By Emil Danielyan
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian discussed with a visiting Greek government official his government’s bitter dispute with the Greek-owned ArmenTel telecommunications monopoly on Wednesday, saying that it should not damage “very warm and friendly” ties between the two nations.
Separately, a Greek deputy minister of defense met in Yerevan with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and other Armenian officials in a further indication of close bilateral military cooperation.
Official Armenian sources said Markarian’s meeting with Greece’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ioannis Magriotis was dominated by economic issues which the two sides believe should complement their close political and military links. But in recent months they have been overshadowed by the intensifying row over ArmenTel, which is 90 percent owned by the Greek telecom giant OTE.
On October 8, the Armenian government began a formal procedure for unilaterally stripping the company of its exclusive rights to wireless phone services and external Internet communication, accusing it of abusing the legal monopoly. Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian and Justice Minister David Harutiunian were instructed to draft corresponding changes to ArmenTel’s operating license and Armenia’s telecom legislation. Those changes are expected to be enacted by the end of next month.
The ArmenTel management has denounced the move as illegal, while its parent company, which is partly owned by the Greek state, has threatened to challenge it in the London Court of International Arbitration. A court action became even more likely after Yerevan effectively declined this month OTE offers to try to resolve the disputed at the negotiating table.
An ArmenTel spokeswoman, Gohar Simonian, told RFE/RL that she is not aware of details of the Greek official’s talks with Markarian. She said OTE may have raised its grievances with the government in Athens, but added that she does not know whether the latter has decided to intervene in the row.
Magriotis avoided contacts with media during the trip. Officials at the Greek embassy in Yerevan were also not available for comment.
The Armenian premier’s press office, meanwhile, quoted Markarian as telling Magriotis that the issue must not affect the Greek-Armenian intergovernmental relations. Magriotis seemed to agree with that, saying that Greek entrepreneurs are now less apprehensive about investing in Armenia. He was also quoted as saying that his country remains committed to strengthening ties with Armenia “in all areas.”
One of those areas is military cooperation. Its significance in the Greek-Armenian partnership was highlighted by Deputy Defense Minister Lazaros Lotidis’s separate visit to Armenia which began on Wednesday. He met with Sarkisian and the chief of the Armenian army staff, General Mikael Harutiunian.
According to an Armenian Defense Ministry statement, the two sides discussed bilateral military-technical cooperation as well as the ongoing training of Armenian army personnel in Greek military academies. Sarkisian thanked the Greek side for its “moral and material support,” the statement said.
The chief of staff of the Greek armed forces, General Giorgos Antonakopoulos, paid an official visit to Yerevan in early September, pledging to increase Greek assistance to the Armenian military. Antonakopoulos also formalized plans for the upcoming dispatch of a platoon of Armenian troops to the former Yugoslav province of Kosovo where they will serve under Greek command. The platoon is part of a special peace-keeping battalion of the Armenian armed forces that has been trained and funded by Greece.