Armenia

Capital: Yerevan | Population: 2,959,200 (2020) | GDP per capita (PPP): $4,212.071 (2018) | Freedom in the World: 53/100 (Partly Free) | World Press Freedom Index: 28.60 | Number of CSOs: 4,892 public organizations, 1,237 foundations
 

Overall situation and state of civil society

Situation in 2020: Like in many other countries, the COVID-19 pandemic had significant impact on the operations of CSOs in Armenia in 2020. On March 16, 2020, the government declared a state of emergency, which was extended up to September 11. The state of emergency brought a number of limitations on civil rights and freedoms, including freedom of movement and assembly, right to privacy, freedom of expression. At the same time, the pandemic impacted CSOs’ activities in various ways, affecting their funding opportunities, ways of participation in decision-making, advocacy activities, and cooperation with state. Even though the limitations have a temporary character, some CSOs are concerned that they will have long-lasting implications, particularly in regard to limited participation in decision-making and access to information. On the other hand, the pandemic also brought new opportunities of funding, strengthened skills in using electronic tools, and new areas of collaboration with state.

Regarding the CSO legal environment, the most significant changes in 2020 were related to the introduction of mandatory annual reporting for public organisations and limitations to rights and freedoms due to the state of emergency. The practical challenges in the period of state of emergency were linked with the CSOs’ inability to organise assemblies and lack of sufficient access to information and decision making in the period of pandemic, as well as  continuing  dissemination of hate speech and fake news. 

Another major factor impacting CSO operations in Armenia was the war in Artsakh (aka Nagorno-Karabagh) unleashed by Azerbaijan on September 27, 2020. The Armenian government declared a martial law on the same day, with subsequent restrictions related to the freedom of assemblies, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement. The war resulted in significant humanitarian consequences as civilian settlements and infrastructures have been destroyed, dozens have died, hundreds were injured and a large part of residents of Artsakh, mostly women, children and elderly, temporarily moved to Armenia to escape massive shelling. CSOs mobilized to provide urgent response to the crisis, including provision of humanitarian aid to the displaced population, developing reports on human rights violations, and writing appeals to international organizations to take action to stop military aggression and establish peace in the region.

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Armenia experienced major political changes in 2018. Under constitutional amendments approved by referendum in late 2015, the country fully transformed from a semi-presidential republic to a parliamentary republic in April 2018, when president Serzh Sargsyan completed his term. The position of the leader of the executive branch of government was shifted to the prime minister, and Sargsyan was nominated to the post by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia as the only candidate.

Sargsyan’s nomination and further election by the parliament sparked mass anti-government protests, which ultimately forced his resignation. Nikol Pashinyan, an opposition parliament member who led the protests, was elected prime minister in May 2018 and formed a government cabinet composed of representatives of various opposition parties. However, the Republican Party continued to dominate the parliament until December 2018, when snap elections were held.

The elections saw the My Step Alliance, led by the prime minister’s party “Civil Contract”, the win over 70 % of vote. It remains the dominant fraction in parliament, along with “Bright Armenia” and “Prosperous Armenia” parties. The members of previous ruling coalition, Republican Party and Armenian Revolutionary Federation, participated in the elections but did not reach the necessary threshold of votes to be represented in parliament. The elections in December 2018 were assessed by international organisations and local civil society organisations as much freer and fairer than previous elections.

Before the political changes in 2018 – widely known as Velvet Revolution – it was reported that democratic institutions were in decline in Armenia, mostly due to the consolidation of power by the authoritarian regime and a lack of political will to combat systemic corruption.[1] However, the situation improved after the revolution. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2019 report cited improvements in a number of categories, including electoral processes, political pluralism and participation, and freedom of assembly.[2]

Freedom of the media was ranked as “not free” in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2017 report, while Internet freedom 2017 was ranked as “free”.[3] As of 2019, most independent and investigative journalists operate online, while print and broadcast outlets are affiliated with political or larger commercial interests.[4] Several incidents of police violence towards media representatives were reported in 2015-2016, as well as during the protests in 2018. Most of these incidents have yet to be properly investigated.

Freedom of expression is generally assessed as improved after the Velvet revolution, though some incidents of violations against media took place.[5] Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom on the Net reports that Internet freedom in Armenia improved after citizens effectively used social media platforms, communication apps, and live streaming to engender political change in April 2018.[6] At the same time, hate speech has become widely spread in media, raising concerns of CSOs and media professionals.

There are more than 5,000 CSOs in Armenia, including public organisations and foundations. According to assessments, about 20% of them are active.[7]In 2017, important legislative amendments affecting public organizations entered into force. Positive changes included the removal of a ban on entrepreneurial activities; the allowance of more flexibility in governance structures; new regulations for volunteers; and a provision that allows environmental organisations to represent their constituents’ interests on environmental issues in court. [8] CSOs and informal civic groups played an active role in the 2018 protests, as well as in subsequent consultations with the government and in monitoring snap parliamentary elections. Many civil society activists were further involved in the composition of the new government or elected as members of parliament.

According to USAID CSO Sustainability Index, financial sustainability of CSOs is the main challenge faced by Armenian CSOs, which are largely dependent on donor funding.[9] Local funding sources are limited, though in recent years CSOs have increasingly made use of business funding and crowdfunding.

CSOs’ organisational capacities are steadily improving, mostly due to a number of donor-funded capacity building programs. More CSOs understand the necessity of internal regulations and strategic management, though few apply these concepts in practice. CSOs’ linkages with constituencies are limited, as are transparency practices.[10]

Generally, there is a low level of trust toward CSOs. According to the Caucasus Barometer survey conducted in 2017 by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers, only 5% of the public fully trusts CSOs, 18% somewhat trust them, and the percentage of those who rather or fully distrust CSOs is 29%.[11] Informal groups often enjoy more public trust due to their responsiveness to community needs, while registered CSOs are associated with the negative stereotypes of “grant-chasing” organisations.

A number of publications and discussions in social media blame CSOs for receiving grants from foreign agencies and following their agenda. CSOs working in gender issues, protecting the rights of sexual and religious minorities as well as dealing with victims of domestic violence are labelled as “harming traditional Armenian values” and often targeted by anti-CSO campaigns and hate speech.

More people have donated to CSOs in recent years, though the culture of giving is generally limited. CSOs and informal groups are most successful in public fundraising for causes like assistance to poor and vulnerable families, sick children, families of fallen soldiers, etc. The usage of crowdfunding platforms is on the rise. CSOs heavily rely on volunteers, especially in case of youth organisations and informal groups. According to the World Giving Index by the Charities Aid Foundation, 15% of surveyed Armenians reported giving donations, while 9% volunteered[12]; this is an improvement compared to 2017, when the percentages were 12% and 4% respectively.[13]


[1] Nations in Transit 2018: Armenia, Freedom House

[2] Freedom in the World 2019: Armenia, Freedom House

[3] Freedom of the Press 2017: Armenia, Freedom House

[4] Freedom in the World 2019: Armenia, Freedom House

[5] 2018 Annual Report of CPFE on the Situation with Freedom of Expression and Violations of Rights of Journalists and Media in Armenia, Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, 2019

[6] Freedom on the Net 2018: Armenia, Freedom House

[7] 2017 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, September 2018

[8] RA Law on Public Organisations, 16.12.2016

[9] 2017 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, September 2018

[10] 2017 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, September 2018

[11] Caucasus Barometer (CB): Public Perceptions on Political, Social, and Economic issues in the South Caucasus Countries. Some findings from the CRRC 2017 data, December 2017

[12] CAF World Giving Index 2018, https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/caf_wgi2018_report_webnopw_2379a_261018.pdf

[13] CAF World Giving Index 2017, https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/cafworldgivingindex2017_2167a_web_210917.pdf?sfvrsn=ed1dac40_10

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Transparency International Anticorruption Center

Transparency International Anticorruption Center (TIAC) is acting as an accredited national chapter of Transparency International (TI) in Armenia since October 2001. Through more than 100 national chapters worldwide and an international secretariat in Berlin, TI supports measures to tackle corruption in partnership with multiple stakeholders such as government, business and civil society. In light of this global mission, TIAC primarily aims to promote democratic governance in Armenia through reducing corruption at the local and national level in line with core values such as: transparency, accountability, integrity, courage, justice and democracy. Towards this end, TIAC aims to serve as the key consulting body for both government and non-governmental stakeholders.

In line with this mission, the overall goals of TIAC are to support:

  • Effective anticorruption policy and transparent and accountable governance
  • Free, fair and transparent elections and the establishment of a democratic electoral institute
  • Reasonable, transparent and accountable public resource management

Against this background, TIAC’s portfolio includes the following activities aimed at policy and behavioral changes:

  • Research, monitoring and evaluation of public policies and legal acts
  • Development of recommendations and advocacy for democratic change
  • Raising public awareness and strengthening capacity to enhance civic engagement in democratic governance procedures
  • Strategic litigation of public interest issues and assistance of stakeholders in combatting corruption.

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