Supporting Armenian Democracy
Report presented to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Mélanie Joly, in the context of the mission to explore options for Canada to better support Armenian democracy
April 6, 2022
H.E. Stéphane Dion, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe
Table of contents
- Letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Mélanie Joly
- Executive summary
- I. A Canadian Strategy for supporting Armenian democracy
- II. Make Armenia a priority as a fragile democracy
- III. Coordinate closely with international development partners
- IV. Support Armenia’s parliamentary democracy
- V. Support the fight against corruption
- VI. Promoting Human Rights
- VII. Support Armenia’s non-governmental organisations
- VIII. Support sustainable development
- IX. Bring Canadian expertise to Armenia
- X. Increase Canada’s diplomatic presence in Armenia
- Annex 1 – Mandate letter from the Honourable Marc Garneau
- Annex 2 – Persons and organizations met outside the Government of Canada
- Annex 3 – Desirable Canadian initiatives in Armenia: list of proposals received
- Annex 4 – Foreign diplomatic representation in Armenia
- Annex 5 – List of recommendations
Letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Mélanie Joly
Berlin, April 6, 2022
The Honourable Mélanie Joly
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Global Affairs Canada
125 Sussex Drive
As you well know, on July 7, 2021, your predecessor as Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Marc Garneau, entrusted me, as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to the EU and Europe, with the mission of exploring options for increased Canadian support for Armenian democracy, building on the Prime Minister’s visit in 2018 (see Annex 1).
The Minister had clearly defined the parameters of my mission. It was to assess “Canada’s current efforts to strengthen Armenian democracy”, “what else Canada can do to help sustain Armenia’s democratic development during these critical times” and how to “harness all the goodwill that exists in the Canadian society toward Armenia”. In doing so, I am to “identify multiple different avenues by which Canada can support Armenia’s democratic development, including our representation on the ground”. My mission is to conclude with a report, outlining concrete recommendations and steps that Canada may take within the next five years, to best achieve these objectives, and which are to be submitted directly to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and rendered public.
The Minister was very clear that my mission does “not address the situation of Nagorno-Karabakh and issues in the broader region”. It is certain that a democratic state will find it much more difficult to improve itself when it incurs problematic or hostile relations with its neighbors and when it suffers the tragic human casualties, destruction and existential uncertainty of an armed conflict, which could reignite at any time. The contents of this reports takes into account this uncertain and highly problematic context, however, this report and its deriving recommendations does not aim to address these geopolitical challenges. It instead focuses exclusively on Canadian support for Armenians’ efforts to improve their practice of democracy.
Attached to this letter is the mandated report, which I am signing as Special Envoy, and whose contents do not necessarily reflect your department’s endorsement.
Within this attached report, I argue that it is entirely possible for Canada to have a positive and significant influence on the advancement of democracy in Armenia, if we have a realistic and well-targeted strategy. I will first outline the strategy that I propose for the Government of Canada. After having defined this strategy, I will further substantiate it through the following main aspects:
- link our increased efforts in Armenia to the Government of Canada’s new commitment to fragile democracies;
- coordinate our efforts in Armenia with, of course, the Armenian authorities, but also with our international development partners;
- focus a substantial part of our efforts on the implementation of a flagship project, defined through the extension of Canadian support to the Armenian National Assembly in its search for an efficient administration;
- identify other desirable, realistic, targeted and promising Canadian initiatives;
- increase Canadian presence through the establishment of an embassy in Armenia.
In closing this letter, allow me to comment in the next few lines on the ramifications for Armenia, of Putin's brutal invasion of Ukraine. I know that I must not deal with geopolitical factors (and I will not comment on this further in my report) but this horrific attack occurred after Minister Garneau set the parameters of my mission.
The fact that Russia has a strong influence on the security of Armenia should not become an argument to turn away from Armenia. On the contrary, Armenia has even more merit for having advanced its democracy within the context of this additional constraint. Supporting Ukraine also means stepping up our efforts to advance democracy in the region. This is precisely how our allies are responding (US, EU), and it is this resolute commitment to Armenian democracy that I strongly recommend.
Minister, I wrote this report, keeping top of mind the following excerpt from your 2021 mandate letter, from the Prime Minister: “Expanding fast and flexible support for fragile and emerging democracies”. It is a noble commitment, which this report seeks to give concrete expression. The accompanying proposals, however desirable and realistic that they may be, will only be implemented if they are backed by political will; willingness which the Government of Canada can draw not only from its commitment to the Armenian people, but also and above all, for democracy in the world.
Please accept, Minister, the expression of my highest consideration.
Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe
On July 7, 2021, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Marc Garneau, entrusted the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to Europe, Stéphane Dion, with the mission of exploring options for increased Canadian support for Armenian democracy. The mission does “not address the situation of Nagorno-Karabakh and issues in the broader region”. It focuses exclusively on Canadian support for Armenians’ efforts to improve their practice of democracy.
It is entirely possible for Canada to have a positive and significant influence in the advancement of democracy in Armenia, with the realistic and targeted strategy, proposed in this report. The first element of this strategy is to establish a consultation table, comprised of senior government officials, from both Armenia and Canada, and their institutions, supported by technical experts, which would meet once or twice a year, to share information, review proposed projects of cooperation and examine or evaluate the implementation of the increased Canadian effort to support Armenian democracy.
Recommendation 1: Create an Armenia-Canada Consultation Table, to review and identify, including from the evergreen list of “Desirable Canadian initiatives in Armenia” (Annex 3 of this report), opportunities for cooperation to strengthen democracy in Armenia
The strategy is also to tie our increased efforts in Armenia to the Government of Canada’s new commitment to fragile democracies. This commitment was publically announced to the world by Prime Minister Trudeau, during the US’s Summit for Democracy, held on December 9th and 10th, 2021:
“We’ll be there for fragile and emerging democracies with expanded fast and flexible support.”
The Prime Minister was also very explicit in his December 2021 mandate letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Mélanie Joly:
“Expanding fast and flexible support for fragile and emerging democracies, increasing Canada’s diplomatic presence in regions of strategic importance”.
As part of the new Canadian strategy for fragile, meritorious and strategic democracies, particular support for Armenian democracy is a very judicious choice. One only has to consult renowned international benchmarks to be convinced. In this period, when, unfortunately, there are more countries whereby democracy is regressing, than countries where it is progressing, Armenia is one of the too few countries that is moving in the right direction. Armenia is, at present, the archetype of democracy under intense pressure, which is striving to improve itself and, therefore, deserves Canada’s full support.
Recommendation 2: Make Armenia a priority as a fragile democracy
The question is how Canada should proceed to maximize its chances of providing optimal support to this meritorious democracy. The way to achieve this is first for Canada to coordinate closely, of course, with the Armenian authorities, but also with other stakeholders and donors.
There are many stakeholders in Armenia who are contributing to its democratic efforts and practices. The United States has many assistance programs, as does the European Union and its Member States, the Council of Europe and its Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission), the United Nations Development Program, the OSCE, the International Organization of La Francophonie, as well as the US National Endowment for Democracy, Open Society Foundation, numerous NGOs and think thanks, and various private donors; there are a lot of intersecting stakeholders and donors in Armenia. And so, the risks of duplication, orientation errors and poor coordination are high. In order to use, as efficiently as possible, Canadian resources earmarked for Armenia, it would be preferable to identify sectors that are currently not adequately covered by such contributors, a gap that Canada can fill.
Recommendation 3: Coordinate closely with international development partners
A key area for successful democratic progress, currently not well covered by international assistance, is that of capacity-building support to parliament. The need to improve the National Assembly is recognized by both the Armenian government authorities and by the various civil society stakeholders. The organization that is best placed to be at the heart of an effective international effort to help Armenia's democracy build a strong parliamentary institution is the Parliamentary Centre (Canada).
In the fall of 2019, Global Affairs Canada decided to fund the Parliamentary Centre project “Supporting Parliamentary Reform in Armenia”. Its aim is to contribute to providing the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia with a professional and efficient administration.
The project facilitated the development of a five-year (2022-2027) Corporate Strategic Plan for the Administration of the National Assembly. Absolutely all contacts, including those at the highest levels of the Armenian government and parliament, have expressed their hope that this cooperation will continue, in order to support the implementation of the Corporate Strategic Plan.
The plan is indeed ambitious. The goal is nothing less than outlining the concrete strategies for the development of a first class, inclusive parliamentary service, which supports, enables and promotes the work of parliamentarians.
Recommendation 4: Support the Administration of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia in its efforts to implement its Corporate Strategic Plan, developed with the Parliamentary Centre (Canada)
Canada should also support Armenia in its efforts to extract itself from the gangrene that is corruption, by assisting the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, which seeks Canadian experience on legislative and procedural frameworks, policies and regulations aimed at holding public servants to account and preventing conflicts of interest. It also wishes to obtain technical assistance for the digitization of its operating system.
Recommendation 5: Assist the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption in the implementation and application of a code of conduct on the probity of public officials and provide assistance for the digitization of the Commission's operating system
Another institution Armenia has established to advance its democracy is the Office of the Human Rights Defender (ombudsperson), which covers all spectrum of rights (human, civil, children, disabled persons). The specific area where Canadian cooperation would be particularly welcome is in regards to the rights of persons with disabilities.
Recommendation 6: Provide advice and expertise to the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsperson) in their efforts to defend and promote the rights of persons with disabilities in Armenia
Canada should also support Armenian non-governmental organizations. Present support is provided through the "Arnold Chan Initiative for Democracy", which backs two to three projects per year. This initiative should be expanded to fund 10 to 15 projects per year.
Recommendation 7: Fund 10-15 projects per year under the Arnold Chan Initiative for Democracy
A democracy is weakened when its ecosystem is unhealthy. It is, therefore, important that the Canadian strategy for Armenian democracy include an initiative for cooperation in the field of the natural environment. The Armenian Department of the Environment’s top priority for potential cooperation with Canada is the sharing of experience in the protection and restoration of lake and river ecosystems. Notably, cooperation as it relates to their iconic Lake Sevan, which is of strategic importance, as it is by far the biggest reserve of fresh water in Armenia, and which faces a serious threat from algae and falling water levels.
Recommendation 8: Provide expertise to support Armenian efforts to protect and restore rivers and lakes, with a focus on the country's emblematic Lake Sevan
The proposed strategy includes another initiative that would stimulate exchanges between Canadians and Armenians, offering Canadians the opportunity to experience an internship in Armenia.
The Government of Canada would fund an internship for Canadians to work in Armenia for a year, and in so doing, would cover salary, travel and installation costs. The implementation of the initiative would be facilitated through the already established IGORTS, which is under the purview of the Armenian government and which invites Armenian professionals from the diaspora to serve in Armenia. As it stands, one to three interns, each year, are Canadian. We could significantly increase this number, with the Government of Canada as an active partner.
Recommendation 9: Create an internship program allowing Canadians to offer their expertise in Armenia
The strategy proposed in this report to materialize Canada’s increased support for Armenian democracy is focused and reasonable, but will still require much more attention and effort from our diplomacy, than is the case today. Due to this increased volume of activities, Canada will need a permanent presence in Armenia. Canada will need an ambassador and an embassy in Yerevan.
Representing Canada in Armenia via its embassy in Moscow, as is currently the case, has never been easy; and now, it is simply impossible. Relations with Russia have deteriorated so much that the size of Canada’s embassy has been significantly reduced in recent years. Ten years ago, Canada had roughly 50 Canadian employees in its embassy in Moscow; it has now been reduced to just 16. Since the terrible shock of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, even the maintenance of this reduced Canadian presence in Moscow is highly uncertain.
The right solution is to set up an embassy in Yerevan, as is the case with all other G7 countries.
Recommendation 10: Open an embassy in Armenia
Together, these initiatives form a solid and realistic strategy. However, as frugal as it may be, it will be very difficult to finance this strategy from existing programs, which are already overloaded. Hence the budgetary necessity to create a special fund for fragile democracies. There is also a political reason to create this fund. In doing so, Canada would send the following message to all democrats around the world: we are serious about our goal of helping fragile and deserving democracies.
Recommendation 11: Create a special fund for fragile democracies
The Government of Canada has made known its intention to help fragile democracies. It has also announced its intention to help Armenia further. These two intentions go hand in hand. This is the main conclusion of this report. Canada has a lot to offer, but it also has a lot to learn, especially from less fortunate countries like Armenia, where democrats are struggling under conditions that Canadians would find hard to imagine.
In a world where democracy faces stiff competition from autocraticism, too few countries are moving in the right direction. In this short list, Armenia is among the champions. Admittedly, its democratic progress is incomplete, fragile and reversible. But this is precisely why the support of well-established democracies is necessary.
In this struggle for democracy, Canada has an important role to play, to improve democracy at home and to act in concert with other democracies in the world, with all efficiency possible. This is the fundamental rationale for the Canadian strategy proposed in this report for Armenian democracy and, beyond, for all fragile democracies that need more Canada.
I. A Canadian Strategy for supporting Armenian democracy
Armenians are a very ancient people who have expanded to many parts of the world. According to the 2016 Canadian Census, approximately 64,000 Canadians are of Armenian origin. Armenia is a landlocked, former Soviet republic in the Caucasus of some 3 million inhabitants (in demographic decline), neighboured by Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran. Geographically, politically and economically constrained, Armenia seeks to diversify its partnerships to the greatest extent possible.
Armenia is not a rich country compared to Canada, but no more a developing country. Its GDP per capita at purchasing power was growing steadily before the COVID-19 pandemic and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, from 7,506 USD in 2010 to 13,307 USD in 2020, compared to 43,258 USD for Canada in 2020, according to the World Bank.
Diplomatic relations with Canada were formally established thirty years ago, in 1992, one year after Armenia became an independent republic at the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Canada is represented in Armenia through its embassy in Moscow, while Armenia is represented in Canada through its embassy in Ottawa.
Canada and Armenia have a Foreign Investment and Protection Agreement (1999) and a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (2005) in place. In March 2017, an industry-to-industry memorandum of understanding was signed in the agriculture sector. Ongoing negotiations for a code-share Air Transportation Agreement are very close to completion.
Overall, Canada has a very positive, even if modest, relationship with Armenia. Currently, in addition to the funding to respond to the humanitarian needs caused by the Nagorno-Karabakh armed conflict, Canada provides support to Armenia’s democratic development through the Arnold Chan Initiative for Democracy (approximately 100,000 CAD funding to local NGOs per year), and the Parliamentary Centre’s project helping to develop Armenia’s Parliamentary administration (project mandate extended until December 2022). The strategy proposed in this report relies heavily on the expansion of these two programs.
The Government of Canada has taken a keen interest in the current domestic events in Armenian democracy. Canada’s priorities in this relationship is to support Armenia’s fragile socio-political transition and to increase bilateral trade (which totaled 34.9 million CAD in 2020).
I have had countless discussions with officials from Global Affairs Canada, based in Ottawa and in Europe, and with representatives of other Government of Canada organizations. I also consulted extensively outside the federal government, the list of these meetings detailed in Annex 2. Among my interlocutors, one will find in particular representatives of the Armenian authorities and political leadership, Canadian parliamentarians, civil organisations, Canadians of Armenian origin living in Canada or Armenia, academics or research groups, officials of like-minded countries or international organizations, business people, etc. From all these consultations, four key observations have emerged, on which this report is based.
First, the needs are innumerable. It would be difficult to find a sector of activity within which the desirability of greater Canadian intervention was not raised. Of course, if this report endorsed all these asks, the list of recommendations would be very long (see Annex 3), would go in all directions and so would doom the Canadian intervention to ineffective crumbles.
Second, the resources currently available are very modest. There is a huge gap between the volume of expectations that have been raised on all sides, and the additional funds that the Government of Canada could realistically release, based on its existing programs. Invariably, program managers explain that their budgets are already fully committed, that it will take a Treasury Board review to make substantial changes, and that if additional funds were to be secured, a long list of pending projects is already on standby.
Third, although there is no shortage of sympathy for Armenia among Government of Canada program managers, there is always a good reason not to put this country high on the priority list. What will be argued is that this country is too developed to qualify for the programs reserved for developing countries, or conversely, that its economy is too small and not dynamic enough to qualify for most strategic investments (Canadian direct investments in Armenia are too low for Statistics Canada to track). Likewise, it will be said that countries that are politically more unstable and in worst shape than Armenia should be the ones to hold our attention, or conversely, that more stable countries are more attractive to invest in.
Fourth, a large number of like-minded countries and international organizations are already very present in Armenia, and supporting this country in its development efforts. If Canada acted blindly, without coordinating closely with these numerous partners, our action would lose in relevancy or could even result in ineffective duplication.
Based on these four observations, which have emerged from my series of consultations, one resolution is clear: it would be unrealistic to recommend all the propositions listed in Annex 3. This list covers just about every area: constitutional, political and electoral reform, civil society engagement, quality of public education, human rights, climate policy, tourism, creative industries, SMEs, infrastructure... Some of these proposals have been recommended to me many times, the most often by far being the establishment of an embassy in Armenia. Sure, each of these propositions by itself makes sense, but recommending them all together would make no sense so much that it would be unrealistic; that would be a catalog, not a strategy.
However, I believe that Annex 3 has its usefulness as a checklist, a dashboard, a roadmap, which the governments of Armenia and Canada could use as a guide for enhanced cooperation. And so, I propose that Canada and Armenia establish a consultation table, comprised of their senior government officials and institutions, supported by technical experts, which would meet once or twice a year, to share information, review proposed projects of cooperation and examine/evaluate the implementation of the increased Canadian effort to support Armenian democracy. One of the tasks of this consultation table (table de concertation in French) would be to review the list of proposals in Annex 3, which would be enriched or refined over time. They could use this list to better identify and create opportunities for cooperation between themselves, according to the sectors that appear in it: public institutions, human rights and non-governmental organizations, economy and society.
Recommendation 1: Create an Armenia-Canada Consultation Table, to review and identify, including from the evergreen list of “Desirable Canadian initiatives in Armenia” (Annex 3 of this report), opportunities for cooperation to strengthen democracy in Armenia
The Armenian government ministers and officials with whom I met, told me that they would very much welcome the creation of this Armenia-Canada Consultation Table. They have set up the equivalent with France in the form of a "feuille de route", and even more with the United States, through a "Strategic Dialogue", which closely corresponds to what could be implemented with Canada: an annual meeting of representatives and experts from both governments, with aim to establish and advance projects of common interest, touching on a variety of sectors. My exchanges in Yerevan with the embassies of France and the United States highlighted the usefulness of these consultation structures for well-coordinated cooperation.
I invite all my interlocutors who contributed to the proposals listed in Annex 3 to work on them, to refine them, to quantify them, so that these proposals may one day appear at the Consultation Table as achievable priorities, with which the Government of Canada could associate itself.
There are, however, initiatives listed in Annex 3 that Canada can take on immediately, and in order to identify them, we need defined and targeted criteria. This is the purpose of the comprehensive strategy that I am proposing to the Government of Canada. This strategy is made up of five criteria.
First and foremost, the strategy is based on the Government of Canada's new political willingness to provide specific support for fragile democracies.
Armenia is emerging at the moment as the prototype of those fragile democracies that deserve special attention from well-established democracies. It is with this new criterion, i.e. the new political willingness to help fragile democracies, that new funding for specific programming for Armenia will be justified. This is the right way to bring Armenia higher in the priorities.
From time to time, we hear some Western politicians say that Armenia deserves our close support because it is a Christian country. Such a call for religious solidarity is not at all the approach I recommend, to justify increased Canadian intervention in Armenia. The criterion here is not religion, it is democracy. Canada must make it crystal clear that it will encourage democracy wherever it occurs, regardless of the religious tradition of the country in question.
I open a parenthesis here to allow myself the only comment I will make on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I am convinced of the veracity of the Tocquevillian axiom, which says that the risks of war decrease with the advance of democracy. The more two countries in conflict move towards democracy, the more they maximize their chances of finding common ground and a peaceful settlement. To put it bluntly, when Azerbaijan makes decisive progress towards more democracy, Canada should consider ways to increase its presence there. By doing so, Canada would support the democratic transition in Azerbaijan as well as the prospects for peace with Armenia. End of the parenthesis.
Second, Canada's overall strategy to support Armenia must be well coordinated with the Armenian authorities and the various international stakeholders and donors.
The risks of duplication and poor coordination are real. It will be necessary to identify the sectors of activity vital for democratic progress, where Canadian intervention and monies will have real unique and added value.
Third, Canada's strategy must avoid dispersion in all directions and instead focus a significant part of its efforts on a flagship project.
This project must correspond to:
- an expertise particularly developed in Canada
- a sector vital for the improvement of a democracy
- an initiative supported by Armenian authorities
- a sector where Canada already has on the ground, concrete experience in Armenia
- an initiative corresponding to a gap and so, where other partners are currently not present
It turns out that there is a project currently underway that matches all of these criteria. I allude to the plan deployed by the Parliamentary Centre (Canada) for the improvement of the Administration of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia. If the Government of Canada, by providing the necessary resources to sustain this focused effort, can help the Armenian parliamentary democracy acquire and develop more professional and efficient administrative support, Canada will have accomplished a great deal.
Fourth, in addition to this flagship project, other initiatives should be undertaken by the Government of Canada, which are desirable, complementary and targeted.
Indeed, it would be a mistake to put all our eggs in one basket. Other very useful initiatives could be undertaken by Canada, some of which could moreover strengthen the effectiveness of our project for the National Assembly.
Annex 3 lists several of such initiatives that the Government of Canada may choose to undertake, perhaps after reviewing them at the Armenia-Canada Consultation Table. Within this list, I have identified four areas where I believe the Government of Canada would be able to immediately implement useful targeted initiatives: fighting corruption, promoting human rights, supporting non-governmental organizations and contributing to environmental sustainability. Furthermore, I will propose a channel via which to bring more Canadian expertise to Armenia.
Fifth, for these efforts to have the best chance of being sustained, well targeted and truly effective, we need a permanent presence on the ground. We need an embassy.
I will take up each of these points in the form of recommendations: make Armenia a priority on the basis of the criterion of fragile democracies; pay particular attention to the need for coordination with other stakeholders and donors; choose as a flagship project support for the Administration of the Armenian National Assembly; adopt other particularly promising projects; open an embassy in Armenia.
II. Make Armenia a priority as a fragile democracy
The Government of Canada has made known its willingness to strengthen its support for democracy around the world. It made it clear in the last (2021) Speech from the Throne:
“In the face of rising authoritarianism and great power competition, Canada must reinforce international peace and security, the rule of law, democracy, and respect for human rights”Footnote 1.
A key way to implement this increased focus on democracy will be to provide specific and strengthened support for fragile democracies. This orientation was announced to the world by the Prime Minister, during the US’s Summit for Democracy, held on December 9th and 10th, 2021:
“We’ll be there for fragile and emerging democracies with expanded fast and flexible support”Footnote 2.
The Prime Minister was also very explicit in his December 2021 mandate letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Mélanie Joly:
“Advance support for democracy and human rights as a core priority in Canada’s international engagement, including by:
Expanding fast and flexible support for fragile and emerging democracies, increasing Canada’s diplomatic presence in regions of strategic importance, and working closely with democratic partners to promote open, transparent and inclusive governance around the world”Footnote 3.
Likewise, the Minister of International Development, the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, has been mandated to: “[W]ork with the Minister of Foreign Affairs to engage with international allies and partners to support countries in crisis seeking to establish an enduring democracy”Footnote 4.
More recently, addressing the European Parliament on March 23, 2022, in the midst of Putin’s war of aggression on Ukraine, its people and its democracy, the Prime Minister reiterated his support for fragile democracies:
“Ensemble, nous devons soutenir des démocraties partout à travers le monde, incluant les plus fragiles, et lutter contre l’autoritarisme grâce à plus d’investissements et à plus de leadership engagé.” [Free translation: “Together, we must support democracies around the world, including the most fragile ones, and fight authoritarianism through more investment and more engaged leadership.”
Therefore, the Government of Canada is committed to supporting countries that are striving, against all odds, to keep democracy alive, in conditions that people in well-established democracies can hardly imagine. Admittedly, what these courageous democrats are doing is far from perfect, but it would be a mistake to look down on them. One needs to take into account the history of the country, the weight of its authoritarian past and its traditions, the weak entrenchment of democratic institutions and values, the precarious economic situation, or its geographic isolation in regions often grappling with instability and autocracies.
Well-established democracies should look at a map of the world, locate democracies under pressure and consider how they can effectively support them amidst the squalls and turmoil, while understanding that these democracies are attempting to persevere under extremely difficult conditions.
Enhanced action on this front is even more necessary as economic contractions, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical acts of aggression, continue to aggravate the instability of fragile democracies.
Another aggravating factor that justifies increased support for these fragile and emerging democracies is the alarming deterioration of ecosystems that support life. Military and climate experts warn that severe and growing environmental disruptions intensified by human made climate change, are an amplifying factor of conflict, instability, and irregular migration. In this sense, the search for sustainable development is a means of advancing a democracy. Thus, this report will include a recommendation of an ecological nature, for the benefit of Armenia’s ecosystem.
Armenia is one of those democratic states that strive for progress despite exceptionally difficult circumstances, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resurgence of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflictFootnote 5, and the strong presence of Russia as the strategic security guarantor in the region. In fact, as part of the new Canadian strategy for fragile, meritorious and strategic democracies, particular support for Armenian democracy is a very judicious choice. One only has to consult the renowned international benchmarks to be convinced. In this period, when, unfortunately there are more countries where democracy is regressing, than countries where it is progressing, Armenia is one of the too few countries to move in the right direction.
Hence, theDemocracy Index of the Economist shows that Armenia improved its overall score from 4.00 in 2015 to 5.35 in 2020Footnote 6. Freedom House gives Armenia a score of 55/100 in its 2021 edition of Freedom in the World, compared with 45/100 in 2017, and mentions Armenia among the short list of most encouraging examples of democratic progress over the past two yearsFootnote 7. Armenia’s Freedom on the Net score for 2021 is 71/100, a significant increase from its 2017 score of 68Footnote 8. Transparency International – Corruption Perceptions Index gives Armenia a score of 49/100 in 2021, a 15 points increase since 2012Footnote 9. According to International IDEA, since 2015, all Armenia Democracy Indexes have increased considerably. The area where Armenia has increased the most is impartial administration, passing from a 0.35 score (low performance) to 0.54 (mid-range performance)Footnote 10. Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) 2021 Annual Report places Armenia as the second greatest democratizer over the past few years, scoring 0.6 in 2020 compared to just below 0.2 in 2010Footnote 11. The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) 2020 ranks Armenia 34th out of 137 countries in terms of political transformation, compared to 71st in 2010Footnote 12. The World Bank – Governance Indicators shows that Armenia, between 2015 and 2019, improved in all indicators (voice and accountability, government effectiveness, rule of law, control of corruption) except for political stability/no violenceFootnote 13.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe states that “Armenia has made marked progress in its democratic development”Footnote 14. The joint observation mission from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe assessed that the 2021 Armenian parliamentary elections “were competitive and well run, but polarized and marred by aggressive rhetoric”Footnote 15. The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie’s observation mission came to a similar positive conclusionFootnote 16. A long-time observer with Transparency International has told Canada’s Ambassador to Russia, Armenia and Uzbekistan, Alison LeClaire, that the 2021 elections were the most well run and professional that he had seen in Armenia.
Given the importance that the Government of Canada attaches to gender equality, it is interesting to note that in this area too, Armenia has made progress. According to the HDR Gender Equality Index (GII), Armenia ranked 66th out of 169 countries in 2010, compared to 54th in 2019Footnote 17. The proportion of seats held by women in the Armenian national parliament was 3% in 2000, 9% in 2010, 24% in 2018 and 34% in 2021.
There is no doubt that Armenian democracy is on the rise. However, this progress is fragile, reversible and still far too insufficient to align Armenia with established democracies’ standards. Freedom House lists Armenia among the “Partly Free” countries. International IDEA shows that all of Armenia’s Global State of Democracy Indexes are below the European average. V-Dem characterizes Armenia’s regime as an “electoral autocracy plus (EA+)”, still short of being an electoral democracy. I met opposition members, businesspersons and NGO representatives in Yerevan, who spoke to the shortcomings of current democratic practices in Armenia.
However, as one of the countries that have made the most progress in recent years, Armenia is, at present, the archetype of democracy under intense pressure. Armenia is striving to improve itself and, therefore, deserves our full support. Hence recommendation 2:
Recommendation 2: Make Armenia a priority as a fragile democracy
The question now is how Canada should proceed to maximize its chances of providing optimal support to this meritorious democracy. The way to achieve this is first for Canada to coordinate closely, of course, with the Armenian authorities, but also with other stakeholders and donors.
III. Coordinate closely with international development partners
There are many stakeholders in Armenia who are trying to help this country improve its democratic practices. A brief overview of this international assistance is useful, in order to identify what could be a valuable additional contribution from Canada.
The United States has many economic assistance programs, primarily under the administration of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). As I mentioned earlier, a bilateral commission, the United States-Armenia Strategic Dialogue, is reviewing the progress of this varied assistance, whose focus is to build a more robust democracy and to bolster the economy. Specific programs are targeted at promoting fair elections, functional political parties, an independent judiciary, fighting corruption, police reform, independent media, dynamic non-governmental organizations, educational and primary health care capacity, agricultural development, energy policy, water management, and local-level governance.
As Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe, I am particularly familiar with the increasing efforts of the EU and its Member States to support Armenian democracy, since the independence of this country in 1991. This support is substantial and varied. Between 2014 and 2020, the EU, its Member States, Switzerland and Norway allocated 308 million euros (445.08 million CAD). A total of 15 percent was devoted to strengthening institutions and good governance, 25 percent to economic development, and the remaining to connectivity, energy efficiency, environment and climate change, and mobility and people-to-people contactsFootnote 18.
Support to the electoral process is a sector where EU assistance plays a key role, in addition to support given to the justice sector, the rule of law, the implementation of international human rights conventions, civil society organisations and the media. Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark gives focused support to local governance, UK, Germany and Denmark to parliament and political parties, Germany and Estonia to transparency, management of financial resources and anti-corruption, and Sweden and Denmark to civil servants and judges. France is also present in Armenia, including through cooperation agreements between regions, deploying its action in favor of public policy reforms, media training, labor laws and relations, but also in sectors such as agricultural and territorial development, energy efficiency and infrastructureFootnote 19.
As many EU Member States experience themselves the type of multi-party context that prevails in Armenia, EU support has also taken the form of capacity building training for political parties. Similarly, efforts have been made to support the political empowerment of women through certain legislative reforms and capacity building initiatives.
The results of all this substantial engagement does not always meet expectations. Evaluated by the European Partnership for Democracy, “European support failed to appropriately respond to the lack of independence of the judicial system and the rampant corruption in the sector”. Furthermore, they observed that “some Armenian NGO’s were suspected of embezzlement of EU funding” and “such corruption cases undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the EU in Armenia”. Nevertheless, overall, the concluding assessment was that EU support “clearly contributed to the fight against corruption in the public administration” and “has greatly contributed to the civil society’s capacity to support successful democratic reform such as the emblements events of the Velvet Revolution”Footnote 20.
The 2018 Velvet Revolution sparked renewed hope and heightened the EU's interest in supporting democratic development in the country. The EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, entered into force March 2021, provides a framework in a wide range of areas: strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights, creating more jobs and business opportunities, improving legislation, public safety, a cleaner environment, as well as better education and opportunities for researchFootnote 21.
The EU announced in 2021 that the improvement of the Armenian democracy has been instrumental in convincing it members to mobilise a financial package of 2.6 billion euros (3.76 billion CAD) in support of Armenia’s priorities, over a seven-year periodFootnote 22. More precisely,1.6 billion euros (2.3 billion CAD) will be allocated in loans and grants, which when combined with private sector investments, will total approximately 2.6 billion euros (3.76 billion CAD). A wide range of projects are envisaged: connectivity of a Nord-South corridor, digital transformation, green investments, agriculture and tourism (especially in Southern Armenia), as well as education (especially for girls and early childhood).
This new package announced by the EU does not include new funding that its Member States will provide. This funding too will be meaningful. For example, Germany recently announced a new cooperation agreement with Armenia, committing 100 million euros (144.5 million CAD) over a 7-8 year period, centered on greening its electricity sectorFootnote 23. Switzerland has increased its funding from 3 to 5 million CHF (4.2 to 7 million CAD) per year starting in 2022. Its priorities will be inclusive economy (in particular gender equality and the promotion of youth), transition to clean energies, fight against corruption and autonomy of local authoritiesFootnote 24. Austria recently opened a full development cooperation office in Armenia, priorities being agricultural development, gender and renewable energy.
The important contribution of the Council of Europe in the field of human rights and the rule of law in Armenia is worth highlighting. In particular, its initiatives focus on combatting domestic violence, enhancing health care for inmates in penitentiary institutions, developing a suicide and self-harm prevention strategy, reforming criminal justice, protecting human rights in the armed forces, and developing a code of conduct for civil servantsFootnote 25.
The Council of Europe also acts through its Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission), which has issued legal opinions on Armenia's constitutional and legislative initiatives, including: electoral code, constitutional code for political parties, referendums, etc.Footnote 26. Now that Canada is a member of the Venice Commission, we are in a better position to encourage the Government of Armenia to take these legal opinions into account.
In 2021, the United Nations Development Program and the Armenian government agreed on a very comprehensive cooperation framework, covering education, health, economy, governance and gender equalityFootnote 27.
Another organization that significantly contributes in Armenia is the OSCE, to which Canada is a member. Its efforts are particularly focused on strengthening the Armenian Human Rights Defenders Office, anti-corruption reform, democratic policing principles, cybercrime prevention, and economic empowerment of womenFootnote 28.
I should also mention the work of the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF), which has had a linguistic pact with Armenia since 2012 and which deployed an electoral mission to Armenia for the June 2021 elections. During my consultations, the OIF expressed interest in cooperating with Canada to assist the Central Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court of Armenia, particularly through the Association of Francophone Constitutional Courts, of which the Supreme Court of Canada is an active memberFootnote 29.
Significant donors and stakeholders also include the US National Endowment for Democracy, Open Society Foundation, numerous NGOs and think thanks, as well as various private donors, including Armenian-Canadian-American investor Dr. Noubar Afeyan, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Flagship PioneeringFootnote 30.
As can be seen, there are a lot of intersecting stakeholders and donors in Armenia. And so, the risks of duplication, orientation errors and poor coordination are high. It happened in the past, as recognized by the European Union:
“(…) there has been an overlap in the support (…). “For example, various European donors have provided support to local government bodies with the same focus on strengthening the capacity of local authorities and deepening the link with citizens, thereby reducing the significance and potential impact of support”Footnote 31.
At the same time, it is certain that, given the scale of the needs, none of these intervention sectors is covered to the point that a well-designed, additional Canadian contribution would not be welcomed.
That being said, in order to use our resources earmarked for Armenia as efficiently as possible, it would be preferable to identify sectors that are currently not adequately covered by such contributors, identify a gap that Canada can quickly fill. Hence recommendation 3.
Recommendation 3: Coordinate closely with international development partners
A key area for successful democratic progress currently not well covered by international assistance is that of capacity-building support to parliament. As the EU observes, this support is “comparatively limited”Footnote 32. This gap has likely manifested itself given that only recently has Armenia shifted weight to the legislative power, from the executive power. Indeed, following a Constitutional referendum held in December 2015, Armenia transitioned from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary system. With this significant constitutional change, there is now a clearer need to consolidate support for Armenia's unicameral parliamentary democracy, consisting of a National Assembly, currently comprised of 101 members.
The Armenians themselves are clearly dissatisfied with the functioning of their parliament. In a 2021 public opinion survey conducted by the US International Republican Institute, with the question “How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the work of the following state bodies?”, it was the National Assembly that obtained the worst result of all institutions, with a satisfaction rate of only 7%Footnote 33.
The need to improve the National Assembly is recognized both by the Armenian authorities and by various stakeholders, including the European Union: “Considering that a new constitutional “rules of the game” envisage a larger role for parliament and holding the executive accountable, it’s paramount for the National Assembly to increase its overall capacity”Footnote 34.
There are numerous needs, like competency training in drafting legislation or training for members in parliament more generally. As an European official told me: “They need a program that teaches MPs how to be MPs, including outlining their responsibilities, informing them on parliamentary procedures like how to read a budget, organizing their office, hiring staff…”.
From 2017 to 2019, the United Kingdom led a project to strengthen the institutional capacities of the National Assembly. Germany also ran comparable programs, including one in 2018 focused on parliamentary oversight of the armed forces. All have since sunset. The OSCE envisions strengthening the oversight tools of the National Assembly, but specifically of the Standing Committee on Defence and SecurityFootnote 35.
I have asked the Parliamentary Centre (Canada) to provide a detailed analysis of the current donor landscape in support of the Armenian National Assembly, in order to identify where Canada's continued support would add essential value, both by filling important gaps and by complementing the work being done by other countries or organizations. It appears that six organizations are currently active in the fieldFootnote 36.
The European Union Twinning Project aims to enhance capacities for the effective law-making and legislative oversight of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia, by facilitating exchanges of relevant experience between the National Assembly and two specific EU parliaments: those of Italy and Greece.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is managing a 2.9 million USD project funded by the United Kingdom and Sweden, aimed at strengthening law-making and oversight capacity, increasing transparency and responsiveness of the legislature to constituencies, and supporting the development of legislative research capacity in the National Assembly. Launched in January 2019, with an initial duration until December 2022, this program is likely to continue in its research assistance component, but the other components may sunset.
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is supporting a modest-sized project (0.5 million euros or 722,833 CAD), which includes the exchange of experience between countries in the region, in the development of legislative research capacity.
USAID funds projects run by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the National Republican Institute (IRI). NDI focuses primarily on elected members, specifically the capacity of party factions and support for women parliamentarians. IRI focuses its support on parliamentary committees and social media strategy, and provides communication training for parliamentary staff.
The other organization that supports the National Assembly is, precisely, the Parliamentary Centre (Canada). For reasons, which I will now explain, the Parliamentary Centre is best placed to be at the heart of an effective and coordinated international effort to help Armenia's democracy build a strong parliamentary institution.
IV. Support Armenia’s parliamentary democracy
The history of the Parliamentary Center’s program goes back to fall of 2019, when Global Affairs Canada decided to fund the Parliamentary Centre project Supporting Parliamentary Reform in Armenia. The program is scheduled to sunset in December 2022 and has received 545,169 CAD in funding to date. Its aim is to contribute to providing the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia with a professional and efficient administration or, in other words, a "first-class inclusive parliamentary service".
Two successive Speakers and three successive Secretary Generals of the Administration of the National Assembly remained committed to the project throughout its development, and seek continued support from Canada. Despite the considerable challenges posed by COVID-19 and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the project facilitated the development of a five-year (2022-2027) Corporate Strategic Plan for the Administration of the National Assembly and a one-year Operational Plan to guide the implementation of the Corporate Strategic PlanFootnote 37.
The current Chief of Staff of the Secretary General of the National Assembly, Mr. Vahan Naribekyan, expressed full commitment to both plans. In December 2021, when the National Assembly officially presented them at an official event with international development partners, the Secretary General referred to the event as “a significant day in the history of the National Assembly of Armenia”Footnote 38.
On January 31, 2022, in its declaration on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of Canada-Armenia diplomatic relations, the Armenian Foreign Affairs Minister mentioned that the “Inter-parliamentary dialogue and Parliamentary diplomacy have a notable place in Armenian-Canadian bilateral relations. We appreciate Canada's support for the capacity building of the Armenian Parliament”Footnote 39.
All interlocutors, including those at the highest levels of the Armenian government and parliament, have expressed to me their great satisfaction with Parliamentary Centre collaboration to date, as well as their hope that this support will continue, notably with the heavy task of implementing the Corporate Strategic Plan. They acknowledged that they lacked the experience and critical capacities to turn such a comprehensive plan into a reality.
The plan is indeed ambitious. The goal is nothing less than outlining the concrete strategies for the development of a first class, inclusive parliamentary service, which supports, enables and promotes the work of parliamentarians. This professional parliamentary service could even become a model employer for all Armenian institutions.
The plan is primarily for the benefit of the Administration of the National Assembly, but also includes support for elected officials, themselves, in their work and adds measures to increase public access to parliament.
With regard to the Administration of the National Assembly, it is a question of strengthening the management of human resources and ensuring a skilled parliamentary staff, through processes of recruitment, promotion, training and retention of qualified staff. A management culture that respects justice, equity and the pursuit of effective labor relations, must prevail. The goal is also to provide an organizational structure with a well-designed organigram, updated job descriptions, clear delegation of authority, etc. Furthermore, the National Assembly’s financial autonomy for budget management must be reinforced in accordance with the principle of division of powers. The workforce must become more inclusive with a focus on gender equality, youth involvement and people with disabilities.
The plan aims to increase elected officials' awareness and knowledge of the importance of the work of professional, non-partisan parliamentary staff. The organizational structure must enable elected members and parliamentary staff to work together effectively. The plan also provides for the institutionalization of in-house training for parliamentarians themselves, providing them with a learning environment to become more effective legislators, better representatives of citizens and better able to oversee government. It is a question of making available to the National Assembly, the experience and best practices of Canada’s parliament, of course, but also of legislatures of other countries, in particular those which have undergone recent processes of strengthening new parliamentary capacities.
The plan also includes measures to improve both public understanding of parliament and public participation in legislative and oversight processes. In other words, it proposes to open parliament to the public and educate the public on the parliament. The aim is to improve public awareness and citizen engagement to ensure that Armenians are better informed and involved in the work of their parliament. The plan supports constructive engagement between the National Assembly and Armenian Civil Society Groups, including the ones representing the needs for women, youth and people with disabilities. It includes the development of a civic education program to inform Armenian students about their parliament, which would have a positive impact on Armenian democratic civic culture. There is also the establishment of a Canada-Armenia parliamentary internship program to allow young Armenians to acquire direct experience in the functioning of our parliament and provincial legislative assemblies and, through this, the skills and experiences necessary to play a role in the democratization of their own country.
The National Assembly has set itself very ambitious objectives, in undertaking the implementation of this Corporate Strategic Plan. To this end, it would like the continued support of the Parliamentary Centre.
The question, therefore, arises as to whether Canada should respond positively to this request. I think so. A democracy breathes through its parliament. This is where elected officials represent the people, make laws and hold the executive to account. Parliamentary life greatly influences the democratic culture of a country. Contributing to improving parliamentary life, therefore, means acting on the nerve center of a democracy. Observers of Armenian democracy often describe its parliament as very abrasive, an animosity made worse by the bruises of the recent military defeat. So, there is a lot to be done by working with the parliamentary institution. Hence, recommendation 4:
Recommendation 4: Support the Administration of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia in its efforts to implement its Corporate Strategic Plan, developed with the Parliamentary Centre (Canada)
Of course, it is out of the question for the Parliamentary Centre to assume alone the international assistance necessary for the successful implementation of this Strategic Corporate Plan. The other international development partners I mentioned above would also have a role to play. However, the Parliamentary Centre would be well placed to coordinate all of this support, so that it has a cumulative effect.
The Parliamentary Centre has made contacts to explore opportunities for collaboration and avoid overlap. For example, NDI is running a local parliamentary internship program and has readily shared its experiences with the Centre; there is an opportunity to amplify further the efforts of both organizations by including the top performers from NDI's program in the selection process for the Canada-Armenia internships. IRI collaborates with the Centre to share American and Canadian experiences in media access to parliament, an initiative enthusiastically welcomed by the National Assembly.
Likewise, GIZ stands ready to cooperate with the Parliamentary Centre to provide the National Assembly with opportunities to share relevant experiences with legislatures in the region. Joint initiatives like this would be an opportunity for Canada and Germany to join forces to increase the impact of their respective programs in Armenia, which the Canadian Ambassador to Germany would be happy to encourage!
Since it appears quite certain that UNDP plans to continue supporting the development of legislative research capacity in the National Assembly, the Parliamentary Centre has scaled down its support in this regard. It aims to complement UNDP efforts by providing capacity building for National Assembly research staff in specific areas where Canada has value-added expertise, such as gender research and analysis.
In the field of civic education, UNDP is very interested by the program offered by the Teachers Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy, recommended it at the National Assembly as the best international experience, and indicated that it would welcome the Centre taking the lead in implementing this critical work.
The key role that the Parliamentary Centre has played in the development of the Corporate Strategic Plan, the field experience it has acquired, its knowledge of both Armenian and international networks, as well as the contacts it maintains and develops, makes the Centre a well-positioned organization from which to anchor all international development assistance offered to the National Assembly.
The Parliamentary Centre will have to solicit the expertise of various Canadian organizations, including the federal government and Parliament, with its various corporate governance bodies, especially the Board of Internal Economy in the House of Commons and the Committee of Internal Economy in the Senate, as well as the Library of Parliament. Furthermore, the provincial and territorial legislatures, Canadian research centers and civil society organizations, as well as the Canadian-Armenian community in Canada and Armenia, will also have valuable expertise and experience to share.
Exchanges between Canadian and Armenian parliamentary staff will be key. The Parliamentary Centre intends to facilitate interactive tailor-made workshops that pair managers from the Administration of the National Assembly with counterparts from Canada’s Parliament and provincial legislative assemblies.
There are also our MPs and Senators. When I met with members of the Canada-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Group, they told me that they were eager to intensify their relations with their Armenian colleagues, contacts which have slowed considerably because of COVID-19. The role of this friendship group will be greatly enhanced if Canada agrees to assist the Armenian National Assembly, for the next five years.
Members of the Friendship Group also told me that they would like to become a Group recognized by the Joint Interparliamentary Council, which would allow them to receive administrative and financial support. It will not be easy to convince the Parliament of Canada to grant this status and the funds that come with it, since despite all my efforts, I did not succeed to get this status for Canada’s Friendship Group with Germany, a G7 country! Currently, Canada only has such formal parliamentary associations with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and China. Still, the Parliament of Canada should consider offering such status to the Canada-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Group, at least for the next five years, in the exceptional context of Canadian support for Armenian parliamentary democracy.
With regard to the design of the Parliamentary Internship Program, the experience gained through our other comparable programs, such as the Canada-Ukraine Internship Program, will be of great value. The Parliamentary Center is well placed to take stock of this experience and make it available to the Armenian National Assembly.
In the end, the desired reform of the Parliamentary Administration will only be possible by maintaining a commitment for it in Armenia, engaging the legislative and executive branches, the Administration of the National Assembly itself, and civil society organisations. It will be necessary to maintain contact with parliamentarians of all political factions, and obtain their cooperation for the establishment of this professional and non-partisan parliamentary service, which, admittedly, will not be easy in a political arena too often marked by heated hostile confrontations. This will require continuous interaction and a constructive dialogue, all within the uncertain context of Armenia’s complex democratic transition.
Implementing such a five-year project will necessitate a great deal of effort and attention, and one wonders if the Parliamentary Center has the capacity to do so. I raised this issue with its President and CEO, Mr. Tom Cormier, its Regional Director, Mr. Ivo Balinov and its Senior Advisor for the project in Armenia, Mr. Paul Belisle, who is himself a former Clerk of the Canadian Senate. They responded with a detailed assessment of how they would go about completing such a task. They feel that with the lessons learned from the current project, they have a strong idea of the framework, processes and resources – both expert and financial – that would be necessary.
A Senior Expert on Managing Parliamentary Reform would provide the overall expertise. In addition to the Ottawa-based leadership, there would be a full-time, highly qualified, locally based team, well accustomed to the Armenian working culture and realities, and based in an office set-up in Yerevan, for the duration of the project. A Field Manager, supported by a Field Project Officer, would liaise with project interlocutors in Armenia and coordinate their participation. An Administration and Finance Officer would provide administrative assistance in the preparation and delivery of project activities, and would be accountable for the integrity of accounting and financial reporting in the field.
To support specific projects, a pool of experts would be contracted from former parliamentarians and parliamentary staff, international development consultants, etc. A Gender and Inclusivity Advisor would assist in the development of the project’s gender equality strategy.
The Parliamentary Centre estimates the investment required for the project at 4.8 million CAD – an average of 960,000 CAD per year. During the first phase, the project was financed by GAC's Pro-DEM fund. In total, to cover the whole world, this fund amounts to about 10 million CAD per year. Thus, if the second phase were still to be financed by Pro-DEM, approximately ten percent of Pro-DEM would be invested, for five years, to support Armenian parliamentary democracy. That may sound like a considerable sum, but it is an investment that allows Canada to stand up to support the functioning of a responsible parliament, in a fragile democracy; it would be a very good investment of 4.8 million CAD on the part of Canadian taxpayers.
To avoid limiting the funding of other projects that Pro-DEM must pursue elsewhere in the world, the Government of Canada could create another source of funding dedicated to supporting fragile democracies. This new fund would finance entirely, or with Pro-DEM, this approximately 4.8 million CAD project. The creation of this new fund would stem from the mandate that the Prime Minister gave to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Expanding fast and flexible support for fragile and emerging democracies”.
One of the advantages of not funding the Corporate Strategic Plan through Pro-DEM is that this fund could then be used to finance other projects aimed at consolidating Armenian democracy. Several suggestions in Annex 3 would fall within the scope of Pro-DEM, including support for elections and election management bodies, digital inclusion and addressing digital threats to democracy.
For all intents and purposes, whether the funding comes from Pro-DEM or a new fund, one thing is certain: if properly led and supported, this modest-sized project has the potential to make a real difference for the benefit of a fragile democracy that is striving to democratically progress, in a difficult region.
I, therefore, strongly recommend this project, to the point of proposing it as our flagship program in Armenia. I am confident that by resolutely pursuing this project, Canada is giving itself a good chance of effectively assisting the Armenians in their efforts to provide themselves with a competent and non-partisan Administration of the National Assembly, and in so doing, supporting this parliament’s capacity to better exercise its constitutional powers for law-making, executive oversight and public representation.
One must also see that learning is a two-way street. Through these exchanges with a democracy in transition, our parliamentarians and other Canadians participating in this program would have the opportunity to reflect on and improve their own parliamentary practice. After twenty-two years in the House of Commons of Canada, I have acquired great admiration for this institution but also the certainty that it is far from perfect… and has a lot to learn!
V. Support the fight against corruption
We have seen that various renowned international benchmarks (especially Transparency International – Corruption Perceptions Index and The World Bank – Governance Indicators) have noted a decline in corruption in Armenia, in recent years. The country is, therefore, moving in the right direction; however, it still has a long way to go. For instance, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) considers that some of its key recommendations have only been partially implementedFootnote 40.
To continue to extract the country from the gangrene that is corruption, in 2018 the Armenian government set up a new institution: the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption. According to GRECO, measures taken so far are in the right direction, “but the system remains relatively new and more time will be needed for it to produce credible results”Footnote 41. According to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, this commission is an independent institution, but has not reached its full potential due to a lack of adequate resources and expertiseFootnote 42. The Venice Commission and the OSCE have also noticed a lack of resources, notably in view of the workload and the amount of competences involvedFootnote 43.
It must be said that the Commission’s responsibilities cast a wide net: procedures to guarantee the integrity of elected representatives, public officials and magistrates; checking financial declarations; implementing codes of conduct; vetting the integrity of the judges who are to be appointed; checking the financing of election campaigns during legislative elections; declarations of expenditures made by political parties, etc.
The Commission receives a lot of international assistance. Particularly active at this time, are the United States Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, which works to combat institutional corruption in the criminal justice sector; Switzerland, which shares corruption risk assessment experience and specialized training; the EU and some of its Member States, for various projects focused on integrity of the justice sector, education of public officials and establishment of codes of conduct; the Council of Europe, which is providing support in the drafting of a code of conduct for public servants.
When I met the President of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, Haykuhi Harutyunyan, she had two key asks of Canada. First, the Commission seeks Canadian experience on legislative and procedural frameworks, policies and regulations aimed at holding public servants to account and preventing conflicts of interest. Although the Council of Europe has supported the Commission in drafting a code of conduct, additional support is needed on its actual implementation and enforcement.
Secondly, President Harutyunyan wishes to obtain assistance for the digitization of the operating system of the Commission. She is seeking Canadian experience relating to the development and use of digital transparency and accountability policies and solutions. For example, the Commission needs electronic systems by which public officials may sign various accountability declarations or register political gifts, as well as electronic tools to track public official foreign assets.
Canada could provide this highly targeted technical assistance, which is not easy to master, but whose importance for the proper and efficient functioning of a democracy should never be underestimated. Few things are worse than corruption, in undermining people's trust in their democratic institutions and elected officials.
Recommendation 5: Assist the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption in the implementation and application of a code of conduct on the probity of public officials and provide assistance for the digitization of the Commission's operating system
I spoke with Canada’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Mr. Mario Dion, and he expressed to me his enthusiasm for helping the Armenian Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, both by conveying all the necessary information on Canada’s legal and regulatory frameworks and by providing technical assistance for digitization. Much could be done through virtual exchanges, but Commissioner Dion believes it may be possible to send a Canadian delegation to assist the Armenian Commission, as part of an overall strategy to support this fragile democracy.
VI. Promoting Human Rights
Another institution Armenia has established to advance its democracy is the Office of the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsperson), who is elected by parliament for a six-year term. Like the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, the Human Rights Defender Office has a broad mandate, playing a full role as a countervailing power against violations of rights and freedoms. The Office covers all spectrum of rights (human, civil, children, disabled persons rights) and reports directly to the UN Human Rights Council.
Currently, the priorities of this Office include: respect for security standards for prisoners of war and displaced persons, the fight against hate speech, the fight against discrimination, the promotion of gender equality, women's empowerment, torture prevention, and mental health.
The Office has several means of action: functional immunity; submission of annual reports, including to international organizations; the right to be received in any government institution without permission; high public trust (in a recent public opinion poll, this institution was rated the highest, replacing the military as number one).
The UN and the Council of Europe have assessed the Human Rights Defender as having become strong and effective. For example, the Council of Europe refers to their “checks and balances, which have proved their effectiveness”Footnote 44 The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions granted to this Office an international “A” status, its highest level of accreditation. Constitutionally enshrined, the independence of the Office “seems to be firmly established”, although the Venice Commission recommends to strengthen it via staff recruitment and management policies.Footnote 45
The Office relies on substantial international support. The Council of Europe provides assistance on gender and human rights issues in the armed forces, domestic and gender-based violence, bioethics, torture prevention, and displaced persons. The European Union collaborates on human rights education and helps to strengthen the Office’s representation in various regions. The UN Development Program supports advocacy campaigns on topics such as gender based violence and child rights. The OSCE is also a regular partner of the Office.
When I met the current Human Rights Defender, Ombudsperson Kristine Grigoryan, she explained to me that there was one specific area where she is looking to partner: rights of persons with disabilities. This is where there is a gap in the support that the Office currently receives, and so, where Canadian cooperation would be particularly welcomed.
An ideal that we cherish in Canada is that of a democracy, where human rights are respected for all. If Canada can help Armenia in its efforts to move closer to this ideal, for the benefit of persons with disabilities, Canada will have accomplished a great deal.
Recommendation 6: Provide advice and expertise to the Human Rights Defender (ombudsperson) in their efforts to defend and promote the rights of persons with disabilities in Armenia
Canadian experts could review Armenian legislation and policies regarding persons with disabilities, to identify any shortcomings. They could then possibly propose amendments to the legislation. They could also give advice on the drafting, implementation and application of access policies, help identify supportive means of communication and suggest ways to best respect education and labor rights.
The Office of the Human Rights Defender sent me a comprehensive action plan detailing these different aspects of possible cooperation. A summary of the main points is as follows:
The objective of the action plan is to increase the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, to improve the effectiveness of the work of the human rights defender in this regard and to change legislation, structures, attitudes and negative behaviors at national and local levels.
Action 1: Carry out a comprehensive review of existing legislation, compare it to international standards and instruments in order to identify legislative and practical gaps, propose concrete recommendations to state authorities aimed at solving the problems identified.
Action 2: Development of a comprehensive communication plan to effectively communicate about the rights of persons with disabilities at different levels, aiming to change current negative attitudes and stereotypes regarding the rights of persons with disabilities. The plan should define clear guidelines on how it will be shared, for what information and with whom, including traditional and new social media, communication with private and public stakeholders, as well as with international actors. The plan should include the production of awareness-raising video clips and podcasts to be on air or broadcasted in a regular manner. The objectives should be (a) to increase the visibility of the human rights of persons with disabilities; (b) to raise awareness of disability issues, with due regard to diversity and a gender equality perspective; (c) to facilitate the exchange of information between different stakeholders; (d) to promote the visibility of good practices at national and local levels.
Action 3: Organization of training for capacity development for the relevant staff of the Office of Human Rights Defender on specific instruments of legislative review and management of the communication strategy, in order to ensure that professionals have the skills and knowledge necessary to perform their duties.
Action 4: Introduction of the Armenian Sign Language course for people with disabilities, which will include interactive activities, cultural awareness education and individual feedback. Given the lack of specialists with a command of sign language, this will provide people with disabilities with new job opportunities.
Action 5: Promoting the rights of children with disabilities and combating widespread stereotypes. Develop a special interactive outreach tool featuring theater-based edutainment techniques to engage children, parents and community members in a creative, inclusive and entertaining learning process to stimulate civic education, participation and involvement of children with disabilities in all aspects of public life.
This is the action plan that the Office of the Human Rights Defender intends to design and implement, and for which Canadian expertise is sought. The question is, who would that Canadian partner be?
Within the Government of Canada, the organization best placed to provide this expertise, in part directly or by identifying public or private organizations capable of providing specialized and complementary assistance, is Accessible Canada Directorate, part of the Income Security and Social Development Branch at Employment and Social Development Canada. Accessible Canada Directorate is open to exploring such a cooperation with the Office of the Human Rights Defender in Armenia. In fact, the Directorate sees cooperation as an opportunity to learn new perspectives that could help improve our own policies in Canada.
VII. Support Armenia’s non-governmental organisations
Currently, Canadian support for Armenian non-governmental organizations is through the Arnold Chan Initiative for Democracy, launched after the Prime Minister's visit to Armenia in 2018. As it stands, this initiative offers up to 100,000 CAD per year for local projects in Armenia that aim to strengthen the democratic process and the development of democratic institutions. With each project costing between 30,000 CAD and 50,000 CAD, about two to three projects are completed each year. It is our Embassy in Russia, with accreditation to the Republic of Armenia and Republic of Uzbekistan, who selects and approves the projects through an annual call for proposals and a selection committee. The selection is not easy, given the high volume of applicants.
Four considerations lead me to recommend the expansion of the Arnold Chan Initiative. First, this initiative is working well and producing good results. All the completed projects under the initiative have been evaluated as “positive”, according to the “CFLI Projects in Armenia FY 2018-19 to 2021-22”.
Second, the Arnold Chan Initiative casts a wide net and touches on various important aspects of democracy promotion. The domains covered include transparent and inclusive governance, the rule of law, human rights, gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, LGBTQ2+ rights, human dignity (covering health, education and nutrition), support for the poorest and most vulnerable, environment and climate action and water management. Examples of projects supported to-date include:
- Enhancing participatory governance and the development of inclusive policies in political parties.
- Promoting efficient solutions of gender related problems in public schools in Armenia.
- Developing skills of young civic journalists in Northern Armenia to act as future democracy watchdogs.
- Strengthening democratic participation of rural women in local self-decision making.
- Increasing knowledge of youth on anti-corruption through the creation of short animated movies about civic education.
- Use of modern method of telemedicine in rural areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thirdly, since our flagship project with the National Assembly and our targeted action in favour of government’s probity and human rights for disabled persons are all carried out in partnership with public institutions – the parliament, the Corruption Prevention Commission and the Human Rights Defender – it is desirable that these initiatives be complemented by another one, which is mainly for the benefit of non-governmental organizations. This is precisely the case of the Arnold Chan Initiative, which allocates the bulk of funding to local civil society organizations, since they are mainly the ones who conceive and design the projects.
Fourth, the National Assembly's Corporate Strategic Plan and the Arnold Chan Initiative can be mutually supportive. The Corporate Strategic Plan for the administration of the National Assembly makes extensive use of NGOs. They are invited to contribute to public participation in legislative and oversight processes, constructive engagement between the National Assembly and Armenian Civil Society Groups, including those representing the needs for women, youth and people with disabilities, as well as to the development of a civic education program, to inform Armenian students about their parliament. The managers of the two programs will, therefore, have to work closely together, so that some of the projects selected by the Arnold Chan Initiative contribute to the success of the National Assembly's Corporate Strategic Plan, and vice versa. The same goes for our collaboration with the Corruption Prevention Commission and the Human Rights Defender: several of the NGOs supported by the Arnold Chan Initiative work in these sectors.
These considerations lead me to recommend not only the continuation of the Arnold Chan Initiative, but also its expansion. I propose to increase its annual funding to 500,000 CAD, which would fund 10 to 15 projects per year.
Recommendation 7: Fund 10-15 projects per year under the Arnold Chan Initiative for Democracy
An amount of 500,000 CAD a year should not be difficult to find for a federal government whose revenues for the 2021-22 fiscal year are close to 355.1 billion CAD. However, one must consider the current source of funding for the Arnold Chan Initiative. This sum is drawn from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) which, with an amount of 26.9 million CAD (fiscal year 2022-23), covers 137 eligible countries. The only three countries where CFLI has funded 500,000 CAD or more per year are China and Mexico, two demographic giants, and Syria, a devastated country. Funding half a million dollars a year for Armenia alone cannot be justified by CFLI standards.
Here again, the new priority linked to fragile democracies must be underlined. Once the Government of Canada has specifically identified Armenia as a fragile democracy that it wishes to support as a priority, it makes sense that non-governmental organizations in this country would receive exceptional support. It is, therefore, on the basis of Recommendation 2, making Armenia a priority as a fragile democracy, that Recommendation 7, calling for a fivefold increase in the Arnold Chan Initiative, finds its justification.
Here we encounter the same problem that I have already raised as it relates to the Pro-DEM fund: how do we reconcile the increase in funding granted to Armenia, and the capacity of the CFLI to fulfill its mission in other countries?
The Minister of Foreign Affairs’ mandate letter includes a commitment to “increase the annual investment in the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives to enable staff at Canada’s embassies around the world to support the work of feminists, LGBTQ2 activists and human rights defenders”. This next increase in investment could help. However, I reiterate that the government should consider creating a special fund dedicated to achieving its stated objective of helping fragile democracies. Another possibility would be to consider the Arnold Chan Initiative as a fund in and of itself, which would not be taken from the CFLI envelope, even if its management would remain under the CFLI.
Whatever the budgetary source, I am convinced that, with ten to fifteen projects per year, carefully chosen and supervised, and in consultation with the Parliamentary Center, Armenian and international partners, Canada would be doing unique and useful work to support Armenia in its democratic transition.
VIII. Support sustainable development
A democracy is weakened when its ecosystem that sustains life is unhealthy. It is, therefore, important that the Canadian strategy for Armenian democracy include an initiative for cooperation in the field of the natural environment.
The Armenian government receives support from the EU in an effort to help Armenia move closer to EU standards in pollution control and nature protection. Armenia also receives help from Germany to decarbonize its electricity and from the United Nations Green Climate Fund to progress in its green energy transition. However, Armenia is asking for more international cooperation, notably to help meet its targets in the areas of biodiversity and forest management.
When I met with Armenia’s Department of the Environment, I asked them the question directly: if there was one thing you would like to work on with Canada, what would it be? What is the top priority for potential cooperation with Canada?
Their response was clear and concise: help us by sharing your experience in the protection and restoration of lake and river ecosystems. I replied that exchanging experiences in cleaning rivers and lakes was definitely something we could explore together. More specifically, they described the worrying state of their very polluted Lake Sevan, given decaying waste management systems, in addition to pressure coming from agriculture irrigation and booming tourism.
Lake Sevan is of strategic importance, as it is by far the biggest reserve of fresh water in Armenia. This iconic lake, which provides approximately 90% of Armenia's fish and 80% of crayfish catch, has significant economic, cultural and recreational value and is a symbol of national identity. Its area of 1242 km2 covers 4.1% of Armenia, approximately the equivalent of Lake Winnipeg for the area of Manitoba (3.8%).
Environmentalists warn that this country's largest lake faces a serious threat from algae and falling water levels, and even radioactive contamination. The ministry is trying to develop a plan to respond, with an ongoing tender to clean up the coastline and rivers. They would appreciate benefiting from Canadian expertise.
The health of a large lake requires a variety of expertise, not only related to water, but also agriculture, forestry, soil management, land use planning, intergovernmental and international negotiations, etc. Perhaps because I worked in my previous professional life on environmental policy for our Great Lakes, including Lake Winnipeg, I believe Canadian experts could provide a useful perspective on the state of Lake Sevan.
Recommendation 8: Provide expertise to support Armenian efforts to protect and restore rivers and lakes, with a focus on the country's emblematic Lake Sevan
The discussions I have had on this subject with Environment and Climate Change Canada confirm that Canada would indeed have a lot of expertise to offer Armenia, either directly from the ministry or through organizations accustomed to working with other countries. For example, it was suggested that possibility of cooperation be explored via the International Institute for Sustainable Development's Experimental Lakes Area.
IX. Bring Canadian expertise to Armenia
In my mandate letter, I am asked to “harness all the goodwill that exists in the Canadian society toward Armenia” (see Annex 1). I find this objective particularly important. There is a lot of sympathy for Armenia across Canada, especially, of course, among Canadians of Armenian descent. Canada is extremely fortunate to have a particularly vibrant and dynamic Armenian community. This is an asset that Canada must mobilise as it undertakes to increase its support for democracy in the Republic of Armenia.
It would be great if Canadians of Armenian origin could, more so then today, bring their dynamism and skills to Armenia, especially at a time when it strives to consolidate its democracy and economy. A common sentiment, conveyed to me time and time again, including by many Canadians of Armenian descent, is that the diaspora could be more effective in helping to promote democracy in Armenia. One understands the importance given to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the recognition of the Armenian genocide, but a shared opinion is that it would be good if the development of democracy in Armenia also benefited from the full mobilization of Canadians of Armenian origin.
Canadian program managers responsible for the various initiatives recommended in this report will certainly seek the expertise of Canadians of Armenian origin and will consult with their representative organizations. However, I propose another initiative that will stimulate exchanges between Canadians and Armenians. This would be to offer Canadians the opportunity to experience an internship in Armenia.
Recommendation 9: Create an internship program allowing Canadians to offer their expertise in Armenia
The idea came to me when I became aware of a program by the German federal government, which consists of financing internships in MoldovaFootnote 46. My proposal is that the Government of Canada would fund a comparable internship for Canadians to work for about a year in Armenia, and in so doing, would cover salary, travel and installation costs. The sectors and places where these internships would be carried out will of course be decided in consultation with the Armenian authorities and public and private employers.
The International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) is the main mechanism used by Global Affairs Canada for this objective, part of the Government of Canada's Youth Employment and Skills Strategy. Internships are offered through different Canadian partner organizations across 45 countries. Applicants can choose from a variety of sectors, such as social services, agriculture, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), small business enterprises, education, etc. For such internship programs abroad, the Government of Canada works with Canadian organizations that know how to manage this type of project, such as universities, the Canadian Bar Association or United Nations Association in Canada.
I spoke about this project with Professor Todd Foglesong and Mr. Matt Torigian, Distinguished Fellow of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, who both have significant experience with Armenia, and who informed me that the Munk School could be a partner for this type of internship program (as well as for the initiative with the Corruption Prevention Commission).
The implementation of the initiative would be facilitated through the already established IGORTS, which is under the purview of the Armenian government, and which invites Armenian professionals from the diaspora to serve in Armenia. As it stands, one to three interns are Canadian, each yearFootnote 47. We could significantly increase this number once the Government of Canada becomes an active partner.
We could thus achieve four objectives. First, to provide Armenia with varied and beneficial expertise. Given that this country is suffering from a high unemployment rate (15% in January 2022), it will be important to ensure that Canadians occupy positions for which the expertise is lacking locally. There is indeed a labor shortage in key sectors, aggravated by a brain and youth drain. In particular, many Armenians have asked me to send Canadian experts in areas related to democratic functioning: parliamentarism, local governance, local budgeting, but also emerging sectors such as Information Technology.
Second, the Government of Canada would allow Canadians to have a unique experience in Armenia that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Third, the Canadian Armenian community would have an additional opportunity to mobilize for Armenian democracy. Indeed, the Canadian participants in this program will be numerous to be of Armenian origin, since command of the Armenian language will be a valuable criterion of competence.
Fourth, this internship program will, over time, strengthen people-to-people relationships. These people will remain, for the rest of their lives, the champions of friendship between Armenia and Canada. In Armenia, they will carry the values of a well-established democracy like ours. Upon their return to Canada, they will enrich our country with their direct experience of the life and culture in Armenia.
X. Increase Canada’s diplomatic presence in Armenia
Canada is represented in Armenia by the Embassy of Canada to Russia, with accreditation to the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Uzbekistan. We also have an Honorary Consul in Yerevan (post being vacant since September 2019). Throughout 30 years of diplomatic relations, no Canadian government has been willing to allocate the financial resources necessary to open an embassy in Yerevan. The Government of Canada has always considered that Canadian diplomatic and consular interests in Armenia, could adequately be actioned from Canada’s embassy in Moscow, given the modest volume of relations, particularly economic. The Government of Canada cites a small local consumer market, underdeveloped transportation links, limited government capacity and a difficult trade environment. Our government has always made it known that only a significant increase in relations between the two countries, which it evidently supports, could justify the opening of an embassy, but which would inevitably provoke the same ask of those in neighboring countries, also deprived of a permanent Canadian diplomatic presence.
Of course, the perspective changes when a new Canadian policy in favor of fragile democracies justifies an increase of Canadian efforts for a country, whose democratic advances are most notable, although incomplete and reversible.
In his mandate letter to Minister Joly, the Prime Minister instructed her to increase Canada's diplomatic presence in fragile democracies and regions of strategic importance: “Expanding fast and flexible support for fragile and emerging democracies, increasing Canada’s diplomatic presence in regions of strategic importance (…)”. As we have seen in this report, Armenia is the prototype of a fragile democracy that is striving to improve itself, and for this, deserves our support. Armenia is located in a region easily qualified as strategic, notably with Iran and Turkey among its immediate neighbours.
Throughout this report, we have seen how the Armenian context hardly matched the standards of many of our programs. This country is either too rich or too poor, too stable or too unstable, etc. This time, however, when the criterion is "fragile democracy in a region of strategic importance", Armenia is a natural fit.
The steps proposed in this report – to materialize Canada’s increased support for Armenian democracy – are focused and reasonable, but will still require much more attention and effort from our diplomacy, than is the case today. Due to this increased volume of activities, Canada will need a permanent presence in Armenia. Canada will need an ambassador and an embassy in Yerevan.
Recommendation 10: Open an embassy in Armenia
Let us consider the initiatives recommended in this report, one after the other. Preparing for and following up on meetings of the Armenia-Canada Consultation Table will require time, attention and institutional memory. The implementation of the Corporate Strategic Plan for the administration of the National Assembly is a project of great importance that, to have every chance of succeeding, will need the active assistance of an Embassy. Establishing effective collaboration with the Corruption Prevention Commission and the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsperson) will require continued follow-up. It is one thing for our diplomatic mission in Moscow to select and supervise two to three cooperation projects per year with Armenian NGOs, and quite the other to do so for 10 to 15 projects. Added to this will be the sharing of experiences as it relates to lake protection and the monitoring of a new internship program for Canadians in Armenia.
For the deployment of all these initiatives, the constant presence of seasoned diplomats will be of invaluable assistance. The coordination of these various initiatives and others should be entrusted to an ambassador and to a team of diplomats present on the ground, observing, day by day, the advances and setbacks of Armenian democracy.
I was impressed by all the support given to me for and during my 2022 travel to Yerevan, by both our current Ambassador accredited to Armenia, H.E. Alison LeClaire, and by her team, notably First Secretary Aaron Coe. I could see their sincere dedication to Armenia. However, effectively representing Canada in Armenia while stationed in Moscow has never been easy and now, is simply impossible. Defending Canadian interests in Russia is, especially these days, a full-time job; in fact, an extremely taxing and time-consuming task, which the Putin regime is bent on making even more complicated.
Relations with Russia have deteriorated so much that the size of our embassy has been significantly reduced in recent years. Ten years ago, Canada had roughly 50 Canadian employees in its embassy in Moscow; now it has been reduced to just 16. The hostile attitudes of the Putin regime are creating increasingly difficult issues in staffing our mission in Moscow, further complicating the prospect of increasing working time/staff on Armenia from Moscow. There is nothing to indicate that this downsizing is only a temporary situation, to say the least. In fact, since the terrible and unacceptable shock of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, even the maintenance of this reduced Canadian presence in Moscow is highly uncertain.
In addition, our mission in Moscow must also represent Canada in Uzbekistan, itself a complex country, as large as Sweden, with a population of 33 million and in which Canada has an array of interests to promote and defend.
The fact is that none of our diplomats in Moscow are assigned full time to Armenia. Should there be any, effectiveness would still be greatly reduced given the distance from the ground.
Since the end of Prime Minister Trudeau's visit in October of 2018, members of our mission in Moscow have made ten visits to Armenia: one in December 2018, three in 2019, three in 2020, two in 2021, and one so far in 2022. All of these visits, except one, were made exclusively to the capital, Yerevan. It is certain that the health constraints from the COVID-19 pandemic have complicated travel over the past two years. It remains, however, seemingly difficult for our mission to be present in Armenia more than three times a year.
The right solution is to set up an embassy in Yerevan. The establishment of an embassy is by far the most highly requested consultation ask amongst the proposals listed in Annex 3. This is a recurring request made both by the Armenian authorities and by the Armenian community in Canada. The reality is that all G7 countries except Canada, as well as many countries less wealthy than us, have permanent ambassadors. Currently, thirty-eight countries have an embassy in Yerevan (see Annex 4). Among them are, in addition to the United States, three other countries of the Americas: Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. “So why not Canada?” is the question often asked.
I have seen that ambassadors from like-minded countries consult each other to coordinate their action and avoid duplication. They jointly urge the Armenian authorities and all political, economic and social groups to encourage continuation of democratic reforms and to discourage any backsliding or regression. It will be necessary for Canadian diplomacy to participate fully in such coordinated efforts, should Canada adopt a comprehensive strategy for Armenian democracy. But of course, to be regularly at the table… you have to actually be present!
Achieving our democratization goals in Armenia would greatly benefit from an embassy in Yerevan. Our comprehensive strategy justifies the presence of a Canadian ambassador, assisted by a team, certainly modest, but of high quality, which Canada’s diplomatic corps can surely offer.
Canadian political will for fragile democracies
To convince oneself of the relevance of the initiatives advocated in this report for the benefit of Armenian democracy, let us imagine that it is our Canadian democracy that desperately needs them. Let us try to conceive of our parliament devoid of a quality administrative service. It was an honour for me to be a Canadian parliamentarian for 22 years. I was able to see how lucky our MPs and Senators are to be able to count on, at all times, first-rate parliamentary service that is professional and non-partisan, in addition to being courteous and pleasant. Canadian legislators take this high-quality service for granted; they could not imagine fulfilling their duties without it.
Our democracy is supported by exemplary oversight bodies, which ensure that everyone, including our government and parliament, acts within the law, the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We cannot imagine our democracy without these effective checks and balances.
Our country benefits from a large number of driven, mobilized and well-informed non-governmental organizations, without which our democracy would be like a chair missing a leg. The health of our ecosystems is hotly debated in our democracy and we expect nothing less then our leading experts taking appropriate action and responsible care of our lakes and rivers. Countless well-educated foreigners, from all continents, come to Canada each year and bring with them their skills and ideas.
Parliament, human rights and oversight bodies, civil society, ecological protection, intense exchange with foreigners: these are the pillars of the strategy proposed in this report, to support the fragile democracy of a country that deserves our attention and engagement – Armenia.
Many other initiatives could be considered. If the list of recommendations included in Annex 3 is so long, it is because my Canadian and non-Canadian interlocutors are convinced that Canada has a lot to offer, as a modern economy, a pluralistic society and a well-established democracy. Yes, Canada has a lot to offer, but it also has a lot to learn, especially from less fortunate countries, where democrats are struggling under conditions that Canadians would find hard to imagine.
The Government of Canada has made known its intention to help fragile democracies. It has also announced its intention to help Armenia further. These two intentions go hand in hand. This is the main conclusion of this report.
In a world where democracy faces stiff competition from autocraticism, too few countries are moving in the right direction. In this short list, Armenia is among the champions. Admittedly, its democratic progress is incomplete, fragile and reversible. But this is precisely why the support of well-established democracies is necessary. The democrats of Armenia wish for this international mobilization of the democratic states. Our like-minded allies are constantly on the ground and will welcome an increased contribution from Canada, when well coordinated with theirs, based on a solid and realistic plan.
The strategy proposed in this report focuses first and foremost on the institution of parliament. This is where the Canadian experience in Armenia is most established and could well complement what international development partners are already undertaking. In a few years, when Canada will have contributed to endowing the Armenian National Assembly with a quality administration, and so, helping lay down a solid democratic foundation, Canadians can be proud of this achievement.
For Canada, establishing a Consultation Table with a burgeoning democracy like Armenia, where all initiatives such as those in Annex 3 are considered, is an opportunity to revisit all that Canadian democracy has to offer, but also has to learn.
If our best experts in the fight against corruption and the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities can significantly help Armenian democracy advance on these two fronts, we will have achieved worthwhile success, both for Armenia and for our own democracy, which is always a work in progress.
When, year after year, Canada has enabled 10 or 15 NGOs to carry out useful projects for democracy and the advancement of rights, the accumulation of all these positive measures will have concretely helped many Armenians, making a real difference in their lives and on the ground.
If our experts who watch over our Great Lakes can contribute to the health of Armenia's iconic Lake Sevan, the results will be very beneficial for Armenia, and again, full of valid information and lessons for Canada.
If, year after year, Canadians return to Canada after having offered Armenia their knowledge and their talents, reinforced by a professional and human experience acquired in Armenia, the two countries will be only closer, as democracies, but also as partners and friends.
Opening a mission in Yerevan to coordinate strengthened Canadian engagement is a way of increasing the chances that Canadian driven initiatives will be crowned with success. It is giving our diplomatic corps the opportunity to use its talents on the ground, at the service of the new Canadian policy for fragile democracies.
The only criterion that leads me to formulate these recommendations is the promotion of democracy, and not an empathy that one can easily feel for Armenia. True, there is a huge amount of sympathy for Armenia in Canada, and it is undeniable that Canadians of Armenian origin form a dynamic community that brings so much to our country. To go to Armenia is to be moved by the striking beauty of this mountainous country and the depth of its millennial culture. And yes, so many Canadians are fans of Charles Aznavour's songs... All this is true. However, it is on purpose that this report has avoided any lyricism. I repeat that the only criterion here is the promotion of democracy, and not a particular affinity felt for this or that country. It must be said that what Canada will do for Armenia, it will also consider for any other country that would move resolutely towards democracy.
This brings me to the final recommendation, my eleventh, which should come as no surprise to readers, at this point in the report:
Recommendation 11: Create a special fund for fragile democracies
I took care to propose measures that are, from a financial point of view, affordable. The full list of my recommendations can be found in Annex 5. They form a solid and realistic strategy well below the costs that, taken one by one, many of the proposals in Annex 3 would represent. However, as frugal as my recommendations are, it will be very difficult to finance the action plan that I am proposing from existing programs, which, as we have seen, are already overloaded. Hence the budgetary necessity of my eleventh recommendation: to create a special fund for fragile democracies.
There is also a political reason for my eleventh recommendation, with which I will end this report. By creating this fund, Canada would send the following message to all democrats around the world: we are serious about our goal of helping fragile and deserving democracies. What we are doing for Armenia, we will also consider doing elsewhere, with the same aim of promoting meaningful democratic progress. More than ever, Canada is there for democracy, with determination and political will, and encourages other well-established democratic states to redouble their efforts, in this same regard.
To conclude, I would like to inject a dose of cautious optimism for the sake of the democratic cause in the world. The reality is that democracy has been too rare an exception in history and so, we should not be surprised that its progress is facing a formidable opponent in autocraticism. However, it is not all bad news. While citizens sometimes question the ability of democratic governments to deliver, the demand for freedom, democracy and human rights often remains strong. Pro-democracy movements are braving repression. Some democratic states are showing admirable resilience. It will take deliberate and sustained efforts to support democracy and reverse backsliding trends.
In this struggle, Canada has an important role to play, to improve democracy at home and to act in concert with other democracies in the world, with all efficiency possible. This is the fundamental rationale for the Canadian strategy proposed in this report for Armenian democracy and, beyond, for all fragile democracies that need more Canada.
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Annex 1 – Mandate letter from the Honourable Marc Garneau
July 7, 2021
The Honourable Stéphane Dion, P.C.
Ambassador of Canada to Germany
Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe
Federal Republic of Germany
Subject: Mission to explore options for Canadian support to Armenian democracy
The long-standing people-to-people ties between Canada and Armenia have been enhanced in recent years by our cooperation in strengthening Armenian democracy. However, during the past few years, while Armenia has seen important political reforms, it has also suffered from the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic and the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. These challenges make it imperative that Canada continue to support the Armenian people’s desire to preserve the democratic progress achieved to date and to further develop Armenia’s democratic institutions going forward.
As Canada’s Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe, you have agreed to assess Canada’s current efforts to strengthen Armenian democracy. Building on the efforts Canada has been making to support democracy in Armenia in recent years, particularly following Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit in 2018, your mission will be to assess what else Canada can do to help sustain Armenia’s democratic development during these critical times. You are to produce a report to the Minister of Foreign Affairs outlining recommendations as to how Canada can best achieve this objective. Your work will begin following the June 20, 2021, Armenian election and should be completed within several months.
Your mandate will be to explore how Canada can strengthen its support to democracy in Armenia and harness all the goodwill that exists in the Canadian society toward Armenia. You should take a broad view of the various possibilities for assessing Canada’s options, including meeting with as wide a range of interlocutors as possible, using virtual engagement tools when required to overcome the challenges of COVID‑19 restrictions. Provided that COVID‑19 conditions do not make it unsafe to travel, you should make every effort to visit Armenia during your work, to gain first-hand insights on the ground and expand the number of interlocutors that you are able to engage with.
You should consider options for how Canada can support Armenia’s democratic development through various means, including the following:
- Bilateral engagement with the Government of Armenia
- Support to Armenian civil society
- Support to democratic institutions
- Engagement of the multilateral system
- Economic partnership
Over and above the ongoing projects that we have with Armenia, your mission should identify multiple different avenues by which Canada can support Armenia’s democratic development, including our representation on the ground. Your mission is specifically focused on Canadian support to Armenian democracy, so as to help strengthen our bilateral ties. As such, it will not address the situation of Nagorno-Karabakh and issues in the broader region.
Your mission should conclude with a report to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, outlining concrete steps that Canada can take within the next five years to support Armenians in their efforts to strengthen their democracy. The final report will be made publicly available. Coupled with your consultations with Canadian and Armenian stakeholders, the report should help Canada more seamlessly and fruitfully engage with a range of international, local and Canada-based champions of Armenian democratic reform, paving the way for ongoing collaboration.
Thank you for agreeing to take on this important task. Canada and Armenia have a shared interest in working together to strengthen Armenian democracy, which will not only benefit the people of Armenia, but will help to further enhance the close ties between our countries. Your report will be eagerly anticipated.
The Honourable Marc Garneau, P.C., M.P.
Annex 2 – Persons and organizations met outside the Government of Canada
|5 July 2021, 8 October 2021 and 3 March 2022||Ernie Beno, Brigadier-General (Ret.), Canadian Army, Academic Co-Lead, Defence Education Enhancement Programme (DEEP) Armenia of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); Alan Whitehorn, Professor, Department of Political Science & Economics, Royal Military College of Canada|
|8 July 2021||Richard Giragosian, Director, Regional Studies Center, Yerevan|
|8 July 2021||Ashot Smbatyan, former ambassador of Armenia to Germany|
|14 July 2021||Members of the Armenian civilian community|
|20 July 2021||Anahit Harutyunyan, Ambassador of Armenia to Canada|
|21 July 2021||Parliamentary Centre|
Tom Cormier (President and Chief Executive Officer), Ivo Balinov (Regional Director, Asia and Europe), Paul Belisle (Senior Adviser for the program in Armenia)
|22 July 2021 and 29 October 2021||Armenian National Committee International Council (ANC-International) and Armenian National Committee of Canada (ANCC)|
Executive Director, Sevag Belian; Vice-Chairman, Saro Der Bedrosian; Co-President, Hrag Tarakdjian; Co-President, Shahen Mirakian
|22 July 2021||Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU)|
|23 July 2021||Simon Mordue, Chief Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of the European Council|
|23 July 2021||Canada-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Group, Bryan May, Bob Soroya, Jean Yip, John McKay, Marc Dalton, Jaj Saini, Han Dong, Stéphane Bergeron, Annie Koutratkis|
|23 July 2021||Jean Yip, Member of Parliament for Scarborough—Agincourt (re-elected)|
|24 September 2021||Noubar Afeyan, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Flagship Pioneering|
|27 September 2021||Magdelana Grono, Senior Foreign Policy Advisor, Cabinet of Charles Michel|
|4 October 2021||Matthias Lüttenberg, Representative for Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, German Foreign Ministry|
|14 October 2021||Geoffroi Montpetit, Administrator, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF)|
|15 October 2021 and 11 March 2022||Stepan Grigoryan, Head of the Analytical Centre for Globalisation and Regional Cooperation in Armenia|
|28 October 2021 and 26 February 2022||H.E. Anne Louyot, Ambassador of France to Armenia|
|5 November 2021||European Union Commission|
Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations: David Cullen, Head of Unit for Eastern Partnership Coordination (including Armenia) and Katarzyna Sobieraj, International Aid/Cooperation Officer
|14 January 2022||Representatives of IMPACT and the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED)|
Sarkis Dolmadjian, Priscilla Yoon, Rima Sargsyan, Sebastien Lambroschini, Stefano Pellegrini, Rano Mansurova
|31 January 2022||Émilie Thuillier, Mayor, borough of Ahuntsic-Cartierville|
|15 February 2022||Viktor Yengibaryan, Armenia’s Ambassador to Germany|
|25 February 2022||Lynne Tracy, United States Ambassador to Armenia|
|25 February 2022||Ararat Mirzoyan, Foreign Affairs Minister of Armenia; Yeganian, Director of American Countries Department, Foreign Affairs Ministry of Armenia; Anahit Harutyunyan, Armenian Ambassador to Canada; G. Hovsepyan, USA and Canada Division, Desk officer, Foreign Affairs Ministry of Armenia|
|25 February 2022||Paruyr Hovhannisyan, Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia|
|25 February 2022||Vahan Kerobyan, Minister of Economy of Armenia|
|26 February 2022||Karekin II, His Holiness, Catholicos of All Armenians|
|27 February 2022||Ivo Balinov, Regional Director, Asia and Europe, Parliamentary Centre|
|28 February 2022||Haykuhi Harutyunyan, President of the Corruption Prevention Commission of Armenia|
|28 February 2022||Hakob Arshakyan, then the acting President of the National Assembly of Armenia (currently Vice President of the National Assembly of Armenia); Vahan Naribekyan, Chief of Staff, Secretary General, National Assembly of Armenia; Ruben Rubinyan, Vice President of the National Assembly of Armenia|
|28 February 2022||Business Roundtable (Yerevan)|
Sophie Mehrabyan, President, Macademian Technologies; Gagik Gyulbudaghyan, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia; Yeva Voskanyan, Head of Yerevan Office, Schneider Group; Hratch Jabrayan, CEO, Armenian Gas and Power Enterprises Inc; Armine Saidi, CEO, Wicastr
|28 February 2022||Vahagn Khachaturyan, then the Minister of High-Tech Industry of Armenia (currently President of Armenia)|
|28 February 2022||Dinner on democratic institutions and inclusivity, organized in collaboration with the Parliamentary Centre|
Ivo Balinov, Regional Director, Asia & Europe, Parliamentary Centre ; Karine Grigoryan, President, “Agate” Rights Defense Center for Women with Disabilities; Harout Manougian, Elections specialist, Transparency International Anticorruption Center; Margarita Hakobyan, Executive Director, OxYGen Foundation for Protection of Youth and Women Rights; Adam Arakelyan, President and Projects Coordinator, "DiverCity" Social-Cultural, Human Rights Defender; Lilit Asatryan, President, Armenian Young Women’s Association; Mushegh Hovsepyan, Coordinator, Coalition for Inclusive Legal Reforms
|1 March 2022||Members of National Assembly factions of Armenia|
Hayk Konjoryan, Head of “Civil Contract” faction; Seyran Ohanyan, Head of “Armenia” faction; Artur Vanetsyan, Head of “With Honor” faction; Vahan Naribekyan, Chief of Staff, Secretary General of the National Assembly; Heghine Khachikyan, Assistant of the Chief of Staff-Secretary General of the National Assembly; Arman Israelian, Head of International Relations Department of the National Assembly; Anna Grigoryan, “Armenia” faction; Sona Ghazaryan, “Civil contract” faction; Anush Beghloyan, “Civil contract” faction
|1 March 2022||Alen Simonyan, then the acting President of Armenia (currently President of the National Assembly of Armenia)|
|1 March 2022||Aram Meymaryan, Deputy Minister of Environment of Armenia|
|1 March 2022||Kristine Grigoryan, Human Rights Defender of Armenia (Ombudsperson)|
|1 March 2022||Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia|
|1 March 2022||Karen Andreasyan, Minister of Justice of Armenia|
|1 March 2022||Synergy International Systems, Inc. (Yerevan)|
Hasmik Martirosyan, Chief Operating Officer; Alan Babakhanian, Director, Strategic Growth / Partnership
|1 March 2022||Roundtable with Journalists (Yerevan)|
|2 March 2022||Dinner with Ambassadors accredited to Armenia, in Yerevan|
Viktor Richter, Ambassador of Germany to Armenia; Andrea Victorin, Ambassador of the European Union to Armenia; Maya Dagher, Ambassador of Lebanon to Armenia; John Gallagher, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Armenia; Werner Thut, Swiss Deputy of Mission to Armenia
|March 7 2022||Lila Pieters, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Armenia|
|March 7 2022||Participation in Roundtable organized by the National Assembly of Armenia and the Parliamentary Centre (“National Assembly – Civil Society Organizations Connections for Inclusion”)|
|March 8 2022||Todd Foglesong (Professor); Ron Levi (Professor); and Matt Torigian (Distinguished Fellow), Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy|
|March 11 2022||Mario Dion, Conflict of Interest Ethics Commissioner of Canada|
Annex 3 – Desirable Canadian initiatives in Armenia: list of proposals received
I. Public institutions
1. Constitutional reform
Be prepared to support Armenia in its constitutional reform initiatives.
2. Improve the practice of democracy in Parliament
Strengthen Arnold Chan initiatives and Parliamentary Centre initiatives to build a strong parliamentary democracy in Armenia.
Promote and expand the work of the Parliamentary Centre and ensure that they engage with all political parties represented in Parliament.
Resume exchange programs between parliamentarians, sidelined for more than a year and a half because of the pandemic.
Work with organizations, such as the Parliamentary Centre or the Parliamentary Friendship Group created under Arnold Chan and now led by MP Jean Yip, to restore governance and trust in government institutions to promote their transparency and leadership.
Provide MPs, elected officials and the populace with training on what is democratic management.
Offer training on legislation drafting and judicial processes (Canada’s unique in its experience with both Common Law and Civil Code).
Offer training for MPs on “how to be an MP”.
Offer parliamentary internship exchanges.
Improve citizens’ access to the National Assembly.
Work to depoliticize parliamentary research by promoting the creation of an institution similar to the Library of Parliament.
Raise the status of the Canada-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Group to the level of a formal organization, like those with the United States or the UK, so as to improve financial support to the exchange program between Canadian and Armenian parliamentarians.
Ensure that the opposition in the country continues to play its parliamentary role in an unhindered fashion, since the key to a strong democracy is a strong opposition.
Establish a Governance Information Center/Office, outside Yerevan.
3. Improve the practice of democracy in the executive branch
Help to establish better structure and coordination between government ministries (procedures on how to share information, connect issues, cross-departmental collaboration).
Cooperate to improve public administration transparency, accountability and electronic service systems.
Encourage information sharing, both virtually and physically, to resolve the issue of information asymmetry between the government and the Armenian people.
Help the Human Rights Defender build its capacity to monitor state actions in compliance with the principles of legality and sound management.
Work to make the public service non-partisan.
Help Armenia establish a robust code of conduct in its civil service, with principles and criteria.
Encourage Armenia to adopt a culture that fosters career development within its public service.
Work to make Armenian police forces non-partisan.
Help reduce corruption at all levels and so, the vulnerability of citizens.
Share Canadian experience in monitoring the financial activities of parties.
Cooperate to improve tax-declaration systems.
Set up exchange programs between Canadian and Armenian public servants.
Set up exchange programs between Canadian and Armenian police forces.
Help improve the prison system. Assist in the establishment of a new model of penal institution in Armenia.
4. Strengthen the justice system
Help Armenia implement a non-partisan and fully independent justice system.
Help the Armenian justice system ensure that existing laws are fully and effectively implemented.
Set up an exchange program between Canada’s Bar Association and Armenia’s Bar Association.
Use various channels to foster exchanges between Canadian and Armenian judges. For example, use the Association des Cours constitutionnelles francophones, of which the Supreme Court of Canada is an active member.
Work with Armenia within the Venice Commission and encourage Armenia to implement the Commission’s recommendations on legislative and constitutional reform.
Offer trainings for and exchange experience with the staff of the Corruption Prevention Commission.
5. Improve the electoral process
Foster the transparency and integrity of the electoral system and help make it more resistant to election fraud and digital threats.
Increase Canadian support for electoral observations, especially with the OSCE.
Focus on the institution of elections (procedural pre-election work) to better allow for free and fair elections, the day of.
Support the Central Electoral Commission of Armenia (CECA) and the Constitutional Court of Armenia. These two bodies are responsible for monitoring electoral processes.
Cooperate with the NGO Transparency International Armenia, which plays an important role in running transparent and impartial elections.
Exchange experience in monitoring the financial activities of parties.
6. Improve the practice of democracy in the military
Work to make the military non-partisan.
Help Armenia establish a robust code of conduct in its military service.
Include Armenia in Canada’s Military Training and Cooperation Program.
Work closely with NATO for any programme focused on democratizing military culture and institution.
Leverage NATO’s DEEP as a platform for developing a democratic culture in Armenia’s armed forces.
7. Strengthen diplomatic capacities
Increase cooperation with Armenia in multilateral forums.
Encourage Armenia’s participation in multilateral partnerships, especially the ones where Canada has a leading role, like the Media Freedom Coalition.
Set up capacity-building training programs for government and diplomatic officials.
8. Develop local democracy
Promote more accountable local governance practices.
Foster local initiatives, especially in rural communities, where the effects of weak democracy are felt the most.
Strengthen participation of NGOs and women in local decision-making and local budgeting processes.
Support women at the local level to enter political office.
Send Canadian experts to Armenia for trainings in the fields of local governance and budgeting.
II. Rights and non-governmental organizations
9. Promote human rights
Inform Armenians about their rights so they can use the tools at their disposal.
Diffuse information about democratic values, human rights, and gender equality.
Encourage Armenia’s implementation of the Universal Periodic Review’s recommendations (last one being in 2020).
Emphasize the rights of women, vulnerable minorities, seniors, persons with disabilities, young people and LGBTQ+ individuals.
Assess the capacity of women’s NGOs to represent female stakeholders and beneficiaries, especially locally, and provide capacity building if needed.
Encourage Armenia to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
Reaffirm Canada’s support for resolutions presented by Armenia to the Human Rights Council.
Support the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsperson) in their efforts to counteract hate speech.
Support the strengthening of the regional subdivisions of the Office of the Human Rights Defender, to ensure their presence in all the provinces of the Republic.
Assist the Human Rights Defender in the defense and promotion of the human rights of people with disabilities.
10. Strengthen civil society
Enhance our contacts with Armenian civil society organizations to hear their concerns.
Work actively with Armenian pro-democratic NGOs, Think Tanks and independent media.
Stimulate discussions in the society to reduce polarization.
Empower women and strengthen their participation in politics.
Help the Human Rights Defender build their capacity to monitor state actions from a social justice and citizens’ rights perspective.
Stimulate civil society’s participation in the democratization process. Promote its public engagement and consultation in reform processes.
Promote the implementation of new, effective and transparent channels of communication between civil society and the Government of Armenia.
Better fund community organizations and civil society organizations.
Increase the budget for the “Arnold Chan Initiative for Democracy in Armenia” and ensure that all funds are contributing to projects that have a direct positive impact on the population. Currently, Canada is averaging two to three projects per year, funded by the “Arnold Chan Initiative-CFLI” in Armenia. Propose to fund 12-15 projects per year.
Organize study visits for Armenian NGOs and Think Tanks to Canada for best practice exchange.
11. Strengthen freedom of the press
Promote media freedom and diversity.
Support local independent media in the remote regions of Armenia.
Strengthen capacities of NGOs andb independent media in media literacy and provide them tools to fight against disinformation.
Promote responsible professional journalism.
III. Economy and society
12. Develop the economy
Create a Canada-Armenia economic council to facilitate investment and business cooperation.
Hold business forums with the participation of private sector representatives from both Armenia and Canada.
Hold business meetings between Canadian companies and Armenian companies under the Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association.
Initiate a robust investment and development assistance program in Armenia that will support efforts to stabilize and develop the economy.
Promote investments in the country’s transport infrastructure that will better connect rural and urban communities in this mountainous country.
Encourage Canadian companies to bid on calls for tenders for the construction of the North-South freeway.
Focus on helping small to medium-sized enterprises, which will promote growth and accountability.
Develop new commercial agreements with Armenia, eventually culminating in a free trade agreement.
Promote tourism from Canada.
Promote entrepreneurship opportunities for women, equip female entrepreneurs with the skills and information to make informed employment and business decisions.
Work with labor centres to improve their ability to advise jobseekers, and reduce the impact of gender/age bias that can compound marginalization of already marginalized populations in the labor sector. Offer training to labor centres on gender/age sensitization in recruitment practices.
Provide information for adolescent girls and boys on non-traditional and better-paying careers (e.g., STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Develop means to facilitate the entry and re-entry into the workforce of women with children, such as re-training.
Distribute small grants to establish or expand women-led home-based economic or subsistence activities.
Establish exchange programs on economic development best practices, including in SMEs and the tourism industry.
Establish business relations with leading Canadian cannabis companies.
Organize bilateral trade missions between Canada and Armenia. Begin with a virtual trade mission, if necessary.
Hold a trade mission focused on mining.
Provide more help to Canadian companies that want to undertake mining development in Armenia.
Invite Armenian mining industry to learn from Canadian clean and transparent mining practices.
Encourage Canadian financial institutions, banks, in particular venture funds, to establish offices in Armenia.
Promote responsible business conduct.
13. Develop high technologies and digitalization
Cooperate in the area of high technology and innovation.
Facilitate the use of digital technologies in the field of agriculture.
Through training courses, joint research and development, cooperate in industrial and adaptive optics, next generation robotic systems, artificial intelligence algorithms, quantum communication technologies and synthetic aperture radars, and Earth observation data / space photography monitoring.
Provide Armenia with the expertise of the Canadian Center for Cyber Security.
14. Promote sustainable development
Support Armenia in its efforts to develop and implement a climate policy, paying particular attention to technology, clean energy, the electrification of transportation and a just transition.
Cooperate in the field of atmospheric air protection.
Exchange experience and cooperate in the field of effective management of water resources and protection and flood management.
Cooperate in the field of sustainable forest and forest fires management.
Exchange experience and cooperate in the field of sustainable land management.
Use Canadian experience to apply the best technologies for biological reclamation of soils.
Cooperate in the field of gradual reduction of the use of polyethylene products.
Cooperate in the field of energy saving (e.g. thermal insolation of buildings, energy-saving lighting).
Cooperate in the fields of waste management and neutralization of hazardous chemicals.
Exchange experience in the field of biodiversity and protected areas.
Encourage Canadian companies to invest for the construction of a water reservoir and development of renewable energies.
Share experience and practices related to the “ranger system”.
Exchange experience in river and lake cleaning, with a focus on the biggest lake: Lake Sevan.
15. Increase cultural cooperation
Establish exchange programs on best practices for promoting the cultural and creative industry.
Add Armenia to Heritage Canada’s Diversity Online Initiative.
Cooperate with the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. In particular, give Armenian students access to scholarships under “Les bourses de la Francophonie” (Armenia does not figure on the list of potential recipients).
16. Improve the education system
Use education as a springboard to strengthen bilateral relations between Canada and Armenia.
Help improve the quality of public education, literacy levels and Armenians’ ability to speak multiple languages.
Encourage Canadian universities to create partnerships with Armenian universities.
Set up exchange programs for the academic community (professors, deans and students).
Promote comprehensive assessment of the compulsory educational system to identify gender stereotypes in curricula, teaching materials, and teachers’ attitudes to develop projects on textbook reform and teacher training.
Create educational exchange programs between Canadian and Armenian scientific centers and laboratories.
Share experience in engineering programs and laboratories.
Encourage Canadian companies to invest in the construction of 500 kindergartens and 300 schools across Armenia.
17. Provide immediate humanitarian assistance
Support enhancing employment opportunities for conflict-affected people.
Provide inclusive basic services during the COVID-19 pandemic (provide vaccines, support access to remote learning and basic healthcare resources and capacity).
Enhance existing community engagement mechanisms for both host and refugee-like households with a particular emphasis on gender lens.
18. Promote exchanges between Armenians and Canadians (particularly Canadians of Armenian descent)
Encourage Canadians to go to Armenia to work for a year (engineer, IT, etc.), Canada to pay the salary (Germans have a similar project with Moldovans).
Work to set up direct air links between Canada and Armenia.
Promote the study of Armenia in Canada and the learning of Armenian.
Foster investment in Armenia through the Armenian-Canadian community.
IV. Increase Canada’s presence in Armenia
19. Open an embassy in Armenia.
20. Create an Armenia-Canada consultation table.
Annex 4 – Foreign diplomatic representation in Armenia
List of countries with permanent ambassadors in Armenia:
- Czech Republic
- European Union
- Holy See (Apostolic Nunciature)
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
- United States
Multilateral organizations represented in Armenia:
- Asian Development Bank
- Assembly of European Regions
- Commonwealth of Independent States
- Council of Europe
- Eurasian Development Bank
- European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
- International Monetary Fund
- International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
- Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
- United Nations
- United States Agency for International Development
- The World Bank
- World Health Organization
Source: Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Resident Embassies of Foreign States Accredited to Armenia”, (4 December 2021)
Annex 5 – List of recommendations
- Create an Armenia-Canada Consultation Table, to review and identify, including from the evergreen list of “Desirable Canadian initiatives in Armenia” (Annex 3 of this report), opportunities for cooperation to strengthen democracy in Armenia
- Make Armenia a priority as a fragile democracy
- Coordinate closely with international development partners
- Support the Administration of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia in its efforts to implement its Corporate Strategic Plan developed with the Parliamentary Centre (Canada)
- Assist the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption in the implementation and application of a code of conduct on the probity of public officials and provide assistance for the digitization of the Commission's operating system
- Provide advice and expertise to the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsperson) in their efforts to defend and promote the rights of persons with disabilities in Armenia
- Fund 10-15 projects per year under the Arnold Chan Initiative for Democracy
- Provide expertise to support Armenian efforts to protect and restore rivers and lakes, with a focus on the country's emblematic Lake Sevan
- Create an internship program allowing Canadians to offer their expertise in Armenia
- Open an embassy in Armenia
- Create a special fund for fragile democracies
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