Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Happy New Year!!!

New Year came early for me :) Well, apart from being my favourite holiday for as long as I could remember myself, this time it is particularly special for me. I am going to celebrate it back in Yerevan! I’ve been out of Armenia for couple of years now. Miss enormously. Besides, during last years I used to spend my New Year holiday in other countries, and, to be honest, quite missed the whole Armenian / former Soviet style of celebrations. I know, it can be ‘pain in the ass’, but painfully wonderful nevertheless. Very colourful, in fact.

Celebrating New Year at home, with family, then friends, and yes, TV programmes, special New Year films, special New Year food… it’s a package deal :)

Btw, if you want to visit London, do not do it for Christmas and New Year holiday. It’s the most boring time (ever!) in London. It may be hard to believe, but trust me (as someone who knows how to party and have fun London style), it’s very true. Any other time, this is one of the most exciting cities you could ever find.

Past year was very turbulent for me. To be honest, I do not miss it at all and look forward to its formal farewell. But, hey, I started my blogs this past year; in fact, only several months ago (in April/May); it seems like years though... In 2007, my life was full with unfinished matters, some of which from previous years. It was very stressful at times, frustrating and disheartening… But I made it - THE closure. It feels so good now. It feels liberating. I wish you all effective closure and very happy and exciting New Year ahead!

I will resume my blogging most probably at some point during the week of 7th January. But you never know, depending on circumstances, may well continue blogging. Otherwise, will certainly reflect my Yerevan experiences in upcoming posts in New Year.

Many thanks for reading my blogs, many thanks for your comments and messages. Keep in touch!

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Goodbye to Freedom?

Bomb explosion (photo above by Regnum) at the office of opposition newspaper Chorrord Ishkhanutyun ('The Fourth Estate') and continuing saga of attempts to shut down the rare dissenting voice of the small regional TV company Gala once more put the question of press freedom in Armenia in the spotlight. In fact, these attemtps are so continuous and regular that the issue never left the spotlight.

It seems to me very relevant to post today about the recent - its first ever - survey of Media Freedom across Europe by the Association of European Journalists (published in November). The survey covered 20 European countries: Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey and the UK.

Entitled Goodbye to Freedom?, this survey "challenges the myth that western European societies are ‘much more free’ than those in eastern Europe. Across the continent, it says, media freedom is under attack from new political and economic pressures." However, as stated in the survey, "Violence and intimidation directed against journalists is unfortunately common in the two states of the former Soviet Union covered, Russia and Armenia." Previous arson attack against Chorrord Ishkhanutyun newspaper is among 13 specific cases of violence and threats against media in Armenia indicated in the survey.

Below are some extracts from Armenia related pages. The full report is available here.

“Thirteen specific cases [of violence and threats of various kinds directed at journalists] were recorded between 2006 and 2007, including the following:-

In September 2007 Hovhannes Galajyan, the Editor-in-chief of Iravunk newspaper, suffered significant injuries and was hospitalised after being attacked by unknown assailants who broke into the newspaper’s offices and beat him using metal bars. Mr Galajyan had already been violently assaulted one year earlier, in front of his own house. He stated after the first attack that he believed it was related to coverage in his newspaper which impugned the reputation of the then Defence Minister (and now Prime Minister), Serge Sarkissyan.

Threatening e-mails were sent to Edik Baghdasaryan, the Editor-in-chief of the online newspaper Hetq, demanding the suppression of articles containing allegations concerning the country’s leading oligarch, Gagik Tsarukyan, who is also a member of parliament.

The editorial offices of The Fourth Estate newspaper were set on fire by unknown arsonists.

The power supply to the printing presses of the regional Syuniats Yerkir newspaper was cut following publication of criticisms of a power supply company.

The car of Souren Baghdasaryan, Editor-in-chief of the newspaper Football+ was twice set on fire.

David Jalavyan, a sports writer on the Haykakan zhamanak newspaper, was injured in a knife attack.

None of these cases of violence towards reporters has been clarified or led to convictions in court. The judicial authorities have shown reluctance in many cases to conduct active investigations, and in the few cases in which individuals have been found guilty of obstructing the work of journalists, only fines or other mild punishments have been meted out. “

"Armenia’s TV channels, all of them in reality controlled from the office of the President, provide the society with systematically biased information, which exclude all expressions of dissent. The written press is also hampered in what it can write by its heavy dependence on major business or political sponsors who exercise tight control over many newspapers by controlling the flow of funds from advertising."

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

‘Undecided’ will decide the fate of presidential elections in Armenia

According to the telephone poll commissioned by Aravot newspaper and conducted by APR group during 28 November – 1 December 2007 among 663 Yerevan residents, if elections were to be conducted in “coming Sunday” (2 December), the votes may have the following distribution:

Serj Sargsyan – 19.2%
Levon Ter-Petrosyan – 9.2%
Vazgen Manukyan – 4.4%
Artur Baghdasaryan – 2.1%
Vahan Hovhannisyan – 2%
Artashes Geghamyan – 1.4%

Undecided – 31.5%
Against everyone – 18.7%

Based on my subjective understanding of the situation, these numbers (especially re Serj Sargsyan and Levon Ter-Petrosyan) seem close to reality, as for today. The way ‘undecided’ will vote, would determine the outcomes of the elections. They, in turn, may be influenced by the choice of other respected politicians not participating (unfortunately!) in the election per se (Raffi Hovhannisyan), and redistribution of votes for the second round of elections, which is inevitable.

So, here we are, opportunities for presidential hopefuls to battle for our votes – no bribes, your programmes, please!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Arthur Abraham retains IBF middleweight champion title

BASEL, Switzerland (AP) - Undefeated Arthur Abraham stopped Wayne Elcock in the fifth round to retain his IBF middleweight title Saturday night.

The Armenia-born German knocked down Elcock in the second round and then again in the fifth. The referee stopped the fight after Abraham landed a flurry of punches to the Englishman's head.

Abraham, 25-0 with 20 knockouts, has been eyeing a unification bout against either Jermain Taylor or Kelly Pavlik next year in the United States.

The 27-year-old Abraham's only scare came in the third round, when an accidental head-butt opened up a cut above his right eye. But Elcock (18-3), was unable to take advantage.

"I'm happy that I won tonight," Abraham said. "It wasn't an easy fight."

unrelated/related - see also Unzipped: Gay Armenia

*photos by AFP/Getty Images, AP and Reuters (via Yahoo Sport)

Saturday, 8 December 2007

No more ‘King’, please!

Ter-Petrosyan 3rd rally

Along with revisiting past and answering to allegations made by Robert Kocharyan & Serj Sargsyan & co against him, I think the main aim of Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s speech was to reach out to leaders of business world to drop their support of current regime and unite behind him. Likewise, his main intention during previous rally was to gain support of leaders of political parties.

I still look forward to reading his programme to understand clearly how he intend to solve main problems facing Armenia – lack of democracy, Karabakh and corruption.

And one more thing… I wish I would see less, or no… I wish I would not see at all posters of ‘Levon the King’ (like the one below) during his rallies. This is very reminiscent of the cult of personality we do not want to get close to. ‘King’ has no place in future democratic Armenia, as I would like to see my country. I hope people from Levon’s team will not encourage this sort of messages in future.

*photo by Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2007

Armenia among top favourites to win Junior Eurovision 2007

UPDATE: Belarus won with 137 points, just one point ahead of Armenia! Armenia was in the lead most of the time. Well done, Arevik! It's 2nd place, but you were the favourite of internet forums and many Eurovision fans.

Below are live reactions from two popular Eurovision internet sites on Arevik performance:

Armenia: Arevik - Erazanq (Oikotimes):

The first favourite of the evening now on stage. The song receives great applause. The navy style works very good for Armenia. The cameras though move a bit slowly not helping the song performance. More than five seconds were spend to the Greek delegation in the green room. The performance is very good and well organized. The choreography can be simply described as amazing while the stadium is full of Armenian flags.

Armenia: Arevik - Erazanq (Esctoday):

Well, it's hard to understand why the girls of Arevik are wearing these military-like marine outfits. The vocals are very good and the performance is energetic. One of the favourites tonight according to the web polls.

Thriller for Armenia; Shock for Greece! (via Oikotimes):

Armenian entrants and national broadcaster must be in shock for loosing with 1 point from Belarus. But if you think that Armenia got twice 8th place in senior and a 2nd place in its debut to JESC then you can see that Armenia is working hard and in the right way. Armenia will soon host either of the two shows.

Greek viewers are still in shock. 12 points Greece got from the organizers like all other countries in the beginning of the voting. Greece got only 2 points later on. From where? From Cyprus. This will be a headline in the news as of tomorrow morning. Cyprus didn't give 12 points to Greece but just 2 points. How did this happened? One explanation might be the low viewing rates. Who cares in Cyprus about JESC? (The answer is no one). The second answer is that the immigrants in Cyprus are more dedicated to their homelands and they got the opportunity to get in touch with them through JESC. Third answer is the obvious: Made In Greece were really bad.[...]

Good luck, Arevik!!!

For the first time, Armenia will be represented at Junior Eurovision Song Contest with Arevik band performing "Erazanq" ("Dream").

In fact, Armenia's Arevik is among top favourites to win Junior Eurovision 2007. They will perform third after Georgia and Belgium.


Netherlands, Armenia and Serbia are the big favourites with Romania and Malta to be the outsiders. poll in collaboration with partners gathered more than 12.200 votes and predict Serbian victory for JESC tonight. If Serbia wins tonight it will be the first time a country wins both senior and junior edition within the same year. If Netherlands win it will be the first time JESC host country wins in homeland. Cyprus, Belarus and Ukraine are also possible to do extremely well according to the reports from Belgian and Dutch sites. The betting odds predict victory for Armenia or Russia tonight.

Here is the link where you can watch the show live:

Friday, 7 December 2007

British Government denies Armenian Genocide

A shameful response from the Prime Minister office

As a signee of a petition to British PM to recognise the Armenian Genocide of 1915 (petition was signed by 1 136 British residents), I just received a response from the 10 Downing Street:

"You signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to "Recognise the Armenian Genocide of 1915."

The Prime Minister's Office has responded to that petition and you can view it here:

Prime Minister's Office

Petition information -"

Here is British Government's response in full. It is Denial without boarders... and without shame. A pure disgrace!

"The British Government acknowledges and regrets the terrible events that afflicted the Ottoman Armenian population at the beginning of the last century, when over a million ethnic Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire were killed. Many were massacred; some were victims of civil strife, starvation and disease, which ravaged the whole population of Eastern Anatolia during the First World War.

The massacres were an appalling tragedy, which the British Government of the day condemned. We fully endorse that view. However, neither this Government nor previous British Governments have judged that the evidence is sufficiently unequivocal to persuade us that these events should be categorised as genocide as defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide, a convention which is, in any event, not retrospective in application.

The British Government believes that the focus should be on ensuring a progressive approach; to improve the chances for reconciliation between Armenian and Turkish people and to achieve a peaceful and secure future for everyone living in the region. To this end we encourage the Governments of Armenia and Turkey to improve co-operation, economic development and understanding between their countries.

In preparing for EU accession, Turkey must demonstrate its commitment to good neighbourly relations and must have undertaken to resolve outstanding border disputes. The advancement of accession negotiations will be guided by progress made in these, and other areas."

7 December 1988, Armenia, earthquake...

My heart is with all those who lost loved ones...

I was around Republic sq in Yerevan. Do not remember why I was there (instead of being at school), I think I was wandering around bookstores. So did not feel the quake, but soon it became clear that something very bad happened, the atmosphere around was becoming increasingly terrifying... There was lack of information, lots of speculations; especially we had fears of safety of Armenian Nuclear Plant and chemical factories (Nairit and others); we were glued to the radio to get as much news as possible... People started driving in their thousands towards Spitak and Leninakan (Gyumri). It created some obstacles for aid workers but you could not stop the flow. Everyone wanted to go and reach his/her relatives and help others to save lives. I also remember lots of volunteers for blood donations, people were queuing to give their blood to save life of others.

I remember perhaps unprecedented level of international aid that former Soviet Union asked and received from around the world. It helped a lot - not only for assistance per se or its material value but also providing with significant emotional support. Even songs by international stars, like the one produced by Aznavour - Pour toi Aménie - For you, My Arménia, were of invaluable assistance. We were devastated, but suddenly felt that we were not alone. The tragedy 'opened up' Soviet boarders and we were like members of international community.

I wish we remember about the earthquake zone and act on it not only during the anniversaries, but rather all over the year, so that we no longer have earthquake zone. It is impossible to get rid of people's memories, they are immortal, but we have to get rid of 'earthquake zone'.

*video via laztechs

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Arrested leaflets

"Tax inspectors have confiscated thousands of newly printed leaflets announcing former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s upcoming rally in Yerevan, it emerged on Thursday. According to Aleksandr Arzumanian, a close Ter-Petrosian associate, an activist of the opposition Aylentrank movement was detained by officials from the State Tax Service (STS) while receiving 4,000 leaflets from a printing house in the capital on Wednesday. He said the activist, Artak Arakelian, was taken into custody on the grounds that he had no documents certifying the origin of the fliers. After keeping him in custody for six hours they fined him 15,000 drams ($50),” Arzumanian told RFE/RL. The STS officials also inspected the Van Arian printing company’s books and briefly detained one of its employees, he said." (Radio Liberty)

Similar crackdown on leaflets with far more serious consequences happened ahead of Ter-Petrosyan second (16 November) rally too:

"Narek Galstian, the 20-year-old leader of the youth wing of a Diaspora-linked pro-Ter-Petrosian party, was hospitalized with serious injuries after being assaulted by unknown individuals in the northern outskirts of Yerevan. The attack two place two days after Galstian and another young activist of the Social Democrat Hnchakian Party (SDHK) were detained by police while posting anti-government leaflets in the city center."

Fear & Oppression in Armenia — Never!

I want to join my voice in solidarity against the atmosphere of fear (posted by Onnik Krikorian) which Armenian authorities are trying to impose ahead of upcoming presidential elections. Today - it's leaflets, tomorrow - it could be something more serious. Actually, 'tomorrow' is partially happening 'today', in a form of tax war with pro-opposition supporters or anyone who could even remotely pose a threat to the authorities or express discontent. This is not Armenia we want to see after 19 February (day of elections).

Here is a photo of ex-President and presidential hopeful Levon Ter-Petrosyan and info on his Saturday rally which apparently seemed so frightening and threatening to authorities that got arrested.

Date: Saturday, December 8, 2007
Time: 3:00pm - 6:00pm
Location: Azatutyun Square
City/Town: Yerevan

At least Onnik can expect (potentially) some sort of protection from British officials as British citizen, although it did not shy away thugs in the past. Independent or pro-opposition media representatives from Armenia - who are citizens of Armenia - cannot expect even such theoretical possibility of protection or support. I am not even mentioning here about media solidarity (regardless of political views and affiliations) which is basically non-existent in Armenia, and is one of the main reasons why Armenian journalists are so vulnerable to attacks.

*photo by Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2007

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

‘Exit Poll’ is good news for presidential elections in Armenia

It is not frequently that we hear good news related to upcoming presidential election campaign in Armenia. However, this news I would certainly consider Good News.

For the first time, exit poll will be conducted during presidential elections in Armenia. This offer was made by current US envoy in Armenia during his meeting today with Prime Minister and presidential hopeful Serj Sargsyan. Armenian Prime Minister accepted the offer, adding that even if US did not offer it, they would have sought assistance of specialised agencies to conduct exit poll. This is certainly positive development. If the results of exit poll, which are usually announced immediately after polling stations closed, would be similar to official results published by Central Electorate Commission, this would add to legitimacy of conducted elections.

Of course, having exit poll by no means an indicator of fair and free elections (recent example - Russia), because exit poll is mainly aimed at the latest stage of election process – vote count, to ensure that count of votes at local polling stations and in Central Commission are not falsified. This is very important, as we know that one of the most common voting irregularities during Armenian elections used to happen during the vote count. However, it does not reflect pre-election campaign and voting process per se, although indirectly exit poll may reflect the effect of mass ballot stuffing (if it happens) on the final results. What is also important is to ensure that pre-election period gives equal chances for all candidates to access media, and specifically TV (and specifically Public TV!); also to ensure that people are free to make their votes during voting process itself. Only then the elections could be considered free and fair.

In any case, having exit poll is a positive development, and I welcome Armenian government’s positive attitude towards it.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

It's Christmas (shopping) time!

Oxfam Christmas message to London shoppers: Say 'No' to Rubbish Presents!

*I took this photo yesterday on Regents st in central London