After months of speculation, the Electricity Networks of Armenia, the power company whose price-hike touched off massive anti-government protests this summer, reportedly has a new owner — the Tashir Group. The Moscow-based holding company entity is owned by one of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Armenia-born Samvel Karapetian.
The move could have significant benefits for Yerevan. Prior to the sale, the government had pledged it would cover the cost of price increases for many consumers. But now, Karapetian has indicated that he will use his “personal resources” to help the government provide electricity subsidies, media reported.*
After Azerbaijani artillery fire killed three Armenian civilians last week, Armenia's defense ministry has threatened to escalate the conflict.
In a statement issued September 26, Yerevan said that "n order to quiet and deter the adversary, and thereby support the negotiation process, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia will hereafter apply adequate artillery and rocket striking means, continuously targeting permanent deployment areas, military movements, military equipment and manpower."
The statement was prompted by the deaths of three Armenian women, and then the deaths of four Armenian soldiers, after artillery fire from the Azerbaijani side of the border. The shelling of civilian villages has been a relatively new development in the conflict.
Armenia's first statement after the civilian deaths criticized Azerbaijan for trying to scuttle potential upcoming talks between officials of the two countries in New York at this week's United Nations General Assembly: "The Azerbaijani side always resorts to provocative actions ahead of negotiations and meetings on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and intentionally create tension."
That episode, however, was followed the next day by the deaths of four Armenian soldiers in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. (The territory, de jure part of Azerbaijan, has de facto been controlled by Armenian forces since a war between the two countries in the early 1990s.)
Azerbaijani shelling killed three Armenian civilian women living near the border between the two countries, the highest one-day death toll of civilians in recent memory.
The victims, in the Tavush region in northeastern Armenia, were killed by mortar and gunfire the evening of September 24, the Armenian Defense Ministry said in a statement. Two of the women were elderly; one was 94 and another 83.
That death toll "is the most civilians killed in one day that I can recall since the cease-fire," said Emil Sanamyan, an Armenian journalist who keeps data on casualties in the conflict, in an interview with The Bug Pit. Civilian deaths in the conflict have been steadily increasing: according to Sanamyan's records, five Armenian civilians have been killed this year, while no Azerbaijani civilians have been killed. In 2014, those figures were six Armenians and two Azerbaijanis; in 2013 one Armenian and one Azerbaijani; and in 2012 no Armenians and one Azerbaijani.
In previous years, most of the civilian deaths have been the result of stepping on land mines; this mortar fire at villages is "something that's been rarely seen since 1994," Sanamyan said.
The presidents of both countries are scheduled to be in New York next week for the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and there have been some reports that the two were planning to meet.
If there was a “little Armenia” in Syria, to borrow Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian’s words, there is also a little Syria in Armenia. The South Caucasus country has taken in 2,500 refugees from Syria just over the summer and continues to hand out visas and Armenian passports to Armenian-Syrians.
Before flooding into the European Union, Syrians, at least those of Armenian heritage, were streaming into Armenia. At 15,500 refugees since the start of the conflict, according to UNHCR and government figures, Armenia ranks as one of the most frequent destinations outside of the European Union for migrant Syrians relative to population, an Economist chart shows.
The mass arrival has been emphatically described as a “homecoming” in Armenia, where national identity is seen as something shared between the country’s residents and its far-flung Diasporas. “There are a 100 small and big Armenias around the world,” Foreign Minister Nalbandian told the BBC’s Russian service in a September 14 interview.
A fresh scuffle between police and demonstrators in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, suggests that widespread complaints about officials' handling of a 16.5-percent increase in electricity prices could still have legs.
The latest rally, scattered by police on September 12, did not boast the numbers comparable to the “high-voltage rallies,” a series of sit-ins in the city center in June known as Electric Yerevan. It was a much smaller crowd, made up mainly of activists from the No to Plunder group, which claims that the government, counter to its earlier promises, has not entirely covered the cost of the higher power prices.
Most businesses, the group alleges, have been left out.
At first glance, to many outsiders, paying roughly ten cents (48.78 drams) per kilowatt hour of daytime energy use may not seem high. But protesters claim the real issue relates to the practice of officials handing out special favors for the government's corporate chums -- a longtime complaint in Armenia. The government, they charge, always covers up accordingly.
No to Plunder has demanded that the new prices, seen as the result of government collusion with the Russian-owned Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA), be scrapped entirely. “We will go to the end,” the protesters told Interfax.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are conducting large-scale military exercises as tension along the border between the two nemeses has spiked in recent days.
Azerbaijan's defense ministry announced on September 6 that they were mobilizing 65,000 troops -- which would represent nearly the entire armed forces -- to test their readiness. The exercises also included 700 armored vehicles, 500 rockets and artillery units, 40 airplanes and 50 helicopters, and 20 naval ships, the MoD said. The exercises had not been previously announced and the MoD did not give further explanation of why they were being held.
That drill starts as Armenia is holding unprecedented exercises of its own. That exercise, called Shant 2015, is less military and more political, simulating how various branches of the government would respond in case of war.
Participants included a working group from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Russia-led political-military bloc. One of the tasks before the Armenian foreign ministry in the drill, Armenian media reported, was "what to do if one of the CSTO partners (but not Russia) does not fulfill its commitments?” Armenia's leadership has criticized its Turkic nominal allies in the CSTO, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, for supporting Azerbaijan's side in the dispute over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
Screenshots of RFE/RL video of the Russian military trial of Valeriy Permyakov, August 12, on charges of desertion and taking weapons from the base.
A Russian soldier accused of murdering seven members of an Armenian family faced his first trial this week, a Russian military tribunal which tried him on charges of desertion and taking weapons from the base where he was stationed.
It took the tribunal only a day to convict the soldier, Valeriy Permyakov, on those charges and convict him to ten years in a high-security penal colony. Permyakov still faces murder charges which, under a political compromise between Yerevan and Moscow, will be prosecuted by an Armenian court later.
Permyakov did not testify in the August 12 trial, held at Russia's 102nd military base in Armenia's second city, Gyumri. However, his pretrial testimony was read out in court, giving for the first time his account of the events of January 12.
In his pre-trial testimony, Permyakov admitted his guilt and said his intention on leaving the base was only to break into a house, steal money and valuables and go back home to Russia because he was homesick. However, in the course of the robbery, he got scared and opened fire, he said. The murders, and Russia's response to them, have been a serious point of friction between Armenia and Russia in a period of slowly deteriorating ties between the two allies.
According to Armenian media, Permyakov will remain in prison at the base in Gyumri for the time being. Officials have not yet announced when his trial in Armenian courts may begin, and what will happen with this ten-year sentence in the very likely case he's convicted in that trial remains unclear.
When the American company ContourGlobal, purchased a hydropower complex in Armenia earlier this summer, it probably did not know it would end up helping avert a major crisis in that country. Or providing the money to fix a mess allegedly caused, at least in part, by a Russian-owned firm with close ties to the Kremlin.
Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian announced this weekend that the government plans to use the money from the sale to subsidize a controversial, 16-percent increase in electricity fees, which went into effect on August 1.
He did not specify exactly how much the government would use from the $180-million nest egg.
Yerevan had agreed to cover the increase (pending an audit) after massive street demonstrations erupted in June in the capital, Yerevan, over the hike. Tagged by jittery Russian media as a revolution, the protests expressed longstanding frustration with perceived government collusion with its corporate pals' financial abuses.
He had a flat in downtown New York and a castle in Burgundy, but gave it all up for a hayseed village life; most recently, in disputed Nagorno Karabakh. He is German Sterligov, the founder of Russia’s first commodity exchange, and he recently came out of his hermitage in the breakaway territory to face enemies and possibly prosecution back in Moscow.
One of post-Soviet Russia’s first millionaires, 48-year-old Sterligov, who advocates a return to the old Russian alphabet, tsarism and living off the land, earlier this month fled the blandishments of the Moscow region to set up operations in bucolic Karabakh, the longtime battlefield between Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
In a July 13 press-conference, he called the accusations “a lie.”
One of his aides has linked the campaign against Sterligov in Russia to his historical opus, “From Adam to Putin,” in which he wishes that the Russian president would become a Christian. Sterligov accuses the Russian Orthodox Church of heresy.
Police on July 6 opened the epicenter of Yerevan’s mass protests, Baghramian Avenue, to traffic and closed it to rallies. They encountered little resistance when clearing the barricades and then cordoning off the perimeter of the avenue, a key thoroughfare blocked by demonstrators for the past two weeks.
For some observers, the July 6 response was not unexpected. The day before, some of the protest leaders had threatened to move their barricade of dumpsters gradually toward President Serzh Sargsyan’s office unless the government reversed a plan to increase electricity prices by 16 percent and punished alleged police abuses during an earlier dispersal of the demonstration, on June 23.
Officials had given no sign of yielding on the prices, though regulators told news outlets earlier in the day that the Russian-owned Electric Networks of Armenia will be fined 75 million drams ($158,388) on July 8 for alleged irregularities in connecting clients to the power grid and billing them.
If that was the carrot, though, the police provided the stick. Citing a supposedly planned “provocation,” they warned on July 5 they would take action to break up the gathering.
The overall police response, witnessed on a live video feed, appeared peaceful, however.
Police told Kavkazky Uzel they arrested 46 people in the cleanup, but released them all. Their earlier crackdown on the demonstration, on June 23, had resulted in some 240 arrests, but failed to end the demonstration, which continued to snowball, spreading to the regions.