2021 March 23

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Daily news wrap-up

Mar/23/2021: (1) March 1st: judge sanctions Kocharyan defense, final phase, Constitutional Court begins (2) Polytechnic rector controversy (3) Sotq gold mine (4) Martial Law (5) Vazgen (6) SaLAry BoNusEs (7) Science & chess (8) Climate change & water resources (9) North-South roads & tunnels in Syun
by ar_david_hh

Your 15-minute Tuesday report in 3833 words.

Big day for March 1st Kocharyan trial / Judge fed up with delays, moves to next stage / Constitutional Court to decide whether law is constitutional

Constitutional Court

Article 300.1 is about upholding the constitutional order. Former president Kocharyan and his co-defendants are charged with violating it in 2008 by using the military against the civilians.

Kocharyan and a Lower Court judge earlier asked the Constitutional Court to decide whether that Article 300.1 is valid at all. Meanwhile, the defendants have been delaying the March 1st trial for as long as possible, likely hoping to see if the Constitutional Court strikes down the law.

Constitutional Court judge Arevik Petrosyan suggested fellow judges to hold the proceedings orally instead of in the proposed written format. Another Judge and ex-HHK MP Hrayr Tovmasyan also supports the oral format because "the situation around the Constitutional Court is exclusively political" and the oral format "will increase trust."

The judges held a vote: 4 opposed and 4 supported. The trial will continue in a written format. The judges went to the backroom to deliberate and give a verdict (later).

Kocharyan trial

Meanwhile, the actual March 1st trial resumed in the Lower Court. The defense asked the judge to remove the prosecutor, saying that he recently met a ruling party MP, and that it proves impartiality.

The prosecutor responded saying he's been meeting with many Parliamentary officials since 2020 as part of the ongoing legal reform discussions, and that the ruling party MP he met was the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee chief. The prosecutor accused the defense of "using rumors to delay the trial yet again."

The judge decided not to remove the prosecutor from the case. She then reminded that 1.5 years were spent on similar motions, and that "it's time to move to [evidence presentation] stage."

The defense lawyers boycotted the trial and stormed out of the room. As a result, the trial had to be delayed. During the next trial, the judge will address the lawyers' conduct, before hearing the final part of the accusatory speech by prosecutors. The next trial is on March 30th; it's always on Tuesday.

The judge also sanctioned one of the defense lawyers for skipping the last court session without a valid reason.

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046835.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046844.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046851.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046874.html , https://factor.am/351150.html , https://factor.am/351153.html , https://factor.am/351158.html , https://factor.am/351165.html , https://factor.am/351176.html

update: Sotq gold mine on the border

As we learned on January 26, the Sotq mine continues to operate despite part of it going under Azeri control after the war. The miner, which is a Russian company, said at the time that the removal of mining materials was being done on the Armenian side, therefore they were able to continue to operate after changing their transportation routes.

However, they do have to lay off some employees. The number isn't known yet but it could be up to 280. The number of total employees is >940. The Infrastructure Ministry says they've been routinely in touch with the miner in the past 3 months to keep those 280 jobs open.

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046897.html , https://factor.am/351254.html

Parliament will lift the Martial Law

Opposition LHK and BHK submitted a bill to lift the remaining parts of Martial Law to allow free elections. The ruling party supports it. QP Ararat Mirzoyan urged his colleagues to vote Yes, while denying the opposition's allegations that the Martial Law has so far restricted the opposition's freedoms. "Look at the [Vazgen Manukyan camp's protests outside Parliament]."

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046857.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046860.html

Vazgen Manukyan will de-occupy Baghramyan Avenue and move the camps to a nearby road

Vazgen plans to "expand the geography of operations and the involvement of the population in provinces."

Demirchyan Street will become their new "street headquarters". That street is also near the Parliament building but isn't as big as Baghramyan. They are clearing Baghramyan Avenue in order "to eliminate inconveniences regarding citizens' ability to travel."

Trusted sources familiar with the matter say that after the news about reopening the road, Vazgen Manukyan's approval rating skyrocketed to 101%, numbers we haven't seen since the rise of Bitcoin. (Correction: 1.01%)

[leave your angry comments over the inappropriate joke below]

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046890.html , Սկսել քաղաքական ակցիաների նոր ալիք՝ ընդլայնելով գործողությունների աշխարհագրությունն ու մարզերի բնակչության ընդգրկվածությունը

hashtag populism

The opposition often accuses the ruling party of being too generous with salary bonuses. The topic was brought up in Parliament today. "Last time the MPs received a salary bonus was on February 2020," responded ruling party MP Mirzoyan, "During the pandemic, the deputies made allocations to the funds."

Another ruling party MP turned the tables on the opposition with similar rhetoric:

QP Sisak: BHK received ֏45M while LHK ֏20M in bonuses. Yet we never said that those funds serve as an additional tool to help our partners to travel to Syunik more frequently to hear peoples' problems.

BHK Abovyan: This is a campaign stunt on your part. All our MPs donated their bonuses to a pandemic and war fund.

LHK Kostanyan: we could have purchased many drones with salary bonus funds.

QP Alen: it's time to stop the salary bonus talk. Why haven't you mentioned that the Parliament returned ֏1.3B back to the budget last year? The media outlets of [former regime] can take an old article, add my newest photo, and claim that I once again received a salary bonus.

One of the members of the Vazgen Manukyan Camp recently complained that we gave bonuses to the police. Good, we should have given them more. Aren't you the one giving away vodka and food to people near your tents?

Full: https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046862.html , https://youtu.be/TUp4XrE6cwo , https://youtu.be/7C2Z9hu1Yqg , https://factor.am/351205.html

Tags: #SalaryBonus

BHK MP Melkumyan about a need for a new economic policy:

Armenia has slipped into a consumer economy. Current expenditures in these budgets increased by ֏270B, while capital expenditures only by ֏70B. Chronic underperformance of capital expenditures of the budget means that jobs are not created. This means the government's economic policy is incorrect, because the political majority delegated their competencies and responsibilities to 2-3 people in the government, who intentionally or unintentionally have led the political majority to the edge of the abyss.


government plans to amend 2021 budget to increase science funding

We plan to allocate an additional ֏2.7b to the science field this year, said Education Minister Dumanyan, under the context of a new science initiative called "Gituzh" that was launched this year.

The science budget was ֏14b last year.


update: new Yerevan Master Chess School

As we learned earlier here and here, Yerevan municipality and Yerevan Chess Federation decided to convert one of the regular chess schools into a "super-school" to train high-performing students.

  • Deputy president of the school Qalantaryan: The tools that regular youth chess centers have today are not adequate for modern world standards. The world has changed a lot, and we need to stay with the times.

Yerevan city official Melkomyan: we began the discussions last year. Yerevan has 12 youth chess centers. We decided to found a Master's School, based on one of them. //

Why do we need another school when we already have the Academia and Tigran Petrosyan chess house? Chess experts say that in recent years, Armenia's performance in the international arena was unsatisfactory.

Grandmaster Rafael Vahanyan: the new center will have new and good trainers to allow children to develop.

Deputy president of the school: the Armenian team had unprecedented successes in 2006-2014 but nowadays the team is in the process of a generational change. There is a need to prepare a new generation who will be able to replace our legendary players. The goal is to make them grandmasters in 3-4 years by the time they turn 16. //

The center will have 60-80 children over the age of 10. Only the highest-rated ones will be admitted. The upper age limit is increased to 25. They will receive training, which is free, for ~6 years instead of the usual 10.

Chess trainer Tadevosyan: this is one of a kind initiative. We will have higher-class players who will gather here and have a chance to join the Armenian team.

Video: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=441438006917937 , https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/209532

Armenian chess team

Armenia's chess team (6 players) needs two more players because Levon Aronian will move to the United States soon, while another player is taking a break.

To pick the replacements, a competition is being held among the next 4 highest-ranking players. They've already played some matches. The winners will be known on March 27th.


Tags: #chess

Earth Hour 2021

Yerevan municipality will shut down street lights for an hour on March 27 to participate in the global climate change initiative.


climate change and water resources / reservoirs in Turkey and Armenia

As we learned last week, the Akhuryan Reservoir is the only one that currently has a water accumulation issue. "Turkey has been building reservoirs near Araks river," said Infrastructure Minister at the time.

Nature Ministry official provides details: this year the Akhuryan has 100 m3 less water (expected to be filled at 80% capacity this year). Turkey has been building reservoirs near Araks river since 2012. As a result, Araks river waters reduced by 30-40%.

Climate change is also a problem. The temperatures have been rising since 1994. As a result of high temperatures, the mountains receive rain instead of snow. There were years when only rains fell in 2100m altitudes.

The good news is, there is a lot more snow this year. Jermuk, for example, has 90cm instead of 3cm last year, Amberd has 100cm vs 9cm.

Nowadays we see continuous +40c temperatures in Yerevan. Before 2000, only once every 5 years you would see such a temperature.

By 2040, we will have 15% less water. By 2070 it'll be -25%. This is why proper water use and public education are important. //

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046870.html , https://factor.am/351012.html

update: two soldiers missing after a blizzard

Yesterday, two soldiers went missing because of a heavy snowstorm on borders. They went to another location 1.5km away to bring fuel and cigarettes. The contact was lost. They were located that evening.

One of them has died, while the other was in serious condition. The MOD Vagharshak paid him a visit in the hospital. His condition improved today.

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046821.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046840.html , https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/209635

heavy snow shuts down trade traffic on Georgia-Russia checkpoint

Hundreds of cargo trucks were stuck again in Lars checkpoint, used by international drivers including Armenians.


trade export stats

Exports to the EAEU trade block increased by 19% in January YoY; Russia accounted for almost all of it with a $32.6M share. Meanwhile, overall exports declined by 11% in the same period.

Exports to the EU declined by 36% YoY, but saw an increase beginning in January. Exports to France +69% in January YoY, +19% to Germany, +11% to Italy, +2.6x to China, -98% to Japan, -51% to Switzerland, -36% to Iran, -13% to Georgia.

Largest export products: raw mining $60.9M, prepared food $31.1M, precious metals $19.9M.

Export of shoes, umbrellas, and hats rose 3x in January, but the volumes are still small.

Full: https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046819.html

Defense Ministers of Armenia and Russia discuss joint efforts to secure Syunik borders


deputy director of Human Rights Watch calls for the world to pressure Azerbaijan for abusing POWs

Rachel Denber said they are aware of videotapes showing torture by the Azeri soldiers, against those who were being held captive. There were civilians among the victims. "These are serious violations of the Geneva Convention."


European Parliament rapporteurs urge Azerbaijan to release the POWs.

They cited the Human Rights Watch findings.


a group of prominent Bulgarian public figures urge Azerbaijan to release POWs

Sports figures, writers, musicians, and others.


a new apartment complex is being built in Stepanakert

... with 108 apartments. It'll be given to IDPs who migrated from Shushi and Hadrut.


1,500 Lebanese-Armenians have moved to Armenia

After the port explosion in Beirut, Armenia and Artsakh sent 3 jets with humanitarian aid and accepted 1,500 Lebanese-Armenian migrants.

They were given some housing, education, and healthcare aid, but the available resources shrank because of the 2020 pandemic, said Diaspora Minister Sinanyan.


COVID stats

3721 tested. 801 infected. 451 healed. 24 deaths. 11602 active.


update: Human Rights Office budget

Human Rights Office has an annual $10M budget, while the government is required to increase or keep it practically the same year-over-year. Recently, the government decided to amend the law to allow the budget's reduction so the funds can be redirected elsewhere, due to the economic hardship in the country.

The European human rights network urged the government to reconsider the amendment, saying the Armenian HR office currently has a high rating and the budget reduction could affect that score and its future influence. "The funding is partly determined by the overall financial condition of the state, but even in severely unsatisfactory financial conditions, states have a responsibility to protect most vulnerable members of society."


Anti-corruption: NSS raids social security offices in Gyumri over bribery

NSS said: during February-March, the Gyumri branch director of Labor Ministry's social affairs department colluded with his subordinates to accept bribes from several residents to add them to the list of aid program recipients.

They were caught during one of the transactions on March 19. Nine officials have been arrested. One of the bribe-givers was identified and arrested; the others are barred from leaving the country.

The bribe money and notepads documenting the bribe were confiscated. All the subordinate officials have confessed to being part of the scheme.

Labor Minister about the raids: it is a pity that there are still civil servants in the state system who do not realize their unique mission towards the citizen. Unfortunately, the State Employment Agency today does not carry out its mission to the desired extent. At the same time, the Ministry is working to completely reform it and optimize employment programs in the near future.

After the reforms, the communication between the job seeker and employers will be improved, reducing the subjective and administrative risks. As part of the creation of a Unified Social Service, employment programs will become the best tool for overcoming poverty.

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046831.html , https://youtu.be/0-aT1X1ZVvY , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046892.html

rumors and rebuttals: BHK MP & penitentiary officials

BHK MP Naira Zohrabyan claimed to have received information about several penitentiary branch leaders (names given) allegedly pressuring inmates to "you know whom to vote for, or else there will be problems." She implied that the guards were pressuring inmates to vote for the ruling party.

Justice Minister Badasyan responds: I understand that you have entered the election campaign, but I urge you not to spread misinformation. I will give one simple fact.

The accused penitentiary branch chief Gevorg Varosyan, who works at Armavir and not Nubarashen as claimed by the MP, has not attended work since January 21st, while the news about elections arrived two months later, therefore he could not have met inmates to pressure them over voting.

https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046873.html , https://youtu.be/2MhQpD_GTBI

update: new police equipment and uniforms were purchased

Justice Minister Badasyan: as part of the upcoming police reform, which was approved in 2020, we purchased equipment and uniforms for the new patrol service.

This year we will open the operative control center of the patrol in Yerevan. It will receive calls from citizens and manage them all from one center.


North-South highway project: a 45km section in Syunik / new tunnels, bridges, roads

Italian construction companies, hired by the Infrastructure Ministry, launched a public awareness campaign in Syunik's Qajaran and Meghri cities about the upcoming reconstruction of Trans-4 Qajaran-Agarak section.

Funded by the government and the Eurasian Development Bank, it'll have a 45km length. Construction begins next year. Some of it will overlap with an existing road, while in other parts they'll build a new one.

As a result, fewer passer-by vehicles will have to travel through inner-city roads in the aforementioned cities; they'll be bypassed.

New bridges, tunnels (with anti-fire systems), and transport hubs will be built.

The new road will reduce travel by 14km and 38 minutes.


Yerevan begins planting new trees and bushes

The trimming of 10,000 trees has begun. Additionally, 4,000 trees and 70,000 bushes will be planted this year. The city's green department will also recover 76,000 m2 lawns and plant 2,700 m2 new ones.


Swedish EVOLUTION will open a live broadcast studio in Yerevan

Economy Minister Qerobyan: months earlier we tried to help a Swedish company EVOLUTION to solve issues preventing them from entering the Armenian market. The issue has been resolved.

The $25B worth company will open a live broadcast studio in Yerevan. Large businesses like these are necessary for our economy and will help produce world-class work culture. //

EVOLUTION is a leading B2B developer and provider in the online gaming world. The facility in Yerevan will have gambling tables with dealers to serve international casinos.

more: https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1046757/ , https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/209512

Polytechnic University rector election process draws criticizm / Accusations of forgery / HHK MP Armen Ashotyan's relative "wins"

February 26

Polytechnic University will elect a new rector soon. 6 candidates are running. Each candidate has to submit their development plan so the Board of Trustees can examine it.

Candidate David Ghazaryan complained that the election rules were being violated because not every candidate's development plan was submitted to the Board on time, thus placing some candidates at disadvantage.

Candidate David: The documents must be submitted at least 7 days before the election day (March 1st), but they were submitted only 3 days prior. I was not informed about the competition details, how long we'll be given for the presentation, etc. It's as if they are intentionally creating an uneven playing field. I believe the Board leadership is promoting one of the candidates.

Board secretary responds: candidates submit their development plan in a sealed letter. We cannot open it without their consent. Some Board members wanted to learn the candidates' plans ahead of time, so they asked the candidates for permission to unseal the letters. 4 candidates agreed, while 2 didn't. These elections are the first-ever where Board members were granted access to candidates' plans before the election date.


March 1st: election day

The atmosphere is tense at the Polytechnic University. The Board of Trustees is discussing the election of a new rector.

Candidate Hayk Baljyan suggested postponing the election to hold it under different rules later because some candidates questioned the impartiality of the competition. The candidate David Ghazaryan, who had earlier raised the complaint, agreed.

One of the Board members asked the Board leadership to explain why the Board members received a notification letter yesterday, in the case when 4 out of 6 candidates gave approval for an early examination of their development plans. This dissenting Board member also supported postponing the elections due to complaints.

Board president Hovik Musayelyan, however, insisted that no rules were broken. The majority of the Board voted to proceed with elections.


March 2: first round of elections

The Board held a 10-hour-long session. The debate was heated. They deliberated whether to make the candidates' speeches open or close the door; they settled on open.

The candidates presented their development vision. Candidate Davit Ghazaryan once again raised complaints that some candidates weren't able to present their plan ahead of time; he said he would contact the "relevant authorities to challenge the legality of the results."

The Board held a vote: Gor Vardanyan 16, Amalya Mkhitaryan 13, David Ghazaryan 1, Norayr Harutyunyan 0. Two other candidates withdraw their bid. None of the candidates received the necessary 17 votes.

Gor Vardanyan (current deputy rector, former HHK member of Yerevan municipality, godson of HHK MP and ex-Education Ministry Armen Ashotyan) proceeded to the second round of elections, as the sole candidate. He will attempt to receive the necessary 17 votes.


March 3: others join with complaints about "election falsifications"

Agricultural lab supervisor Aram Mikaelyan: one of the rector's candidates [Gor Vardanyan, Ashotyan's godson] is sponsoring the forgery of Faculty elections. How immoral is it to take advantage of the 2020 war, and within 2 weeks into the war, declare elections in a way to avoid open and transparent competition?

They placed a tiny note about Faculty elections only in one newspaper, while bypassing the rules about placing a note on the official websites. I'm under the impression that the administration has formed a criminal band. They want to appoint puppets who will later follow their orders. //

The university administration denied the accusations of breaking rules.


March 15 round two: the only candidate is... elected

Now-former candidate Pargev Baljyan, joined by 30 other university officials, urged the Board of Trustees to "display responsibility towards the country's needed technological development, and be guided by public interests instead of narrow personal and group interests."

The Broad proceeded with the elections, however. Sole candidate Gor Vardanyan was elected with 17-5-1 votes.

Chairwoman of the Counting Commission Gohar Mamikonyan submitted her resignation, citing irregularities with the way the ballots were marked, saying some of them should not have been accepted as valid. One of her colleagues joined her in resignation.

Their resignation halted the election result certification process because all members apparently must sign to certify the results. The Board began looking for a lawyer who could explain to them whether they could proceed with the certification (better call Saul). They eventually decided to certify the results.

The newly-elect rector expressed regret over the bolola, saying he wasn't satisfied with the process due to all the controversies. His opinion was shared by the Board chief.

https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/208902 , https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/209040

March 3 fallout: more resignations over election process

Professor David Ghazaryan, who was one of the candidates who complained about "irregularities", announced his resignation from the IT and Automation faculty. "I don't see my future at a Polytechnic university that is full of fraud. I wish to return when the university is cleared of dirt. We will continue the fight in the courts."

He later claimed that those members who signed under his open letter with complaints are being persecuted by the university administration.

https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/208923 , https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/209252

March 16: the news reaches the Education Ministry

We don't rule out the possibility of challenging the election results, said a Ministry official. "The issue is that only two members of the Counting Commission signed to certify results, while the Commission told the board that three members had signed." The Ministry will launch an official investigation soon.


March 22: Education Minister Dumanyan comments:

No rector has been appointed yet. There was a procedure and we received relevant documents that are yet to be examined. The media wrote about certain questions that warrant examination. There are various opinions about problematic topics. We will conduct a transparent examination.


Tags: #Polytechnic #politechnik #GorVardanyan #bolola #RectorElections

end of report

The accused are innocent unless proven guilty in the court of law, even if they "appear" guilty.

News archive: http://www.armeniapedia.org/wiki/Daily_Anti-Corruption_Reports

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Link to original report and comments: https://www.reddit.com/r/armenia/comments/mbm0bd/mar232021_1_march_1st_judge_sanctions_kocharyan/

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