Thursday, September 22, 2016

Interview to Stepan Grigoryan, Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation

I rarely host interview in here, so this is quite an exception.
Whenever I go to Yerevan and there's the chance, I enjoy a good coup of coffee with Stepan Grigoryan, whom I appreciate for his knowledge and openess. We might not agree on everything, but I always found in him a person ready to listen to my point of view. This made me even more surprised when I read what had happened to him...

Would you introduce yourself and your centre?
I am Stepan Grigoryan, the current Chairman of the Board of the Yerevan-based Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC, Armenia, I was Member of the Armenian Parliament, formerly working as an Advisor to the Foreign Minister of Armenia. I have published more than 500 articles and interviews on conflict resolution in South Caucasus, civil society development, human rights in Armenia, on cooperation with NATO, EU, OSCE. All these articles are published in more than 30 countries in the world.
I took part at more than 250 international conferences, seminars and round tables which were organized in more than 35 countries including US, Canada, India, Kazakhstan, Turkey, EU member States and Eastern Partnership states.
Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC) was established in 2002 in Yerevan, Armenia. Since that time ACGRC realized and realizes projects and programs with international donors and partners. ACGRC with its partners are implementing projects on strengthening democracy and human rights in Armenia, empowering the civil society, conflict resolution and trust building (projects on Armenia-Turkey dialogue, Armenia-Azerbaijan dialogue and trilateral Armenia-Azerbaijan-Turkey) as well as on protection of minority rights. ACGRC is a full member and founder of several European networks such Eastern Partnership Minorities Network (London, Budapest), Visa-Free Europe Coalition (Warsaw) and Policy Association for an Open Society (Prague). ACGRC won the Black Sea NGO Award for promotion of regional cooperation in the Wider Black Sea Region (the Award is given by the European Commission, GMF and Romanian Foreign Ministry).

Against this background, can you describe and explain what happened to you, during your last trip to Moscow?
I arrived in Moscow, in the Sheremetyevo International Airport at 8:00am, on August 30th, 2016. The aim of my visit to the territory of the Russian Federation was my will to visit one of the cemeteries in Moscow, where my father Gevork Grigoryan was buried in October, 2014. I had only about 10 hours, as my flight back to Yerevan was at night of the same day. 
However, I did not manage to enter the territory of Russia, as I was detained by the Russian border guards. As it turned out and as I was informed by the Russian border guards, I am banned to enter Russia until 2030. The given notification included references to the Federal Law of the Russian Federation on "the Procedure for Exit from the Russian Federation and Entry into the Russian Federation" that mostly speaks about various types of criminal and law breaching activities by foreign citizens. The latter is not related to me as I have not undertaken any activity in Russia during the last 20 years. In my case, only the 9th provisionof the Article 26 is important, that states that a foreign citizen may be refused permission to enter the Russian Federation if the foreign citizen participated/cooperated with international organizations that are undesirable in the territory of the Russian Federation. There is no secret, that the ACGRC, that is headed by me, actively cooperates with European NGOs, analytical centres and various democratic donor foundations, that support our initiatives.  Moreover, we openly state that we see the future of Armenian nation in the European family, that is based on democratic values. It is obvious that the decision by the Russian authorities is based on political motivations. 
The same day I was deported back to Armenia. During my whole stay in the Sheremetyevo International Airport I was deprived of my passport, and the right to freedom of movement. I would like to voice my protest against such unlawfulness towards me. 

What is the official position of the Russian authorities?
The Counselor of the Russian Embassy in Armenia said that they sent a request for clarification to Russian MFA for a response. 

Did you expect anything like this to happen? Have you ever felt that your working activities could lead you to such a circumstance?
Yes, I was waiting that something might happen because during the most recent years Russia influence in Armenia is growing. To my opinion Armenian authorities are on a wrong way and gave to Russia most of energetic, communication and railway companies etc… Armenia became a Member of the Eurasia Economic Union and after that Armenia is step by step losing its sovereignty whereas Russia is expanding its own domestic system in Armenia. Taking into account all this circumstances I was expecting Russia to pressure Armenian civil society. During the most recent two years Russian officials and experts criticized several times that in Armenia there are NGOs and experts who are pro-Western. 

What, in your opinion, made you be perceived as a “враг русского народа”?[enemy of the Russian people] Do you consider yourself as such?
The reason behind the ban I am a victim of is related to my critical position over the Eurasian Union, Armenian-Russian relations as well as due to our cooperation with western organizations, which are either outlawed or not welcomed in Russia.
No, I do not consider myself as a “враг русского народа” but I am for democracy, human rights and cooperation with the EU and NATO, personal and professional positions that apparently make me an undesirable guest to the present Russian authorities. 

What’s next? How do you expect this episode to affect your work?
The episode will not affect our commitment and daily work for a true democratic development, human rights protection, and the development of Armenian civil society as well as fostering EU-Armenia relations. Besides this fact shows that our work is right. The episode I was unwillingly the protagonist of was widely covered in Armenia and the society criticized the actions of Armenia, many people supported our goals and activities

Had you been informed in advance about what was going to happen to you, what would you have told to those who took the decision not to let you in Russia?
Armenia and Russia have a visa free regime. In this case if a person is non grata in Russia they should inform him/her in advance. I was not informed in advance.

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