Saturday, 19 February 2011

Vahram Petrosyan: witch-hunt

I did not even know this guy - Vahram Petrosyan - before this whole ‘story’ erupted (e.g.), and am not fan of his music (or any ‘klkloc’-like music), to say the least. But I cannot stand this witch-hunt, a targeted campaign by some media outlets (e.g. Shant TV) and others (using as a basis an edited script), and attempts at labeling people as and hunting for ‘enemy of nation’. If you do not agree with someone, just say it, without resorting to hate. Where this recent resurgence of ‘bloodthirstiness’ came from?

(here is one of the relatively recent examples I reflected on this blog too)

For this reason, I am posting this video and clarifications by Vahram Petrosyan (AM): “Վահրամ Պետրոսյանի ասուլիսը առանց մոնտաժի”

The funny thing is this guy is not even a rebel or indie or alternative, he is part of the mainstream Armenian pop scene (!).

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Museum of Broken Relationships

Would be interesting to see, what items Armenians would send if the similar museum established in Yerevan. For now, a "collection of half-century old postcards" was sent by a woman from Yerevan to the founders of the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb.

*The Guardian

Display of affection
Every object tells a story and none more so than the items donated by lovers (and ex-lovers) to Zagreb's new Museum of Broken Relationships. [...]

*A garden gome after being hurled in fury at a windscreen - on show in the Zagreb Museum of Broken Relationships.

[The museum is the work of designer and artist Drazen Grubisic and film producer Olinka Vistica.] Grubisic and Vistica have stopped formally soliciting donations, but they receive them more or less constantly anyway: most recent was a collection of half-century old postcards, sent by an elderly woman in Yerevan, Armenia.

"Older people tend to take it more seriously," says Grubisic. "They are often really moved. Kids haven't had the experience. It's funny when couples come in. Some are laughing, but some … some are really thinking."

Museum of Broken Relationships

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The WikiLeaks files - Armenia: (then) Deputy Finance Minister David Avetissian attacks president Sargsyan’s “empty gestures at reform” and “empowering thuggish elements in and out of government”

This is a very interesting extract from the US embassy cables and a clear indication of disillusionment and divisions post- 1 March within the ruling regime.

[By: Charge d'Affaires Joseph Pennington]

Polchief recently met with Deputy Finance Minister David Avetissian, a leading young

reformer in the government, who expressed profound cynicism about the direction in which the government is headed. He predicted a severe political and economic crisis by the end of this year, and is convinced that President Sargsian is making nothing more than empty gestures at reform to satisfy international and domestic audiences. He said that behind the scenes, however, the new president is centralizing control, marginalizing reformist voices, and empowering thuggish elements in and out of government. As a result, Avetissian said he will probably resign from government service this summer, and is headed to Washington in May to look into employment opportunities with the World Bank.

*US embassy cables in full.
**source of picture

The WikiLeaks files - Armenia: Prominent opposition members approached the US embassy about asylum (pre/post- 1 March)

[By: Charge d'Affaires Joseph Pennington]

Prominent members of the opposition have contacted us about asylum and/or the issuance of tourist visas to ride out the crisis in the United States. One of these is Tigran Ter-Petrossian, LTP’s nephew, who LTP lieutenants say is hiding out in the United Arab Emirates fearful for his life. LTP's confidants have asked the Embassy to help with a tourist visa, and insist that Tigran has no intention of applying for political asylum once in the United States. (NOTE: We've explained to LTP's representatives that since we cannot establish the bona fides of Tigran's case, we cannot intervene to issue a visa, and that he would have to apply at our consulate general in Dubai like everyone else.) LTP's son David went to Los Angeles before the election at the urging of his father, again presumably out of concern for his son's life. To our knowledge he has yet to return. (NOTE: While it's difficult to ascertain the validity of these allegations, it is undeniable that violence has plagued the development of Armenia's post-independence political culture.)

*US embassy cables in full.

The WikiLeaks files - Armenia: Post- 1 March middle class exodus

Below are selected extracts. US embassy cables in full.


For those Armenians who have long considered emigrating abroad to pursue a brighter economic future, the current political crisis appears to have finally moved some to action. Besides the twenty or so asylum seekers who approached the Embassy after the fatal March 1 clashes and state of emergency, an increasing number of intending immigrants from Armenia's middle class have also come to our attention, including one of the Embassy's GSO staff who abruptly ended 12 years of USG service to emigrate to the Czech Republic. These successful, middle class citizens tell us that the crisis has played a consequential role in spurring them to finally emigrate, saying it has dashed any remaining hopes they had for a stable, post-independence Armenia. Many say the political instability from the crisis has added yet one more disturbing element to their long list of concerns that include economic uncertainties and a worsening environment in which to raise their kids. Some also say they see an ongoing moral decay in society, where rich, well-connected, law-breaking elites run roughshod over ordinary Armenians' rights. In addition to these voices from the middle class, we have also begun to hear disenchanted officials contemplate emigration.

Emigration from Armenia is nothing new. It has been estimated that since its independence from the USSR, Armenia has lost 1,000,000 of its citizens to emigration -- almost one third of its 3.5 million pre-independence population. What appears to be a new development, however, is the hemorrhaging of successful middle-class citizens who decided to stick out post-independence growing pains only to see that their wait has been for naught. The loss of these individuals is significant: they would stay if they thought the country was headed in the right direction. But their decision to pull up their tent stakes now, after one of modern Armenia's gravest political crises to date, suggests that a serious malaise has taken deep root in society. Disillusioned, the once-committed appear to have lost faith that their government cares about improving their welfare or moving the country forward.

[By: Charge d'Affaires Joseph Pennington]

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The WikiLeaks files - Armenia: High profile crime and Ukrainian ambassador's allegation

Most of the criminal incidents of October 2008 reflected in the US embassy cable below have been widely reported and nothing new. The most surprising and unknown to me was the allegation by the Ukrainian ambassador that his apartment in Yerevan was broken into for “politically-motivated” reasons related to his staging of Ukraine famine remembrance event the same day that Russian president Medvedev arrived for his first state visit in Armenia. However, even the US ambassador Yovanovitch specifically mentions about US embassy’s “doubt” re Ukrainian ambassador’s “assumption”.

Below are selected extracts. US embassy cables in full.

A recent string of unconnected violent attacks around Armenia has prompted the opposition to decry the emergence of a "criminal state." Over the October 24-26 weekend, one person was killed in Yerevan, four were killed in the northern city of Spitak, and the recently re-elected mayor of the northern town of Stepanavan was almost knifed to death by his opponent's supporters. About a dozen other people were injured in these attacks, some critically. The motives of each attack remain unclear, with various media speculating on the causes while police launch investigations. In separate, recent attacks in Yerevan, a foreign businessman and the Ukrainian Ambassador were targeted by unknown assailants, apparently as a result of their business and diplomatic engagements.

On October 26 in broad daylight in one of Yerevan's central neighborhoods, two young men shot and killed one man, while wounding his companion. After the voluntary surrender of one of the perpetrators, Armenia's Prosecutor General described the attack as a revenge murder for the November 2007 killing of the perpetrator's uncle, who was the chairman of the Armenian Association of Hunters and a senior member of the pro-government Prosperous Armenia party. The perpetrator of that crime was never prosecuted, but media reports alleged that law enforcement authorities suspected the victim of the October 26 attack could have been its perpetrator.

Also over the same weekend, violence broke out in two separate Yerevan discotheques, where a shootout in one of them reportedly left one person wounded. In another night spot, a mass brawl broke out, allegedly prompted by a nephew to President Sargsian. Press reports allege that Sargsian's nephew and companions initiated the brawl that reportedly resulted in serious injuries and the loss of an eye by one of the persons involved in the melee.

Ukraine's Ambassador to Armenia recently shared with the Ambassador that his apartment was broken into on Sunday, October 19. He believed the crime was related to his defying the GOAM's heavy-handed attempts to persuade him to cancel the Holodomyr remembrance event (the 1932 famine that Ukrainians believe was genocide) which he held on Monday, October 20 -- the same day that Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev arrived for his first state visit to Armenia. On the preceding Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had called in the Ukrainian Ambassador where he was told in no uncertain terms that the event had to be cancelled. He refused. On October 19, while he was out, his apartment was broken into, and his personal possessions smashed, and very little was stolen. It took the police over an hour and a half to respond. He told the Ambassador that he believed the crime was an effort to intimidate him before the remembrance event. No GOAM official attended the event and Armenia's Public Television (Channel H1) described the memorial event in its evening coverage as "terrible" and "only fit for a circus."

Armenia and the city of Yerevan have traditionally been quite safe cities for average citizens and for visiting foreigners. Lawlessness is nothing new in Armenia, particularly in the political, financial and criminal arenas. In recent times, officials from the tax and customs services have been assassinated for unclear reasons. There have also been too-frequent incidents of powerful persons -- oligarchs, generals, and their children, relatives, or bodyguards -- getting involved in sometimes violent confrontations with those who may cross their paths, whether on the highway or in a night club setting, typically with impunity. Such people have been shown most often to be above the law, in their confrontations with average passersby.

The various incidents grouped together in this cable have in common their recent timing and the fact they were incidents of violence, but in other respects differ. Purposefully targeted attacks of a foreign businessman or a possibly-targeted home invasion of a foreign diplomat (if that is truly what these events were) seem an entirely new factor in Armenia. The Hans Boon [Unzipped: the Dutch director of HayPost] attacks seem particularly suspicious. Given that foreigners are very rarely assaulted in Armenia, for the same man to be attacked twice in four months suggests either strikingly bad security judgment on his part or deliberate targeting. We have more doubt about the Ukrainian Ambassador,s assumption that the burglary of his home was politically-motivated. Economically-motivated burglaries are not too uncommon for expatriates, homes that may be less well-protected than are U.S. Embassy housing, while a government-sponsored raid on an ambassador,s home is far outside the bounds of what we have seen in Armenia before. We plan to look further into these issues in the upcoming weeks, and hope to refine our understanding of whether there is a new pattern of increased lawlessness and politically-motivated violence, or whether this was simply a particularly striking confluence of unrelated events.


The WikiLeaks files - Armenia: Minister of Nature Protection allegedly asked for $3 million bribe

Below are selected extracts. US embassy cables in full.

Global Gold Corporation (GGC) is an international gold mining company with operations in Armenia and principal offices in Connecticut. For the past few years, GGC has been involved in an at-times hostile dispute with the GOAM and more specifically with the Armenian Minister of Nature Protection over licenses to its mines in Hankavan, Toukhmanuk, Getik and Marjan. GGC brought these disputes and an allegation that the Minister had requested a $3 million bribe to our attention in April 2006.

On July 25, 2005, according to GGC, the Armenian Minister of Nature Protection Vartan Aivazian had asked GGC's local attorney Ashot Boghossian to pay a $3 million bribe to Aivazian's close associate and Member of Parliament Mourad Gouloyan, claiming that the payment was necessary to complete the December 2003 sale. We first became aware of the alleged bribe request on April 19, 2006, when the GGC's AmCit Chairman/CEO and Boghossian raised the matter with then U.S. Ambassador Evans. GGC claimed that, as a result of its refusal to pay the bribe, the Minister was unwilling to issue licenses to which GGC was entitled, granted duplicate licenses to other companies for mining sites owned and operated by GGC and generally obstructed GGC's business operations.

We were extremely concerned about these allegations and Ambassador Evans raised them as a "hypothetical" at the U.S.-Armenia Task Force Meeting on May 2, 2006. The Finance Minister's response referred to a mining company, a detail we had not included in our hypothetical, which suggested that other members of the GOAM were also aware of the allegations. The Finance Minister recommended that the company appeal to the Prosecutor General. Due to the poor reputation of the Armenian court system, however, GGC was unwilling to initiate a case locally. The Prosecutor General's office had the authority to begin its own investigation based on the allegations, but failed to do so.

There is no question that GGC has been getting the run around from the Ministry of Nature Protection. While it is continuing its operations in Armenia, the company legitimately feels vulnerable and exposed to potential short-fuse attempts to expropriate its mining properties. Adding to GGC's concern are recent actions taken by the GOAM to force another, Indian-owned, gold mining company out of the local market. Global Gold, however, has at times been less than entirely forthcoming with us. They did not report Minister Aivazian's alleged bribe solicitation until almost a year after it happened, were cagey about the timing of events, and for a number of months appeared reluctant to take the matter to court. We strongly support GGC's decision to file for international arbitration and recommend that future U.S. engagement on this issue focus on the need for a full and complete hearing of the facts rather than a political agreement which might resolve GGC's immediate problems but will do little to advance rule of law in Armenia.


The WikiLeaks files - Armenia: Vanadzor emerges as Armenia’s commercial sex capital

Below are selected extracts. US embassy cables in full.



We went to Vanadzor expecting to hear stories of illicit smuggling across borders and of girls lured into prostitution under false pretenses. What we heard was significantly more pedestrian. According to Aida and Suzy, very few Vanadzor women are tricked into working in Dubai or Istanbul brothels these days. They go knowingly, on legal passports, with legal visas, and for the most part without having to bribe border guards to let them through. They share buses and airplanes with underwear salesgirls traveling to buy more inventory and the odd middle-class family going on holiday. Pre-teenage girls ride buses to Turkey carrying permission letters signed by their parents, who for the most part have dispatched their daughters themselves, and who understand exactly how young Anahit or Armine will earn the several hundred dollars she will send home each month. And while the prostitutes and the NGO employees we met said sometimes women are abused in the brothels, or aren't paid in full, they said the greater part of women generally understand what they are getting themselves into, and may already have worked as prostitutes for years. Far from being the pursuit of violent smuggling rings who kidnap women and sell them into slavery, trafficking in Armenia is largely a result of the poor economy, they said, and has mostly to do with opportunistic pimps taking advantage of women who are already willing to prostitute themselves.

And there are a lot of willing women in Vanadzor. Hope and Help's Satik Grigoryan told us the NGO has registered more than 200 prostitutes. Aida estimated that 70 percent of women in Vanadzor are prostitutes, drawing laughs from the Hope and Help employees. While her figure was inflated, the statement outlined how pervasive prostitution is in Vanadzor. Prostitutes come to the clinic for regular check-ups and to replenish their condom stocks. Grigoryan told us that most of the prostitutes had never seen or heard of such contraceptives before they came to Hope and Help. She gave Aida and Suzy a couple of chocolates and a fistful of condoms each before they went home.

POLICE role questioned
Rudik Varosyan, head of the department on minors in the Vanadzor police department, told us trafficking in minors is an emerging problem in Vanadzor. He said most Vanadzor women -- and girls -- who go to Turkey to engage in prostitution are not being lured under false pretenses. More and more underage girls are being sent by their families to go and earn a little money, Varosyan said, adding that he has never heard of a case in which a minor went without parental permission. "Some parents are proud that their kids are there making money," he told us. He said the women and girls who went to Turkey usually were not held prisoner, and they were usually paid, though not necessarily in full. After the women were deported, Varosyan said, they often became recruiters for the pimps in Turkey. Varosyan said it was hard to fight the trafficking organizations because the pimps usually operate through intermediaries who never actually meet them. When police bring a case to court, the intermediary gets nailed, and the pimp continues her business, having suffered only minor inconvenience.

Though Varosyan clearly took to heart the plight of pre-teen and teenage prostitutes, local NGO staff told us that the police actually help facilitate prostitution. Artur Sakunts of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly told us his organization wanted to look into allegations by locals that the Vanadzor police protected pimps and threatened prostitutes who wanted to quit their jobs. (Note: Aida told us police hindered her work by forcing her to undergo annual medical check-ups. End Note.) Other NGO staff told us about cases of police patronizing the prostitutes. Sakunts corroborated Varosyan's story about parents forcing their daughters to become prostitutes. Sakunts also noted that the domik village was a prostitution hub: home to a large percentage of the Vanadzor sex trade workforce while also serving as their workplace. Aida told us prostitutes there often work for a bag of rice or a few pieces of bread.

COMMENT: “... two Armenias: Yerevan, and the rest of the country”
Many visitors to Armenia who see only Yerevan -- with its pretty main square and shiny Hummers and BMW X5s -- and leave thinking the country is doing well economically. Armenians and seasoned expats often tell these visitors that there are two Armenias: Yerevan, and the rest of the country. Our trip to Vanadzor was like a spin on the focus dial of a pair of binoculars; afterwards, the distinction was clear to us, and in sharp relief. It is easy, sitting in the relatively well-to-do capital city, to put the problem squarely in the laps of lawmakers and law enforcement, and to bang our fists on the government's coffee tables to demand that they work harder to stop the crimes. But fist-banging won't change the fact that many prostitutes work simply to get food on the table, and that they believe they will be paid better in Turkey or the UAE. The Armenian government cannot improve a bad economy with stricter laws and harsher sentencing. While both are needed here, Armenia has to offer these women an alternative to turning tricks if it is to eradicate trafficking.

[By: Amb. John M. Evans]

The WikiLeaks files - Armenia: Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan recalls ‘old Armenian saying’, blames victims, and asks to investigate the NGO that aided them. Alleged corruption and abuse in PG’s office

Below are selected extracts. US embassy cables in full.



Ambassador, DCM and Poloff met with Armenian Prosecutor General (PG) Aghvan Hovsepyan August 8 about allegations of investigative misconduct and abuse in connection with a human trafficking case. The underlying case involves three prostitutes who allege they were trafficked from Armenia to Turkey via Georgia with fraudulent documents, and coerced and deprived of payment under threat of arrest. Hovsepyan began by saying he was familiar with the case and rejecting the allegations out of hand; however, he eventually committed to investigating the allegations. The PG first defamed the victims, and volunteered that he had asked the National Security Service (NSS) to investigate the NGO that had aided them. After a long discussion, he came around to a more responsive approach. End Summary.

On July 28, three alleged trafficking victims from Gyumri, Armenia's second-largest city, were interviewed by investigators from the PG's office. After their interview, they stormed fuming into the Yerevan branch of "Hope and Help," an NGO that assists prostitutes and trafficking victims, to complain about the conduct of investigators Armen Gasparyan and Aristakes Yeremyan. (COMMENT: Yeremyan has been accused of complicity with traffickers before. The PG's office opened what we believe was a cursory investigation into those allegations in February.)

[two of the three prostitutes] Mkrtchyan and Madoyan claimed PG office investigators Gasparyan and Yeremyan told them to recant the testimonies they had given to the police. Madoyan also claimed Yeremyan struck her in the face during a July 31 meeting. Among their complaints were that the investigators told them to say the trafficker owed them less money than she actually did, and accused them of filing police statements in order to blackmail the alleged trafficker. (NOTE: Under the Armenian system, criminal investigators are an arm of the PG's office, and thus of the judicial branch. Police services are separate, and fall under the purview of the executive branch.)

COMMENT: There were some discrepancies in the victims' stories. We also have some questions about the mental competence of one of the victims. The complete circumstances of the matter are therefore legitimately open to some question. We are persuaded, however, that the basic facts of the case are accurate. Investigating authorities must take such allegations seriously, and not dismiss them out of hand because they find the victims distasteful.

Ambassador, DCM and Poloff met together with the PG to underline the seriousness of the case, both in its own right and as a bellwether for Armenian authorities' handling of TIP cases. The Ambassador discussed in detail several of the allegations, and stressed that they presented an opportunity for the PG's office to demonstrate its commitment to anti-TIP efforts.

Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepyan was aware of the reason for our call. He smirked unmistakeably as the Ambassador raised our points. Hovsepyan spent a few minutes listing the GOAM's achievements on trafficking, before addressing the case at hand. He then told us he had heard about these allegations a week earlier from the National Security Service (NSS), adding that he had then asked the NSS to investigate both the victims and the NGO that had reported the allegations to the government. (NOTE: The Ambassador did not mention the NGO specifically, but when the prosecutor did so, he confirmed that an NGO had been involved.)

Hovsepyan said he had personally investigated the allegations, and said that the case notes made it clear that the prostitutes had been lying. He characterized them as "unconscientious and non-compliant," saying derisively that they were "governed by different interests in their daily lives." He kept repeating that the prostitutes were angry that the investigators were not helping them recover their unpaid salaries from the pimp, and that money had motivated the allegations. He robustly defended Yeremyan. (NOTE: This is not surprising, given information we have received from Anti-TIP Unit Senior Prosecutor Armen Boshnaghyan (please protect) that the investigator has Hovsepyan's full support) During his impassioned defense of Yeremyan, Hovsepyan cited an Armenian proverb which, roughly translated, means "May God keep us from the evil that comes from prostitutes."

The Ambassador said he disagreed with the proverb, and that the shared Christian heritage of our countries compelled us to "hate the crime, but love the victim." He told Hovsepyan that he was troubled to hear that the prosecutor general had asked the NSS to investigate the prostitutes and the NGO, rather than investigate the allegations. Hovsepyan said there must have been a translation error, and that he actually had said that he asked the NSS to investigate the allegations, since it would not do to have the PG's office investigate itself. (NOTE: There was no translation error.) A few minutes later, Hovsepyan said his office had in fact been investigating the complaints for a week, and that it would continue to do so.

Finally, Hovsepyan agreed to launch an internal investigation of the allegations. He said he would solicit the NGO's input. But he continued to sing Yeremyan's praises and to accuse the prostitutes of lying. He also mentioned that Yeremyan had asked repeatedly to be moved out of the Anti-TIP Unit, and that he would consider granting that request.

Hovsepyan's performance was in character and betrayed the PG's apparent personal attitude toward trafficking victims and cases. We think we have at least ensured a more serious investigation of this case. We intend to pursue this matter further, and are optimistic that bringing pressure to bear on the MFA will achieve results, given President Kocharian's interest in Armenia's TIP rating. We will make the point that the next Interim Assessment is coming up.

[By: Amb. John M. Evans]

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Diaspora ‘աչքակապություն’ of parliament. Double act of non elective representativeness in Armenia?

Of course, this “presidential idea” voiced by - infamous for all the wrong reasons - ‘Diaspora minister’ Hranush Hakobyan, has for now more of a ‘exploring the grounds’ and populist (‘աչքերին թոզ փչել’) meaning. But it may potentially develop into something more significant with the implications for future.

Some observers were quick to dismiss it as an “idea” to divert people’s attention from real issues.

Few points for now.

As if having one effectively non elected parliament was not enough, making Constitutional changes to formalise the archaic system of non-representative pseudo-parliamentarians, similar to British ‘House of Lords’ is truly a “Forward, Armenia” (of course, British citizens, unlike Armenians, have elective democracy too).

This is like creating yet another stillborn, aka presidential “Public Council” that was established under the pretentious/populist/made-up (delete as appropriate) “idea” of making people's voices heard. Not that anyone believed it.

I can’t imagine this Diaspora chamber of parliament, or whatever, will ever get materialised, but - even if theoretically - this “idea” may have a serious implications of making a total mess in Diaspora-Armenia relations, as well as within Diaspora.