Armenian political analysts on what did and didn’t happen in 2017
Photo: Seda Grigoryan, JAMnews
JAMnews highlights important events which took place in 2017 for Armenia including anticipated ones that never occurred, and asked two leading political scientists to comment on them.
What happened in 2017
Director of the Caucus Institute and political scientist Alexander Iskandaryan commented:
- Armenia signed an Agreement on Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership with the European Union, becoming the only country in the Eurasian Economic Union to conclude an agreement of this kind with the EU. The agreement proposed the development of economic cooperation and the possibility of visa free travel.
“This event is important for Armenia but nothing is going to change immediately, and I think the enthusiasm that came about because of this document was somewhat exaggerated. The document isn’t a medal for good behavior, but an opportunity that can be taken, or not taken as well.
“As far as reforms or values are concerned, Armenia has the opportunity to harmonize its legislation with that of Europe and improve its governance measures, particularly those related to control over monopolies, the fight against corruption etc. At the same time however, it is impossible to fight corruption from the outside. It’s impossible for Europe to enforce a policeman on the street not to take bribes. Armenia needs to come to this point on its own.
“Europe can and will help technically, expertly, and financially. In fact, Armenia has already been striving along this path over the past 7-8 years. The signed agreement is actually a slightly amended version of the Association Agreement which was not adopted in 2013.
“Nevertheless, to expect that Armenia would turn into Switzerland by virtue of this document would be foolish. We can look at countries which have adopted such documents prior to us such as Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova as examples. None of them have turned into Switzerland, and in some, the situation is worse than in ours.”
What to expect in 2018: “I think the treaty ratification process will begin in all European countries and the agreement will enter into force. It is likely that by the middle of the year progress can begin towards a visa-free travel policy.”
2. Completion of the Vardenis-Martakert road. At a length of 116 kilometers, this road is the second highway connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to the outside world through Armenia. Construction was carried out at the expense of the All-Armenia fund ‘Hayastan’ (Armenia). the highway serves an average of about 1 500 cars per day in both directions. The project was launched in 2013 as an alternative to the Stepanakert-Goris (Armenia) road.
“This road has serious economic importance, especially as a communication link between Karabakh, particularly the northern part, and Armenia, as well as military importance since it will be utilized for military transit.
“Additionally, the road has a very important political significance: it’s been constructed on the same territory, which, judging by press publications and statements made by various politicians and mediators, is supposed to be given to Azerbaijan as part of the conflict settlement.
“It’s clear that the Armenian side doesn’t see any serious prospect of settling the conflict, at least not for a significant amount of time. It’s clear to all serious researchers as well but this road is direct evidence of it in the political sphere. So, this is the most important event of the past year indeed.”
What to expect in 2018: “The Vardenis-Martakert road will lead to an arrangement regarding the space around it. Not only should the land under the road itself be taken, but the entire infrastructure. “
3. The opening of a free trade zone on the Iranian border in Meghri. This will supposedly contribute to a more balanced territorial development of Armenia, increase the global competitiveness of the national economy, and the production of competitive goods. The Meghri FTZ will cover a wide variety of things, from agriculture, the processing industry and trade, to tourism.
“This project has serious prospects. There’s already financial and technical support, and it is obvious that the project will continue. Armenia will become some sort of a hub for interactions with Iran, and for the Eurasian Economic Union, a serious part of post-Soviet space.
“The project won’t only have important economic significance, but also serious political significance. Armenia’s role in cooperating with Iran is the political component of the project.
“Iran is a very special country, which has different relationships with different countries. It is the FTZ in Meghri that could play a very important role in regard to Iran’s interactions with different countries.
“There are no external obstacles preventing the zone from being fully operational. It’s not necessary to coordinate with third party countries or organizations; the issue has already been agreed upon and the FTZ is open.”
What to expect in 2018: “Armenian-Iranian relations will develop in association with creation of the FTZ in Meghri. This is a relationship in which internal resources will practically be produced. They’ve done all that could be done. Economic relations are quite decent, and political relations are also good. The need to build links from Iran, to Armenia, to Georgia, and to Russia and beyond is clearly felt. There are a lot of projects, from road construction, to collaboration in the production of electricity, etc, and the FTZ will help. “
4. Parliamentary elections were held. According to amendments adopted to the constitution as a result of a referendum on 6 December 2015, the National Assembly was elected exclusively on a pro-rata (proportional) basis for the first time. The ruling Republican Party of Armenia, which received the majority of the votes, along with Tsarukyan blocs, the newly created ‘Yelk’ opposition, as well as the ARF Dashnaktsutyun party all went to parliament.
“The incumbent president’s term will end in April 2018, whereafter Armenia will proceed to become a parliamentary government.
“This is one of the steps to change Armenia’s political structure. The first step was a referendum on constitutional reforms. The second was the parliamentary elections themselves, and the third will be in April 2018 when the constitutional amendments come into force.
“I don’t think Armenia will change immediately, but many changes will occur and are already taking place: the strengthening of the role of parliament, the role of political parties, the depersonification of the transfer of power. All of this will affect the governance of the country and will be of key importance in domestic policy.
“The Yelk opposition bloc was formed as a result of the elections, but it was unable to balance Armenia’s political field; the opposition to the political elite, as well as state and political structures of society’s mood are much more developed than Yelk represents in parliament.
“The polarization of society, social and political discontent, as well as the exclusion of the political elite by the people are very high. Yelk is not equal and does not represent enough of these moods of protest. This comes from weakness in the structure itself. There are no resources, whether financial, material, human or expert, in the Yelk bloc.
“This bloc is typical for the Armenian political system, and for all new post-Soviet political systems in general. This is an opposition structure that has the opportunity to go to parliament, using the resources that it had at the moment before the elections, and protest moods in society. But this is not enough to be part of the decision-making process. So, the real opposition sentiments and their representation in parliament are disproportionate.”
What to expect in 2018: “Beginning in April 2018, life will be interesting for political scientists because the structure of management will begin to change. It’s one thing when it is personified, when a huge number of decisions can be made by one person from one office. Now the party leader must persuade the whole party, then this party will need to persuade the parliament, and its deputies. They will have to negotiate, then influence the prime minister by majority. This is a different scheme. Of course, it will not come instantly, but the measures of governing the country will change.”
Events that didn’t happen
Commentary by political scientist, Ruben Mehrabyan, specialist at the Armenian Center for Political Studies.
- “Specialists monitoring the Karabakh conflict predicted another outbreak of fighting in Karabakh. The four days of fighting in 2016 called the April War became the worst outbreak since 1994. A new war in 2017 seemed inevitable to many, given the increased level of militarization in both Armenia and Azerbaijan but war was avoided.
“Armenian diplomacy has taken certain steps to prevent the possibility of repeating last year’s April events. The negotiating process itself and the conjuncture in international relations contributed to this.
“Last year was marked by the fact that, along the lines of world-politics, there was a certain consensus among internationals: all post-Soviet conflicts appeared in one basket, which should be resolved solely on the basis of the territorial integrity of states, particularly in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
“The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was in a different basket, which must be resolved on the basis of the Helsinki principles. Such a diversified approach is already enshrined in a number of statements, and also received legal force by the conclusion of an agreement between Armenia and the European Union on a comprehensive and expanded partnership.
“Additionally, the military-technical measures taken by the Armenian side aimed at eliminating the surprise factor that took place at the beginning of the April war have also become a significant contribution to the prevention of war.
“The prevention of war was also facilitated by clumsy policies and mistakes of Azerbaijan, including scandals in Azerbaijani-Israeli relations (such as drones and the Lapshin case). Military cooperation with Azerbaijan began to seem flawed.
What to expect in 2018: “The fact that war did not happen, led and will lead to the activation of the negotiation process, or well, to the negotiation process on the negotiation process. Rather, Armenia received a certain respite and rearmed front line to some extent, eliminating the factor of surprise, which will strengthen military security in 2018 as well.”
2. Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan announced that investment programs of USD 3.2 billion have been developed, of which USD 830 – 840 million was expected in 2017. The programs were supposed to be implemented by the the Club of Armenia investors which was established by Armenian entrepreneurs living in Russia in January of last year. The promised investments never appeared.
“Karen Karapetyan’s government based its calculations on investments from Russia, but the economic situation in Russia is deplorable. Russian leadership is currently engaged in trying to ease the sanctions against their government as well as narrowing their circle and cutting down the list of individuals and legal entities whose activities have contributed to Russia’s aggressive policy in order to minimize their possible effects.
“According to Rosstat, in the past eight years Russia reached a record decline in the pace of industry. Russia itself is experiencing an investment hunger. Therefore these investment expectations of the Armenian Cabinet of Ministers were doomed to fail from the beginning.
“Plus, the Karapetyan government is one that does not have an agenda in the west, so Karapetyan didn’t visit any Western capitals during his tenure.
“We can see that infrastructural projects in Armenia are idle. There are sharp discrepancies between the relative foreign political successes of Armenia over the past year (the signing of an agreement with the EU, the breakthrough with Israel, the agreement with NATO and the deepening of political ties with China and India), and their reflection on economic conjecture. These achievements are not supported by economic success, and this threatens us with the fact that they may prove temporary. Then where and why invest?”
What to expect in 2018: “The results of 2017 will lead to adjustments in the course of economic policy.”
3. The “Yelk” opposition bloc initiated discussions in parliament about withdrawing Armenia from the Eurasian Economic Union, pointing out the negative consequences membership in the organization has for the country’s economy. The majority in parliament refused to withdraw from the union and the parliamentary opposition’s initiative on Armenia’s withdrawal from the EAEU failed.
“This attempt to withdraw Armenia from the EAEU had little chance of success initially, but nevertheless, it is very important that society is discussing the issue. The degree of this discussion will continue, and, in the end, Armenia will be freed from these unnecessary fetters. Considering the form of relations, economic ties between Armenia and Russia are defective.
“Discussions on leaving the EAEU in parliament are only the first phase – they will be resumed. Russian policy will give many reasons to resume them. Russia not only has big problems with industry, but also with the banking sector and the quality of internal governance. It is enveloped in extremely severe sanctions, which the USSR never dreamed of. The situation is fraught with the possibility of various kinds of force majeure.
“When political bankruptcy is also economic bankruptcy, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia will reach a point that it initiates the country’s exit from the EAEU. Then it will understand that to remain in an alliance that promises nothing, and does nothing but abuses, is much worse than to get out of it. All the prerequisites and trends are leading to this, but this requires time and effort of society.
What to expect in 2018: “This year will be important because of the ratification of the agreement with the European Union and the formation of institutions that will be responsible for the implementation of this agreement. Civil society will be actively involved in this process, and this, in turn, will lead to a series of discussions about the damage the EAEU does.”
4. The Armenian government promised to reduce the poverty level in the country which is currently near 30%. A program was planned to be implemented due to economic growth which would have raised the minimum wage and social support. The government failed to implement this program in 2017.
“An increase in wages and economic level was not predicted. There were no grounds for such expectations because no systematic changes were made, and authorities had no such intentions. Our government intends to change a little, and change it so that nothing can be changed. Maybe the quantitative indicators for the percentages improved, but it was ‘blown in by the wind, and the wind it blew away’.
“Why did it blow away? From 1 January 2018, two damaging documents were introduced: the new Tax Code, which includes additional excise payments, and the Customs Code of the EAPS which will inevitably lead to an increase in all the prices in the import-dependent Armenia with its monopolized economy.
What to expect in 2018?: “I do not see anything that will put the brakes on the growth of poverty in the country. An incompetent government, devoid of political thinking and understanding of political tasks will lead to a gloomy result.”
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