Saturday, 29 September 2007

Sakharov Prize: fighting for a better world

Fighting For Freedom Of Thought

2007 Sakharov Prize finalists:

Anna Politkovskaya
This Russian journalist made her name investigating and reporting human rights abuses and torture especially in lawless Chechnya. She authored several books about the Chechen wars, life in Russia and President Putin's regime and received numerous prestigious international awards for her work. Politkovskaya survived a poisoning attempt, but was shot dead on 7 October 2006 in the elevator of her apartment block in central Moscow. The perpetrators have not been brought to justice.

Salih Mahmoud Osman
A human rights attorney working with the Sudan Organisation Against Torture, he has for over two decades provided free legal representation for the many victims of Sudan's civil war and human rights abuses. Mr. Salih's fight against injustice has had a personal cost; members of his family have been killed and tortured. He serves currently as a Member of the Sudanese National Parliament.

Zeng Jinyan and Hu Jia: Children of Tiananmen
Zeng Jinyan is a cyber-dissident reporting Chinese rights abuses in her daily blog. Her husband Hu Jia is an anti-AIDS and environmental activist. Both human rights activists live in Beijing under house arrest. They were prevented from leaving China on May 18, accused of being a threat to national security.

*European Parliament

Friday, 28 September 2007

Georgia: Despite 'roses', a typical South Caucasus story

“A former Georgian defence minister, Irakli Okruashvili, has been arrested on charges of money-laundering, abuse of power and extortion, officials say. It comes two days after he alleged that the president had instructed him to kill a prominent businessman - claims dismissed by the government as untrue. […] Earlier this week, he launched his own opposition party, accusing President Mikhail Saakashvili of corruption. […] Mr Okruashvili also alleged that Mr Saakashvili's high-profile campaign against corruption was a sham.”

Not that I know the insight of the story or whose allegations is right or wrong. What strikes me though that the arrest followed allegations made by ex-Minister. One would assume that the “charges of money-laundering, abuse of power and extortion” pressed by Georgian authorities should have been known to them for a long time; these serious allegations could not just arise within a day or so. So why did not they press charges before, why only now, when ex-Minister made his allegations against Georgian President Saakashvili? A classic example of state level blackmail, isn’t it? Ironically, these events unfolded at a time when Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index by country, indicating 'progress' made in Georgia in this field. After all, not everything is that rosy in Georgia.

*pictures via BBC

Thursday, 27 September 2007

OSCE: Hate Crimes Report

By no means could this report be considered a comprehensive. Reporting and recording hate crime is never an easy task. "Most countries lack accurate data about the nature and extent of hate crimes. This is often compounded by an absence of legislation specifically on hate crimes, making it difficult to prosecute such cases." However, it is a good indication that hate crimes will be taken more seriously. Although this report focuses on 2006, it contains earlier and more recent references too.

Only 5 countries did not respond to the call to submit information for inclusion in this report: Kyrgyzstan, San Marino, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and... Armenia.

However, there are news on some positive developments in this area in Armenia too. A report on homophobic incidents and hate crimes in Armenia has been finilised and soon will be published by WFCE NGO. I look forward to reading it. It could potentially serve a good basis for further and continuous work in this direction, involving, along with homophobia, other types of hate crimes too.

Full OSCE Report on Hate Crimes can be accessed here

For more details, see Unzipped: Gay Armenia

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Will he or will he Not?

The It-topic currently under discussion in Armenian media, blogs, political/business circles is ‘breaking silence’ by ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosyan and his possible presidential ambitions.

I remember his presidency back then. Let’s make it this way, I WANT to remember the first couple of years of his presidency. I felt like living in a democratic country. It was so exciting, you could just feel freedom out there… I had big hopes that at last my dream of seeing Armenia as democratic country is becoming true.

I quite liked Levon back then. He was intelligent, had charisma. However, instead of strengthening democracy and making it a way of life, he turned the process back. That’s the main reason I will not forgive him. He surrounded himself with people and choices which ruined any hope for better. And eventually, as expected, he got betrayed by the same people and choices.

I do not really blame him for those horrific few years, when we lived like... probably the way people live under war conditions, without electricity, with bread cards etc. These were the harshest years in my life. I won’t like anyone to experience what we’ve gone through... I do not think he is to blame for it, that was mainly a consequence of geopolitical situation Armenia was in and we survived it. However, I blame him for not fighting corruption, and instead creating an environment where corruption reached unprecedented levels even for ex-Soviet standards.

Also, I do not think that his favoured plan of Karabakh conflict settlement, over which he was forced to resign, would have worked out. One of the main problems (still IS) with the plan he was supporting was unclear future of Karabakh status. I can’t see any peace deal working without it. The status of Karabakh is the essence of the process, everything else are just tactical things. When I hear people saying, let’s talk about everything else, let’s decide on every other aspect but let’s not use the S-word, not for now, they are just kidding themselves and others. But Levon was not even able to defend his plan back then. He was too weak as a leader (agree with Observer on that). How can I trust him now? How can I be sure that he won’t resign again? And I use the word "resign" in its wider meaning.

I noticed general tendency that people try to create an impression that there is no other choice in Armenia, they are the only ones. I do not buy it. Unfortunately, it seems that so far there is no real, ‘working’ candidate for opposition. And I do not want to make a choice between the lesser of evils, it is not a choice, it’s like a lottery, and I do not trust lottery. I want to have real choice. And by choice I do not mean that “anyone else will be better”. I need real alternative. If you do not provide me with a CHOICE, I’d rather stick with the current status quo, however critical I may be towards them.

And finally, I want to have that feeling of freedom again. Will I?

*picture via reporter_arm

Friday, 21 September 2007

Happy Independence Day!

21 September 1991,
national referendum

I knew that it was basically 'given' in a sense that Soviet Union was in its last breath, but I proudly went to my local polling station and voted Yes to Independence!

...after more than 70 years of sovietization, Independence was restored to the Republic of Armenia

*source of picture -

Thursday, 20 September 2007

'Bin Laden' lighters in Yerevan

A1+ reports that "lighters allegedly made by "Samsung" company are sold in Yerevan stalls. The mysterious picture of Usama Bin Laden is hidden under the lighter. When you turn on the lighter you see Bin Laden’s picture."

*video via A1+

According to Abgar Eghoyan, Chairman of the Consumer Rights Protection Union (Armenia), these lighters might have been imported illegally. "It is very difficult to find it out in our country. Unfortunately, there are goods in the country that are not certified and the sellers will hardly have the invoice of the goods." Neither country of origin nor distributors are known. However, "the import of similar goods is not prohibited. The one who has imported it, has violated only moral norms but not legal", Eghoyan explained.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

France: Massive Deportation of Illegals

My French friends warned this coming after Sarkozy won presidential elections. They expect further deterioration of French democracy under current regime. So far they proved to be right... More to come?

AFP: France’s immigration minister summoned some 20 local government heads for a meeting on Wednesday to demand that they step up deportations of illegal migrants. Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux called in “prefects who must improve their figures when it comes to border exits,” said a ministry spokesman. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who won election in May on a platform that called for tightening controls on immigration, has set a target of 25,000 deportations for 2007. But fewer than 9,000 illegal migrants were deported in the first five months of the year, according to Hortefeux, who said this week that he was nevertheless confident of reaching the target. The shortfall followed the entry of Romania and Bulgaria in the European Union, complicating the deportation process of Roma who used to make up about 30 percent of all illegal foreigners deported from France.

Between 200,000 and 400,000 illegal foreigners are currently living in France. French authorities recently faced harsh criticism over deportations after a 12-year-old Russian boy was seriously injured falling from the fourth floor of a building during an attempt by the family of illegal migrants to avert arrest. Amnesty International and other rights groups have protested against the government campaign to meet deportation quotas and the policy is raising objections from other quarters. A group of Air France pilot and steward unions in July asked for an end to the use of the airline’s planes for deportations, saying the expulsions can pose a security risk and cause disturbance.

Hortefeux is due to present to parliament next week a new bill that tightens the rules under which foreigners can join family members in France. The bill stipulates that they must pass a French language test and that a foreigner living in France must show that he has the means to support family members. The opposition Socialist Party has said that it will vote against the bill, accusing the government of violating “the fundamental right to live as a family”. “This bill will deprive French nationals who are legal residents on French territory of their fundamental right to live as a family, just because they married a foreigner,” said Socialist MP George-Pau Langevin.

*news and picture via Gays without Borders

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Armenian online news site A1+ has been attacked by Azeri hackers

"Hacked by Azerbaijan hackers
[01:33] 14 Սեպտեմբերի, 2007
Hacked by Azerbaijan hackers
Hacked by Azerbaijan hackers
Hacked by Azerbaijan hackers
Hacked by Azerbaijan hackers
Hacked by Azerbaijan hackers
Hacked by Azerbaijan hackers"

That's how it looked like on the front page of A1+ Election 2007 website at 01:33 (14 September; Yerevan time). First 'post' by Azeri hackers which I won't bring in here (it contains Russian swearing) appeared on the site at 01:31 (14 September). This is the last in a series of recent attacks by Azeri time-wasters.

Very cheap, indeed!

*Update (15 September 2007)
Apparently, overall 12 Armenian websites were hacked as a result of that cyber attack. The alleged reasons for Azeri actions, as presented in Armenian online media, were postings by Armenian blogger Kornelij Glas of pictures and news on Christian cemeteries destroyed in Azerbaijan. However, those pictures were essentially republished from Azeri site, and it seems strange and unconvincing to me why retaliation should be directed towards Armenian sites?

Serj Tankian - Empty Walls

Director: Tony Petrossian

This is the 2nd single and music video from "Elect the Dead" solo album of Serj which will be released 23 October.

1st single and music video "The Unthinking Majority" - here

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Great man Ian Porterfield dies

Very, very sad, indeed... He managed to resuscitate Armenia's national football and became one of 'ours' within a very short time... My condolences to his family and all football fans...

Porterfield's widow Glenda said: "He may have been a football man all his life, but I know him best as a wonderful human being who was liked by everyone he came in contact with. He had his wish to die in harness. Just over two weeks ago, we flew to Armenia for the Portugal game and I'll always remember what happened at the open training session at the stadium on the day before the game. The stadium was packed to see all the Portuguese stars like Ronaldo, Deco and the rest, but when Ian walked out, they all stood up and shouted his name. It was very moving."

*picture by AP (via Yahoo Sport): Armenia's coach Ian Porterfield celebrates his team's win against Poland [Group A leaders] in a Euro 2008 Group A qualifying match in Yerevan, Armenia, 6 June 2007 .

I heart NY

9/11. Stared at TV screen in my Yerevan apartment, it was CNN, it seemed surreal, but it was very real. I’ve always been against terror, and particularly will never justify terror against ordinary people. This time my pain was even more unbearable, since I knew that a very close person to me is working in one of those Twin Towers. For several long and horrifying hours, I did not know that he was slightly late to work, and therefore, was saved… For several hours, there was no proper phone line between Armenia and US. I would later joke that Armenian ‘tradition’ of being late to work was a life-saver…

I feel sad that disgust towards Bush administration policy (and I share that disgust!) made many people, otherwise bright and intelligent, to sort of ‘justify’ this attack. How could they? How could they forget that people who attacked NY on 9/11 were proposing instead a world that is against everything I am (they are!) passionate about – freedom, democracy, human rights…

I had one of those ‘I heart New York’ T-shirts. It was kind of touristy present from someone, which I would never consider wearing otherwise. But I felt immense urge to take that T-shirt out of my wardrobe, put it on and get out of my flat… And that what exactly I did 6 years ago. There was nothing else I could do at that time to express my solidarity with New Yorkers. It was emotional, it felt right.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Neo-nazi in Israel. A call for actions in Armenia

It is hard to believe that a group of Jewish neo-nazi may exist, but shocking weekend news proved seemingly impossible. What an irony! A group of neo-nazi in a country which was founded in the wake of Nazi Holocaust!

BBC, PinkNews and others report that Israeli police have broken up a gang of neo-nazi who are accused of carrying out attacks on foreigners, gay people, the homeless, drug addicts and religious Jews.

While media is too enthusiastic in stressing the fact that most of the gang was from the former Soviet Union, trying to make an impression that it was something not home-grown, but brought in from the outside, Israeli Prime Minister’s statement is more balanced:

"I am sure that there is not a person in Israel who can remain indifferent to these scenes, which indicate that we too as a society have failed in the education of these youths," he said.

Lead police investigator said: "It is difficult to believe that Nazi ideology sympathisers can exist in Israel, but it is a fact."

In fact, they do have Jewish heritage, at least that what was claimed by authorities and neo-nazi themselves.

PinkNews reports that according to police, searches of their homes found Nazi uniform and regalia, portraits of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, knives guns and explosives. The gang filmed their attacks (a common tactic among neo-nazi) and Israeli police have released videos of violent attacks.

I mentioned before, in relation to attacks of Russia’s neo-nazi on foreigners, including Armenians, and gays, that “Intolerance towards one minority group generates intolerance towards other… creating the sort of environment where extreme right-wings, religious fanatics and others find it’s OK to attack foreigners or ethnic minorities, it’s OK to attack gay and lesbians, it’s OK to attack people with different opinions, political opponents, human rights activists, it’s OK to attack journalists…”

Back to the news, BBC reports: “The arrests follow a year-long inquiry which began after a synagogue in Petah Tikva, a city east of Tel Aviv, was desecrated with graffiti of Nazi swastikas and the name of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.”

I specifically bring here the above line from the BBC news, since recent resurgence of hate graffiti in Armenia has not been taken seriously by our society. Only few bloggers posted alarming notes, pictures and calls for actions. No outrage otherwise… But this example from Israel shows that it may be a sign of new, unknown before trend in Armenia too. We too suffered genocide, our citizens suffered racist attacks by neo-nazi in Russia or elsewhere. As this news clearly indicates, none of this means that we could be considered a neo-nazi-free zone. We do not need to look even further. Do not forget, that we have our own formally registered Armenian Aryan Order whose ideology is very close to those of neo-nazi and who preach extreme nationalism, hate towards gays and Jews. And how many non-registered groups there may be out there? Here is a call to authorities and NGOs for preventive actions in Armenia if we do not want to witness anything like this in the near future in our country.

*pictures via PinkNews

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Serj Tankian interviews Serj Tankian

Serj Tankian has asked a collection of video and film directors, painters, and digital artists to each create a video for one of the 12 tracks on his forthcoming solo debut album, "Elect the Dead", which will be released on Serjical Strike/Reprise Records on October 23, 2007.

Videos will be posted periodically over the next few months on Tankian's web site,, and other outlets to be determined. The first video, an animated clip for the song "The Unthinking Majority" directed by filmmaker/video director Tawd Dorenfeld, is currently available. [I posted it here, love it, a powerful human rights message and excellent music video]

The directors involved in the project include a prestigious array of artists whom Tankian has befriended over the last decade. They include music video director Tony Petrossian (Taking Back Sunday, Slipknot, Avenged Sevenfold), who shot the video for "Empty Walls", the first single from "Elect The Dead", photographer/video director Greg Watermann (Mudvayne, Lamb Of God, Howie Day), Oscar-nominated Puerto Rican playwright and screenwriter Jose Rivera ("The Motorcycle Diaries"), French film director Diran Noubar ("Armenia: A Country Under Blockade"), digital artist Roger Kupelian ("The Lord of the Rings"; "Flags of Our Fathers"), documentary director Sevag Vrej (System Of A Down, Fair To Midland), and Beirut-born filmmaker Gariné Torossian (Sparklehorse), among others.

"I asked each of the directors for their visual interpretation of my work," Tankian explains. "They were asked not to write treatments and that they could make whatever they liked. The results have been overwhelmingly amazing!"

A complete list of videos and directors is below:

01. "Empty Walls" - Director: Tony Petrossian
02. "The Unthinking Majority" - Director: Tawd Dorrnfeld
03. "Money" - Director: Ara Soudjian
04. "Feed Us" - Director: Sevag Vrej
05. "Saving Us" - Director: Kevin Estrada
06. "Sky is Over" - Director: José Rivera
07. "Baby" - Director: Diran Noubar
08. "Honking Antelope" - Director: Roger Kupelian
09. "Lie, Lie, Lie" - Director: Martha Colburn
10. "Praise The Lord and Pass The Ammo" - Director: Greg Watermann
11. "Beethoven's C***" - Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
12. "Elect The Dead" - Director: Gariné Torossian

*source: Metalrage