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Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Yerevan prepares... one day to go... It's almost 2009!!

Happy New Year!!



(via A1+)



(via E-channel)

All three Armenian presidents will celebrate New Year at home, surrounded by family members

In case you were wondering, that is… (via IA Regnum)

Azeri parents - residents of Nakhichevan - protest police brutality by threatening to leave the country and move to... Armenia

*Day.az

On December 27 a group of parents in Nakhchivan, claiming that their sons were beaten in the police department, have directed to the Armenian border to trespass it, reports Day.Az with reference to Azadlyg radio station.

As is noted, seven young people at the age of 18-23, charged with switching off lights on one of the New Year trees in Nakhchivan were detained in the evening on December 26. They were beaten and shaved in the police and they were prohibited to go out after 18:00.

As a sign of protest against this parents of these sons announced that they are going to leave the country.

One of the parents told Azadlyg radio station that their children were beaten in the police station due to switching off the lights on one of the New Year trees.

"Our sons were beaten till morning, they were shaved and held in the police station for a night. How can we live like that? Now we want to go to another country. We want to live in Armenia. We have raised our children with a great difficulty", said one of the parents.

The Nakhchivan police explained their actions by saying they wanted to intimidate the young men and said that this issue was settled after a talk with the parents.

Karabakh independent newspaper Demo shuts down… 'voluntarily'

Bad news from Karabakh media field. One of the rare independent voices in Karabakh – Demo newspaper decided to shut down… 'voluntarily'. They specifically indicated that this decision was made by the editorial board without any external pressures. They cited lack of free media and organised political opposition as one of the reasons for making this decision. To be honest, I can’t see how not functioning of independent newspaper (even if as a protest action) will contribute to democratisation of society, as the editorial board claims.

Armenia – Turkey football match was the most watched TV programme in 2008

Armenia-Turkey football match was watched by 32.48% TV viewers in Armenia, according to the results of monitoring by Yerevan representatives of AGB Nielsen Media Research, reports Armenia Today.

Eurovision was watched by 30.99%, and the final of European football championship – by 21.61% of respondents.

Armenian TV in Turkey?

Turkish Sabah newspaper reports that 'Armenian TV' is to start broadcasting at the end of 2009:

"TRT is now in preparation for the new Armenian TV station, which will begin broadcasts at the end of 2009. An affirmative outlook has been given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the upcoming Armenian TV channel. The start of radio broadcasts in Armenian and an official website in February will prove as a test for the new television station. The television broadcasts will include famous Armenian musicians, such as Ara Gevorgian, Tata, Nune Yesayan, Andre and Sirusho as well as Kardeş Türküler and other Turkish groups that sing Armenian songs. Categorized as a family channel, Armenian TV will provide top headlines of developments in Turkey and Armenia on their newsreel. The new satellite channel, which will employ Armenian staff members, will also focus on those living in Armenia as well as on Armenians living in Turkey."

Not sure about Nune Yesayan but sounds like yet another positive news in recent development of Armenia - Turkey relations. I wonder what type of information policy this newly formed TV channel will be 'allowed' to embrace? Will it become Agos-like TV channel? Or will it become a mere state propaganda tool?

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

'Pig-prosecutor' and 'donkey-policeman'

:)

*source: BBC ('Law is an ass' stunt brings fine)

"Porcuror" is a pun on the word for prosecutor (pic: PRO-TV Chisinau)

Police were not amused by this bid to join their ranks (pic: PRO-TV Chisinau)

A businessman in Moldova who dressed a pig as a prosecutor and a donkey as a policeman has been fined, despite an outcry over his arrest.

Anatol Matasaru, who alleged harassment by the authorities, said he would appeal against the 200 lei (£13) fine.

The opposition has accused the Moldovan police of an increasingly heavy-handed approach in the run-up to parliamentary elections next March.

Mr Matasaru's arrest on 18 December was filmed by an independent TV channel.

He was arrested as he was trying to load the donkey, wearing a policeman's cap, and the pig dressed as a prosecutor, into his van to stage a protest in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital.

The pig's uniform bore the label "porcuror" - a pun on the Romanian word for prosecutor, using the word "porc", meaning "pig".

Mr Matasaru's arrest was condemned by human rights activists, as well as the opposition. He had set up an internet cafe after having worked abroad.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Yeghishe Charents unzipped – nation’s favourite gay Armenian poet

One of the greatest, most prominent, nation’s favourite Armenian poet… These are only few of epithets widely used to describe Yeghishe Charents.

Armenians are proud of their famous representatives. They are proud of Parajanov, they are proud of Charents...

Still, only minority is aware of Parajanov’s sexuality. Even less people, very few in fact, are aware that their favourite poet is gay. It’s not ordinary Armenians’ fault. They simply do not know. It’s a classic example of hypocrisy of those in literary circles or so who for decades shut out this fact from his biography. Luckily, we have taboo breaking literary Inqnagir magazine (editor Violet Grigoryan), and we have taboo breaking journalists/writers like Vahan Ishkhanyan, who never shy away from tackling ‘difficult’ subjects, minority issues, alternative scene. I would also add here Armeniapedia which was the first Armenian online publication to post a list of famous LGBT Armenians.

Vahan Ishkhanyan is working with ArmeniaNow. Recently he started blogging on Tert.am. I recommend his blog (in Armenian).

In his latest entry, Vahan Ishkhanyan writes about hypocrisy in Armenian literary circles and gay Charents posting an extract from never before published in Armenia gay-themed poem by Yeghishe Charents. Full story with gay-themed poems by Charents are available in Inqnagir literary magazine (5th edition). It’s not available online yet, but you may get its printed copy.

*For more details - Unzipped: Gay Armenia

**Portrait of Yeghishe Charents by Martiros Saryan

Friday, 19 December 2008

History in making: 66 countries, including Armenia, signed a joint UN statement against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

18 December 2008

Sixty-six countries signed a joint statement in support of LGBT human rights, which was tabled at the United Nations General Assembly today.

Armenia was the first country in the South Caucasus and broader region to endorse the statement. In a welcome move, Georgia then joined in too. Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan did not endorse it.

For details - see Unzipped: Gay Armenia

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Доигрались

Enough is enough! - this was the main message from the European Monitoring Committee to Armenian authorities. For the first time, the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) effectively acknowledges the existence of political prisoners in Armenia, the shameful fact which we knew very well for months now.

And no, I do not care that there are other countries in the Council of Europe with much poorer human rights records and without sanctions. Actually, I do care in a sense, and it’s shameful for the Council of Europe itself that such situation could exist. But I do not want to compare Armenia with such category of countries. I do not want to propose such a low threshold for Armenia.

Armenian authorities have to release all political prisoners not because it's important for the Council of Europe, but because it's important for us. There is no place for political prisoners in modern Armenia. Full stop.

Below are 2 crucial points from the draft PACE resolution which will be discussed at the end of January 2009. /emphasis mine/

5. The Assembly notes that doubts have been voiced regarding the nature of the charges brought under Articles 225 and 300 of the Criminal Code, as well as with regard to the legal proceedings against those convicted in relation to the events of 1 and 2 March 2008, including by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. The Assembly therefore considers that there are strong indications that the charges against a significant number of persons, especially those charged under Articles 225-3 and 300 of the Criminal Code and those based solely on police evidence, have been politically motivated. It follows that persons convicted on these charges can be considered political prisoners.

9. Notwithstanding positive developments in some areas, the Assembly finds it unacceptable that persons have been charged and deprived of their liberty for political motivations and that political prisoners exist in Armenia. Therefore, despite the positive steps taken towards the establishment of an independent, transparent and credible inquiry, the Assembly decides to suspend the voting rights of the members of the Armenian parliamentary delegation to the Assembly, under Rule 9, paragraphs 3 and 4.c, of the Rules of Procedure, until the Armenian authorities have clearly demonstrated their political will to resolve the issue of persons deprived of their liberty in relation to the events of 1 and 2 March 2008, in line with its demands, as expressed in Resolutions 1609 (2008) and 1620 (2008).

And here is official press release.

Charging persons for political motivation is ‘unacceptable’: PACE committee demands suspension of Armenia’s delegation voting rights

Strasbourg, 18.12.2008 – Declaring it “unacceptable” that persons could be charged and deprived of their liberty for political motivation in Armenia in relation to the events of 1 and 2 March 2008, the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) yesterday recommended suspending the voting rights of Armenia’s eight-member delegation to the Assembly until the authorities “have clearly demonstrated their political will to resolve this issue.” The co-rapporteurs would visit the country in January 2009, with a view to reporting back to the Committee on the first day of the January 2009 part-session on any progress with respect to the release of these persons.

In two earlier resolutions, the Assembly had made several demands following the post-electoral violence of March 2008, including the holding of an independent, transparent and credible inquiry into what happened, and the release of persons detained on “seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges” in connection with those events.

In its draft resolution, adopted yesterday in Paris, the Monitoring Committee welcomed the Armenian President’s creation of a fact-finding group of experts to look into the March events as an important step towards meeting the Assembly’s demands, but cautioned that its credibility would depend on how it conducts its work. They also expressed satisfaction at efforts to initiate reforms in the media, electoral legislation and the judiciary.

However, the parliamentarians said that “notwithstanding positive developments in some areas” the limited progress with regard to the release of the above mentioned persons meant the Armenian delegation should be deprived of its vote, if no further progress is reached in this request before the January 2009 PACE plenary session.

The Assembly is due to decide on the matter on Thursday 29 January during its forthcoming Winter plenary Session (26 – 30 January 2009).

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Scout Tufankjian – Obama’s Armenian photographer

Armenian-American photographer Scout Tufankjian is the only independent photographer to have covered Obama’s entire campaign from before he announced his candidacy through the Election Night celebration in Chicago’s Grant Park. Tufankjian has amassed an archive of some 12 000 images as she crossed the country countless times documenting this historic campaign. She lives in Brooklyn, and has a B.A. in Political Science from Yale. Before covering the Obama campaign, Tufankjian worked photographing the conflict in the Middle East, primarily the Gaza Strip, for four years. Tufankjian’s photographs have been published in major newspapers and magazines, including Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, People, The Guardian, ELLE, Esquire, Essence, Rolling Stone, Fortune, The Times of London, Stern, Der Spiegel, and many others.

Publishers informed Unzipped about the 12 December 2008 release of YES WE CAN: Barack Obama's History-Making Presidential Campaign book by Scout Tufankjian.

Yes We Can is the story of Barack Obama’s historic, world-changing journey from junior senator for Illinois to President of the United States of America as documented by Scout Tufankjian. It’s a comprehensive and intimate portrait of the man, his run, and his supporters. With more than 200 amazing photographs by Tufankjian, the book takes the reader along on Obama’s personal and political journey.

According to the press-release, the first printing of 55 000 copies of Yes We Can has sold out before the book was even released, and has already created a buzz of interest throughout the nation.

Below are selected extracts from a fascinating interview with Tufankjian (by powerHouse Books) detailing her experiences on the campaign trail.

How did you first get involved in photographing Barack Obama?
Scout Tufankjian: The first time I photographed Barack Obama, I didn’t want to go. I knew who he was and was interested in him but I had plans for that weekend and I didn’t want to drive five hours to New Hampshire to photograph what I assumed would be a deadly dull event. But when my editor at Polaris Images found someone to pay me, I canceled my plans and drove up to Portsmouth.

The building the event was in was dark, cavernous, and impossible to find. I showed up late and in a panic. Looking around at the space, I wondered why I had even bothered—but when Obama walked into the room, the crowd went nuts. When he started talking, they became completely transfixed. Hell, some of the other news photographers were transfixed—and this was New Hampshire! New Hampshire photographers are not impressed by politicians. Ever.

Immediately after the event was over, even before filing my pictures, I called my agent and told her that I was going to cover the Obama presidential campaign. I did not offer her a choice. The fact that he wasn’t technically running yet didn’t really seem that important to me.

As a member of the press corps, you were living a whole other life that few of us can even imagine. What were your days and nights like?
ST: I don’t know if you have ever read The Boys on the Bus, but it was pretty much exactly like that only with more female reporters, better technology, and fewer hard drugs. […]

What was it like to tour the United States ? What kind of surprises did you encounter?
[…] It is a huge cliché but the thing that really struck me was how similar Americans all are. Of course everything seems similar when you are seeing the country out of the window of a bus or from the inside of a hotel bar or at an Obama rally. But despite the country’s obvious physical differences (you are never going to confuse Montana and South Carolina), the people are not all that different.

What were your interactions like with the American people as you attended the rallies, which increased in size and fervor, as well as the more intimate gatherings?
ST: The people that came to see him were pretty much the only thing that kept me (relatively) sane throughout this process. I loved seeing their excitement and hearing their stories. I have always considered his supporters to be the real story of the campaign. Obama is obviously an inspirational figure to people but I think they are the real force behind this movement: the young people, the older people who tossed away their cynicism and disbelief, the military families, the auto workers, the teachers…

You watched Obama rise from a junior Senator to the President—what sort of transformations did you witness in his personal, professional, and public personas?
ST: I think the strangest thing about Obama is how little he has changed. Up until election night, when you could really see the weight of his responsibilities bearing down on him, he has seemed to be the exact same guy at the beginning that he was at the end. Certainly he was more tired, his hair was grayer, and his relationship with us soured somewhat after photographers followed him during private moments, but on the whole he changed very little.

Was there any pressure from anyone regarding what you could and couldn’t, or should and shouldn’t photograph?
ST: Not really. The AP and the networks had worked out a deal with the campaign that we weren’t supposed to photograph him in gym clothes (not sure why, but he does wear a super dorky gym outfit) and that we were supposed to leave the kids alone during private moments, but beyond that there were no rules.

Was there a point where you realized you were part of something historic?
ST: There were tons of moments where I stepped back and realized that I was witnessing something truly historic. The most memorable was during our South Carolina swing. I can’t even imagine what the older black folks in South Carolina have had to live through but I do know that they have been crushingly disappointed over and over again. Talking to those men and women about how they were allowing themselves to believe again and how they still could not believe that this could happen in their lifetimes was the most moving part of the campaign for me.

What is the one thing you would have never predicted back in December 2006?
ST: Honestly? I don’t know if I actually thought that he was going to win. I mean, I must have, but he didn’t just win. America voted for a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama, not in a time of safety and economic security but in the midst of some of the darkest times this country has known. Isn’t the cliché that people retreat to the familiar in times of crisis? In this case they didn’t. I don’t know if I could have predicted that.


*Photo credit: from Yes We Can by Scout Tufankjian, published by Melcher Media/powerHouse Books

Monday, 15 December 2008

Turkish intellectuals to Armenians: "I apologise"

I posted about the initiative by a group of Turkish intellectuals to launch an online petition personally apologising for 1915 "great disaster" (read genocide) suffered by Armenians. Even though they did not mention the G-word, this is a remarkable step forward by a group of Turkish thinkers in a country where Armenian Genocide still remains a taboo, albeit a broken one, and where by mere mentioning of the Genocide one could get persecuted or killed.

Not surprisingly then this initiative was condemned by the nationalist politicians as an "insult to the Turkish nation". They were joined today by a group of retired ambassadors who slammed the recent internet campaign launched to issue a public apology to Armenians regarding the 1915 incidents.

Today The Independent covered the story saying that "Around 200 Turkish intellectuals and academics are to apologise on the Internet today for the ethnic cleansing of Armenians during the First World War, in the most public sign yet that Turkey's most sensitive taboo is slowly melting away."

This petition was indeed launched today, and the website (in Turkish) opened for signatures now. As BBC indicates, "in the first few hours after the petition was launched, more than 1,000 people had signed their names beneath it."

In fact, numbers are growing. At the time of writing this post, there were 2424 signatories there.

BBC's Sarah Rainsford provides more details to the story in a report entitled Turkish thinkers' Armenia apology:

An internet petition has been launched in Turkey, apologising for the "great catastrophe of 1915" when hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians died.

Armenians and many international historians describe as "genocide" the massacres and deaths during a forced deportation from eastern Turkey.

Turkey firmly denies that, saying those killed were just victims of war.

The petition - the first of its kind - was initiated by prominent Turkish academics and newspaper columnists.

They say they want to challenge the official denial and provoke discussion in Turkish society about what happened.

The petition is entitled "I apologise", and a short statement at the top rejects what it calls the ignorance and denial in Turkey of what the Ottoman Armenians suffered in 1915.

It then apologises for the pain that was caused.

It is a bold and original step in a country where writer Hrant Dink was killed just last year for openly saying that the events of 1915 were genocide.

Sparking discussion

Nationalist politicians have condemned the move as an insult to the Turkish nation, and the organisers have received abusive emails.

Turkey admits that many Armenians were killed but it denies any genocide, saying the deaths happened during widespread fighting in World War I.

The petition does not call on the state to apologise for what happened and it deliberately avoids the highly controversial definition of genocide.

But the Turkish academic who dreamed up the idea says he hopes it will spark a proper discussion of what happened and promote empathy for what the Armenians suffered.

Cengiz Aktar called it the responsibility of all Turks to think and talk openly about how, and why, the Armenian people disappeared from a land they inhabited for 4,000 years.

The petition's authors say they have received many encouraging comments.

In the first few hours after the petition was launched, more than 1,000 people had signed their names beneath it.

*photo - via BBC

Armenia’s “case of seven” under international scrutiny

In yet another sign that the upcoming trial of prominent opposition figures in Armenia, known as “the case of seven”, would be at the centre of international scrutiny, The Guardian publishes an article on what it calls “one of the [Armenia’s] biggest trials in its short history as an independent country, with a former foreign minister and three MPs among seven charged in connection with mass protests in which 10 people died.”
[...] "To me, it was like the death of my country," said Karine Asatryan, editor of the A1+ website, which was closed down during the news blackout. "It is nine months now and we still don't know what happened, no one believes the police version of events. As for the trial, I am sure they will all be found guilty unless there is international pressure."

Gegham Vardanyan, a journalist with Internews, said that the issue of elections remained unresolved. "Armenia has never had fair elections, there has always been fraud, people don't believe you can change that." As for the court case, "it is a political trial and what happens in it will depend on the political process". [...]
There is special blog set up to publicise the trial - Armenia Seven on Trial.

In its introductory post, this newly established blog notes: In a November 22, 2008 press conference in Yerevan, [Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights] Thomas Hammarberg characterized the prosecution of the opposition as “political vendetta” and told reporters, “I am critical about some of the trials that have already been concluded and about the preparation of the major case against the seven prisoners…I have not so far seen any strong evidence which would make it possible for an independent court to sentence these seven for attempting to change power in this country with violence.”

Trial of seven to begin 19 December 2008.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

World’s financial crisis: How to survive Armenia’s economy?

I remember, after the first signs of the crisis, Armenian officials were quick to deny any dramatic impact of it on Armenia. However, with each passing week, the potential impact of the crisis was becoming so apparent, that tone of the government officials changed, and they started mentioning the possibility of economic downturn in Armenia as a result of the world crisis. Knowing local mentality, I can safely predict that from now on whatever bad happens in Armenian financial-economic field would be blamed on the world crisis. Partly, it would be true, but only partly. There are ways to diminish its impact however. But it requires proper crisis management with a scope of preventive actions. Policy Forum Armenia independent think-tank produced report on Implications of the World’s Financial Crisis for Armenia’s Economy.

We all know that in case of health problems, it’s much more efficient to prevent the disease than to treat it. So is with the economy. Report warns that “recent developments in emerging markets suggest that the crisis-related deterioration of the economic outlook is likely to occur abruptly with little (if any) signs of early warning”. Based on the analyses of specifics of Armenia’s economy and global trends, Policy Forum Armenia offers recommendations on essential “pre-emptive policy response and crisis preparedness efforts”.

Some of the main dangers to Armenian economy may come from: “(1) slowdown in remittances flows, (2) reduction in trade and investment, (3) problems originating from the financial sector, and (4) reduction in official assistance.”

While mentioning “capable Prime Minister”, the report is less convinced with the “relevant agencies—the Central Bank and line ministries” which “have limited capacity and experience to address the potential risks” and questionable coordination between each other and the cabinet.

One of the main recommendations by the Policy Forum Armenia is to establish a Crisis Prevention Team (CPT) “as a high-level policy advisory body to the government. Reporting directly to the Prime Minister, the CPT should consist of economists and financial sector professionals with strong reputation and experience in dealing with crisis countries. To be seen as credible it should include Diaspora and also possibly non-Armenian professionals and should be nonpartisan.”

Full report is available here

Djulfa (Jugha) destruction: 3rd anniversary of cultural vandalism, conference in Baku, and failed boycott by Armenia’s Ministry of Culture

3 years ago the Armenian medieval cemetery in the region of Nakhichevan (Azerbaijan) was destroyed and subsequently converted into a “military shooting range”.

On December 15th, 2005, Russia’s Regnum News Agency was the first international outlet to quote reports of approximately ‘100 Azerbaijani servicemen … crush[ing] Armenian graves and crosses ….’ An Armenian film crew in northern Iran, where the cemetery was visible from, had videotaped dozens of men in uniforms in the Azerbaijani border hacking the khachkars down with sledgehammers, using a crane to remove some of the largest monuments from the ground, breaking the stones into small pieces, and dumping them into the River Araxes by a large truck. The destruction, which also amounted to desecration of Armenian remains beneath the stones, had reportedly started on December 14th and lasted for a few days giving the world media enough time to report it as it was happening. But it was not until April 2006 when Azeri journalists from the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting confirmed that the cemetery had vanished. The Times reflected on April 21st, ‘[a] medieval cemetery regarded as one of the wonders of the Caucasus has been erased from the Earth in an act of cultural vandalism likened to the Taleban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001.’ (The Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum)
Ironically, earlier this month Azerbaijan hosted a European conference on intercultural dialogue organised by the Council of Europe. It is questionable, to say the least, whether Baku could be considered as an appropriate place for a conference to follow-up Europe-wide "White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue", as Azeri authorities did nothing to prevent or restore vandalised remains of numerous instances of Armenian cultural heritage there.

On the other hand, the Armenian Ministry of Culture failed to deliver a message by boycotting the conference. They either should have properly boycotted the conference by making an appropriate statement explaining the reasons for non-participation, or they should have participated there to raise the all important issues of destruction of Armenian cultural heritage in Azerbaijan, as well as protecting and restoring the multinational cultural heritage in all three South Caucasus countries. Instead, Ministry of Culture’s response was something like we did not participate because... “it was decided not to participate”. That’s all...

1970s

April 2006

*photos - via IWPR - Azerbaijan: Famous Medieval Cemetery Vanishes (Jugha Cemetery (13th-16th centuries). Photographs from 1970s and 2006.)

Thursday, 11 December 2008

PM Sargsyan (informal): guitar, film…

Alkhimik and 517design share their impressions (in Russian) and photos following an informal meeting at friend’s house with Armenian prime minister Tigran Sargsyan.

Apparently, PM’s recent favourite film is Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring by Korean art-house director Kim Ki-duk. Among his favourite authors - Abraham Maslow. And he plays guitar.

Kim Kardashian’s sister gets “Naked Against Fur”

Via PETA blog: “One of America’s hottest reality TV stars, Khloe Kardashian of Keeping Up With the Kardashians has posed naked - and she really is butt-naked! - for a new PETA ad against fur.”

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Armenia endorses historic UN statement against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

*For more details - see Unzipped: Gay Armenia

Armenia was the last country in the South Caucasus to decriminalise gay male sex towards the very end of 2002. It now became the first country not only in the South Caucasus but in a broader region to sign up for the proposed French-sponsored and EU-backed UN statement against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

There are many current problems in Armenia with regards to human rights. In short, respect for human rights is in pretty poor and vulnerable state. However... praise when praise is due.

I do commend Armenian authorities for endorsing the UN statement. This is pretty unprecedented and historic occasion.

At last, Armenia became part of the world headlines for the very RIGHT reasons. Let’s hope this trend will continue, and we will witness changes not only on the level of international declarations but also local level implementations.

The presentation of the declaration is now expected to take place at the UN General Assembly between 15 and 20 December - not on 10 December as previously reported.

The list of supporting countries is growing but still well short of a majority [although it does not require voting].

It will be tabled by France with the backing of all 27 member states of the EU; plus non-EU European nations including Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Ukraine, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine, Armenia and Macedonia. Russia and Turkey are not signing.

The call for the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships also has the support of the Latin American states of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay but not, notably, Columbia, Guyana or Venezuela.

Only three African nations – Gabon, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau – are endorsing the declaration so far. South Africa has not signed up. No Caribbean nation has offered its support, not even Cuba.

Although New Zealand is committed to the declaration, Australia is not. Nor is the US. But Canada is a sponsor.

No country in the Middle East, apart from Israel, endorses the declaration, and in Asia only Japan has agreed to approve it. China and India are silent on where they stand.

I just received welcome news that Australia endorses the statement. Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey did not endorse it, as of now.

Russian gay right activists sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs calling Russia to join the UN declaration. The letter to minister Sergei Lavrov says that “we would like to pay attention to the fact that natural allies of Russia, including Orthodox states such as Armenia and Serbia, but also Venezuela have already agreed to sign the declaration. As of today, more than 50 countries agreed to sign it”.

This is the first time that Armenia is brought as an example for championing gay rights on international level. For now, I feel proud that my country aligned itself with the more progressive segments of international community. I will feel even more proud if everything written in that declaration gets implemented too. It will take time, efforts. As friend of mine (internationally based Armenian gay rights activist) said to me today, “positive steps on an international level but the national level advocacy is lagging behind in Armenia”.

Veteran British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell calls this a “watershed for gay rights”: “It will be the first time in its history that the UN General Assembly has had before it a declaration in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) human rights.”

***
The statement deals with human rights abuses, directed against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, including violence, criminal sanctions, torture, threats against human rights defenders and discrimination in accessing economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health.

UN STATEMENT
*source

We have the honour to make this statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity on behalf of [...]

1 - We reaffirm the principle of universality of human rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whose 60th anniversary is celebrated this year, Article 1 of which proclaims that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”;

2 - We reaffirm that everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of human rights without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, as set out in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 2 of the International Covenants on Civil and Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as in article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

3 - We reaffirm the principle of non-discrimination which requires that human rights apply equally to every human being regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity;

4 - We are deeply concerned by violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms based on sexual orientation or gender identity;

5 - We are also disturbed that violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation and prejudice are directed against persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or gender identity, and that these practices undermine the integrity and dignity of those subjected to these abuses;

6 - We condemn the human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity wherever they occur, in particular the use of the death penalty on this ground, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the practice of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary arrest or detention and deprivation of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health;

7 - We recall the statement in 2006 before the Human Rights Council by fifty four countries requesting the President of the Council to provide an opportunity, at an appropriate future session of the Council, for discussing these violations;

8 - We commend the attention paid to these issues by special procedures of the Human Rights Council and treaty bodies and encourage them to continue to integrate consideration of human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity within their relevant mandates;

9 - We welcome the adoption of Resolution AG/RES. 2435 (XXXVIII-O/08) on “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity” by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States during its 38th session in 3 June 2008;

10 - We call upon all States and relevant international human rights mechanisms to commit to promote and protect human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity;

11 - We urge States to take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention.

12 - We urge States to ensure that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are investigated and perpetrators held accountable and brought to justice;

13 - We urge States to ensure adequate protection of human rights defenders, and remove obstacles which prevent them from carrying out their work on issues of human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity.

Armenia’s “Human Rights Day”

10 December – Human Rights Day, 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Around 70 political prisoners.

No free and fair elections on any level (with few minor exceptions).

Restrictions to freedom of assemblies/rallies.

Electronic media (TV), which is the most accessible media in Armenia, is not free or partly free. Situation became slightly better but it's more of a cosmetic nature than a real change. There are still banned TV channels (A1+, Noyan Tapan). Print media is effectively free. However, it does not have enough circulation and population access.

Armenian courts are not independent, and many court cases remind absurd theatres.

Non-stop pressures on businesses close to the opposition to ‘surrender’.

There are problems in relation to all aspects of human rights: children rights, women rights, gender equality, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity...

The best thing to happen in human rights field in Armenia was the introduction and functioning of the Human Rights Ombudsman, both as a person and as an institution. It's far from perfect in terms of work and influence, but recent evidence proves that Armenia’s Human Rights Ombudsman was able to assist in protecting human rights in our country, like no other state person/institution in Armenia. I would consider Armen Harutyunyan as a Person of the Day.

There are also encouraging signs on international level showing that at least based on some recent instances Armenian government aligns itself with the more progressive segments of international community. In particular, I commend Armenian government for signing under the proposed French-sponsored and EU-backed UN statement against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (separate post on this unprecedented action is upcoming), as well as
signing European treaty which potentially grants adoption rights to same-sex couples. So far, Armenia is the only country in the region to endorse above mentioned international documents.

It was amusing to read speaker of Armenian parliament Hovik Abrahamyan’s statement on Human Rights Day: "Human rights will be at the centre of attention of Armenian parliament". First, Armenian parliament has to be representative of population, which is – disappointingly - not. Then, it has to prove that it indeed an institution to protect human rights, which is – disappointingly - not.

It's easy to issue statements and declarations on human rights. It's completely different matter and pretty tough to actually mean it and make them work.

Armenia urged to lift travel restrictions on people with HIV in time for the Vienna World AIDS Conference in 2010

Thirty countries deport HIV+ migrant workers, sixty six countries discriminate HIV+ travellers, including 19 in the WHO Europe region [including Armenia].

“Exclusionary policies like these are a shame for Europe”, says Karl Lemmen from the German AIDS Federation. “European States and institutions should do everything possible to remove HIV related travel restrictions within its territory to guarantee that human rights prevail and `European values` exist.

For details - see Unzipped: Gay Armenia

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Saturday, 6 December 2008

"Tell us the facts..." (Quote of the Day)

In a seminar last week in Washington, D.C., Christopher Kojm, former Executive Deputy Director of the “9/11 Commission” reiterated his concerns following an October fact-finding mission here to evaluate Armenia’s progress on getting to the truth of last March 1’s deadly post-election violence.

Speaking at a forum titled “The South Caucasus: A Year of Ballots and Bullets,” Kojm related the 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries of March 1 to a scale of United States’ proportions. “It would be a thousand killed, over ten thousand injured, and seven thousand imprisoned. Naturally, had that occurred in our country (the US), this would have been a topic of discussion and the American people would like to know what happened on that night. Who is responsible? Tell us the facts so that our country can deal with them and move forward.”

But the 9/11 investigator’s comments expressed doubts on whether such a report can be produced in Armenia due, largely, to the lack of involvement of any opposition representatives’ participation.

“Our (the team of three who traveled to Armenia) message to everyone was the same: No report will be seen as credible if it is written by the government, or if it is written by the opposition. A report will only be credible if leaders of different parties work together so that they are forced to look passed their preconceptions, their clear political difference, and that they are forced to focus on the facts.”

*ArmeniaNow
/emphasis mine/

Friday, 5 December 2008

Today's Zaman: "Turkish intellectuals give personal apology for 1915 events"

*via Today's Zaman

A group of Turkish intellectuals have apologized for the “great disaster that Ottoman Armenians suffered in 1915” but have fallen short of calling on the state to do the same.

A petition initiated by a group of intellectuals, including professors Baskın Oran and Ahmet İnsel, journalists Ali Bayramoğlu and Cengiz Aktar, personally apologizes for the events.

The group is asking other people to sign the petition, which reads as follows: “I cannot conscientiously accept the indifference to the great disaster that Ottoman Armenians suffered in 1915, and its denial. I reject this injustice and acting of my own will, I share the feelings and pains of my Armenian brothers and sisters, and I apologize to them.”

The organizers of the campaign have underlined that first they will collect signatures from intellectuals and they will then open a secure Web site to collect signatures. [...]

The petition, which has already become the target of nationalists, has led to criticism from other intellectuals.

Aytekin Yıldız, the coordinator of the Confrontation Association (Yüzleşme Derneği), pointed out that the Armenian community was already aware of the fact that there are many people in Turkey of conscience, and the important thing was not to declare what is already known. “It is a good starting point, but not enough. Firstly, what do they mean by ‘great disaster’? Let’s name it, it is genocide. Secondly, the state has to apologize,” Yıldız pointed out. [...]

The Peace and Sport Image of the Year Award: Turkey and Armenia


Peace and Sport Organization (Organisation pour la Paix et le Sport) - press release:

This distinction for the best image of fraternization through sport was awarded for a photograph of the historic handshake between the President of the Republic of Turkey Abdullah Gül and the President of Armenia, Serge Sarkissian, during the qualifying match for the Football World Cup between Turkey and Armenia. Thanks to football, this moment marked the end of nearly two decades of diplomatic silence.

H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco presented the award jointly to Armen Grigorian, Armenian Minister of Youth and Sport, and to Mahmut Özgener, President of the Turkish Football Federation, who exchanged long greetings on stage, creating a moment of intense emotion amongst spectators.

Joel Bouzou and David Tomatis, CEO of Sportel, acclaimed the photograph as “a symbol of hope for two communities whose history has been marked by hostility and pain.”

In a letter sent to Peace and Sport, the Armenian President Mr Sarkissian proclaimed himself “deeply moved to hear the Grand Jury’s decision to attribute the Peace and Sport Image of the Year Award to his handshake with Turkish President Mr Gül.” He added that he was convinced that “Sport is one of the best ways to overcome differences between nations”.

*photo - via Public Radio of Armenia

CNN "Screams 'Bloody Murder' But Not about Armenian Genocide"

According to the US-based Armenian National Committee of America, "A powerful new CNN documentary, "Scream Bloody Murder," anchored by Christiane Amanpour, premiered tonight (9:00 p.m. ET/PT). The program offered a compelling look at genocide throughout history, with a special focus on those who witnessed and warned the world about these atrocities.

Sadly, however, in a disservice to it millions of viewers, CNN neglected to include the Armenian Genocide as the first such event, despite the fact that it was this atrocity that first prompted international lawyer Raphael Lemkin to coin the word "genocide," and to work toward the eventual adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide."

Asbarez provides more details:
A powerful documentary entitled “Scream Bloody Murder” anchored by Christiane Amanpour premiering on CNN today (9 p.m. ET/PT) offers a gripping look at Genocide throughout history and those who witnessed and warned a deaf world about such atrocities, but neglects to mention the Armenian Genocide as the first such event that prompted Raphael Lemkin to coin the phrase.

The documentary begins with the roots of the word Genocide and chronicles the stormy conflicts within Lemkin, who, as Amanpour puts it, was affected by the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks and was prompted to coin the phrase Genocide. In the almost 90-minute press screener, the Armenian Genocide was mentioned for about 45 seconds as an anecdotal reference to Lemkin's struggle for human justice. Using photographs now familiar to all Armenians and possibly obtained from Armin T. Wegner Collection, Amanpour illustrates the horror of the Armenian Genocide but does not delve into it in as in-depth and compelling manner as she does the other instances of Genocide.

Throughout the program, Amanpour “reveals stories of those who tried to stop genocide,” as the CNN press information describes it and discusses the horrific stories of Genocide with “heroes who witnessed evil-- and 'screamed bloody murder' for the international community to stop it.

Amanpour and CNN should be applauded for the in-depth look at Genocide, from the Holocaust to the killing fields of Cambodia, to Iraq, Rwanda, Bosnia and now Darfur the horror of it all is told with searing images and graphic eyewitness accounts.

To bring attention to Genocide, on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the adoption of UN Convention of Genocide and Human Rights, authored by Lemkin, is an important accomplishment, one that also asks the hard question of why the world did (does) not interfere when it has a moral obligation.

Amanpour adeptly clarifies the political machinations behind the response--or lack thereof--by the US in all instances featured in the report and wonders, at the end, whether others who “scream bloody murder” will be heard. One wonders, however, if Amanpour heard the screams of Henry Morgenthau, the US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the time of the Armenian Genocide, who along with Elie Wiesel, Father Francois Ponchaud, Peter Galbraith, Richard Holbrook, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire and others who bore witness to such unspeakable atrocities and whose warnings prompted action but not soon enough to save millions of lives.

Perhaps, the Armenian community can now prompt CNN, as it did eight years ago ABC News and its venerable anchor the late Peter Jennings to take a closer look at the first Genocide of the 20th Century. [...]

You may take action now.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Armenia signs European treaty which potentially grants adoption rights to same-sex couples

All details - in Unzipped: Gay Armenia

...signing this treaty by Armenia is encouraging sign, and I commend Armenian government for that.

Not only Armenia is the first country in South Caucasus to do so, but also among the first Europe-wide too. From this point of view, this is pretty significant and welcoming development.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Irony of the Day

Armenia’s incumbent president Serj Sargsyan unveils memorial to the victims of Soviet time political repressions… having dozens of modern day political prisoners in independent Armenia.

*photos - by Photolur, via A1+

Moving closer to Europe: The Eastern Partnership

I am pretty much pro-European in my views of Armenia’s direction. Therefore, I welcome any step which brings Armenia closer to the EU. There is no promise of EU membership with this new initiative of Eastern Partnership which was formally announced today. However, there is hint at it. The way to Europe is closer now, but still long way to go.

We like criticising other EU candidate countries, in particular Turkey (I would add here EU members Poland, Bulgaria…), that they are not ready to be considered as such, there are lots of problems in terms of democracy and human rights in those countries. We now have to look at ourselves and honestly ask: Are we ready? The obvious answer is no. We are not even close. However, the prospect of closer ties or even eventual membership could hopefully stimulate reforms in our country like it did in other countries. EU must offer more than a hint at the membership prospects to make incentives for changes more desirable. On the other hand, it has to be very strict in assessing and pushing countries’ compliance with the standards. These are hopes, but we know very well that the reality is different, and depending on the situation the wind may blow to any direction.

One thing I know for sure. I can’t wait to see THE day when Armenian citizens will travel EU countries visa-free.

*The EU will formally launch this initiative in spring 2009 at a special “Eastern Partnership Summit”.

French government opposed to the penalization of the Armenian genocide's negation

Jean Eckian reports from Paris

Tuesday December 2, Mr. Rene Rouquet, Deputy-Mayor of Alfortville town (area of Paris), with a strong concentration of citizens of Armenian origin, challenged the French government so that the Senate achieves a legislative evolution, in order to punish the negationnists of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

« This concern is not only that of Armenian diaspora of France : it is that of all those which are attached to justice and the right, for which France, fatherland of the Rights of Man and cradle of the lights, would be honoured to adapt its legislation to condemn, penally, the negation or the dispute of this genocide. », he said.

In his answer to the deputy, Mr. Alain Marleix, Secretary of State for interior and to the territorial collectivities, said: «concerning the bill of which you speak, the position of the Government is clear and known: it is not favorable to its inscription with day order of the Senate. As I have just evoked it, the legislative device already exists. Moreover, the Government considers that it does not belong to the Parliament to legislate on history and that it is to the historians for whom it returns to write and to interpret this one". Secretary of State justified the current location of the French government by the evolution of the Turkish Armenian dialogue that " we must encourage », he said.

On this question, the French government is in total contradiction with position of President Sarkozy, favorable to the penalization of the negation of Armenian Genocide.

In reaction to the decision of the French government, Council of Coordination of the Armenian Organizations of France, Calls to demonstrate on December 10 in front of the Senate.


Referendum on Karabakh settlement in Armenia: populist, useless and dangerous exercise

This may sound like breaking news that Armenian government wants to listen to public opinion and go forward with Karabakh settlement only after getting approval from the public via 'nationwide referendum'.

Sadly, this only sounds like that. In reality, this is useless and perhaps even dangerous populist exercise.

Imagine if Karabakh settlement agreement is put to a nationwide vote. Will it be the whole document or some separate clauses or, even worse, ‘principles’ which then anyone could interpret the way they want?

Then, let’s consider that understandably Azerbaijan also follows the suite and conducts its own referendum. Now hypothetical outcomes.

What if Armenia rejects it, and Azerbaijan accepts it? Does this mean war?

What if Armenia accepts it and Azerbaijan rejects it? Does this mean that Armenia would be forced to more compromises to satisfy Azerbaijan?

What if both Azerbaijan and Armenia accept it? Where does this leave Karabakh? Where is their voice? One would assume that the very people who will be directly affected by any decision signed are Karabakh citizens. It would be unimaginable that they should be left out of this ‘democratic exercise’. Till now, it was impossible for parties to agree on the terms of Karabakh referendum for its future status as reportedly a final step of the proposed settlement. There is no way that with current Azeri official position there will be any agreement to take into account the results of Karabakh’s own referendum on the settlement principles.

But forget even what I said above.

Do we trust voting, referendum, polling, you name it, initiated by Armenian authorities? The answer is simple: No. The whole history of national voting/referendum since 1995 proves that the answer is simple: No.

Unless there are fundamental changes in Armenian society and political system in terms of democratisation and representative governance, Armenian public will not accept any result of any poll initiated by Armenian authorities. This will only lead to intensifying of internal divisions and political crisis. Armenian ruling administration had almost a year to initiate real reforms, to increase faith of the public in democratic institutions. They failed so far, spectacularly.

And, finally, one somewhat minor point. If this poll, or ‘referendum’, initiated by Armenian government, is expected to be non-binding, why not conduct a proper opinion poll instead to reveal public views, even if for internal use only? The alternative in form of a proposed ‘nationwide referendum’ is populist, useless and dangerous exercise.

P.S. A1plus blog has also made a relevant entry on this subject matter (in Armenian)

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Reports: Samantha Power is back on board of Obama’s foreign policy team

Few weeks ago I wrote about speculations on potential return of Samantha Power to Obama’s foreign policy team. Samantha Power is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and renowned anti-genocide and human rights activist. She is pretty influential and considered as “pro-Armenian”. In February 2008, Samantha Power has taped a “powerful 5-minute video reviewing presidential hopeful Barack Obama's support for Armenian issues, and encouraging Armenian Americans to vote for him in the upcoming primaries”, as reported by the Armenian National Committee of America.

The main impediment to her return was an incident during Obama’s pre-election campaign, when Samantha Power called Hillary Clinton a “monster”. She then resigned from Obama’s presidential campaign team.

However, according to the reports coming out from the US, Samantha Power is back on board of Obama’s foreign policy team. The Huffington Post reports:

“WASHINGTON — An adviser to Barack Obama's presidential campaign who was forced to resign earlier this year after calling Sen. Hillary Rodham Cllinton a "monster" is now working on the transition team for the agency Clinton is expected to lead.

State Department officials said Friday that Samantha Power is among a group of foreign policy experts that the president-elect's office selected to help the incoming administration prepare for Clinton's anticipated nomination as secretary of state. The Obama transition team's Web site includes Power's name as one of 14 members of the "Agency Review Team" for the State Department.

Clinton's role at State is expected to be announced after the Thanksgiving weekend. Power's apparent rehabilitation is another sign of that impending move.

Clinton's office declined to comment on Power's inclusion in the State Department transition, but an official close to the Obama transition team said Power had "made a gesture to bury the hatchet" with Clinton and that it had been well-received.

Power has been given an official State Department e-mail address and has been seen in the building, said the State officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the transition. A State Department spokesman referred questions to Obama's transition team, which later declined to comment.”

*photo - via Mail Online

Quote of the Day

Awards are like haemorrhoids. Sooner or later every asshole gets one.

*Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling), Swimming Pool (2003), François Ozon

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

RIP: Lycos-Armenia

A1plus: "A leading IT Company Lycos-Armenia is closing down. The administration has informed the staff about the company's closure at a special meeting minutes ago. Employees were notified of the menace of closure weeks ago. Lycos-Armenia is a development and operations center for the business units of Lycos Europe. The company employs some 1000 people [Unzipped: other sources put the number at around 700 people], the best specialists of the sphere. Presently, the company neither confirms nor denies the information. Details will be given later in the day."

Here are some relevant world news headlines:

Lycos Europe admits defeat in search for investor

Lycos Europe Cries “Uncle!”

Lycos Europe to close portal, end Web hosting

Kings of the chess

They did it!! - Armenia wins 2nd consecutive Chess Olympiad gold.

Congrats!!

They will get heroes reception today upon return to Yerevan.

*photo - by Photolur, via ArmeniaNow

Monday, 24 November 2008

Congratulations: we are officially a “medium-income country”

Well, apparently, this transition for Armenia from the “low-income country” to the “medium-income country” happened at the beginning of 2006. For this very reason, the UK government announced today suspension of its “assistance programme to Armenia”.
Taking into consideration that at the beginning of 2006 Armenia was included in the list of medium-income countries, and the assistance policy of the UK Department of International Development is mainly targeted at the implementation of programs in low-income countries, the UK Government has decided to suspend the assistance program to Armenia at the end of 2008.

Rock Aid Armenia - Smoke on the water

I cannot believe I had no idea about this music project. Just found the link to this YouTube video via Propeller.

Must see!

“This was a joint humanitarian effort by an elite group of musicians who gathered at Metropolis Studios in Chiswick, London on July 8, 1989 for a project to raise money to help those affected by the Leninakan [Gyumri] Earthquake of 1988 that struck Armenia. Bryan Adams, Ritchie Blackmore, Bruce Dickinson, Keith Emerson, Ian Gillan, David Gilmour, John Paul Jones, Tony Iommi, Alex Lifeson, Jon Lord, Brian May, Adrian Smith, Paul Rodgers, Chris Squire and Roger Taylor.”

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Junior Eurovision 2008: Dead boring Armenian entry. Brilliant Georgia wins – congrats!

Sorry for being harsh, but it has to be said. Everything was wrong with Armenian entry - singer’s voice which is more mature than you would enjoy for Junior Eurovision (and sounded worse than usual); song which is dead boring; dresses which were not necessarily ‘junior’; overall performance... It’s a kind of song which you would never be able to recall after you listened to it, as there is absolutely nothing remarkable or particularly likable about it. Just boring…

On the other hand, Georgian entry was fun and very enjoyable. They were my favourites to win. They were simply brilliant. Congrats to them for well deserved win!! Everything was right with their entry, like it was with Armenian one a year ago when for the first time we participated in Junior Eurovision. I also liked Macedonian entry. Ukraine was not bad too. Btw, I loved that Armenia gave the highest 12 points to Georgia. Again, it was well deserved. Nice to see Russia’s 12 points to Georgia too.

Last year’s Armenian entry - Arevik band with Erazanq song, was a perfect Junior Eurovision entry. Only luck made Belarus win that year ahead of Armenia with only 1 point! Arevik’s song became big hit afterwards, and deservedly so.

With Monika Manucharova, it was a mistake, to put it mildly. Sorry, Monika, you are lovely girl, and I wholeheartedly wish you have successful career in whatever you choose to do, but this was not (and should not have been) your day. It’s not really her fault. I blame organisers and whoever was responsible for Armenian entry this year (Nadezhda Sargsyan & co?).

*photo - via Junior Eurovision Song Contest

“Christmas Gloom” in London: “buy one, get one free” for cars

Although by external appearance it’s Christmas time in London, TV headlines related to Christmas carried out under the depressing “Christmas Gloom”. This relates to the current economic situation when credit crunch forcing shoppers to cut their Christmas spending. High street shops and other retailers are doing whatever they can to attract shoppers inside. This, of course, means sales and various offers as shops battle for your cash. The most amazing one I saw on Sky News today. A car retailer started selling cars as “buy one, get one free” (do not remember brand, priced around under £ 8000). May be it happened in past too, but I never seen anything like this before, in relation to cars.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

BBC: "Violent nationalism blights Turkey"

BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports (her full report has been shown tonight on BBC's Newsnight programme)

Writer Hrant Dink was the first victim, killed last year because some in Turkey could not tolerate what he stood for. To nationalists, he was a traitor.

In a country where every citizen is defined as a Turk, Hrant Dink defined himself as ethnic Armenian. That was already subversive to some. But Mr Dink went further.

He wrote about the expulsion and killing of hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Armenians from eastern Turkey in 1915. To Armenians, and others, that was genocide - a claim Ankara vigorously denies. [...]

'Ergenekon' trial

In that battle for democracy, Hrant Dink was on the frontline. Now there is another sign the fight will be fierce.

Eighty ultra-nationalists are currently on trial just outside Istanbul, accused of plotting to overthrow the government and block democratic reforms.

The prosecutor claims the group - known as Ergenekon - planned a campaign of murder and violence. It was meant to create chaos - and force the military to step in and take control.

Hrant Dink believed Turkey could change. His vision was of a truly democratic republic and the EU accession process was a vital part of that.

To his widow, such change now looks a long way off.

"[Turkey] doesn't want people to express their ethnic identity, or live freely. That doesn't fit the founding ideas of this country,” Rakel says.

"Turkey needs time to adjust. The EU process may help, but my husband's death is their biggest loss."

*photo - AP, via BBC

Monday, 17 November 2008

Investigative journalist Edik Baghdasaryan attacked in Yerevan

Couple of hours ago (around 8pm local time), Edik Baghdasaryan, editor of Investigative Journalists' Hetq Online, was attacked upon leaving his work office by 3 strangers in downtown Yerevan. Edik did not rule out that this attack could be connected with his professional activities, although he noted that he has not received any threats, as of lately. For journalists to investigate corruption and other darker sides of life is becoming increasingly dangerous in Armenia. They get assaulted again, and again, as normally no one gets punished for similar attacks.

New (old) kind of 'freedom' is establishing itself in Armenia - freedom from punishment for assaulting journalists. Impunity rules!



*news via A1+ and Hetq Online; video - via A1+

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Armenian opposition’s “specialised committees”

This very brief news report on meeting held by the opposition Armenian National Congress is lacking details but informative nevertheless. It was decided by the opposition to form “specialised committees” on various aspects of life for the country – foreign policy, economy, legal system etc. They would aim to develop and present to the Congress policies and expert opinions for their relevant fields and on current issues.

I’ve been long in favour of a ‘shadow cabinet’ system (similar to the one operated in the UK by opposition parties) or something along the same line by its essence. It’s been a while that opposition hinted on the idea, and with this announcement on forming “specialised committees” it seems to me they are moving towards that direction, and aim to use the declared hiatus for organisational reforms and developments.

I’d like to see clear policy alternatives for all the important fields of life in Armenia, be that internal or external. I’d like to see people/teams responsible for those fields. These will be the policies and people who – in case of opposition coming to the power – will replace existing policies and people. This will help establishing new culture of transparency of political parties, minimise populism, and contribute to informed decisions made by the electorate, things which are lacking in current Armenia. Assuming, of course, that the policy recommendations (and specialised team members) will not remain ‘for internal consumption only’ but rather result in publicised policy formulations. Providing, of course, that the electorate will be able to exercise its election right which is lacking in current Armenia.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

There’s no pride in silence: domestic and sexual violence against women in Armenia

Report issued today by the Amnesty International (to be formally launched in Yerevan tomorrow) suggests that “more than a quarter of women in Armenia have faced physical violence at the hands of husbands or other family members. Many of these women have little choice but to remain in abusive situations as reporting violence is strongly stigmatized in Armenian society.”

Women’s Resource Centre in Armenia organises march against violence against women on 25 November 2008.

For details - see Unzipped: Gay Armenia

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Gay marriage is a question of love



Keith Olbermann (American sportscaster, news anchor, and political commentator) delivers an amazing emotional Special Comment on the outcome of California's voting of "Proposition 8" which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry:

"This isn't about yelling, and this isn't about politics, and this isn't really just about Prop-8. And I don't have a personal investment in this: I'm not gay, I had to strain to think of one member of even my very extended family who is, I have no personal stories of close friends or colleagues fighting the prejudice that still pervades their lives. [...]

I keep hearing this term "re-defining" marriage.

If this country hadn't re-defined marriage, black people still couldn't marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal... in 1967.
1967.

The parents of the President-Elect of the United States couldn't have married in nearly one third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead. But it's worse than that. If this country had not "re-defined" marriage, some black people still couldn't marry...black people. It is one of the most overlooked and cruelest parts of our sad story of slavery. Marriages were not legally recognized, if the people were slaves. Since slaves were property, they could not legally be husband and wife, or mother and child. Their marriage vows were different: not "Until Death, Do You Part," but "Until Death or Distance, Do You Part." Marriages among slaves were not legally recognized.

You know, just like marriages today in California are not legally recognized, if the people are... gay. [...]

You are asked now, by your country, and perhaps by your creator, to stand on one side or another. You are asked now to stand, not on a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight. You are asked now to stand, on a question of love. All you need do is stand, and let the tiny ember of love meet its own fate.

You don't have to help it, you don't have to applaud it, you don't have to fight for it. Just don't put it out. Just don't extinguish it. Because while it may at first look like that love is between two people you don't know and you don't understand and maybe you don't even want to know. It is, in fact, the ember of your love, for your fellow person just because this is the only world we have. And the other guy counts, too." More...

For more on this topic - see Unzipped: Gay Armenia

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Macho church: fight erupts between Armenian and Greek monks in Jerusalem

Just watched this on the BBC. Bizarre!



BBC reports: Israeli police have had to restore order at one of Christianity's holiest sites after a mass brawl broke out between monks in Jerusalem's Old City.

Fighting erupted between Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Christ's crucifixion.

Two monks from each side were detained as dozens of worshippers traded kicks and punches at the shrine, said police.

Trouble flared as Armenians prepared to mark the annual Feast of the Cross.

Shocked pilgrims looked on as decorations and tapestries were toppled during Sunday's clash.

Dressed in the vestments of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian denominations, rival monks threw punches and anything they could lay their hands on.

The Greeks blamed the Armenians for not recognising their rights inside the holy site, while the Armenians said the Greeks had violated one of their traditional ceremonies. More...

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Will Samantha Power return as foreign policy advisor to Obama?

Some Jewish sources speculate on Obama’s foreign policy team saying that it will be “centrist” and “pragmatic”, the real meaning of which will be known after the president-elect takes the office in January.

Among potential candidates for Obama’s foreign policy team is Samantha Power (i.e. her return after the resignation during the pre-election campaign when she called Hillary Clinton a “monster”).

Samantha Power is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and renowned anti-genocide and human rights activist. In 2004, Power was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 top scientists and thinkers of that year. She is pretty influential and considered as “pro-Armenian”. Turkey will certainly prefer to see her out of the team. In February 2008, Samantha Power has taped a “powerful 5-minute video reviewing presidential hopeful Barack Obama's support for Armenian issues, and encouraging Armenian Americans to vote for him in the upcoming primaries”, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

According to British sources, the Irish-born professor “was a key member of Obama's foreign policy team and one of his closest aides.” “If Obama makes it to the White House, Miss Power - who was cited by Men's Vogue as one of the most beautiful women in the world - was expected to take a crucial role in redefining the Anglo-American relationship.”

*photo - via Mail Online

Friday, 7 November 2008

Isakhan Ashurov: "Tough Azerbaijani defense lawyer takes aim at injustice, corruption"


If only we have more people like Isakhan Ashurov... This is an amazing profile of Azeri defence lawyer, a very rare one.

*via RFE/RL

Famous for both his honesty and his short temper, Isakhan Ashurov handles controversial cases that other lawyers either can't -- or won't.

BAKU -- Isakhan Ashurov is one of the most prominent defense lawyers in Azerbaijan, yet he has very few successful cases in his portfolio.

In fact, most of his clients are serving prison terms.

"The number of cases I have lost in Azerbaijani courts is not important to me," Ashurov says, "since I know the verdicts are decided before the cases have been launched."

What matters, he says, is “whether I am able to defeat the propaganda machine of the government and save the reputation of the person [I am defending], who is facing not only a corrupt court but also a mostly government-controlled media, which tries to justify the unfair court decisions. It is much more important to win the process, no matter what the sentence is." […]

Ashurov, 53, routinely receives death threats due to his choice of clients and his willingness to speak out.

A former police chief famous both for his honesty and his short temper, Ashurov has also become known as a critic of corruption in law enforcement, a stance also unlikely to win him many friends.

“Who likes Ashurov?" asks political analyst Hikmet Hajizadeh, director of the pro-democracy FAR Center. "Almost everyone does, except those who have heard from him the truth to their face. He is unlikely to compromise his principles. These days, there is a deficit of these type of people. But if we have too many Ashurovs, the system may collapse." […]

Angered Muslims, 'Betrayed' The Motherland

Ashurov recently took on two controversial, and challenging, cases.

In April 2007, he defended two Azerbaijani journalists, Rafiq Tagi and his editor, Samir Sadagatogulu, who were accused of insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in an article titled "Europe and Us.” An Iranian ayatollah issued a fatwah against him. […]

In another media-freedom case, in May 2007, Ashurov defended Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of the Russian-language weekly "Realniy Azerbaijan." Fatullayev was accused of insulting the country's military forces by publishing an interview with an Armenian military officer, who accused Azerbaijani forces of responsibility for a 1992 massacre of hundreds of ethnic Azerbaijani civilians in the settlement of Khojaly during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Fatullayev was found guilty and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.

He was subsequently sentenced by another court to eight years in jail on charges he incited terrorism by noting that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline could be targeted if Iran was attacked by the United States.

"April and May [2007] were difficult," Ashurov recalls. "In one case, I had to face angry Muslims calling me a kafer [infidel] and accusing me of defending kafers. In another, a group of refugees, orchestrated by the government, called me a betrayer of the motherland for defending Eynulla Fatullayev."

A Man Of Integrity

Such insults against Ashurov amuse Chingiz Tanriverdiyev.

Tanriverdiyev served in the Azerbaijani police force for more than 20 years and first met Ashurov in 1978 when Ashurov was a police investigator in the district of Qazax, on the border with Georgia. Tanriverdiyev served under Ashurov when the latter became Qazax police chief in 1992, just as the war over Nagorno-Karabakh was escalating and many villages in the district were coming under fire.

Tanriverdiyev says Ashurov made it clear to his officers that he would not tolerate violence against civilians, regardless of their ethnicity.

"I remember his first conversation with us as police chief in 1992, when he said he wanted us to help restore the image of the police force," Tanriverdiyev says. "After the war started, he said he would punish anyone who harmed Armenian civilians. He would say, 'You fight against those who have arms.' "

Ashurov remembers the case in 1992 when one OMON special police officer brought him a "gift."

“It was a human ear in a cigarette pack," Ashurov says. "I found out that the officer had cut off the ear of an Armenian peasant and had brought the person, with his bleeding head, as a prisoner. He explained that this was the least he could do in return for what Armenian soldiers had done to Azerbaijani villagers. That was awful.

"I apologized to the peasant in front of the whole police staff. The person who did that was arrested, so no one would ever dare to think about harming civilians in retaliation for what the armed forces had done."

Even today, many citizens in Qasax say Ashurov's tenure as chief was the only period when they really respected the police.

"I remember that when we'd ask our children who they would like to be in the future, they would answer, 'I will be Ashurov,' " says Qazax resident Ilaha Gadimova. "Not the police, [but] Ashurov.” […]

photo - via RFE/RL