Thursday, 31 January 2008

Armenian teenager seeking asylum in the UK?

I am very confused about this story which I saw few minutes ago on British TV (BBC News 24). How and exactly why this 16 yrs old Armenian teenager came to the UK and is seeking asylum (and according to new government regulations may well face deportation). No proper info or reason is provided in this article from BBC website either. Something does not seem quite right to me, something very important is missing in this teenager’s story. I wonder if anyone from Armenia or British Armenian community would be able to clarify the situation and perhaps provide some kind of support to this guy? I wonder what exactly happened to this guy in Armenia and the UK? Here is the ‘story’, very weird... The way this teenager tells his story reminiscent of human trafficking related stories, but can’t speculate further because have no any basis for that, just a thought.

*source of this story and photos: BBC

'I'm happy in this country'

As the government announces that unaccompanied youngsters - denied the right to stay in this country - will now be deported, Aram, who came to Britain from Armenia, tells in his own words the story of his journey to the UK.

"My name is Aram. I am 16 years old. I came in this country 10 months ago.

When I came in this country, someone take me to social services - some adviser from Refugee Council. When they take me to Refugee Council, I met one man who take me to hotel.

In the hotel, I stay nearly two weeks. And in that two weeks, I was getting everything I need in social care. After two to three weeks, a lady called me. A Russian lady was interpreting.

They talked to me and they were very rude to me. I asked for water because I felt bad when I was talking about my life.

They said they had no water. It was very hard for me. After two hours, I was feeling very bad, they go out - after 15 minutes they said 'we think you're 18 years old'.

And they take me to [word unintelligible] and I was crying so much, I didn't know where to go or what to do.

After that a man took me to a hotel and it was very hard for me because I don't know how to cook, I don't know how to look after myself and I was very bad. I was crying too much and I tried to do bad things to me, I was scared too much.

So after that I made Refugee Council - I was coming here all the time, I live here because they never leave me. And I am very happy for them, because this is my family - a very big family.

I like people, I love people - I'm very happy in this country, because this country is peace - no-one attacks no-one, everybody lives, no-one can take your life for nothing.

And I'm very happy for these people, because these people they help me so much.

I'm very young and I want to be useful. I don't want to be very bad people, I want to help people because I can. I don't want to waste time sitting at home. I decided to come and help them, so I want to be very useful.

I don't like war, I don't like when people die. I like this country too much, because in this country people don't die. In this country I learnt to play football -I went to Refugee Council team in Kennington Park [south London]. Every Friday we're playing football and I'm very happy for this.

I love books, I have two library cards. I'm learning English and I'm learning books."

Window of opportunity: Will opposition unite ahead of presidential elections in Armenia?

The most likely scenario at the moment:

Orinats Erkir opposition party leader and presidential hopeful Arthur Baghdasaryan is declaring his support for former Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrosyan (there was significant hint on such possibility from Baghdasaryan’s team). It is not likely that another opposition figure and presidential hopeful Vazgen Manukyan will join this bloc. Then Raffi Hovhannisyan is urging his supporters to vote for this newly formed alliance. In this case, this bloc is becoming the most real and powerful challenge to current regime with very real chances to win in case of fair elections. With all my reservations, I would definitely support this bloc.

Prospects for presidential hopeful from the nationalist ARF Dashnaktsutyun party Vahan Honhannisyan in terms of uniting opposition figures around him are not looking very likely at the moment. Well, there is possibility of Vazgen Manukyan declaring his support for Vahan Hovhannisyan. However, even if this happens, poll ratings for Vazgen Manukyan are pretty low, and other than morale boost (important but not enough), it won’t bring Hovhannisyan sufficient number of additional voters to ensure his success during elections.

This is how I see the situation based on analysis of current developments. If opposition figures eventually decide to unite during the second round of elections only, it will significantly weaken their chances to win. Of course, there is always a possibility of failure to unite at all, in which case anyone wanting change in Armenia will lose this unique window of opportunity for perhaps another 5-10 years.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Armenian Genocide Monument desecrated on Holocaust Memorial Day

Turkish protesters disrupt Holocaust and Hrant Dink Commemorations

Only few days ago, organisers warned of possible Turkish attempts to disrupt the Holocaust and Hrant Dink Commemoration event planned to be held in Cardiff (Wales, UK) at recently erected Armenian Genocide Memorial. Particularly, their press release indicated that "Hal Savas and his "Committee for the Protection of Turkish Rights" has told the South Wales police that they intend to protest nearby." However, the reality they encountered was uglier than it was thought would be.

*source of photo: BBC

Below is the press release received from the Wales-Armenia Solidarity (with the support of Nor Serount Cultural Association).

27 January 2008

The tiny Welsh Armenian community were targeted with a despicable racist attack on Holocaust Memorial Day. The new Armenian Genocide Monument (which was erected by the community under the leadership of John Torosyan in November) was desecrated in the early hours of the morning before important ceremonies were held today to Commemorate the Holocaust, and to remember Hrant Dink. The ornate Armenian Cross on the monument was smashed to bits by persons unknown using a hammer, which was left at the scene of the crime.

One of the Welsh Armenians said:"This is our holiest shrine. Our grandparents who perished in the Genocide do not have marked graves. This is where we remember them"

Eilian Williams of Wales Armenia Solidarity said that he blamed the so-called "Committee for the Protection of Turkish Rights" under the leadership of Hal Savas (mobile number 07770302822) for the crime. The police took the hammer for fingerprints.

He continued:"I call on Armenians and other sympathisers throughout the world to send messages of support to Wales Armenia Solidarity ( ) which we can send to the Prime Minister of the National Assembly of Wales. We shall repair the cross again and again no matter how often it is desecrated. We also challenge the UK government and the Turkish Embassy to condemn this racist attack.

The Holocaust commemoration was a gesture of friendship by Welsh Armenians towards the Jewish and Roma communities .

Eminent Welshman Robin Gwyndaf prayed in Welsh and English. The Assembly Member Jenny Randerson called on the UK government to recognise the Armenian Genocide .

During the Prayers for the Holocaust victims, the said Turkish Committee used a loud-speaker to disrupt proceedings.

Finally, Martin Shipton, chief reporter for the "Western Mail" the national newspaper of Wales gave his tribute to Hrant Dink (also representing the National Union of Journalists). The Turkish protesters also disrupted his speech.

I am re-posting 2 photos from my previous post of Armenian Genocide memorial which was unveiled in Cardiff on 3 November 2007. Racists will not succeed in their attempts!

*source of photos:

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Serj Tankian - Feed Us

Director: Sevag Vrej

This is the 4th single and music video from "Elect the Dead" solo album of Serj.

1st single and music video "The Unthinking Majority" - here
2nd single and music video "Empty Walls" - here
3rd single and music video "Saving Us" - here

Monday, 21 January 2008

Balanced media coverage marks Day 1 of presidential election campaign in Armenia

I am referring here to TV stations – the most accessible and mainstream media in Armenia. For the first time in years, Armenians witnessed what should have been something routine and unexceptional – balanced media coverage. There was no need to wait for 7pm (Radio Liberty) or morning newspapers (although both means are important and invaluable) to learn non-biased news on election campaign of opposition candidates or witness balanced coverage.

This was particularly true for former Armenian president, current presidential hopeful Levon Ter-Petrosyan who is considered the main challenger of ruling regime and whose informal pre-election campaign so far attracted more negative than even neutral coverage:

"In December on the Armenian air the negative references to the first RA President Levon Ter-Petrosian continue to dominate. In other words, during the last month of 2007 the unprecedented phenomenon, recorded in November, continued when the share of neutral editorial coverage of an Armenian politician quantitatively fell behind that of negative: 103 negative references to Levon Ter-Petrosian versus 100 neutral ones and 4 positive ones. At the same time the share of negative ones in the total number of references has somewhat gone down in December - 49.8% versus 58.7% - in November. "

Another presidential hopeful Artur Baghdasaryan was complaining of unofficial boycott imposed towards his campaign and persona by Armenian TV channels, which are overwhelmingly under government influence and control.

Anyway, today was a different story - Armenian media behaved as it should have behaved always. If it only continues this trend over the whole election period and beyond... Media monitoring by international and local agencies played important role in putting pressure on government and Public TV via mainly European/US influential bodies, and is as vital as ever to ensure continuous fair coverage of presidential campaign.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Remembering Hrant Dink

1st anniversary of assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist
London, 19 January 2008

It was small and intimate ceremony right outside the Westminster Abbey, in the heart of London. The place chosen to mark the anniversary of slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was very appropriate for the occasion - the Monument to the Innocent Victims of Oppression, Violence, War.

There were speeches and tributes by representatives of Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish communities. The event was organised by a number of Armenian organisations in London.

In this video from the ceremony - tribute to Hrant Dink by a representative of Turkish community. (Sorry for the quality of sound, there was no loudspeakers there, and this was all I could get from my camera)

There was singing towards the end of the ceremony and release of doves in memory of Hrant. The song was Khatchatur Pilikian's tribute to Hrant Dink. It was very symbolic - Liberty poem by Mikael Nalbandyan (music by Tigran Tchukhadjyan). Organisers distributed a leaflet with English version of the poem. There was very interesting info there I had no idea about:

"Rendered into English, titled as Liberty, by the great artist, writer and translator, Zabelle Boyajian (b. Diarbekir, 1872, d. London, 1957), the first woman artist exhibiting her one-woman show in London; the author of the first epic poem/play, in the English language, of the Sumerian epic, Gligamesh, 1926."

Liberty poem by Mikael Nalbandyan (translated by Zabelle Boyajian) was so appropriate to mark the anniversary of Hrant Dink's assasination, that I decided to re-post it here:

When the God of Liberty
Formed of earth this mortal frame,
Breathed the breath of life in me,
And a spirit I became,

Wrapped within my swaddling bands,
Bound and fettered helplessly,*
I stretched forth my infant hands
To embrace sweet Liberty.

All night long, until the dawn,
In my cradle bound I lay;
And my sobbing's ceaseless moan
Drove my mother's sleep away.

As I begged her, weeping loud,
To unbind and set me free;
From that very day I vowed
I would love thee, Liberty!

*Armenian babies are tied tightly into their cradles when they are put to sleep (Boyajian's own asterisk/notes)

A year after the killing of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Istanbul finds that the Turkish nationalism he challenged remains a potent force.
"Why was I chosen as a target?" More...

Thousands of people have gathered in the Turkish city of Istanbul to commemorate the murder last year of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. More...

see also Unzipped: Gay Armenia

Friday, 18 January 2008

US cancels 'Exit Poll' proposal for presidential elections in Armenia

I was very positive re news that for the first time US offered conducting exit poll for presidential elections in Armenia and Armenian government green lighted that idea. However, mistrust towards local organisation(s) who were supposed to conduct exit poll made this good idea eventually cancelled.

"After intensive and detailed discussions with interested parties regarding a proposal to conduct exit polling in Armenia during the 2008 presidential elections, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and Baltic Surveys Ltd/Gallup Organization were unable to resolve all of the detailed procedural questions in a way that was fully satisfactory to all sides. Consequently, the U.S. Embassy and USAID have decided to cancel the project.

We continue to think that, in principle, exit polling can be a useful instrument for enhancing the transparency and credibility of elections. In this particular case, however, given the limited preparation time remaining prior to the February 19 election and the questions raised from various parts of the political spectrum, we decided it would be wiser not to go forward with a project that faced implementation problems and risked becoming an unhelpful distraction in the Armenian political debate."

While I consider this news as BAD news, in general, in relation to democratisation of elections in Armenia, I must admit that in current circumstances it is probably good idea. Unless US and others administer exit poll via truly independent agency, its conduct, instead of positive outcomes, would lead to something completely negative, fuelling speculations and eventually discrediting the whole idea behind the exit polls.

There is also another lesson from this whole ‘exit poll’ and other ‘pre-election poll’ stories. Mistrust towards all sort of polls in Armenia is so high (and conveniently so for many parties) that it’s almost impossible to get people accept the results, even in case of independent conduct of polls or (theoretical) clean elections.

DJ Sedrak...

So sad that DJ Sedrak is no longer with us... I did not personally know him, but it does not really matter, he was like friend to us, via FM station or later TV programmes. He was like someone very close, with very positive energy, a 'regular' in my Yerevan apartment and a welcome 'visitor' for many families.

He was THE person who put the word "DJ" into routine local Armenian dialect. He will always be associated for me with "FM station" and "DJ". He may not be the first Armenian DJ per se, but for me he will remain as such. You will be missed a lot, DJ Sedrak...

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Spot ads on Armenia via CNN and Euronews... and Russian diaries

Yerevan diaries

Today my colleague said that he and his wife saw pictures of Armenia via Euronews ads, which they liked. It's not the first time that I hear people seeing pictures of Armenia for the first time via spot ads broadcast through CNN and Euronews and financed by State budget. Not that I like either CNN or Euronews, but it actually works (based on my subjective, non-scientific impressions).

Of the two ads I've seen I prefer the second one (less churchy):

We need more of them and not only. While in Yerevan, I noticed lack of simple touristy things, say leaflets on various attractions, street maps etc. Some of my friends told me that during summer relatively good quality street maps with various ads and some useful info were distributed free of charge to all arrivals at the airport. However, it did not happen when I arrived. Not that I personally needed them, but they are essential for tourists. I am sure limited number of them are available in the hotels. But they should be in abandon in the airport, kiosks and bookstores.

Also, I could not find nice diary in Armenian (or multi-lingual). This is not solely touristic thing but could be useful for locals too. Well, true, not many locals use diaries but they do so increasingly. However, all available diaries were in Russian and English, including lots of useful info on... Russia. I found only one diary with some Armenian words in it, otherwise completely useless and impractical. I bought it just because it was the only option but will stop using it, it's just a pain. These are simple things, and could easily be done and bring money to the industry. Laziness?

Monday, 14 January 2008

Wreath-laying in Memory of Hrant Dink

London, 19 January 2008

You are invited to this event on the first anniversary of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's assassination

Saturday, 19 January at 1.00 pm
at the Monument to the Innocents
outside Westminster Abbey, London

1 Prayers from the Canon of Westminster Abbey
2 Tributes and Short speeches
3 Reading of portion of Hrant's work
4 Release of dove in memory of Hrant

Organised by Armenia Solidarity, Nor Serount, Armenian Genocide Trust, Seyfo Centre

info: 07876561398


Sunday, 13 January 2008

Weather, or 'Weather'

Yerevan diaries

When I arrived in Yerevan (few days before ‘Western’ Christmas), the weather was as perfect as it could be for Yerevan winter – sunny, 2-4C or so (above or below zero), very freshening. With no snow. And it was great for a while, although some people complained that it was not a proper winter, not because of temperature but because of no-snow situation.

Even during rare years when there was no snow before New Year, I remember we always wanted for snow to come at least over New Year night. That’s way the New Year atmosphere looks magical and very appropriate for midnight bells announcing the change of years. And it was truly magical when it started snowing in Yerevan on 31st. Living in London for past few years made me miss snow enormously. I mean proper snow, not an imitation of it which very rarely could be seen in London and immediately grab BBC headlines.

So imagine my delight when it started snowing. Over the next few days, along with New Year festivities, parties etc., I was wandering along my favourite downtown Yerevan streets, which were under snow - and I was under pretty heavy snow too, completely wet - but I could not care less of wetness, was just enjoying the moment.

Then, towards Armenian Christmas (6 Jan), the temperature outside went gradually down and it was becoming increasingly cold outside… I am back in London now, it’s mild here, as usual, rainy winter… I know it’s very cold right now in Yerevan, at times – 20C (minus) and more; and it’s not pleasant to go outside. Even inside apartments available gas or electric heating systems do not provide for adequate warmth under such weather conditions. The similar situation would cause emergency in London, everything will stop functioning, but life continues (almost) as usual in my favourite Yerevan, and warmness and closeness of human relationships helps, the factor which is partly missing in my favourite London, where at times very cold, indeed… and it’s not the weather I am referring to here.

My holidays back home in Yerevan went as perfect as I could wish for, probably the best New Year break in years… I will share my reflections of Yerevan, my ‘discoveries’ via brief diaries, which I will post in coming days/weeks here and in my second blog Unzipped: Gay Armenia, depending on topic. It will be something positive, I hope. Well, more positive than negative for sure, may be because I was in such a positive mood, or may be I just wanted to find or to see as much positive as possible. After all, I love Yerevan, I love Armenia, and even when I criticize or cannot stand various aspects of it, it’s only because I am not indifferent, because I want my city/country to evolve and become better, because I want Armenia to become a country where anyone (Armenian or non-Armenian) would love to live or work (make business) or spend vacation and have fun…

Today marks 13 January - 'Old New Year’, which ends two-week festive period for Armenia and ex-Soviet countries. There will be one last New Year party for 2008, one last toast for New Year, there will be the last day of celebrations in Republic sq in Yerevan, there will be increasingly popular “Russian Winter Festival” in Trafalgar sq in London. Happy New Year again! Back to reality…