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Government inability to address legitimate concerns setback for democracy in Armenia – Freedom House

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Government inability to address legitimate concerns setback for democracy in Armenia – Freedom House

Freedom House has published its annual Nations In Transit 2017 report evaluating the situation with human rights and democratic freedoms in 29 countries.

The section covering Armenia addresses the reforms necessitated by the 2015 constitutional referendum, the April heavy fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone (dubbed as four-day war) and the subsequent developments.

The document highlights the decline in the country's democracy score ( from 5.75 to 6.00 ), attributing the negative dynamics to “the inability of the government to address legitimate popular grievances”.

Below is the Executive Summary provided by Hamazasp Danielyan, a research analyst at the organization.

“In late 2015, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) pushed through wide-ranging constitutional changes to transform the country from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic by 2018. The December 2015 referendum on the changes was heavily contested, and international and local observers documented serious violations, including alteration of voting results at the precinct level, by HHK supporters to ensure the referendum’s passage. The year 2016 was supposed to be dedicated to smooth preparation for the 2017 parliamentary elections, which HHK has been confident of winning in the absence of any effective opposition. Instead, it was an unprecedented year full of crisis and upheavals in which both external and internal actors challenged Armenia’s equilibrium.

“In April, Azerbaijan launched an attack of surprising intensity and temporary effectiveness on the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, a de facto independent state internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan and supported by the Republic of Armenia. Although the most intense fighting lasted only four days, Azerbaijan’s assault had significant political repercussions in Armenia, generating a public outcry over corruption in the military and shattering trust in the Armenian authorities’ ability to ensure security.

"Within a few months, the 'four-day war,' as the escalation came to be called, generated serious political aftershocks. On 17 July, a small group of veterans of the 1992–94 war in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Sasna Tsrer, who are associated with the radical opposition movement Founding Parliament, seized a police station in the Erebuni district of Yerevan, killing two police officers and taking hostages. The hostage takers demanded the release of their leader, who had been arrested in June, and the resignation of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. The Sasna Tsrer justified their actions by blaming the country’s leadership for incompetence in handling the war and international negotiations over the future of Nagorno-Karabakh. In what is becoming a pattern, a small group of nonviolent protesters gathered in the streets in sympathy with these criticisms only to meet a violent crackdown by police, which in turn brought thousands more into the streets. Protests only diminished after a large scale violent police operation in Sari Tagh neighborhood in July 28th that resulted dozens of injured protesters. The hostage takers surr...

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