Monday, 30 July 2007

Not to miss: Robert Fisk's lecture in Yerevan

...Threats, Lies & Videotape,
the Armenian Genocide and
Western Betrayal in the Middle East

Date: August 2, 2007, from 19:00 to 20:30
Place: American University of Armenia, Small Auditorium
Speaker: Robert Fisk, The Independent's (London) award-winning Middle East correspondent

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Gorbachev as new Louis Vuitton 'model' - oh dear...

New York Times' Eric Wilson reports:

"A decade ago, Mr. Gorbachev’s appearance in a Pizza Hut commercial was generally greeted as a low point in his career.

The Vuitton ad, however, is part of a campaign to emphasize the company’s heritage in luggage and travel accessories. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, the ads include other celebrities using Vuitton bags: Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf cuddling in a hotel room, their bags not yet unpacked; Catherine Deneuve resting on a trunk in front of a steaming locomotive; and Mr. Gorbachev in the back of a car with a duffel bag on the seat next to him. Of the group, Mr. Gorbachev appears the least comfortable. He is holding on to a door handle, as if the bag contained polonium 210.

It seems unlikely he will be approached by L’Oréal. "

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

They, Us and Liberty

Why on earth they went into trouble to stage the parliamentarian show if they could effectively cease Liberty’s national broadcast using mere technicality: not signing a new contract? Are they that stupid? Or was that just pilot testing? It seems to me that they rely on tiredness and apathy of population and… yes, summer vacation season (even president is away on vacation now – right timing, Mr. Kocharyan!). They thought that they will exhaust the anger, protests etc, and now when they attempt at it again, no one will have strength to protest, everyone will be tired of it, and… it will be very hot outside. Were they right? I am afraid so… Will they succeed? I hope no…

‘Eternal optimist’

*previous posts on the topic: here, here and here

Monday, 23 July 2007

Le Voyage en Arménie (Armenia)

film premier and Q&A in London, Barbican Arts Centre, 5 July 2007

I liked the film. It was simple and complex, with Guediguian style humour which I like and which made the audience, myself including, to laugh a lot and to think a lot. Identity, Diaspora, corruption, freedom, homeland, love, family, communism/capitalism… these were just a small selection of issues touched by this film.

The only storyline that I did not particularly like was the one related to Armenian lapdancer turned hairdresser. At the end, it turned out to be too much of a fairy-tale; other than that, and overall, I would certainly recommend it. I do not intend providing here with the review of this film, it’s available elsewhere, and here is the original trailer:

I’d rather share my impressions from Q&A session after the film. I must say that the film was very well received by the audience, mainly non-Armenian. Afterwards, my non-Armenian friends asked me to keep them posted in case of any future showcase of Armenian film or art in London, which I will certainly do.

Interestingly, same day and time, Armenian Institute in London organised an evening with Mark Grigoryan, producer from the Russian Service of BBC who recently visited newly restored Armenian church on Akhtamar Island in current Turkey. As if there are so many Armenia-related events in London, they organised it same day. For that reason, many people who would like to attend both events were forced to make a choice.

Anyway, back to the Q&A. It lasted quite long, more than an hour, and it was almost as interesting as watching the film. It was presented by Time Out London critique Dave Calhoun. Along with director Robert Guediguian, also present were Ariane Ascaride (Anna – the main heroine of the film) and Simon Abkarian (Sarkis Arabian), talented actor of Armenian origin. He turned out to be nice guy too. I had a chat with him after the screening; and was quite impressed.
*these pictures were taken by me during Q&A: Robert Guediguian (far right); Dave Calhoun; Ariane Ascaride, Simon Abkarian (far left).

Guediguian is half German, Ariane has Itallian roots, and they are life partners. Simon is ethnic Armenian from Lebanon who lives in France now. And here we are – the issue of identity, in fact, multiple identities. Simon in this case referred to the right-wing French proposal on one national identity, and he said that he refuses to consider himself within a ‘box’ with proposed one identity attached to it. He’d rather go for multiple identities which are not in conflict with each other but rather parallel to each other and help to understand complex identity issues in contemporary world. The same may be applied to others, e.g. Scottish and British and so on.

For Robert Guediguian and Arian Ascaride, the most exciting in Armenia were people, human factor. Despite all difficulties and socialism/capitalism transformations, they found kind of warmness, openness among people in Armenia which is lacking in modern Western world.

According to Guediguian, there were differences in the ways Armenians from Armenia and Diaspora perceived the film. While Armenians from Armenia liked the fact that the film presents both positive and negative aspects of Armenia, in Diaspora people prefer seeing only positive Armenian image. When I told about this one of my close friends who is British Armenian, she said that it is because Armenians who live in Armenia are comfortable with being Armenian, and it’s their routine, while for Diaspora Armenians, Armenia is still something like a dream and they want to associate with Armenia, their dream, only positive aspects…

They showed the film in Yerevan and those villages where they shot it, using improvised screens. Ariane said that despite lacking adequate number of cinemas, people in Armenia seem to know and like films, and she was impressed by the fact that they recognised her and her films. She got an impression that the main source of films and cinema-related news for Armenians is TV.

I remember that during Soviet period, along with cinemas, other sources of films were videos and TV programmes which at least once a week were devoted to world cinema. Surprisingly, being in London, I discovered that through our Armenian TV programmes I saw films (and it was during Soviet period!) which were censored by British Film rating agencies or just recently released here.

After the Soviet period, during difficult early years of independence, when people stopped attending cinemas and most cinemas were closed due to economy, or being transformed into other businesses etc, the main source of films, along with national and Russian TV, became local cable TV. Luckily, nowadays cinemas started slowly regaining their role; also, DVDs became one of the main sources of world cinema. Unfortunately, main cinemas in Yerevan most frequently show blockbusters, and Armenians who like independent, arthouse cinema are lacking choices and mainly rely on DVDs. I hope, in time, I will be able to have my favourite hangout at independent cinema in Yerevan, something like Curzon Soho in London, which I love.

Back to the Q&A, Simon Abgarian pointed out some of his observed negative aspects of evolving capitalism in Armenia. Diasporan Armenians started buying apartments or homes in Yerevan, and prices became too high for many locals, who can no longer afford buying properties... Also, some ‘new Armenians’ do not shy away from building their villas in the middle of very poor neighbourhoods…

Ariane authored the script of the film. At first, she did not wanna go to Armenia, like her heroine Anna in the film, but when she went, following Guediguian’s request, she fall in love with Armenia, with people, and she went back again, with a recorder. She said that it was good that she did not know language, it enabled her to look at everything as outsider. She asked some of her Armenain male friends to take her to places that men go, to spend time the way men do. Then she asked Marie Desplechin, who is writing children books, to actually write the script for her, based on recorded ‘diaries’.

*Here is the short clip which I filmed during Q&A after London premier of Le Voyage en Arménie (Armenia), at Barbican Centre in London, 5 July 2007. In conversation with Time Out's critique Dave Calhoun; also present were director Robert Guediguian (far left) and actor Simon Abkarian (far right). I call it "Ariane Ascaride: Falling in love with Armenia":

Ariane Ascaride was named best actress for her role in French-Armenian director Robert Guediguian's Armenia at Rome's inaugural film festival (October 2006).
At the award ceremony, in halting Italian, Ascaride said: "You can't imagine how happy I feel ... to have an award in Rome, in Italy, because my father's parents are Italian. It feels like coming home."
The film Armenia relates the story of a voyage of initiation for Anna (Ascaride), a young woman from Marseille, France, who reluctantly travels to Armenia in search of her ailing, elderly father who wanted to see his native Armenia before he died. This becomes a very personal story of discovery through the land of her father.
"It's a role and a personality that I invented personally, since I wrote the script with Marie Desplechin," Ascaride told AFP. "I had a very strong desire to talk about this country, Armenia, and I also wanted to confront this issue of roots ... that you haven't yet gone to look for."
Also, she said, "I wanted to give a gift to Robert Guediguian [her life partner]. He had long been wanting to do something on Armenia, but it was easier for me" as he was too emotionally attached to the country.

*images from film

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Armenia Achieves One Of The Highest GDP Growth In The World With 11.2%

When will we see similar trends in relation to the state of democracy and human rights in Armenia?

Good news received via (source: - Mediamax):

The growth of Armenia’s GDP in January-June of 2007 totaled 11,2%, as compared to the same period of 2006.

As the press service of the National Statistical Service of Armenia told Mediamax today, the GDP volume in January-June of 2007 totaled 944845.7 mln drams.

The volume of industrial production in the republic in January-June of 2007 stood at 327954.9 mln drams, having increased by 1.4%, as compared to the same period of 2006.

The average monthly salary in Armenia in January-June of 2007 increased by 20.5%, as compared to the same period of 2006, thus making 71344 drams [around $ 211, based on current Central Bank exchange rate, as of 20 July 2007: 1 $ - 337.57 drams].

The salary of budget organizations has increased by 22.1%, making 52491 drams [around $ 155] during the accounting period, and the salary of non-budget organizations stood at 88961 drams (growth – 20.1%) [around $ 263].

Friday, 20 July 2007

Remembering Magician...

*image from Namakani film

To the bright memory of Sergei Parajanov...

This film was made at Hayk studio in Yerevan (Armenia) in 1995; written and directed by Andrei Ayrapetov (for his Diploma work). It contains rare footage of Parajanov just months before his death... 20 July 1990

more in Unzipped: Gay Armenia

Friday, 13 July 2007

Directory of Political Parties in Armenia

This Directory of Political Parties in Armenia was developed by the Foundation for Civil and Social Development (FCSD) with support from the USAID Civic Advocacy Support Program (CASP) and OSCE Yerevan office.

Directory contains contact information, program goals and objectives of political parties officially registered and functioning in Armenia as of 10.01.2007 (in total, 75 political parties included), as well as their positions and approaches to economic, political, social, cultural, scientific-educational, ideological and a range of other issues. The information is presented based on the answers of political parties collected by the Foundation during the survey.

Directory is accessible online at (in Armenian and English)

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Yerevan - London, construction/road works - construction/road works...

There are construction/road works going on throughout central Yerevan and this became one of the central topics of discussion in Armenian blogosphere: here, here, here and here

I must say that nowadays similar situation you may observe in London too - throughout central London you may see construction/road works on main streets... Understandably, in both capitals, this creates significant inconvenience for people who live or work there, tourists and motorists. I cannot comment on differences in quality of construction/road works between Yerevan and London, since have no insight into the issue. However, when I said that there is "similar situation" in London, I was mainly referring to the fact of works taking place.

Below are my London pictures. Compare them to the pictures taken by Onnik Krikorian in Yerevan streets, and you will note one big difference. In Yerevan, as Onnik rightly pointed out, "building materials and debris left lying around have made a three or four minute journey a safety hazard for pedestrians and motorists alike." In London, all construction works are isolated by special road work barriers. Relatively simple thing to do, which will make Yerevan roads safer.





*source of Yerevan pictures - Onnik Krikorian/Oneworld Multimedia

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Elvina Makaryan

I am so saddened by the news... Elvina Makaryan passed away... She was always different, never boring, all her life breaking out stereotypes and cliché, her voice - so seductive, beautiful, raspy ('khrpot')... Yes, she was different, and during her life-time she never received recognition she deserved: neither in Soviet or post-Soviet Armenia, nor in a Diaspora... She was devastated by recent death of her son... apparently, her heart was unable to recover from that lost... She will always remain in my memory as one of my favourite 'dissident' singers.

Love x

*source of pictures:

Her latest music video Menutyun, which she devoted to the memory of her son...

Monday, 2 July 2007

Hand’s Off Our Liberty!

Protest action against the possible termination of the broadcast of Radio Liberty through the National Radio of Armenia took place in Yerevan today. This may happen if parliament approves proposed amendments to the Laws "On Television and Radio" and "On State Duties" that would ban Armenian-language foreign media programmes [read Radio Liberty] on public-service broadcast channels, and introduce heavy fees for those programmes on private channels. OSCE, Human Rights Watch, local civic and media organisations have already condemned the proposed amendments and considered them as threat to the freedom of press in Armenia.

See also Target: Radio Liberty

According to the reports of Armenian bloggers (artate, n3ssun4, tirami su, bekaisa, Observer) and A1+, activists and representatives of various NGOs gathered at Freedom (Liberty) Square and marched to the House of Parliament, with covered mouths symbolising the silencing of free and independent press, and carrying a 10 meter long poster "They voted against Freedom" with the faceless pictures and names of the 79 MPs who voted (first reading) for the bill on Friday.

(pictures via artate)

(picture via n3ssun4)

"They are faceless as they don't have their own viewpoint," said Amalia Kostanyan, the head of "Transparency International" Armenian Office referring to the fact that pro-government majority MPs vote for whatever PM or President instruct them.

(pictures via A1+)

"At all times in our newest history, whenever we were experiencing retreat from democracy, one of the first steps has been stopping the "Liberty" broadcasts. Today we are again living such times”, - according to the president of the Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardyan.

(picture via Observer)

I want to join protesters and Observer in saying:

Hand’s Off Our Liberty!

Final vote on the bills is expected tomorrow.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

"NO SMOKING" in England

Sign of the times: Pub smokers have to stay outside (picture via BBC)

There were farewell 'smoking' parties last night in many London pubs to say au revoir to smoking a cigarette inside the venues. Formally, law came into force at 6 am Sunday. No smoking is allowed in enclosed public places - cafes, bars, pubs, restaurants, clubs, cinemas, theatres, offices etc. England followed suite of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where similar regulations were in place for quite some time. Now London is on the same level as New York having total ban of smoking in enclosed public places. However, similar moves towards anti-smoking regulations did not have noticable effect in Paris, with its traditionally smoke-filled cafes and bars. As my French friend said, no one is taking seriously anti-smoking regulations in Paris. I am not even mentioning Yerevan here, since limited public smoking ban adopted couple of years ago was not enforced in practice, as expected. Just like in Paris...

I completely agree with England's Health Secretary Alan Johnson who hailed the initiative as the "single most important public health legislation for a generation", as it intends to cut the deaths from second-hand smoking and curb the rates of cancer. I am not a smoker, and as one may imagine, without even considering public health benefits, on personal level only, I am more than happy with the prospect of spending my evenings out in smoke-free bars. In fact, some of my heavy smoking friends also agreed, in principle, that it's a good measure and it may make them consider cutting down the number of cigarettes per day or even quit smoking for good. On the other hand, government must do more to help people quit smoking.

However, with all my strong opinion in favour of this regulations, I must admit something which I am not proud of, but that's how I feel. Well, I must admit that smoking creates some sort of environment, atmosphere - difficult to describe - shall I say arty, creative, underground, sexy... Yes, I know how bad it sounds, but I find the process of cigarette smoking may be sexy too. And I want to remind that I am a non-smoker and I hated the taste of nicotine when I tried smoking couple of times, just to see what/if I am missing, and I never wanted starting smoking afterwards. But the process of it, the whole aura is a different thing... Who knows, may be in time, we will watch films of current generation, where smoking parties would be considered 'underground' in the same way as drug-using in Warhol's films, and appeal to many people.

Back to the law, there are some smokers' rights campaigners that want to challenge it, but it is clear that they will not have success, battle for smoking is lost. There are hefty fines in place to enforce the regulations: £50 for individual smokers and £ 2500 for owners or managers of the venues. Even though the recent survey showed that British are not as law-abiding as it was assumed ("law-abiding majority is a myth"), London is not a Yerevan, it's not a Paris, and I do not anticipate major problems with the implementation, people will abide the rules (regardless that survey, in my opinion, they are still much more rule-abiding than in many other places, if not the most), and the rules will be enforced.

*Source of pictures: Getty Images