Monday, 30 January 2012

Re: Armenia ex-FM Vartan Oskanian and “free and fair” elections

In a statement released by Civilitas Foundation, Armenia ex-FM Oskanian didn’t deny & left open the possibility of his alliance with the Prosperous Armenia party led by oligarch Tsarukyan. This party is widely regarded in Armenia as affiliated with the ex-president Robert Kocharyan whose human rights record is the most appalling among all the presidents of independent Armenia. [Civilitas Foundation is founded by Oskanian who served as Foreign Minister during Kocharyan’s reign in power]
[...] My own political engagement is driven by this conviction. Talk about my involvement with the Prosperous Armenia party is not without basis. I have had such discussions with the Prosperous Armenia party as well as with other political forces. At this time, I have still not made a decision, and believe there is still time to do so. Political processes, however, may accelerate my decision.[...]
Says Oskanian: “I firmly believe that it is of utmost importance that Armenia hold free and fair parliamentary elections.”
[...] Armenia needs serious and deep reforms and I’m convinced that all our citizens share this belief. Reforms and change can only happen when there is a new political configuration in the National Assembly. And such political balance can only be assured through free and fair elections. [...]
Sorry, still cannot trust your words re commitment to ”free and fair” elections. Memories of 2008 & so still not far behind. Indeed, we witnessed your ‘commitment’ to “free and fair” elections from 2003 onwards culminated in 2008.

Truly, Mr Oskanian (or shall we say Kocharyan?), you must try much-much harder to make your statements sound believable.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

British ambassador in Armenia says ‘good-bye’. “Love embassy” stays

If you ask my opinion, I’d say - to date - Charles Lonsdale was the best foreign ambassador in Armenia. He fitted right and genuinely into the environment, issues, people transforming the embassy into the “love embassy”. Although Daily Mail dubbed it a “love embassy” with negative connotations, for me this was the best term ever to refer to any diplomatic mission. What can be better than love?
[...] The controversy comes after it was revealed that the current ambassador recently married an Armenian woman working at the British Embassy.
The two developments have led to local politicians nicknaming the British mission the ‘love embassy’. [...] (Daily Mail)
I personally met Charles and Maria in Yerevan. Here is what I posted following the meeting:
What a nice couple: UK ambassador in Armenia Charles & Maria. Friendly, intelligent, cool. Great night out with them & Onnik + more friends. People. Atmosphere. Super. At my fave venue in Yerevan. Alternative Armenia reality. The one I like. #YerevanDiaries
Below is an extract from his farewell blog post. Good-bye, Charles. You will be missed!!
[...] The economic crisis means poverty is as serious an issue as ever, though I’ve written before now on some good work being done by NGOs, including Oxfam.  There’s also been some progress on gender issues and it’s possible now to hope for some progress on the question of domestic violence in a way I didn’t think possible when I first arrived.  There’s even been some limited progress in reporting of lesbian and gay issues, though there’s still a long way to go to overcome some deep-rooted prejudices. 
Encouragingly, I think we’re seeing more active participation by young people in both formal and informal politics, including campaigning on particular issues, such as the environment.  That’s something we’ve supported and encouraged and meeting bright, active young people has always been one of the things that gives me hope for Armenia’s future, whatever the challenges ahead.  The biggest issue though is to ensure that those young people see their future in Armenia, and that they have the opportunity to put their talents to work here, rather than joining the steady outflow of people away from the country. 
I have occasionally apologised for adding to that outflow by marrying one of those bright young Armenians, and I will be forcing her to leave, at least temporarily to come with me to Vienna for my next job.  As she pointed out though, it’s open to debate if I’m taking her away from Armenia or she is taking me to Armenia.  At any rate, I look forward to returning to this fascinating country.

When asked for my feelings on departure, I’ve tended to say that I’m a frustrated optimist: there is a lot of potential and I’ve come across many capable, smart people.  But somehow the necessary changes have rarely moved as fast or as far as I would hope.  But I remain optimistic that positive changes can and should continue. [...]
And now I’d like to welcome Jonathan Aves and Katherine Leach, new British ambassadors in Yerevan. I have to admit, like many, at first I thought such a dual appointment is a pretty bizarre arrangement. This is probably because there was no much precedent for us and that’s what we used to see: one ambassador per country. But hey... “Two for one”. Normally, a good deal :) Anyone familiar with my blog would know that I frequently defy what was “expected”, “used to” or the “norm”. And I am pretty open and excited to see this new arrangement in action.

I met Jonathan and Katherine in London and have to say they seem full of energy and enthusiasm to contribute for best in Armenia. Here is hoping they will double their efforts in pursuing the issues and more mentioned by Charles in his farewell post.

*pictures - via British Embassy Yerevan FB page and MFA.