Tag Archives: politics

Armenia raises interest rate to highest level since Dec. 2016

YEREVAN/JUNE 15 2021 (The Bulletin) — Armenia’s Central Bank said that the economy had rebounded faster than expected from both losing a war against Azerbaijan and also from the coronavirus pandemic, giving PM Nikol Pashinyan a boost ahead of a tight election.

The Central Bank also raised interest rates by half a percentage point to 6.5%, its highest level since 2016, strengthening the Armenian dram against the US dollar.

“Gross demand is recovering faster than expected, mainly due to the rapid growth of global demand, increased remittances, the high growth rate of private consumption, while private investment activity remains weak,” the Central Bank said in its statement.

Armenians vote in a parliamentary election on June 20. Polls put Mr Pashinyan ahead of his main contender, former president Robert Kocharyan, but they have also suggested that he may not win a majority.

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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

Kazakh court sentences activist to prison for Ablyazov links

JUNE 15 2021 (The Bulletin) — A court in Shymkent, southern Kazakhstan, sentenced Nurzhan Mukhammedov, a political activist, to two years of “limited freedom” for his links to the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK). The DVK is linked to Mukhtar Ablyazov, the Paris-based opposition leader who has been accused of stealing billions from a Kazakh bank.

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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

Japarov gears up for fight with judicary in Kyrgyzstan

JUNE 7 2021 (The Bulletin) — Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov appeared to be gearing up to replace much of the senior judiciary in the country after he issued a statement criticising their work. He said that the unprofessionalism of judges was holding back the development of society. Mr Japarov, who took power in a coup in October, has earned a reputation as a single-minded populist who has consolidated his power through an election, tweaks to the constitution and the expropriation of a gold mine.

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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

Abducted eductionalist held in Turkish embassy in Bishkek, says wife

JUNE 6 2021 (The Bulletin) — Orhan Inandi, the Turkish educator and opposition figure, is being held captive at the Turkish embassy in Bishkek, his wife, Reyhan, said in a Twitter video. Mr Inandi disappeared on May 31 in an apparent abduction. His supporters have said that Turkish security forces kidnapped him. Turkish Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames supporters of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen for a failed coup attempt in 2016 and has vowed to track them down. Mr Inandi, who holds Turkish and Kyrgyz citizenship, is head of the Gulenist network of schools and universities in Kyrgyzstan.

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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

Nazarbayev “frees” Belarusian protesters

ALMATY/JUNE 2 2021 (The Bulletin) — Belarus freed three anti-government protesters after an intervention from former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev, the spokesperson of Belarusian Pres. Aleksandr Lukashenko said, a few days before Kazakhstan also declined to join Russia-led sanctions against the West.

The three ethnic Polish Belarusian citizens — Irena Biernacka, Maria Tishkovska and Anna Panisheva — were freed on June 2 and sent to Poland. They had been in prison since March when they were arrested for spreading Nazi propaganda. Two other leaders of the Polish minority in Belarus are still in prison.

When asked why they had been released, Natalia Ejsmont, the Belarusian spokesperson, said: “Do you remember the talks between the Belarusian President and the first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev? They took place in April, and it was then that the freeing of activists of the Union of Poles in Belarus was discussed. (Nazarbayev) asked for their release.” Mr Nazarbayev has not commented.

Pres. Lukashenko has cracked down hard on protesters since an election last year which his opponents said was rigged. Thousands have been imprisoned on charges that they say are arbitrary. Allegations of abuse and torture against the Belarusian security services are common.

News of the apparent intervention by Mr Nazarbayev, who likes to play the elder statesman in the former Soviet Union, came a few days before the Kazakh government declined to take part in Russia-organised sanctions against the West. The sanctions, which the Kremlin had expected the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) to back, were designed as retaliation against Western sanctions against Belarus after it forced a passenger jet flying from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk so that it could arrest a dissident journalist.

Explaining its decision not to back the sanctions, Kazakhstan said that it “takes the position that processes within the EAEU are purely economic.” Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are EAEU members.

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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

Comment — Mirziyoyev needs to deliver reform and not just talk about it

MARCH 15 (The Bulletin) — Perhaps the gloss is beginning to flake off the Shavkat Mirziyoyev project. 

In an unusually long press release, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan’s president, and his government of tinkering rather than actually making any meaningful reforms in its much vaunted changes to the Criminal Code.

This, Human Rights Watch said, is an opportunity missed as it “falls short of protections to which women, victims of torture, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are entitled under international law”.

For example, on religion the new criminal code relaxes previously harsh rules that could see you put in prison for disseminating religious text but on defamation, which is often used to silence critics of powerful people and business leaders across Central Asia, the law hasn’t changed despite a headline-grabbing announcement last year that it would.

This is stinging criticism from Human Rights Watch.

Since coming to power in 2016 after the death of the reclusive and repressive Islam Karimov, Mirziyovev has made great play of his plans to open up the economy and society. Things have improved, as Human Rights Watch pointed out, but emphasis seems to be changing now. Is Mirziyoyev making the same mistakes as his predecessor and other Central Asian leaders? Is he beginning to believe his own hubris? He was PM under Karimov, after all.

News reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Mirziyoyev has built himself a large dacha, or palace as some people have been calling it, in the hills outside Tashkent is in itself not a surprise, but the denials and cover-up were bizarre and obtuse. It had all the characteristics of a man more concerned with is image than with being straight with his own people.

And there is his family too, which has become increasingly prominent, especially his daughter Saida Mirziyoyeva, who represents her father at official meetings and on overseas trips.

It is too early to draw close comparisons but Karimov also started out talking up a more liberal agenda before switching to autocracy and promoting his own daughter, Gulnara Karimova. Mirziyoyev needs to concentrate on delivering real reforms and not just talking about them.

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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

Activists try to block Armenian parliament

MARCH 10 (The Bulletin) — Opposition activists in Armenia scuffled with police as they tried to block parliament and the country’s top generals called for PM Nikol Pashinyan to resign after he once again tried to sack Armenia’s most senior soldier. Last month, Mr Pashinyan said that he was facing a military coup after General Onik Gasparian called for him to resign. He then tried to sack Gen. Gasparian, although Armenian Pres.  Armen Sarksian refused to sign off on the order. The Army and Mr Pashinyan blame each other for losing a war against Azerbaijan.

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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

EU appoints mediate for Georgian political stand-off

MARCH 9 (The Bulletin) — Highlighting the central role that the EU expects to play in mediating a resolution to a breakdown in the political system in Georgia since a disputed election in October last year, European Council President Charles Michel appointed a personal envoy to talks. It is expected that Christian Danielsson, head of the EU delegation in Sweden, is expected to mediate in the talks. Last month police arrested a senior opposition leader and the PM resigned. Protests have continued on the streets.

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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