Freedom Armenian style: Putin’s allies ‘democratising’ their countries

The democracies in Russia’s ally states helping the Kremlin in a war against Ukraine have started to look more like Putin-kleptocracy.

It seems as though the regional rulers had been waiting for a military invasion. While their Kremlin allies were getting ready for a full-scale invasion, a campaign for persecution of political opponents, which is after their own local civil activists and independent media, kicked off in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Armenia.

Media are being attacked in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan 

The curtailment of civil liberties started in Central Asia. Later it continued in the Caucasus.

Here’s the most recent example. Thursday, April 27. The court in Kyrgyzstan rendered a judgment  to close the editorial office of Azattyk Media, the local office of Radio Liberty.

“These violations reflect the process of establishing a new hierarchy in the country in the realm of truth – when the government discourse turns out to be higher than the law, ” said Jeanne Caveiler, head of the European and Central Asian department of Reporters Without Borders, in response to the persecution of journalists. 

Earlier an unprecedented pressure on the local media began in Kazakhstan. They were persecuted by law enforcement authorities, and there were also attempts to discredit local journalists.

Russian laws are copied in Georgia

Rulers of the Kremlin-allied countries, as though emulating Putin’s regime in Russia, occasionally copy Russian laws. In 2022 the fashion to emulate the Kremlin’s method of revenge against opponents, has covered Caucasus too.

For instance, it was only after mass rallies in the center of Tbilisi, Georgia, in early 2023, that the authorities were compelled to cancel their decision to adopt the law of the “foreign agent” similar to the Russian one.

False democracy in the Armenian way

The Armenian ruling political elite can easily be called by far the most sophisticated authority, disguising the hunt for political opponents as pro-western slogans.

Armenian leaders as well as many other Kremlin’s allies still get handshakes in the EU. They keep traveling freely around Europe in motorcades with sirens. In the meantime, as Ukrainian media pointed out earlier, Armenia still continues to provide an economic background for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Armenia is eagerly helping the Russian Federation to evade Western sanctions imposed as a result of aggression against Ukraine. It is not only about delivering supplies to civilians, but also hardware for Russian military industry.

In the meantime, articles claiming that the Armenian Republic is the only democracy in the Caucasus are being spread among English-language versions of news websites. In its “unique” capacity it is contrasted with “Azerbaijani dictatorship”.

Among such reports, one article stands out. It was posted on April 29 on the Armenian website , which has the reputation of a media outlet with the most reliable sources of information. The article points out: “Not only does Armenia expect statements from western and international organisations, but it also waits for practical measures to be taken intended to help the only democracy in the Caucasus against the dictatorial Azerbaijan”.

As Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated “Democracy is the main international brand in Armenia, the key factor of preservation of national sovereignty”.

Such articles are aimed at the western reader oblivious of the local realities. These are propagandist materials designed to fix the image of the republic after many Western and Eastern European media reported the pre-eminent role of Armenia in Russia-Iran alliance in the recent weeks, and the illegal import of equipment including that used for military purposes, into the Russian Federation.

One example is the website of the Ukrainian channel Ми – Україна which said on April 4: “Not only does Armenia serve as a big hub for shipment of sanctioned products into Russia and a base of military and technical supply of aggression against Ukraine, but also as a military and logistic support of the Russian-Iranian alliance.

The image was stained, so much so that on April 14, UKnewspaper The Telegraph called on the West to “toughen the relationships with Yerevan”.

The allegations about the uniqueness of the Armenian democracy are an equivalent to attempts made by Pashinyan since the start of the war to demonstrate the US and the EU its reorientation to the West. However, according to the European and American media, Yerevan keeps a close military strategic partnership with Moscow and Tehran.

The same goes for “the democracy”. The statements by many Armenian politicians and NGOs, as well as numerous facts, indicate that Armenia continues to be an Eastern autocracy, which is strenuously hiding behind modernist civility. But Armenians are not to blame for that.

In a matter of only 30 years, it is impossible to change the foundation of the traditional society and the mentality, which have been formed for centuries, since throughout almost its entire history Armenia was part of despotic Asian empires. Besides, there is a great impact of Putin’s totalitarianism and the Ayatollah dictatorship – Yerevan’s main strategic partners.

Here are some examples of degradation of democracy in Armenia. In a joint statement in May 2022, eighteen non-governmental organizations of Armenia accused the authorities of “nullifying all the positive tendencies in strengthening the re-emerging democratic foundations and development of electoral institutions”.

Yerevan persecuting political opponents

In July 2022, the chairman of the coordination council of Armenia organizations of France, Murad Papazyan stated that the government of Armenia violates “the fundamental principles of the rule of law, the presumption of innocence and the freedom of speech”.

Another politician, an MP for the Hayastan faction in the Armenian Parliament, Vahe Hakobyan said in November 2022 that “unfortunately, today Nikol Pashinyan managed to have the entire law enforcement system on a string… We are living in a dictatorship”. He was echoed by the lawyer of the chairman of the Republican party of Armenia, Ruben Melikyan, who spoke of “sheer lawlessness and overt political persecution in the country, which had pronounced itself the bastion of democracy”.

In April 2023, the chairman of the Armenian parliamentary standing committee on protection of human rights and public affairs, Taguhi Tovmasyan stated “Every day the government deceives the international community claiming that Armenia is a democratic country”.

Facts about the ‘unique democracy’ in Armenia

August 2021. NGO “For the fourth estate” issued a statement about the oppression of the media by intelligence agencies.

November 2021. Artur Vanetsyan, chairman of the parliamentary opposition alliance “I Have Honour” announced that Pegasus spyware had been embedded in his phone.

April 2022. Secretary of the same faction Aik Mamidjanyan said that it had been a year since the authorities “were trying to install virus spyware on my phone”. Media expert Artur Papanyan described such episodes as “the use of cyber weapons to impede legitimate democratic processes”.

May 2022. The National Security Service detained opposition producer Armen Grigoryan. A week later, former MP Gevorg Petrosyan called him “the classic political prisoner”. In another two months Grigoryan passed away in a court room.

July 2022. The National Security Service banned entry into the country to Murad Papazyan, the co-chairman of the Coordinating Council of Armenian Organizations of France (CCAF), as an “unwanted person”. This is what he said on the subject: “My presence at the protest rally against Pashynyan in Paris on June 1 2021 and its organization is the reason for the ban”.

August 2022. The National Security Service banned entry into the country of an Armenian activist from the Netherlands, Masis Abramyan. He called it “a display of retaliation by Nikol Pashynyan for rallies and demonstrations we have organized”.

January 2023. The chairman of the Central Office of the French Youth Union “ARF New Generation”  Ndzhe Garagavoryan was banned from entering Armenia  as an “unwanted person”. 

In the course of 2022, a total of 184 violations of media and journalists’ rights were registered.

There is a plethora of such facts. Listing every one of them would take up too much space. That is why we picked out the most characteristic ones. They speak volumes.

The authorities are using classic authoritarian methods of pressure and persecution of the opposition, independent journalists and human rights activists, in particular of those who represent the interests of minorities. The listed facts and quotes by Armenian politicians clearly and explicitly reveal the false nature of the statements about “the single democracy in the Caucasus”.

We emphasise once again: In order to demonstrate the falsehood of the Armenian side, the media outlet Past was chosen as a source at the beginning of the article. Past has the reputation of one of “the most trustworthy sources” in the country. The fact that the text was published in English indicates that the target audience of the propagandist material is none other than the West.

(Photo of the National Assembly building in Yerevan, ArmeniaMarcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Igor Chalenko

Igor Chalenko is an Ukrainian political scientist who heads the Centre for Analysis and Strategies, Ukraine.