Armenia

Last update: 2 months ago

In recent years, Armenia failed in its attempt to sign an EU Association Agreement. Instead the country became a full member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Nevertheless, Armenia continues to seek deeper cooperation with the EU, and recently signed an agreement in lieu of an Association Agreement, which will be less far reaching. The country remains strongly dependent on Russia in terms of energy supply and security, which is the main obstacle for further integration in the West. Russia's military presence is very important because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan which has been ongoing for some extend for over two decades with not much outlook to settle a peace agreement.

Internally, Armenia has been receiving diverse assessments of its democratisation process. The run up to national elections has been quite free and fair in recent years, even if the election day itself would usually be marked by falsifications. A constitutional amendment, accepted through a referendum in 2015, will transfer Armenia into a parliamentary republic in April 2018, at the same time as the election of the new prime minister. Most of the president’s power will be carried over to the new prime minister and his cabinet. The opposition has been critical, believing that this is simply an attempt by the current President Serzh Sarkisian to remain in power in a different capacity after the end of his second and final presidential term.

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Map of Armenia

Short facts

Population:
2,930.450 million (2017)
Governmental Type:
Semi-presidential republic (to be transformed into parliamentary system in April 2018)
Ruling Coalition:
Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Armenian Revolutionary Federation – Dashnaktsutsyun (ARF-D)
Last Elections:
2 March 2018 (presidential elections, by parliament)
Next Elections:
16 April 2018 (prime minister elections, by parliament)
Sister Parties:
Armenian Revolutionary Federation - Dashnaktsutsyun
Image of Karen Karapetian

Karen Karapetian

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

Internal situation                                                                                                                                            Recent developments of Armenia’s political system have caused concerns among observers. After the end of outgoing president Serzh Sarkisian’s second and final term, the political system will change to a parliamentary republic, meaning that the most powerful position will be that of the prime minister. It is widely believed that Sarkisian will, against his promise made in 2014, aspire this post to remain the most influential politician in the country. Furthermore, opposition forces say that the ruling party has too much influence, as it basically decides  who is going to be prime minister and president through its majority in parliament

Reports show that human rights violations remain an important issue in Armenia. Authorities interfered in a number of peaceful protests that took place throughout the years. In several instances, police dispersed protesters using force. Local human rights defenders continued to raise concern over high numbers of reported beatings and ill-treatment in police custody.

Adding to that, the poor economic situation resulted in an enormous change of the president’s cabinet including the replacement of the prime minister. Trying to show new and fresh faces, the ruling HHK hoped to achieve good results in the parliamentary elections 2017.

The US State Department has noted “systemic corruption” as one of the most frequent and serious forms of human rights violation in Armenia, saying the authorities are not doing enough to tackle it. Local anti-graft watchdogs like the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), which operates as the Armenian branch of Transparency International, are highly sceptical about government assurances of intention to tackle corruption. Armenia ranked 107th out of 174 countries and territories evaluated in Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are serious problems as well. A few incidents were recorded when women’s rights activists were threatened and assaulted, as well as threats made to Women’s Resource Centre following its calls for gender equality legislation. The anti-discrimination draft bill, prohibiting all forms of discrimination, was abandoned after the government initiated the process to join the Eurasian Economic Union.

According to Reporters Without Borders’ report regarding freedom of the media, there is a significant degree of pluralism and relatively little state censorship, as a law prohibits censorship in media. But still, there are laws through which defamation and libel can be punished by prison terms. Journalists continue to face pressure, violence and charges under relevant laws.

During the 2017 parliamentary elections, many parties in parliament lost all their seats. The Republican Party (HHK) of president Serzh Sarkisian won an absolute majority and entered a coalition with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D), repeating the situation of 2012. Main opposition alliance led by millionaire Gagik Tsarukyan won 27.3% of the votes, and the new opposition Yelk (Way Out) Alliance about 7%. Although several technical problems were reported, the elections are said to be the most credible and calm in years.

Armenia - EU relations                                                                                                                                            In the wake of a positive conclusion to four years of negotiations between Armenia and the EU on an Association Agreement, it seemed that Armenia could start to look forward to deeper cooperation with the EU, which would hopefully bring strong economic and political benefits. However, only months before the planned signing of the Association Agreement, President Serzh Sarkisian, after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, suddenly decided to make Armenia a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) instead, thereby precluding the AA. On 2 January 2015, Armenia became a full member of EEU. The move is widely believed to be the result of strong Russian pressure in the areas of economy, energy and security. Since then, negotiations on the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement were concluded on 26 February 2017, which reaches less far than the originally planned agreement but substitutes it in certain areas. It replaces the former EU-Armenia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

Armenia and the EU are committed to further cooperation aimed at the continuous improvement of areas including democratic institutions and judiciary, promotion of human rights and rule of law, good governance, fight against corruption, strengthening of the civil society, and others.

Nagorno–Karabakh conflict                                                                                                                                 The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory called Nagorno-Karabakh. An Armenian populated enclave in Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, has been de facto independent from Azerbaijan since the war in the early 1990s, that ended with a truce signed in 1994. The now 'frozen conflict' has been ongoing for over two decades without a peace agreement. There are still frequent shootings across the frontline, with dozens of deaths each year. Each side blames the other for military casualties. Azerbaijan lost swathes of territory during the conflict, and more than 600,000 ethnic Azeris from Karabakh and nearby regions were forced to flee. More than 300,000 ethnic Armenians who used to live in Azerbaijan were also displaced by the conflict. Internationally, Nagorno-Karabakh is considered part of Azerbaijan, but its Armenian inhabitants call themselves citizens of the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) Republic. Although self-governed, it depends financially and militarily on Armenia.

Peace negotiations mediated by the Minsk Group, under the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), have seen little progress. In October 2017 the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met to discuss a possible solution for the dispute and released statements on continuing the peace negotiations.

Frustrated by the lack of a diplomatic solution, Azerbaijan's leadership has threatened to retake the territory militarily. Armenia believes that the conflict settlement should be based on the Nagorno-Karabakh people's right to self-determination and uninterrupted land communication with Armenia, under jurisdiction of the Armenian side. Armenia also seeks international guarantees for the security of Nagorno-Karabakh. Not stabilizing the regional conflict, both countries have different supporters who are entangled in the dispute. Turkey has promised to stand with Azerbaijan while Russia pledged to defend Armenia. Furthermore, the conflict affects oil and gas exports from the region, since Azerbaijan produces much of the recourses which are being exported to Europe and Central Asia.

Activism                                                                                                                                                             Since 2010, protests sparked by civic initiatives have become very common in Armenia’s capital Yerevan and, to a lesser extent, in the smaller cities of Gyumri and Vanadzor. These initiatives have mainly been organised by a post-Soviet generation of young civic activists without any political party affiliation, and address a range of issues including the environment, cultural preservation, consumer rights, prices of basic commodities, labour and employment issues, as well as human rights. However, they are distinct from formal, professionalised NGOs in a number of key aspects, which include the issues they address, their organisational structures, their repertoires of action, and their lack of engagement with foreign donors. Although civic initiatives in Armenia address very specific and sometimes narrowly focused issues (e.g. saving a waterfall, public park, preventing a public transport price hike etc.), their emergence is informed by and articulates much broader concerns about corruption, the absence of rule of law, lack of democracy, rise of oligarchic capitalism, and the failure of formal political elites to address the concerns of ordinary Armenian citizens.

The introduction and spread of social media, including Facebook and YouTube, as well as live-streaming technology has allowed civic activists to access information more easily and to organise and mobilise much more effectively and rapidly. Most of the recent initiatives – with the biggest ones under the hashtags #NoToPlunder or #ElectricYerevan - have been at least partly successful. The government was forced to negotiate to reach a compromise. This new social phenomenon in Armenia is becoming a bigger force than the opposition parties, hence, parties have tried to jump on the bandwagon and join the protesters. However, since the activists do not label themselves as any kind of organisation, it remains unclear how they should be dealt with, how they should be referred to, and what their role is in current politics of Armenia.

 

Elections

Electoral System                                                                                                                                              Armenia will change to a parliamentary representative republic in April 2018 after constitutional changes were adopted in 2015 following a controversial referendum with a voter turnout of only 51 percent, barely enough to make the vote valid. The president will remain the head of state and the head of government, but will hold mainly ceremonial powers. The executive power is exercised by the government, with the prime minister having the most influential position. The legislative power is exerted by both the government and the parliament. The parliament - National Assembly - consists of 101 MPs that are directly elected every five years through a two-tier proportional system which includes national and district candidates. Regulations are based on the constitution and the Electoral Code, amended in 2005. It also rules on details like the proportion of female and male MPs in the National Assembly and the voting eligibility for Armenians living abroad. The country has a multi-party-system, with a government usually consisting of a coalition, even if just a symbolic one: the ruling party usually manages to garner a majority on its own. The threshold to enter the parliament is 5% for single parties and 7% for blocs.

The constitutional referendum of 2015, which will turn Armenia into a parliamentary republic, has been critically viewed by the opposition. Outgoing president Serzh Sarkisian introduced the change and it is widely believed that he did so to remain in power in a different capacity after his final presidential term ends in 2018.


 

Parliamentary elections

On 2 April 2017, Armenia held parliamentary elections, which brought a large victory for the ruling party, giving the Republican Party (Hayastani Hanrapetakan Kusaktsutyun, HHK) of president Serzh Sarkisian an absolute majority in parliament. The HHK succesfully entered a coalition with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D), which gained 6,6% of the vote, repeating the situation in 2012, when the two parties also formed a coalition. Main opposition alliance led by millionaire Gagik Tsarukyan won 27.3% of the votes, and the new opposition Yelk (Way Out) Alliance about 7%.

This leaves several parties and alliances, such as the Free Democrats Party, Armenian Renaissance Party, Communist Party of Armenia, Armenian National Congress-People’s Party of Armenia Alliance and the Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian Alliance without any seats in the parliament. These were the last elections before Armenia changes from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary system. This parliament will be the first parliament to have more power than the president.

Campaign                                                                                                                                                                 The campaign was very heated, which is the result of the changed electoral system, making the parliament more powerful. Another development, the competition between candidates of the same party, is the result of the 2016 Electoral Code, allowing up to 15 candidates from each party in each of Armenia’s voting districts, instead of only one candidate. Due to this extra competition, more incidents of violence were reported: Supporters of a candidate of the HHK allegedly beat up the campaign manager of another HHK candidate from the same district. In addition to the question whether parties were oriented towards the West or more pro-Russian, the common theme throughout all the campaigns were the economic problems that Armenians face in their day-to-day lives.

Aftermath                                                                                                                                                             About 60 percent of Armenians voted in the parliamentary elections. While some opposition leaders immediately claimed fraud, the aftermath of the elections was remarkably calm. This had to do with the new Electoral Code, which was amended to prevent fraudulent practices during the elections under a historic deal reached between the opposition and the ruling party. It allowed the installation of 1500 webcams in the polling stations, as well as the introduction of electronic voter authentication devises with finger-print recognition software. The technical equipment was paid for by the European Union and the United States. There were some technical problems, including the devises being unable to even recognize the fingerprint of president Sarkisian. Also, online live streams of the webcams at the polling stations was unavailable during the morning. Yet, it seems to be one of the most credible elections in years in Armenia.

Results Elections 2017

Party Percentage Seats
Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) 49.17%  58
Tsarukyan Alliance 27.35%  31
Yelk Alliance 7.78%  9
Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D) 6.58%  7
Armenian Rennaissance 3.72%  0
Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian Alliance 2.07%  0
Free Democrats Party 0.94%  0
Armenian Commmunist Party 0.75%  0
Armenian National Congress-People’s Party of Armenia Alliance 1.66%  0

 


Presidential elections

On 2 March the National Assembly elected the country’s next president Armen Sarkissian (no relation to Serzh Sarkisian). Sarkissian was nominated for the post by the outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in January 2018. He was also endorsed by the HHK’s junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), and businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s alliance, which is officially in opposition to the government.

To win the election he needed three quarters of the parliamentarians to vote for him. Of those 79 seats, the ruling HHK and Dashnaktsutyun together have 65.  100 parliamentarians participated in the voting, 90 of them voting for and 10 against Sarkissian. Therefore, the faction led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian sided with the ruling parties, as already expected due to its missing support for the opposition Yelk alliance in going to court against the election. Important to notice are the three MPs of the HHK, Dashnaktsutyun and/or Tsarukian Bloc who voted against Sarkissian, noticeable because only 7 Yelk members participated in the vote. The election was held through secret ballot, so that the MPs remain unknown.

The opposition Yelk alliance, the fourth political group represented in parliament, has rejected Sarkissian’s candidacy. In a joint statement with several nongovernmental organizations it doubted his eligibility because, according to the constitution, one can only be elected if he or she has been an Armenian citizen for the past six years leading up to the election. Sarkissian, a former ambassador to the United Kingdom, has said he renounced his British citizenship in 2011 to re-adopt his Armenian passport, but the opposition found that a British local magazine published a record from the UK registry of companies referring to Sarkissian as a British national in 2014. The opposition has demanded proof of his claims from British authorities but since now he has failed to give it. As of March 2018, the issue has not been solved. Sarkissian’s presidential term will begin on 9 April.

Political parties

Social Democratic Parties

Logo of Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun

Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D)

Party Leader: the party is led by a Supreme Council

Number of seats: 7 (elections 2017)

http://www.arfd.info/

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Other Parties

Logo of Republican Party (Hayastani Hanrapetakan Kusaktsutyun)

Republican Party (Hayastani Hanrapetakan Kusaktsutyun) (HHK)

Party Leader: Serzh Sarkisian

Number of seats: 58 (elections 2017)

http://www.hhk.am/en/

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Logo of Prosperous Armenia Party

Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK)

Party Leader: Naira Zohrabyan

Number of seats: 31 (elections 2017)

http://www.bhk.am/en

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Logo of Yelk (Way Out) Alliance (Source: http://news.azstatic.com/uploads/W1siZiIsIjIwMTcvMDQvMTEvMDkvMjQvMzcvNWI0MWJiMWEtMjZkOS00MGQ5LThiN2YtNTY5MTEyMjI1ZmYzL2ltYWdlLmpwZyJdLFsicCIsInRodW1iIiwiMzUweDI3MCMiXV0?sha=68f258dfea077f39)

Yelk (Way Out) Alliance (Yelk)

Party Leader: Edmon Marukyan, Nikol Pashinian, Aram Sarkisian

Number of seats: 9 (elections 2017)

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Logo of Heritage (Zharangutiun)

Heritage (Zharangutiun)

Party Leader: Raffi K. Hovannisian

Number of seats: none (elections 2017)

http://www.heritage.am/en/

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Logo of Free Democrats

Free Democrats

Party Leader: Khachatur Kokobelyan

Number of seats: none (elections 2017)

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Logo of Armenian National Congress (Hay Azgayin Kongres)

Armenian National Congress (Hay Azgayin Kongres) (HAK)

Party Leader: Levon Ter-Petrosyan

Number of seats: none (elections 2017)

http://www.anc.am/

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Biographies

Image of Serzh Sarkisian

Serzh Sarkisian

Outgoing President

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Image of Armen Sarkissian

Armen Sarkissian

President-elect

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Image of Karen Karapetian

Karen Karapetian

Prime Minister

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Image of Levon Ter-Petrossian

Levon Ter-Petrossian

Leader of Armenian National Congress

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Image of Raffi Hovannisian

Raffi Hovannisian

Leader of Heritage Party

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Image of Gagik Tsarukyan  (Source: https://flic.kr/p/6vC8bW)

Gagik Tsarukyan

Leader of Tsarukyan Alliance

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Image of Nikol Pashinian

Nikol Pashinian

Leader of the Yelk Alliance

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