Tuesday, 26 February 2013

#Barevolution Faces of Resistance: students strike pics of the day(s)

These are Pictures of the Day(s) for me. Faces of growing resistance to Armenia’s ruling regime. Faces of #Barevolution [‘Revolution of Hello’ - as the presidential challenger, ex-FM Raffi Hovhannisyan dubbed the movement for change that is being developing since February election]

They are a relatively small group of students. For now. A sign of revival of long forgotten spirit of students strike and protest in Armenia. But it’s so liberating to see these students defying the barriers, climbing over a fence, jumping out of a window to join the students strike. It’s liberating.

Oh, and yes, showing a certain gesture to the system.

*picture by (FB page)

© PanARMENIAN Photo / Hrant Khachatryan

© PanARMENIAN Photo (FB page) / Hrant Khachatryan

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Armenia: from the most predictable and ‘safe’ election to slap in the face for ruling regime

The outcome was predictable. Incumbent president won. Well, “officially”. Armenia's ruling regime would never voluntarily *ok* 2nd round of election as this would be = defeat for them. Only the revolt of the masses could possibly force such transformation.

The predictability of Armenian elections is becoming a painful sign to the extent that at times I wonder: why bother following the news if you can simply use material from previous years, copy paste and change the date. From the process of voting to the outcome and international observers’ (OSCE/ODIHR) verdict. Same old, same old. 

As soon as polling stations closed, the results of regime-sponsored 'exit poll' were announced, giving incumbent president 58%, and Raffi 32%. To remind, exit polls in Armenia are conducted by fake Gallup with the help of discredited Armenian Sociological Association. Basically, a double fake.

The only reason Armenia authorities started using fake Gallup is to provide sense of legitimacy for their f*-ed up election, a kind of PR coup for both internal [psychological intervention to prepare for pictured percentages] and external consumption [‘hey, here we are, we commissioned ‘exit polls’, with the “Gallup” name on it’ - a successful tactic, as this gets subsequently cited by international media, without any checking of the real source of such ‘exit poll’]. 

And... surprise-surprise: With all polling stations cast, the preliminary official results are 58.6% for incumbent vs 36.7% for Raffi.

Numerous images of intentionally invalidated ballot papers (as a sign of protest) could be found on Facebook or media reports. Ironically, this helped incumbent to increase his %.

The most sensational result of the night, however, was a crushing defeat of incumbent in Armenia’s second city Gyumri, with Raffi getting a massive 70% (!)

Even with official numbers (36.7%) I do not trust, this protest vote for Raffi is more than I expected. And here is hoping, after all.

This is no less than a big slap in the face for incumbent president. Plus, as ‏@Akhtamar89 added: "@unzippedblog Good! It might also be a slap in the face for all those who withheld their votes or gave into bribes thinking they've no voice

While I sympathise Raffi and endorsed him for the election, he is not necessarily your typical fighter figure for mass mobilisation. Unless people took to the streets and make Raffi fight for his votes, it’s difficult to imagine any changes in election results.

Nevertheless, a sheer volume of protest votes will act as a signal for the authorities that they are getting too close to the boiling point (if not reached already), and the reforms are inevitable. Armenia will change as a result of this election.
And in case you were wondering, a predictable verdict of international observers: election was "in line..." and a "step forward". [From friend’s FB status : ODIHR. Oh, dear.]

Their attitude was summed up perfectly by this hilarious Twitter account @OSCEIntObserver: "We don't understand what all the fuss is about. Isn't #Armenia just a Russian exclave? Like Kaliningrad? #armvote13"

Another classic from ‏@OSCEIntObserver (in response to my tweet that I started working on election related blog post): "@unzippedblog You should do what we do. Our report was written long before election day. #armvote13 #Armenia"

And the video of the day. How activists stole the show at international observers’ press conference. 

P.S. For more updates and insight on #armvote13 and more, see my Twitter page @unzippedblog

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Putin, St Nicholas (S. Nicola) and Italian city Bari (travel diaries)

The sight of fake Louis Vuitton bags and other DIY-like versions of famous brands, like glasses, put on sale right in the middle of the streets was surprising.

When I saw Terranova store, it reminded me of Yerevan.

You could spot laundry hanging out on the balconies everywhere, even above and around religious places or symbols.

But the most unusual was to come across... Putin's message attached to the wall of Basilica of Saint Nicholas (Basilica di San Nicola), outside in the square.

In this message, Putin greets Bari and announces Russia’s gift - a statue of St Nicholas (one of the most popular saints in Russian Orthodox church) [picture on the left] to the city that holds part of his relics.

But the sight of St Nicholas statue inside the church with the pile of money notes under his feet was disturbing even for non-religious person, like me, and indicative of the state the church turned into: business enterprise.

P.S. See also Unzipped Gay Armenia: Man and a baby (Bari, Italy)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Armenia: Theatre of absurd called “presidential election” (or shall I say “assassination”?)

On Twitter, I said I was not sure who could have ordered this ‘assassination attempt’ towards one of presidential candidates Paruyr Hayrikyan but speculations and conspiracy theories were abound. I could not imagine Armenia authorities would want to postpone the election as no candidate, let alone Hayrikyan, pose any real risk to them. PR? Provocation? But why? Framing others?

These were the question marks I posed in the immediate aftermath of this ‘assassination attempt’. Now these question marks reduced to one: PR.

The only person who (at least initially) gained PR-wise was the ‘victim of assassination’ himself. The only possible change this may result in, if at all: some re-ordering in the placing of election runners-up (No.2, No.3 or No.4).

And here we are: 'Victim of assassination' #Hayrikyan won't seek #armvote13 delay. Of course, he won't. It's his 'star moment' #Armenia #theatre [one of my latest Twitter updates @unzippedblog]

Apologies for cynicism, but the ‘victim’ got the best opportunity of public exposure that no campaign would have ever provided to him.

He got a prime time coverage focusing on his persona, with almost non-stop ‘exclusive’ interviews during which recovering Hayrikyan put forward versions of the incident from the strange to the bizarre.

While initially quite a few activists, commentators were more supportive of Hayrikyan, things have changed as soon as he started elaborating on the possible reasons and details of this incident.

He blamed ‘special agents’, current or former KGB or whatever. He claimed he started remembering the face of the ‘assassin’, and he reckons the ‘assassin’ is not Armenian because... he (the ‘assassin’ that is) didn’t say a word in Armenian (!) So not only that ‘special agent assassin’ didn’t cover his face but he was expected to have a lovely chat with perhaps a cup of tea with the intended ‘target’...

Even “assassination attempts” during this election are extremely boring. And very safe, indeed. [I am happy that it was safe, of course, but that’s not the point]

You want the reality show where borders between fiction, theatre and the reality are hardly discernible? Welcome to Armenia. The whole country turned into a big theatre with a play on stage called #armvote13.

Prepare your popcorn. Seat back. Relax. And press the button. Or do not.

In the meantime, the best to come out of this election is DIY satire, internet meme and similar that Facebook and other online forums are full with.