on the silk road

Is civil society taking shape in Armenia?
April 30, 2008, 9:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Armenian society, or some segment of it at least, is becoming more active and less apathetic to the situation in the country, which can be summarized simply as one where the people are disrespected and ignored on a daily basis by their leaders. This leads me to speculate as to whether the political crisis brought about by the presidential elections and the turmoil that followed, might have inadvertently sowed the seeds for a bona fide civil society to grow in the country.

     Since February 19, the Armenian Blogosphere has quadrupled, become a source for news in Armenia and served to organize on the grassroots level.

Below I have included a a few blog links that I hastily gathered to show what I’m talking about…


I am rather impressed with the amount of online activism in Armenia that blogs have spurred since the election. This type of activism should not be underestimated, I need only to point to the Armenian National Committee of America’s successful Click and Call for Justice Campaigns, which effectively mobilized thousands across the nation to call their representatives on Armenian issues. This in America, where we are not, on a daily basis, faced with even a fraction of the difficulty and challenges that people in Armenia face every day.

 More people are blogging, and even more are engaging in virtual dialogue through email and comment posts on these blogs. I myself have somehow been added to a number of email threads, which have evolved into a daily conversation between more than a dozen people of different political beliefs on a number of issues. Through these email threads, Armenian’s are share news and opinion articles and discussing opposing positions on current events in Armenia.

      Whether dialogue like this is productive remains to be seen. But I think there is potential. The question also of where this nascent “movement” is going and who will lead it, is still up in the air. It’s possible that it might end up being led by Heritage or the HHSh or one man (maybe LTP, although I dont think LTP cares much for a democratic movement as he has already accomplished his goal of humiliating, alienating, and weakening those who removed him).

      But one sad reality is certain, if things don’t change, come next parliamentary elections, the people will come out in support of whoever leads this “movement,” as was the case in Pakistan with Benizir Bhutto. Chances are the authorities will once again interfere in the elections and then we will be facing some very serious and real problems–that is if  Azeri President Ilham Aliyev doesn’t decide to attack Karabakh anytime soon.

      I would like to see the Armenian Revolutionary Federation at the front lines of a grassroots democratic movement in Armenia–this is where they belong, I believe. Unfortunately they did not move into opposition after the elections and are currently part of the governing coalition.

      I followed the Armenian Presidential Elections very attentively. ARF presidential candidate Vahan Hovannesian’s criticism of the current system and leadership for failing its people resonated with me—as did his political platform. His resignation as deputy speaker after Sarkisian won the election was, I believe, the principled step to take. It was admirable and just. But the ARF shouldn’t have stopped there as it had promised to take to the streets if the elections were rigged–which they were. Hovannesian’s move should have been followed by the party positioning itself in the opposition. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen–for various reasons (some understandable, some unacceptable).

      It is my belief that If the ARF had dropped out of the coalition and become opposition, there would be an opportunity for the organization and its supporters to, through their actions, organize a grass roots movement out of the chaos that was March 1. If this scenario played out, I have no doubt they would have stood at the helm of the potential movement I am writing about. This is not far-fetched speculation, as anyone who knows the recent history of the Republic of Armenia, recognizes the romanticism attached to the ARF by the people of Armenia, especially during the 60s when Armenian nationalism experienced a re-awakening in the Soviet Republic and during the late 80s when thousands of Armenians rushed to Artsakh to protect and liberate their historic homeland.

      Unfortunately that romanticism fades a bit more with every election year.

This year too, the ARF didn’t do as I, and many others would have liked, and this saddens me at the moment because Armenia is–in my opinion–facing an existential crisis right now for reasons we all know, yet sometimes ignore. A renewed war begun by a much stronger Azerbaijan is possible and very likely and with the government discredited and the people demoralized, I do not foresee the same number of Armenians rushing to the front lines to protect their homeland. Armenia does not have a sustainable economy and is ill equipped to deal with the economic pandemic that is spreading throughout the global economy. Armenia is also not immune to the world food and oil crisis either, which is spreading with increasing speed and threatening to topple governments much like Armenia’s. In terms of environmental disaster, Armenia is well on its way to becoming a desert within our lifetimes.

      So now the question on my mind is, where is Armenia going? Is it moving forward like president Sarkisian assures us it is? Or is Armenia’s population becoming more disillusioned, disappointed and, dare I say it, radicalized? If it is being radicalized, is this good or bad for the country? 

In any case, we will see how this all plays out.



Georgia-Russia tensions ramped up
April 30, 2008, 3:47 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


Russia has warned it will retaliate if Georgia uses force against its breakaway regions.

Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia (file pic)

Russia plans to boost troop numbers in Abkhazia and S Ossetia

Moscow has accused Georgia of preparing to invade Abkhazia, and says it is boosting Russian forces there and in the South Ossetia region.

Georgia has reacted angrily to the Russian move, which its prime minister called “irresponsible”.

The EU also urged caution, saying to increase troop numbers would be unwise given current tensions.

Russia’s foreign minister said his country was not preparing for war but would “retaliate” against any attack.

Russia says Georgia is massing 1,500 soldiers and police in the upper Kodori Gorge, the only part of Abkhazia which remains under government control.

‘Retaliatory measures’

A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said that “a bridgehead is being prepared for the start of military operations against Abkhazia”.

Map of Georgia

In response, it said, it was increasing Russian peacekeepers in both Abkhazia and Georgia’s other breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Georgia denies any build-up of its own forces in the area, and says that Russia is taking provocative action.

“We think that this step, if they take it, will cause extreme destabilisation in the region,” said Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze.

“From now on, we consider every [Russian] soldier or any unit of military equipment coming in [to Abkhazia and South Ossetia] as illegal, potential aggressors and potential generators of destabilisation.”

After meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called on Russia to show restraint.

“Even if the increase in peacekeepers is within limits, if we want to diminish the perception of tensions, I don’t think it is a wise measure to increase now,” Mr Solana said.

Mr Lavrov said that Russia had to protect Russian-passport holders in the regions and that if Georgia took military action, Russia would have to take “retaliatory measures”.

Mr Solana’s comments reflect a growing concern that Nato’s promise to admit Georgia as a member one day, despite strong Russian opposition, could have unpredictable consequences, says the BBC’s European affairs correspondent Oana Lungescu.

Peacekeeping force

Russia has kept a peacekeeping force in Abkhazia and South Ossetia under an agreement made following the wars of the 1990s, when the regions broke away from Tbilisi and formed links with Moscow.

President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia

Georgia’s president has vowed to reunite the country

There are around 2,000 Russians posted in Abkhazia, and about 1,000 in South Ossetia.

Tensions between Russia and Georgia have flared up recently, despite Russia lifting economic sanctions against Georgia earlier this month.

Last week Georgia accused a Russian plane of shooting down an unmanned Georgian spy plane – which Russian authorities insisted was shot down by Abkhaz rebels.

And on Tuesday Georgia said it was blocking Russia’s entry to the World Trade Organization.

Many in Abkhazia believe that Kosovo’s announcement of independence from Serbia in February provides a precedent for it to be recognised as an individual state.

Although it has its own flag and postage stamps, it is not internationally recognised.

Our correspondent in the area says that with this latest statement the Russian government has pushed the already bellicose rhetoric between the two countries to a new level.

Thousands Protest Genocide Denial at AYF’s Turkish Consulate Protest
April 28, 2008, 7:31 am
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LOS ANGELES (ASBAREZ)–The Armenian Tricolor waved with determination on the steps of the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles on Thursday as thousands of Armenian-Americans came out to demand justice and recognition in protest of 93 years of Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. 
    “93 years, no more tears,” was shouted by an estimated 15,000 people as they marched united along the perimeter of the consulate, located on the corner of Wilshire blvd and Crescent Heights on Los Angeles’s historic miracle mile.
   The demonstration, which is organized annually by the Armenian Youth Federation. One of the protestors was 101-year-old Genocide survivor Ghazaros Kademian who hand delivered his own personal letter of protest, which was read aloud by the organizers during the final remarks of the evening. 
    The protest featured speeches in both Armenian and English. After Kademian’s letter was read to the crowd, California Assembly member Paul Krekorian took the podium to talk about the relevance of genocide recognition for America, while AYF Educational Committee Chairman Saro Haroun and AYF Chairman Caspar Jivalagian followed with inspiring speeches about the youth’s steadfast commitment to continue the struggle for recognition.
    “93 years ago, the perpetrators of the Genocide tried to wipe the Armenian Race off the face of the earth,” Jivalagian exclaimed. “All of us standing here today are living proof, that the goals and desires of the Turks failed.”
    “I was born in Zeitun…my father died there defending his homeland. My mother died freezing, protecting my sister and I from the bitter cold of winter in northern Iraq, where we were exiled,” Kademian’s letter said.
    “The survivors of the genocide are with us today, and not just one or one hundred, but thousands of them, standing before me, demanding justice for the Armenian nation, Haroun exclaimed.” “Where is that one last Armenian who they said would be displayed in a Turkish museum?”
    Krekorian, who represents the largest Armenian community outside of Armenia, told the thousands gathered of his own personal connection with the Genocide, about his ancestor who was brutally murdered in Kharpert on June 1915. 
    “But it is important, not just for our community, but for all Americans, to commemorate the anniversary of one of the greatest crimes in human history,” exclaimed Krekorian. “Only when Turkey confesses to their crimes will our people have peace, and Turkey’s soul be saved, and only then can the world community have any hope of preventing atrocities like the Genocide from happening now and in the future.”
    This year’s protests were held against the backdrop of intensified activity by the Turkish government to prevent the United States House of Representatives from finally recognizing the Genocide. 
    “We have seen an attempt by the Turkish Government to enforce a gag rule on the United States Congress,” stated Armenian National Committee of America Western Region Executive Director Andrew Kzirian. “The activists here today are a testament to the idea that this is unacceptable. We must end the cycle of genocide by remembering and acknowledging–so that current perpetrators like the Sudanese Government, and culpable parties, like Turkey, remain on notice that the world is watching.”
    Two such activists, 16 year-old Gary Piloian and 17 year-old Garbis Topakian said they have been coming to the protest for 5 years now in order to help the community raise awareness of the genocide. If people like them don’t make the effort and remind the world about man’s inhumanity to man, who will? They asked. 
    “If we stop protesting, and forget those killed by the Turks in the genocide, who will remember them?” said 20 year-old Allen Gharakhani. 
    “The only way we will get Turkey to accept its crime is if we continue to struggle and take action,” exclaimed 17 Talar Markerian. 
    The annual April 24 protest in front of the consulate has become a uniting force over the past decade for the community’s youth, which having grown up in America, identify the event as one that helps connect them to their people’s history.
    “The elders of the Armenian community should be very proud of their youth,” Captain Eric Davis of the Los Angeles Police Department said. “Any time you see the youth caring about their future in a responsible way, you have to respect that.”
    Davis, who has been working the protest on and off for over a decade said he appreciates the cooperation and respect of the AYF when they demonstrate. Their understanding of the various concerns and issues of the LAPD maintains the integrity of the community, he said
    “These kids are just trying to be heard, they are exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech,” said Sergeant Briget Pickett, who has been working the event for three years. “I didn’t know about the genocide before, it inspired me to research it. It was very educational, she added.”
    “American’s are for humanitarian issues,” she said, “and this is a human issue across the board.”
    “Recognizing the Armenian Genocide will put America back on the right side of a vital moral issue, reaffirming our unique role in promoting human rights,” said ANCA-WR Press Secretary Ani Garabedian. “What’s at stake here is our right, as Americans, to uphold our nation’s highest ideals, free from the foreign threats and intimidation of the Turkish Government.”
    American ideals were something highlighted extensively in Kademian’s letter, which thanked the American Government for opening its doors to embrace the Armenians after the Genocide.
    “Hopefully I will not wait long, for the day that [the Turkish] government accepts its unjust actions and proceeds to remedy its mistakes,” Kademian’s letter read.

The ticking timebomb that is the South Caucasus
April 23, 2008, 10:21 pm
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TRANSCAUCASIA (Combined Sources)–Georgia is preparing to use force to resolve the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts, South Ossetian interior minister Mikhail Mindzayev said in an interview with a REGNUM correspondent.

The minister of the unrecognized Georgian Breakway Republic said that a series of terrorist acts that took place in South Ossetia in February-March 2008 were planned and executed exactly in preparation of a larger campaign.

“The terrorist attacks are aimed at creating panic among the population and creating unfavorable conditions for the life of the people,” Mindzayev said.

According to Mindzayev, Georgia has finished deploying forces along a position in the Abkhazian direction.
“They are going to take care of South Ossetia after they finish a blitz against Abkhazia,” he said. ” 8,000 troops and reservists are going to be used in an attempt to neutralize our forces and resources.”

“As of today, 500 soldiers have been deployed to the conflict zone, allegedly to protect power lines, Mindzayev said. “According to our information, the rest of the forces are going to be transfered to our borders shortly.” He said that South Ossetian interior ministry has been put on red alert.

According to Mindzayev, Georgian forces are active in two regions–Tskhinvali and Znaur. He said that South Ossetian forces have reinforced their positions along their de-facto border with Georgia posts in preparation.

The Ossetian Minister’s statements come amid increasing regional tension as Russia and the West view for influence in what was the Soviet Unions backyard. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, along with the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, all unrecognized republics, which declared independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, have taken on a central role in regional and international power-plays as a result of a successful western backed deceleration of independence by Kosova from Russia’s ally Serbia.

The move, which came on February 18, has left Georgia and Azerbaijan scrambling. With Kosavar independence serving as a potential international precedent for the recognition of former soviet nations seeking self-determination, these two states have been working anxiously to prevent their breakaway regions from gaining international recognition.

Russia has, for its part, been flexing its military and diplomatic muscle in an unprecedented fashion in an attempt to regain a foothold in its backyard. Its former vassals, Georgia and Azerbaijan have , however, been audatiously pushing back, going toe to to with the Russian bear. With a green light from the US and NATO, Georgia has taken the iniative to challenge the kremlins power plays in its breakaway regions. Azerbaijan simalrly has been rellying on a strategic partnership with turkey and the US, intensifying its opposition to Moscow and Yerevan.

News broke in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan on April 21 that on March 29 Azerbaijani authorities had halted a shipment of Russian equipment destined for Iran’s nuclear facility at Bushehr. The Azerbaijanis say the shipment was detained because the equipment may be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions restricting international assistance in Iran’s nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s defence ministry has released a video showing what appears to be a Russian MiG-29 shooting down the unarmed Georgian drone on Sunday. A Russian air force spokesman said the claim was “nonsense” while Abkhaz rebels said they had downed the drone.

“Russian military aircraft intruded into Georgian airspace above Abkhazia, Georgia,” said President Saakashvili on television. “This aircraft attacked and destroyed a Georgian UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle]. Once again, Georgia was exercising [its] sovereign right to monitor a situation on its own territory.”

Abkhazia’s administration has said its own forces shot down the drone because it was violating Abkhaz airspace and breaching ceasefire agreements.

According to Russian reports from Sukhumi, the Abkhaz capital, the authorities there have put on display fragments of the drone. Garry Kupalba, deputy defence minister of the unrecognised Republic of Abkhazia, told reporters the drone had been shot down by an “L-39 aircraft of the Abkhaz Air Force”. He also identified the drone as an Israeli-made Hermes 450. President Putin viewed the presence of the drone as a “destabilising factor escalating tension”, the Kremlin said.

Last week, Georgia accused Russia of trying to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia by deciding to seek closer ties with them. Russia has said its proposal is aimed at protecting the rights and legal interests of Russian citizens, who make up the majority of the population in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Earlier this month, Nato decided not to grant Georgia’s request to join its Membership Action Plan but promised it would eventually become a member of the alliance

On April 18, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed that his country’s army was the most powerful in the entire region and is prepared to “liberate its lands.” His remarks came during a visit to the frontline region of Fizuli, where he spoke to army soldiers and officers about Azerbaijan’s military spending.

He told the soldiers that the government will be increasing its military spending to $2 billion, up from $175 million in 2004. The drastic rise in spending is supported by oil revenues generated by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which Western companies developed to feed oil to Europe. Since it’s complete in 2006, the pipeline has helped the country increase its defense spending and has fueled threats of renewed war with Armenia by President Aliyev.

Aliyev also precluded any notion of Karabakh independence Friday, saying that Azerbaijan will not endure the “injustice” of the international community in respect to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

With the precedent of Kosavar independence a looming threat for Azeri territorial integrity, Nagorno-Karabakh has become a serious election issue this year in Azerbaijan. Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, who will be running for re-election in October, has been toughening his already bellicose position on the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, threatening to re-ignite war and take back the Armenian territory by force.
He accused Armenia of preventing the settlement of the conflict and deceiving the international community. Armenia has repeatedly voiced its support for a compromise solution within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group

Since 1997, the peace talks over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been conducted by the American, French and Russian co-chairmen of the Minsk Group.

At the end of last year, the Minsk Group tried to persuade the two sides to accept a statement of basic principles, as a first step towards breaking the deadlock over Nagorno Karabakh’s future–but no agreement was reached. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has been threatening war and making diplomatic steps to remove the conflict from the watchful eye of international mediators.

Aliyev said he is hopeful that the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan will be restored as his country’s army is the most powerful in the region and threatened renewed war to take Nagorno-Karabakh.

The threats follow a pattern of increasing belligerence by Azerbaijani officials and come amid increasing tensions after a string of unprecedented violations of the Karabakh ceasefire line by Azeri Armed forces in early March.

But Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian Wednesday said Azerbaijan must accept that the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is an independent republic that will never be returned to Azeri control.

“Azerbaijan must understand the simple reality that the existence of the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence is irreversible,” Sarkisian said. “It is impossible to even imagine that the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh could be subordinate in any way to Azerbaijan.

“The people of Nagorno-Karabakh have won their right to a free and independent life. And through our efforts, that right must be recognized by the international community,” he stressed.

In recent weeks Armenian authorities have been threatening recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and sign military agreements with it if Azerbaijan continues to try and remove the conflict from the Minsk Group format. With the Armenian government left greatly weakened–internally and externally–after post-election unrest spurred on by Former President Levon Ter Petrosian, the new president has begun moving Armenia closer to Russia in an attempt to balance the growing threat of greater internal instability and a renewed war between a much stronger Azerbaijan.

On April 18, Armenia’s new Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian told a press conference that Armenia will continue to strengthen its special strategic partnership with the Russian Federation, building upon the traditional friendly ties between the two nations. A career diplomat of the Soviet Foreign Service, Nalbandian replaced the US trained Vartan Oskanian early April. With his close ties with the Kremlin and a Russian citizenship under his belt, Yerevan’s foreign policy is set to move Armenia closer to Russia.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Azeri Parliament Oktai Asadov met with Turkish ambassador to Azerbaijan Yulus Kylci Friday to discuss bilateral relations. During the meeting, they discussed the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh and the prevention of the international recognition of the Armenian genocide.

“Through their actions, Azerbaijan and Turkey have proven that they are strategic partners,” Asadov said, citing the BTC Pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway. Both projects circumvent Armenia, which is under a dual blockade by the two countries.

It is beginning to become apparent that the short and tenuous facade of stability that has characterized the South Caucasus in recent years is beginning to unravel. Regional actors are gearing up for confrontation and world powers are exploiting the various conflicts of the region to fight their own international tug of war for power and influence. This new great game is taking place in one of the most expensive and volatile pieces of real estate the world has ever known. The Caucasus, and Armenia in particular are set to experience tumultuous times, as the old silk road, which carried the trade of the ancient world has now become a conduit carrying black gold to the Western industrialized world.

Microsoft to Establish Over a Thousand New Jobs in Armenia
April 23, 2008, 10:16 pm
Filed under: Armenia, Uncategorized

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–In the coming two years Microsoft is planning to establish 1,000-2,000 new jobs in Armenia, the director of the Armenian office of Microsoft Grigor Barseghian said on Wednesday.
He said that in the sphere of Information Technology there is a great demand of specialists. Today the company is conducting training of specialists and is making investments in universities and schools for preparing relevant specialists.

According to Barseghian, the violation of copyright laws in the information technology sector of Armenia is estimated at 95%, one of the highest indexes in the world.
It is necessary to decrease the index by bringing it to a minimum, he said. If copyright infringement is brought to a minimum in Armenia, everyone will gain and people will use more reliable technology, Barseghian noted.

Microsoft is planning on establishing more partnerships with Armenian companies in the near future, according to Barseghian.

To Enhance Armenian Studies We Must Teach Armenian as a Foreign Language, Says Mkrtchian
April 23, 2008, 10:15 pm
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YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–The Armenian ministry of Education and Sciences has begun developing an official curriculum to teach Armenian as a foreign language, Minister of Education and Science Levon Mkrtchian said during a press conference on Wednesday.
Such a program needs to be developed in order to enhance Armenian Studies programs in the country, according to Mkrtchian, who expressed dissatisfaction with the current language programs in Armenia.
Full Article at Asbarez

European Parliament Tells Turkey to End Blockade, Fails to Mention Genocide
April 23, 2008, 10:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–The European Parliament on Tuesday called on Turkey to open its border with Armenia.
The calls for an end to the more than a decade long embargo came in the European Parliament’s latest resolution on Turkish Progress toward EU membership. The resolution passed overwhelmingly with a vote of 53 to 4 and 4 abstentions.
But according to Turkish NTV, unlike the previous resolutions, this one makes no mention of the 1915 Armenian genocide.
The European Parliament’s resolution only calls on Ankara to end Armenia’s economic blockade, to open border and begin a dialogue with the government in Yerevan for search of reconciliation over the past.
The resolution tells the European Commission to help both sides ease the process of reconciliation.