After a long break Tesaket will resume posting, however now as a standalone blog. The address is
After a long break Tesaket will resume posting, however now as a standalone blog. The address is
Last week saw another fall in foreign currency exchange rates. Exchange rates have been falling steadily for several years now, however this latest incident was extremely severe. The dollar alone fell from 315 drams it traded for on Wednesday to 285 on Saturday evening, a fall of around 10% of it’s price. Amid the uncertainty, banks and exchanges around the city continue to trade with a discrepancy of 10 drams or more between the selling and buying prices for the dollar.
This latest plunge follows a decision by the Central Bank to increase the reserve rates for foreign currency by a staggering 4%. The increase from 8% to 12% both forced banks to sell foreign currency and slashed the money supply.
The central bank continuously keeps explaining the strengthening of the local currency both by rapid economic growth and increased foreign transfers. State officials apparently take advantage of public ignorance of financial matters by blatantly accepting that they are doing nothing to increase the money supply proportional to the growth of the economy. It this latest incident it is apparently doing exactly the opposite. The argument that transfers have increased has also been questioned by opposition figures.
Despite the asserted strengthening of the dram, it’s buying power has steadily declined for the past years. This is mostly due to the fact, that a large portion of the country’s import is monopolized, leading to businessmen enjoying super profits without being faced by competition that would force them to lower prices. This is also the main ground for speculation, that the Central Bank is deliberately allowing the currency to strengthen unhindered. In a talk show just before the incident, former prime minister Hrant Bagratyan talked extensively about the economic situation. He noted a recent incident in which the price of sugar, which is the monopoly of parliament member Samvel Alexanyan, was doubled overnight. The old price was restored a day afterwards, however this was followed by another plunge in foreign exchange rates.
Exporters meanwhile have been continuously complaining about the situation. The effect on the large part of the population that relies on transfers from relatives working abroad or receives salaries in a dollar equivalent has also been harsh.
Last Friday saw the opposition’s meeting take place as scheduled. This has so far been Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s second meeting after his return to active politics. So far the only claimed number of people attending has been Haykakan Zhamanak’s 80 – 85 thousand. This however is most probably grossly overestimated. The paper, actively supporting Mr. Ter-Petrosyan and his team, had cited 30-35 thousand as the number of people attending the first meeting, however eyewitnesses suggest that the actual numbers were not substantially different, with this Friday’s meeting attracting only slightly more people.
It is nevertheless noteworthy, that the number of people attending the second meeting was not less than the first one. It had been suggested, that Mr. Ter-Petrosyan’s first appearance would draw a substantial crowd because of the sensation – it has been his first public speech in ten years.
With electronic media largely unavailable, except for several radio stations and regional TV stations, the team relied on leaflets and posters to get the message across. As was the case before the previous meeting, problems arose with this again. Some young people were detained by police as they were dispersing leaflets. Narek Galstyan, the leader of the youth wing of one of the parties supporting Ter-Petrosyan, was beaten by unidentified people, after first being detained by police.
Also noteworthy was the speech of Khachatur Sukiasyan, a businessman and legislator who’s businesses fell under immediate fire from tax authorities after declaring support for Mr. Ter-Petrosyan. It has already been argued, that Mr. Sukiasyan is destined to become Armenia’s Khodorkovsky. This is however a likely overstatement since public support for him appears to be high and the authorities will probably have few options other than applying moderate pressure.
In his speech Mr. Ter-Petrosyan talked extensively about the energy crisis of the early nineties. He vaguely apologized, but only after distending himself from almost all of the blame, citing the Nagorno-Karabakh war as the main reason behind the crisis. Also, in an outright populist move, he apologized from bringing the current authorities to power.
Mr. Ter-Petrosyan also declared that none of the figures of his administration are aiming for government posts. It was however unclear if he was expressing the positions of those once around him, or it is his decision to keep them away. On a final note, destined to resound with many, he read out a list of opposition leaders and declared that if all of them unite around him, he will, if elected, promise to step down in three years, leaving the stage open for them. Since apart from others the list contained Vazgen Manukyan’s name, it is highly unlikely that Mr. Ter-Petrosyan will be forced to make the promise, since Mr. Manukyan is probably the last man to unite around him.
Press reports that former foreign affairs minister, Alexander Arzumanyan, was released from custody yesterday evening. Mr. Arzumanyan had been detained on charges of money laundering and was being kept in the NSS building for several months. It is worth noting, that very recently a court extended his detention period on ground that if set free he would be able to influence the investigation, however Mr. Arzumanyan was released after the General Attorney’s Office concluded there was no need to keep him in custody.
This comes at a time, when talk of Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s participation in next year’s elections in steadily gathering pace. Mr. Arzumanyan was foreign minister in the first president’s cabinet and his release fits well with rumors of Mr. Ter-Petrosyan’s comeback being staged by the authorities.
In an incident several days ago, the bodyguards of Gagik Tsarukyan and Ashot Aghababyan, a republican legislator and owner of a large trade fair, engaged in a fight in the center of Yerevan. This appears to be the result of an argument around what has been described as “inappropriate parking”. Reports in the media claim that the fight went on for around twenty minutes, with police having arrived, but failing to intervene. It is also reported, that President Robert Kocharyan’s chief of security, Grisha Sarkisyan, arrived at the scene, and mediated an end to the fighting.
Spokespeople for Mr. Aghababyan and Bargavach Hayastan (the party led by Mr. Tsarukyan) have denied the incident, with reports from Mr. Aghababyan’s side going as far as to claim, that he and his bodyguards were absent from the country at the time of the incident.
According to speculation this latest incident is a follow up to other cases involving Mr. Tsarukyan’s security force. In particular, earlier this month, two of his bodyguards were detained in connection to the killing of a Russian officer serving in Armenia, after it was found, that the weapon used in the incident, was registered to Mr. Tsarukyan’s Multi Group.
As the time left to the 2008 presidential elections ticks away, political circles are once again beginning to activate. In an interview in the Pastark (Argument) Club, Ararat Zurabyan, head of the HHSh (Armenian National Movement) stated that his party will nominate Levon Ter-Petrosyan to run for president in 2008. Speculations on Mr. Ter-Petrosyan’s possible candidacy have been steadily growing for the past several months, and this interview will serve only to fuel them further. Nevertheless, it appears, that Mr. Zurabyan has not discussed the issue with Mr. Ter-Petrosyan himself, and is unaware if the latter has indeed any intention of running, relying rather on personal hopes.This issue is of great significance to any further developments surrounding the elections. The entry of Levon Ter-Petrosyan into the race would definitely shake the opposition landscape. Nevertheless, ever since stepping down, Mr. Ter-Petrosyan has stayed well clear of politics and the public eye in general. Unlike most opposition leaders, who tend to run for president having scarcely any chance of succeeding, it is unlikely that Mr. Ter-Petrosyan would subject himself to public attention and possible humiliation of defeat, without having good chances of success.
Meanwhile talks of the opposition unifying are still in the air. Paruyr Hayrikyan, a long time political figure and soviet era dissident, arranged a meeting of opposition leaders, to discuss forming a united front. The news, however, came down sceptically with the general public. Mr. Hayrikan has not long ago been quoted defending his person as the single possible fit for presidency, and it is yet unclear if he himself will remain committed to a united opposition, if it is lead by somebody other than him.
So far, fairly reasonable ideas of holding opposition primaries, once voiced by some leaders, appear far from reality. The lack of distinctive leaders in the opposition field makes it hard for a united front to be formed, and the entry of Mr. Ter-Petrosyan could indeed consolidate the field, albeit, around a person, who has a good chance of further alienating the opposition in the eyes of the public.
Aravot and Zhamanak Yerevan run reports, that Armenia’s first president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, has held a series of meetings outside Yerevan. This might signify, what the newspapers consider, Mr. Ter-Petrosyan’s return to politics.
The former president has kept predominantly out of the public eye, after his resignation in 1997. In the run up to this year’s parliamentary elections rumors circulated about his affiliation with the radical Impeachment bloc and his alleged plans to use the bloc for launching a presidency campaign. In the pre-election period some statements came out from the Armenian National Movement (HHSH) that “Levon Ter-Petrosyan is the only alternative to Serge Sargsyan”. This statement, disputable at best, nevertheless points out that the former president’s return to power is still possible in the eyes of some political leaders.
Mr. Ter-Petrosyan is widely associated with the economic hardships suffered by many Armenians during the years of his presidency. Ruling elites afterwards have enjoyed the political gains of comparing their rule with the “dark years” of the early nineties. Additionally, opposition parties and activists are often displayed as affiliated with the former president and his party , which serves well to discredit them.
It is early to conclude whether these reports of Mr. Ter-Petrosyan’s political activity are indeed part of larger move. It is also difficult to imagine him getting any sizable percentage of votes in next year’s presidential elections. HHSH tried to participate in the recent parliamentary elections by forging an alliance with several other opposition parties. It eventually withdrew from the elections when all attempts of an alliance resulted in nothing. It is possible, that Mr. Ter-Petrosyan and HHSH might try to play a role in uniting the opposition this time, something crucially important if anyone is ever to challenge Serge Sargsyan’s bid for presidency in 2008.
A protest action was held by a group of NGO-s in the city center where a huge construction pit has emerged. Authorities so far have claimed not knowing who was responsible for this pit and were even forced to declare the construction works illegal. Around one or two hundred people collected for an action which involved symbolic dropping of earth into the pit in an attempt to “bury” it.
The issue of destruction of green zones has for several years been a pressing one, after
multiple cafes were and are continued to be built in parks, pushing back green areas and and filling them with concrete. This last incident was however outrageous by the scale of the construction and forced action by the civil society.
In his daily column Aram Abrahamyan, editor of the Aravot Newspaper, expressed opinion, that the elections in Nagorno Karabakh were important not only for the NKR but could also serve an example for the political field in Armenia. Mr. Abrahamyan finds it noteworthy, that after the vote, Masis Mayilyan congratulated Bako Sahakyan with victory, something that has apparently never happened in the history of Armenian elections.
Similar opinions were expressed by Sergey Markedonov, a member of the election monitoring team. Mr. Markedonov stressed that the elections were neither a succession of power from father to son, nor a “color” revolution.
In an interview Arkadi Ghukasyan, the NKR’s outgoing president commented on the fact, that well before the elections the majority of political forces in the country had declared support for Bako Sahakyan. Mr. Ghukasyan expressed opinion that this was probably an endemic phenomenon for the NKR and had come about mostly from the pressure of the unresolved conflict. In fact, the consolidation of political forces behind Mr. Sahakyan, apparently after his victory became more or less apparent, is probably the single most important factor, questioning the pluralism and free spirit of the elections.
Several news sources report that Gumri mayor Vardan Ghukasyan’s son – Spartak Ghukasyan, has handed himself to authorities late last week. Spartak Ghukasyan had gone into hiding after apparently initiating a high profile shootout in the city center back in May. The incident, which involved the son of a Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia) party member and injured several civilian bystanders, rocked the city and made headline news in the country. In what is to be considered an exceptional case, the authorities were compelled to display force by commissioning special police units into the city.
Aravot cites unnamed sources suggesting that Vardan Ghukasyan had received an ultimatum on surrendering his son, from the president, otherwise risking loosing his post. The daily further suggests that pressure was also applied by the prime minister. The fact that Spartak Ghukasyan handed himself over to authorities appears to confirm this information.