard, Edward Babayan, was arrested on assault charges in July of 2018. Multi Group CEO Sedrak Arustamyan was arrested on multiple charges including bribery, tax evasion and money laundering relating to the construction of the North South Highway. Vahagn Gevorgyan, the mayor of the commuter-town of Abovyan (widely considered to be Tsarukyan’s seat of power) is also facing charges for allowing Multi Group to illegally privatize municipal property for condo development.
The charges do not coincide with the first time Tsarukyan publicly criticized the authorities either. While his party initially made overtures to the new government, they took part in an attempt to impede a motion for snap elections back in 2018, in which they eventually won just over eight percent of the popular vote. Since then, Tsarukyan has publicly derided the new government for its refusal to extend tariff protection to his failing businesses, accusing it of mismanaging the economy and fostering an unhealthy business climate. He also recently refused to pay his own employees’ wages when the government announced lockdowns at the start of the ongoing pandemic.
Tsarukyan is not the first public figure associated with the former government to paint himself as the victim of political repression for criticizing the new authorities. Other notable figures to make the same assertions include Mikayel Minasyan (former President Serge Sarkisian’s self-exiled son-in-law), Gagik Khachaturyan, Ruben Hayrapetyan and other oligarchs widely accused of using their ties to the previous government for self-enrichment.
Political analyst Richard Giragosian described Sunday’s raid on Tsarukyan’s compound and subsequent arrest as a strategic “determination to show an end to the previous culture of impunity that prevailed under the old government for many wealthy businessmen that entered politics.” The events of the previous week have also, in Giragosian’s view, exposed Tsarukyan as having “no real power base of his own” beyond those financially dependent on him. This view was echoed by CivilNet’s Tatul Hakobyan who characterized Tsarukyan as “playing the wrong hand and paying dearly for it.”
In Parliament on Wednesday, Prosperous Armenia MPs announced that they would call for a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as a constitutional appeal to the ban on public demonstrations during the State of Emergency. The other parliamentary opposition party, Bright Armenia, signaled that it might join in this motion.
6 new cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in Armenia, bringing the total number of infected to 84, one patient has recovered, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said live on Facebook.
“6 new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in Armenia. The total number of cases is 84. 81% of the cases are connected with the cases registered in Etchmiadzin town and a manufacturing company [in Yerevan]”, the PM said.
Pashinyan informed that at this moment 444 people are under quarantine, and the government urged 799 people to self-quarantine in their homes.
On March 16 Armenia declared a 30-day state of emergency to fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus. The state of emergency is effective until April 14, at 17:00.
One Turkish doctor estimates that as many as 60 percent of Turks may now be infected.
As coronavirus spreads along Turkey’s borders, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ministers remained in denial. Just last week, Turkey’s health minister denied any cases existed in the country, a claim made against evidence that travelers to Turkey had been infected there. Ergin Kocyildirim, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Pittsburg’s School of Medicine, wrote a brilliant essay describing both the Turkish government’s claim to have established an effective testing kit and the fraudulence of its claims.
When faced with both local and international disbelief about why coronavirus would bypass Turkey, Turkish authorities took a dual approach. As in China, they arrested whistleblowers. They went beyond simple repression as panelists on the state-controlled Turkish press insisted that Turkish genes rendered most Turkic peoples immune. Many Turks, Erdoğan included, may embrace the notion of both Islamic and Turkish supremacy, but his basic ignorance of science may have condemned Turks to once again prove Darwin correct.
What might have motivated Erdoğan to lie about coronavirus and gamble with the lives of 80 million Turks?
Part of the reason might be Erdoğan’s dangerous combination of arrogance and ignorance. The Turkish leader’s arrogance is reflected in the thin skin he has toward criticism. According to the Turkish Justice Ministry, Turkish police charged an average of 4,500 people each year from 2014 through 2017 with insulting the Turkish leader for criticizing Erdoğan or speaking about his corruption. (Full disclosure: I am one of them). In 2018, the Erdoğan regime initiated 26,000 new cases. Aa cracks began to show in the Turkish economy, Erdoğan spared no effort to muzzle growing criticism. Nor is the Turkish leader’s ignorance any secret as the crackdown on the free press has meant the surviving media merely amplifies the conspiracy theories in which Erdoğan and his top aides believe, such as the Jews targeting them with telekinesis, or that bands on migratory birds to be evidence of Israeli espionage. The Turkish accusation that followers of exiled theologian Fethullah Gülen contributed to the spread of the virus likely is only a matter of time.
A larger motivation may be fear. While Turkey’s demography is shifting in Erdoğan’s favor as conservative families from Turkey’s Anatolian heartland grow relative to the Europeanized Turks from central Istanbul and the Mediterranean coast, the economy is faltering. In 2010, Erdoğan promised that by Turkey’s 2023 centennial, Turkey would be one of the world’s top ten economies. Even before coronavirus, Turkey would be lucky to remain in the top 20 as corruption, nepotism, political interference in business, and broad mismanagement have combined to send confidence in Turkey’s economy into the gutter.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan ordered in July the doubling of salaries paid to ministers, deputy ministers and chief secretaries of ministries. The government kept the order a secret.
To verify the information Hetq received about the secret order, we wrote to three ministries.
It received May-August data on the number of employees and the salary fund.
In the case of one ministry, there was a substantial difference in the salaries of the same number of employees. We sent an additional inquiry to the three ministers asking how much the minister had received in terms of salary, bonuses, and other salaries.
For example, Emergency Affairs Minister Felix Tsolakyan received a salary of 6 million drams in May, June, July, and August, as was the case with Environment Minister Eric Grigoryan. If we divide the salary by 4 months, we get 1.5 million drams a month.
We had sent a similar inquiry to the Minister of Finance Atom Janjughazyan. The secretary-general of the ministry did not provide us with information about Janjughazyan’s salary. Instead, he suggested waiting for the annual disclosure.
The amount of salary of public officials in Armenia is defined by law.
According to the RA Law on Remuneration of Public Officials, a minister’s salary coefficient is 12. In order to receive a minister’s salary, this number must be multiplied by the base salary of 66,140 drams. The sum is AMD 793,680, which includes taxes. Meanwhile, without making any changes to the law, the secretary’s order doubled, amounting to 1.5 million drams, according to the prime minister’s secret order.
The same is the case with the salaries of deputy ministers and chief secretaries.
According to the coefficient stipulated by law, the salary of a deputy minister is 562,160 drams, which became 1.060 million drams. The salary of a chief secretary has increased from 595,260 thousand drams to 870,000 drams.
When we understood what had happened, we asked PM Nikol Pashinyan in writing asking why the process had been carried out in secret.
Here is the response of Armen Khachatryan, Acting Head of the Information and Public Relations Department of the Prime Minister’s Office:
“The issue you raised was, as you have mentioned, carried out by secret procedure, so such information is not subject to disclosure. It is important for us to note that the officials you cite submit a declaration of property, income, and interests, which implies that the above process is entirely public and transparent.”
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan addressed some 10,000 people from the steps of City Hall on Sunday, Sept. 22, in a rally marking his first visit to Los Angeles, the largest Armenian population center outside the Republic of Armenia.
Pashinyan was appointed to his post after leading a wave of anti-government protests between March and May of 2018 that led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan — and has been widely hailed as a harbinger of democracy by championing free elections and government transparency.
“We have created a new image for Armenia,” said Pashinyan after lauding the warm California welcome in Armenian, the diaspora crowd chanting his name.
“We have developed a new slogan: It’s cool to be Armenian,” he said. “And together we have to make it even better, because the Armenian people is one of a great history and past. And our country has a bright future.”
North Hollywood councilmember Paul Krekorian, who became the first Armenian elected to city office in 2010, played a leading role in organizing the rally. Burbank Rep. Adam Schiff also addressed the crowd, calling LA the “capitol of the Armenian diaspora.”
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti praised Pashinyan’s leadership, saying “A day of sunshine has come to Armenia, a day of openness, of democracy. The day has come to invest and support and help the new Armenia rise, and rise and rise under this prime minister.”
Thousands are starting to pour into Grand Park from Glendale, Pasadena and the SFV for a visit today by Armenian Prime Minister @NikolPashinyan. It’s his first stop in LA, the largest Armenian population center outside Armenia, since getting elected last year
The bulk of attendees, clapping and dancing along to traditional music and dance performances on the steps of City Hall, came in predominately from such Armenian community population centers as Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley. Buses to downtown LA were made available to the communities.
While estimations of the Armenian population in Greater LA vary, the 2000 census reported over 150,000 Armenians in LA County with some 40,000 living in the San Fernando Valley.
“We’re here to honor and welcome him, for having led the revolution and cleaning up corruption,” said Hrair Koutnouyan of Glendale, who came to see Pashinyan with his wife. “A government that’s without stealing and cheating isn’t something that’s easily accepted, but he’s proving it can be done.”
Some, like 24-year-old Ani Dergrigorian of Glendale, who has lived in Armenia, is “optimistic” about Pashinyan’s leadership but hopes to hold him to account on issues facing every day Armenians. She and her sister, Areni, brought signs that demanded an end to environmentally harmful mining practices in the nation’s Almusar region.
“Maybe we don’t feel the impacts as much here, but it’s more important than ever for us to be engaged in politics in Armenia,” she said. “We’re all facing climate change on the same planet. At the end of the day it impacts us too.”
Monterey Park doctor Jack Der-Sarkissian said he was moved by the “optimism and enthusiasm” in Armenia following the Pashinyan-led protests, what he and his supporters call the “Velvet Revolution.” He’s listening for proof that the leader will be the steward of democracy he said he would.
“A lot of people in Los Angeles will financially invest in their families and Armenia needs it,” he said. “At the end of the day he needs to convince people like myself that it’s the right time to invest in Armenia. He has a lot of work ahead of him.”
YEREVAN (UrduPoint News / Sputnik – 20th May, 2019) Protesters in Armenia are blocking entrances to court buildings across the country on Monday following Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s calls for action after a court ruled to free former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan, a Sputnik correspondent reported.
A court in Yerevan ruled on Saturday to release Kocharyan under guarantees of the former and incumbent presidents of the non-recognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The next day, Pashinyan, on his Facebook page, called for blocking court buildings’ entrances on Monday morning in protest of the ruling.
Protests are taking place in Armenia’s capital of Yerevan along with other regions, with protesters publishing photos and videos on social media.
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian urged the nation to show restraint and respect the constitution in light of Pashinyan’s calls, while the lawyers’ chamber said that the prime minister’s appeals violated the constitution.
Kocharyan, who served as president from 1998 to 2008, was charged with attempts to overthrow Armenia’s constitutional order by suppressing opposition protests in March 2008. He has denounced the accusations as fabricated.
The protests were held by supporters of then-presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who rejected the results of the February 2008 election, won by Kocharyan’s ally Serzh Sargsyan. The rallies led to clashes between the protesters and police who dispersed demonstrators. Pashinyan, in turn, was on Ter-Petrosyan’s campaign team and took part in the rallies.
“The new Armenian authorities are afraid of what Robert Kocharyan intended to say,” said his representative after the press conference was cancelled
“Murderer!” and “He has no place in Armenia” screamed dozens of activists who arrived at former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan’s press conference on 14 August, the day after his release.
Kocharyan was remanded into custody on 28 July on charges of breaching constitutional order and his involvement in the deaths of ten people during the 2008 protests while president of Armenia. However, he was freed from custody after the Court of Appeals ruled that his remandment was illegal. Kocharyan’s lawyer Ruben Sahakyan told reporters that his release was based on a provision in the constitution which grants a former president immunity.
The activists were mainly students who participated in Armenia’s recent ‘velvet revolution’, as a result of which the country saw a peaceful change in power. They told journalists who were expecting the appearance of the former president that they intended to disrupt his press conference.
As a result, Robert Kocharyan’s security officers left the hall, and it soon became apparent that he had left the business centre where the appearance was scheduled
Robert Kocharyan was the President of Armenia from 1998 to 2008. He was arrested in connection with the events that took place on 1 and 2 March, 2008: following the presidential elections on 18 February 2008, political bloc supporters headed by the first president of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, demanded an investigation into the election results, claiming Levon Ter-Petrosyan won the election instead of Kocharyan. Thousands of protesters occupied the central square in Yerevan, taking part in round-the-clock demonstrations until 1 March.
On 1 March, military-grade weapons were used to disperse the crowds. Eight civilians and two police officers were killed in the process. Kocharyan was still president of the country at the time. According to data from the Central Electoral Commission, President Serzh Sargsyan was elected. However, he had not yet taken office.
Victor Soghomonyan, the head of the former president’s office, accused the new Armenian authorities of disrupting the press conference.
“As you have seen, the authorities are afraid of what Robert Kocharyan intended to say. That’s why they directed their activists to disrupt the conference,” Soghomonyan told reporters.
Robert Kocharyan previously said that he considers the case against him to be politically motivated.
Kocharyan’s representatives are expected to make a statement at a later time.
2006 October 18, 04:08 (Wednesday)
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TE – Telegram (cable)
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SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PLEASE HANDLE ACCORDINGLY.
1. (U) Oligarchs and thugs have taken to settling scores on the street in greater numbers in the last few months, and high-profile assassinations and murder attempts are on the rise in Armenia. Though the crimes do not appear to be related, and in most cases the motives are unclear, the increase in violence may indicate a new trend in domestic politics. END SUMMARY.
BUSINESSMAN FOUND BEHEADED IN A CAR
2. (U) On September 30, 2006, the beheaded body of businessman Artur Khalatian was discovered in a car parked in a garage in the village of Zar. Khalatian was one of the heads of the “Avia-Service” company, which belongs to oligarch Gagik Tsarukian, the founder of the new Prosperous Armenia political party. According to local press reports, police said Khalatian was killed by Robert Sargsian, a man who said he wanted to buy Khalatian’s Yerevan apartment. The police told the press that Khalatian went to Sargsian’s village to collect the USD 140,000 payment for the apartment. According to police, Sargsian and two friends killed Khalatian and hid the body in the trunk of his car, where Sargsian’s family found it. Police have arrested one suspect, Tatoul Mirzoyan, but Sargsian and his cousin Henrik Hovnikian are still wanted.
NK VETERANS’ UNION MEMBER SHOT DEAD IN DRIVE-BY ATTACK
3. (SBU) Sedrak Zatikian, an influential Yerkrapah (NK war veterans’ political movement) leader was shot dead in broad daylight while driving his car in late June. A bystander was also killed in the crossfire. Despite his youth, the 26-year-old Zatikian was wealthy, relatively powerful and notorious. He headed a suburban Yerevan chapter of Yerkrapah (literally “Defenders of the Land”) and earned his infamy for assaulting the nephew of powerful parliamentary deputy Hakob Hakobian in 2004. Zatikian managed to avoid prosecution by hiding from police for several months and then making peace with Hakobian’s clan. Another of Hakobian’s nephews was arrested in connection with Zatikian’s death but was charged only with illegal arms possession. 4. (U) Zatikian’s funeral was a mafia-style affair, and mourners’ cars crowded the streets of Noy, an affluent subdivision that is also home to many Embassy families. Streets surrounding the area were blocked for hours.
FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER BLAMES PM FOR ATTACK
5. (U) Opposition politician Suren Abrahamian, a former interior minister and mayor of Yerevan, was reportedly attacked near his house by unidentified men on October 8, sustaining minor injuries. Abrahamian’s Republic Party fingered Prime Minister Andranik Markarian in what they called “an act of political intimidation” by the government. Markarian denied any involvement. Abrahamian, who is a vocal detractor of the Armenian government in general and presidential front-runner Defense Minister Serzh Sargsian in particular, recently had criticized the prime minister publicly, calling him a “criminal element.” Abrahamian told the press that one of his assailants demanded he apologize for his statements but did not specify which statements, nor to whom he should apologize. “Whether or not he ordered the attack, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian is responsible for what happened,” Abrahamian told a news conference.
POLICE CHIEF SHOT IN HIS GARAGE
6. (U) Police General Aram Zakarian, the chief of the special protection department of the National Police, was wounded after being attacked October 4 in his garage by an armed man.
FINANCE MINISTER UNSURE WHETHER HE WAS SHOT AT
– 7. According to the local press, Finance Minister Vardan Khachatrian reported to police that someone shot at him on October 2 while he YEREVAN 00001457 002 OF 002 sat in a cafe with friends. Police reportedly interrogated everyone who was at the caf while the minister was there, but nobody corroborated his report. Khachatrian then said he had been drunk while at the caf, and that there had not been a shooting. However, the following day, the minister said there had in fact been a shooting. The Prosecutor General’s office told us the shooting had taken place, but that it was not aimed at the minister, and that Khachatrian had fulfilled his “civic duty” by reporting the case to the police. (NOTE: This case is still a mystery; we saw one article on it October 5, and then it disappeared from the news. END NOTE.)
8. Though these incidents, together with the car-bomb death of a senior tax inspector (reftel), indicate a trend, there is no clear link between them. What is clear is that the perpetrators of these crimes are brazen and have committed several of them in broad daylight. Almost all of the victims and assailants in these incidents have reputations for criminal activity. It’s possible their undercover maneuverings have begun to morph into public clashes, in which case we may reasonable expect more to come as the parliamentary elections approach. GODFREY