To some degree, the coronavirus played the role of touchstone. Pandemic exposed everything: starting from ordinary human relations to the quality of those who rule the country. The virus also affected the determination of the government’s team, the strength and unity of the political force.
COVID-19 is shaking the government and society in Armenia. Why exactly Armenia? For over 20 years, Armenia has continued to illegally occupy around 20% of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory. It makes land claims against neighboring states, threatens security in the South Caucasus, plays a leading role in ensuring the interests of third forces in the region, executives work for outside patrons. Moreover, the country is governed by contradictions, sees all the surrounding states as enemies. These factors give us grounds to look at what happened in Armenia during the coronavirus. The occurrence of a dangerous event in the neighboring country poses a threat to the region as well as the state interests of Azerbaijan. Therefore, it would be interesting to take a look at Armenia’s socio-political life during the pandemic.
So, what has been happening in Armenia in recent months? Is Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan able to rule the country? Will Nikol’s former comrades-in-arms leave him? Will Pashinyan achieve a balance between the West and the North? According to the Armenian media, the food reserve is only enough for one month in the country. The government is facing a financial crisis. The recession in the economy will accelerate.
Population growth and declining external migration are indicators of the country’s prosperity. From this point of view, the situation is desperate in Armenia in both areas. Since Armenia regained its independence, population has not reached 3 million. The number of those who left Armenia in January-March 2020 exceeded the number of arrivals. According to the statistics of the Civil Aviation Committee of Armenia, during the reporting period, 269,072 people left the country, and 257,639 passengers arrived in Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport. According to the airport’s report, 11,433 people did not return to Armenia. A similar situation was recorded at the Shirak International Airport: 14,209 people left, and 13,324 people arrived.
In general, as a risky state, capital flowed out of Armenia after the 2018 “revolution”. The government is looking for the force behind this. Mikael Melkumyan from the Prosperous Armenia Party said that in 2019, foreign investment decreased by 45 % or $ 225,235,874 compared to 2018. According to him, in April 2020, investment abroad decreased by 79.4 bln drams ($ 162,579,349) compared to the same period in 2018. During this period, the capital of the country’s unreal economy decreased by $ 400,000. The order of the President of Armenia Armen Sargsyan on the confiscation of funds and property declared illegal by the court can be considered one of the ways to fill the budget deficit. The abovementioned facts show that the socio-economic situation in Armenia will worsen further. Nikol Pashinyan is under immense pressure during coronavirus pandemic. His Facebook posts prove his mistrust in the Ministry of Health or the body responsible for this area. It is reported that the number of pandemic victims and infected people is hidden from the Armenian Public. Lack of transparency in numbers has also affected the number of infected people in the country. The Public’s confidence in the spread or even the existence of a pandemic reduced due to the fraud in this direction. Admitting the gravity of the situation, Pashinyan said that the number of coronavirus cases is growing in Armenia due to non-compliance with the rules of isolation by citizens, and the situation may get worse.
This could be considered an excuse or argument for extending the state of emergency in Armenia. Two days after his statement, the current regime in Armenia was extended for another 30 days from May 13 to June 13.
Edmon Marukyan, chairman of the “Light Armenia” party, said that the extension of the state of emergency was illegal and politically motivated. He said that according to Article 5 of the Armenian Constitution, “On the state of emergency,” this regime can not last more than 30 days, and in some places – over 60 days. According to him, the state of emergency must be suspended after the expiration of the term.
It turns out that the coronavirus serves the interests of Nikol Pashinyan. Under the pretext of fighting the pandemic, he uses the state of emergency to silence his political rivals. Pashinyan continues to punish the former government’s team. Chairman of the Constitutional Court Hrayr Tovmasyan and his friend Vardan Pogosyan, who did not accept the new constitution drafted by Nikol Pashinyan, were dismissed from their posts. They are famous lawyers and are co-authors of the current structure. The criminal case, which began on March 1, 2008, in Yerevan with the use of weapons and force to prevent a peaceful protest, will continue while Pashinyan is in power. This criminal case is used more as a political tool. The prolongation of Robert Kocharyan’s trial and the delay in his punishment give grounds for this presumption.
The defeat of the Armenian army in April 2016 battles is also one of the factors that shook the Armenian government and society. Ex Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian is also expected to testify in a video conference on May 18. By the way, he currently lives in Russia. Criminal proceedings against former government officials continue. Recently, the Investigative Committee has launched a criminal case against one of the former ministers of science and education. Armen Ashotyan, who served as a minister from 2009 to 2016, is accused of abuse of office.
Armenia has witnessed another socio-political scandal in recent days. A brawl broke out in parliament between the leader of the opposition party Bright Armenia Edmon Marukyan and ruling My Step member Sasun Mikaelyan. This shows the intolerance of the ruling party towards the opposition. The events also affected Pashinyan’s team. His approach to his former teammates, including Artur Vanetsyan, the former director of the Armenian National Security Service, has created deep frustrations and distrust in him. Notably, Pashinyan’s brother-in-law Hrachya Hakobyan, a member of the Armenian parliament, said that the former director was a “spy.” Such accusation could also be an announcement of the charges against Pashinyan’s former team.
According to the Armenian media, Head of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan – Varag Siserian will be relieved of his post. He would be on leave until June 2, and upon return, he would resign. According to a close source, Siserian will not return. The reason is not the closure of his office, but the Public will learn the real cause in the coming days. Whatever the reason, the fact is that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan cannot only manage the situation related to the coronavirus but also loses control of his team. This speeds up the start of a rift in the prime minister’s team.
Chairman of the Armenian Higher Qualification Committee Smbat Gogyan has resigned from the office. He did not comment on his quit: “I will talk about it in the future. I have just signed a resignation letter.” Gogyan was appointed chairman of the Supreme Attestation Commission on June 12, 2018.
According to the Armenian newspaper Irates, some members of the ruling My Step bloc no longer trust the prime minister. The well-known quarrel in the parliament caused tension in the faction. These deputies doubt that the Prime Minister will be able to cope with the existing difficulties.
Thus, the post-coronavirus period will be politically tense for Armenia. Coronavirus can lead Pashinyan’s weakening government to collapse. Prime Minister is losing his former teammates. In such scenarios West and the North are less likely to support him. Because until today he has acted hypocritically. He tried to control the situation by “smiling” at both Russia and the United States. There’s a price to pay for duplicity. This external factor will also reduce the confidence in Pashinyan. Consequently, it can be said that he could not find his place between the West and the North. The financial crisis, the difficult economic situation, unemployment, foreign and domestic political pressures, and poverty may have catastrophic consequences. Therefore, in the new coronavirus era in Armenia, a force that can gain political immunity is expected to come to power. Deputies from the ruling party began to whisper about the new prime minister. Two options are being discussed informally in parliament. One of them is the leader of “Bright Armenia” Edmon Marukyan, and the other is Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan. All these tensions presume that the “revolutionaries” in Armenia will give their post to power with a clear position. For similar reasons, Nikol Pashinyan’s government may take leave along with the coronavirus.