Armenia

Semi-Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
33
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 33.33 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 3.00 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
32 100 Semi-Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2020

  • Electoral process rating improved from 3.00 to 3.25 due to the transparent and mostly free and fair conduct of local elections, which were held without systematic interference from the ruling party.
  • Corruption rating improved from 2.75 to 3.00 due to the prosecution of high-level corruption cases, the creation of a corruption prevention commission, and the current authorities’ commitment to establishing an independent anticorruption body in 2021.

header2 Executive Summary

By Ani Mejlumyan

The year 2019 was the first in which Armenia’s post-revolutionary authorities had full power to implement institutional changes. The Velvet Revolution of 2018, which saw street protests end the decades-long rule of the Republican Party (HHK), culminated in snap parliamentary elections, with the revolutionary political forces (the “My Step” Alliance, led by current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan) winning an overwhelming mandate. The elections were exceptionally free and fair, and notably, the results were not contested in court. Two state branches—the executive and the legislative—are now controlled by the ruling My Step Alliance. The current authorities are suspicious that security forces, such as the National Security Service and the judiciary, remain loyal to the former regime.1 Therefore, establishing an unshakable foothold in all state branches remains their priority.

In the wake of the Velvet Revolution, changes have taken place in almost all sectors. These include school and reforms,2 an increase in the minimum wage,3 an increase in pensions for certain groups,4 and improved conditions in the armed forces.5 However, these advances cannot be described as large-scale institutional change. The only potential for that is occurring in the justice system, where Justice Minister Rustam Badasyan has created a comprehensive “2019–2023 Strategy for Judicial and Legal Reforms” in cooperation with local civil society groups and international organizations like the Venice Commission. The judicial reforms outlined in the strategy are top to bottom, and supplemented with transitional and restorative justice programs.

However, in order to make its democracy work, Armenia’s justice system needs complete independence from the government. In this regard, there were alarming indications in 2019 that the government’s reform drive could potentially threaten democracy itself. The current authorities have campaigned to remove Constitutional Court judges appointed by the former regime. The National Assembly called for the resignation of Constitutional Court chairman Hrayr Tovmasyan, as did Vahe Grigoryan, the court’s most recently elected judge (who is a close ally and whose candidacy was supported by the My Step Alliance).* Tovmasyan was also the subject of prosecutions.6 These moves were followed by a plan to send Constitutional Court judges into early retirement. The Venice Commission criticized the plan, stating that early retirement should only be voluntary.7

Armenian politics were highly polarized in 2019. Passing bills favored by the ruling elite was not an issue, as the My Step Alliance has a majority in the parliament. But outside of the National Assembly, the new political elite face a resourceful national conservative opposition, which often manipulates the discussion of serious policies such as the fight against domestic violence.8

These political forces, often at the expense of marginalized groups like the LGBT+ community, are trying to score points against the governing alliance. As the current authorities and the opposition spar, people have started to identify each other by whom they voted for, creating a gap between so-called blacks (associated with the HHK) and whites (associated with the My Step Alliance). The sharp contrasts between these blocs is generating intolerance that transforms public discourse from a constructive arena for brainstorming into a rhetorical fistfight.

In this dynamic environment, the media have been a vital tool in the hands of political parties. The public broadcaster, Public TV, is an adherent of the current authorities. The majority of commercial media, however, belong to the opposition. Independent media remains insufficiently small-scale, relying on grants and occasional advertisements for support. In general, editorial independence from the influence of outlet owners is almost nonexistent.

Armenia held no national elections in 2019. The 2019–2023 Strategy for Judicial and Legal Reforms has introduced plans to make the National Assembly a more multiparty legislative body, among other proposed electoral changes. Local governments, however, held several elections during the year, all described as mostly free and fair. Each election was monitored by three to six local observer groups. Local governments remain under central control and are reliant on government subventions, thus lacking any real autonomy.

The fight against corruption and its prevalence is slowly being institutionalized. According to the current authorities’ plans, Armenia will not have a universal anticorruption body. The government has formed a commission to prevent corruption, while another body with legal authority to investigate and prosecute corrupt activities alongside a corruption court will be set up in 2021.

In 2019, Armenia struggled to stabilize relations with its partners and allies, and reinvent its image abroad. The course of negotiations with neighboring Azerbaijan regarding the Armenia-backed de facto republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has changed, as the current authorities have continuously questioned the decisions implemented by their predecessors. Prime Minister Pashinyan has repeatedly stated that the conflict’s resolution should be “acceptable for the peoples of Artsakh [the Armenian term for Nagorno-Karabakh], Armenia, and Azerbaijan.” 9 Still, negotiations towards a peaceful resolution of the long-running conflict are continuing. The USC Institute of Armenian Studies observed that the year was exceptional in terms of war-related deaths, reporting that “four Armenian and an estimated nine Azerbaijani servicemen died in hostile fire incidents throughout 2019, making the year the most peaceful since the May 1994 cease-fire.”10 Finding balance in foreign policy is as much of a challenge for the current authorities as it was for their predecessors. In this mix, Armenia’s heavy reliance on Russia and U.S. sanctions on Iran only complicates matters for the governing alliance.

The year 2020 will pose a number of challenges for the current authorities, including implementation of unpopular reforms such as the ratification of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention to combat violence against women and domestic violence. Implementation of larger institutional reforms in the judiciary and against corruption will determine the democratic future of the country.

Armenia’s government budget will increase in 2020, with a growth of 13 percent in revenues and 14 percent in expenditures over 2019.11 The economic challenges for landlocked Armenia are very real, as half of the country’s borders (with Azerbaijan and Turkey) remain closed. Therefore, rapidly creating a more investment-friendly climate is essential for economic growth. However, there are already concerns over environmental issues related to mining and the need for regulation of the mining industry, one of the primary vectors for foreign investment in Armenia.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 2.503 7.007
  • Armenia is on the path toward a new democracy after the 2018 Velvet Revolution. The governing alliance’s struggle with former authorities continues as the parliament and the government battle with all the means at their disposal to, in their words, “break the resistance” of those actors in the political system who are thought to be loyal to the former regime.1
  • In 2019, high-ranking security officials either resigned or were laid off2 as the new government tried to get a stronger foothold in all state apparatuses. The chief of police and the head of the National Security Service left their posts in 2019 after serving for about a year and half. Both had previously worked in law enforcement during the rule of former president (and prime minister) Serzh Sargsyan.
  • The current authorities fear losing popularity and are taking a cautious approach to policymaking. The most publicized issues of the year included the operation of a gold mine at Amulsar and ratification of the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe treaty on preventing domestic violence and violence against women. In August, Armenia’s Investigative Committee released a commissioned report that raised ecological concerns about the planned gold mine while dismissing other issues.3 Prime Minister Pashinyan gave the project the green light, as it is a critical source of hard currency for the country. In September, he reversed himself amid public outcry,4 conceding that more environmental and legal inspections are needed.5 Earlier, in July, the government announced that it would ratify the Istanbul Convention, which the former government had signed in January 2018.6 However, conservative elements in Armenian society objected to the treaty’s assertion that gender is a social construct.7 Public debate on the treaty turned hostile as various nationalistic and chauvinistic groups spread misinformation about it, and the government quietly dropped the matter.8
  • Armenia’s parliamentary body, the National Assembly, consisted of three political forces in 2019: Prime Minister Pashinyan’s My Step Alliance, plus oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan’s opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), and the opposition party Bright Armenia, led by Edmon Marukyan.9 The most radical opposition, however, remained outside the parliament. Due primarily to Pashinyan’s personal popularity, My Step Alliance received an overwhelming mandate in the December 2018 parliamentary elections, winning 88 seats out of 132.10 It now dominates the parliament and the government. The year 2019 saw some key changes to the cabinet, notably, former Minister of Justice Artak Zeynalyan resigned,11 and Rustam Badasyan, a close Pashinyan ally, was appointed to replace him. Most of the cabinet is from Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party, the largest constituent in the My Step Alliance.12
  • Foreign affairs are in the process of being stabilized. The country’s relationship with Russia endured ups and downs in 2019. The EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) has not yet been ratified, but Armenian diplomats are committed to seeing it through on their end.
  • The year featured a lesser degree of violence along the border with Azerbaijan. For the first time in well over a decade,13 Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists made exchange visits.14 However, Prime Minister Pashinyan’s rhetoric on the feud between the two countries differs only slightly from his predecessors.
  • In July, the governing alliance passed a flat tax of 23 percent,15 doing away with the former government’s progressive tax system.16 Armenia’s central bank projected that the economy could expand by 6.9 to 7.1 percent in 2019.17 (The real GDP growth rate in 2019 was 7.6 percent.18) Nevertheless, the government has a more conservative outlook for 2020, projecting 4.9 percent GDP growth.19
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 3.253 7.007
  • Elections in post-revolutionary Armenia have more credibility in the public’s perception than they did under the former authorities. The results of the 2018 parliamentary elections have not been contested, unlike the previous parliamentary votes in 20121 and 20172 (although, in both cases, the Constitutional Court found the results to be lawful). Armenia did not hold any national elections in 2019.
  • Elections did take place, however, in Armenia’s provinces and communities for various posts in local self-government bodies.3 These were deemed mostly free and fair. Each election was monitored by three to six observer groups.
  • During the June 9 local elections, observer groups found irregularities in several provinces and communities. Observers from Akanates (“Eye-Witness”), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), singled out the election in Abovyan, where a candidate from Civil Contract competed against an incumbent supported by the PAP for the post of community leader.4 Electoral violations were recorded on both sides during the campaign and the balloting itself. Provincial governor Romanos Petrosyan, a member of Civil Contract appointed by the current authorities, illegally campaigned on election day, giving an interview to Armnews TV in which he remarked that the incumbent community leader was corrupt. Observers labeled this an “abuse of administrative resources that was clearly intended to influence the voters’ choice.” Meanwhile, one PAP proxy—an employee of PAP leader Gagik Tsarukyan’s Student Charitable Fund—was discovered with a list that included names and phone numbers of voters expected to support the incumbent community leader. Ultimately, the incumbent was reelected.
  • Another group of observers from the NGO Legal Progress Legal Club reported to the central election committee that there was an unnecessary high concentration of police forces in Abovyan, which created tension around polling sites.5
  • Observers recorded irregularities such as counting invalid ballots during the vote in the community of Gorayq. Artyom Grigoryan, who lost his race to become the Gorayq community leader by 16 votes, asked a court to annul the election results.6 The court ultimately ordered a do-over election—which the winner in the first election, Ashot Aghajanyan, and his supporters objected to by blocking roads.7 Nevertheless, Aghajanyan also won the do-over election on June 30.8
  • In October, the government approved the Justice Ministry’s 2019–2023 Strategy for Judicial and Legal Reforms.9 Included in the strategy is a call for amendments to Armenia’s electoral legislation that would decentralize power in the parliament and ensure party pluralism by lowering the minimum election threshold. The strategy also calls for other changes, such as adopting a simple proportional system, reforming the procedure for forming coalitions in the parliament, and revising electoral deposit requirements for candidates.
  • 1. “ՀՀ Սահմանադրական դատարանի որոշումը” [Decision of the Constitutional Court of Armenia], Armenian Legal Information System, 31 May 2012, https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?docID=76369
  • 2. “ՀՀ Սահմանադրական դատարանի որոշումը” [Decision of the Constitutional Court of Armenia], Armenian Legal Information System, 28 March 2017, https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?DocID=113093
  • 3. “Տեղական ինքնակառավարման մարմինների ընտրություններ, 2019” [Elections to the local self-government bodies, 2019], Central Election Commission of the Republic of Armenia, https://www.elections.am/tim2019/
  • 4. “ՏԵՂԵԿԱՆՔ 2019 թ․ հունիսի 9-ի տեղական ինքնակառավարման մարմինների ընտրությունների դիտարկման արդյունքների վերաբերյալ” [REFERENCE On the results of the monitoring of the 9 June 2019 local self-government bodies elections], Eyewitness, 10 June 2019, https://res.elections.am/images/doc/akanates09.06.19.pdf
  • 5. Letter from the Legal Progress Legal Club to the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Armenia, n.d., https://res.elections.am/images/doc/lp09.06.19.pdf
  • 6. “Գորայքի ընտրություններում պարտված թեկնածուն դիմել է դատարան” [In Gorayk, the candidate who lost applied to the court], News.am, 19 June 2019, https://news.am/arm/news/519315.html
  • 7. “Միջպետական ճանապարհը փակած Ծղուկ բնակավայրի բնակիչները հանդիպել են Սյունիքի մարզպետի հետ” [Residents of Tsghuk who blocked the interstate highway met with the Syunik governor], Shant, 25 June 2019, https://www.shantnews.am/news/view/412440.html
  • 8. “ՀԱՄԱՅՆՔՆԵՐ ՀԱՄԱՅՆՔԻ ՂԵԿԱՎԱՐ ԵՎ ԱՎԱԳԱՆԻ,” Syunik Regional Administration, Republic of Armenia, http://syunik.mtad.am/community-leader-council/982/
  • 9. “ON APPROVING THE 2019-2023 STRATEGY FOR JUDICIAL AND LEGAL REFORMS OF THE REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA AND THE ACTION PLANS DERIVING THEREFROM,” Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia, http://www.moj.am/en/legal/view/article/1249
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 4.505 7.007
  • Armenian civil society lost some of its prominent members to state apparatuses in 2019, a result of the current authorities’ welcoming stance. In general, the civil sector’s involvement in government discussions and decisions increased compared to previous years. The public image of civil society organizations (CSOs) has slightly improved.1 However, the once largely liberal sector has now been supplemented with nationalistic and chauvinistic civil initiatives as well as politically motivated NGOs.2
  • According to the Ministry of Justice, Armenia had 4,222 registered public organizations by the end of 2018. The European Union (EU) estimated that only 15 to 20 percent of these were active.3
  • A standardized financial-reporting form for NGOs was introduced by the State Revenue Committee (SRC) in March 2019.4 Financial sustainability remains one of the biggest challenges for many organizations, and only a few have dependable sources of income.
  • Amendments introduced by the SRC in March require foundations to disclose the personal information of employees. Transparency International (TI) objected that this requirement could violate employee privacy rights.5 Later, the SRC altered the amendments in line with TI’s suggestions.
  • In November, the government introduced an initiative to remove an education course called “Armenian Church History” from school curricula and assimilate it into the “History of the Armenian People” module.6 This controversial plan divided society. Religious freedom is protected by the Armenian constitution, but the “Armenian Church History” class, which sometimes includes prayers and occasional Bible readings, is mandatory in public schools.
  • Anti-Pashinyan groups have been lobbying against the Istanbul Convention (see “National Democratic Governance”), which addresses violence against women and domestic violence, while Pashinyan’s supporters have generally been silent on the issue.7 Since the Velvet Revolution, LGBT+ issues have dominated the public discourse and used for political ends. For example, a significant debate took place after the state made an investment in a film production about a transgender person. Prime Minister Pashinyan ultimately adopted a firm stance in defense of the subject of the film, marking the first time he had publicly defended LGBT+ people.8
  • In July, Pashinyan strongly criticized right-wing “blackshirts,” with many interpreting his remarks to mean the “Adekvad” initiative, which has continuously targeted him.9 Moreover, he ordered the chief of police to locate its members. Adekvad subsequently announced that it would become a political party.10 “Veto” is another post-revolutionary initiative that spreads nationalistic views via aggressive speeches and provocative actions aimed at authorities sponsoring or defending anything that, in its view, has a connection with the LGBT+ community. One of their long-standing punching bags is the Open Society Foundation in Armenia.11 A third initiative, “Kamq,”12 has been actively disrupting events that the group labels anti-Armenian, anti-Russian, pro-sexual liberty,13 pro-LGBT+, or Satanist, such as heavy metal concerts.14 The funding streams for these groups are unknown, but the groups claim they are powered by donations from supporters.
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 3.003 7.007
  • The media landscape in Armenia is highly polarized between pro- and antigovernment outlets, with very few options in between. Commercial TV outlets, which remain the country’s most popular sources of information, are relatively free from state control but lack editorial independence vis-à-vis their owners, according to IREX1 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).2
  • The media environment was further complicated by several government proposals in 2019. In August, the Ministry of Justice proposed a draft bill that would supplement hate speech legislation by criminalizing public calls or justifications for violence.3 Another proposal made by independent member of parliament (MP) Arman Babajanyan suggests imprisoning people who are “spreading false information, [or] materially motivating another person with the purpose of spreading false information.”4
  • The current authorities have been critical towards several media outlets.5 On January 13, Prime Minister Pashinyan posted an article from the critical newspaper Hraparak on his Facebook page, saying, “Judging from their reports, the media is nostalgic for the Republicans’ corrupt government. After all, after many years of working side by side, they have become almost relatives.” Two days later, he complained on Facebook that the media are not appreciative of changes that have taken place in Armenia because “90 percent” of outlets are controlled either by the former regime or those who oppose him.6
  • New amendments were introduced by the Justice Ministry that would allow journalists free access to information from the state’s registry of legal entities.7 Previously, the data was sold for $7 per search.8
  • The Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE), an Armenian NGO, recorded 96 lawsuits involving journalists and media outlets in 2019.9 This number is significantly higher than the previous two years combined. The majority of lawsuits alleged insult or slander. Many of these were brought by former or current politicians. In addition, the CPFE recorded 4 cases of physical violence against journalists as well as 134 cases of pressure against journalists and media outlets. Journalists’ work was disrupted 108 times. These numbers are alarming, and with the exception of physical violence against journalists, represent an increase over 2018. In one incident from October, a nationalistic group of Pashinyan supporters egged a critical media outlet.10
  • In 2019, there were significant shifts in media ownership that brought an injection of money and energy into the antigovernment campaign run by Pashinyan opponents. PanARMENIAN, a major media holding reportedly owned by the son-in-law of former president Serzh Sargsyan, was broken up and sold to a number of buyers including former HHK MPs.11 The new owner of the country’s most profitable TV station, Armenia TV, is also linked to the former owner of PanARMENIAN. Earlier, a TV station once owned by the HHK (Ararat TV, renamed 5th Channel) was taken over by an associate of former president Robert Kocharyan.12
  • The public broadcaster, Public TV, experienced many staff changes after the Velvet Revolution. In March 2019, two former employees sued Public TV for wrongful termination.13 An observer from the watchdog Media Initiative Center has remarked that “coverage of Pashinyan dominates to an outrageous degree. My hope that Public TV would not become the image maker of Pashinyan and Anna Hakobyan [Pashinyan’s wife] is fading day by day.”14 Notably, the public broadcaster under-covered the claim by Sarhat Petrosyan, former chair of the Cadastre Committee of the Republic of Armenia, that current Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan’s office had been involved in corrupt practices.15
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 2.252 7.007
  • Armenia’s local governments are not decentralized. The structure of governance in Armenia, along with limited local revenues, leave the country’s provinces and communities dependent on budget allocations from the central government. The prime minister paid frequent visits to the regions to check on development. Under the current authorities, local governance is not as politicized as in the past.
  • The 2019 local elections, in their conduct and results, were deemed mostly free, fair, and transparent (see “Electoral Process”). Notably, the central government refrained from putting its cronies into elected positions. In terms of campaign content, however, the elections overall remained fairly typical. Voters paid little attention to the programs introduced by candidates, and some candidates did not even have programs to put forward.
  • A study of voter behavior by the group Independent Observer showed that the main issues in the regions are “lack of drinking or irrigation water,” “road construction,” and “waste management.”1
  • Women’s integration into the workings of local government also remains a problem. Research showed that only about 10 percent of women were informed about the 2019 elections before candidates were registered.2
  • Local governments and communities need fiscal autonomy in order to be independent and to set priorities based on their needs rather than wait for central government subventions. Existing legislation creates a hierarchy in which the central government may express concerns to community leaders, but the public cannot. A 2019 report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on fiscal transparency in Armenia noted that “local governments are highly reliant on central government transfers,” which account for 80 percent of their funding.3
  • Some steps have been taken towards a more accountable model of local self-governance. Prior to 2019, a proportional system for local elections was adopted in the capital Yerevan and the municipalities of Vanadzor and Gyumri. In August 2019, the Minister of Territorial Administration opined that this system should be implemented in all communities, adding that community leaders have too much authority and, under current law, cannot be removed before their terms expire if constituents are unhappy with their services.4 However, the minister’s position was not followed up with any legislative proposals.
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 2.503 7.007
  • Reforming the judiciary has topped the government agenda in post-revolutionary Armenia, although the composition of the judiciary did not substantially change after the upheaval of the Velvet Revolution. Reportedly, some judges remain loyal to the former authorities. The level of public trust in court decisions and judges remains low.1
  • The courts have been tested on many occasions during 2019. Notably, the reopened case against former president Robert Kocharyan and several other high-ranking officials in connection with the violent breakup of the 2008 protests strained the judicial system. The government and the parliament have taken an overwhelming interest in Kocharyan’s case. On May 18, Kocharyan was released from detention, where he had been held since July 2018. Prime Minister Pashinyan subsequently urged his supporters to physically block the courts.2 Kocharyan was later rearrested and put on trial, despite a September ruling by the Constitutional Court that his initial arrest had been unconstitutional.3
  • Pashinyan also suggested vetting judges in order to remove politically biased and corrupt members of the judiciary. After the Venice Commission labeled Pashinyan’s suggestion objectionable,4 Armenia refrained from this and other radical changes to the judiciary, and overall the government’s draft judicial reform package has received generally favorable feedback.
  • In October, the government approved the Justice Ministry’s 2019–2023 Strategy for Judicial and Legal Reforms.5 In the first quarter of 2020, the government plans to set up a professional commission to submit a draft of constitutional amendments. New international criteria for screening candidates will apply to not only for judges but also state prosecutors and investigators. The government has planned to create a commission for transitional justice, which will be an autonomous body to investigate cases of mass human rights violations in Armenia from 1991 to 2018. The prison system will see some changes as well, including improved nutrition. The government also plans to launch a fight against organized crime.
  • Changing the composition of the Constitutional Court remained a controversial priority for the current authorities. The court chairman, Hrayr Tovmasyan, was charged with “usurping power” in December. That same month, a new law came into effect giving Constitutional Court judges a financial incentive to retire early.6
  • The National Security Service and national police answer to the prime minister. As an opposition figure, Pashinyan had argued that this arrangement gives too much power to one individual. In September, the opposition party Bright Armenia proposed that the criteria for occupying those posts should be the same as for MPs.7 Pashinyan’s My Step Alliance rejected the proposal.8
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 3.003 7.007
  • Corruption was one of the critical issues that fomented the Velvet Revolution. Armenia’s current authorities have been fighting corruption on a case-by-case basis, using all of the investigative bodies at their disposal. Yet Prime Minister Pashinyan’s administration has been criticized for not implementing institutional changes in the fight against corruption.
  • In November 2019, a new Commission on Prevention of Corruption was set up, replacing a highly ineffective ethics committee.1 The decision to create the commission was made in 2017, but its implementation was delayed by the revolution. Its members were proposed by the government, the National Assembly, and the Supreme Judicial Council. Haykuhi Harutyunyan, nominated by Bright Armenia, was elected chairwoman of the commission. It will examine the financial declarations of high-ranking officials and determine conflicts of interest, but it is not be empowered to prosecute. An anticorruption body with prosecutorial authority will be set up in 2021, along with a separate corruption court.2
  • The Justice Ministry also has an anticorruption strategic plan for 2019–2022. Its main objectives are corruption investigation and prevention, and anticorruption education and public awareness.3
  • The State Supervision Service, affiliated with the prime minister’s office, is meant to oversee corruption in state institutions. In April, a criminal charge was brought against its head, Davit Sanasaryan, a long-time Pashinyan ally, for failing to carry out his official duties and abusing power to promote the interests of a business tied to one of his employees.4 A verdict was not reached in 2019, but Sanasaryan was suspended.5
  • Grand corruption such as abuse of office still occurs in post-revolutionary Armenia, but according to experts,6 corruption primarily takes place at lower levels of government. The 2019 annual report by the prosecutor’s office7 recorded a 4.7 percent increase from 2018 in corruption-related cases. There were a total of 2,083 cases, of which 1,399 became criminal investigations. Only 52 cases ended in a guilty verdict.
  • In May, a website for reporting corruption was created by the General Prosecutor’s Office.8
  • Major corruption cases linked to the former regime have been revealed in connection to various sectors, ranging from the Ministry of Defense9 to universities.10 In November, officials released a statement asserting that “over the past 1.5 years, the State Prosecutor’s Office has revealed 60.7 billion drams in damage and 3.2 billion was restored.”11

Author: Ani Mejlumyan is an investigative journalist and correspondent for OCCRP and Eurasianet.

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0–100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

* Correction, May 6: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of the report incorrectly stated that Grigoryan was appointed by the My Step Alliance. He was nominated by the president and elected by the parliament.

  • 1. Naira Nalbandyan, “Խորհրդարանը ընտրեց Կոռուպցիայի կանխարգելման հանձնաժողովի հինգ անդամներին”[Parliament elected the five members of the Corruption Prevention Committee], Radio Azatutyun, 20 November 2019, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/30282192.html
  • 2. "Anti-Corruption Committee to be set up in Armenia,", Armenpress, 3 October 2019, https://armenpress.am/eng/news/990352.html
  • 3. “Cabinet approves 2019-2022 Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plan,” Armenpress, 3 October 2019, https://armenpress.am/eng/news/990341.html
  • 4. Ani Mejlumyan, "Head of Armenian anticorruption body accused of corruption," Eurasianet, 19 April 2019, https://eurasianet.org/head-of-armenian-anti-corruption-body-accused-of…
  • 5. “Davit Sanasaryan,” Government of the Republic of Armenia, https://www.gov.am/en/bodies-under-prime-minister-chiefs/854
  • 6. Tatul Hakobyan, “Կոռուպցիոն բուրգեր Հայաստանում այսօր չկան․ Վարուժան Հոկտանյան” [There are no corruption pyramids in Armenia today – Varuzhan Hoktanyan], CivilNet, 28 October 2019, https://www.civilnet.am/news/2019/10/28/%D4%BF%D5%B8%D5%BC%D5%B8%D6%82%…
  • 7. “Հ Ա Ղ Ո Ր Դ ՈՒ Մ ՀԱՅԱՍՏԱՆԻ ՀԱՆՐԱՊԵՏՈՒԹՅԱՆ ԴԱՏԱԽԱԶՈՒԹՅԱՆ 2019-ԻԳՈՐԾՈՒՆԵՈՒԹՅԱՆ ՄԱՍԻՆ” [Report on the activities of the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Armenia in 2019], Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Armenia, http://www.prosecutor.am/myfiles/files/reports/haxordum-AJ-2019.pdf
  • 8. Unified Electronic Platform for Whistle-Blowing, Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia, https://azdararir.am/en/
  • 9. “ԱԱԾ․ Բացահայտվել է ՊՆ կարիքների համար գնումների գործընթացում առանձնապես խոշոր չափերով գումարի հափշտակման դեպք” [NSS revealed large-scale theft of funds during the procurement process for MoD needs], Radio Azatutyun, 21 August 2019, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/30120881.html
  • 10. “ՀՀ գլխավոր դատախազությունը Շիրակի պետական համալսարանում առերևույթ կոռուպցիոն հանցագործությունների վերաբերյալ քրեական գործն ուղարկել է ՀՀ ՀՔԾ” [The RA Prosecutor General’s Office has sent a criminal case on corruption-related crimes at Shirak State University to the RA SIS], Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Armenia, 29 July 2019, http://www.prosecutor.am/am/mn/7524/
  • 11. “Նախորդ 1.5 տարվա ընթացքում դատախազության պետական շահերի պաշտպանության գործիքակազմով բացահայտվել է 60.7մլրդ դրամի վնաս, վերականգնվել՝ 3.2մլրդը” [Over the past 1.5 years, by state interests protection mechanism of the Prosecutor’s Office, damage in the amount of 60.7 billion AMD has been revealed, and restored in the amount of 3.2 billion AMD], Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Armenia, 15 November 2019, http://www.prosecutor.am/am/mn/7613/

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