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Human Misery monetized

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While the new cold war is taking its momentum, the world community is gradually forgetting other pressing issues; such as human rights, right to labor, human dignity and respect. Of course, the national and international corporations hereby play a major role when comes to respect and observance of social and labour rights. Even at the Geneva-based world standard-setting organization, that of ILO (International Labor Organization), corporation have a strong say.

What is the degree of due diligence deployed by corporations today? Does the corporate world comply with the law and standards of business conduct, transparency of business operations? And – importantly – does the private sector respect standards of international humanitarian law, especially in situations of armed conflicts and the so-called forgotten conflicts? Places where open hostilities have ceased, but yet peace has never really come. Notably, does the corporate world comply with the set of important international standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights or the OECD Guidelines for multinational corporations, to name just a few? Could we go as far as to claim that in some cases the private corporate entities play a decisive role in funding, enabling and facilitating permanent changes in economic, demographic and cultural character of the occupied territories? And if so, does it serve, to say, dual purpose: a corporate gain and a prolongation of the occupation on the given territory?

To understand the gravity of that problem, let’ take as an example conditions in Caucasus – a typical case of the forgotten conflict – region where war stopped, still peace has never arrived.

Armenian companies, as well as foreign (mostly diaspora controlled, such as the Lebanon-based Artsakh Roots Investment; the US-based Tufenkian Foundation; Armenian General Benevolent Union /AGBU/; Cherchian Family Foundation, etc.) businesses play a decisive role in funding, enabling and facilitating permanent changes in economic (including fiscal and monetary), demographic and cultural character of the occupied territories both for private gain and for supporting the prolongation of the occupation of these territories.

Over the past years, the well-orchestrated transfer of Armenian settlers from Armenia and elsewhere into the contested territories (via e.g. Hayastan All-Armenian Fund), including the areas adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, in particular the districts of Lachyn, Kalbajar, Gubadly, Zangilan and Jabrayil, has continued with accelerated pace.

To worsen the things, fishing of the human souls exploits an epic human tragedy of Syria and its people: The shadowy Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) is deceiving Syrian Armenians with an instant-better life promise if they relocate from e.g. Qamishli and Aleppo cities in Syria to Caucasus and its occupied territories (e.g. Zangilan, Gubadly and Lachyn districts). Nearly a mass-manipulation replica of the famous call to Bosnian Croatians from Zagreb to settle the former Serb inhabited and ethnically cleansed territories of Croatia. This is of course, a direct criminal meddling into the domestic matters of two sovereign states.

Armenia, directly or via its corporate proxies, continues permanent energy, agriculture, social, residential and transport infrastructure changes in the occupied territories. This is increased and prioritized as to change the demographic character once for good: That of course includes the construction of irrigation networks, water-canalization, roads, power-grids and other vital economic and social facilities. (Several international reports, conducted independently by different FORAs, repeatedly confirmed that property of IDPs has been appropriated. E.g. that empty houses of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons were often dismantled for use as construction materials or that new houses are being built on their lands and properties.)

Armenia exercises pervasive control over the entire economic and commercial system in the contested territories, including inbound and outbound trade flows and economic resources. Tacit presence of the international companies is rather interesting: there are hundreds of various types of US-manufactured Caterpillar machines, farm tractors and equipment of US-based John Deere and Germany’s Deutz-Fahr companies, South Korean Hyundai trucks, Belarus MT3-82,3 model farm tractors, as well as other heavy machinery for illegal mining, agriculture, expansion of settlements and construction of the supporting infrastructure. The true ownership for most of those companies remains unclear, as oftentimes registered offshore in Cyprus, Liechtenstein and the like.

Often their funding is channeled through the branches of Armenian banks operating in the occupied territories and conducting international financial transactions via intermediary banks in Russia, EU and elsewhere. Further on, a numerous foreign retailers, from Ukraine, the US and the EU states (particularly from France, Bulgaria, Hungary, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands), as well as from Australia and UAE, have concluded their supply contracts with Armenian companies. That, of course, makes them complicit with Armenia’s occupation of the territories, drain of resources, expansion of illegal settlements as well as with a violation of fundamental rights of IDPs.

Little wonder, since Armenia’s high-ranking officials, including President Sargsyan, PM Abrahamyan and other ministers, routinely visit the occupied territories and inspect production facilities there. To camouflage the illegal nature of production there, Armenian agricultural and liquors export companies (e.g. “Stepanakert Brandy Factory” and “Artsakh Fruit CJSC”) routinely mislabel the products wholly or partially produced or packed in the occupied territories as originating from Armenia, thus misleading governments, international retailers and consumers.

The agricultural lands in the contested territories along the Araz River (Zangilan and Jabrayil districts, too) have been illegally appropriated and extensively exploited by Armenia. This poses a stress on natural water flows (for consummation, irrigation or opportunity for an illegal electricity generation) and soil (overuse of arable lands and monoculture cropping) – which, in return, alters micro climate and jeopardizes the biota and human existence (e.g. Armenia’s Arm Water Project Company Ltd. in the Araz Valley).

Dismantling of infrastructure (metals, pipes, bricks and other construction materials) from the ruins of demolished Azerbaijani households and public buildings was previously conducted more sporadic. However, the currently examined cases show that it becomes more organized system of pillage with a clear foreign involvement.

Mining of the precious minerals and metals is one of the main enterprises in the occupied territories. E.g. Gyzylbulag underground copper-gold mine (wholly owned subsidiary of Armenia’s Vallex Group CJSC, registered in Liechtenstein), led to its almost complete depletion. Similar faith is of Demirli open-pit copper and molybdenum mine. In 2014, Gold Star CJSC reportedly started exploitation of gold near Vejnali village (occupied Zangilan district of Azerbaijan). Since 2007, GPM Gold, a subsidiary of Russia-based GeoProMining Ltd., has been extracting ore in Soyudlu gold mine in the occupied Kalbajar district.

There is an illegal traffic in natural resources across the occupied section of the international border between Azerbaijan and Armenia that is controlled by the armed forces of Armenia via Armenia constructed Vardenis-Aghdara highway. The Government of Armenia, via its Energy Ministry, is directly operating: The ore concentrate from Gyzylbulag is transported to Armenia, where it is further processed into gold containing copper and exported to international markets, mainly to Europe. Armenia is also extracting coal from the mine near Chardagly village in the occupied part of the Tartar district to supply the power plant in Yerevan, Armenia.

There is a clear correlation between the business and the political status quo. Hence, it is safe to conclude that the prolong occupation directly translates into more mineral, agricultural, water resources and other wealth for the neighboring government and gloomy international business. Demographic engineering is a key here, and is – of course – done by conflicting the fundamental human rights and norms of humanitarian law, including those of IDPs.

In its epilogue, a clandestine population-reshuffle coupled with illegal economic activities on the contested territories produces the notorious “blood diamonds”: socio-political status-quo, demographic inversion, and extension of the armed conflict.

Is there anything larger than a problem of such a huge gravity for the resident population?

Of course, there is. Our silence about it !

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Eastern Europe

Latvians will choose their future

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The general elections in Latvia will take place on October 6, 2018. On Saturday Latvians will choose their future. Though it sounds very pathetic, future of the country really depends on the results of these elections.

In an interview with Latvian information agency LETA, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, commenting the atmosphere during this pre-election period, said that a serious battle of people’s minds and hearts is going on right now.

And this is true. But this fight is too cruel. Just this pre-election period shows all things bad as they are. The “truth” about corruption on high banking and political levels all of a sudden has been poured out on population. “Latvia’s central bank chief has been charged with bribery. A lawyer liquidating the bank that was accused of bribing him was killed in a hail of machine-gun fire. One of the country’s biggest lenders was shut down after the U.S. levied allegations of money laundering and violations of sanctions on North Korea. What’s going on in Latvia? “ ask the authors of article “Where Latvia’s Financial Corruption Scandal May Lead” published in Bloomberg on September 27.

Situation in small Latvia reminds gangster times in the United States, when criminals held people in awe. The difference is only in the fact that American gangsters were not high ranking officials. Gangsters’ activity was officially considered criminal. On the contrary, Latvian case demonstrates activity of corrupted authorities, who influence the whole country, all 2 milllion people.

Ilmars Rimsevics, who’s been in charge of Latvia’s central bank as governor or deputy since 1992, is accused of soliciting a bribe from Trasta Kommercbanka AS, a small lender that was shut in 2016 after being implicated in a $20 billion money-laundering scheme. Specifically, he’s accused of receiving 250,000 euros five years ago.

It is difficult to imagine, that he got a bribe once, ruling the bank for so many years. Nobody saw his misconduct, nobody knew about it. Nonsense!

Now it is a question of trust to all top officials in Latvia.
For example, about 1 percent of all U.S. dollars moving around the world in 2015 were going through Latvia, according to Daniel Glaser, then a top official in the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It means that Latvia had a chance to become the second Switzerland at least.

But Latvians did not even feel the benefits. They tried to survive in 2015 and they continue to survive in 2018. Nothing has changed. Rich people have become richer and poor have become poorer. That is Latvian Reality.

The other news stroke Latvians this week. Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis confirmed that EUR 2 million more could be allotted for national defense.

He said with pride that “thanks to the increasing budget revenues, the funds will not have to be taken away from other national economy sectors.”

A question arises: why should these additional revenues go to defense and not to other national economy sectors? Is it the sphere that needs money most of all?

Corrupted political system decides for people where their money should go and for what purposes. It is well known that it is very difficult to track money spending in military sphere because this sector of economy is not transparent to the society due to security measures.

The only thing Latvians can do under such circumstances – to choose the right politicians to rule the country and they are surely should not be the same corrupted officials.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuania violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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DELFI, which is the major Internet portal in the Baltic States providing daily news, stated on September, 10 that the number of emigrants from Lithuania exceeds that of immigrants by 1,000 in August. Shocking statistics shows that the country has registered a negative migration balance. Some 4,382 people left Lithuania in August. Thus, Lithuanians are leaving the country despite authorities’ claims on economic growth, stability and favorable perspectives.

On the one hand, according to “Lithuanian economy review – 2017”, the GDP growth in Lithuania accelerated. In 2017, as compared to the previous year, Lithuania`s GDP increased by 3.8%. On the other hand, this fact contravenes the increasing number of emigrants.

What makes people change their life and say “Good bye” to their homes? This is a rhetorical question. The answer lies on the surface.

Lithuanians do not satisfy with their standards of living. For example, survey of public opinion and market research company “Baltijos tyrimai” reveals that Lithuanians still haven’t domesticated the Euro. The pool conducted in July shows that more than 46,3% of Lithuanians blame the European currency in lowering their life standards. In other words they do not agree with the authorities’ decision to adopt the euro.

People compare their life with the other European countries and it is not in favor of Lithuania. The words and promises are not fulfilled, corruption flourishes. Thus, Freedom House document “FREEDOM IN THE WORLD 2018” reports that “the major problem for Lithuania’s democracy – corruption – continued to dominate the public sphere, as a series of scandals plagued members of the Seimas (parliament) and public institutions. Even Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė on Monday called on lawmakers not to waste their time on squabbling.

Officials, who today name themselves democrats, did not manage to get rid of Soviet thinking and way of behavior. When they get political power they forget about their duties. Permanent political scandals in small country led to the fact that people stopped believing authorities. And authorities’ activity is seemed to be suspicious in all spheres of life.

Thus, Lithuanians are wary of a new agreement on the country’s defense policy for the next decade signed by Lithuania’s parliamentary parties on Monday. The document calls for joint efforts to resist “irresponsible speculation that sets defense funding in opposition to other sensitive areas”. It means that Lithuanians do not have the right to decide to what area allocate budget money though they pay taxes. They do not have the right to speak on this topic and express their opinions if they contradict the official point of view. The parliament members forget the basic human rights. Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations states that ”everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

An ordinary person cannot solve the puzzle why television and Government controlled media describe his country just another way he sees it. Freedom House states also that “Regional economic disparities remain acute. The minimum wage remains one of the lowest within the EU, and the share of the population at risk of poverty and social exclusion is a little over 30 percent.

This discrepancy forces Lithuanians to seek better life abroad, usually in Old Europe. More than 20 years of expectation is too much. Life is too short to waste it to sit around waiting for changes.

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Eastern Europe

Will Russia serve the old wine in a new bottle?

Anzhela Amirjanyan

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Nowadays, one of the main features of global political developments are non-violent or color revolutions. These revolutions are brought about by wide-spread corruption, poverty, unemployment and a deep gap between masses and the ruling elite with the latter being the biggest political risk for the ruling party. Most analysts argue that these factors are combined also with outside support, which can culminate in the revolution. However, what happened in Armenia after a few weeks of peaceful demonstrations, the Velvet revolution, that brought down the regime and has exercised true people power, is considered to be unprecedented for it didn’t owe its origin to the external assistance or wasn’t an attempt by ‘‘US to export democracy’’ in Armenia. The geopolitical factor was initially excluded.  In fact, Russia has traditionally had negative attitude towards color revolutions and has seen them ‘‘as a new US and European approach to warfare that focuses on creating destabilizing revolutions in other states as a means of serving their security interests at low cost and with minimal casualties’’.This means that Russia, desperate to maintain its own standing in the Caucasus, was likely to intervene in the events unfolding in Armenia. However, the Kremlin didn’t view turmoil in Armenia as a Ukraine-style revolution. Asked if Russia would intervene, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the matter was “exclusively an internal affair” and Russian action would be “absolutely inappropriate”. Moreover, after Armenia’s unpopular leader Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called Armenians “a great people” and wrote, “Armenia, Russia is always with you!”

The prospect of a Russian intervention was low for 2 key reasons

One of the possible reasons behind Russian inaction was that Moscow didn’t regard the revolution in Armenia as a threat to its geopolitical prerogatives, but rather as an opportunity to make a strategic move through a global panic over Russia’s continued warlike behavior. Satisfied that this is genuinely an internal Armenian issue directed at an incompetent and ineffective government, Russia proved with its muted response to Armenia’s color revolution that Kremlin embraces the policy of non-interventionism.

Secondly, a rapid spread of pro-Western sentiment among local journalists, civil society representatives and youth was prevalent in Armenia in the past decade. This process only accelerated after Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan unexpectedly decided in 2013 to join Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) over EU Association Agreement.Yerevan’s decision of September 3, 2013 to involve in Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was mostly conditioned by Moscow’s ultimatum imposition, which left a deep track in the perception of Armenia-Russia relations and formed a comparatively new cliché. Anti-Russian sentiments were on rise in Armenia in recent years due to major levers of influence that Russia maintained over Armenia: Armenia’s corrupt oligarchic system and the military threat coming from Azerbaijan. Civil society and the opposition in Armenia viewed Russia as the sponsor of the autocratic, oligarchic system of governance in Armenia. They have traditionally criticized the government for having closest ties with the country which provides 85 percent of arms export to Azerbaijan-a country which is in continuous conflict with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.  This anti-Russian sentiment reached its apex in 2016 when the intense fighting broke out in Karabagh known as Four-Day War. This drew the public attention to the Russian-supplied arms which played a role in the deaths of dozens of soldiers.

Both opposition leaders and civil society members demanded not only Armenia’s exit from the EAEU, but also an end to the Russian military presence in the country. The anti-Russian rhetoric was useful for both the Armenian government and the opposition to alert Russia not to take Armenia for granted.Hence, in one way the April Revolution in Armenia was a test for Russian-Armenian relations, and Russia viewed it as a new impulse for mutually beneficial relations aimed at restoring the damage of Russia’s protective image among Armenians.Needless to say,Armenia is important to Russia, as losing Armenia would cause fundamental changes in Moscow’s influence in the South Caucasus. Furthermore, Armenia can’t cherry-pick among its closest allies because its landlocked position limits the freedom to maneuver in its foreign policy and its economic and defense imperatives dictate a close alignment with Russia. This was reaffirmed by new prime minister and protest leader of Armenia, Nikol Pashinian, who not only supported maintaining the current Russian-Armenian relationship but also suggested a “new impulse” for political and trade relations during the meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 14. During another meeting a month later, Armenian PM expressed his hope that ‘’the relations will develop more effectively on the basis of mutual respect for the best interest and sovereignty of the two States’’.

On the whole, Armenia will continue to pursue its “Complementarian” or multi-vector foreign policy, which means that no radical change in the realm of foreign policy is expected to take place.  Yet there is no strong anti-Russian current in Armenian political and society rhetoric. The recent civic movement was significant in realizing the potential of Russian-Armenian mutual relations for economic development and security. Undeniably, Russia should adopt new approaches towards Armenia and it should realize that under new circumstances the backward-looking policies are destined to be counter-productive. In Armenia people hope that Kremlin wouldn’t serve the old wine in a new bottle.

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