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South Caucasus: Commissioner Várhelyi visits Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia

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Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi (pictured) will travel to the South Caucasus from today (6 July) to 9 July, visiting Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. This will be Commissioner's first mission to countries of the region. It follows the adoption of the Economic and Investment Plan, underpinning a renewed agenda for recovery, resilience and reform for the Eastern Partnership countries. During his meetings with political authorities, business and civil society actors, Commissioner Várhelyi will present the Economic and Investment Plan for the region and its flagship initiatives per country. He will also discuss key issues of bilateral relations with each of the three countries. The Commissioner will confirm the EU's solidarity with partner countries in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Georgia, Commissioner Várhelyi will meet with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Foreign Minister David Zakaliani, Chairman of the Parliament Kakhaber Kuchava and representatives of political parties as well as with Patriarch Ilia II among others. In Azerbaijan, he will have meetings with Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, Head of the Presidential Administration Samir Nuriyev, Minister of Economy Mikayil Jabbarov and Minister of Energy Parviz Shahbazov among others. In Armenia, Commissioner Várhelyi will meet with President Armen Sarkissian, Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Acting Deputy Prime Minister Grigoryan, and Patriarch Karekin II among others. Audiovisual coverage of the visit will be available on EbS.

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Youth Population Preparing for War in Armenia

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The end of military operations in Karabakh with the signing of a trilateral statement caused different reactions in Armenia. The awakening of Armenian society, which was deceived by misinformation during the war, with the news of defeat at night, led to chaos. Different political groups taking an opportunity tried to overthrow the current government and seize power, writes Louis Auge.

The political crisis was available for the interests of opposition. Calling the current government a "disloyal" and "traitor", they gathered radical nationalists around them and tried to seize power with their support. Historically, anti-Turkish political movements such as Dashnaktsutyun have been at the forefront in this direction.

Those who cannot accept the new reality in the region are already preparing for the new wars. While Azerbaijan is talking about the opening of communications in the region, the establishment of new economic relations, based on the requirements of the trilateral statement, the approach in Armenia is different. In particular, anti-Turkish propaganda among young people and their call to fight for Karabakh can lead to dangerous consequences.

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FREE MILITARY TRAINING FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

Recently, a military-patriotic school called "POGA" has started its activity in Armenia. It has gathered people of different age groups around the school, which started classes on March 29, 2021. The main focus is on youth. Along with men, women were involved in the trainings. They are taught to work with military equipment, shooting, mountaineering, first aid, military tactics, etc. classes are held in the following directions. Those who join the staff are also involved in psychological training.

The Activities of "POGA" comprise radical nationalism and anti-Turkish propaganda. The Facebook Page of Organization regularly quotes "heroes" such as Garegin Njde and Monte Melkonyan. Almost in every post, users call for war: slogans such as "The enemy is the same enemy," "We have no right to weaken," "Let's be a great force and prove to the whole world that we will not fall," "We must be stronger and be a people's army.", “The Motherland needs you more than you always” keep young people away from common sense.

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The fact that the trainings are free raises some questions. It is known that military training requires large expenditures: the supply of weapons and other equipment for the staff, travel expenses, food, etc. need funds. Although there is not enough information about the  financial sources of "POGA", it is known that the organization receives support from the Armenian diaspora. In one of the information posted on Facebook the organizers express their gratitude for the support of the American Armenian Vrej Grigoryan.

Although the exercises are mainly organized in Yerevan, military classes are also held in other areas. A total of about 300 people took part in the trainings in Tavush and Lori provinces in May. The next training is planned to be held in Dilijan National Park.

WHAT CAN BE PROBLEMS OF “POGA” IN LONG-TERM?

Bringing up young people with radical nationalist thinking and poisoning them with anti-Turkish propaganda is dangerous for the future of the region. The new political reality in the South Caucasus after the war has created great opportunities for all countries in the region. Armenia and Azerbaijan must take the main steps to use these opportunities to establish sustainable peace in the South Caucasus. After the signing of the trilateral statement, Azerbaijan expressed its approach to the issue and expressed interest in new regional projects. In Armenia, however, the approach to reality is different: although some forces consider it necessary to regulate relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, nationalist political forces such as Dashnaktsutyun, political figures such as Robert Kocharyan who formed an alliance with them, and initiatives such as "POGA" which have emerged against the background of all these processes, strongly do not accept the restoration of relations with Azerbaijan.

Young people who are brought up with the ideology of "POGA" will not allow the establishment of dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan and, as a result, the normalization of relations between the peoples.

“POGA” IS A THREAT TO ARMENIA

Involvement of young people in military training by organizations such as "POGA" is dangerous, first of all, for Armenia. At a time when the political crisis in the country continues, when there is disagreement among citizens, educating young people with a radical nationalist mentality, teaching them to use weapons can lead to problems in Armenian society in the near future. Young people who are brought up with the ideology of "POGA" will face Armenians who think differently then them and want peace, not war. The Youth of "POGA" will consider these Armenians as their enemies.

There have been many similar incidents in history. Even during World War I, the Armenians, who began the "freedom struggle" in the Ottoman Empire, with the order of Armenian Church carried out massacres not only against Muslims, but also against Armenians who did not join them. Another example is the recent actions of radical movements such as "Sasna Tsrer": in 2016, members of this group that attacked a police regiment in Yerevan killing law enforcement officers. This shows that Armenians, who were brought up and organized in a radical way, pose a threat to Armenia.

Women who involved in military trainings are even more dangerous. Under the influence of nationalist ideology, these women later began to bring up their children in the same direction. This prevents society from developing a healthy mindset.

WAR OR PEACE?

The Armenian government must carefully ponder the current situation. War or peace? Which option promises a better future for Armenia? How can young people who have been brought up in a radical nationalist mentality and are preparing for the next war contribute to Armenia? What will Armenia gain in the next war?

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Armenia's acting PM keeps power, bolsters authority despite military defeat

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Armenia's acting Prime Minister and leader of Civil Contract party Nikol Pashinyan receives a ballot at a polling station during the snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia June 20, 2021. Lusi Sargsyan/Photolure via REUTERS
Armenia's acting Prime Minister and leader of Civil Contract party Nikol Pashinyan visits a polling station to cast his vote during the snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia June 20, 2021. Lusi Sargsyan/Photolure via REUTERS

Armenia's acting Prime Minister and leader of Civil Contract party Nikol Pashinyan visits a polling station to cast his vote during the snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia June 20, 2021. Lusi Sargsyan/Photolure via REUTERS

Armenia's acting prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan (pictured), kept power in a parliamentary election that boosted his authority despite being widely blamed for a military defeat last year in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, results showed on Monday (21 June), writes Alexander Marrow.

Pashinyan's Civil Contract party won 53.92% of votes cast in Sunday's snap election, according to preliminary results on Monday. Former President Robert Kocharyan's Armenia Alliance trailed on 21.04%, and questioned the credibility of the result, the Interfax news agency reported.

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The government called the election to try to end a political crisis that began when ethnic Armenian forces ceded territory to Azerbaijan in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in six weeks of fighting last year.

The hostilities caused international concern because the wider South Caucasus region is a corridor for pipelines carrying natural oil and gas to world markets. It is also a geopolitical arena with Russia, the United States, the European Union and Turkey all jostling for influence.

Pashinyan, 46, faced street protests after the defeat and demands for his resignation over the terms of a peace agreement under which Azerbaijan regained control of territory it had lost during a war in the early 1990s.

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Pashinyan described the agreement as a disaster but said he had been compelled to sign it in order to prevent greater human and territorial losses.

He wrote on Twitter on Monday that his party would have a constitutional majority - at least 71 deputies out of 105 - and "will form a government led by me."

Pashinyan said Armenia would strengthen ties with Russia-led regional groups, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

"We are determined to work on improving, deepening and developing relations (with CSTO and EAEU countries), and we will definitely move in this direction," Russia's RIA news agency quoted Pashinyan as saying in an address broadcast on Facebook.

Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, is an ally of Moscow though relations have been cooler under Pashinyan, who came to power on the back of street protests and on an anti-corruption agenda in 2018.

Another regional power, Turkey, supported Azerbaijan in last year's conflict and watches developments in Armenia closely.

Pashinyan on Monday visited a cemetery to lay flowers on the grave of soldiers killed in last year's conflict.

Final results of the election will be announced in a week, Interfax cited Central Election Commission (CEC) head Tigran Mukuchyan as saying on Monday. He said the results gave Pashinyan the right to form a government on his own.

Opinion polls had put Pashinyan's party and Kocharyan's Armenia Alliance neck and neck.

"These (election) results contradict the processes of public life which we have observed in the past eight months," the alliance said in a statement, carried by Interfax.

It said it did not recognise the results and had started consultations with other parties to organise a collective appeal to Armenia's constitutional court, RIA reported.

Kocharyan is a native of Nagorno-Karabakh. The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but much of the population is ethnic Armenian.

Kocharyan was Armenia's president from 1998 to 2008 and was accused of acting unlawfully when he introduced a state of emergency in March 2008 after a disputed election. At least 10 people were killed in clashes that followed between police and protesters.

International observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the elections were competitive and generally well-managed.

"However, they were characterized by intense polarization and marred by increasingly inflammatory rhetoric among key contestants," it said in a statement.

There were 319 reports of voting irregularities, RIA reported. The CEC said the elections were largely in line with legal norms and observers from a CIS monitoring mission said the vote was open and fair, Interfax reported on Monday.

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EU and Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement enters into force

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On 1 March, the European Union-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) entered into force. It has now been ratified by the Republic of Armenia, all EU member states and the European Parliament. This represents an important milestone for EU-Armenia relations.

This Agreement provides a framework for the EU and Armenia to work together in a wide range of areas: strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights; creating more jobs and business opportunities, improving legislation, public safety, a cleaner environment, as well as better education and opportunities for research. This bilateral agenda also contributes to overall aim of the EU to deepen and strengthen its relations with the countries of its Eastern neighbourhood through the Eastern Partnership framework.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell said: “The entry into force of our Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement comes at a moment when Armenia faces significant challenges. It sends a strong signal that the EU and Armenia are committed to democratic principles and the rule of law, as well as to a wider reform agenda. Across political, economic, trade, and other sectoral areas, our Agreement aims to bring positive change to people's lives, to overcome challenges to Armenia's reforms agenda.”

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Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi underlined that: “While these are trying times for Armenia, the European Union continues to stand by the Armenian people. The entry into force of the bilateral EU-Armenia agreement on 1 March will allow us to strengthen our work on the economy, connectivity, digitalisation and the green transformation as priority areas. These will have concrete benefits for the people and are key for socio-economic recovery and the longer-term resilience of the country. In the current turbulent days, maintaining calm and respect for democracy and constitutional order are key.”

The Agreement was signed in November 2017 and substantial parts of have been provisionally applied since 1 June 2018. Since then, the breadth and depth of the bilateral cooperation between Armenia and the European Union have advanced steadily. At the 3rd EU-Armenia Partnership Council held on 17 December 2020, the European Union and Armenia reiterated their full commitment to implementing the CEPA.

The Agreement plays an important role for the modernization of Armenia, in particular through legislative approximation to EU norms in many sectors. This includes reforms in the rule of law and respect of human rights, particularly an independent, efficient and accountable justice system, as well as reforms aimed at enhancing the responsiveness and effectiveness of public institutions and at favouring the conditions for sustainable and inclusive development.

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From the entry into force of the Agreement on 1 March, cooperation will be strengthened in those areas which to date were not subject to the provisional application of the Agreement. The European Union stands ready and looks forward to working even more closely with Armenia on the full and effective implementation of the Agreement, in our mutual interest and to the benefit of our societies and citizens.

More information

EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement text

EU Delegation to Armenia website

EU-Armenia relations factsheet

EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement factsheet

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