On April 11, the Speaker of the National Assembly Alen Simonyan was hosted by the “Facebook press conference” program of “Liberty” radio station, during which he answered the questions of the Facebook users.
The Fact Investigation Platform highlighted a number of Simonyan’s statements from the press conference that are manipulative, false or contradict the statements he made before or during the same program.
About official cars
At the beginning of the interview, a question was asked about the expensive car bought months ago to serve the President of the National Assembly. In response to the question, Simonyan stressed that the car did not cost USD 200 thousand US. “That car does not cost 200 thousand US dollars, it costs less,” Simonyan announced, later repeating the same idea that the car is cheaper than USD 200 thousand.
In fact, by the government decision of November 25, 2021, AMD 90 million was allocated for the to purchase a new BMW 750Li xDrive LCI class car to serve the President of the National Assembly. By the exchange rate of November 25, AMD 90 million was about USD 184,300, which means that Simonyan is literally right: the BMW that serves him does not cost USD 200 thousand, but is 7.85% cheaper than USD 200 thousand.
However, speaking about that car and another 3 accompanying cars acquired recently, Simonyan stated that he does not make the decisions to buy them and their procurement is aimed at ensuring the safety of high-ranking officials. “The state makes its decisions, it does not matter whether I will be the President of the National Assembly, or you, or it will be one of our opposition colleagues, or the one who asks the question. There are protocols, protocols have some requirements… The system, the state, the staff decides how many bullets to buy, how many batteries to buy, how many liters of petrol to fill, and I have nothing to do with it. ”
A little later, speaking again about the procurement of the car, Simonyan, already in defiance of the “protocols,” says that he has decided to purchase a BMW without armor: “․․․ Instead of paying 550 thousand dollars, I put my security aside and said there is no problem. […] And realizing that the existing car ․․․ generated a lot more expenses, I made a decision that it was possible to buy a new car with the money we had saved.”
It turns out that in one case Alen Simonyan claims that he does not have the authority to make a decision about the cars to be acquired, that he obeys the requirements of safety protocols, in another case those protocols either do not exist or do not work, as it was him who made the decision to purchase a new car.
By the way, Simonyan’s other argument on the topic of purchasing a car is noteworthy. During the Facebook press conference, Simonyan said that AMD 30 million was required to change only the tires of the former armored car. Meanwhile, at the end of last year, when the public was actively discussing the issue of the car being purchased for the President of the National Assembly, Alen Simonyan’s press secretary Tsovinar Khachatryan stated in the interview with “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily that the expenses on the car had increased so much that only to change the tires AMD 17 million was required.
In general, during the press conference, a large part was dedicated to the topic of purchasing cars, and Alen Simonyan kept insisting that the car was purchased not for himself, Alen Simonyan, but for the President of the National Assembly.
The topic was touched upon in the next part of the press conference, when the final speech of the former mayor of Yerevan Hayk Marutyan was discussed. It should be reminded that in his final speech as mayor, Marutyan blamed the ruling party for distancing themselves from the revolutionary values, in particular, noting that the acquisition of an expensive car for the President of the National Assembly in a poor country is “an ill manner․․․that causes confusion and grin”. Moreover, Marutyan did not mention Alen Simonyan’s name. After the speech, Simonyan made an emotional post targeting Hayk Marutyan on Facebook, which aroused the anger of most of Facebook users.
Referring to that incident, Alen Simonyan announced that Marutyan’s mention of the expensive car was addressed to him. “Only 10 days before we had talked to each other as friends, but while leaving, he was trying to put everything aside and manipulate me, my name,” he said. To the journalist’s observation that Marutyan did not mention Alen Simonyan’s name, but spoke about the car purchased for the President of the National Assembly, Simonyan answered: “Well, no name was mentioned, but who is the President of the National Assembly, is it him?”
That is, on the one hand, when the public discusses the cost of the car serving Alen Simonyan, he responds that the car is not for him personally, but for the institution of the President of the National Assembly, while on the other hand, when the price of the car purchased not for himself, but for the institution of the President of the National Assembly is being criticized, Simonyan takes it as a personal matter, and responds to it with personal insults.
Another argument of Simonyan is noteworthy regarding the source of purchasing the official car.
Among the arguments justifying the purchase of an expensive car, Simonyan mentions that it was bought not from the state budget, but from the savings of the National Assembly. “This is not money from the state budget, it is money from the National Assembly, which the state transfers to the National Assembly and the National Assembly solves its current issues… These are not, so to speak, direct state funds. These are the savings made from the funds allocated to the National Assembly,” Simonyan said.
In this regard, it should only be noted that the funds allocated to the National Assembly are in any case public funds, and even if they were private donations, public reporting on their effective management would be necessary. Moreover, in this particular case, the source of savings made by the National Assembly is the state budget.
About the opposition
Speaking about the opposition, Simonyan referred to the activities of the parliamentary opposition and stated that it does almost nothing. “What were they elected for, or is their legislative initiative limited to a flag, bringing a law on the Armenian flag?”
Here, Simonyan’s words create the impression that the parliamentary opposition has come up with a small number or unimportant legislative initiatives since its election. Whereas, in fact, the legislative changes proposed by the parliamentary opposition are not limited to amending the law on the flag.
In the second half of 2021, the “Armenia” faction and the MPs of the faction circulated a total of 12 bills and packages of bills, of which only the Bill on Making Addenda and Amendments to the Law of the Republic of Armenia on the Flag of the Republic of Armenia and the package of bills on making amendments to the RA Code on Administrative Offenses were adopted. In the period from January 1 to April 13, 2022, the faction and the MPs of the faction circulated a total of 13 bills and a package of bills. Hence, since the beginning of the activity of the National Assembly of the 8th convocation, the opposition “Armenia” faction has come up with 25 legislative initiatives.
As for the other “I Have Honor” opposition faction, the Fact Investigation Platform sent a written inquiry to receive the full list of the faction’s legislative initiatives, which we will publish as soon as we receive it. Nevertheless, faction member Taguhi Tovmasyan told Fip.am that she has come up with 4 legislative initiatives. According to the official website of the parliament, member of the faction Tigran Abrahamyan came up with a bill on making amendments and addenda to the Law on Military Service and the status of servicemen in 2022.
On the freedom of speech in Armenia
Responding to a reporter’s observation that Amnesty International has registered a decline in freedom of speech in Armenia, Simonyan noted that there is work to be done in this area, but the progress is indisputable. “We also have to deal with the criminalization of insults, we need to reconsider it… We also have a problem here, but if we compare our progress in terms of democracy and freedom of speech, I think no one can argue with me on this issue.”
In this context, it is worth referring to the latest assessments of reputable international organizations on freedom of speech in Armenia.
According to the international human rights organization Freedom House, in 2021 the government imposed several new restrictions on the freedoms of journalists, including restricting the free movement of journalists in the parliament and in the Syunik Province.
Referring to the Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression, the organization warned that violence against journalists had also increased as of October 2021. Almost two dozen cases of violence have been recorded against representatives of the media.
Amnesty International, in turn, noted that freedom of speech in Armenia is unnecessarily restricted. According to the organization, the government has introduced several legislative amendments that restrict independent media and other critical voices. As for Internet freedom, according to Freedom House, the Internet remains free, but in 2020 Armenia scored 75 points out of 100, while in 2021 it scored 71.
On the reduction of official cars
During the press conference, Simonyan also announced that during their rule there has been more than 60% reduction in the number of official cars.
In fact, according to the Ministry of Finance, in 2018 there were 902 official cars in Armenia (explanatory appendices, Table 2). In the first year of administration of the new government, this number was reduced by 68, becoming 834. In the following years, the number of official cars increased and already in 2021 there were 923 official cars in Armenia. It turns out that the number of cars in the state system not only did not decrease by more than 60%, but also increased compared to 2018.
Thus, during the Facebook press conference, a number of assertions were made, which are in conflict with reality, manipulate the facts, contradict Simonyan’s thoughts voiced before or even during the same press conference.