Supporters of Armenian presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian are gathering this evening in central Yerevan for what Hovannisian called a "celebration of victory", but more questions than answers exist about the claim.
The official returns for the February 18 vote placed the American-born Heritage Party leader far behind incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, but Hovannisian claims this is a result of his votes being stolen. Sargsyan failed to convince his challenger otherwise during a tête-à-tête yesterday in the presidential residence, and Hovannisian emerged from the talks insisting that he would press on.
“My dear compatriots . . . we are defending our Constitution, our rights,” he declared to protesters in Liberty Square. “This is not about the fight between Raffi and Serzh, but about the future of the Republic of Armenia and its citizens.”
Mindful of the ten deaths that followed the last time there was a presidential election fight, both sides appear to be approaching the conflict with some degree of caution.
The presidential administration released a little video teaser of the closed meeting between the two men. “You look kind of sad,” Sargsyan told Hovannisian with a disarming smile -- an observation which his rival denied, also with a smile.
The Persian Empire at its greatest extent, including -- yes -- territory of today's Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.
A minor diplomatic kerfuffle has arisen over an Iranian presidential candidate's campaign promise to "return" Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan if he is elected. The candidate, Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Bokiri Kherrozi, promised that:
“If I am elected as president, I will return the lands of Tajikistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan, which were separated from Iran...
He said the return of the territories separated from Iran will be the major program of his pre-election campaign.
“I will get back these lands without any bloodshed.”
Naturally, this was not well received in Baku, Dushanbe or Yerevan.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan responded with a statement calling Kherrozi an "intriguer, an ignoramus and an unaware person" (according to BBC Monitoring's translation). Asked about Kherrozi's claim, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Elman Abdullayev said that he "doesn’t comment on absurd and groundless statements."
And Iran's ambassador to Yerevan had to clarify that Kherrozi's remarks did not reflect official policy:
Speaking about the mentioned remark, Ambassador Mohammad Raiesi said Kherrozi is not an official but religious figure, thus he cannot express the position of the state.
When Azerbaijan threatened in 2011 to shoot down flights to the newly built airport in Nagorno Karabakh, swift international condemnation forced them to back down. Now, with the long-delayed airport apparently close to opening, Baku has reiterated those threats. Reports News.az:
Azerbaijan’s Missile Defense Forces are keeping under control the entire airspace, including the occupied regions, a senior official of the Military Air Forces and Missile Defense Forces told APA exclusively on condition of anonymity.
He said the airspace is kept under control through the radar systems. Azerbaijani Army has been placed on alert in order to prevent any attempt of the opposite side.
“We record even the drones launched by Armenians in Karabakh airspace. Armenians’ attempts to operate unpermitted flights in this territory will be prevented. We are keeping under control all the processes and ready to prevent them. It is possible through various methods, the opposite side knows it very well,” he said.
The Armenian authorities who control the disputed territory of Karabakh hope that the establishment of flights in and out of the self-proclaimed republic will help mitigate their isolation; it's now only possible to reach the territory by a long drive through the mountains from Armenia.
Cleaning days are rarely happy times. Even less so when you've got to fight over who cleans where and with what.
For years, Armenians and Greeks have been battling over who has the right to polish a step or dust a lamp in one of the world's oldest churches -- Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, a 1,687-year-old structure built to commemorate the supposed birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Windows, walls, the roof -- you name it, there's been conflict. In December 2011, the scuffles required police intervention when Greek and Armenian priests furiously battled each other with brooms and blows over a "new" approach to cleaning. (The Franciscans, for their part, get to give "the general cleaning" a miss.)
But, finally, hopes are surfacing that 2013 might prove the year of a ceasefire.
A year ago, The Bug Pit predicted that the two most likely conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia would be between Azerbaijan and Armenia, or in Tajikistan. The region did escape full-blown conflict in 2012, but those two situations did get significantly tenser: Azerbaijan/Armenia over Baku's pardoning of Ramil Safarov, and Tajikistan during heavy fighting in Khorog over the summer. If we look ahead at 2013, those would still seem to be the most likely conflicts, in the still unlikely event that one were to break out in the region. (The third most likely conflict scenario from a year ago, an interstate conflict between Uzbekistan and either Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, didn't come to pass, and 2012 did seem to see a decrease in the number of border skirmishes, troop movements, etc. that raised tension in 2011.)
A year ago, there seemed to be some possibility of civil unrest, or worse, in Georgia over the hotly contested elections there in the fall of 2012. That didn't come to pass and there, too, conflict seems less likely than it was a year ago, given that the country proved it could carry out a peaceful transition of political power, and that the potentially erratic President MIkheil Saakashvili will be kept in check by an opposition government.
Like anyone else, Armenian government officials like to look and feel their best. But how much should taxpayers spend to keep them in toothpaste, shampoo and toilet paper?
According to Ministry of Finance data cited on December 9 by online TV outlet CivilNet, state bodies spent nearly one-third of a million dollars ($325,775 or 132.3 million drams) on personal-hygiene and cleaning supplies over the past year, with toilet paper alone costing taxpayers roughly 7.8 million drams (about $19,165).
The Ministry of Justice’s Penitentiary Department, apparently quite desirous of a clean shave, spent a whopping $41,000, or over 16.6 million drams, to buy 175,000 razors – more than 36 times the size of Armenia’s 2011 prison population of 4,812 people.
But personal hygiene is not the only area in which the government seems eager to spend. The apparently house-proud National Security Service, the country’s intelligence agency, spent over 2 million drams, about $5,000, on supplies of scrubbing powder between September 2011 and August 2012, nearly $2,000 (750,000 drams) on kitchen cutting boards and a puzzling $850 (340,000 drams) on matches and gloves.
The presidential administration, which paid the dram-equivalent of roughly $1,700 for 800 rolls of $2-plus toilet paper -- about double the price of the most expensive retail variety -- declined to respond to a query from EurasiaNet.org about its purchases of shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other personal hygiene items.
The report also provided some telling consumer comparisons; while the National Security Service spent 150 drams (37 cents) per toothbrush, the presidential administration favored the 850-dram (about $2.09) variety.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, in Brussels in March.
Armenia has lately been boosting cooperation with both NATO and Russia, prompting questions about how far it can play both sides of the geopolitical conflict.
This fall, Armenia has hosted top NATO officials and the U.S. secretary of the navy, and in September Armenian units trained by the U.S. and NATO countries for deployment in international missions, like that in Afghanistan, conducted an exercise, reported RFE/RL:
[S]ome 600 soldiers of the volunteer unit simulated their participation in a multinational peacekeeping operation in an exercise watched by U.S. military instructors. The exercise also involved what the Armenian Defense Ministry described as a successful “self-appraisal with NATO standards” by the brigade’s Staff Company.
But this fall, Armenia also hosted exercises of the Russia-run Collective Security Treaty Organization and has signed an agreement with Russia on joint arms production, a provision of which requires Armenia to "rely exclusively on Russian-made and supplied weapons," writes analyst Richard Giragosian in a piece at Oxford Analytica:
For the first time, Armenia is being excluded from procuring Western arms, limiting its options and potential partners and, at least in theory, hindering its pursuit of interoperability with NATO standards.
Armenian Scud-B missiles, on display at a 2011 military parade in Yerevan.
Armenia is capable of attacking Azerbaijan's oil facilities in case of a war, and that it just finished military exercises practicing that scenario. a top Armenian general has said, speaking to a press conference at the conclusion of the exercises:
“We simulated strikes against both army units and military facilities of the probable enemy and … economic facilities that influence, in one way or another, the military capacity of its armed forces,” said Major-General Artak Davtian, head of the operational department at the Armenian army’s General Staff.
“There would be no strikes on the civilian population, we are not planning or playing out such a war scenario,” he told journalists. “We do not plan any strikes on cities. Our targets are military and economic facilities that are essential to a particular state.”
“In particular, I can stress that we modeled several strikes on oil and gas infrastructures, energy carriers that would affect the economy,” Davtian added in a clear reference to oil-rich Azerbaijan.
The exercises took place from October 1-13. According to Radio Azatutyun:
The two-week “strategic” exercises, which drew to a close at the weekend, took place in undisclosed locations in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in a mostly “command-and-staff” format. According to the Armenian military, they involved over 40,000 troops and thousands of pieces of military hardware. The participating personnel included a record-high number of army reservists.
Azerbaijan, naturally, responded quickly. Spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry, Colonel Eldar Sabiroglu:
Armenia has ratified a protocol that would allow Russia a veto over any foreign military installations in its country, but not without some grumbling. An agreement reached last year by the Collective Security Treaty Organization allows any CSTO member to have a say in whether another member can host a foreign military base. This week, Armenia's parliament ratified that agreement, but with some lawmakers complaining that it infringed on the country's sovereignty, and the parliament's second-largest bloc abstaining from the vote, reports ArmeniaNow:
On October 4, the Parliament ratified the Protocol on the Location of Military Installations in Collective Security Treaty Organization (OSCE) Member Countries that was signed still in December 2011 and under which Armenia is not entitled to host military forces or other infrastructure of other states without the permission of the CSTO...
Opposition Heritage faction MP Alexander Arzumanyan, who represents the Free Democrats party and served as Armenia’s minister of foreign affairs in the 1990s, said during the debate in the National Assembly that the Protocol limits Armenia’s sovereign rights and humiliates the nation’s dignity. In the end, only five lawmakers in the 131-member body, including Arzumanyan, voted against the ratification. The second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, Prosperous Armenia [which holds 37 seats], opted out of the vote.
Photographer Mari Bastashevski has started an ambitious new investigative project, "State Business," which she calls "an art project about the conflict arms trade." And her first subject is a series of arms shipments which appeared to be headed for Nagorno-Karabakh:
In the spring of 2010 the arms tracking community had picked up on a number of suspicious flights headed for Armenia, 39 in total. The flights continued at even intervals well into February 2011. All of them were Ilyushin IL-76s. The planes left Podgorica [Montenegro] airport for Armenia’s ‘Erebuni’ military airport. It was estimated that the arms were intended for the troubled Nagorno-Karabakh region, which saw a wave of border incidents and heightened tensions at the time.
The flights didn’t simply tip-toe past the guards in the middle of the night. Because… well- not Hollywood. There was obviously a ton of paperwork to get these off the ground. Although airports and aviation authorities keep copies of flight documentation for a period of time, in Montenegro (not exceptionally) such documentation is rather well hidden under the umbrella of “National Security,” which is evoked each time secrecy is convenient.