Thursday, January 29, 2004

Yesterday bright and early, Lavrent and my dump-truck pulled up to the gravel pit under Rosa Myrig’s house and by the time it was dark, all the needed gravel was dumped on my street and all the heavy equipment was parked in my yard, extra fuel removed and the radiators emptied (in case we have a freeze).

This morning Vanig (one of my former truck drivers) came by with his crane and the concrete panels I am going to be using for the pool house as a roof, was placed in my yard and out of the street.

In short, our street is ready for the grader that the Mayor’s office will supply, to come by and level our street.

As for a weather report. It looks very favorable for street construction, but as far as farming, it’s quite bad. This year the mice are literally having a field day, eating everything they can get their mouths on and multiplying in the process. All we can hope for is a cold snap and snow, but it looks like there is nothing of the kind in the near future.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
28 January 2004

Council Of Europe Assembly Sees Little Progress In Armenian Reforms

By Armen Zakarian in Strasbourg

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) deplored late Tuesday what it sees as a lack of progress in Armenia's democratization, while praising its leaders' recent "considerable efforts" to honor their commitments to the authoritative human rights organization.

A resolution approved by the PACE singles out "massive fraud" in last year's presidential and parliamentary elections as well as the Armenian authorities' failure to ensure media pluralism, the independence of the judiciary and legalize a non-traditional religious group.

But in a major consolation for Yerevan, Strasbourg lawmakers dropped resolution language explicitly referring to Nagorno-Karabakh as an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan. They also refused to endorse the Armenian opposition's calls for a referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian.

"2003 has been a busy electoral year for Armenia and as a result no further progress has been made in the current reforms," the resolution reads. "Nevertheless, since September 2003, Armenia's undeniable efforts show that it is once more committed to making progress towards honoring its obligations and commitments."

Its most critical assessments have to do with the disputed 2003 elections that are still reverberating in Armenia's political stage. "The Assembly cannot but express its profound disappointment at the conduct of the elections, which gave rise to serious irregularities and massive fraud," the document says, adding that Armenia should remain under a regime of permanent Council of Europe monitoring until it holds polls "in compliance with international democratic standards."

The PACE specifically expressed "shock" at the infamous arrests of hundreds of opposition supporters during the tense presidential race and reiterated their demands for the scrapping of Soviet-era legal provisions that made possible their brief imprisonment.

The Armenian authorities earlier resisted such calls but now seem ready to amend the controversial Code of Administrative Misdemeanors. They now have until next April to suggest corresponding amendments to Strasbourg.

Two of the PACE's members representing the Armenian opposition tried unsuccessfully to get the assembly to back the idea of national vote of confidence in Kocharian floated by Armenia's Constitutional Court last month. One of them, Artashes Geghamian, told RFE/RL that the failure of the effort caused him "great bitterness" and accused the organization of applying "double standards." But Geghamian's opposition colleague,
Shavarsh Kocharian, disagreed, saying that the criticism contained in the resolution is already serious enough for the Armenian authorities.

The resolution, largely drafted by two lawmakers monitoring Armenia's compliance with its 2001 membership obligations, reiterates the Council of Europe criticism of the April 2002 closure of the country's leading independent TV station, A1+. However, it does not explicitly demand the channel's reopening and only calls for unspecified changes in the
Armenian law on broadcasting.

The resolution also denounces the continuing widespread mistreatment of Armenian criminal suspects and accuses Kocharian's administration of failing to tackle endemic corruption which "has reached intolerable proportions." It at the same time welcomes an anti-corruption strategy unveiled by Yerevan recently.

The head of the Armenian delegation at the PACE, Tigran Torosian, sought to put a brave face on the judgment, pointing to a last-minute removal from its text of a phrase referring to "the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan."

The Armenian side strongly protested against the word "other" on the grounds that it predetermines a pro-Azerbaijani solution to the dispute. Its attempts to have the controversial wording changed succeeded only after being unexpectedly backed by a group of Italian members of the 45-nation assembly during Tuesday's debates.

The final version of the PACE statement notes that "there has been no progress in the negotiations on a settlement of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories of Azerbaijan." It also welcomes Armenia's complete abolition of the death penalty, ratification of several pan-European conventions and passage of a law introducing an alternative to compulsory military service. The latter was a key condition for the country's admission into the Council of Europe three years ago.

The PACE, however, voiced its "indignation" at the fact that more than
20 young men, mainly members of the Jehovah's Witnesses sect, are still kept in jail for refusing to serve in the Armenian armed forces. It demanded that they all be released "immediately" and that the authorities lift a ban on Jehovah's Witnesses.

Torosian blamed the overall negative tone of the resolution on the "ineffective work" of unspecified Armenian diplomats who he said had assured him that the PACE will take a softer stance on Armenia. Still, he stressed the fact that a similar PACE resolution on Azerbaijan was more strongly worded, with Baku given until next June to improve its human rights record or face political sanctions.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Oh I love my neighbors, but man am I tired of this dependency some of them have on the rest of us, namely me.

As I mentioned in the past, I am having some road renovation being done on my street and one of the things we installed yesterday was drain pipes so instead of water running over the road in areas where we end up with pools of water, it will run under the road.

One spot is in front of my neighbor Garen’s house, where his roof and yard run-off water he was diverting into the street, thus a pool would form.

I supplied the equipment, materials and welder to install the pipe and being that it is Garen’s house, he helped also with labor. We finished with his part of his pipe that crosses the road, so we could fill in the ditch so cars could pass and today we are adding a pipe so the water will not get dumped into the neighbor below his yard (this was the understanding we had yesterday)

A little while ago, Garen comes by to tell me that Valaric the neighbor below had complained to him about the pipe and how he is going to plug it up since it will dump water into his yard. Garen said that he didn’t know what to do?

I asked him if he told Valaric that we were going to be adding pipe to divert the water away from his yard? He said no. I said that it would be a good idea to do this.

The other problem I’m having with this road project is the gravel and the loading of it on the truck.

My regular excavator operator Janig went to Russia to work, as he now has 5 children as the economic opportunities here are not all that good. In the summer he farmed watermelon, but once that was over and so he didn’t loose an opportunity his cousin offered him, he went to Russia to work for the winter.

Without Janig, we ended up hiring Gagik (nick name Tatik), who is a tractor operator and can kind of work an excavator. The only problem is that he is not all that good at loading up gravel and in the first 4 hours of work today, he was only able to load up 3 trucks of gravel. Yesterday, he worked a couple of hours and got 2 trucks loaded. In all, we need 25 trucks. In the past, Janig could load up 25 trucks in a day. On top of this, one neighbor is providing a truck, but can only do this for 2 days, today being the last day.

I called Lavrent at home to tell him that we need our truck brought out here to continue the work and though he hates to work the excavator, he knows how to load up gravel. This means that I am pulling my truck off a job in Stepanagert which means that 100 liters of fuel I will have to pay for just to get it here and back, not counting the tires and other parts that will ware as a result of it being driven here.

Oh if we only had an organized and non-corrupt government, I would not have a need to fix the public road that leads to my house and have to deal with the frustration and added expenses from my own pocket. At very least if things were normal, Janig would be here to load the gravel and be involved personally in the lives of his 5 children and his wife would have a husband living with her and not just sending money home to her so she can raise the kids (bad government = bad family life).

Thank you corrupt government for the motivational materials that reminds me that I need to fight corruption even harder. I will show you as much mercy as you have shown us and I plan on taking no prisoners.

On the other hand, I could just get a better jeep like all the corrupt officials do and not worry about roads and then those that have no jeep or are on foot can think about how to fix their roads.

We sure have lots of fixing to do here.

I don’t know what to say other than this is bad news for our region. When will America implode? I pray to see that day happen soon.

US air bases reportedly under construction in Azerbaijan, daily

Hurriyyat, Baku
24 Jan 04

Text of Musviq report by Azerbaijani newspaper Hurriyyat on 24 January headlined "US troops are coming" and subheaded "The construction of air bases have started in Saki and Horadiz"

Drastic measures will soon be taken to strengthen Azerbaijan's borders with Russia and Iran. New air bases will be built in Saki northern Azerbaijan and Horadiz a village in Fizuli District in southwestern Azerbaijan , the chief of the State Border Service, Lt-Gen Elcin Quliyev, was quoted as saying. Let us recall that there are reports that NATO bases will be stationed in Azerbaijan.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently visited Baku, and after the visit, it was reported that US bases would be stationed in Azerbaijan and Georgia under the aegis of NATO.

According to our information, the air bases under construction in Saki and Horadiz are being built on the basis of an agreement between Azerbaijan and the USA.

Back in 2002, the USA urged Azerbaijan to reinforce its border with Iran. In turn, Iran and Russia wanted to make their borders with Azerbaijan transparent, protesting against the stationing of US bases in the region.

In any case, the report about the construction of air bases on the border with Iran and Russia shows where the USA will deploy its troops. The reports that US troops will rent the Qaraheybat training ground have been unofficially confirmed. At the same time, the construction of the air base opposite the Armenian trenches in Horadiz is of great importance. Thus, the construction of an air base owned by the Azerbaijani army could not be treated calmly by Armenia.

Obviously, the Armenians could not miss the construction of a US military base in Horadiz under the aegis of NATO. Let us recall that according to recent reports, the US military bases would be deployed along the border with Iran if Fizuli and Zangilan Districts were liberated. The USA is trying to prevent Iran and terrorist groups from using uncontrolled areas.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Today was long day which we worked all day on the road outside my house.

After having trenches dug and drain pipes laid so water from my house and one of my neighbor’s houses would cross under the road instead of over the road, we started to truck in gravel.

The gravel pit is only 300 meters from my road and is below Rosa Myrig’s house. Since the weather today was a bit cold and cloudy, I went up to Rosa Myrig’s house for a bowl of hot bean soup, smoked fish and tea (since I didn’t get a chance to have lunch).

As we were talking, Rosa Myrig as usual brought up the subject of when am I going to get married. I jokingly told her that there is no rush now and informed her that I now have an heated mattress that costs me 300 dram a month to use and if I was married, a wife would cost me 300 dollars a month.

Rosa Myrig told me that the heat from a heater and the heat from a wife are different types of heat and I should not compare one to the other.

I could feel my ears getting hot and knew that I was blushing. I looked to Hurant and noticed that he was beat red and we both started to laugh.

Rosa Myrig then apologized for her comment and tried to change the subject and turned up the volume on the television.

After my tea. I returned to the work in progress, which was moving along, but it also looked like rain.

We finished up after it got dark and though it had not rained in our neighborhood where we were working, when I drove to the center of town to visit with my accountant, the ground was wet and I was told that it had rained just before I got there. Our neighborhood was spared the rain so we can work. Thank God and I hope we have the same luck tomorrow and if we do, we will complete the gravel work and all that will be left is the grader to come and level the street, thus ridding us of the mud we get when it rains.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

If the following story is accurate, then it's clear that the Kocharing government it not interested in dealing with the corruption that is truly effecting out nations long term development. We can now only hope that a power will come into play that will deal with the 89 measures dedicated to that which is really needed, that his plan does not cover.

"Serious omissions" in Armenian government's anti-corruption programme

23 Jan 04

Yerevan, 23 January: The anti-corruption strategy and the programme to implement it, confirmed by the Armenian government, contain a number of serious omissions, Amaliya Kostanyan, the head of the centre for regional development, has said. She believes that this could be linked with differences between members of the coalition government.

Amongst other things, Kostanyan noted that the programme was declarative and only included some problems concerning corruption mainly in the courts, customs and taxation bodies. Such important problems as the environment, the use of administrative resources during elections, disaster areas and other issues demanding attention have not been considered at all. Kostanyan noted in particular the infringement of the rights of public organizations, which are cited as responsible participants in only five of 94 measures dedicated to the fight against corruption, and nothing is said about the participation of public organizations in drawing up legal and normative acts.

Moreover, Kostanyan said that the chapter of the government's anti-corruption document on corruption in politics is not clear enough, nowhere are concrete mechanisms given to link the state and society. Kostanyan noted amongst the main shortcomings the fact that no mention is made anywhere in the document of who will systematize and supervise the implementation of the programme. Independent institutions need to be created and developed so that they can carry out this supervision through their joint efforts, Kostanyan said. It is a question of attracting to the independent institutions both public organizations and representatives of different spheres - business, the media, international bodies etc.

Passage omitted: Transparency International's rating of corruption in Armenia

Saturday, January 24, 2004

I just got back from recovering my bulldozer from Jardar village. It was a last minute decision and the people who we were doing work for had violated our original verbal agreement and without my permission, got my accountant to rent it under unfavorable terms without my knowledge and by telling her that I knew about the conditions. It’s kind of her fault too for not confirming with me.

I sent the bulldozer off a couple of months ago to till a plantation which was suppose to be 30 hectors, but when we finished that plantation and measured, it was under 20 hectors and the person we were doing the work for had delayed the work from being done for 30 working days due to a dispute that had with the army over ownership of the land and in the end, the army’s tank practice area they were not going to let be turned into a planted field.

While I was home working today, my truck driver Lavrent came by to ask me why we were charging so little for renting the bulldozer. He had been helping the bulldozer operator to reinstall the drive chain (I can’t remember in English what they call this, but it is the chain that is used instead of tires), which the bulldozer operator had driven it a pit and the chain came off. They worked for 2 days to get it reinstalled.

So he told me that it seems that for 21,000 dram a hector is too low and I should raise the price to 25,000 to 30,000 a day in rent so when we get jerked around by the renter, they pay anyway. I told he that he was mistaken and the rent per hector was 25,000 dram. He said that didn’t add up as the bulldozer operator is getting 7,000 dram a hector, which means that since he gets a third, we are only getting 14,000 dram a hector.

We went down to see my accountant and she told me that they told her this was the agreement and how was she to know that the bulldozer operator would lie to her?

In the past, this same bulldozer operator had done work on the side and been paid in food goods with his thinking that I could not accuse him of stealing. I had warned my accountant of this so she could keep an eye out for such things in the future.

Our tractor was in Jardar plowing a 2 hector plantation for the same guy, I had thought, but Lavrent said that this was not true and it was for another guy who was a good guy named Arthur. I asked him which Arthur he is talking about? He described the guy and I asked if he was talking about Khachadouryan Arthur? He said he didn’t know the last name, but he knew he worked with the guy renting from us.

I asked how much Arthur is paying per hector and was told 21,000 dram. I immediately decided that the tractor must be returned to Martuni, as the Arthur he is talking about I can only classify as a prostitute. He is the guy that a couple years back had got ahead and cut up pipes that we were suppose to send to Lachin for a project without my permission and sold them to people in Armenia or Iran. He also is the one that dug up the rest of the pipes that were suppose to be used for gasification to one of our military bases. He is also the brother of the teacher I wrote about who claimed my dog ate her chickens, when everyone said her chickens were poisoned month before. Arthur did not have a written agreement with us to do work and I didn’t care if he was not going to pay us for what he had done, in no way would I allow my bulldozer help such a lowlife.

So I told Lavrent to go out to the bulldozer and take with him fuel so it could be driven back to Martuni. He really didn’t want to, but an order from me to him is an order and he knows I was not going to change my mind for any reason.

I called Lavrent a half hour later and asked him what was going on? He told me that the Sako, our bulldozer operator says it’s too late and he is tired to drive the bulldozer back to Martuni and it should wait until morning. I said no, it’s coming back tonight and I am bringing out my driver and drive the jeep and he (Lavrent) can drive the bulldozer. Keep in mind, Lavrent is a tank driver and a bulldozer to a tank driver is a toy.

I called my driver who came to my office and we drove out the bulldozer where I left my driver and didn’t offer a ride to the bulldozer since I didn’t have room in my car for such a person and he could if he chose, drive back in my jeep or bulldozer.

I returned to Martuni and went to Era’s house for dinner, as she had called me earlier in the day to invite me for Dolma.

As I was finishing up my meal, I got a call from the Mayor of Jardar, who was the one that had originally rented my bulldozer asking me what had happened with my bulldozer driver and I?

I told him that our original agreement and the agreement that he ended up entering in did not make sense and instead of me making money, I was in fact loosing money and it didn’t make sense to allow the work to continue. On top of that, I had work in Martuni for my bulldozer and had expected it back here a month ago, but due to his delay, it was late and the weather would change soon and again I would be the one to suffer.

He told me that he wanted to talk to me and would pay more if need be, but I had to contact the bulldozer and have them turn back. I told him that they were already half way to Martuni and if he would like to talk, he can come over to Era’s house for tea and we could talk. He said that if I had no intentions to turn the bulldoze back around, the only place we would talk is in court. I told him in a cheerful voice that it was fine with me and he hung up and I started to laugh.

So who is this guy? Well he is the cousin of the Artsakh Prosicutor General Mavrik Ghoukasyan and one of the big offenders of taking out much needed building materials, mainly pipes and selling them off to the Armenians and Iranians.

I called my driver to see where they were and found out they were nearing Martuni. I drank my tea and headed out to meet them.

Lavrent didn’t have any lights on, as I guess the ones on the bulldozer was not working. My driver was driving the jeep behind him, lighting up the way.

I got up behind him and intensified the illumination, which allowed him to drive faster. He was just driving along and at no time did we get stopped by anyone while I was with them, but I knew that Genodik was in Martuni (this is what he told me on the phone) and as we were passing the outskirts of Martuni, I spotted Arthur’s jeep coming in the opposite direction.

We made our way to my house and parked the bulldozer.

I told him about my call from Genodik and he told me that he had encountered him on the road and was asked to turn back around and had said some very nasty words about me, which he said were not worth repeating and said that he told Genodik he if he had anything to say to me, he could say it to my face.

Lavrent went on to say that Sako, the bulldozer driver had gathered up all the wrenches from the bulldozer (though when I gave him the bulldozer, I provided the tools with it, which means they where mine) in an attempt to prevent Lavrent from reattaching the front plowing knife and didn’t help him in anyway. What he didn’t understand is that Lavrent had orders to bring the bulldozer back to Martuni and being that during battles, Lavrent had himself go out and with little or no tools, brought back crippled tanks, he left Sako surprised when he alone and with the help of some wires, reattached the front plowing knife and tightened the bolts by hand, just enough to keep it attached. Lavrent added that when he was working and Sako had gathered up the tools so he could not do his job, Sako told Lavrent that he didn’t differentiate Lavrent from his own children. Lavrent said that he pitied any child that had a parent like him.

Well tomorrow morning after we get the bolts tightened on the bulldozer, and give it a good look, it will start working on leveling my road and also get the gravel pit ready for the excavator to load up the gravel to cover my road.
Though this may be a little more personal than what I usually like to share on the logs, I guess I’m going to have to get use to it since there is going to be lots of this kind of personal stuff in my book.

When I was in Yerevan with the poison snake eating sisters, we went to a Karaoke bar one night. One of them ordered up a couple of songs (John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Elton John’s “Sorry”), for us to sing together, but forgot to indicate that they were from the new song list and instead one of the songs that came (from the old song list) was Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”.

I went ahead and sang it, though before this, I had heard it during my childhood, but I had never read the lyrics (I'm the kind of person that hears the music, but not the words). When I got to the last part, I realized that I was singing the song about Armenia and the way I see things here happening. I was almost not able to finish the song and felt tears building up in my eyes.

The girls, who I have known for 8 years and ended up singing it to, I have practically raised them and their siblings since they were made fatherless due to the war (their father died from wounds he sustained in battle on June 12, 1993, bleding to death while waiting many hours for an ambulance that never showed up after taking less injured persons in that skirmish to the hospital and finally some decided to transport him on top of a tank, but according to the doctor, they arrived to the hospital 15 minutes later than needed to save his life). They just listened and later agreed that this was a song about us and our lives together.

Artist: Simon & Garfunkel
Song Title: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Album: Best Of Simon and Garfunkel (1999)

When you're weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
I'm on your side. When times get rough
And friends just can't be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

When you're down and out,
When you're on the street,
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you.
I'll take your part.
When darkness comes
And pains is all around,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

Sail on silvergirl,
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.
If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.
Taking a trip down memory lane to ready material for my book has been quite an experience and very tiring in every possible way. Those dark circles under my eyes are just not going away and I guess I’m just going to have to endure and chip away at it. My plan to work on all this stuff during my hibernation period has been disrupted by mother nature who is late in delivering that snow we were all hoping for. Right now it’s 21c outside and quite hot.

Anyway, here is a letter to the PM from John Hughes I came a cross and my letter to the editor that immediately followed, but was delayed in printing by AIM (after bugging them for over a month to print it) until after the first Diaspora conference. Both could be written today since the things stated still seems to apply.

AIM - July 1999
"Letter to the Prime Minister"
By John Hughes

To: Mr.Vazgen Sarkisian, Prime Minister, Republic of Armenia

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Congratulations on your recent appointment, which came as little surprise to most of us. Nor will it be unexpected news to learn of your candidacy for President when that time shall come.

You could probably fill Lake Sevan with the number of letters you're getting: suggestions, demands, complaints, and the general out pouring of the politically needy clamouring to suck up to a man of your position.

Well, here's another one. Letter, I mean.

Know this right off: You can't do anything for me and I can't do anything for you.

Wait. That's not entirely true. You could do things that would make life better for some very deserving friends of mine and that would make me happy. But I can't do a dang thing for you, owing to the fact that I'm not even a citizen of your republic.

Anyway. Have you ever heard of "pothole politics"? In the rural southern United States where I grew up, it wasn't unheard of for a man to get elected because he promised to fix the "potholes" in the roads people travelled. Folks in those parts would see a road construction sign and say: "Must be election time."

The problem, though, was that too often the potholes getting fixed were only those on roads where politicians lived.

By comparison, Mr. Prime Minister, Armenia ain't a whole lot different from Alabama.

You are a man of letters, and so you understand that the reference is allegorical as well as literal.

I've dodged the potholes on the roads of your country and I know they are many.

The economy gets the blame for most, but isn't it the economic structure that is really the culprit for the economic state? Two examples:

1. In order to make up for the budget shortfall, your tax administration officers have begun to collect taxes early. They want businesses, even small mom and pop ones, to pay now for what they think they may bring in next month. Isn't there a better way?

2. I don't need to tell you how much outside humanitarian aid comes into Armenia. But, did you know that hospitals receiving goods from charitable agencies must pay taxes on donated equipment and medicines? Is that really necessary, considering that the cost eventually effects the patients -- average Armenians -- for whom the free aid was intended?

The birth of a free-market economy comes with considerable growing pains that are too complex for non-experts.

So let me ask you about a "pothole" that threatens to erode the reputation of the department you just left, the military.

Why, in a country with so much national pride, are boys running, literally, from serving in the army? And why are fathers who are themselves veterans, willing to pay bribes to keep their boys from facing conscription?

I know a young man who was working two jobs and whose mother was working as a cook and a maid just so the family could pay army officers who signed papers saying he had done his military service when in fact he hadn't. What is wrong with the Armenian army that would make it so objectionable?

And on the subject of bribes: Why do the police shake down every driver who isn't behind the wheel of a "power" car? And why do members of evaluation boards accept bribes to let kids with money into the best universities even if their grades aren't as impressive as their bank accounts? And why do physicians accept kickbacks to perform surgeries that the State supposedly is underwriting? And why do the people in airport Customs, and the officials at the motor vehicle registration department and the inspector at the tax bureau . . .

And why did only about half as many Armenians vote in the latest elections as when they first had the chance to exercise that freedom?

Because nobody is fixing potholes, Mr. Prime Minister.

In your country there is no sense of cause and effect when it comes to voting.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not on some ethical high horse here, certainly not when in my own country national policy is shaped by lobbyists who use votes like money.

But at least here I have a sense that, however corrupt, the system is fundamentally designed for the comfort of life for average people like me. I don't like paying taxes, but I like having functioning public utilities.

And I like the opportunity to change the way my government works. I see the connection. Your people need to see the same.

You could show them.

One of the first things I was told about how things work in Armenia was that no matter who sits in the President's chair, the man really in charge was the Minister of Defence. That was you. And the widely held belief was not a reflection of the Office, but of the Man.

Now that you are Prime Minister, there's no reason to believe that the balance of power has shifted, but only that it now comes from a more logical base.

I know Armenians who are eager for a leader who'll fix potholes.

More significantly, I know too many Armenians who are tired of seeing the potholes fixed only on the streets where powerful people live, while common folk endure a significantly bumpier ride.

No one is to blame for the conditions in Armenia. Too much happened too fast.

But someone should be accountable if things don't improve.

If you are the man I've heard about, you are willing to accept that responsibility.

John Hughes


Letter to the Editor.

John Hughes’s letter to the Prime Minister sure hit home. As an Armenian-American living in Armenia and Karabagh I can only say that during John’s stay in Armenia he sure saw everything. He didn’t hold back any punches and really told it like it is (as sad as that may be). Unfortunately, such letters in the past from those that don’t provide material support have seamed to have little effect (who remembers the Human Rights Watch letter to Kocharian in January? Has anything really changed?). With the Armenian government still desperately looking to the Diaspora for its blind support of our struggling nation, let John’s letter be an indication of what blind support has caused. World Bank stipulates that certain conditions be met in order to receive loans which up until now amount $500 million with an additional $240 million in the next three years. Future generations must one day try to repay these loans. Sargsian indicated in a speech to the National Assembly that all Armenians with resources around the world will be “called to Armenia, just as the army recruited its commanding officers with such a call back in 1990.” Sarkisian refereed to the upcoming Armenia-Diaspora Conference in September as the opportunity to make such a call for participation. I would hope that those bold enough to answer this calling will stand as one and cease the opportunity to stipulate their conditions, asking for a certain amount of equality and fairness be created for the people.

Ara Manoogian
Artstakh, Marduni

Thursday, January 22, 2004

File this one under “Governmental Mismanagement of Overall Economic Structure”, meaning that things here are so bad, that people are doing what they have to just to get by.

Mr. President, this is what happens when you and your friend line your pockets with the wealth of the country and is another problem that you and your government will soon answer for.


20 January 2004

There is more than food for sale at the Bagratashen market

Every week, from two to three thousand people cross the Armenian border at Bagratashen, to do their buying and selling at the Sadkhlo bazaar. Alongside the trade outlets, there are about twenty restaurants in this Azeri-populated Georgian village, where every week, in addition to food and drink, a couple dozen Armenian girls are sold as well.

Alyosha, who lives in Armenia, frequents both the Armenian and the Georgian section of the bazaar. He trades goods, and finds new partners. He told us that Armenian girls from the neighboring villages populated mainly by refugees, and from Alaverdi and other parts of Armenia as well, come here in groups to work as bartenders or waitresses. The Azerbaijani owners of these establishments don't pay them for their work. Instead they provide a more profitable service - they find "customers" for the girls. S. is from Azerbaijan - he's a wholesaler of Ukrainian candy and a main "buyer" of Armenian girls. He said it's not hard get Armenian girls, even at a low price. "The commodity [women] is increasing. The more goods are available, the cheaper they are. God bless Gorbachov's father. In the past, when we lived better, the goods were more expensive." S. regarded me smugly, unaware that I was a journalist, and hoping to find out what I was doing there. As I asked him about the prices for girls and the customers he started bargaining with me in Armenian. "If you know some girls, bring them here. If the commodity is good I will pay $50 for one day. And then you leave the girl with me. I'll give you some candy, too."

S. gets two or three girls a day, but he always needs new ones. According to Alyosha, the unknown girls who rarely appear in Bagratashen are more valuable. "Are you looking for prostitutes here? They are in Turkey or the United Arab Emirates. Only the ones they don't need there come to Bagratashen," an Armenian trader told me. He said maybe the reason prostitutes come to Bagratashen or Sadakhlo without pimps is because "...they are not expensive and cannot be profitable." Azerbaijanis can have them for as little as 1,000-2,500 Drams (about $2-$5), or in exchange for food. Prostitutes in Bagratashen are unhappy with their situation, and speak with envy of their colleagues working abroad.

I spoke to one "bartender", Sveta, trying to find out why she had chosen this life. She grinned and asked me, "Will you come and feed my children?" and left. I asked Karo Gulkanyan, a police officer, what the local police and the national security service were doing to prevent this situation, and whether it was possible to keep prostitutes from entering the bazaar. He responded with a question of his own: "Should we keep people from earning a living? Do we have that right?" He noted that the prostitution is actually taking place on Georgian territory. "We can't stop a person who crosses the border legally," he said.

Lida from Bagratashen is a refugee. I introduced myself as someone looking for a child to adopt. She offered me her five-month-old daughter, Mariam, and began to bargain, eventually settling on 10,000 drams (less then $20). As a sort of justification, she told me her life story. She fled Baku in 1988. Now she lives in Bagratashen with her aging mother and four children, in a cottage built by the Norwegian Council on Refugees. The neighbors will have nothing to do with her; they are ashamed to be seen with her. But this doesn't bother Lida. In the past ten years, she has gotten used to humiliation. "What can I do? I'm young, I have no man, no one to support my children," the forty-year-old woman says. She had a good life in Baku. Then in Bagratashen she married Ashot from Karabakh and had two children - a boy and a girl. She and her husband didn't get along, and divorced. Her friend Seda suggested a way to support her family. Then she had another boy. Then a fourth and a fifth child, who she couldn't bring home.

"I decided to leave them at the hospital. It's hard to put them in an orphanage once you've brought them home," Lida explains. She claims that she found out later that the first child she abandoned was sent by the hospital doctors to France, for $400, and that the second child is in Yerevan. I could not confirm this, however, at the hospital in Noyemberyan where the children were born. Andranik Ayvazyan, head of the maternity department, was surprised that I had taken an interest in a woman with such a bad record.

As we were talking, Lida kept asking asked her 11-year-old son, Arthur, to make some tea for the baby. Finally, the boy lit a fire right in the middle of the room. Everything, including the infant, disappeared in smoke.

The Bagratashen village mayor, Hovsep Ogumtsyan, doesn't think that Lida is worth "treating as a human being or getting involved with." Furthermore, he says, he has nothing to do with the Bagratashen market, since it was transferred out of his jurisdiction to the customs department three years ago. Meanwhile, Lida is expecting another child.

Karine Simonyan

Tonight I had dinner at Rosa Myrig’s house. She says hello to everyone that knows her and hopes that you are all healthy. I guess she meant that for my parents and our friend John, but since you all know her, please feel free to benefit from her warm wishes, I’m sure she would not mind a bit.

As we were sitting and talking during dinner, her husband Hurant was watching television (yes, they even do that kind of stuff here) and what was he watching? A Brazilian soap opera. If you ask me and Rosa Myrig, the stuff is junk, but for Hurant, it’s true and real stuff. At one point, he asked us if we saw how someone killed someone else? Since we were not paying attention and talking to each other, we thought that he was watching the news or something and when we realized that he was referring to the soap, I told Hurant that he better be careful, as they may call him as a witness to the crime. We laughed.

Rosa Myrig’s grandson is studying to become an attorney and I asked her where he got that idea from? She said that her son Urig wanted to become an attorney, but from what I understood, he was cut from the university in Baku because of his last name being Armenian. That was in 1979-80. Even back then, Armenians were being discriminated against. So it seems it runs in the family. They have very high hopes on their grandson, who one day will inherit all they have, being that he is the male child in their lives. Hurant said that when he fixes things in their house, he thinks of his grandson who may not want to live in Martuni, but at least if he chooses not to, he can sell it at a fair price.

The weather here is not what it should be, and were still hopping it will snow soon, but it looks like that may not be for a while.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Armenian party accuses government of exaggerating economic growth

Mediamax news agency
20 Jan 04

Yerevan, 20 January: The Ramkavar-Azatakan Party of Armenia (RAPA) has issued a statement criticizing the country's coalition government and accusing it of attempting to artificially inflate prices for essential goods.

The leader of the party, Arutyun Arakelyan, said in Yerevan today that the government had failed to live up to its promises to improve the social situation in the country. Moreover, he said "there are reasons to believe that considerable economic growth is a product of the government's imagination because the conditions of ordinary citizens over the past year have even worsened".

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

This heated mattress pad is great!!! On top of that, I did my research on the internet to the effects and found that the findings that caused a scare back in the 80’s was inaccurate and the only danger is if you somehow spill liquids on this baby. To say the least, I love my bed even more than before.

In other news, the 6 cops that were being denied their pensions because of an irregularity and illegal decision by the Prime Minister have had their pensions approved and should be getting their first payments in the next couple of weeks. Last Friday when they went to Stepangert to see the people at the pension office as a last ditch effort before I wrote a letter to the government, they were told to wait 2 days and if there was not a positive result, then let me write the letter. I’m really glad it ended this way, as the less I get involved in such issues, the better it is for me and everyone for that matter.

The weather here is great and though it rained the day I returned, the sun has been out and our road is drying which means that we will finally get a chance to dump some gravel on the mud so when the next time it rains, we will be able to drive in on the road without slipping all over the place.

Well not much more to report other than I’m getting enough sleep that the dark circles under my eyes are beginning to go away, though I do miss going out at night and having fun. Next time I go to Yerevan I need to set my priorities straight and the nights I party, have the following day off to sleep.
California Courier Online, January 22, 2004

Armenia Should Not Allow TARC to Meet in Yerevan

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

The members of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) are back at their old tricks again, secretly plotting their next moves. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) revealed last week that TARC, composed of a small group of Turkish and Armenian individuals, mostly financed and directed by the U.S. government, held yet another secret meeting -- this time in London. The meeting was chaired by David Phillips, an adviser to the State Department, and Joseph Montville, a former U.S. diplomat.

RFE/RL reported that the meeting, held at the Royal United Services Institute, a private think tank "close to the British Defense Ministry," lasted for three days. An Armenian member of TARC who did not wish his name disclosed told RFE/RL, "the two sides agreed to avoid publicizing their activities for the time being given the political sensitivity of the subject."

It does not come as a surprise that the members of TARC want to hide their activities from the public. They have learned valuable lessons from their earlier "mistake" of telling the public at large what they were really up to. Shortly after TARC was formed back in 2001, Ozdem Sanberk, one of its Turkish members revealed to an Azerbaijani internet newspaper the true intent of the group. He said, "the basic goal of our commission is to impede the initiatives put forth every year in the U.S. Congress and parliaments of Western countries on 'the genocide issue'.... The key goal is to prevent 'the genocide' issue from being regularly brought onto the agenda in Western countries.... The significant matter for us is that 'the genocide' issue is not discussed by the American Congress anymore. As long as we continue the dialogue, the [genocide] issue won't be brought to the congressional agenda. If it is not discussed in Congress, we, meaning Turkey, will gain from that. The US Congress will see that there is a channel of dialogue between Turks and Armenians and decide that 'there is no necessity for the Congress to take such a decision while such a channel exists.'"

After Sanberk's amazing revelation was quoted in this column, the Armenian members of TARC had a very unusual reaction. Rather than immediately resigning from the group and condemning its sinister goals, at their next meeting which was held in Istanbul, they chastised Sanberk for making such a public statement and decided that henceforth the members of TARC would not speak to the media.

It is interesting that a secretive group which wants to hide from the public its sources of funding, expenditures, discussions, decisions, and activities, recently set up a website ( ostensibly to provide information to the world at large. Not surprisingly, the website has very sketchy information. Nevertheless, it does confirm that while the four Armenian members of TARC are (shockingly) still on board, four of its six Turkish members have resigned. Mr. Sanberk, the Turkish member who had made that important revelation about TARC's real goals, is no longer on board. The four Turks were replaced by five others: Emin Mahir Balcioglu, Ahmet Evin, Ersin Kalaycioglu, Sule Kut, and Ilter Turan. The TARC website provides no information on their backgrounds. One wonders why TARC is composed of only four Armenians and seven Turks? When TARC was first formed, one of its four Armenian members proudly announced that several other Armenians would shortly join TARC!

Fortunately, in almost three years, the TARC members have not been able to persuade a single Armenian to join the group, while there seems to be no shortage of Turks who want to come on board!

Haykakan Zhamanak, an opposition newspaper in Armenia, revealed last week that the TARC members decided in London that their next meeting would take place in Yerevan. While the group has had meetings in Geneva, New York, London and at least once in Istanbul, it has never met in Armenia. Given the shadowy nature of this group, its covert funding by a foreign government and its goal of subverting the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian government should consider not permitting the group to meet in Yerevan by refusing to issue entry visas to the foreign members of TARC. By allowing such a meeting on its soil, the Armenian government would be facilitating the aims of those who are intent on undermining the recognition of the Genocide. At the very least, the Armenian government should demand that TARC make public its funding sources, expenditures, activities, and future plans!

Radio Free Europe/Radio liberty
19 January 2004

U.S. Adoption Agent Blasts Armenian Orphan Placement Plan

By Emil Danielyan

A U.S. middleman specializing in arranging adoptions of Armenian children has slammed as "ridiculous" the Armenian government's plans to encourage local families to host and raise the orphans until they come of age.

The scheme, announced last week, is part of the government's stated efforts to reduce the number of such children adopted by foreign nationals each year. Officials said they have already secured donor funding for the unprecedented scheme.

Writing in an Internet discussion group, Robin Sizemore of the U.S.-based Carolina Adoption Services (CAS), claims that orphans placed in a caretaker family would not necessarily be happier and might even be abused by caretaker parents.

"I am worried sick to think that a child would leave the institution and be placed in an unsuspecting and uneducated family," Sizemore said in a message posted on the online forum Sunday. "Not only for the family, but most of all for the child that will never get the therapy needed and most likely become a victim of abuse and perhaps run away and become a child of the street."

The planned arrangement, which requires corresponding amendments to Armenia's laws on children's rights and education, does not amount to a formal adoption of children. Caretaker families will simply be required to bring up orphans as their own children in return for a monthly financial compensation from the state. According to Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Ashot Yesayan, the government will pay at least 50,000 drams ($90) per child for food expenses alone.

Yesayan assured reporters last Thursday that families willing to take in children from state-run orphanages will undergo close scrutiny based on a dozen selection criteria to be set by his ministry. Those include the size of their income, the state of their "physical and mental health" as well as the opinion of their neighbors and colleagues, he said.

But Sizemore, who is in charge of CAS activities in Armenia and neighboring Georgia, warned: "One should not romance the idea that just a loving stable home will remedy any issue. This sets the child up for abuse in the foster home as the parents will not have the education, training, support or resources to deal with these issues."

CAS is one of several private U.S. adoption agencies operating in Armenia either directly or through local agents familiar with a long list of Armenian officials in a position to affect the process. Other local facilitators work directly with adoptive parents in the U.S. and Europe.

There has been a steady increase in foreign adoptions in the country in recent years. According to official figures, at least 76 Armenian children were adopted by foreigners, most of them Americans of Armenian extraction, last year.

It is not known how many of them were taken abroad through CAS and other U.S. agencies. They typically charge their clients between $9,000 and $13,000 per child -- a suspiciously high figure given the much lower cost of official paperwork inside Armenia. An RFE/RL report suggested last year that a large part of the money is spent on bribes to local government officials.

The report led Social Affairs Minister Aghvan Vartanian, who took over shortly before its publication in June, to ask prosecutors to launch an official inquiry. Vartanian was also the main initiator of changes in the adoption rules approved by the Armenian government last month. They are primarily aimed at facilitating domestic adoptions.

Sources told RFE/RL that Vartanian's ministry was pushing for much tougher rules that would exclude the middlemen from the process and subject foreign adoptive parents to stricter scrutiny. They said the proposals were not accepted by the cabinet of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, which has the final say on every single foreign adoption in Armenia.

As things stand now, the foreigners face few requirements except having a minimum annual income of $24,000 each. They are not even personally interviewed by a government commission overseeing the process.

Monday, January 19, 2004

A big public thank you to Emil Danielyan of RFE/RL, Onnik Krikorian and the countless persons who have asked to remain anonymous for all the help you have extended to me to bring our adoption problems to public attention which has resulted in drastic positive changes.

On behalf of those orphans that were suck in the system, facing a bleak future and will now be placed with a families and back in society - THANK YOU!!!

Your reward and some of the fruit of our collective labor I present to you below.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Government To Encourage Armenian Families To Raise Orphans

By Atom Markarian

The Armenian government approved on Thursday a scheme designed to encourage local families to accept and raise children from state-run orphanages, promising to reward them with financial assistance.

The move followed a major toughening of procedures for the adoption of Armenian children by foreign nationals which was announced by ministers late last month.

The government is now seeking amendments to Armenia's laws on children's rights and education that would enable orphans to grow up in families having both parents and meeting specific criteria set by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Under the new arrangement they would not be formally adopted by caretaker families.

"The state will select families that are willing to host children without parents or parental care and will pay those families for that," Deputy Social Affairs Minister Ashot Yesayan told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting that approved the draft amendments.

"We have dozens of families that have expressed a desire to take three, four and even five children in addition to having their own ones."

Yesayan said caretaker parents will receive a monthly allowance for every orphan brought up in their family. The government will pay at least 50,000 drams ($90) per child for food expenses alone, he added.

The scheme appears to enjoy the backing of Western donors that have already promised cash for its implementation. The Japanese government has emerged as the single largest contributor, pledging $960,000 worth of assistance.

UNICEF, the United Nations' child protection agency, has already begun to implement a similar program worth $620,000 in the Gegharkunik region whose capital Gavar has the country's largest home for orphans of school age.

Many of its residents find themselves homeless and without work after they finish school and come of age -- a serious problem admitted by Yesayan. He said the government has developed a plan to build or buy homes for them with donor assistance.

According to official data, there have been 161 such young people since 1992 and only 35 of them have so far been provided with housing.

The orphan placement plan appears to be a further step aimed at complicating foreign adoptions in Armenia which were relatively easy until recently. Officials acknowledged that the previous rules introduced in 2000 were conducive to government abuse and corruption. Media reports last year suggested that the process involves thousands of dollars in kickbacks paid by foreign adoptive parents and their local "facilitators" to Armenian officials.

According to the Social Affairs Ministry, 76 Armenian children were adopted by foreigners -- most of them U.S. citizens -- from January through November 2003.
Where to start? So much in a week has happened and your probably wondering where I have been?

Well I took an unscheduled trip to Yerevan to do some follow-up on the adoption issues and in particular Siranush. I’m not going to give any details right now, since I have a bunch of other leads to follow (I hope this trail will end soon).

So what did I do on my off time? Well I visited many discos, Karaoke bars, clubs and restaurants. Not that I intentionally avoided my logger friends, but it just happened that way.

I had a few police stops, and one in particular ended with me almost getting tossed in jail (though I think the cop was only bluffing) and me almost calling the chief of the Armenia traffic police. Basically they stopped my driver and claimed that he crossed over a solid line, which he did not and me arguing with the cop and then pulling out my digital camera and taking a picture of the alleged line my driver crossed over and then taking a second picture that he and his bribe-taking buddy got in. They wanted me to erase the picture, which I refused and they said that they will take me to jail, which I accepted their invitation. Then I made a call on my cell phone to get the chief’s direct number and before I could call, they handed back my driver the cars documents and begged him to have me erase the picture. While I was talking to the chief’s friend to get the number, the cops asked my driver who I was and he played stupid and told them that he can’t tell them but said that night and day I’m in contact with high-ranking officials. He said that they were clearly uncomfortable and for that reason let us go.

The other police stops took place on the way to Gyumri and I was driving. They were pleasant stops that ended without any problems.

As for the discos and Karaoke bars, what is interesting and kind of sad is the very young and attractive Armenian prostitutes. One of them was quite aggressive, sent me a beer and offered her services, without taking into consideration I was sitting between the poison snake eating twin sisters.

My trip in all was very fun, but not all that restful, since we only got a couple of hours of sleep each night.

Of course if we don’t have an adventurous ending to a visit to Yerevan, then something is wrong.

Our trip ended with my driver coming across a rock slide in Lachin, which he was able to stop the car, but not until he had a chance to drive over a bunch of the larger rocks, ripping open the oil-pan and messing up the alignment on the car. Our luck would have it that not 30 seconds later, a car pulls up to help and who was driving the car? The former Martuni regional minister, who I had removed a couple of years ago. He stopped and asked what had happened and offered to take my driver to get a truck to tow the car.

They left and I coasted the car down to the Lachin check-point, where we waited for a couple of hours.

My driver came with an old truck that towed us all the way to Stepanagert at a cost of 24,000 dram and 25 liters of gas.

Then not that this was not enough of a grand ended to my trip, my truck driver and most recent godchild Lavrent who I had called to meet us the bottom of the hill that leads to Shushi on my cell phone just before the battery died, offers to take me to Martuni in a car that belongs to a friend of his.

We leave the car and drive on to Martuni. The car encounters electrical problems that cause the voltage to shoot up and was we are nearing Aghdam, the headlamps burn out. Lavrent, being a tank driver is use to driving under clandestine conditions and in the dark keeps our car on the road and all the way to my house.

To say the least, I’m exhausted and plan on taking a 2-day rest from everything to rid myself from the very dark circles under my eyes. This means that I probably wont be logging for a couple more days.

Other good news is that I got myself a mattress warmer, which is basically an electric blanket that you put under the fitted sheet. It’s great and only consumes the equivalent of a 60-watt light bulb. Last night when I got home, I lit the woodstove to take a nice long hot shower and got the room up to 80f. I then got in bed and this morning my room was and is 50f, but in my bed is a nice toasty 85f. I know there talk about magnetic fields and cancer causing effects to this little wonder, but until I get married, I’m just going to have to risk it, since being cold is not one of the things I like.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


13 January 2004

Even the President denies access to public information

In the series We Know Who the Owners Are we presented the real owners of land in Oghakadzev (Circle) Park, the Opera Park and the public park near Babayan Street . The former mayor of Yerevan, Robert Nazaryan, stated in a press conference two months ago that ninety-nine per cent of the cafes in the Opera Park had been built illegally. But the reason the current mayor, Yervand Zakharyan, doesn't touch these constructions is clear to every one - their owners are well-known bigwigs. On October 2, 2003 we sent a letter to Mayor Yervand Zakharyan requesting permission to take a look at the decisions regarding land allocations for cafes in the vicinity of the Yerevan Opera House taken from 1997 to 2003 by former mayors Vano Siradeghyan, Suren Abrahamyan, Albert Bazeyan and Robert Nazaryan. Mayoral decisions are open documents which must be accessible to everyone, including journalists. Forty days later the mayor's chief of staff, Samvel Koshetsyan, sent us the following message: "In response to your letter addressed to the Mayor's Office, I would like to inform you that you should specify the exact kind of information you intend to receive from the Yerevan Mayor's Office."

In the face of such a response, our only option was to appeal to the mayor's
boss, President Robert Kocharyan. According to the Law on the Procedure of
Consideration of Proposals, Appeals and Complaints, a citizen who contests a
decision taken with regard to his or her complaint may appeal to the agency
or official to whom the agency or official who took the decision in question is directly accountable. In our appeal to the president, we requested that he oblige his subordinate to permit us to look at the decisions in question. Again we received a response from the mayor's chief of staff. This time it said: "In response to your letter dated November 21, 2003 addressed to the president, we would like to inform you that Art. 4 and Art. 27 of the Law on Mass Media quoted by your association define the rights of a journalist but do not define the responsibilities of a state official. We should also note that the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations does not define the provision of information as a mandatory requirement, either. Meanwhile, it is necessary to stress that the Mayor's Office has never refused to provide information, and as far as the questions raised by the association are concerned, in view of their un-specified character, the Mayor's Office considers it impossible to provide such information."

This was written by someone who has obviously not read the constitution. Samvel Koshetyan seems to believe that he, as an official, is under no obligation to provide information. He is not even aware that according to the law he had no right to respond to our letter, since it was his action that we were appealing. We never received a response from the President's Office. This was, in fact, the second time that we had requested that Kocharyan intercede in our dealings with Koshetsyan.

Why did no one from the President's Office respond to our letter? Here are some possible explanations: 1. There are people in the President's Office who own some of these cafes (we have information to this effect). 2. There are people in the President's Office who interceded with the Mayor's Office for land allocation (we have such information as well). So in order to avoid bringing all this up, it was decided in the President's Office to instruct Samvel Koshetsyan to get rid of the journalists again. Of course there is another possibility, albeit a less likely one- they don't care about the law in the President's Office, but to make it look like they are hard at work, they sent the letter to the Mayor's Office.

Edik Baghdasaryan

By David Petrosian

January 12, 2004

The RA National Assembly approved the draft law "On Mass Information", which was prepared by the government, in the third reading in New Year's Eve. The draft aroused unequivocal assessments by the journalistic circles, where an appropriate consensus hasn't been formed. So, the National Press Club (NPC), which represents the interests of acting journalists, was very radical and consistently came up against the draft (the parliament of Armenia of the previous convocation didn't support the proposed draft law in April 2003 due to the protects of the NPC), suggesting its alternative draft law. This draft law was submitted to the Parliament by Victor Dallakian, an MP from the "Ardarutyun" ("Justice") opposition bloc, but it was rejected
by the majority of MPs. In early spring of 2002, RA President Robert Kocharian made a statement that he wpold not sign the law "On Mass Information" until it passes relevant international examination, meaning that of the Council of Europe. It was not unexpected, because adoption of a new law regulating the work of mass media was one of the obligations assumed by Armenia while entering this prestigious international organization.

Before the endorsement of the aforementioned draft law both in the first and second readings RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian, who submitted the draft law on behalf of the government, and MP Hranush Hakobian, the Head of the profile parliamentary commission, made a statement, according to which the act submitted to the RA National Assembly passed corresponding international examination,
including by the experts of the Council of Europe. Deathly silence followed in response to the demand of the journalistic circles not controlled by the authorities to provide them with the texts of the corresponding examination. But in December, the secret became obvious. Members of the National Press Club got the text of the
examination of the draft law "On Mass Information" prepared by the specialists of the Council of Europe. The viewpoint of the experts of the Council of Europe differed from the one which was presented by Ashot Abovian and Hranush Hakobian. Regardless of the fact that the experts of the Council of Europe ascertained some positive amendments in the submitted draft law, nevertheless they expressed their open
fear for the future of the freedom of press in Armenia in case of the approval of the draft law "On Mass Information" by the parliament. On the whole the "Article 19" prestigious international journalistic organization (with the headquarters in London) and the German "JTZ" organization, which renders technical and legal support to the
government of Armenia, also gave negative assessments to the submitted draft law. In December, in one of his interviews RA Deputy Minister of Justice Ashot Abovian had to admit that the experts of the Council of Europe gave a negative assessment to the draft law "On Mass Information". The circle was locked.

Though we don't know how far it was locked before grantors for such public organizations as the Yerevan Press Club, the Journalists' Union of Armenia, "Internews" and some others, which were consistent enough, supporting the above-mentioned draft law "On Mass Information", on the whole negatively estimating its final formulations.

We think that in this situation Robert Kocharian will not remember his statement of about two years' prescription, and he will rather sign the law.

In light of the above-mentioned facts it is unclear how the Council of Europe and its monitoring mission will treat obligations assumed by Armenia while entering this prestigious international organization.

The year was completed with a regular tender for the right for transmission on the 56th decimeter frequency, which was final during the recent two years. Other meter and decimeter frequencies received their masters at this moment. Just as it was expected this time the "A1+" and "Noyan Tapan" disgraced TV companies didn't receive again the right for transmission. The "Husaber" CJSC, whose founder is
"Yerkir Media" ("Country Media"), which is close to ARF Dashnaktsutyun, received the right for broadcast. According to Grigor Amalian, the Chairman of the National Commission on TV & Radio (NCTR), the proposal of "Husaber" turned to be equivocally the best one on its technical resolution. Judging by the proposals presented to the tender, "Husaber" will have an opportunity to broadcast for the whole world
through satellite in several years. We suppose that this opens vast prospects for sponsors and partners of "Husaber" while presenting their viewpoints to the Armenian nation.

As for "A1+" and "Noyan Tapan", these two organizations were likely to hope too much for the might and influence of the Council of Europe, OSCE, the European Union and a number of great powers upon the leadership of Armenia. During the recent two years the international organizations through the lips of their leaders made a number of tough statements on the occasion of the non-allocation of frequencies for
transmission to these two TV companies not controlled by the authorities of Armenia. But official Yerevan experienced these tough statements as successfully as the statements of OSCE/PACE about the results of the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Prestigious international organizations and some western powers are likely have to recognize their defeat or mistake of their politics in the issue of support to the freedom of speech in Armenia. And not only in Armenia. We had an opportunity to observe such defeats in Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, etc..

What fate expects these TV companies? It is quite obvious that they don't have any serious means for normal functioning any more. Perhaps they have means for survival, but do they secure it during these two years? During this period they hopelessly fell behind their competitors, who had an opportunity to broadcast and earn funds for development, in technical equipment. The gifted staffs are under the
threat of collapse.

In their time western countries could find a wise resolution (not the best one on its form, but satisfactory enough in its essence) and deprive the "Tigran Mets" typographical complex of monopoly, establishing an alternative printing-house in Yerevan. This brought to fall in prices for typographical services in whole Armenia.

In April 2002, when according to the results of the tender, the "A1+" and "Noyan Tapan" TV companies weren't given frequencies for transmission for the first time, a proposal about the establishment of a cable network, through which all the alternative and other TV companies of Armenia could broadcast, was sounded. To recap, according to the current law, there is no necessity to participate in tenders
held by the National Commission on TV & Radio for the reception of license for transmission through the cable network. That time this proposal was "shelved" by the international organizations and western powers. Perhaps they supposed that they would be able to achieve an opportunity of broadcast for "A1+" and "Noyan Tapan". It is obvious today that the circle was locked and this politics failed. If
international organizations and western democracies are really interested in support of freedom of speech and democracy in Armenia, they have the only way out in the formed situation: to contribute to the establishment of the cable network and to give really alternative TV companies of the country an opportunity to broadcast.

Time will show whether western countries and international organizations make this or some other decision or not.

"The Noyan Tapan Highlights" N1, January, 2004

David Petrosyan is a political analyst in Yerevan, Armenia, and writes a regular weekly column in Noyan Tapan. He also provides weekly analyses to the Armenian service of SBS Radio in Australia, and written for a variety of Russian language political newspapers.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

I’m not sure of this made the local news or not, but on June 6th, 2004 at 4AM, an anti-tank grenade was detonated outside this Stepanagert casino, waking up people kilometers away. This casino is said to be the largest in Artsakh and is located near the bazaar and across the street from one of Stepanagert’s largest school.

I was happy to hear that no one was injured in the explosion, but was saddened to see that the Casino did not sustain noticeable damage that would close it down for an extended period of time.

Yesterday I went to Stepanagert to take care of some NK Arts business. I met with the Deputy Minister of Culture in regards to a display that we have at the youth palace for our Nungi Ceramics project.

After talking business, we started to talk politics. For an hour he and I exchanged ideas and views that seemed to be the same. I’m glad to see that everyone seems to have similar ideas on how this country should be. Now all that is left is to find a way to take actions to ascertain that dream.

He told me about some of the social problems Stepanagert is facing, one of them being the recent rise in the price of cemetery for New Years.

He told me of how in the past carnations were 70 dram each and this year when he went to the cemetery to take flowers to his mother’s, uncle’s and a couple of friends who were killed during the war. As he was entering the cemetery one of his friend’s father was coming out of the cemetery upset and crying.

He stopped his friend’s father to ask what had happened and he said it was nothing and said he was going home.

It has become a tradition to visit the cemetery on January 2nd and take flowers to your loved one.

The deputy went to purchase carnations and learned that the price was 300 drams (more than 4 times more expensive then the prior year) each and being that he only had 2,000 dram with him, he was only able to purchase 4 carnations as appose to 3 carnation for each person he was to visit.

He got on his phone and called the owner of the flower stand to see why the sudden rise in prices of carnations and why he was trying to profit off of the emotions of those visiting their loved ones? He mentioned to him that his friend’s father left upset because for him to feel at peace with himself on this special day that he would pay his respects to his son, he didn’t have the money to take flowers, thus he didn’t even visit his son’s grave.

The man made some defense of how he had without charge placed 500 flowers on graves and for that reason he had to charge more this year.

The Deputy told me that instead of gifting 500 flowers, he should have sold flowers at a normal price and the flowers would have made their way to the graves.

It should be noted that this was not the only place that was selling carnations for 300 dram, it was about the same everywhere in Artsakh and the start of the price hike I would guess started some place in Armenia.

If you recall I have made mention of an expected price increase on bread after the New Year. Well the price remained the same, but the weight of the bread was reduced by over 20%, thus we had a price increase. Also remember that Artsakh had a record breaking year for it’s wheat harvest and prior to the government allowing 390,000 tons of wheat to be exported, the price of flour was 7,000 dram a sack and the Prime Minister in July announced that there would be no price increase because of the record year. The month of the harvest, so much wheat was exported, that the price of flour almost doubled and is now the same as sugar. Shame on you Mr. Prime Minister, you keep digging your hole deeper and deeper.

Well still no sign of snow, but the weather at night is getting down towards freezing.

I was up early this morning working on editing my 1997 journals. It’s slow going, but fun to go down memory lane and remember things that I don’t even remember happening. What an adventurous life I have had for the last 10 years. Almost think it would make for an interesting book.
I know this has nothing to do with life in Armenia, but since I�ve had my political and controversial stuff moved to the message-board, I�ve been reading some of the stuff posted there and thought this was worth posting where it will get some exposure.

There is a young Armenian fighter named Shawn Yacoubian who posted that he will be fighting at the Crystal Park Casino (do they now have legal gambling in LA?) in LA on the 24th of January, 2003. You can read his post on the message-board by clicking here.

From visiting Shawn�s site and reading his statistics, it looks like this young Armenian professional is good at what he does and is worthy of our support. If I was in LA, I would attend his up coming fight that his Azeri opponent will cry for mercy while Shawn slams him down to the mat.

Okay, I don�t know if it�s an Azeri that he will be fighting, but if that motivates you to attend the fight, then I�ll stick to that story. How ignorant of me, right? Kickboxing is not fighting like war, it�s a sport and fight without enemies. I guess for me I would rather be ignorant since to me, knocking someone around and inflicting pain can�t be fun. I�m sure there is something deeper to this sport (maybe personal discipline) that I just don�t get. Then again, war is no fun or a sport, is just something we have to do.

Anyway, I encourage anyone to support Shawn in his endeavors as he moved to the top of this sport with the Armenian community by his side. I mean Shawn can�t loose as he was born in Pasadena, CA (same as me), on (get this) April 24th. Tell all your Armenian friends and non-Armenian blood-thirsty acquaintances about it.

Ara Manoogian ( wrote at 11:24 PM
Though I was home with the flu today, I had some work done on my house since the weather was so nice.

Today I had my new driveway laid. This may not sound like a big deal, but it really is. You see my street is a gravel road and when it rains, it gets very muddy. On top of that, we have had such heavy rains in the past that the area in front of my main gate has been washed out lowering the ground on the street to the point that my car could not back into my parking area without bottoming out on the parking area floor.

I also had really good flexible plastic piping (made in Artsakh) installed under the cement so I can circulate hot water (mixed with anti-freeze) to heat the cement so when it snows, it will melt and keep my driveway clear.

I was told that we will not see our next freeze before January 13th, so to make the most of this nice weather, I�m having the 3rd floor balconies (which is the roof to part of my living room and office) ceiled with cement and a low wall installed to enclose the balconies.

Tonight I was invited over to a friend�s house for dinner. My overly concerned friend also invited over a doctor to join us for dinner so he could check to see if I was physically fit and if I only had the flu or if I had any fluid in my lungs. I played along and let the doctor examine me. He checked my lungs, heart and blood-pressure and told me that everything was normal and prescribed medicine for me to take for a couple of days to prevent my flu from getting any worse.

Well Mama Manoogian, rest assured, I have people looking out for me. The doctor asked about you (you met him at the place we had lavash fish rolls) and told me to say hello. Not only am I going to take the prescribed medicine, but I�ve also been taking (and plan to until winter is over) the Echinacea with Goldenseal and the vitamin C you brought me the last time you visited.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Wow, I can’t believe I’m up this late working on editing my journals from 10 years ago so parts of them can be included in my book. And to think I have to go to Stepanagert tomorrow afternoon.

Though a little bit graphic and personal, since it’s going to be in the book (probably edited down a bit) I want to share with you part of the entry from my wedding night that looking back at it now, my wife was kind of a saint in a way to put up with me and my dreams of being Armenian. Not to say my desires were wrong, but they really were not easy for her since she was use to having things in their place, you will see what I mean.

October 8, 1994

We woke early as instructed the night before for a madakh at the Church. At 9:00 when we finally headed out and arrived to one of the Manoogian houses to pick up a Ram. We went to the Church and took a walk around a khachcar three times. They cut the ear on the Ram and placed a cross of blood on our forehead.

We loaded the Ram back into the car and went back to the house. I was given a sharp knife to cut the Ram’s throat and bleed it so we could walk in the blood.

Our guests from Yerevan arrived. We greeted them and we all packed-up and went back to the Church. Are party arrived and soon after Torkom Srpazan arrived. Prior to our wedding, which was in fact a blessing of our wedding we had in the states before coming to Armenia, though for me since I wanted to get married in Armenia to begin with, this was my wedding day.

Our ceremony was attended by a group of school children from Dilijan, who while conducing the ceremony, Srpazan educated the children in what he was doing and why.

When we were told to drink wine which was suppose to be bitter, I have to tell you that this was the most bitter wine I have ever drank and Srpazan tilted the sliver cup high to make sure I got a good gulp of it while he smiled.

Our wedding was completed and we all drove back to Dilijan and to the hall. On the way, my cousin who was driving us was going 160 kilometers an hour in a soviet made Fiat. I turned to my bride and told her that we came this far and I sure hope this is not the end. We very quickly arrived to the hall where we danced our way to the head table.

I called over my cousin Levon to bring me a vodka bottle filled with water, as I am not a drinker and if I don’t drink something, it’s not going to make my relatives happy. The food was plentiful and the toasts were many. I out drank my relatives, who in order to keep up with me got completely smashed.

After dancing and drinking and toast after toast, the time had come to take my new bride to our nest waiting us in Yerevan.

On the way out, one of my relatives in an army uniform came up to me and asked that we take a picture together. Garo was a professional solider in Artsakh and when he learned that his cousin from America was getting married in Dilijan, he arranged to come.

We arrived in Yerevan at about 9:30 only after Robert was pulled over by the police for not stopping at a check-stop that they tried to stop him at. He had been drinking and did not want to be stopped. The police questioned him and I’m sure he gave them a bribe. We arrived at Varsenig’s and were greeted and offered to be fed. We asked to be taken to Nora’s so we could get some “rest”. Marta kept saying to them to let us get some sleep, as we look “tired”. We were taken to Nora’s apartment which we were told had all the conveniences of home. We climbed the 4 floors with our bags and arrived to a pitch black some what nice looking apartment. Soon the lights came on.

This was a very cute small apartment with a single bed in the living room, a bath near the entrance and kitchen behind the bath and I can’t forget the balcony at the other end of the apartment. Nora covered the windows so the “Wolves” could not see in from the neighboring building. Nora received a call from her friend living directly below. She invited her up to meet us. In the meantime we started to heat water for a bath. Nora’s friend arrived and talked with us. She told us if we needed anything we could call her on the phone or tap on the heater pipes and she would come up right away.

After too long they both left after Nora gave us the keys to the house and showed us how to lock the door. She also reminded us not to leave the water running because if it runs over the apartment below will be flooded.

Lena says this place is like a five star hotel. We take a bath with the hot water from the bucket and water from the bathtub, which looked questionable. We each used less then a bucket to bathe.

As for the first time to be special, I lit a candle and turned out the lights. We got undressed and got in a very narrow bed that was made for half a person or in our case was perfect for a newly married couple. We laid down my green army tee-shirt to make love on so we would not mess the sheets.

What an experience, Lena was definitely in pain. I can’t say that it felt all that good to me as the lubricated condoms could have used much more lube as I was having a very difficult time to penetrate my bride. I felt really bad for Lena, but she wanted to get it over with. We tried everything and she was convinced that it was not going to go in. Finally, something broke and I pulled out. We must have done something right because there was blood on me, her and on the tee-shirt. Lena told me that she saw flashes of light.

I got up to turn on the lights and there was no power. We went to the bath using the candle to light and used one of the dushes we brought from the states and the balance of the warm water left from our bath to clean up. We then rested a bit and did it again. Lena’s friend Sandy had told her once that the first 6 times is the hardest 6 times. We did it a third time and then fell asleep.

October 9, 1994

We woke and decided that the 5 star hotel was not what we were told it was. We dressed and decided to relocate somewhere else where at least they have running water so we can wash.

I called Khachig to find out what was in the plan today. He told me that my parents have plans. I called Nersses’s and found out that they are going to the Vernisage and will meet us in front of the Norivest building at 12:00.

I called Anna to find out what was going on. I told her that we have no running water right now to wash with. She told me that they have not had running water in this building for 3 years. We gathered our belongings and headed out to Varsig’s house. We got lost on the way. All the buildings look the same and we were taken to Nora’s a night. We got so turned around that we could not find our way back to Nora’s (we didn’t want to). We got a Taxi to take us to Anna’s. We are now here hoping that the lights will come on so we can take a bath. No power, no bath.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Don’t you hate it when you purchase the latest electronic gadget and the engineers who designed it miscalculated the wear ability of certain components?

Well last week, one of the vital control buttons of a Sony gadget I have stopped working because of just such an engineering flaw and there was no Sony service station close by for me to take it to.

Last night I took the whole thing apart at 3 AM and being that these Japanese gadgets are so compact and built in such a way that everything interweaves that in the end I ended up with a pile of little parts.

This evening I got myself a 10 cent tube of superglue and using the superglue and the ridged transparent plastic packaging, I re-engineered the badly designed part so it should never wear out and then performed the almost impossible and put this miniature marvel back together and guess what? It actually worked when I put the batteries in it.

Today my excavator started work on the road in front of my house and tomorrow if all things goes as planned, we will start to bring in truck loads of gravel and maybe by Monday the grader can come in and level the gravel, thus, no more mud when it rains.

The weather here is really amazing. There is no sign of rain or snow, though it seems to be getting a little bit colder at night.

I’m not going to say that I’m in the homestretch of my book, but I’m really getting closer to the point where it can be compiled. The big task ahead of me is to review video from the early days (1993 and 1994) of my visits here and write about it. I’m really not looking forward to this since there is sooooo much to write. Uffffff.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Interesting. According to the Armenian Government's Poverty Reduction
Strategy Paper, the Internationally recognized indicators for the measurement of poverty uses the measurements of below 1, 2 and 4 US Dollars for living.

According to the Armenian Government in 2005 13.8% of the Armenian population will live on less than $1 a day. 35.9% on less than $2 a day and get this, 68.3% on less than $4 a day. And that's assuming the Poverty Reduction Strategy meets its goals on time in the schedule that is due to finish in 2015. In 2003 76.6% of the population lived on less than $4 a day in Armenia which tallies with the Ministry of Health's calorie intake poverty line which is different from that used by the Ministry of Social Security. And of course, it explains why the National Statistics Office reports that 70% of the population is living on a staple diet of macaroni, potatoes and bread.

The figures the Government quotes for half the population living below the poverty line are internal to Armenia and relative. ie. it is a national poverty line rather than the international indicators mentioned above.

What's more interesting about this is that it explains why Georgia is operating three poverty line levels and has been doing so for some time. Yet, even so -- and despite the propaganda that seems to be lapped up in the Diaspora press about economic growth in Armenia and better social conditions than in Azerbaijan and Georgia -- Reuters (as quoted by Asbarez) today indicates that the 50% of the population in poverty in Georgia is using the under $4 a day mark, meaning they are in fact in better shape than us.

Well, anyway, it probably doesn't matter much. All three South Caucasian Republics are pretty much the same. In some areas, one might be better than the other (but not by much) but worse in another area. The main issue is whether the PRSP and the fight against corruption works and I hope that we can ensure it works here. Remaining silent about the situation and pretending we're in better shape (when we're about the same -- plus AND minus) isn't going to help anyone.

Think it's about time we woke up a little and started to take poverty seriously in this country even if it's hard to see past the neon-lit playground the clans and government officials have created for themselves in central Yerevan. One day perhaps, we can truly pat ourselves on the back for creating a socially just society. Today, however, isn't it.

For your interest the Armenian Government Poverty Reduction Strategy
Paper is online at:
Prior to posting the Mesrop Srpazan meeting below, I had not read it for years, nor at the time had a given the relevancy of it much thought.

What I have come to realize is that though it’s only $4,000, the way the $4,000 was collected and in whose name (an non-existent injured solider from the Artsakh war) should tell us that there is nothing holy to Kocharian and his government.

In addition to this, a question I asked at the time that went unanswered of if in fact Kocharian and Sarkisian each gave $4,000 was an accurate claim or not? I ask this as it is possible that $8,000 of government funds could have been diverted in the name of this “medical treatment” and ended up in someone's pocket.

The one line in this meeting that hits hard and speaks the loudest had to be when Mesrop Srpazan asks the mother if there was anything else that she has lost other than her husband and 2 children and she answers “I have nothing else left”. To me it seems that if someone could use such a person in such a condition to profit, that person is no longer human to me, nor should they be allowed to be members of our nation because their actions poison others in every possible way and send a negative message to future generations of what one is allowed to do for money, wealth and power.

One other thing that Mesrop Srpazan said was, “…there are other issues of the government eating money and they steel from the Diaspora and so on.” This is to say that our problem is not only Vahram, but many others.

When taking everything I have stated above into consideration and understanding that such people manipulate and control the law to avoid justice, you have to ask yourself what is a viable solution to ascertain justice? It makes one better understand why people are fleeing Armenia as if it’s a sinking ship.

Well for one I would think unity among the people that live here and in the Diaspora to take a common stance against these people that should be considered our nations “cancer” and dealt with accordingly is a good start. Maybe October 27th, 1999 was someone’s idea of intensive chemotherapy?

When I used the word “paralyzed” in my log to describe the reaction from the Diaspora to this situation, I’m remembered the article by Dr. Jack Danielian about my grandfather (Shahan Natalie: A Retrospective), and his statement: “Instead of becoming paralyzed by the genocidal atrocities he witnessed, he responded with furious outrage in speech and in print.” I read into Dr. Danielian’s statement to say that the natural reaction to such atrocities is to become parlayed.

Well sorry to break this news to all of you, but if the majority of us remain in a parlayed state, things are only going to get worse. Let me clue you into something. Read Dr. Danielian’s article and where it says “Turk”, plug in “corrupt Armenian”. Once you have done this, you should better understand that we have and are facing a self-inflicted genocide that as far as I know in our written history, Armenian has never before faced such a crime against our people and nation.

I’ve said this before and I’m saying it again, the Armenian nation is in under attack and this time from it’s own leaders on the ground here and in the Diaspora. You have a right to turn a blind eye to this genocide or to do something about it. When history is read by your grandchildren years from now about these challenging time we are facing and they ask you what you did to help, will you honestly be able to look them in the eyes and tell them you were part of the solution?

Feel free to shake loose of your paralyzed state and comment on what you have done up until now and if you plan on becoming active, or are just going to continue to watch and wait to see what happens?