Armenia

Capital: Yerevan | Population: 2,951,776.1 (2018) | GDP per capita (PPP): $4,212.071 (2018) | Freedom in the World: 44/100 (Partly Free) | World Press Freedom Index: 28.98 | Number of CSOs: 4,374 public organizations, 1,134 foundations
 

Overall situation and state of civil society

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 Armenia

In July 2000, Amalia Kostanyan founded an NGO named the Center for Regional Development with like-minded friends – graduates of western universities who were eager to promote political, economic and social reforms in Armenia. Due to its work on good governance, the organization became the accredited National Chapter of Transparency International (TI) – the global anti-corruption movement – in October 2001. In February 2008, the NGO was reregistered and renamed Transparency International Anti-corruption Center (TIAC). Throughout its 10-plus years of work since, TIAC has become the main watchdog NGO in Armenia in the field of good governance and the fight against corruption. In October 2010, the organization was granted a certificate by the TI Secretariat in recognition of its 10 years of service in the fight against corruption.

TIAC’s mission is to promote good governance in Armenia by reducing corruption and strengthening democracy. The goals of the organization are: (1) to support effective anti-corruption policy and transparent and accountable governance; (2) to support the holding of free, fair and transparent elections and the establishment of an electoral institute; (3) to promote reasonable, transparent and accountable public resource management, including the management of state and community property and financial resources; (4) to foster democratic processes, including the protection of human rights and public participation in governance. TIAC pursues cooperation with government institutions on initiatives which promise positive impact on ongoing reforms or promote new policies, and advocates against government decisions or actions that clearly threaten good governance.

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