|DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage||33.93 100|
|DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score||3.04 7|
- National Democratic Governance rating improved from 2.25 to 2.50 due to snap parliamentary elections and resulting stabilization of governance in the wake of the 2020 conflict with Azerbaijan, creating a path towards resolving the country’s postwar political crisis.
- Electoral Process rating improved from 3.25 to 3.50 due to positive electoral reforms and the professional administration of the snap elections, which were an improvement over previous polls.
- Independent Media rating declined from 3.00 to 2.75 due to the recriminalization of certain forms of defamation, leading to the indictment of at least one critic of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
- Judicial Framework and Independence rating improved from 2.50 to 2.75 due to the Constitutional Court’s meaningful check on the executive branch, as seen in the case of former president Robert Kocharyan, as well as the government’s first steps towards enhancing the integrity of the justice system.
- As a result, Armenia’s Democracy Score improved from 2.96 to 3.04.
The unclear fate of Armenian prisoners of war held in Azerbaijan, numbering some 200 POWs at the start of 2021, was the most sensitive and politically controversial question in Armenia during the year. In March, Human Rights Watch reported that Armenian POWs were subjected to cruel and degrading treatment and torture as captured, during transfer, or while in custody at various detention facilities.1 In May, the European Parliament demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Armenian POWs.2 In February, Armenia released 16 Azerbaijani POWs in exchange for 5 Armenians.3 In June, 15 Armenian POWs were freed by Azerbaijan and returned home in exchange for maps of minefields around Nagorno-Karabakh, due in part to the mediation of the United States and Georgia,4 and in July, another 15 returned home with mediation from Russia.5 Nevertheless, several dozen Armenian POWs remained in captivity at year’s end, while at least 14 faced criminal charges in Azerbaijani courts,6 provoking constant public discontent inside Armenia.
The security and border crisis that started after the Second Karabakh War in 2020 and territorial transfers to Azerbaijan initially affected only Armenia’s Syunik region. However, in 2021, the advancement of Azerbaijani armed forces in Gegharkunik region and border crisis in November created security concerns for four Armenian regions: Tavush, Gegharkunik, and Syunik bordering Azerbaijan, and Vayots Dzor bordering Azerbaijan’s Nakhijevan autonomous republic. Acknowledging its inability to protect the border from Azerbaijani attacks, the Armenian government suggested increasing the number of Russian military in Syunik and establishing a new military unit in Tavush, thereby increasing Armenia’s dependence on Russia in the security domain. Negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued under the sole mediation of Russia, despite Armenia’s urging to reestablish OSCE Minsk Group mediation.
The first half of 2021 was turbulent, with a wave of antigovernment protests over the previous year’s military defeat and subsequent ceasefire agreement with Azerbaijan on November 9, 2020. An unprecedented leadership crisis manifested in disagreements between the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, prompting public calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his government from chief military commanders and political forces. In response, the government called snap parliamentary elections in June as a means to overcome the country’s internal political crisis and to quell continuous opposition protests. Polarized politics dominated the campaign rhetoric, yet PM Pashinyan and his party ultimately secured over half of the vote (53.95 percent). Amid the country’s political crisis and turbulence, the elections were nonetheless characterized by OSCE/ODIHR observers as competitive and generally well managed within the short time frame.7 However, despite the successful elections and resulting stabilization of governance, Armenia’s security and post-conflict issues continued to dominate domestic politics, namely, the return of POWs, border demarcation, and growing military dependence on Russia, all of which remain critical challenges for the country’s postwar normalization. Armenia continues to face impacts from Azerbaijan’s large-scale attack on the unrecognized but de facto independent Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (or Artsakh in Armenia), inhabited and governed by ethnic Armenians.
Civil society and political parties effectively mobilized demonstrations and rallies during the year, with protests becoming the new norm in Armenia. Political parties were mostly focused on the 2020 war outcome and the negotiation process, demanding the resignation of PM Pashinyan, while civil society protests focused on social issues, including controversial construction projects in the capital Yerevan. Despite significant tensions between political camps, the demonstrations occurred with few cases of excessive use of force by law enforcement. Disinformation against civil society was instrumentalized as a campaign tool by the leading opposition party: Pashinyan’s main challenger, Armenia Alliance leader Robert Kocharyan, accused civil society of anti-Armenian activities and betraying national values, and he promised to introduce a “foreign agent” law if elected. Yet these attacks on the civic sector significantly decreased after the elections.
Judicial and anticorruption reforms continued in 2021 despite the country’s internal turbulence and security challenges, marking the third consecutive year of reforms aimed at creating stronger national institutions. Nevertheless, the judicial system remains highly controversial, with many believing the former government maintains control since cases against former officials for abuse of power are stuck in the courts; among them, the most notable charges against Armenia’s second president, Robert Kocharyan, were dismissed in March by the Constitutional Court.
Although the government has sustained momentum in institutionalizing the fight against corruption, anticorruption bodies still need to enhance their capacities, including the recruitment of relevant staff and ensuring transparency and accountability, in order to build public trust. For example, the Corruption Prevention Committee, established at the end 2019, has yet to issue an annual report on its activities. On a positive note, new legislation initiated the creation of an Anti-Corruption Committee with prosecutorial authority as well as the creation of a special Anticorruption Court. Investigations of high-profile cases continued, with a former defense minister arrested on embezzlement charges. However, the judiciary remains dependent on certain political actors (usually outside of government), and the majority of embezzlement cases are either stalled in the court system or dismissed.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of the 2020 war, Armenia faced significant economic challenges, including food inflation. According to the National Statistical Committee, consumer prices in January–July 2021 grew by 6.1 percent compared to the same period in 2020.8 In January, Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan announced that Armenia’s GDP had dropped by 8.5 percent in 2020 after three consecutive years of robust growth.9 However, the World Bank, in its 2021 Europe and Central Asia Economic Update, concluded that developments in Armenia were more positive than expected, with a faster recovery than anticipated, and the economy would likely return to pre-COVID output levels by mid-2022.10
European Union (EU) member states completed the ratification of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Armenia, which came into force on March 1, 2021.11 The EU also announced a readiness to step up international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,12 although nothing more occurred in this regard during the year. In July, in the wake of Armenia’s fair elections and efforts to recover from its 2020 defeat to Azerbaijan, the EU allocated an aid package of over $3 billion to the country, 62 percent more than previously promised.13
U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to recognize the Armenian Genocide14 by Ottoman Turkey on its April 24 commemoration was welcomed with enthusiasm in Armenia. The statement, with its strong emphasis on never repeating what happened, was interpreted as an important message to Armenians, whose fears had been stoked by Ankara’s strong support to Baku during the 2020 war.15
- 1Azerbaijan: Armenian POWs Abused in Custody: Investigate Abuse; Protect All Detainees, Human Rights Watch March 19 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/19/azerbaijan-armenian-pows-abused-cus…
- 2EU Parliament Demands Release Of Armenian Prisoners Held In Azerbaijan, RFE/RL Armenian Service, May 21 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31266834.html
- 3Armenia, Azerbaijan Exchange More Prisoners, February 10 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31095715.html
- 415 Armenian POWs Freed By Azerbaijan, June 13 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31304702.html
- 515 Armenian POWs return from Azerbaijani captivity, July 3 2021, https://en.armradio.am/2021/07/03/15-armenian-pows-return-from-azerbaij…
- 6Armenian POWs stand trial, June 30 2021, https://armenianweekly.com/2021/06/30/armenian-pows-stand-trial/
- 7Armenia, Early Parliamentary Elections, 20 June 2021: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, June 21 2021, https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/armenia/490307
- 8Central Bank of Armenia raises refinancing rate by 0.25 percentage points to 7.25%, ARKA News Agencyhttp://arka.am/en/news/economy/central_bank_of_armenia_raises_refinanci…
- 9Armenian Minister Reports 8.5% GDP Drop In 2020, RFE/RL Armenian service, January 14 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31046249.html
- 10Europe and Central Asia Economic Update: Competition and Firm Recovery Post-Covid-19, World Bank, October 2021, https://www.worldbank.org/en/region/eca/publication/europe-and-central-…
- 11The EU and Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement enters into force, European Commission, February 28 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_782
- 12EU ‘Ready’ For Greater Role In Karabakh Peace Efforts, RFE/RL Armenian Service, March 9 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31141644.html
- 13EU Pledges $3.1 Billion Aid Package to Armenia, Asbarez, July 9 2021, https://asbarez.com/eu-pledges-3-1-billion-aid-package-to-armenia/
- 14Statement by President Joe Biden on Armenian Remembrance Day, 24 April 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/24…
- 15Perspectives | What did Turkey gain from the Armenia-Azerbaijan war?, Eurasianet, Secember 11 2020, https://eurasianet.org/perspectives-what-did-turkey-gain-from-the-armen…
Armenia’s governance crisis unleashed after the 2020 war with neighboring Azerbaijan started to stabilize following the 2021 early parliamentary elections. The June snap polls were competitive and well run, but were nevertheless characterized by aggressive, polarizing rhetoric. Civil society, while still largely dependent on foreign funding, is vibrant and plays an active role in Armenia’s postwar stabilization and reform process. Independent media face regressive legislative changes that hinder freedom of expression. Local democratic governance is still far from real decentralization and empowerment of regional authorities. Legislative changes and reforms were initiated to further strengthen the independence of the justice system, yet progress is slow and incoherent. Anticorruption efforts proved to be the most efficient initiative of the Armenian government in 2021, although slower than envisaged due to the country’s internal political turbulence.
|Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches.||2.503 7.007|
- National governance and policymaking in Armenia remained highly polarized in 2021. The shift in focus to security issues, as well as the early dissolution of the parliament, slowed the government’s reform agenda. Following the November 9, 2020, ceasefire agreement, Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia, the two main opposition factions in the National Assembly before the June 2021 snap parliamentary elections, practically stopped their participation in the adoption of any legislative initiative, citing the military defeat to Azerbaijan as a delegitimizing factor for the ruling faction.
- Even prior to the dissolution of the National Assembly—Armenia’s 107-seat unicameral parliament—legislation on issues like amending the country’s electoral code failed to generate unanimous support. The changes, passed by the ruling My Step Alliance faction, were rejected by President Armen Sarkisyan, who cited the Venice Commission’s opinion that changes in electoral legislation must be adopted at least one year before elections.1 However, the president did not bring the issue before Armenia’s Constitutional Court, and, per the constitution, 21 days after the adoption of the bill, the parliamentary speaker signed the electoral code amendments into law.2
- The campaign for the snap elections, which were held on June 20, was characterized by intense political polarization and inflammatory rhetoric between the two leading blocs, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party (of the ruling My Step Alliance), and former president Robert Kocharyan’s Armenia Alliance. During the campaign, Pashinyan promised vendettas against “those local authorities who try to coerce people,” while Kocharyan refused to take part in a public debate between candidates yet expressed willingness to have a duel “with any type of weapon.”3
- Throughout the first half of the year, the government struggled to consolidate power. In February, the Armenian military’s top brass demanded the resignation of Pashinyan and his government, accusing them of misrule and incompetence. The chief of the army’s General Staff and four dozen other high-ranking officers signed the demand for Pashinyan’s resignation following his decision to dismiss the first deputy chief of the army’s General Staff, Tiran Khachatryan. Bright Armenia, the largest opposition bloc in the parliament, supported the move of the high military command, while Pashinyan condemned the statement as an attempt to stage a coup d’état and urged supporters to gather at Republic Square in the capital Yerevan.4 Around 10,000 people showed up within hours, according to calculations via drone images.5 A public poll conducted by the nonprofit International Republican Institute (IRI) in February showed that 29 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of the Prime Minister’s Office, while 25 percent had a somewhat favorable opinion.6
- In late spring and early summer, disagreements between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office led to the resignation of a number of high-level diplomats, leaving the minister and vice-minister seats empty for several months. On May 27, Armenia’s foreign minister Ara Ayvazyan resigned, citing his unwillingness to carry out “ideas or initiatives that go against our statehood and national interests.”7 His resignation came immediately after Pashinyan’s announcement that international observers from Russia or other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (the United States and France) could be deployed to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.8 Ayvazyan was appointed in November 2020 to replace Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, who was dismissed in the aftermath of the conflict. Following Ayvazyan’s resignation, all four deputy foreign ministers announced their decision to resign.9 The foreign minister seat remained vacant until August 19, when former speaker of the parliament and Pashinyan ally Ararat Mirzoyan was appointed to the post.
- Amid the domestic political crisis and decreasing spread of COVID-19, containment of the pandemic became a secondary priority for the government in 2021. The year started with a significant decrease in new cases, although spikes occurred in March and April. Vaccination numbers remained low throughout the year, with some 692,000 people receiving the two-shot regimen by year’s end.10 In May, an IRI survey showed that an overwhelming majority of Armenians did not wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccine: 71 percent stated they would not take the vaccine even if it were readily available.11 The situation improved slightly in September, with 48 percent claiming they had either received or were planning to receive the vaccine.12 August saw another spike in cases, forcing the government to accelerate the vaccination process. During that month, the government issued new regulations mandating that employers must receive a COVID vaccination certificate from each employee, or employees must submit negative PCR test results every two weeks starting from October. These regulations applied to all government workers and many in the private sector.13 Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 266,208 infections and 5,419 COVID-related deaths reported in the country (as of 2021).
- 1Armenian President Will Not Sign Law Amending the Electoral Code, Hetq, 17 April 2021, https://hetq.am/en/article/129818
- 2RA NA Speaker Signs Law Designing Amendments to Constitutional Law RA Electoral Code, http://www.parliament.am/news.php?cat_id=2&NewsID=14232&year=2021&month…
- 3Armenian election rhetoric grows violent, Eurasianet, June 10 2021, https://eurasianet.org/armenian-election-rhetoric-grows-violent
- 4Fired General Sues Armenian Authorities, RFE/RL Armenian Service, March 4 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31133576.html
- 5ԻՔՄ հաղորդագրությունը փետրվարի 25-ին Երևանում տեղի ունեցած ակցիաների մասնակիցների քանակի վերաբերյալ [UIC report on the number of participants of the February 25 protests in Yerevan], 25 February 2021, https://uic.am/en/12247?fbclid=IwAR272FiBqjRpgfRMN8x2sjJ2zCc8tPh1ydEj-K…
- 6Public Opinion Survey: Residents of Armenia, International Republican Institute, February 2021, https://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/final_for_publication_armenia_e…
- 7Armenian top diplomats resign, Eurasianet June 1 2021, https://eurasianet.org/armenian-top-diplomats-resign
- 8Armenian PM proposes mutual withdraw of forces from Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Jamnews, May 28 2021, https://jam-news.net/armenian-pm-proposes-mutual-withdraw-of-foprces-fr…
- 9Armenian Deputy FM Stands By Decision To Resign, RFE/RL Armenian Service June 10 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31300800.html
- 10More than 1.6 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered in Armenia so far, ARKA news agency, 27 December 2021, https://arka.am/en/news/society/more_than_1_6_million_doses_of_covid_19…
- 11IRI Armenia Poll Shows Concerns for Political Instability, Skepticism for COVID-19 Vaccines, Strong Voter Enthusiasm, IRI, May 28 2021, https://www.iri.org/resource/iri-armenia-poll-shows-concerns-political-…
- 12IRI Armenia Poll Shows Satisfaction with Parliamentary Elections, Lingering Security Concerns, Growing Support for COVID-19 Vaccinations, September 3 2021, https://www.iri.org/resource/iri-armenia-poll-shows-satisfaction-parlia…
- 13Covid-19 regulation to take effect from October 1 will be equally applicable for persons holding public offices, Official website of the Government of Armenia September 16 2021, https://www.gov.am/en/news/item/9977/
|Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process.||3.504 7.007|
- In an attempt to overcome the domestic political crisis and calls for the resignation of PM Pashinyan and his government after the 2020 military defeat, the Armenian government announced in March 2021 that it would hold early parliamentary elections on June 20.
- In anticipation of the snap elections, a process to reform the electoral code was launched. An IRI survey in February showed that three out of four Armenian citizens were convinced that the country’s electoral code needed to be reformed.1
- On April 1, 2021, the National Assembly adopted amendments to the electoral code abolishing the territorial candidate lists and adopting a closed proportional system. The former system had allowed voters to select not only a political party but also their preferred candidates within that party. This previous system swallowed up popular individual candidates, including local “oligarchs,” thereby having a disproportionate effect on the results.2 Recognizing that the 2016 electoral code favored larger political parties and encouraged voter intimidation and vote buying at the local level, proponents of the amendments aimed to address those issues by eliminating the proportional voting system.3
- In April, in their opinion about the electoral code reform, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR expressed concerns regarding the adoption of electoral code reform so close to the snap elections. However, they noted that the drafting process was inclusive and transparent, and the proposed changes addressed most of their recommendations, as well as issues highlighted in ODIHR Election Observation Mission (EOM) final reports. Taking into account the broad public support for simplifying the proportional electoral system, the Venice Commission gave an overall positive opinion to the adoption of the reform.4
- Despite the inflammatory rhetoric and significant internal crisis, with many fearing post-electoral clashes, the elections were largely seen as well administered. According to OSCE/ODIHR, the elections were competitive and generally well managed. Election day, including vote counting, was well administered and transparent.5 Local and international observers recorded an unprecedentedly low number of polling station violations committed by the progovernment members on electoral commissions.
- Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party received 53.95 percent of the vote, while Armenia Alliance (of former president Robert Kocharyan) and the alliance “I have the Honor” (affiliated with former president Serzh Sarkisyan) got 21.11 percent and 5.22 percent, respectively.6 Overall, the election process was welcomed by the majority of Armenians7 and described by many as a significant democratic achievement amid the country’s internal political crisis.
- Following the elections, four political forces (Armenia Alliance, “I have the Honor” bloc, and two smaller parties) appealed to the Constitutional Court to invalidate the election results and impose a second round of voting, or a reconsideration of the distribution of mandates.8 They claimed that the results were distorted due to electoral violations.9 A week later, the Constitutional Court rejected the appeal, upholding the election results.10
- 1Republic of Armenia Parliamentary Elections 2 April 2017: OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report, July 10 2021, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/6/7/328226.pdf
- 2EPDE Policy Alert #7: Armenian Electoral Code Amended to Remove District Seats, EDPE, April 12 2021, file:///C:/Users/Anna/Downloads/EPDE%20Policy%20Alert%207%20-%20No%20More%20District%20Seats.pdf
- 3EPDE Policy Alert #7: Armenian Electoral Code Amended to Remove District Seats, EDPE, April 12 2021, file:///C:/Users/Anna/Downloads/EPDE%20Policy%20Alert%207%20-%20No%20More%20District%20Seats.pdf
- 4Armenia: Urgent Joint Opinion on Amendments to the Electoral Code and Related Legislation by the Venice Commission and the ODIHR, April 21 2021, https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/armenia/484355
- 5Armenia, Early Parliamentary Elections, June 21 2021: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions by OSCE/ODIHR, June 21 2021, https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/armenia/490307
- 6Armenian Election Body Confirms Pashinian Win, Rejects Opposition Accusations, RFE/RL, June 28 2021, https://www.rferl.org/a/pashinian-armenia-election-win/31330185.html
- 7IRI Armenia Poll Shows Satisfaction with Parliamentary Elections, Lingering Security Concerns, Growing Support for COVID-19 Vaccinations, September 3 2021, https://www.iri.org/resource/iri-armenia-poll-shows-satisfaction-parlia…
- 8Armenia’s Constitutional Court to assess validity of snap parliamentary elections, Jam News, July 10 2021, https://jam-news.net/armenias-constitutional-court-to-assess-validity-o…
- 9Armenia Alliance to Challenge Election Results in Constitutional Court, Hetq, 21 Jun 2021, https://hetq.am/en/article/132509
- 10Armenian court upholds June election win for acting PM's party –Ifax, Reuters, July 17 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/armenian-court-upholds-june-electi…
|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 continues to be vibrant and diverse. During the year, civil society organizations (CSOs) took active part in the legislative process around the electoral code amendments (see “National Democratic Governance” and “Electoral Process”). In the aftermath of the 2020 conflict with Azerbaijan, CSOs played a significant role in providing support and distributing aid to displaced and conflict-affected people. However, financial sustainability remains the greatest operational challenge for CSOs, and their dependence on foreign funding is manipulated by some political forces.
- The issue of foreign funding for civil society was instrumentalized as a campaign tool during the 2020 snap elections. Armenia’s second president, Robert Kocharyan, of Armenia Alliance, targeted the sector on numerous occasions. Rallying against the “destructive” role of foreign-funded organizations, he promised to either ban the operation of foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or label them as “foreign agents.”1
- Disinformation campaigns and attacks on civil society and human rights defenders by various illiberal groups intensified after the November 9, 2020, ceasefire agreement as a serious challenge to the credibility of CSOs. Following the June 2021 elections, however, these attacks against civil society members and groups began to decrease. Nevertheless, the investigations into physical attacks on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor, and the Open Society Foundation Armenia following the 2020 ceasefire have yielded no results, creating an atmosphere of impunity for those targeting civil society actors.2
- In March, the National Assembly began discussions on a legislative proposal, drafted by the Ministry of Justice and approved by PM Pashinyan, to deprive the Human Rights Defender’s Office (HRDO) of its financial safeguards. The proposed bill would have removed Part 5 of Article 8 of the “Constitutional Law of the Republic of Armenia on the Human Rights Defender,” which bans any year-on-year reduction in the annual funding to the office as well as other public bodies. The draft law was withdrawn in early April in response to strong international and local criticism.3
- The right to assembly was successfully exercised in various protests and rallies during 2021 despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding several occasions in which protesters were detained, the overall right to assembly was respected and protests were vibrant and diverse. In its 2021 report, the nonprofit People in Need (PIN Armenia) described the protests as the new norm in Armenian public life following the 2018 Velvet Revolution, since protest—as an instrument of change—has been used increasingly by ordinary people, in and outside the capital city.4
- Apart from opposition-led protests,5 demonstrations were organized around a number of social issues. In June, relatives of Armenian POWs held in Azerbaijan began holding sit-ins outside government headquarters in the capital.6 In August, protests over the construction of a new building in a Yerevan neighborhood led to arrests, injuries, and hospitalizations, including a 16-year-old protester who appeared to be severely beaten by police.7
- On October 3, 2020, Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) initiated a criminal investigation against human rights activist Sashik Sultanyan. The charges were launched over a June 2020 interview Sultanyan gave to Yezidinews.am, an Iraq-based Yezidi news outlet, in which he discussed problems faced by the Yezidi community in Armenia.8 The NSS claims his statements incited interethnic hatred. International human rights watchdogs, including Human Rights Watch9 and Frontline Defenders,10 called on the Armenian government to halt the persecution of Sultanyan. In November, COE Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović requested information on the criminal proceedings.11
- 1Robert Kocharyan proposes Armenia ‘foreign agent’ law, OC Media, 17 June 2021 https://oc-media.org/robert-kocharyan-proposes-armenia-foreign-agent-la…
- 2Armenian authorities must support and end harassment against human rights defenders, Human Rights House Foundation, 18 June 2021, https://humanrightshouse.org/statements/armenian-authorities-must-suppo…
- 3Government Withdraws Controversial Bill On Rights Defender, by RFE/RL's Armenia, April 9 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31195807.html
- 4Under the Spotlight: A Close Look into the Established and Emerging Civil Society Actors in Moldova and the South Caucasus, People in Need, September 6 2021, https://www.peopleinneed.net/media/publications/1710/file/civil_society…
- 5Armenia: Opposition Kocharyan's supporters rally before snap polls, Deutsche Welle, June 18 2021, https://p.dw.com/p/3vCOz
- 6Relatives of POWs Protest in Armenia as Trials Move Ahead in Baku, Civilnet, 28 June 2021, https://www.civilnet.am/news/624361/relatives-of-pows-protest-in-armeni…
- 7Construction halted in Yerevan’s ‘Phys-Gorodok’ after violent police dispersal, OC Media, 23 August 2021, https://oc-media.org/construction-halted-in-yerevans-phys-gorodok-after…
- 8Statement On the illegal prosecution of Sashik Sultanyan, head of the Yezidi Center of Human Rights, and the Center’s staff by Armenia’s National Security Service, 26 May 2021, https://transparency.am/en/statements/view/399
- 9Armenia: Malicious Prosecution of Activist: Drop Charges Against Rights Defender Sashik Sultanyan https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/16/armenia-malicious-prosecution-activ…
- 10Armenia: Judicial prosecution of human rights defender Sashik Sultanyan, Frontline Defenders, 1 June 2021, https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/sites/default/files/ua_armenia_sashi…
- 11Commissioner seeks clarification over criminal proceedings against Armenian human rights defender Sashik Sultanyan, Council of Europe, 23 November 2021, https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/commissioner-seeks-clarificat…
|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.||2.753 7.007|
- The Armenian media landscape remained highly polarized in 2021, with outlets dependent on funding from political forces. According to Reporters Without Borders, the editorial policies of top Armenian TV channels coincide with the interests of their owners.1 Meanwhile, media ownership is largely nontransparent, with the majority of outlets perceived as affiliated with the country’s largest political forces.2
- In 2021, the Armenian media sector continued to struggle with significant levels of disinformation, with some local experts calling for greater state responsibility in the development of media literacy in the country.3 According to the OSCE/ODIHR final report on the 2021 parliamentary elections, legislative measures are necessary to provide that all information on media ownership is publicly disclosed, and disclosure should be legally enforceable.4 Armenian media organizations and independent experts largely agree that transparency of media ownership plays a crucial role in combating fake news and disinformation.5
- In March, disregarding strong objections from press freedom groups, the National Assembly adopted the draft law “On Amendments to the RA Civil Code,” authored by Pashinyan ally Alen Simonyan (then deputy speaker of the parliament), tripling compensation envisaged for judgments on slander and insult. The bill increased fines for media outlets and individuals for slander up to AMD 6 million ($12,400), and for offensive claims up to AMD 3 million ($6,200). The initiative was described by press advocates as repressive and motivated by narrow political interests.6 The two opposition parties opposed the legislation, while President Sarkisyan declined to sign the bill into law and referred the matter to the Constitutional Court.7
- On July 30, the parliament passed amendments to the criminal code, drafted by progovernment lawmakers, criminalizing “grave insults” and offending others’ dignity in an “extremely indecent manner.” A fine of 500,000 drams ($1,000) was introduced for such actions. A number of media organizations expressed fear that the legislation might affect media freedom since government officials, politicians, and other public figures have a tendency to perceive objective criticism as insult and slander and take journalists to court.8 All forms of defamation and slander were decriminalized in Armenia in 2010 under former president Serzh Sarkisyan.9 Yet in late September, based on this new regulation, Armenian police opened a criminal case against a Facebook user for insulting Nikol Pashinyan in a comment under a photo featuring the prime minister.10
- On March 19, the Minister of High-Tech Industry, Hakob Arshakyan, physically assaulted Paylak Fahradyan, an editor at the news portal Irakanum.am known for provocative content and spreading disinformation, following a short conversation at a coffee shop. Arshakyan later claimed that the journalist had insulted him and violated his privacy, which triggered his reaction.11 Two weeks after the incident, Arshakyan resigned, stating that it is unacceptable for an official to use violence against any citizen.12 Initially, law-enforcement authorities pledged to investigate the assault, but this was later abandoned due to the absence of corpus delicti.13
- The year also saw a significant challenge for journalists in accessing parliamentary hearings. The first session of the National Assembly after the June snap elections did not convene until August 2. During the session, journalists’ access to certain areas of the parliament building was limited without authorized permission, drawing criticism from media organizations.14 The decision came without prior announcement or public discussions.
- 12021 World Press Freedom Index 2021, Reporters Without Borders, https://rsf.org/en/armenia
- 2Early Parliamentary Elections 20 June 2021: ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report, 27 October 2021, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/5/4/502386_0.pdf
- 3The 'fake news epidemic' in Armenia and the attempts to put an end to it, Jam News, 02 April 2021, https://jam-news.net/the-fake-news-epidemic-in-armenia-and-the-attempts…
- 4Early Parliamentary Elections 20 June 2021: ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report, 27 October 2021, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/5/4/502386_0.pdf
- 5Freedom of Information Monitorings: Beneficial ownership progress in Armenia by Shushan Doydoyan, 06 April 2021, http://www.foi.am/en/research/item/2012/
- 6Statement: Freedom of Information Center of Armenia, March 24 2021,http://www.foi.am/en/news/item/2022/
- 7Armenian President Opposes Heavier Fines For Defamation, RFE/RL Armenian service, April 15 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31205402.html
- 8Armenian Parliament Triples Penalties For Defamation, Insults, RFE/RL, 24 March 2021, https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-parliament-raises-penalties-for-defamat…
- 9Armenian Parliament Criminalizes ‘Grave Insults’, RFE/RL Armenian service, July 30 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31386137.html
- 10Criminal case opened for ‘insulting’ Facebook comment on Pashinyan photo, OC Media, September 23 2021, https://oc-media.org/criminal-case-opened-for-insulting-facebook-commen…
- 11Armenian minister punches journalist, OC Media, March 19 2021, https://oc-media.org/armenian-minister-punches-journalist/
- 12Minister of High-Tech Industry Hakob Arshakyan Resigns After Altercation with a Journalist, Masis Post, March 31 2021, https://massispost.com/2021/03/minister-of-high-tech-industry-hakob-ars…
- 13Լրագրողի եւ Հակոբ Արշակյանի միջեւ տեղի ունեցած միջադեպի առթիվ քրգործ չի հարուցվի. ՀՔԾ-ն մերժել է, Armtimes, 13 April 2021, https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/211254
- 14Armenia: Media restrictions in the parliament undermine its transparency and accountability, European Platform for Democratic Elections, August 18 2021, https://www.epde.org/en/news/details/media-restrictions-in-the-parliame…
|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|
- In 2021, local municipal elections were held in Armenia on October 17, November 14, and December 5. These were the first elections to took place after Armenia switched to a proportional voting system as a result of the reforms that were passed in June 2020. Formerly, the proportional system was used only in Vanadzor, Gyumri, and Yerevan, while the new system covers all cities with more than 4,000 registered voters. In the proportional system, voters choose a party list instead of individual candidates. The mayors of cities are later chosen by the city council.1 In Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri, the turnout was only 33 percent,2 with the ruling party Civil Contract coming in second place. The ruling party also lost in Goris, a city in Syunik region. The incumbent mayor of Goris won from behind bars, arrested for alleged electoral violations during the June parliamentary elections.3
- Following the 2021 parliamentary elections, several heads of municipalities in Syunik region running for the opposition Armenia Alliance, led by former president Robert Kocharyan, were accused of electoral fraud and vote buying and put in detention. Some political forces described these arrests as political persecutions, given that the individuals charged had previously condemned PM Pashinyan’s handling of the war with Azerbaijan and demanded his resignation.4
- Mamikon Aslanyan, former community head of Vanadzor (Armenia’s third-largest city) and leader of his own eponymous bloc, which claimed the majority of votes in the Vanadzor local elections, was arrested on charges of abuse of power and forgery.5 Human rights activists described this move as “political persecution”; meanwhile, Arman Tatoyan, Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, said that opposition groups that won in the municipal elections were being illegally pressured not to install their leaders or allies as community heads.6
- On December 5, elections were held in 36 communities in the regions of Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Gegharkunik, Lori, Kotayk, Shirak, and Vayots Dzor. According to election monitors at the nonprofit Akanates, during the preelection campaign, incidents of abuse of administrative resources and obstruction of voters’ exercise of free will through administrative levers were observed, committed mainly by the ruling party Civil Contract.7
- On December 23, Yerevan mayor Hayk Marutyan was ousted by the ruling party in a move described by many as politically motivated. The no-confidence vote (44 to 10) was organized by representatives of the ruling My Step Alliance, who hold a majority in the Yerevan chamber. Marutyan, who had enjoyed significant popularity among capital city residents for his successful reforms and able crisis management, claimed that the decision came after he refused to give in to pressure from senior officials to fire subordinates who criticized the government, or to ensure preferential treatment for their cronies doing business in the capital.8 Despite following rules of the Armenian constitution, the move was described by many as part of the government crackdown on local-level dissent following Civil Contract’s losses in the wave of municipal elections in October–December.9
- 12021 Municipal Elections in Gyumri and Other Cities, EVN Report, 14 September 2021, https://www.evnreport.com/elections/2021-municipal-elections-in-gyumri-…
- 2ՏԻՄ ընտրություններին մասնակցել է ընտրողների 33.23 տոկոսը, մասնակցության ամենացածր տոկոսը Գյումրիում է RFE/RL Armenian Service, October 17 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31515203.html
- 3Գորիսում քվեարկած ընտրողների շուրջ 60 տոկոսը ձայնը տվել է «Առուշանյան դաշինքին», RFE/RL Armenian Service, October 18 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31517617.html
- 4Opposition Bloc Again Condemns ‘Political’ Arrests, RFE/RL Armenian service, July 13 2021 https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31356884.html
- 5Vanadzor Election Winner Arrested, RFE/RL Armenian service, 15 December 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31611016.html
- 6Crackdown On Armenian Election Contenders Condemned, RFE/RL Armenian Service, 15 December 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31614440.html
- 8Ousted Yerevan Mayor’s Allegations ‘Investigated’, RFE/RL Armenian Service, 23 December 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31623083.html
- 9Yerevan mayor ousted amid apparent countrywide crackdown on local-level opposition, CivilNet, 23 December 2021, https://www.civilnet.am/en/news/644484/yerevan-mayor-ousted-amid-appare…
|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.||2.753 7.007|
- Despite a change in ministers following the 2021 snap elections, Armenia’s Ministry of Justice continued its efforts towards judicial reform uninterrupted. The agenda was focused on implementing amendments to the criminal code to improve the ethics and conduct of judges, reform of the penitentiary system, police reform, and improvements to anticorruption legislation.
- Early in the year, the government approved amendments to the judicial code and announced that the country was entering an important stage of judicial reforms. The amendments package introduced an institute of specialized judges to provide judicial control over the investigation of pretrial criminal proceedings.1
- In May, the National Assembly adopted draft amendments to the criminal code and criminal procedure code to make the justice system more humane, including shifting from a punitive to a resocialization policy. The amendments expand the list of noncustodial sentences, including house arrests for crimes formerly punished by imprisonment. The draft also proposes to reflect income levels in judgments rather than relying on fixed fines.2 The reforms were prepared in coordination with the Council of Europe and received its positive assessment.3 Improving the conditions of detention in penitentiaries was another priority.4
- As part of the broader police reform strategy, on July 7, the newly formed Armenian national patrol police began its duties in the capital Yerevan. On June 26, around 700 patrol officers graduated from academy training, which began on January 18. The newly established police unit was tasked with road policing, crowd control, and street patrol. International actors, including the US, EU, OSCE, UNDP, and World Bank, agreed to provide financial assistance to support the reform through 2022.5 The reform intends to make the police a more harmonized and technologically advanced institution.
- Despite tangible achievements on judicial reforms, many CSOs consider the pace of reform insufficient and urge for a more coherent and holistic approach. Following the 2021 parliamentary elections, leading Armenian NGOs urged the government to initiate immediate constitutional reforms and transitional justice. Eliminating judges and officials who had failed or had acted against the judicial, investigative, and prosecutorial systems were among their demands. Civil society representatives also called for increased independence and efficiency of the Supreme Judicial Council in order to protect judges and their work from unlawful interference.6
- In March, the Constitutional Court declared that it was unconstitutional to charge Robert Kocharyan, Armenia’s second president, with Article 300.1 of the Criminal Code, which penalizes “overthrowing of the constitutional order,”7 for which he was charged in July 2018 for a deadly crackdown on protesters that left 10 people dead in 2008. As a result, his case was closed and his trial canceled.
- 1Ըստ Փաշինյանի, Հայաստանը մտնում է դատական համակարգի բարեփոխումների շատ կարևոր փուլ, RFE/RL Armenian service, January 14 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31046176.html
- 2Կսահմանվի ազատազրկմանն այլընտրանք հանդիսացող նոր պատժատեսակ՝ «տնային կալանք». ԱԺ-ն ընդունեց նոր քրեական օրենսգրքի նախագիծը, Factor TV, May 5 2021, https://factor.am/366931.html
- 3Armenia enacts a criminal law reform in line with the Council of Europe standards, Council of Europe, June 10 2021, https://www.coe.int/en/web/national-implementation/-/armenia-enacts-a-c…
- 4Հայաստանի քրեակատարողական հիմնարկներում վատ վերաբերմունքի ենթադրյալ դեպքերի կապակցությամբ բժշկական զննություն անցկացնելու և իրավասու մարմիններին իրազեկելու ընթացակարգերը կանոնակարգող օրենսդրական նոր փոփոխություններ, CoE Office in Armenia, March 26, 2021, https://www.coe.int/hy/web/yerevan/news/-/asset_publisher/UATN4Wl8F3Wu/…
- 5Patrol Police start working in Armenian capital, ARKA News Agency, July 7 2020, https://arka.am/en/news/society/patrol_police_start_working_in_armenian…
- 6Քաղհասարակության ուղերձը ՀՀ իշխանություններին՝ Հայաստանի առաջնահերթ մարտահրավերների լուծման կոչով, Ecolur, July 8 2021, https://www.ecolur.org/hy/news/dialog-with-officials/13296/
- 7Armenia’s top court dismisses Kocharyan case as ‘unconstitutional’, OC Media, 26 March 2021, https://oc-media.org/armenias-top-court-dismisses-kocharyan-case-as-unc…
|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|
- The vulnerable security situation in Armenia at the beginning of 2021 did not hamper the government’s efforts to systematically create anticorruption institutions to tackle high-level corruption (including in the judicial system). The Ministry of Justice continued regular consultations with civil society actors to ensure their inclusion in this process.
- On March 24, the National Assembly adopted the Law on the Anti-Corruption Committee (ACC).1 On this basis, the special committee was organized to carry out pretrial criminal proceedings on alleged corruption crimes as well as conduct investigative activities. The newly established Anti-Corruption Center is now responsible for investigating corruption cases that were previously carried out by the National Security Service (NSS), the Special Investigative Services, the Investigative Committee, and the State Revenue Committee (SRC), among their other functions and with limited efficiency. The ACC is meant to systematize the fight against corruption via its prosecutorial authority, which the Corruption Prevention Committee (created in 2019) reportedly lacks.2
- In April, the parliament passed a law on establishing an Anticorruption Court,3 which is in line with Armenia’s overall anticorruption policy. However, the law was sent to the Constitutional Court by the president to determine its constitutional conformity, with a decision still pending at year’s end.4 The creation of the Anticorruption Court was seen as an important step towards the institutionalization of Armenia’s anticorruption efforts.
- Illegal asset confiscation began in 2021 and is now handled by a special unit at the Prosecutor General’s Office. Since the law on illegal asset confiscation was passed in 2020, the unit has reported that more than 100 assets, as well as shareholding portfolios in 21 companies, are being investigated. In September, former chief prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepyan was accused of taking a bribe of AMD 190 million ($396,000) and embezzling AMD 800 million ($1.67 million).5
- Several other high-level corruption cases were launched in 2021. In October, the Supreme Judicial Council terminated judge Gagik Khandanyan on a finding by the Corruption Prevention Committee that the judge had bought shares of a company, thereby violating incompatibility requirements established by the Law on Public Service.6
- In September, former defense minister Davit Tonoyan and arms dealer Davit Galstyan were accused of fraud and embezzlement that cost the state $4.7 million. Galstyan, who owns several firms that for years sold weapons and ammunition to the Armenian military, was arrested earlier in the year on charges of supplying faulty artillery shells worth $1 million.7 According to the NSS, Galstyan used “deception” and hid “the technical-tactical characteristics” in order to deliver shells produced in 1977 instead of munitions supposedly produced in 1983–86.8 The shells then allegedly failed to perform during the war.
- 1Հատուկ քննչական ծառայությունը կլուծարվի. ԱԺ-ն ընդունեց Հակակոռուպցիոն կոմիտեի մասին օրենքի նախագիծը, RFE/RL Armenian service, March 24 2021, https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31166916.html
- 2Event | An update on Armenia’s anti-corruption initiative, Eurasianet, February 18 2021, https://eurasianet.org/event-an-update-on-armenias-anti-corruption-init…
- 3Armenia to set up anti-corruption court, ArmRadio, April 14 2021, https://en.armradio.am/2021/04/14/armenia-to-set-up-anti-corruption-cou…
- 4Հաշվետվություն՝ «ՀՀ Հակակոռուպցիոն ռազմավարությունը և դրա իրականացման 2019-2022 թվականների միջոցառումների ծրագիրը հաստատելու մասին» N 1332-Ն որոշմամբ 2021 թվականի առաջին կիսամյակում կատարման ենթակա միջոցառումների իրականացման ընթացքի վերաբերյալ, Ministry of Justice, https://www.moj.am/storage/files/pages/pg_2607683989861_Hashvetvutyun_2…
- 5Aghvan Hovsepyan's lawyers are complaining against the Court's decision to detain the former https://www.azatutyun.am/a/31449913.html
- 6Judge Gagik Khandanyan’s powers have been terminated, Iravaban.net, October 10 2021, https://iravaban.net/en/352367.html
- 7Armenia’s former Defence Minister arrested, charged with embezzlement, OC Media, September 30 2021, https://oc-media.org/armenias-former-defence-minister-arrested-charged-…
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Global Freedom Score55 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score74 100 free