Books on Armenia
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 298 - (27/10/05)
The new zeitgeist
Democracy is in the air in the Caucasus and the dictatorial regime in Yerevan is
bowing to it even by continually denying it. Elections in neighbouring
Azerbaijan are due on November 6th; and these are less of a formality than
usual. There are 2,000 candidates for seats in parliament, some now allowed from
abroad. That the ruling party will win is not in doubt, but some individual
surprises are expected.
Georgia has just held five by-elections, confirming the continued, if more
critical, support for the ruling order there after its Rose Revolution two years
ago. Georgia remains a sort of beacon for the other countries in the region, as
every election campaign, whether presidential or parliamentary, held in
neighbouring states since 2003, have had a whiff of approaching revolution. This
also goes for election campaigns in entities not recognized by the international
community. Abkhazia lived through a "velvet revolution" of its own
almost a year ago, and there was the approach of revolution in the air in
Nagorny Karabakh in June.
Armenia and Azerbaijan are no exceptions in this respect and both have to face
the test of how ripe they are for revolution. Armenia will soon be holding a
referendum on proposed amendments to its constitution and Azerbaijan, as we have
seen, will hold parliamentary elections on Nov 6th. In both cases the votes are
expected to be more open than was the case with the presidential election in
Azerbaijan and the presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia in 2003.
This may be an indicator that the CIS has entered a new, post-revolutionary
phase. The main sign of this new situation is the presence of election observers
from the United States, Europe and international organizations, whose work is to
ensure that voting measures up to democratic standards. Emissaries from
Washington and Brussels are already busy announcing the conditions for the
upcoming elections in the southern Caucasus, and a certain division of labour
can be seen here. The European organizations are paying closer attention to
democracy in Azerbaijan, while those from the United States are keeping a
watchful eye on Armenia - not surprising, given that Armenia's traditional
geopolitical position of close relations with Russia and a firm anti-Turkish
line is not entirely to the taste of US diplomats.
US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, for his part, said recently that the
adoption of the proposed amendments to the Armenian constitution in a national
referendum would open up broad new opportunities for the republic. In Evans'
words, "failure of the referendum would slow down the democratic processes
in Armenia," and falsification of its results would set off mass popular
Challenges ahead for Armenia's constitutional vote
After a brief and uncharacteristic period of cooperation, the Armenian
government and opposition are back on a collision course over constitutional
reform. The opposition's refusal to accept President Robert Kocharian's proposed
changes to Armenia's constitution has also put it at loggerheads with the
international community, which has backed the amendments, as Evans' comments
At a September 1 extraordinary session, Armenia's National Assembly adopted the
government's proposed constitutional amendments in the second reading. Despite
pressure from members of the ruling coalition and representatives of Western
countries, the main opposition parties declared that they would not support the
draft in a referendum scheduled for November.
The four-day parliamentary session resulted in a series of amendments designed
to downplay presidential powers and gain the approval of the Venice Commission,
the Council of Europe advisory body for constitutional law, which had rejected
an earlier draft in May as unsatisfactory. Opposition members, who interrupted
their one-and-a-half-year boycott of parliament to attend the special session,
refused to take part in the final vote on the proposed amendments.
Besides the Council of Europe, the draft was publicly endorsed by the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Yerevan mission and the US
and British ambassadors.
In an interview published in the August 26-27 edition of the Hayots Ashkhar
daily, British Ambassador Thorda Abbot-Watt rejected calls for a "colour
revolution" during the November vote, and stressed that the European Union,
whose rotating presidency the United Kingdom currently holds, "prefer
evolutionary ways of development rather than revolutionary ones." The vote
on the revised constitution is part of that process, the ambassador
implied." Let's not forget that what we deal with is not a regular election
or a referendum of confidence in connection of the previous elections. We deal
with the constitution, a document predetermining the principal directions of the
Nonetheless, the government faces considerable obstacles in securing a
"yes" vote for its amended constitution this November. Putting voter
lists in order is one sizeable challenge. Overcoming public apathy is another.
Disinterest in the topic of constitutional reforms notably increased after
parliamentarians were broadcast live on public television hurling insults at
each other during the legislature's special session. Public awareness of the
proposed changes is also relatively minimal since the proposed constitution has
not yet been published. An earlier version was posted on the National Assembly's
website, but less than 10 percent of Armenians have Internet access.
In addition, President Robert Kocharian must demonstrate to the international
community that the vote is free and fair. In an August 26th statement,
Ambassador John Evans termed the revised constitution "a notable step
forward," urging the government to take "the necessary steps . . . to
increase public awareness about this important process so that a well-informed
public can express its will in the referendum scheduled for November."
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has recently raised the importance of a
transparent vote with President Kocharian, the US State Department has
If adopted, the revised constitution would enter into force two years from the
The government appears to believe that the success of the referendum is not
guaranteed, however. Defense Minister Sergei Sargsian, widely seen as a
potential presidential candidate, was quoted by the Russian news agency Regnum
as emphasizing that a "no" vote in November would not mean a vote of
no confidence in the Kocharian administration.
"I will not consider that the people have expressed their distrust in the
authorities," Sargsian said on September 1. "As you remember, there
were referenda in European countries that were not adopted either. However, this
was not interpreted as distrust in the authorities."
Western countries' endorsement of the draft constitution reinforced the ruling
coalition's own campaign for both ordinary Armenians' and the opposition's
support for the amendments. "Do you suppose that we have bribed these
foreign governments?" Galust Sahakian, leader of the pro-government
Republican Party faction, asked opposition members during the parliamentary
debates. In reply, Shavarsh Kocharian claimed that US Ambassador John Evans had
compared the process of democratisation in Armenia with that in Iraq. "Why
should we take Iraq rather than the European democracies as a standard?" he
At the Venice Commission's urging, the amendments adopted by parliament were
intended to pass greater powers from the president to parliament and the prime
minister. Among other provisions, for instance, they call on the National
Assembly to appoint the human rights ombudsman and members of the National Radio
and TV commission. The president has also been removed from the Council of
Justice, a body that plays a key role in appointing judges.
While opposition parties had earlier pushed for such changes, in the end, they
declared them insufficient. Shavarsh Kocharian, a member of the opposition bloc
Ardarutiun (Justice), said his faction was not satisfied with the fact that
under the amended version, the president would still have the power to appoint
chairmen of courts. The opposition also took issue with the failure to provide
for direct elections of the mayor of Yerevan. According to the draft, a special
law to be adopted later will determine the type of elections for this position.
Political rhetoric heavily coloured the opposition's response. Ardarutiun leader
Stepan Demirchian stated that his bloc would say no to the referendum and
"the illegal authorities," since "no steps are taken to create an
atmosphere of confidence." The National Unity faction adopted a similar
position, saying that they would support the amendments only if the November
constitutional referendum was followed by early parliamentary, and then, early
presidential elections. Deputies from both factions left parliament the day
before the vote on the constitutional amendments.
Interenergo to control Armenian electricity distribution grid
Russia's state-run power monopoly, Unified Energy Systems (UES), has gained the
right to formally purchase Armenia's electricity grid, giving Russia total
control over the Armenian energy sector, New Europe reported recently.
For the past few years, Armenia's leading Western donors were against Russian
attempts to take over the Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA) but now appear
to have come to terms with the change of ownership. The Armenian government
finally decided to transfer the entire stock of the republic's electricity
distribution grid to Interenergo - a component of the UES, Armenian Energy
Minister, Armen Movsesian, said. He added that the UES of Russia would assume
all the commitments of the current owner of the republic's electricity
distribution grid, the British-based Midland Resources. The British company
recently suggested the stock transfer.
Movsesian denied claims that the UES of Russia would allegedly become the
monopoly on the Armenian energy market. He said the Russian company produces
only 10 per cent of the republic's electricity. On June 23, Interenergo acquired
the right to 99-year control over the Armenian electricity network at a cost of
73 million Euro. Initially, UES claimed to have purchased the Armenian utility,
but later clarified that it paid the lump sum only for the right to run ENA and
use its profits. UES alone controls several big power plants that account for 80
per cent of Armenia's electricity output. Movsesian publicly spoke out against
the Russian giant's ownership of ENA last March, arguing that it would run
counter to a key goal of the energy sector reform: separation of units
generating, transmitting, and distributing electricity. Meanwhile, the World
Bank believes that it is not important as to who is the owner of the power
distribution network as they have great confidence in the regulator in Armenia.
Trade deficit up 30%, inflation 0.9%
Armenia saw a foreign trade deficit of 481.7 million Euro in January-August
2005, up 29.8 per cent on the same period of 2004, the National Statistics
Service said, Interfax News Agency reported.
Foreign trade turnover grew 31.8 per cent in the eight months to 1.69 billion
Euro with exports up 35.3 per cent to 603.8 million Euro and imports up 29.4 per
cent to 1.08 billion Euro. Armenia's foreign trade deficit was 636 million Euro
in 2004, against 591 million Euro in 2003. Foreign trade turnover grew 5.1 per
cent in 2004 to 2.07 billion Euro. Armenia's inflation stood at 0.9 per cent in
Armenia in September. Prices for food products, including alcohol and
cigarettes, went up 1 per cent, non-food product prices rose 1.7 per cent, and
service tariffs increased 0.5 per cent. The country saw deflation with a 3.6 per
cent drop in consumer prices in January-September. This figure for August stood
at 1.4 per cent. The Armenian National Bank forecasts inflation at approximately
3 per cent this year. Consumer prices went up 2 per cent in 2004.