Thursday, 29 November 2007
Whether in pro-western or pro-Moscow states, repression and corruption are flourishing among Russia's neighbours
A post-Soviet president makes a highly publicised visit to a patriotic youth camp where he denounces the international community for being "amoral" in its stance towards his fight with separatists. Later he moves to clamp down on the opposition and has its main television station pulled off the air. He blames most of his troubles on a London-based oligarch. The president behaves in this slightly paranoid and aggressive manner even though his party dominates parliament and he has marginalised his critics.
This is not Vladimir Putin, but the Georgian president for almost four years who was until recently a darling of the west - Mikhail Saakashvili.
Sixteen years after the end of perestroika, this is a depressing picture. In 1991 western opinion was much too utopian about these newly independent states. The favoured image used to be one of "transition" and even the smallest Anglo-Saxon news story used to refer to countries from Armenia to Tajikistan as being "in transition to democracy and a market economy".
Nursultan Nazarbayev, once regarded as a reformist ally of Mikhail Gorbachev, has slowly transformed himself into president-for-life in Kazakhstan, with his family installed in key positions. In Azerbaijan, the communist-era boss Heydar Aliyev became leader and then handed over the presidency to his son.
The first priority was to retain power. When the Armenian opposition tried to dispute the outcome of the 1996 election, the then defence minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, famously put them in their place, saying: "Even if they win 100 per cent of the votes, neither the army nor the National Security Service, nor the ministry of the interior, would recognise these leaders." [current Prime Minister and presidential hopeful Serj Sargsyan was the Minister of National Security back then - Unzipped] In the South Caucasus and central Asia, no presidential candidate from the ruling elite has lost an election since 1991. Increasingly, parliaments are stuffed with loyal servants or friendly businessmen.
Geography matters here. In the central Asian republics, where the EU exerts no pull and international condemnation means little, governments can get away with abominations such as the 2005 massacre of hundreds of civilians in the Uzbek town of Andijan. In the western and southern states, "the idea of Europe" means something. In the South Caucasian states of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the governments worry about their status in the Council of Europe and Nato, and behave better, but sharing power is not an option.
The Georgian crisis has at least opened some eyes in Europe. The issue of how to deal with its eastern neighbourhood is surely becoming the EU's biggest foreign policy challenge. How do you exert positive influence in countries where a progressive minority still has an "idea of Europe" when you are unable to offer the one prospect with the power to transform - the hope of eventual EU membership?
Where Georgia leads, others may follow. Weak states with self-serving elites are prone to in stability. We can be certain of two things: that Putin's copycats will not give up power easily; and that if events do force them to come tumbling down, the collapse will bring an awful lot of rubble and chaos with it.
Wednesday, 28 November 2007
Levon Ter-Petrosyan (16 November 2007): "Exactly 3 years after assuming the office of the President of the Republic of Armenia, I will be prepared to forever retire from politics, giving you the opportunity to elect the country’s new President through a fully free and legitimate election. Further, I will not interfere in that election - it will be conducted by the Speaker of the National Assembly. I need 3 years to clean these Augean Stables, and put the state back on track. By “putting the state back on track,” I mean a comprehensive program of action, which I will present to you in future speeches and public statements."
*photos via A1+ and Hetq
[...] As to Artashes Geghamyan, he is the most unstable and dependent political populist among current players. He is not even a player. He is just a PR tool for those who guide him. I can’t remember any occasion that Geghamyan displayed principal position in a critical time. It was always anything but... One should follow him since it may give an indirect indication of state of affairs within the authorities. Other than that, when he speaks, what I hear is blah, blah, blah...
Today Lragir added this hilarious 'clinical' description of that so called presidential candidate:
"I have been criticizing the acting government over the past 9 years. But I am not suffering amnesia to forget what Levon Ter-Petrosyan had done,” he [Artashes Geghamyan] said and devoted the first pre-election meeting of his party to denigrating Levon Ter-Petrosyan.
He failed to say which definite episodes of the policy of the acting government he criticized because apparently he is not suffering amnesia but has “caught” sclerosis. It is common knowledge that a person who suffers sclerosis remembers what took place a long time ago but forgets where he has left his glasses or why he has come to the kitchen.
On top of all, the Public Television of Armenia devoted 15 of the precious 30 minutes of the news program to cover this clinical case. [...]"
And in a further developments, Radio Liberty reports that "at least three leaders of local chapters have resigned their membership in Artashes Geghamyan’s National Accord Party (AMK) after the latter’s blistering attack on the former president during a party meeting on Tuesday."
"Gurgen Grigoryan, who headed the party’s structure in the Yerevan district of Erebuni, confirmed to RFE/RL the reports that appeared in the Armenian press about frictions within the party following Geghamyan’s critical remarks about Levon Ter-Petrosyan. He further claimed that 3,500 members of the party in Erebuni were ready to follow suit and join the opposition movement spearheaded by Ter-Petrosyan."
"Enough is enough. I’m not a bird to swallow the bait. People now realize that you [AMK] are really useless. And I don’t want to bear the stamp of a betrayer,” Grigoryan told RFE/RL.
"Grigoryan charged that Geghamyan is in fact “working for the authorities to split the opposition” and said he no longer wanted to participate in the “dirty games”.
“All actions by Geghamyan reveal him as an ‘oppositionist’ closely connected with the authorities. He’s been doing everything to loosen the opposition,” Grigoryan continued. “I have made sure that he wants to improve his own well-being rather than change the system.” Grigoryan also claims that Geghamyan effectively refused to back another opposition leader Stepan Demirchyan, who faced a runoff with Robert Kocharyan in the 2003 presidential election, and warned them not to participate in the opposition rallies then."
Monday, 26 November 2007
News on its launch came via Aramazd. All previous attempts failed to deliver proper content. This one seems like a decent website. It contains biography, current news and archive material, including photos and speeches by Ter-Petrosyan dating back to 1988-1990. Site is predominantly in Armenian. According to Aramazd, English version will be available soon. There is also interactive content there - blog, comments, but these are in their early stages. I assume site will develop further to become fully functional, with more contents added.
I managed to look at the site only at a glance. The only annoying part I found so far is that on-site music auto-plays any time when you go to the main page, and you have to find and manually stop it. I always find it annoying when website developers put the music on by default (however nice the music may be), instead of giving visitors an option to switch it on if they wish to do so.
Interesting to note, that Ter-Petrosyan programme section is still "under construction" and divided into 5 headings: Karabakh issue; combating corruption; economic reforms; foreign relations; and army reform. I assume these will be the main issues which Levon will address during his upcoming speeches.
Sunday, 25 November 2007
2010 FIFA World Cup Europe draw - Group 5:
Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia, Estonia
Friday, 23 November 2007
"[...] They put all the lights and fog on when he came on so you couldn't really see - everyone hollered when a figure in a top hat appeared... only then we noticed that the whole band was wearing them - which looked pretty cool, but they lost them later - and then finally Serj appeared himself. Wearing a cream top hat and cream coat, white shirt and black trousers.
He actually did look quite like a ringleader and the way he behaved onstage was a bit ring-leaderish too. He had the odd mental moment but mostly he was fairly calm, just making pronouncements in sort of typical Serj fashion every so often. Anyway. He didn't play that long really, but then he hasn't got loads of solo material yet, and i gather he refuses to play any System stuff.
He did a fantastic cover of Holiday in Cambodia, which was a bit lost on the young ones in the crowd, but us old farts were dancing around to it ;), and then he said -Hey, we're in London so i have to do a Beatles song!' er, did no one ever tell Serj the Beatles were from Liverpool? i was a bit doubtful about the Beatles song but he actually did it really well - partly Beatles ish and partly mental metal style, finishing off with that howler monkey noise that death metal singers do.
So that was pretty cool. Unfortunately, i don't know the name of the song - unless there is a song called Girl? it was one i recognise but don't know that well.
i noticed on the quieter songs mostly no one waves lighters about anymore - now it's thousands of camera phones instead... i'm quite pleased about that as the lighter waving always makes me think of Bryan Adams. One or two did have them - if i'd been near them i would have blown the darn things out. One doesn't wish to be reminded of Bryan Adams at a Serj concert after all.
i did wish i had had the presence of mind to bring an Armenian flag along to wave about at him - i don't have one, but i could perhaps have made one - some others in the bottom crowd did have one and were flapping it about - i was quite jealous! [...]"
Thursday, 22 November 2007
team after the defeat at home 0:1 to Kazakhstan. Previously, Armenia beat Kazakhstan 2:1. This made our team finish Euro 2008 qualifying next to last (Azerbaijan finished last).
When asked by journalists, coach Vardan Minasyan 'explained' losing the game by "tiredness" of our players. A typical lame excuse to justify defeat. Our team schedule was not more stressful than that of most of the teams within the Euro 2008 qualifying.
After Ian Porterfield died, we do not have proper chief coach for our national team, and there is steady decline in quality and performance. It's not that they are particularly bad, no, but the impression is that there is no progress anymore, and there is a downward trend instead. Anticipations and excitements were high back then. We need new Ian Porterfield, and less politics in Armenian football.
*photo by Photolur (via A1+)
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
This is just incredible. And it is happening in the UK, with supposedly strict and at times too many data protection and privacy regulations. This is one of the very rare instances that I have to agree with the Conservatives: "a catastrophic failure" from the side of government. Government official's response? - in a typical British way: "I apologise..." - "I am sorry..." You may do whatever you want in the UK, you then just need to say that magical word "Sorry". I was joking the other day with a friend that here you may kill a person and then say "Oh, I am so sorry..." Come on, with all those resources and facilities... And they want to introduce ID cards with even more centralised personal info! Bigger "Scandal of The Day"-s ahead... (if it can get any bigger)
A road sign attached to the "Scotland welcomes you" sign (source). No Music Day will be observed by BBC Radio Scotland on 21 November.
The idea belongs to former KLF frontman Bill Drummond who is "challenging people to consider how people view and use music in their lives."
"I decided to have one day without listening to music to give myself some space," - says Bill Drummond.
Jeff Zycinski, head of BBC Radio Scotland: "Bill's idea was to show how important music was to people by taking it away. The day will also prompt the question - What kind of music do we want?"
BBC reports that Drummond is "no stranger to attention-grabbing stunts. In 1994, he burned £1m of his band's earnings on the island of Jura."
Friday, 16 November 2007
“If I made mistakes in my staffing policy - and I really did - this is the biggest one. In fact, this is not a mistake but a disaster which I inflicted on our people. So help me rid you of that disaster,” he added, drawing cheers from the crowd.
[…] “I do realize that my lengthy explanations will not dispel many people’s doubts. So I am left to solicit the forgiveness of the people for the suffering inflicted on them for the sake of Artsakh’s [Karabakh] salvation,” declared Ter-Petrosyan.
Full report by Radio Liberty - here
*video via A1+
I am reading now Levon's speech in full (original Armenian version). My full reflections - in coming days. My initial impression is that the speech, as Radio Liberty rightly put it and I wrote in this blog a number of times (here, here, and here), "contained a long-awaited critical analysis of his track record in government". People may agree or disagree with what he said. But importantly, for the first time, he faced up his past in public and, overall, delivered expectations of the rally. His speech contained other important statements too which may be crucial in shaping up further developments in pre-election Armenia. Once more Levon proved that he is the one who is setting the 'theme' for the election campaign.
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
This Saturday, just a day after ex-President Ter-Petrosyan 2nd rally, there will be an open-air free concert in Opera square (Freedom sq) with invited pop stars from Russia, including Dima Belan. Formally, concert is organised "for students". However, it is sponsored by Yerevan mayor and Republican party.
"You go do your rallies, we will do concerts. Now see who will have more numbers." There should be no doubts that Freedom sq will be packed during Saturday concert. There should be no doubts which side will get more numbers. But at the end... the big winners will be pop music loving youth. They will certainly enjoy this 3-months marathon.
Everyone to the rally, oh, sorry... concert!
*photo of Dima Belan - via Wikipedia
Monday, 12 November 2007
The head of the Azerbaijani national chess team that won the bronze medal at the European Team Championship, behind Russia and Armenia, Teimour Radjabov, 20 yrs old, on his team's feelings before the match against Armenia (ended in draw):
"I will not deny that we were very nervous. Regardless of where we meet, the enemy is the enemy. We all have feelings of hate towards them. But you must try to suppress those feelings and not let them interfere. Chess must be played with a sober head."
I wonder what could have happened should they not "suppress" their (hate) feelings - second Safarov?
Last year Teimour Radjabov was appointed as the UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador for Azerbaijan. If he is the one to inspire young people, one should worry about their future.
Sunday, 11 November 2007
Saturday, 10 November 2007
The clip which was shown on YouTube was a collage of images referring to the murder of Hrant Dink, accompanied by Sirin's song, with an intent of praising the murder suspects of the journalist.
According to “Agos” newspaper, the prosecution is demanding up to 7.5 years imprisonment for Sirin, Türüt and the two other defendants.
The Istanbul Police Department found out that the clip was put onto YouTube by Hakan Öztekin, who used the nickname “MICHeCK” and Zeynel Abidin Mutlu who used the nickname “dafmaniac” and used an internet provider in Austria.
Öztekin claims that there was no criminal intent in the preparation of the clip, while Mutlu said that it was supposed to be an advertisement.
Clear connection to Hrant Dink murder
However, prosecutor Nurten Altinok came to the conclusion that the clip contained praise of Hrant Dink’s murder and those responsible for it, as well as incitement to violence. The indictment found direct references in the song to the murder of Dink. According to the indictment, the line “Stop ringing (church) bells, stop being pro-Armenian” refer to the mourners at Dink’s funeral who carried placards reading “We are all Armenian”; the lines “If a person sells the homeland, business ends immediately, The sun of the Turk and Islam does not set at the Black Sea” incited hatred and hostility towards people who were not Turkish or not Muslims.
10 November 2007
How are the mighty fallen! President George Bush, the crusader king who would draw the sword against the forces of Darkness and Evil, he who said there was only "them or us", who would carry on, he claimed, an eternal conflict against "world terror" on our behalf; he turns out, well, to be a wimp. A clutch of Turkish generals and a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign on behalf of Turkish Holocaust deniers have transformed the lion into a lamb. No, not even a lamb – for this animal is, by its nature, a symbol of innocence – but into a household mouse, a little diminutive creature which, seen from afar, can even be confused with a rat. Am I going too far? I think not. More...
P.S. Another exceptional piece by Robert Fisk, exceptional in a way that very few in Western media dare to do - to write what they think, regardless political correctness, for the sake of truth, not for the sake of 'Western interests' and 'balances'. This is what makes Robert Fisk special, and not only him, but also the bravest voice in British media - The Independent.
According to TOL Georgia, Georgia’s Ambassador to Swiss Confederation and Head of the Mission of Georgia in the International Organizations in Geneva, resigned from his post as a protest to authorities who used force against peaceful demonstrators.
Resistance Georgia is a new blog set up by a human rights lawyer, former President of Georgian Young Lawyers Association Anna Dolidze, who is currently based in New York. She is the author of online petition against State violence in Georgia I published earlier in my blogs (here and here). Anna dedicates her blog to "non-violent resistance to Saakashvili's dictatorial regime in Georgia."
Thursday, 8 November 2007
OK, I know, poor Oskanyan... but I burst into laughing reading this from Lragir:
Every year the heads of the foreign diplomatic representations of Armenia gather in Armenia for a conference and usually they also visit Karabakh. This year the participants of the conference visited Gandzasar Monastery in Karabakh and were hosted by Pastor Hovanes. During the dinner Reverend Hovanes made a toast. He drank to the soldiers who are at the front line defending the border and compared them to diplomats. He said a soldier cannot retreat, neither can the diplomats, they cannot retreat. We have learned from our source from the foreign ministry of Armenia that during the dinner a bumblebee stung the middle finger of the foreign minister Vardan Oskanyan. Meanwhile, sticking this finger up is a gesture the meaning of which is known to everyone. It inspired the guests of the event to wish the Armenian foreign policy to be like the meaning of this gesture. They say the guests of the event advised our foreign minister to put his finger in yogurt to relieve the pain. Our source says Vardan Oskanyan followed the advice on all the way to Yerevan.
*picture via Wikipedia
We, undersigned, call on the international community:
1) to interfere urgently in the crisis in Georgia to prevent further casualties and deterioration of situation;
2) to condemn massive violation of human rights by the law enforcement agencies of Georgia;
3) to pressure the Georgian government to stop persecution of opposition members and dissenters;
4) to influence President Mikhail Saakashvili and his government to cancel emergency rule and remove ban from the media;
5) to compel the Georgian government to release all political prisoners.
Please sign this petition following the link bellow and distribute it as wide as possible:
For details - see Unzipped: Gay Armenia
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
This is the end of Saakashvili's fairy tale. This seem to be the end of Saakashvili's regime.
Georgians will not forgive him for this attack.
I think Saakashvili seriously suffers from spy-mania. Actually, it’s a very convenient pathological condition, successfully used back in Soviet times and elsewhere to shut dissident voices. As expected, he blamed everything on Russia, and Russian “special agents”. An extremely convenient trick for anyone who perhaps feels that grounds under his power are shattering. He used it before too, and apparently from now on any discontent with his policy and regime will be considered a treason. Good old days are back. And good to ensure continuous Western support too.
My Georgian friend from Tbilisi blamed opposition too. He condemned government’s excessive use of force but suggested that opposition was to blame too. They provoked police and were not really up for a dialogue with the ruling regime, and “both sides acted ugly.” I am sure that opposition is not any better (just names of people who are behind the opposition are enough to put me off; also ridiculous mass prayers during their rallies – oh dear…). But I know one thing, when those in ruling power use excessive force against civilians, there is something wrong with their power. Therefore, I blame government. I can’t imagine that Saakashvili will survive. In any case, as long as he is in power, there will be no calm in Georgia and no prospect for democracy.
...Georgian authorities effectively closed down pro-opposition TV station... and in further dramatic developments, a state of emergency was declared in Tbilisi. It was announced at government briefing. My friend says that government pointed out "attempt of coup" as a reason behind the limiting freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. What a symbolic day to do so - 7 November! First- force, then- spy-mania, now- shut down of 'enemy' TV station and emergency situation.
"It became clear today that there is no democracy in Georgia",- says Georgia's Ombudsman - chief Human Rights Defender, who was among those under tear gas attack and witnessed beatings of people and journalists. He compared Georgia with Lukashenko's Belarus. He promised to do whatever possible to restore democracy and human rights in the country. "There is very long way to go."
for photos from the event - see Unzipped: Gay Armenia
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
Three representatives of regional Tax Service were involved in scuffle with the GALA TV cameraman Grigor Shaghoyan this morning, reports Panorama.am. In fact, as agency reports, they have beaten cameraman.
This is a continuation of recent attempts to ‘shut up’ the voice of tiny local TV station in Gyumri (second largest city in Armenia, after capital Yerevan) which dared airing reports on opposition rallies and former president Ter-Petrosyan’s comeback speech.
Apparently, Tax Service representatives came to the GALA TV to present the results of their audit, and cameraman Shaghoyan tried to capture it. This was objected by Tax officials and resulted in scuffle.
The incident was captured on video and shown to a group of reporters from Yerevan who were in Gyumri following Yerevan Press Club initiative. They will be back tonight. Details will be known later, follow the reports by Panorama, A1+ and other agencies.
Shaghoyan feels OK, and no serious injuries were reported.
Prosecutor office is investigating this case under the “Infringement to the professional work of journalists” article of Armenian Penal Code.
Monday, 5 November 2007
By Arpi Harutyunyan
ArmeniaNow 2 November 2007
According to unofficial reports, a woman has been killed by a bear that had been kept on the grounds of the Republic of Armenia Military Police department in Yerevan. Little is known of the circumstances, except that the bear belonged to the head of the Military Police, Vladimir Gasparyan.
The family refuses to give the alleged victim’s surname; they only say that a woman named Jasmine, 59 [according to A1+ and YerkirMedia - 70 yrs old], who was a cleaning lady at the department, was killed on Thursday. The sources say the bear escaped its cage while attendants entered to feed it. It is said that the woman was taken to hospital where she died of wounds. The family says it was called to identify the body and saw that she had suffered an attack.
It is unclear why the headquarters was keeping a bear. It is believed that the compound is also home to a tiger. Armenian brown bears are on the endangered species list. It is believed that the bear was destroyed.
The family refuses to give further information. The Military Police refused to answer ArmeniaNow’s question concerning the alleged event.
This case did not grab much public attention so far but it should.
Private zoo-s are not uncommon in Armenia for some time now. Reporter_am notes that for rich Armenians having a lion or tiger, or at least a bear, is a sort of symbol of power and masculinity. But why on earth Military Police chief keeps his bear (and tiger?) within the premises of its Yerevan HQ, which is not a private enterprise but a state office? How legal is it? Isn't being a head of Military Police not enough a symbol of macho masculinity? Who will be responsible for the death of that innocent woman?
*Photo by yerkirmedia.org
Sunday, 4 November 2007
*via BBC - Nalbandian posed with some Paris models after his victory
David Nalbandian capped a stunning late-season surge by thrashing world number two Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-0 to win the Paris Masters. The Argentine [of Armenian origin] inflicted Nadal's first ever defeat in the French capital to lift his second Masters trophy in a row following his Madrid win. Nalbandian beat Nadal and world number one Roger Federer at both tournaments.
The 25-year will be rewarded with a return to the top 10 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
Congrats, David! Look forward to more "Pictures of the Day" with you :)
*source of pictures: http://www.accc.org.uk
According to icWales, "more than 200 messages protesting against the monument’s erection have been sent by members of the Turkish community in Wales, elsewhere in Britain and from Turkey itself over the decision to erect the pillar of pink stone and Welsh slate." BBC reports that "over a hundred and fifty people [members of the Turkish community] protested before the unveiling." (picture below - via BBC)
In March 2000, the National Assembly of Wales formally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide . It also called on the UK Government to block Turkey’s admission to the EU until it acknowledged the crime. The only other formal acknowledgement of the Genocide in the UK came from the City Of Edinburgh Council which passed the bill on recognition of the Armenian Genocide in November 2005. Currently Armenian organisations are actively lobbying British MPs to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide on behalf of the UK. However, I do not expect any such move any time soon from the UK or England, taking into account political ties between Britain and Turkey. As their American 'brothers' would say - "It's not a right time".
A petition to the British Prime Minister to recognise the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is nearing its 16th November deadline. Soon after, all undersigned (currently 1 088 signatures, myself including) will receive a formal response from the PM office. I will post it in my blog as soon as get it.