Tag Archives: government

Interview: Gold-plated resiliance in a tough year

>> Artem Volynets, the CEO of AIM-listed Chaarat Gold, had to deal wtih war and a coup in 2020, on top of the global pandemic.

JUNE 16 2021 (The Bulletin) — A global pandemic meant a tough 2020 for most people but for Artem Volynets, the CEO of AIM-listed gold miner Chaarat Gold, it was just one issue that he had to deal with. He also had to navigate a war and a coup.

“Yes, it was a complicated time,” he told The Bulletin over lunch in central London, flashing a pearl-white, relaxed, smile. 

“But in many ways it made us stronger as a company.”

Chaarat Gold is the owner of the Kapan gold mine in southeast Armenia and two gold concessions in Kyrgyzstan, Tulkubash and Kyzyltash. In 2020, Armenia lost a war to Azerbaijan for the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and in Kyrgyzstan, a coup in October overthrew the government.

Volynets said that a third of his 1,000-person workforce at the Soviet-era Kapan gold mine was called up for active duty.

“Even so, if anything our reputation in the region was strengthened by the war,” he said. “We were the ones paying the taxes, keeping production going and jobs open.”

Chaarat Gold bought the Kapan mine from Russia’s Polymetal in 2019 for $55m, a deal that Volynets said had proved to be good value. 

He dodged discussing criticism of Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan for allegedly dragging his feet over clearing protesters who have blocked access to another foreign-owned gold mine at Amulsar, but he was keen to discuss the expropriation in Kyrgyzstan of the Kumtor gold mine, the biggest in the country, from its Toronto-based owners, Centerra Gold.

Western investors in Bishkek have now described Kyrgyzstan as an “investment pariah” but Volynets was more circumspect.

“It’s very much an isolated incident that has to do with one particular foreign investor and one particular project,” he said. “We have been assured that we have no problems.”

Still, the noise around the expropriation of Kumtor has made life more difficult for Volynets and Chaarat Gold. Last month it said that raising finance for its Tulkubash project had slowed and that its first gold production was now delayed by a year to the second half of 2023.

In 2018, Chaarat Gold had offered to buy Kumtor, but Centerra Gold had turned down the offer.

“We’re not interested in it any more but we are still looking around at other FSU projects,” Volynets said.

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— This story was published in issue 48 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 16 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Armenia’s renainssance man

>> Robert Kocharyan, Armenia’s former president, has emerged as the main rival to PM Nikol Pashinyan in a parliamentary election on June 20, writes James Kilner

Even for Armenia’s chaotic political landscape, Robert Kocharyan has had an extraordinary six months. 

JUNE 8 2021 (The Bulletin) — At the beginning of the year he was on trial, accused of corruption and the unlawful killings of 10 protesters in 2008 when he was Armenia’s outgoing president. Now, on the eve of a parliamentary election, he has emerged as the main rival to PM Nikol Pashinyan.

The June 20 election is an important one for Armenia as it will shape how the country recovers from losing a war to Azerbaijan for the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year. There is a plethora of candidates but analysts say that only two really matter. 

Pashinyan is a former journalist who seized power in a popular revolution in 2018 but is now blamed for the disastrous six-week war that ended in November. His My Step Alliance holds 88 seats in Armenia’s current 132-seat parliament, the maximum two-thirds majority that the biggest party is allowed, and he is likely to win the most seats again but, importantly, possibly fall short of a majority. 

This is where Kocharyan could come through, as he is regarded as the likely leader of a potential coalition that could form an alternative government.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for Armenia’s second post-Soviet leader. He was president between 1998 and 2008, overseeing an economic boom but also, according to his rivals, a rise in corruption. He handed over power to Serzh Sargsyan in 2008 who was then overthrown by Pashinyan. In 2019, prosecutors charged Kocharyan with corruption and the unlawful killing of anti-government demonstrators 11 years earlier, accusations which he said were politically motivated. In March this year, Armenia’s Constitutional Court agreed and threw them out. 

As they say, politics in Armenia is personal.

Kocharyan has rebuilt his appeal by presenting himself as a no-nonsense hero from Armenia’s first war in the 1990s for Nagorno-Karabakh, where he was born, a competent alternative to the firebrand Pashinyan. 

Pashinyan, in his election posters, styles himself as the suited establishment incumbent. He stares placidly away from onlookers, as if avoiding their gaze. 

Kocharyan’s posters, by contrast, show him tieless, sleeves rolled-up, staring straight ahead. A man on a mission.

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— This story was published in issue 487 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 9 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Kocharyan promises to secure Armenia’s borders if he wins election

JUNE 7 2021 (The Bulletin) — Robert Kocharyan, Armenia’s former president and now the head of an opposition party that is trying to unseat PM Nikol Pashinyan, promised to secure the country’s borders if he won a parliamentary election on June 20. Armenia’s election will shape the country for the next few years. 

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— This story was published in issue 487 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 9 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Georgia suspends controversial hydro-dam project

TBILISI/MARCH 12 (The Bulletin) — Apparently bowing to pressure from environmentalists and local residents, the Georgian government suspended work on the construction of its Namakhvani Hydro Power Project. 

Natia Turneva, the Georgian economy minister, said that the project had been suspended to allow for extra studies on the “reliability and safety” of the project. 

“This is a very important large hydropower plant with an installed capacity of 430 MW. It will bring in $800 million in foreign direct investments,” she said.

This is the line that the government has consistently taken with the project, one of the most controversial energy projects in Georgia.

Police and demonstrators have clashed near the construction site of the Namakhvani HPP on the Rioni River in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains. It is slated to be the largest power plant in Georgia when it is complete, generating 15% of Georgia’s energy.

Ms Turneva said that Georgian experts and institutions would be hired to carry out independent surveys of the impact of the dam on the environment and on local communities and that a $1.5m Rioni Gorge Development Fund would be set up to help people relocate.

The hydropower project, which is being developed in two parts — a Lower Namakhvani HPP (333 MW) and the Upper Namakhvani HPP (100 MW) — is being financed by international donors, including the Norway-based Clean Energy Group, and is being constructed by Enka, Turkey’s largest construction company.

Protesters, who complain about the environmental damage and the forced resettling of people from the area, have blocked access to the site for more than four months. They said that the government couldn’t suspend the project as construction work had not started yet.

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— This story was published in issue 475 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on March 15 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Uzbekistan rail company denies that Tashkent retreat was built for president

MARCH 10 (The Bulletin) — Uzbekistan’s state railway company released a video that claimed that a luxury retreat built in hills outside Tashkent is for its employees and not for Uzbek Pres. Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The video is a response to a report released by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty which said that the complex had been built as a palace for Mr Mirziyoyev and that Uzbek Railways have been used to shield its real use. 

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— This story was published in issue 475 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on March 15 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Video shows senior Georgian Dream officials flouting coronavirus rules

FEB. 28 2021 (The Bulletin) — Video footage has emerged of senior officials in the ruling Georgian Dream coalition government flouting coronavirus rules at a party hosted at a property in Tbilisi owned by a millionaire donor. The footage, which was aired on an opposition-supporting TV channel, showed Georgian Dream party chairman  Irakli Kobakhidze and Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze socialising at the party without wearing masks and apparently ignoring social distancing rules.

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— This story was published in issue 474 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on March 5 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Comment — The politics of the portrait in Central Asia

FEB. 11 2021 (The Bulletin) —  Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, the new boy in the Central Asia and South Caucasus leaders’ club, is playing portrait politics. He told officials this week that he didn’t want to see any fawning portraits of himself in their offices, in businesses around the country, schools or universities.

Japarov is keen to frame himself as a man of the people and he has clearly decided that the age-old custom of hanging portraits of the leader in offices is not something that he wants to go in for. 

But it is not as if his predecessor indulged it much, either. Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who Japarov deposed in a coup in October, appeared more modest than most of his Central Asian contemporaries and very few offices carried portraits of him.

The politics of the presidential portrait is one worth considering in Central Asia and the South Caucasus. It is a gauge of personality cults and how the elite want to project their legitimacy and, dare I say it, primacy over ordinary people.

In Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev is still the only portrait hung in offices and official buildings. He is everywhere. His successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is nowhere and very much plays the role of appointed official to Nazarbayev’s First President of the Nation act. For Nazarbayev, his legacy based on building modern-day Kazakhstan is central to his self-image. And the portraits, as well as statues and the renamed capital city, reinforce this message.

In Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, leaders’ portraits are ubiquitous too. In Uzbekistan, based on pre-Soviet Khanate tradition, it is the custom to promote the image of the leader. In Tajikistan and Turkmenistan it is a different story. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon and Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov are busy building dynasties. Both men are grooming their sons as heirs and this requires legitimacy. Hence the portraits, reinforcing their self-styled images as the embodiment of the nation.

Azerbaijan has already established dynastic rule. Ilham Aliyev took over from his father, Heydar, in 2003 and he is careful to remind ordinary people of this dynastic legitimacy by encouraging offices to hang both his portrait and the portrait of his father on the wall.

As for Armenia and Georgia, the leaders eschew portraits. They are also, the least stable countries in the region, other than Kyrgyzstan.

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— This story was first published in issue 471 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Uzbekistan moves election forward to October

FEB. 9 2021 (The Bulletin) — Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree into law that will shift a presidential election this year to October from December. Lawmakers said that they wanted the election date shifted to October because the cold winter may deter people from voting. Uzbekistan’s presidential election is now scheduled for Oct. 24.

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— This story was first published in issue 471 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Armenian president returns to Yerevan after coronavirus treatment in London

FEB. 9 2021 (The Bulletin) — Armenian President Armen Sargsyan, who caught the coronavirus on a trip to London over the Christmas period, returned to Yerevan. Mr Sargsyan was hospitalised for a brief period when he was ill with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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— This story was first published in issue 471 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Armenian ruling party says it will consider early election in 6 months

FEB. 8 2021 (The Bulletin) — Armenia’s ruling party, the My Way faction, said that it would consider an early parliamentary election in six months time, once the country had completed a plan put forward by PM Nikol Pashinyan to stabilise the country after losing a war against Azerbaijan for control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Protesters have been calling for Mr Pashinyan, who took power in a revolution in 2018, to resign.

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— This story was first published in issue 471 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021