When Mariam Avanesian and her family fled to Yerevan from Azerbaijan 25 years ago this month, they thought they were lucky; they had escaped physical danger, and left behind an apartment rather than “a grave” in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku. But moving to Armenia didn’t mean the end of uncertainty for Avanesian’s family members, and tens of thousands of others.
The Armenian government’s recent amnesty of several hundred prisoners has more to do with politics than a desire to reform the country’s justice system, human-rights activists contend. Authorities in Yerevan concede the existence of problems, but assert change is coming.
In what many local observers see as the latest in a series of pushbacks against government critics in Armenia, military investigators have filed criminal charges against Volodya Avetisian, a retired army colonel who launched a series of protests this spring for better benefits for Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans.
Heated differences of opinion are nothing new in the South Caucasus, but when they come with sluggish police investigations into violence against protesters, locals expect answers. So far, in Armenia, there have been none.
Over the past month, civil activists speaking out against Armenia’s surprise September 3 decision to join the Russia-led Customs Union and against past plans for a public transportation fare hike have suffered attacks in the capital, Yerevan, that left them with numerous injuries. One of the attacked, Haykak Arshamian, a 42-year-old project coordinator at the Yerevan Press Club who took part in September 4 protests against the Customs Union, claims that the Yerevan rally, attended by hundreds, “alarmed” the Armenian government and “this is the consequence.”
“This is a warning message not only to me, but to all those who might attempt certain activities and object to the new stage of Armenian-Russian relations, which have brought to nothing the efforts of building economic relations with Europe,” he told Asbarez.am.
Arshamian suffered rib fractures and heavy injuries to his jaw and facial tissue from a September 5 attack by male youths dressed in black. Another protester, 43-year-old Suren Saghatelian, a board member of the Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center and project manager for the Christian charity World Vision Armenia, received a head injury and a nose fracture, for which he had to undergo surgery.
Officials have offered no official comments on the violence against the Customs-Union protesters. The police launched a preliminary investigation, but filed criminal cases only nine days later. The action came the day after a September 12 statement from the US embassy condemning the assaults.
Some Armenian officials would have you believe that Yerevan's surprise decision to join the Russia-led Customs Union all came down to economic moxie. And, in a way, perhaps it did. But in gaseous form.
Armenian Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian told parliament on September 11 that the question of how to grapple with the higher prices Russia's state-owned Gazprom is now charging for natural gas would be decided within the framework of the Customs Union.
"The decision already has been found, and soon [everything] will be resolved," Movsisian said, expressing his support for the trade deal, Lragir.am reported.
Announced this summer, the 18-percent price hike by Gazprom, Armenia's chief provider of natural gas, had fueled not only further worries for the country's hard-pressed economy, but, also, predictions of widespread opposition to the government.
President Serzh Sargsyan had made no mention of gas when announcing on September 3 the plan to form a trade pact with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus -- an unexpected decision that has ruined (at least for now) Armenia's chances of an Association Agreement with the European Union.
Officials since have scrambled to make it seem that the Customs Union was the only choice going.
At first glance, the connection between a fatal July 13 traffic accident outside Moscow and Armenia’s strategic partnership with Russia may not be obvious. But, to many Armenians, a link exists, and it comes in the form of a woman’s yellow-and-pink flowered bathrobe.
This year for the first time young women in Armenia can enroll in the country’s two military academies. Some observers say coeducation has more to do with Armenia’s dire demographic situation than with any desire to promote gender equality.
Successful in war, Armenian veterans of the 1988-1994 conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh have been far less successful in securing the benefits they say they deserve from the Armenian government.
Armenia recently experienced its “Hello Revolution.” Now, after a hailstorm earlier this month wiped out a vast array of crops, the country could be in store for a “Hail Revolution” from the country’s farmers, analysts say.