Thursday, May 23, 2002

On Sunday I took my mother to Yerevan, leaving her there to visit with friends and relatives and will see her at the conference. I retuned to Martuni yesterday. I�ll only say that my mom and I had a blast. Wont get into details right now since I�ve got an interesting story to tell you about.

This story should remind you of Raffi�s Officer Hakob Mkhitaryan story from last May.

I rented a taxi to drive us to Yerevan since my car has been acting up (time to think about getting another car). I also brought with me the Mayor�s sister and niece, as one of the Mayor�s other niece�s were coming for a visit from Belgium (I wrote about her last year) which we picked her up at the airport to take to Martuni with us.

As we were driving around Yerevan doing some shopping, we were pulled over by the police. The taxi driver got out of the car and walked up to the police. I watched and noticed that they were arguing, so I got out and walked over. That morning I had a meeting so I was all dressed up, looking very important, so when I walked up to asked what the reason was that they pulled us over, the cop got even more upset and I think felt a little intimidated.

It seems that the street that we had come down, had recently been changed from a 2-way street to a one-way street. I told him that I didn�t notice any signage to indicate this and suggested that they put up some barrier of some kind so cars don�t come down it. The cop told me something like that would be impossible. By this time he had decided that he would write a ticket and pulled out a paper and began to write.

I pointed out that the markings were intentionally not there, as we do have the international signage for wrong way (big red circle with a white line in the middle) and what they were doing was nothing less than a racket. The cop didn�t like that comment and before he could respond, I pointed out that the car which was stopped right after us, the guy gave the other cop a 1,000 dram bribe right in front of my eyes and drove off without getting a ticket written up.

The cop went nuts and started to slam his fist on the police cap hood cursing the mother of any cop that would take a bribe! He then asked me if I saw him take a bribe and I said no, I saw your partner take a bribe. He stated to slam his fist on the hood again cursing his partner�s mother. He wanted to prove to me that he does not take bribes and showed me that he had written a couple of tickets.

His partner then walked over and asked me where I was from and I told him America, but now live in Karabagh. He asked me what I do there and I told him I�m one of those people you hear about that investigates people like you and have them dismissed from their post if I can prove they do things like what I saw him do. He told me that was very good and to keep up the good work.

As the cop was writing up the ticket, I was pointing out all the people that were committing the same violation as we had and asked why they were not stopping all of them? The next car that made the �illegal� turn, I pointed to with my hand up to stop the car and the cop went running to stop with his cane in the air, without noticing that it had embassy plates. He quickly pulled his cane down and started to yell at me about how they can�t stop those kinds of cars and what do I think I�m doing. I was laughing inside and thinking that this cop was doing everything to no piss off the �investigator� from America and show that he is defending the �law� and here I am making him run around like a chicken with its head cut off.

He then asked me to go sit in our car to wait and I refused. I made him stop a couple more cars, one of which was one of those expensive imports, with what I believe had plates issued to the Prime Minister�s office (ending in LL 01). The guy had no choice but make the drive get out of his car, walk over to have a ticket written up. They finished with our ticket and as we walked back to our car, I winked to the cops and I told them when my work in Karabagh finishes, I�ll be coming to Armenia and I�m sure we will have a chance to sit down one day and have a nice long talk. We waited a bit to make sure at least they stated to write the tickets and then left.

I guess this is the Officer Hakob Mkhitaryan story revisited and an indication that the police problem continues. Raffi mentioned a year ago that this is the kind of thing that motivates people to pack up and leave and you can�t blame people for doing just that. Wonder why there is a drop in population? Here is one of the reasons. For those of you that found humor in this story, more power to you (I make this comment as locals found it to be funny, which is an indication of indifference). For me, a person who lives here, it is not funny at all. This is a very sad and very common story which I see the harming long-term effects it has on our people and nation.

I know this is a hot topic, but let's talk about what needs to be done to eradicate this problem once and for all or at least get started to do something about it.

Friday, May 10, 2002

Lena�s report of no rain for 3 days does not apply to Artsakh. For the last 3 days we have had rain and the worst of it came yesterday. I had to go to Stepanagert and it was coming down so hard that the road was like a lake. It took me 2 hours (usually 1 hour 15 minutes) to get there.

May 9th is a day of celebration here in Artsakh, as it commemorates the day we re-liberated Shushi and independence day. Every official was here, including President Kocharian.

At 9 PM there was a fire-works show, but by the time I could get my camera out, it was over, so no picture of it to post.

When I got home this morning, the rain had stopped and in my yard, my poor plumb tree was looking like a hairy wet dog. I�m just guessing that we also had hail, as I can�t see any plumb on it, not any apricots on the apricot tree L.

Well I have to get going as like Madlene�s mom, my mom is also coming for a visit (no as long as Madlene�s mom) and is due to arrive to Stepanagert in a couple of hours and I have to go pick her up. It�s been a year since I last saw her and we have some catching up to do, so if I happen no to log for a while, you will know why.

As for Raffi's log about east vs. west, I know the feeling so well. I'm sure I could still speak Western-Armenian, but right now I have forgotten how to use the word "gor".

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Today I went to see the director of the wine factory about what is owed to the materials providers (being that I�m one of them)? He told me that there just didn�t seem to be money right now and they were barely able to pay the labor. He said that they should be paying us some time in the next week.

I asked if it made sense to him that the government could give to a group of people the wine factory for free, with the understanding that they would invest 250 million drams by December 31, 2002 to renovate it and to date they probably have not spent more than 5 million drams and are already having money problems? What is worse is that two of the partners I know to be very wealthy and influential. I wont mention on the internet who they are, but if I was to tell you, you would understand that there should be no reason for them not to have the money needed to not only pay us what they own us on time, but to have the majority of the renovation completed by the end of June, as the director told us they were planning to do.

My contactor�s wife said that if they don�t have the money, then they should not be doing the work in the first place and the government should have not given the factory to them without having the money first secured in the bank to show that they are going to be able to keep their end of the deal. Makes perfect sense to me.

I asked the director again about when we will start to bring building materials and he said he will let us know, but not now. I reminded him about how he had promised me that by the end of April, I would have enough profit from the materials I provided to cover the money I spent to fix my equipment. He remembered the conversation, but said that unfortunately, this is the way things worked out. He said that over a longer period of time I should have that covered and then some. For me, it�s not that big a deal as far as my financial well being, but I know one of the truck drivers that is providing materials spent quite a bit of money with the same expectations that I had and is now in debt and is not sure how he will pay back the people he barrowed money from. What�s worse is that he gets a daily reminder asking when he is going to pay.

My contractor was with me when I saw the director and the director asked my contractor what work they were going to be doing tomorrow. I contractor said that when tomorrow comes, they will see. Later he told me that the director will see for himself, as my contractor and many of the other workers have already decided not to show up to work. He said that this is the only way they will understand that we really are not happy with the games they have played with us and even those that do show up for work will not work wholeheartedly.

The whole day, wherever I went, all I heard about was the wine factory and how they are cheating people. One old man whose son was working there said that it is wrong that these people play with are nerves. What they are doing is very damaging.

Saturday, May 04, 2002

Two days ago was to be payday for the workers and material providers for the wine factory, but the money didn�t seem to come.

Today I heard they brought money, so I went to my contractor�s house to see if the director sent my money with my contactor as he had in the past. My contactor told me that only the workers got paid, but not the suppliers.

My contactor was not at all happy with what he received for the work he has done so far. Not only was it much less than what he was expecting, but they did it in such a way to make it appear that the factory was keeping its end of the deal, paying the skilled labor 5,000 dram a day. The way they did this was they counted all the work that was done using their measuring-tape, which shows much less than what was actually done. Then from that total they divided it by 5,000 dram, giving them the number of days they feel the works worked. The fact remains in the case of my contractor, that he started to work on March 20th. They tallied up everything on April 25th. From the 20th of March to the 25th of April, my contractor worked 32 days (which BTW April 24th was a work day at the factory). My contractor�s gross pay was 110,000 dram and was counted as 22 days of work.

According to my contactor, one of the owners of the factory was there to pass out the money and he tried to calm the workers down by making promises to pay them next month more to make up for the shortage. My contractor and the other workers didn�t buy any of what he was saying and not that I know this guy personally, but if his promises are a reflection of what I was promised, they are nothing but empty words.

I guess I�ll go visit the director of the factory tomorrow to see what happened to my share and let him know that I will take appropriate measures to collect for me and the workers who have been effectively taken advantage of if he does not make good. This should be a good lesson for everyone on how to assert your rights and what you are allowed to do in a �democracy�.

Well I�m off to dinner at my contractor�s house. I went to Stepanagert today and brought back with me a couple of cows heads and feet. We are having tongue tonight. Khash will be in the next couple of days!!!

Friday, May 03, 2002

The story of Geno, the guard/welder that was killed while working for the Prosecutor�s office continues.

After Geno�s death, his three children were given status of not having a father, resulting in social security providing to each of them approximately 3,900 dram a month. The Prosecutor�s office, thought they clam no fault for Geno�s death, has added to this an additional 3,400 dram a month, bringing the total the three children receive per month to 14,000 dram, which is what their father was making for his work as a guard at the Prosecutor�s office.

As I have mentioned in the past, 27,000 dram is the government�s figure for minimal food requirements for one person per month. Also one must keep in mind that Geno was a professional welder, who worked as a guard at night and in the day would find occasional welding jobs, which apparently had been providing enough money for his family.

A month ago, Geno�s widow came to my house to ask me to help her get a job at the Martuni chicken farm in the accounting department, as she had heard the person in the position she desired was going to resign. I made a couple of calls, but was unsuccessful in getting her the job.

I guess to raise 3 children on 14,000 dram a month is difficult, as my contractor reported to me that an incident took place at the wine factory where someone walked into the guard shack and found Geno�s wife entertaining some welders from Armenia that are here to chop up some of the old storage tanks to take for salvage.

I went to see to see the Regional Minister yesterday to see what we could do to find this woman a job so she would not feel the need to have to do such acts for money. I fully understand that what she is doing is for the sake of her children, but with today�s STDs, sanitary conditions, available treatment, or lack of and the shame that comes with doing such work is practically suicide. On top of this, her youngest child is female and if your mother is known to practice such a trade, the daughter is labeled to be the same and treated accordingly. The Regional Minister made a call to the chicken farm and within a minute, we had a job for her.

I contacted Geno�s widow to tell her to be ready to report for work the next morning and I would pick her up to take her and introduce her to the director of the factory.

This morning, we drove to the chicken farm and on the way she thanked me for getting her the job and asked me if I could talk to the director as to get permission for her to attend school 2 days a week until the end of this month so she can receive her diploma. We arrived, did the introductions and the director agreed to the 2 days a week for school.

Now comes the big challenge. How do we create conditions so she no longer has a desire or need to entertain �visitors�? She will now be getting 14,000 for the children and approximately 25,000 dram a month from the chicken farm. The total is still not enough to provide food for 4 people, but it�s not a bad start.

I have seen interviews on T.V. when I was in the states and am told that once you get into the trade that she elected, it is difficult to turn back. The money is good and once you get over doing it the first time (which she apparently has), it�s easy sailing.

I guess much finger pointing can be done and if we were living in a perfect world, those that had fault for the death of her husband would be taking care of her and her children so she would maybe not have elected to do what she is doing. But since we have not yet crated conditions so things can be anything close to what is needed, we need some alternatives that will at very least fill the void. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

You know the rule of waiting 24 hours before posting something on the Internet, so if you happen to be posting a knee-jerk reaction, you wont regret it later? Well I have very rarely followed that rule and well, here we go again.

Tonight I went to dinner at my contactors house. As I have mentioned before, he is doing construction at the wine factory in Martuni and I�m also providing building materials for them.

When I sent him off to work there and put my construction on hold, I was okay with it only because they told me they would be paying him well and the end result would be the creation of a number of new jobs.

Well tonight he reported to me that after a month of working there, the factory is already trying to cheat him and the other workers out of money they were to receive.

The agreement was that the lowest paid laborer was to receive 2,000 dram a day, which come to be 50,000 dram a month. Skilled labor was to no less than 5,000 dram a day, which comes out to 125,000 a month. Many of the jobs were to be done on a per meter basis and for my contractor, who has the nickname of Tompatess (meaning Jack Rabbit) he was to have an opportunity to make well over the 5,000 dram a day estimate. Unfortunately, when all was said and done and measurements were taken to calculate what was to be paid, the lowest paid labor is going to get around 1,500 dram a day and the skilled labor a little more than 3,000 dram a day. I wont get into the details of how the wine factory did their calculations, but all I can say right now is that they were not fair at all in the way they did it and in fact it can be proven that they defrauded the workers if need be.

As for the people who are providing building materials, the factory is not making good on the verbal deal they has with us. For me, I was promised that the materials I would be providing would in a short period of time, well exceed the additional investment I made on my equipment to bring them in a working order so I could fulfill my commitment. I have spent $1,200 for tires and other things that I would need so I could fulfill my end of the deal, but to date, I have seen no more than $500 in work and $300 of that money due is already pass due. I have had to already go to the factory 4 times to make them understand that we have a verbal deal and we will continue to provide materials for them until they can give me a good reason why my materials are not up to the standards they have required and not that they have a close friend that will bring everything (which was the last unspoken reason).

I�m certainly not happy with my short end of the stick, but even more so with the short end that the locals are getting. I even fear that when the factory is up and running, we are going to see what Armenia has seen with the wine and tomato factories that promises the farmers that they will take their crop at a given price, but when it comes time for them to receive it, they have excuses to not make good on their deal and then end up stealing it from the farmer by doing them a �favor� and taking the crop at a price that is below the fair market value and a loss for the farmer, who then becomes discontent and disappointed with life in general (I�ve documented this too many times in Armenia). This is not something we need here and I certainly intend to do something about it before it becomes a problem.
I want to share with you the following letter that one of our readers sent to the National Review in regards to the Barbara Lerner article �The Turks, too�.

To the Editors:

Barbara Lerner's April 19 article, 'The Turks, too', is an intellectual and moral disgrace to your publication. Moreover, it is an insult to most Jews, who fully recognize the historic significance of the Armenian Genocide as the defining precedent for Hitler and the Holocaust. I strongly recommend that Lerner go back to her history books and do some heavy reading. It would dramatically improve her ability to report on history.

In that regard, I would recommend Dr. Howard M. Sachar's monumental book, 'The Emergence of the Middle East 1914 - 1924', and his chapter, The Armenian Genocide. In it, Sachar refers to Turkey's treatment of the Armenians this way: 'By any standards this was surely the most unprecedented, indeed the most unimaginable racial annihilation, until then, in modern history.'

So, tell me, what on earth is Lerner thinking? Who's agenda is she supporting? She describes Ottoman Turkey's horrific treatment of its Armenian population in terms which are chillingly similar to how Holocaust deniers explain and deny the Holocaust. In defending the Turks and minimizing the truly horrible events perpetrated by them, Lerner sounds very much like the Nazis she despises. How can she knowingly defend the perpetrators, the process and the outcome of such a crime?

In essence, if the Holocaust was a genocide, there is no question that Turkish treatment of its Armenian population from 1915 - 1923 fits the definition as well. Rafael Lemkin, who coined the term in 1933, repeatedly referred to the mass-murder of the Armenians as a basis for his creation of the word 'genocide.'

Let's face some facts. According to both Turkish and Armenian sources, there were an estimated 2.1 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of WWI. As Sachar states, 'not more than a third of the Armenian population of 1914 remained in Turkey when the war ended.' Indeed, by 1923, fewer than 150,000 Armenians remained in Turkey. Today there are fewer than 100,000 left there, and virtually none left on their historic 3500 year old Anatolian homeland.

Math is not rocket science and neither is use of the 'G'-word. It seems clear that any government, in declaring an all-out war of complete destruction against a defenseless, indigenous minority group, that leaves the largest percentage of them dead and the rest in dispersion around the world, is engaging in a classic and defining case of genocide. I'm not alone in my thinking, Dr. Israel Charny, head of the prestigious Institute for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem, also agrees and has written volumes on the subject. Maybe Lerner could give him a call and schedule a tutorial session.

With all that in mind, the bottom line is that Barbara Lerner should stop defending those who deny historic truths for political reasons. It's very unbecoming.

How funny, but also kind of embarrassing.

I just got an e-mail from Lena informing me that it was not Nune that I went out with, but it was her. I�m so confused and that explains the accent, which was not UK English, but Australian English (it's hard me to tell the difference). I now understand that �Nune� was not telling me that I was shouting at her, but I was shouting her (which in Australian English means �treating�). Well Lena, now maybe you know why I was talking so softly.

To think, I�ve been friends with Lena for 4 years and I could not tell the difference between her and Nune. That has to tell you something about how much Nune looks like her.

I guess when Raffi and Zabel were calling Lena, Nune, they were doing it to just be funny, or maybe they really thought it was her? Well I sure was convinced. If Lena ever needs a double for her public appearances, she should get Nune to stand in for her. I don�t think anyone would know the difference.

I will say that the kid at the Grand Candy store had to have been just as confused at I was, as we were calling Lena, Nune so much that he really must have thought it was Nune and the stares that �Nune� was getting as we walked out only proves that not only does she look like Nune, but all it takes is to mention something to one Armenian and news can spread like a wildfire, even if it�s not true, as it did in the Grand Candy store.

At least I have the �date� with Lena out of the way and now all I have to do is work on getting a date with Nune.

I also want to thank the many people that sent me the congratulatory messages for going on a date with Nune. I�ll save them for when the date really happens and then forward them to myself, so as to get the full effect of that experience (also so you don�t have to write me a second message). If I get Nune�s e-mail address, I�ll forward off copies to her so she can see just how many people think that we must have made the �cutest couple� in Armenia on those two days (it could help to convince her to accept my offer of going on a date).

You know, I have a neighbor that looks just like Cher. I wonder how much alike the two of them are? Nah, that wouldn�t work, my neighbor�s husband would never allow her to go out on a date with me.