Tuesday, February 27, 2007

La femme d'armenie

Ever gone skiing with French diplomats? Without standing in crowded lines...without borders and barriers preventing you to feel like the mountain is truly yours...on freshly fallen powder snow...with Lake Sevan in front of you and Mt. Ararat behind?....Ohh la-la!


Recently had an internal debate with myself about the role of media, of the effect that barrages of negative and apocolyptic news has on the psyche of a society (ie- the "culture of fear" firmly taking root in the US), about constantly drumming the beat of warning without offering constructive solutions... And then I read this article.

In the west, Politkovskaya's honesty brought her a measure of fame and a string of awards, bestowed at ceremonies in hotel ballrooms from New York to Stockholm. At home, she had none of that. Her excoriations of Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, ensured isolation, harassment, and, many predicted, death. 'I am a pariah,' she wrote in an essay last year. 'That is the result of my journalism through the years of the second Chechen war, and of publishing books abroad about life in Russia.'

Despite the fact that Politkovskaya was articulate, attractive and accomplished, she was barred from appearing on television, which is the only way the vast majority of Russians get news. To the degree that a living woman could be airbrushed out of post-Soviet history, she had been. 'People call the newspaper,' she wrote, 'and send letters with one and the same question: "Why are you writing about this? Why are you scaring us? Why do we need to know this?"' She provided an answer as much for herself as for any reader: 'I'm sure this has to be done, for one simple reason: as contemporaries of this war, we will be held responsible for it. The classic Soviet excuse of not being there and not taking part in anything personally won't work. So I want you to know the truth. Then you'll be free of cynicism.'

So, thanks to the Guardian for publishing this very intriguing in depth two-part article (really worth the read) and confirming what I deeply always believed. In countries like these- where information is not clear and poorly disseminated, media outlets are controlled, facts are dubious, and unfounded conspiracy theories are rampant- it is all the MORE important for journalists, and researchers and organizations like Transparency to report the facts and the results of their research- even if it is disconcerting and frightening.

"A problem from hell"

Perhaps in the 21st century, closure on the issue of genocide can be somewhat provided by international legal structures- even if emotional scars remain. Fascinating process which exposes the politics, symantics, nuances, guilt, victimization, collective hurt and retribution on a grand, human scale.

New York Times

February 27, 2007
Court Declares Bosnia Killings Were Genocide
By Marlise Simons

THE HAGUE, Feb. 26 — The International Court of Justice on Monday for the first time called the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 an act of genocide, but determined that Serbia itself was not guilty of the enormous crime.

Nonetheless, it faulted Serbia, saying it “could and should” have prevented the genocide and, in its aftermath, should have punished the Bosnian Serbs who systematically killed close to 8,000 men and
boys in July 1995.

The ruling resulted from a civil lawsuit Bosnia had brought against Serbia, the first in which one country sued another for genocide.

The 15 international judges who held nine weeks of hearings and deliberated for nearly 10 months relied in part on evidence presented in criminal cases heard by the United Nations Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which has found two Bosnian Serb officers guilty of genocide for the Srebrenica massacre.

In the end, the lawsuit resolved Monday may have been the most complex case handled in the 60-year history of the World Court, which the United Nations set up to resolve legal disputes between

The ruling appeared to give some satisfaction — and frustration — to both sides. It freed Serbia of the stigma of being a genocidal nation and absolved it from having to pay war reparations, as demanded by

At the same time, Bosnia obtained what it said it wanted from the outset: a recognition of Serbia’s guilt.


In a statement after the session, Judge Higgins noted that the findings did not completely satisfy either side. “That does not mean, of course, that the court has been seeking a political compromise,” she

All the same, the ruling, even if strictly based on the law, hews close to the
political wishes of Western
countries that want to pull Serbia into a wider Western European community, rather than see it isolated as a pariah state, possibly accused of genocide, with its extreme nationalists growing in strength.


Lawyers for Bosnia had tried to convince the court that the pattern of atrocities across many communities in Bosnia demonstrated the intention to commit genocide, not only by killing, imprisoning
and deporting the population, but also by destroying evidence of their presence.

Andras Riedlmayer, a historian testifying for Bosnia, said the Serb campaign to purge 26 municipalities of Bosnia of non-Serbs had destroyed or damaged 958 mosques and close to 300 Roman Catholic churches and monasteries.

But the judges ruled that demonstrating a pattern of conduct or of atrocities was “too broad” to qualify for the definition of genocide. The crime of genocide required showing convincingly there was a specific plan or the specific intention to destroy the group or part of it, they ruled.

In essence, they did not answer the question often asked in The Hague: when does ethnic cleansing become genocide?

After LENGTHY national debate, some form of dual citizenship is here

Dual citizenship law passed
26.02.2007 15:36
- With 66 pro, 5 con votes and 1 abstention, Armenian National Assembly adopted the amendments to the Law on dual citizenship at second reading. The United Labor party voted against. The opposition did not participate in the voting.

Let us remind that this amendment establishes the institute of dual citizenship in the republic and our compatriots residing in different sites of the world gain the right to elect and be elected.

Dual citizens cannot run for president and parliament, they will not be allowed to be members of the Constitutional Court.

According to Justice Minister David Harutyunyan, political agreement has been reached on the following issue: “Dual citizens who have no place of registration in Armenia will not participate in elections. Correspondingly, dual citizens having a place of registration in Armenia attain franchise. In fact, no additional precincts will be opened for citizens not registered in Armenia.

Monday, February 19, 2007


It's official: Sksel-a.

Sksel-a means "it has begun" in Armenian, and we used this as our phrase in advertising for Barekendan and every "action" we plan on organizing from here on out because, quite frankly, it has. And what a better way to start things than with a lot of energy, a lot of color, a LOT of noise, and a lot of young people. Anyone who has been here will acknowledge that this alone is a huge feat in Armenia.

What were our goals? Many. As Barekendan/carnival as a tradition stands as a platform for being theatrical, for being over the top, for breaking expectations and for laughing at ourselves and questioning social constructs, it was the perfect opportunity to bring up issues in our young civil society's collective mind. Tongue-in-cheek posters like "El Che'" ("el che" in Armenian meaning "no more") or "Keech Gerek" ("eat less" alludes to the colloquial use of the word "eating money" in reference to corruption) were meant both to make people laugh and make them think. Chanting "wake up!", blowing on hundreds of whistles and passing out alarm clocks were a call the public to action, to shake them out of their slumber. Alarm clocks were passed out to passers-by each with a small piece of paper asking a single inquisitive question of the recipient ("are you ready?" "how long will it be this way?" "where is your voice?" "aren't you concerned?"). Using the phrase "yegek tser yegh ou brinzin der ganknek," from Tumanyan's famous Barekendan folk-tale about the foolish man and wife who were duped by the sneaky theif, encourages the public to take ownership of their country- of their future- lest they share the same fate as Tumanyan's characters.

Passerbys may have been confused, and some participants may have missed the deeper meanings, but it was a sight, a spectacle and it made people smile, and what is more, we hope it made people think. Thus, I consider the day a tremendous success. Out of the tumult of amorphous, uninhibited energy is often where large innovative changes begin.

Other comments and photos about the event:

"As for the Barekentan event itself, few important things need to be said: Ancient festivals are, before anything, a ritual — just like elections in ancient Athens were a ritual… They don’t have a meaning in themselves unless you invest that meaning yourself. The same goes for political life, political conciousness and politicization.

Every such event and every alarm clock handed out is a seed of liberty. And very often that seed will land on rocks. Other times it will land on soil and maybe (given the right type of atmosphere and provided that it is not stamped out at an early age) it will grow into a tree … but rarely.

Every such ritual, every such event is a step forward in cultivating a vibrant political culture, but they must be backed by action! Yes, action. A prior type of activity by the people in their everyday life, that generates a type of conciousness that when an alarm clock is handed out it spartks a thought. Conciousness is not the same as idea. "

More here http://blog.transparency.am/?p=30
here http://azat.wordpress.com/2007/02/19/barekendan-yesterday-is-reported-as-a-success/
here http://bekaisa.livejournal.com/210698.html
and here http://www.armeniadiaspora.com/gallery/barekendan/frameset.html

Thursday, February 15, 2007

i told you, barekendan is coming...

Barekendan is an old Armenian traditional festival that we are seeking to revive as a form of civil action by calling upon the citizens to “wake up” and become involved in social processes in Armenia. In particular, this holiday is an occasion in which traditional norms and routines are rejected and reversed. People wear masks, costumes and participate in games, performances and jokes as a way of truly expressing their opinions. In other words, it is an occasion in which people are urged not to be passive and instead alert. As Lent begins the day after Barekendan, it is the final call for people to be uninhibited in their actions prior to the start of a period of fasting.

Seeing as how the Parliamentary elections of 2007 are critical for the democratization processes in Armenia, Barekendan serves as an ideal occasion for the civil society activists to call upon their fellow dormant citizens to “wake up” and become involved. We are seeking to accomplish this goal by organizing a parade and day of festivities on February 18, 2007. On this day, we plan on dressing in costumes, offering face painting, passing out sweets and candies among other treats.



Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007


Charles Aznavour Square, One week ago

Letter to fall/winter '06 volunteers

December 20, 2006

Dear Volunteers,

I recall a discussion some of us had over dinner in November. We talked about how the informal societal pressures on citizens here are so great; about how for some, interactions have been reduced nearly to those of basic survival (do whatever you must to get something, anything); about how people with any kind of power (monetary, resources, violence, contacts) hold that power over others to keep what they have –thus resulting in a society that is immobile; about how there is fear in people preventing them to stand up against what has become a nearly feudalistic hierarchy; about our friend Krikor’s opinion that the only way out of this denigrating stagnation is massive social action whereby thousands of people refuse to put up with the status quo any longer.

Armenian people are known for creating their own support systems- in the absence of a properly functioning government, healthcare system, etc. people support one another. The social and familial ties are deep and profound. However, in the same breath, today they are destroying each other. Why? Because of fear. At a round-table discussion on social change in Armenia, a local Armenian activist told me that in his opinion, Armenian citizens feel that they finally have SOMETHING, and they are scared to death of losing what little bit they have managed to hold on to. When days of having nothing (NOTHING) are still in recent memory (it was only 10 years ago that my taxi driver Sako remembers carrying his daughter on his shoulders up 11 flights of stairs in ’93. He remembers vividly burning book, furniture, whatever they had in the house because there was no heat or gas, and not a day when the snow did not fall between November and March), it is impossible for average people to risk whatever little achievements they have made by now.

And THIS is exactly the importance of your presence here.

That same young activist impressed upon me that the best thing the diaspora can do is set up businesses here, be here, and challenge those immoral systems that are pervading society here today. Perhaps, a diasporan businessperson can open up a legitimately run business in Armenia, with the knowledge that more than likely he will lose money on this endeavor, or in the best-case scenario, break even. But if he or she is in any position to make such an investment without risking his own self and family’s security, then Armenia beseeches him to try because there is scarcely an Armenian citizen today who can afford this kind of loss. Because by running a legitimate business, employing people, and teaching them skills, etiquette and professional culture that is not based on cronyism or personal connections, one can start a critical ripple that can slowly but inevitably expand towards more social change, security, and a normal way of life for Armenian citizens.

This echoes a theme we talked about in our training session in October. As a diasporan, what you uniquely have is power in the form of resources: of your citizenship, of your personal contacts, of your security. This is why efforts like those of JL’s at fighting the corrupt hospital administration where he is volunteering are so enormous: the work he is trying to achieve could not be done by anyone else. It could not have been initiated by any of the local employees of the hospital who are under the powerful grip and influence of the hospital’s administration. They have too much too risk. By being an Australian citizen, with home and family continents away, with money and resources that he can fall back on in case this whole plan falls apart, JL has less to lose.

By being a volunteer for 2 months, 4 months, a year, you won’t be able to change everything. But it should give you an introduction; an introduction of the reality here, and the possibilities here. So that you can disseminate this information, or marinate on it for the next few years and return, armed with your knowledge and new skills you will have by then acquired.

The social revolution in Armenia will be a slow one, a quiet one at first- but believe me- you are a part of it.

With great love and respect,

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Welcome back to the USSR

hahahaha. anyone who's been to Russia, Easten Europe, the Caucasus, the Baltics...the Soviet bloc in general...will find this amusing. hilarious for those like me who have never even tried the vile looking liquid.

Kvas is it!
Coke taps Soviet brew
Tom Parfitt in Moscow
Tuesday February 6, 2007 The Guardian

It is seen as a quintessentially Russian item, on a par with vodka, felt boots and troikas. But now Coca-Cola, the ultimate symbol of western capitalism, is to start producing kvas, the Russian drink made from fermented bread which is sometimes called "the Coke of Communism".

The soft drinks giant is in talks with beverage companies in Moscow over bottling the drink, a murky concoction that is often sold from tankers in the street.

Kvas, which can contain berries, fruit or birch sap, has been supped by peasants since the middle ages.

For some older Russians, Coca-Cola's muscling in on the kvas market may be hard to stomach, bearing in mind the company once symbolised the great cold war enemy, the United States.

A popular Soviet anecdote has Russian cosmonauts calling their leader, Leonid Brezhnev, to tell him they have reached the Moon and painted it red. A month later the cosmonauts call back in despair, saying: "The Americans have brought white paint and written Coca-Cola on it."

full article here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The date is set; and so it begins

As if it hasn't already been said enough times, this election season is extremely critical: it needs to come off clean and fair, most notably so that people have a semblance of restored faith in the system to give them a reason to vote in the VERY crucial presidential elections next year in '08.

Most observers say that if this country has one, maximum two, more fraudulent elections then that's it. It will be nearly impossible to alter the course Armenia is on (a corrupt system of feudalism, servitude to Russia, and no freedom or defense of citizens' rights) after that.

This article presents just some of the story. But there's so much more...

Decision 2007 Comes May 12: Will it be fair?

By Gayane Abrahamyan

A decree signed this week by President Robert Kocharyan places the Parliamentary elections on May 12.

Now that the date has been settled, the over-riding question remains whether these elections – unlike any in independent Armenia – can be fairly executed.

Garegin Azaryan, chairman of the Central Electoral Commission believes the new electoral code gives an opportunity to hold free, fair and transparent elections.


Last week the representatives of the oppositional forces met the US Deputy Vice State Secretary, American co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk group Matthew Bryza and shared their opinions on the upcoming election in Armenia.

“Bryza said the adoption of the new code seems to be a step forward; I disagree with the assessment. Elections are falsified independent of the code,” says Manukyan.

Artak Zeynalyan of the Political Council of Hanrapetutyun (Republic) Party has also shared his party’s concerns about the falsifications with Bryza.

“We brought proper arguments supporting the idea that the changes in the electoral code will just facilitate the frauds in the coming election and will make them less discernible,” says Zeynalyan.

Politicians and ordinary citizens lack hopes for having free elections alike.

The recent survey held jointly by the Armenian Sociological Association and the Gallup Institute among 1,200 residents of Armenia has shown 69 percent of the respondents are confident the elections will be neither free nor fair, while 61 percents believe the authorities in Armenia undertake no sufficient measures to prevent the falsifications in elections.

Monday, February 05, 2007

2006 Corruption Perceptions Survey

Last Wednesday I attended a presentation, held by Transparency International and UNDP, of the highly anticipated results of TI's Corruption Peceptions Survey (the last survey was taken in 2002).

Side-note: check out the majority of women heading up international organizations in my photo.

From left to right: Director of Transparency International, Head of UNDP in Armenia, Secretary General of Counsel of Europe in Armenia, Head of OSCE, and Head of International Organizations and Human Rights divison of the Foreign Ministry of Armenia.

Welcome to the feminist theory of International Relations...

The survey revealed some concerning statistics, particularly alarming and revealing to me as we approach parliamentary elections- approximately 90 days away.

Consider the following two statements from the Executive Summary:

"Most of the 2006 respondents were alarmed by a negative impact of corruption on the legitimacy of the Armenian authorities and the moral of the society, which did not come across in 2002..."

"While prioritizing the solutions to improve the current situation, most respondents pointed to a necessity of ensuring free and fair elections"

SO, if everyone realizes that the existing corrupt system is bad, and that free and fair elections is a way to improve the situation, then why does it seem like such an uphill battle to convince people to get out and vote this Spring. To sign up to become election observers. To protest when their rights to dissent are put into jeopardy. RIGHT NOW is the perfect opportunity for citizens of Armenia to do something.

Disconcerting is the following:

"In 2006, the majority of interviewees still believe that the President of the country could play a determining role in reducing corruption in Armenia, whereas more than half of them [58.8%] assume that people themselves cannot do anything...The public opinion regarding the possibility to fight corruption in Armenia has not changed since 2002. Nearly a third of respondents said again that corruption cannot be eliminated."

And perhaps finally, we should reflect on the fact tht 96% of the public says they get their information from television.

And 0% of TV in Armenia is independent since A1+ was shut down by the government five years ago this April.

The up-hill battle continues.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The beautiful game?

What the hell is wrong with people. I've tried to educate myself and understand the fanaticism surrounding football (albeit only from one source thus far: Franklin Foer's 2004 book, outlining his, arguably, wobbly theory "How Soccer Explains the World"). I've heard of the English hooligan ("On a smaller scale, the English hooligan has become like the gangsta rapper or the Mafioso, a glamorized, commodified criminal. When the BBC finds itself in need of a ratings boost, it airs one of its many hooligan documentaries."). Read of the notoriously violent fans of Belgrade's Red Star club and their perceived complicity in the Balkan Wars of the 1990's ("But at Red Star the violent fans occupy a place of honor, and more than that...From Red Star's own ranks, a hooligan paramilitary force was organized and armed. Krle, who took a bullet in his leg, would serve in this army. The Red Star fans would become Milosevic's shock troops, the most active agents of ethnic cleansling, highly efficient practitioners of genocide").

But in bella italia? The most scathing thing Franklin Foer had to say about Italian soccer in the book was just "To understand the importance of refereeing requires a brief word on the paradox of Italian soccer. As everyone knows, Italian men are the most foppish representatives of their sex on the planet. They smear on substantial quantities of hair care products and expend considerable mental energies color-coordinating socks with belts [sidebar- did anyone see that the spokesperson for the Italian football federation was wearing a matching pink collared shirt under his pink sweater during the press conference?]. Because of their dandyism, the world has Vespa, Prada, and Renzo Piano. With such theological devotion to aesthetic pleasure, it is truly perplexing that their national style of soccer should be so devoid of this quality."

Now, I have personally seen the crowd rush the field, rip up grass and break down the goal-posts during Fiorentina's closing match of the season...but fatalities? Tear gas thrown onto the field while the game is in play?

Violence erupts in Italy

All matches suspended after officer killed in fan riot

CATANIA, Sicily (AP) -- A police officer was killed Friday when fans rioted at a Serie A game between Sicilian sides Catania and Palermo, prompting the Italian soccer federation to suspend all league matches in the country's top two divisions this weekend.

Fans rioted outside Catania's Angelo Massimino stadium during the second half. Police fired tear gas, which wafted into the stadium and forced the match to be temporarily suspended in the 58th minute with Palermo leading 1-0.

Police said the officer died after an explosive device was thrown inside his vehicle.

The violence continued after the game, in which Palermo beat Catania 2-1, trapping hundreds of fans inside the stadium as authorities sought to avoid further violence and stop people from leaving.

So, understanding that Sicily is a whole separate animal, I wonder, Franklin, how does soccer explain the world in such a deplorable situation?

"...[S]occer clubs represent communities or neighborhoods. And when you're representing a neighborhood, you're representing a very specific segment of the population. Soccer clubs become proxies for ethnicity, class, religion, or social caste. That makes them inherently more political. So soccer matches usually signify a clash of religions, classes, and castes. To me, that's what makes the game so thrilling to watch. There's always some elevated stake to the game.

Do you think that's part of why soccer has gotten such a firm grip on the world's imagination?

I do. For all the globalization that it obviously embodies, in most cases soccer is still firmly rooted in the local. Your identification with a particular soccer club has a lot to do with how you define yourself as a human being. That's part of why the game is responsible for so much violence. It has this dark side associated with its fan culture, because the clubs represent so much more than just what city you live in."

Friday, February 02, 2007

When its cold outside, Yerevan moves inside.

For many diasporan Armenians who have only visited the place between June and August - Yerevan is a land of outdoor lifestyle. Streets full of people strolling at dusk, parks and fountains as congregation areas, days at the pool for those fortunate enough to have a membership, outdoor barbeques and picnics, hiking and of course- countless outdoor cafĂ©’s packed to capacity with friends and families relaxing with cocktails and fresh juice smoothies until all hours of the morning.

A vision most have not seen is the snowy and boots/hat/gloves clad side of Yerevan. You may ask yourself- what do people do all winter aside from trudging through the snowy streets on a hunt for heat? I have found ample answers to that question in just 2 weeks of being back in town. The atmosphere of being bundled up together with close friends in a warm cozy place has been charming. And the number of unique places where we have managed to convene, and the varying activities we have found to occupy ourselves, is remarkable. There is a secret bond with people who have survived the winter together and a certain level of respect that is earned for it. These photos do not document the many pleasant evenings spent just hanging out at eachother’s apartment and passing the time with tea, conversation and the occasional DVD.

Upstairs at Kino Nyiri
Huge finders fee should go out to Mano for discovering the VIP level of this movie theater, which can be rented out for private screenings!

New Irish Pub
(yes, Irish Pub in Yerevan) Shamrock’s grand opening
Guiness is now readily available in Hayastan. Guest musical appearance by Nareg- the craziest musician I have ever met – with a medley of original Armenian songs, the Beatles, the Stones and Pink Floyd to finish.

Bambir concert at Stop Club
Welcome back to the 1970’s. Rock music with an attitude, alternatively-dressed kids letting lose and acting out freely, and people dancing to James Brown (RIP) during intermissions between sets…Stop Club is the breeding ground of Yerevan’s youth rock and roll revolution- mark my words. It is also the Yerevan equivalent of DC’s 9:30 club- for those familiar- replete with a balcony level overlooking the stage and that feeling as though the artists are giving this concert just for you and a couple of their close friends.

BAMBIR is Armenia’s one and only rock band, which has gained popularity as it moves through generations. Originally started by the father’s of some of the current boys in the band- the Gyumri based group began jamming after the earthquake of 1988. If you stick around here long enough you’ll discover that there’s something about Gyumri that produces great artists, and Bambir is a living, breathing, rocking, example.

Avant Garde Music Club

This intimate venue is still booking great musical acts from around the world...

Amiryan Karaoke
Armenian style Karaoke bars save you the embarrassment of standing up on a stage with everyone staring at you. It’s much more bearable when the mic is brought to your table. With the protection of your friends surrounding you on all sides it feel more like singing along to the radio in the backseat of a car.

Club ONE
...is SO exclusive that it doesn't even have a sign outside. Most people don't even know that the new (dare I say, "state of the art") club opened up just 2 months ago because their parties are never advertised and generally you must have an invitation to get in. Contrasted to the other "discoteque"-choices which are cave-like and unventilated (and generally feature a few mirrors), Club One makes you feel transported out of the South Caucasus for a night...choice of music, however: still house. all the time.

(isn't my photo impressive!)