Armenia. France's Senate voted in January to criminalize
the denial of mass murder of Armenians during the Ottoman
Empire in the 1910s. The crime can be punishable by
imprisonment and fines. The decision was enthusiastically
welcomed in Armenia but meant that the country's historical
conflict with Turkey was given new fuel.
Before the spring parliamentary elections in Armenia, the
opposition demanded that all members be appointed
proportionally on party lists, rather than some being
elected in one-man constituencies, where voters according to
the opposition are more vulnerable to the regime's pressure
and attempts to vote.
These and other reform demands were rejected by President
Serzh Sarkisian's party, which was successful in the May
elections. The Republican Party grew strongly, taking 44% of
the vote and gaining its own majority in Parliament. A
successful Armenia, with multimillionaire Gagik Tsarukian in
the lead, doubled to 30%. The third coalition party, the
Rule of Law Party, just passed the five percent barrier.
Armenian National Congress in opposition, which ran for the
first time chaired by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian,
took 7% of the vote. There were many allegations of
electoral fraud, but the regime stepped out of the election.
In June, several Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers were
shot dead at the border and in the disputed area of
Nagorno-Karabakh. It happened while US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton visited the region and called for calm.
Concerns grew when Azerbaijan released a life-long
Azerbaijani lieutenant who ax-murdered an Armenian officer
in August. The murder had taken place in Hungary, from where
the lieutenant was extradited to Azerbaijan with conditions
for continued imprisonment. Instead, the convicted was
released as a hero, promoted to major and received financial
benefits. Armenia severed diplomatic relations with Hungary
and did not rule out the idea of a new war against
Thousands of Armenians came during the year as refugees
to Armenia from the war-torn Aleppo in Syria, where there
has been a large Armenian population since the Ottoman
period. Many Armenians in Syria have regarded the al-Assad
regime as a protection of the Christian minority, and the
relationship between President Bashar al-Assad and the
Armenian leadership has been good. The government in
Yerevan, therefore, sought to deal with the conflict in
Syria with caution because a new regime could threaten the
Armenians in the country.
Armenia proudly markets itself as the first country in
the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion (year
301). Therefore, it was an unpleasant surprise for many
Armenians when an expert commission declared during the year
that nearly half of the 24,000 churches and other religious
monuments in the country are in urgent need of restoration.
Nearly a third is considered to be on the verge of collapse.