Tuesday, August 31, 2004


18-25 August 2004

Humanitarian medicine was intentionally left to expire - 5: Bisharyan resigns

Hetq has reported that out of the entire supply of medicine that entered Armenia as humanitarian assistance in 2001-2002, one billion drams worth expired before it could be used.

In a recent development, the head of the Department of Medical and Technological Supply of the Ministry of Health, Artashes Bisharyan, who was in charge of the distribution of medicine sent to Armenia through humanitarian channels, handed in his resignation. Minister of Health Norair Davidyan accepted it, and Bisharyan was dismissed from office. Over the last year, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Armenia, the Ministry of Finance and the President's Supervision Service have carried out inspections and investigations of the Department of Medical and Technological Supply, attempting to find out what led to the waste of such a large quantity of medicine.

We have been informed by the Office of the Prosecutor General that the criminal investigation into this case is not yet closed. As we wrote before, Artashes Bisharyan has not been questioned by investigators so far. He was called into the Prosecutor's Office once, but failed to appear.

Edik Baghdasaryan

See also:

Humanitarian medicine was intentionally left to expire

Humanitarian medicine was intentionally left to expire - 2

Humanitarian medicine was intentionally left to expire - 3

Humanitarian medicine was intentionally left to expire - 4

Expired humanitarian medicine: Even the president got involved

I recently reposted an article that spoke of salaries to doctors and school teachers being an average of 29,000 dram a month.

I was visiting with a school teacher and asking what she receives each month, to which she said she was to receive this school year 29,000 dram a month, but added that once upon a time, a full work week signified 18 hours of work. As of January 2004 that was upped to 20 hours a week and starting September, it will be made 22 hours. She added that there is word that after January 2005, a full work week will be 24 hours.

Here is the real problem with this 20, 22 or 24 hour work week. It is now difficult to find that much work at school for a 20 hour week, but once the hours go over 20 hours, very few school teachers will be able to work a full week. Also in the “good days”, when a full work week was 18 hours and there were more students then there are now, there were quite a few teachers that that were working 27 hours a week and getting paid accordingly.

Another complaint the teacher had was that this year, every teacher has to have a medical checkup and obtain a report from their doctor that they are healthy and able to teach. The reason for the complaint was that the doctors visit cost 7,000 dram and the it is not the school that is paying for it, but the teacher itself. For those that refuse to see a doctor, they will be fined 30,000 dram.


18-25 August 2004

Business and Government: What is the state of economic rights in Armenia?

Human rights are no abstract notion. They are always concrete and specific in content. But when we speak about human rights, we tend to mean, for some reason, political and civil rights. We forget that human rights have a specific economic content as well, and that the violation of individual economic rights is one of the main factors hindering the development of civil society.

The implementation of a person's economic rights is connected to the right of the person to freely choose the forms and spheres of his or her economic activity. That is, the main elements of a person's economic rights are:

1) the right to chose the form of economic activity (individual, group, cooperative, etc.), 2) the right to chose the sphere and location of the economic activity.

If there are no particular problems in the Republic of Armenia with the first element, there are very serious problems with the second. There are, for example, spheres in Armenia where in order to do business it is necessary to get the OK either from the government or from the people or clans who have a monopoly in these spheres. Furthermore, the people with the monopoly are either relatives and friends of government officials or the government officials themselves. Thus, the OK to do business in these areas must inevitably come from the government. These "elite" and highly profitable areas of trade include oil, sugar, liquefied gas, etc.

On the whole, the situation in Armenia 's business sector is as follows: a businessman's economic "achievement", or his "success", does not depend at all on his professional abilities. The principal condition for a businessman's success is his degree of proximity to the government. The closer he is to the government, the more successful he is. The farther he is from the government, the less successful he is. If we take a look at the list of the most successful businessmen in Armenia, we see that those closest to the government are at the top of the list. There are no strangers on the list. How have these businessmen achieved their success?

First, in contrast to businessmen who are not close to the government, they have direct and easy access to financial resources, raw materials, etc.

Second, they receive state contracts.

Third, they are able to obtain "fat pieces" of state property without tenders or auctions.

Fourth, making use of legal loopholes and illegal schemes, they avoid taxes. They either pay no taxes at all, or they pay paltry amounts. It is no wonder that almost all successful businessmen describe unprofitable businesses on their annual balance sheets. This is a typical Armenian phenomenon, that a businessman can be successful without making a profit.

Moving on, even the location of a business depends on a governmental OK. For example, to do business in the center of Yerevan or other regional centers, one has to have close ties with the government. The nightclubs and cafes that surround the Opera House are a glaring example of this. There is no one who just happens to own one of these establishments; all of the owners are people who are close to the government.

Thus, there are serious problems with t he implementation of economic rights and the conditions for conducting business in Armenia, and unless they are solved, it will be impossible to establish civil society and the rule of law.

Eduard Agadjanov


YEREVAN, AUGUST 28. ARMINFO. Representatives of mass media of Armenia today held an action of protest in the resort town of Tsakhkadzor, which was aimed against the building of elite cottages in the forests near the town.

ARMINFO's correspondent informs from Tsakhkadzor, Advisor of the president of Armenia for fight against corruption Bagrat Yesayan joined the journalists on the way. Yesayan said that he had come to get acquainted with the situation in the place. Talking to journalists he did not exclude that the trees are cut down for carrying out construction works there. But he mentioned that this process must be regulated by a relevant legislation. Yesayan expressed hope that similar actions will promote increase of awareness of the society about the processes taking place in the republic. The advisor of the president condemned the recent incident when the guard of one of the elite cottages beat journalists who had tried to take a photograph of the territory guarded.

During the journalistic "round" a group of policemen headed by the Head of the Police of Hrazdan district Hunanian, tried to drive the "uninvited" guests out of the territory. After a talk of Bagrat Yesayan with the policemen tete-a-tete the employees of the police desponded to clear the territory from the journalists, and the shoot was resumed.

It should be noted that these villas belong to high-ranking officials of the country (Deputy Head of the Service of Police Armen Yeritsian, Head of the Administration of Kotayk region Kovalenko Shahgaldian, Head of Customs Committee Armen Avetisian) and deputies of the National Assembly of Armenia Levon Sargsian and Gagik Tsarukian.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I was reading an August 21st, 2004 ArmInfo article on Groong titled “Armenian opposition leader unhappy about foreign policy”.

The thing that I took notice of was when it was reported that the chairman of the new Liberal Progressive Party (LPP), Ovanes Ovanesyan, believes that the construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline is also in question as constructing a gas pipeline, which will be 77mm in diameter, will not do Armenia and Iran any good.

The pipe is only to be 77mm in diameter? Why will it be so small? Could Ovanesyan have been wrong or did the reporter not understand him and he said 770mm?

A 77mm in diameter pipe is more than 3 times smaller than the pipe that supplies gas to the Martuni region. It’s the size that a gas specialist told me would be an appropriate size to supply one military base that houses 2,000 people.

I hope that this is not an accurate statement as to the size, and if it is, Ovanes Ovanesyan would be right to say that it would not do Armenia and Iran any good.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Celitra? What is celitra?

In the last few year I have heard people talk about a white powdery substance called celitra, which is used to increase the yield of crops. I’m guessing this is some kind of fertilizer.

I know it comes in sacks that indicate that it is explosive and also clearly states that it is a product of Georgia.

The reason I ask the question of what is celitra is that the other day after eating watermelon, a few of the people who were eating with us got very sick and I was later told that it was celitra that caused the poisoning.

Today when I was talking with some friends about how fast our facial hair grows, one of them jokingly asked another if he uses celitra and for that reason his hair grows so fast.

That got me to wonder if his joke was all that far off, as my hair and nails have started to grow unusually fast these last couple of month and it makes me wonder if ingesting celitra could be the cause.

I remember a 60 minutes story many years ago about hormones in Mexico’s dairy products that was causing children to start puberty at a very young age.

Talking about hormones. Our chicken farm here in Martuni has to be using hormones, as they grow a 1 to 3 kilo chicken in 54 days. I can’t imagine this growth rate is due to lighting, music and a diet of organic grain.

Once upon a time, right after independence, there were practically no pesticides or chemical fertilizers available in Armenia and Artsakh, thus we always had organic fruits and vegetables. Our livestock was for the most part fed only natural feed.

That has now all seemed to change and you really have to wonder what chemicals are being used so someone can make a quick buck, but at what price to the consumer?

I have very little faith that our government body that monitors the quality of foods is properly monitoring this issue. I’ve seen firsthand how they work and if I think about it too much, I would give up eating.

Maybe it would be worth it to once again keep a garden, or find someone to grow for me organically grown fruits and vegetables, until this issue is resolved.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

24 August 2004

Armenian Journalist Beaten For Filming Luxury Villas

By Ruzanna Khachatrian

An Armenian photojournalist was beaten up Tuesday for taking pictures of plush mansions apparently belonging to a high-level police official and other government-connected individuals, the latest in a series of violent attacks on representatives of the country's media.

Mkhitar Khachatrian of the Photolur agency was attacked in Tsaghkadzor, a resort town in central Armenia where he was on assignment together with Anna Israelian, a correspondent for the independent daily "Aravot." Israelian was preparing an article about the damage to local mountainous forests caused by housing construction in recent years.

The two reporters told RFE/RL that they were surveying an expensive residential area when a man guarding one of its houses, reputedly owned by Armen Yeritsian, deputy chief of the national police, told Khachatrian to stop taking pictures.

"It was a very beautiful building and I wanted to photograph it," Khachatrian said. "He told me that I can't do that, saying 'Do you know whose neighborhood you have entered?'. But I did take a shot and left the neighborhood."

The reporters said they were later confronted by the same person at an indoor cafe as they were about to leave Tsaghkadzor. "The man who warned me against taking pictures recognized me and then called a group of other men. Suddenly one of them attacked me," said Khachatrian, who had traces of violence on his neck and arms.

The photographer added that the man kicked, punched, cursed and threatened to kill him. He said he prevented his expensive digital camera from being smashed by surrendering its picture storage card to the attackers. "They would have broken the camera had I not told them to take the card. I had no choice," he said.

Khachatrian described the attackers as burly men with "shaven heads and thick necks." The description matches the appearance of two dozen thugs that indiscriminately destroyed video and still cameras which filmed their attempts to stir up trouble at an opposition rally in Yerevan on April 5. Riot police stood by and refused to intervene, giving weight to reports that the violence was provoked by the Armenian authorities.

Israelian said he believes that the man who beat Khachatrian was the chief bodyguard of Levon Sargsian, a wealthy pro-government parliamentarian notorious for punching an opposition colleague two years ago. Also having a house in the same Tsaghkadzor area is Gagik Tsarukian, one of Armenia's richest men who also holds a parliament seat.

According to some media reports, Tsarukian's and Sargsian's men were among the participants of the April 5 rampage. Only two of them have faced a largely symbolic punishment for their role in the violence. A Yerevan court fined them 100,000 drams ($195) each on June 10 following a brief trial dismissed as a "farce" by Armenia's leading media associations.

Two of those groups, the Armenian Journalists Union and the Yerevan Press Club were quick to condemn the Tsaghkadzor attack. "The violence against the journalist and the obstruction of his work are the consequence of the failure to punish those guilty of the previous incidents," they said in a joint statement. "We demand a meaningful intervention from the law-enforcement bodies to identify and punish the guilty."

But Israelian, who lost her camera on April 5 and was a key witness at the subsequent trial, said it would be "ridiculous" for her to turn to the police again. Khachatrian, who is the author of the most famous photograph of victims of the catastrophic 1988 earthquake in Armenia, likewise said he will not lodge a formal complaint with the law-enforcement authorities.

Violence against Armenian journalists, uncommon in the past, increased dramatically this year with the start of the Armenian opposition's unsuccessful spring campaign to oust President Robert Kocharian. In the most serious of such incidents, four reporters were beaten up by security forces during the brutal of break-up of another opposition demonstration in Yerevan in the early hours of April 13. Two of them were severely injured.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

23 August 2004

Opposition Candidate Elected Mayor Of Stepanakert

By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert

An opposition candidate pulled off a surprise upset against the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) on Sunday when he was elected as mayor of its capital Stepanakert.

Eduard Aghabekian, who has so far headed the social affairs committee of the Karabakh parliament, cruised to a comfortable victory over his government-backed rival Pavel Najarian in the second, decisive round of the election. He won 58.6 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission.

The outcome of the run-of vote could herald a serious change in local politics dominated until now by the NKR President Arkady Ghukasian. Stepanakert is home to a large part of the Armenian-populated region's population.

Aghabekian hailed his victory as a triumph of democracy and pledged to live up to his voters' expectations. `Time for speaking on behalf of the people is gone. It is now time to work for the people,' he told RFE/RL.

Aghabekian trailed Najarian by more than 8 percentage points after the first of voting held on August 9 as part of local elections across the region. He has been endorsed by the Karabakh branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Stepanakert's outgoing mayor, Hamik Avanesian.

Aghabekian said the vote should also send a strong message to the international community. `We have shown the international community that elections in our unrecognized republics can be a success,' he said. `The country has remained peaceful and calm after the first round of voting. This means that a process of democratization is underway.'

The Karabakh elections have been angrily denounced as illegitimate by Azerbaijan. The outgoing secretary general of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, has similarly criticized them, saying that such `one-sided actions are counter-productive' before a resolution of the Karabakh conflict.

The NKR leadership, backed by Armenia proper, has rejected the criticism, repeating its argument that only elected representatives can govern the Karabakh Armenians.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

August 20, 2004

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

By John Hughes
ArmeniaNow Editor

Edgar Arakelyan isn't attending this week's "One Nation, One Culture" festival.

While 1,500 artists from 15 countries will celebrate Armenian spirit and unity with dance and song and theater, Arakelyan sits in prison for his role in rallying for (his idea of ) a unified Armenia. Arakelyan has become an accidental cause celebre of human rights' activists. I don't know enough to judge his character. But little insight is needed to see that he is a victim.

You may know the story. If not, here's a brief synopsis: During an Opposition-led political rally in April, police disbursed alate-night crowd by using water canons, percussion grenades and riot batons. During the melee, Arakelyan, 24, hurled a plastic water bottle that landed on a policeman.

For his action, he is now serving 18 months in jail. Just days ago, his final appeal was denied.

Now here's why we're repeating his story . . .

A month before Arakelyan's crime, another 24-year old, Hayk Aramyan, used anillegally-obtained gun to shoot and wound three men at a Yerevan nightspot. (The shooting, coincidentally, was heard by President Robert Kocharyan who was entertaining Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili at a nearby restaurant.)

This week, Aramyan pled guilty to what amounts to attempted murder. If one man gets 18 months for throwing an empty plastic water bottle into a crowd, what do you guess is the sentence for shooting three men in a nightclub? For Hayk Aramyan? Nothing. Today he can do as he pleases because a court set him free. He might even enjoy the festival, and no doubt could make aninteresting contribution to the "One Culture" theme. Aramyan profited from the one culture in Armenia that splits asunder any notions - no matter how earnestly celebrated - of this being "One Nation".

Aramyan was given a suspended sentence with no jail time because, at the time of his crime (to which, remind you, he pled guilty) his father was amember of the Government, the Minister of Urban Development. To argue otherwise about the merits of his defense is banal rhetoric.

And speaking of his defense: He didn't have one. He didn't even hire a lawyer. That's how confident Aramyan was that being part of the power elite would produce a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

One Nation, One Culture? Not for Edgar Arakelyan. And not, either, for Hayk Aramyan. Divisive lines are drawn between the powerful and the unprotected of Armenia and are enforced by whorish opportunists who'd rather profit from their positions than serve a people who deserve better treatment.

God bless those who come here and use their summer holidays to encourage better relations, understanding, cooperation, etc. But until Armenians of all nations pay more attention to issues that are at the heart of Armenia's double-standard justice and general disregard for human rights, feel-good festivals are little more than myopic perpetuations of a fantasy that has little in common with those here whose "One Nation" most often betrays them.

Friday, August 20, 2004

While visiting with a friend from Stepanagert yesterday, I learned some details from the fatal car accident I wrote about a couple of days ago.

It seems that not only was the pedestrian drunk, but Masis, the 22 year old driver for the Minister of Social Security was drunk.

According to the police, the car skidded for 30 meters before it came to a stop, which is an indication that it was traveling at 130 kilometers an hour, this in a 50 kilometer an hour pedestrian zone.

The victim, a man in his 30’s or 40’s, lost his wife to cancer 3 years ago and had two daughters, ages 15 and 16.

Though fatal car accidents of this kind don’t happen often here, drinking and driving is a very serious problem and being that one can pay a bribe if stopped while doing so, only adds to the problem and explains why it’s so common.

May the victim rest in peace, his orphaned daughters recover from loosing their father and may the law this time work as it should to punish the driver appropriately.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Were Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry spokesman, Colonel Ramiz Melikov’s statements about no state of Armenia in the South Caucasus in 25 years meant for the uneducated people?

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)--Responding to the recent hostile statements made by Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry, ARF- Dashnaktsoutiun Armenia Supreme Body member and Editor in Chief of "Yerkir" newspaper Spartak Seiranian said the appeal "to declare war on Armenia and liberate Karabagh" was made to incite the public.

On August 5, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that the chief spokesman for Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry, Colonel Ramiz Melikov, publicly stated that "within the next 25 years there will exist no state of Armenia in the South Caucasus." He added: "Modern Armenia is built on historical Azerbaijani lands...I think that in 25-30 years' time, its territory will again come under Azerbaijan's jurisdiction." Seiranian called such statements "absurd," adding it is meant for the uneducated people.

According to Seiranian, if Azeris believe they have such military force that can fight and win, one should not forget that the Armenian fighters are also ready to die for their homeland. "The Azeri warrior isn't ready to die for Karabagh, as he knows very well that Karabagh isn't his land; on the contrary, the Armenian fighter knows that he defends his homeland, and that's why he will go to all lengths," he said. Seiranian, recalling the victory of Armenian troops in the Karabagh war, stated confidently that if the situation recurs in the future, the outcome would not be any different.


I have been hearing long before Armenia declared independence that the most dangerous enemy Armenians have is not Turks, but Armenians themselves. Many times I’ve hear that Turkey’s army does not have to attack Armenia, all it has to do is sit back, wait for Armenia’s internal conflicts to weaken itself and Turkey can just take it over without a fight.

Well guess what? What I’ve been hearing all these years, I’m now seeing for myself. What Defense Ministry spokesman, Colonel Ramiz Melikov is saying is not so far from the reality and only uneducated people would make statements that Azerbaijan is going to depend on their military forces to invade and occupy Armenia.

What happened 10 years ago with the victory we had in Artsakh (Karabagh), was something we have never seen in Armenian history for the last 1,000 years. I believe our victory for the most part happened thanks to the USSR, which created conditions for Armenians prior to the conflict to live relatively comfortable lives, in which those that were fighting for their land, felt ownership and had a basic understanding that the lives the USSR had given them (which for the most part was artificially maintained by Moscow, thanks to Armenians in power who were taking more than they were entitled to) was a very good life and worth fighting to the death for.

Today’s Armenia is not the Armenia of yesteryear, which people have bank accounts with so much money, they don’t know how to spend it.

Today’s Armenia is filled with people whose same bank accounts exist, but the money in them irregardless of the amount is only worth 25,000 dram (less than $50) and you will only see that 25,000 dram after you turn 65 years old (as of today).

Today’s Armenia has a 30% unemployment rate and for many people who are employed, they are making less than $60 a month, which in today’s Armenia is a starvation wage.

Today’s Armenia is reeking with corruption and lawlessness. For those without money and/or connections could be the equivalent of living in hell, where most everything you have in a matter of an hour, you could loose in a very uncivilized and unjust way.

Today’s Armenia is being run by a dictator, who has time and time again demonstrated that he and his clan are only interested in power and wealth and are willing to ascertain this at any price, which includes the sale or disassembly of strategic infrastructure that was put in place by the USSR can somehow be justified in their minds.

Though I could give you a list with thousands of items that paints a picture of the real Armenia of today, some of which I would guess reflects the pre-Soviet Armenia, I won’t, as the above should give you an understanding that the victorious Armenia of 10 years ago and the Armenians that lived there are not the same Armenians of today and if we continue as we are, will be even less like those Armenians in 25 years.

The reality is that if we are going to have enough Armenian fighters that are ready to die for their homeland when the Azeri warrior attacks Artsakh, then we need to once again create the feeling of ownership in our people as they had back in the days that we tasted victory. If we don’t do this in the next few years, then the recent statement of the head of the Armenian government's Department on Refugees and Migration, Gagik Yeganian, warning of a persisting danger of renewed exodus of between 400,000 and 800,000 people in the next five to ten years, could become a reality, bringing Azeribaijan that much closer realizing their dream of no Armenia in the Southern Caucasus in 25 years, or at very least, an Armenia without Armenians.

Wake up people, it’s still not too late to turn things around and put them back on track, but we have to take action now to prevent the last pages of our history from being written.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The test scores are in from the last and final exam at the music conservatory.

Our applicant from Martuni who was given a score of 3 out of 20 in the second test that was improperly administered, with many applicants in her test room turning in practically blank papers, but received passing scores, received 17 out of 20 on the final test.

An hour and thirty minutes were allowed to complete the final test, which our applicant completed in 30 minutes, leaving the room with others still trying to figure out where to start.

It seems that the girl that the dean deemed as weak because she received a 3 in the second test, received a very high score in the final test, proving that when a test is administered fairly and the playing field is level, those that are truly strong do get their just reward.

As for the other two applicants, the stronger who scored higher on the second test, once again showed that she was the stronger of the two and was accepted, wining a full scholarship, while the other girl also was accepted, but will not attend since her family can’t afford the tuition fees.

What make this story interesting for me is that when the applications were being handed in, I spoke with the two applicants that were accepted and the one who was competing with for a full scholarship shared with me that the weaker applicant’s mother had struck a deal with a man named Voskanian (I had heard about this months earlier in Martuni from a friend of the mother’s), who has a high position at the conservatory. They agreed that the two applicants would receive an equal score, one of which would receive the full scholarship, which included a 25,000 dram stipend, the other would have to pay a tuition of $800 a year, which would be offset by the 25,000 stipend and the difference be split by the two applicants.

When the stronger of the two applicants told me this, I advised her against it and told her that if she was in fact stronger, then she should take the tests as they are administered and in the case that the weaker won the scholarship, I would speak to the Minister of Culture to straighten out the situation.

Though the stronger of the two applicants had not yet agreed to the deal, the first test score posted reflected they had scored equally. Before the posting of the second score, the stronger applicant approached Voskanian to ask if she could speak with him, to which he told her it was too late to talk. If this was an indication that a deal had been struck with the weaker applicant and Voskanian, I guess we will never know, as the stronger applicant’s score on the second test being much higher, would mean that she would have to fail the third and final test in order for the weaker applicant to receive the scholarship, which didn’t happen.

Now remains the option of if we will use the information we gathered this year for next years exams to make sure they are fair, or do we make an example of the dean, Voskanian and the staff at the conservatory now, to strike fear in the other educational institutions that they too could face the same fate?

If the law was fair and equal to all it’s citizens in Armenia today, Hayk Aramian, the son of a former minister and present chief adviser to parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian would be sitting in jail for 6 years for deliberately opening fire from an illegally owned handgun and injuring three men. In addition to this, judge Mnatsakanian Martirosian and trial prosecutor Koryun Piloyan would be investigated to see why they didn’t uphold the law.

Anyway, this is a common occurrence in the Armenian legal system, which if you ask me, needs a major overhaul, as it just does not seem to work as it should.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
17 August 2004

Ex-Minister's Son Avoids Jail For Cafe Shooting

By Ruzanna Khachatrian

The son of Armenia's former Minister for Urban Development Ara Aramian has been given a suspended six-year prison sentence for his role in a shootoutin a downtown Yerevan café last March, judicial officials said on Tuesday.

Hayk Aramian, 24, was convicted of deliberately opening fire from an illegally owned handgun and injuring three men late on Monday, according toan aide to the judge who presided over his one-day trial in a district court of Yerevan. Another defendant, a café guard, got a 3 ½-year suspended jailterm for stabbing Aramian and his companion.

The court hearings drew to a close a few hours after their start, with the judge, Mnatsakanian Martirosian, saying that he will hand down the verdicton Tuesday. Seeking to find out the precise time of its announcement, an RFE/RL correspondent phoned Mnatsakanian the next morning only to be told that the ruling was already delivered.

Other journalists covering the trial were likewise unable to hear the sentences. It is thus unclear when and in whose presence they were read out.

The punishment mirrored the one demanded by the trial prosecutor Koryun Piloyan and both defendants refused to hire defense attorneys, suggesting that they struck a deal with the investigators.

The shooting, an apparent settling of scores between two groups of young men, occurred in a café called Triumph late on March 12. It was reportedly heard by President Robert Kocharian who was entertaining his visiting Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili in an adjacent nightspot.

The incident triggered a scandal leading to the resignation of Aramian senior under apparent pressure from his Orinats Yerkir Party. But shortly afterward he was appointed as the chief adviser to parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, the Orinats Yerkir leader.

Aramian on Tuesday refused to comment on his son's conviction, saying only that the latter will not appeal it. The ex-minister has previously vigorously defended him.

"My son has never carried a weapon, smoked or drunk," he told RFE/RL last spring. "He has always served as a standard for people surrounding him."

Another senior member of Orinats Yerkir, Samvel Balasanian, claimed at the time that Hayk Aramian did not shoot at all. "It wasn't Aramian's son who opened fire. And why aren't you saying that Aramian's son was stabbed in the back?" he told journalists.

Hayk Aramian spent only two months in pre-trial detention and the court ruling means that he will avoid going to jail for what might have other wisebeen deemed a serious crime by the Armenian law-enforcement authorities. The clearly lenient punishment he got is certain to raise fresh questions about Armenian citizens' equality before the law.

It contrasts sharply with the 18-month imprisonment of another 24-year-old man who hurled a plastic bottle of mineral water at a police officer during the violent break-up of an opposition demonstration in Yerevan last April. The man, Edgar Arakelian, lost last week his last realistic chance of acquittal when Armenia's highest court turned down his appeal against the harsh punishment condemned by opposition leaders and human rights activists.
Here is a good indicator of the reality of our job market in Armenia and how our government is trying to cover up their inability to deal with this situation.

As indicated in this story, doctors and teachers are making on average 29,000 dram a month, which should explain why bribery in those areas of society are at such a high level. Reality is that if you pay starvation wages, people starve or are forced to steal (take bribes) to survive.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
17 August 2004

Survey Shows 30 Percent Jobless Rate In Yerevan

By Anna Saghabalian

A survey of the labor market funded by the European Union suggests a staggering 30 percent rate of unemployment in Yerevan which is three times higher than the figure reported by the Armenian government.

The EU-sponsored Armenian-European Policy and Legal Advice Center (AEPLAC)has randomly interviewed one thousand people in all districts of the capitalon their employment status, professional background and incomes. Accordingto its researchers, almost one in three respondents said they can not find ajob and half of them have university degrees.

The findings of the poll, made available to RFE/RL on Tuesday, differmarkedly from the official nationwide unemployment rate of roughly 10percent registered by the National Statistical Service. But they are largelyin tune with the estimates of independent economists and analysts. They havelong argued most of the Armenians out of work do not register with thegovernment's social services due to meager unemployment benefits and a lackof faith in their chances of finding a job with state support.

The AEPLAC survey confirms this belief, with as many as 75 percent of thosepolled saying that they have never applied to employment centers run by theMinistry of Labor and Social Affairs. Most of those who have done so do notexpect positive results, the poll shows.

The poll also found that unemployment is particularly high among engineers,a telling indicator of Armenia's post-Soviet industrial decline. "The lackof industrial development means that many engineers can not find work," saidHayk Barseghian, a leading AEPLAC analyst.

Unemployment has been the driving force of the mass out-migration of peoplefrom Armenia. At least 700,000 Armenians have left their country in searchof employment abroad, mainly for Russia and other ex-Soviet states, sinceindependence.

Government officials say the improving economic situation has reduced theprocess to a trickle in recent years. However, the unemployment remains veryhigh despite nearly a decade of economic growth -- a fact confirmed by theAEPLAC survey.

Speaking to RFE/RL, the head of the Armenian government's Department onRefugees and Migration, Gagik Yeganian, warned of a persisting danger ofrenewed exodus, arguing that the current pace of job creation is still tooslow.

"The positive trends of the last two years must not be regarded asirreversible," Yeganian said. "They could change very quickly.

"This shaky improvement can not last for long unless the situation improvesdramatically. Otherwise, it could set off a new, more powerful wave [ofemigration] which could affect between 400,000 and 800,000 people in thenext five to ten years."

The AEPLAC, which was set up in 1999 to help Armenia forge closer ties withthe EU, also sought to ascertain incomes of Yerevan-based workers. Based onthe respondents' answers, its survey estimates the average wage in the cityat 55,000 drams ($106). The nationwide average measured by officialstatistics is 40,000 drams.

The poll also found substantial gender inequality in the amount of pay, withmen earning 70,000 drams and women 40,000 drams on average. Finance andbanking sector employees were found to be the highest paid workforce with130,000 drams a month, followed by lawyers who make 91,000 drams. Publicsector doctors and school teachers are in the lowest pay category withsalaries averaging 29,000 drams, according to the research.
A warning from the NKR Minister of Social Security would tell you that public drunkenness and driving over the speed limit is a deadly combination.

And why would the Minister of Social Security tell you this? Well it seems that the fatal car accident that I came across this evening on the main boulevard that cuts up the center of Stepanagert, 50 meters from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, involved a pedestrian who was possibly intoxicated and the Minister of Social Security’s white Niva (license number 068LL90).

From the looks of the car, which the hood and windshield were smashed in, it appeared that the car was probably going over the 50 kilometer speed limit.

The people who were at the scene told me that the Niva hit the pedestrian, who hit the hood and windshield, then somehow ended up under the car, which dragged it up the street before it could come to a stop.

The area was blocked off and the police investigators were taking measurements of where the pedestrian’s slippers were, where the car was stopped and where the blood stained the asphalt.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
16 August 2004

TB-Infected Woman Hospitalized After RFE/RL Alert

By Emil Danielyan

A single woman facing starvation in a rundown residential complex in Yerevanhas been diagnosed with tuberculosis and hospitalized by medical authoritiesafter they were alerted by RFE/RL.

Zarik Hakobian, 44, is one of several hundred low-income residents of aformer factory hostel in the city's southern Erebuni district reduced to aslum dwelling after years of government neglect and indifference. She sharesits damp and disease-prone ground floor with about a dozen families mired inextreme poverty.

They said last week they have long suspected that Hakobian, a white-hairedskeletal woman who looks much older, is suffering from TB. Their fears wereborne out by doctors from a local policlinic who visited and examined herseveral days later, following an instruction from the health care departmentof the Yerevan municipality.

The head of the policlinic, Marieta Andreasian, told RFE/RL that Hakobianwas taken to a special tuberculosis clinic in Abovian, a town north ofYerevan, early on Monday. She said all of the woman's neighbors, among themsmall children, will now be checked for symptoms of the potentially deadlydisease which has spread dramatically in Armenia in recent years.

Andreasian confirmed that poor living conditions and a lack of sanitationwere the main cause of the TB infection. "Tuberculosis is a social diseasethat results from poverty," she said.

Evidence of the poverty abounds inside and outside the Soviet-era building.Its tiny rooms lack basic amenities and its courtyard is littered withgarbage. Some of the residents believe that the infectious lung diseasekilled at least two of their neighbors last year. But Andreasian effectivelydenied this, saying that her policlinic has not registered any TB casesthere before.

Citing a major increase in the number of such cases since the 1990s, theArmenian government approved last December a three-year action plan aimed attackling the disease. Officials said at the time that widespreadmalnutrition and a lack of heating in the winter makes Armenians vulnerableto the disease. More than 100 people died of TB last year, according to theArmenian Ministry of Health.

The incidence of tuberculosis is particularly high among prisoners.According to government estimates, some 400 inmates, or about 10 percent ofArmenia's prison population, have contracted the illness.

In the words of Vahan Poghosian, a ministry official in charge of theprogram's implementation, there about 6,000 officially registered TB casesin Armenia. Poghosian admitted that their real number may be higher as theauthorities are unable to register all such cases among impoverished peoplewho often can not afford health care.

"Finding and treating such individuals free of charge is one of the keyobjectives of the program," he said.

The anti-TB plan is worth at least $5 million and will require substantialexternal funding in order to be put into practice. Two German governmentagencies have so far been the biggest contributors, pledging to spend 2.25million euros ($2.8 million) on the provision of relevant drugs and medicalequipment as well as the training of local medical personnel.

Also involved in the effort will be the International Committee of Red Crossand possibly the French-Belgian charity Medecins Sans Frontieres. The RedCross has already provided $1 million to the construction of a tuberculosisward at Armenia's main prison hospital.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

RFE/RL interviewed me last month for their radio program, which broadcasted on July 17th. If your interested in hearing the interview, you can download it from their archive at: ftp://realaudio.rferl.org/wma/ch2/20040717-1630AR.wma.

My interview starts 9 minutes and 30 seconds into the broadcast. Only thing that is not all that great is the edit job which sounds a little choppy and left out quite a few words that leaves a few of my sentences a little hard to understand. I guess that’s what happens when you take a 40 minute interview and edit it down to 5 minutes.

There is also an interview that was broadcasted on July 7th, which Raffi Kojian and Onnik Krikorian gave. This interview can be found in the RFE/RL archive at: ftp://realaudio.rferl.org/wma/ch2/20040707-1630AR.wma.

Happy listening!!!

Friday, August 13, 2004

Though the following proposal to the US government’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program may look good on paper, this is another absurd proposal from the Armenian government that will just further perpetuate corruption and make some already powerful and rich people more powerful, richer and help root them deeper in place so removing them will become harder.

This proposal which I would love to see the details of is proposing that we spend from $2,545.45 to $3,333.33 per hectare to improve the quality of the soil in order to increase yields by 40%.

If you want to know how to increase yields by 50%, all you have to do is apply basic rules of agriculture which have been proven in Artsakh, that you don’t follow the wisdom of 70 years ago that said in order to “clean” the field, after harvest, you burn the remaining dried vegetation, plow and plant. No my friends, this just does not work and dries out the soil. What does work is not to burn, plow deeper and allow the soil to rest every 3rd year.

A friend of mine did just this and while his neighbors on 4 sides of him have been doing it the burning way for years, he did it the right way, yielded over 50% more than they did, meaning he got over 3 tons of wheat per hectare, while they got only a ton and a half per hectare.

If we want to improve agriculture output and put to use our 273,000 of irrigated arable lands, then take that $14 million (enough for 63,636 hectares to be planted with wheat) and provide good information and real loans to farmers, so they can learn to fish for themselves.

Just so you better understand the costs of what it takes to plant a hectare of land with wheat, in all, it’s around $120. If the land is going to be planted for the first time after being neglected for many years, you have to add an additional $100 for a plantation plowing (these figures are based on my personal observations).

Now where the additional $2,000 to $3,000 per hectare is being spent, I’m really not sure, but have a really good idea.

Thursday 12, August 2004

Government Seeks U.S. Aid For Land Improvement

By Armen Zakarian

The Armenian government disclosed on Thursday its first proposals for additional U.S. assistance under the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program, saying it will seek funds to fertilize and expand Armenia’s scarce agricultural lands.

Officials said the cabinet approved a $14 million project drawn up by the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture to “radically improve” the quality of 5,500 hectares of land mostly located in the southern Ararat Valley [$2,545.45 per hectare].

Only 2,500 of it is being cultivated. According to a senior ministry official, Mamikon Gasparian, the U.S. money would increase yields of the crops grown there by up to 40 percent. He said it would also help to make the remaining 3,000 hectares arable.

Gasparian said the project is part of a broader government plan for the melioration of 30,000 hectares of arable land. The plan’s total cost is close to $100 million and its implementation will take years, he said [$3,333.33 per hectare].

The total area of irrigated arable lands in Armenia is estimated at 273,000 hectares. About one third of them are located in the Ararat Valley, the mountainous country’s main supplier of fruits and vegetables.

Armenia, which has already been a major per-capita recipient of U.S. assistance, is eligible for MCA funding along with 15 other developing nations. The stated purpose of the scheme announced by President George W. Bush in 2002 is to promote economic and political reforms around the world.

Under the terms of the MCA, Armenia must submit specific proposals as to how much money it needs and for what purpose. A special government commission headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian has been working on them since last spring.

Markarian said earlier that the government would like to primarily spend the extra U.S. funds on the reconstruction of the battered infrastructure of the country’s impoverished rural regions. He said Yerevan hopes to secure at least $500 million in MCA funding in the next five years.
I was at my fiancé’s house yesterday and while sitting on the carpet in her living-room watching television, I noticed a sparkling item on the floor. I pointed this out to her brother who is 15 years old, who promptly picked it up to discover a fake diamond.

He asked me if it was real, what it would be worth, to which I answered it would have been worth a few hundred dollars.

He said that it would be great if the whole floor was covered in diamonds a meter deep and if it was, he would give me a hand full, guessing they would be worth a $100k. Would that not make me happy?

I looked to him and asked if he forgot I’m Armenian, to which he said that he understood I would only be happy if he gave me half and after receiving that, I would only really be happy after I had his half too.

I could only laugh, as here we have a 15 year old, who lives in a town/village but has a good idea as to what is going on in the Armenian world today.
Thursday 12, August 2004

Economic Growth Still Irrelevant To Armenia’s Poorest

By Emil Danielyan

Yevgenia Grigorian gets to see the place of her baby daughter’s tragic death every day as she passes the sixth floor of a rundown apartment block in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district.

The space between safety rails of its atrocious staircase was too wide to prevent 19-month-old Izabella from accidentally falling to the ground just over a year ago. In a figurative sense, it is perhaps as wide as the abyss between the girl’s family and a small class of rich Armenians that have been the prime beneficiaries of an almost decade of economic growth trumpeted by the authorities to the applause of Western donors.

Once a hostel for Soviet-era factory workers, the building is now home to some 150 families. Many of them live in inhuman conditions that do not seem to bother much the local and central governments.

Just across the potholed street, literally meters way from the building, is a compound of luxury villas housing the extended family of a local mini-tycoon who was ostensibly elected to Armenia’s parliament with pledges to aid the local people which he does not seem to honor. The mind-boggling contrast is a potent symbol of the growing polarization between the richest and poorest strata of the population. The scene is only a 15-minute drive from the Armenian capital’s increasingly posh center, a deceptive oasis of prosperity and development.

“When I go out to the center I am really impressed. But when I return home I think, ‘Oh my God, I am back in hell’,” Yevgenia Grigorian says amidst the squalor of her family’s two rooms lacking basic amenities such as toilette and running water.

“I can’t live here anymore. The kids are also sick and tired,” she says of her four remaining children.

The oldest of them, a 14-year-old boy, has to sell flowers in the streets in order to somehow support a family whose sole guaranteed income is 14,000 drams ($27) in monthly social benefits paid by the state. Dropping out of school, where he was repeatedly berated by teachers for failing to buy exercise books, increasingly looks like an option for the family.

School is still one of the few sources of joy for one of his three sisters, 11-year-old Tatevik. “My biggest dream is to have my own school,” she says smilingly, standing barefoot on the concrete floor.

Frida Harutiunian, a neighbor and mother of two effectively separated from her husband, has a similar story to tell. She quit her last job because of poor health two months ago and has since been selling her modest property to make the ends meet.

“Yesterday I sold my kitchen pans to buy the children some bread,” she says. “I have an old washing machine. I want to sell it as well to buy them school stationery. They have no bags, no clothing, nothing.”

The two families are in the category of Armenians officially considered to be living in “extreme poverty.” According to government statistics, they make up 16 percent of the population, each of them living on less than 7,600 drams a month.

The figures show that just over half of the country’s households live below the official “normal” poverty line of 12,600 drams per person. That means a four-member family with a monthly budget worth $100 is not considered poor by the government -- a highly questionable judgment given the soaring cost of life in Armenia.

The government has declared “poverty reduction,” the Western donors’ buzzword in developing nations in recent years, the centerpiece of its economic policies. It has pledged to reduce the poverty rate to 19 percent by 2015 through job creation, improved tax collection and more public spending. Continued economic growth, which hit a record-high official rate of 14 percent last year, is thus essential for the success of the plan endorsed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Annual increases in the government’s tax revenues have so far been quite modest, however. The state budget is now even more reliant on the value-added and excise taxes, mainly paid by ordinary Armenians, amid a thriving tax evasion among the country’s big businesses, many of them owned by government-connected individuals. Astonishingly, government proceeds from payment of corporate profit tax last year were 30 percent lower (in dollar terms) than in 1996 when the Armenian economy was probably half its present size.

All of which suggests that the bulk of extra wealth generated by the economic growth has not been taxed and channeled into the cash-strapped public sector. Instead, it has materialized into plush villas, cars and restaurants for the rich. At this pace of change it is highly doubtful that the lot of people like Yevgenia Grigorian and Frida Harutiunian will improve in the foreseeable future.

“The development that is going on in the center of Yerevan is a façade to the reality of socioeconomic conditions in Armenia,” says Onnik Krikorian, a British journalist of Armenian descent who has extensively researched the country’s poverty. “It doesn’t take very much to leave the city center just for a little bit and see that there are people living in very bad conditions. I have seen apartment buildings that have literally fallen apart.”

In many ways, the Erebuni neighborhood is a microcosm of modern Armenia. Its local administration chief and representative to the parliament are wealthy individuals who hold sway in the area. They both bought votes to get elected and are better known to locals with their notorious nicknames rather than social work. Grigorian says the only aid she ever received from the parliamentarian, whose royal lifestyle can be observed from the lowly hostel, was 5,000 drams ($10) given for the funeral of her baby.

The building’s ground floor hides even greater misery. Constantly flooded with sewage waters spreading foul smell and dampness, it is a breeding ground for life-threatening disease. Mariam Papanian, a single mother, has a womb tumor and is due to undergo surgery. But Papanian’s biggest pain and worry is her 8-year-old daughter suffering from cancer.

“You can’t stay healthy living here,” she says.

At least two other ground-floor residents are said to have died over the past year. Neighbors suspect that the death was caused by tuberculosis. Local officials deny this.

They should have seen Zarik Hakobian, an extremely gaunt woman facing a slow death in her tiny room. She needs a few minutes to leave her bed and open the door to visitors, breathing heavily. She longs not for food but for hospitalization. Ironically, one of Armenia’s biggest hospitals, also called Erebuni, is around the corner.

Another shock is to learn that Hakobian, who neighbors say has spent years collecting food from garbage dumps, is only 44. She looks much older. Officials at Armenia’s Ministry of Health and the Yerevan municipality alerted by RFE/RL promised to send doctors to inspect Hakobian.

Saving her life alone would hardly mark a change in the overall government neglect of the most vulnerable and downtrodden citizens. The deputy head of the Erebuni district, Samvel Markarian, was remarkably frank when he was asked what his administration plans to do to alleviate the plight of the hostel residents.

“Is it our problem?” he said. “Let them not live there if they don’t like that place.”

But the residents can only dream about that, unable to afford any other accommodation. As one of them put it, “I’m ready to live even in a tent just to see my children breathe fresh air.”

(Photo by Onnik Krikorian: Zarik Hakobian sitting on her bed.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

This week has so far been great!!!

The good days started upon my return to Martuni, after I finished my work in Yerevan.

On Sunday, I took the responsibility of being Godfather to my fiancés sister and husband, who were married civilly a couple of years ago, but in order to have their first born baptized, they had to have a proper Church wedding, which they did, just before we baptized their son (my newest Godson).

The week continued on track and with more good news, when my fiancé and I had a proper Church engagement at a spring in Jardar which was built in the memory of my fiancé’s father. It was performed by Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, who has known me since I was one and a half years olds. He serves in our Church in Jerusalem with my uncle. The whole thing was so beautiful and felt so right to all of us.

Tomorrow, I am taking Aris Srpazan to the military show in Aghdam so we can witness for ourselves how powerful our army is. It should really be a memorable event.

The week to follow I expect to be very relaxing, as I am finally back to Martuni with my fiancé and we really don’t have any worries other than minor work I have to deal with, but nothing that will cut into our time together.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
6 August 2004

Corruption Monitoring Body Holds First Meeting
By Hrach Melkumian

An ad hoc commission tasked with monitoring the Armenian government's declared fight against corruption met in Yerevan on Friday for the first time to map out its activities already dismissed as mere window-dressing by the opposition.

The monitoring commission is part of the Council on Combating Corruption, a high-level body coordinating and overseeing the implementation of the government's anti-graft strategy drawn up late last year. The commission is headed by an adviser to President Robert Kocharian, Bagrat Yesayan, and comprises the leaders of the Armenian parliament's pro-presidential factions, government officials and representatives of several non-governmental organizations.

Members of the parliament's opposition minority were also asked to join it last month, but turned down the offer, describing the government effort as a "farce." Opposition leaders said the authorities are themselves sponsoring corrupt practices and will never tackle them in earnest.

One of the non-governmental members of the monitoring commission, Edik Baghdasarian of the Armenian Association of Investigative Journalists, also sounded skeptical. "The most trendy phrase in Armenia now is the fight against corruption," he told RFE/RL after the meeting. "You can hear it from everyone: deputies, government officials, journalists, non-governmental organizations. But nothing real has so far been done in any sphere, even though the media have publicized many facts."

Baghdasarian and other reporters working for his association's Hetq-online publication have extensively covered the controversial sale and lease of public land in Yerevan for commercial development. The decisions taken by the Yerevan municipality in recent years have resulted in a dramatic shrinkage of the city's green areas now occupied by open-air cafes. Many of them are owned by senior government, law-enforcement and military officials or their relatives.

Hetq reports have said the land distribution has often violated laws and zoning regulations, suggesting that bribery and favoritism were its driving force. The Association of Investigative Journalists is currently locked in a court battle with the Mayor Yervand Zakharian's office over the latter's refusal last year to make available copies of all mayoral decisions regarding land allocations in the public park surrounding the city's Opera House. The association's lawsuit against the municipality was turned down by a Yerevan court of first instance in June and it is now contesting the ruling in a higher court.

Baghdasarian said he will ask the monitoring commission at its next meeting in September to investigate Zakharian's decision last December to sell large chunks of municipal land just before raising its price. "I have calculated that the state suffered millions of dollars worth of losses as a result," he said. "If nothing is done about it, I will definitely thank them and say that I have nothing to do in the commission."

Yesayan, meanwhile, assured reporters that his commission is able to make a difference by studying the problem and pressing government agencies to comply with anti-corruption measures.

The council to which the commission is subordinated is personally headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. Among its members are several government ministers.

The success of the council's stated mission was called into question last June by a senior representative of the Berlin-based watchdog Transparency International. He said the body is likely to be ineffectual because it is not independent.

Friday, August 06, 2004

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 08/05/2004

Government Approves More Rights For Armenian Orphans

By Armen Zakarian

The Armenian government approved on Thursday a set of measures designed to give children living in state-run orphanages more rights and facilitate their future integration into the society.

The changes took the form of draft amendments to a law on the social security of children deprived of parental care. Officials said they will be discussed by parliament this fall.

"Children living in orphanages must be immune to any kind of violence, exploitation and sexual abuse," Ashot Yesayan, the deputy minister of labor and social affairs, told a news briefing after a weekly cabinet meeting.

Yesayan specified that the amendments spell out 20 requirements that will have to be met by all orphanage administrations. He said those include giving the orphans the right to choose their clothes, make unrestricted phone calls to their friends and relatives and have some "pocket money."

"Any child must have a certain sum at their disposal depending on their age," he added.

The proposed changes are also meant to tackle the equally serious problem of those orphans who have nowhere to live, work or study after coming of age. Other officials from the Social Affairs Ministry have said that many of them have to stay in the orphanages for that reason.

Under one of the draft amendments to the law every homeless person who has left an orphanage since 1992 must be provided with free housing by the government. Yesayan put their number at 180, saying that 55 of them were given apartments in Yerevan and elsewhere in Armenia last year and 75 others will get them this year. The provision of housing will be complete by the end of 2005, he said.

The government decision comes after a major toughening earlier this year of official rules for the adoption of Armenian children by foreign nationals. In February ministers imposed additional restrictions on the practice in an apparent reaction to media reports suggesting widespread corruption among government officials handling the process.

In another move aimed reducing foreign adoptions which hit a record-high number of 76 in 2003, the government approved a scheme offering local families financial incentives to take in and raise orphans.

According to government figures, there are about 600 such children in Armenia -- a relatively low figure for a country of 3 million that has gone through dramatic political and social upheavals since the Soviet collapse. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of them have at least one parent, usually a single mother, who is unable to support them.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 08/03/2004

Education Minister Denies Resignation Rumors

By Armen Zakarian and Gayane Danielian

Minister of Science and Education Sergo Yeritsian denied on Tuesday persisting rumors about his impending dismissal, saying that he continues to be trusted by both his Orinats Yerkir Party and its coalition partners.

Yeritsian, who is one of the three Orinats Yerkir ministers in the coalition cabinet, has been the subject of such speculations ever since the scandalous ouster two months ago of one his deputies, Aida Topuzian. She was reportedly sacked on suspicion of abetting chronic bribery and nepotism during secondary school graduation examinations.

The move was interpreted by some media as a prelude to Yeristian's resignation. The speculation intensified after President Robert Kocharian ordered his oversight service to closely monitor the notoriously corrupt process of admissions to state-run universities which began last month.

Officials from the presidential administration have since been present at all admission exams with the stated aim of preventing and detecting corrupt practices. There have already been reports of conflicts between them and representatives of the Education Ministry and the university administrations.

"Those problems have been artificially complicated in recent months," Yeritsian told reporters. "I can say for sure that I will work for long. You can witness that in the course of the coming years."

Yeritsian added that Kocharian and the government support him because he is key to the success of the ongoing reforms in Armenia's education sector which are financed by loans from the World Bank. "Probably those reforms can not have the same effectiveness in the event of personnel changes," he said.

The minister also claimed that the presence of officials from the presidential staff at the university exams is not an indication of Kocharian's doubts about his integrity. "I myself asked the president to provide such assistance during these admission exams," he said.

Yeritsian's removal would deal a potentially devastating blow to the credibility of Orinats Yerkir which is led by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. The two other Orinats Yerkir ministers appointed when Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's cabinet was formed in June 2003 lost their jobs in embarrassing circumstances earlier this year. One of them, Urban Development Minister Ara Aramian, had to quit over his son's apparent involvement in a high-profile gunfight in downtown Yerevan.

One of Baghdasarian's new appointees, Culture Minister Hovik Hoveyan, has also been dogged by controversy. Hoveyan sparked an uproar from the country's intellectual elite when he named Orinats Yerkir members to run several cultural institutions shortly after his appointment in April. He was forced on Tuesday to again defend his staffing policy.

"Reports about my appointments being related to the Orinats Yerkir Party are extremely exaggerated," an irritated Hoveyan told a news conference. "Why do you link our cultural policies to Orinats Yerkir?"

One of the officials sacked by Hoveyan, Sos Petrosian, was subsequently reinstated by a court as the director of the Armenian State Circus. The court ruling came despite the Culture Ministry's calls for law-enforcement authorities to prosecute on Petrosian on charges of mismanagement and financial abuses.

Strangely enough, Hoveyan claimed he is happy that state prosecutors have not launched criminal proceedings against the circus chief. "We believe that the Office of Prosecutor-General was right not to open a criminal case because the law must protect the cultural elite," he explained.
Entrance examinations for institutes of higher education are in full swing in Armenia

The President’s office has set up a monitoring body to make sure that the admissions process is properly administered in an attempt to prevent corruption, namely people paying bribes for entrance.

For the last few years I have been monitoring the admissions process in Artsakh to better understand where corruption exists and why people feel the need to pay bribes? For the first time, this year, I took that knowledge and applied it on a small scale to protect the rights of three girls from Martuni, who decided that they would try out of the Music Conservatory in Yerevan.

For me this assignment could not have come at a better time, with not only the President’s office monitoring the process, but also the World Bank questioning if funds allocated for education were properly being used so education is ascertainable to the general populous on a level playing field. The outcome of the process would give me a much clearer picture of the real process so next year I can try to put into place a true monitoring body to do what clearly the President can’t do and that is to really create the level playing field that the World Bank is expecting.

My first step was to talk to former employees of the conservatory and students that have and are attending and persons who have applied and failed the entrance examinations. This information was plentiful and painted a very bleak picture of what education in Armenia is all about.

In short education today is all about who you know and how much of a gift (bribe) you are willing to pay. For the conservatory, there are 3 tests which one has to take.

In the case of the three girls from Martuni, all of who are trying out for the vocal section, the first test is connected to their specialty, this being a vocal test. To understand if this was done properly, I had the help of a vocal specialist, who stood under the window of the exam room and listened.

The vocal test is done in a non-transparent way today, meaning that during the days of the Soviet, all specialty tests were recorded so if there was a question of if it was properly administered, the actual test could be reviewed. Today, no one other than the person being tested and their accompanist is allowed inside the test room and there are no recordings (other than those done with very sensitive microphones held under windows). This is being done according to a former employee, so they can give whatever score they want to, based on who you know and what you paid, but in most cases, they don’t give you less than what you actually deserve, but you can purchase a higher score to win a spot over someone who in a fair competition would have beat you. Our findings showed all this to be true. Of our three girls, one got what she deserved and the other two got better than what they were entitled to.

The second and third tests are musical composition tests, the first being dictation. Two of our girls are trying for a spot in the Armenian Cultural Folk Music section and one for the Classical Music section. For the girls in the Armenian Cultural Folk Music section, they were given a dictation exam, to which the stronger of the two told me that she was amazed as to how simple the exam was, though she would be happy if she just got a passing grade. She also told me that our other girl wrote almost nothing. She said that the room was filled with students that had blank faces and it looked as if many would fail this exam.

The girl who is trying for the classical music section reported that in her exam room of 25 students, a couple including herself wrote something, but for the most part, examinees were turning in blank papers which had a few notes written on them. She also reported that there was an unbearable amount of noise in the room and no one from the staff to keep this under control (examinees humming).

I had a composition expert on hand to help me monitor the exams and playing back the recording of the exams I arranged, you would think that you were in a hornets nest. The specialist told me that she herself would have had a difficult time to concentrate and added that dictation requires an environment of silence. The specialist also pointed out that the piano player in the classical music dictation repeated the dictation 22 times, and the last note was played differently each time, making it impossible to decide if was a quarter, half or full note. She said this was probably done intentionally to make sure there was room in case an examinee who would get a perfect score could be marked down one point if need be so they could pass their person with a perfect score. When the exam let out, I witnessed some very sad faces of examinees who told me that they knew they failed.

The day following the dictation exam, I was expecting the results to reflect that at least 20 examinees had fail. To my surprise, there were only a hand full that failed, including the girl trying out for the classical music section. It was clear that what I was pre-warned about held true, which was that the dictation exam is written in pencil and for those who have connection or paid a bribe, those persons test were corrected and they were given a passing grade. This was confirmed as the other two girls had told me their parents established connections within the conservatory and their faith was already determined, where the girl who "failed the exam" was trying to be admitted on her own merit.

I paid a visit to the Dean of the conservatory the following afternoon to share with him my findings and to make a case for the girl who had been eliminated from the competition. As a rule, the Dean is not allowed to see anyone until the exams are completed, but the temptation of seeing a guest from America was an exception he could not resist (probably thinking I was there to give a gift or something), though I’m sure now he is wishing he had.

I presented my argument to the Dean and explained to him that there was a very serious technical violation in the way the test was administered which was clearly the fault of his staff. He immediately became defensive and asked me if I was there to see it for myself. I told him in a sense I was. He said that was impossible. I asked him if he would like to hear the recordings himself and had in hand on a CD of them. He asked me how I obtained the recordings, to which I told him it was better he didn’t ask that. He refused to listen to the recordings, but continued to listen to what I had to say. He asked that irregardless of the noise, did not everyone have the same exam and were test scores not determined on those tests? I said yes, and told him that many used their connections and gifts to obtain those scores. Instead of refuting my claims and asking me to present him with evidence to support my claims, he changed the subject and made me an offer for the girl who didn’t establish connections and failed the exam after telling me that even if he wanted to allow her to retake the exam, all exams were stamped and registered with the government.

In short, he offered to admit the girl as a pre-first-year student, but she will participate in the first year courses and will take exams as a first year student. The next year, she will once again take entrance exams, be admitted as a first year student and then in the second month of the school year, will be elevated to a second-year student. What this means is that she has been admitted as an unofficial first-year student not based on any test scores, but by the power the Dean has, meaning that if it was not me and some parent desperate to get their child in, they could give a few thousand dollars and get their child in as an unofficial first-year student (which is something a former employee told me does happen).

Now that I have a much better understanding of the entrance examinations, next year I plan to put together an official monitoring body that will hopefully level out the playing field so that students are admitted based on their abilities and not on who they know and how much they pay. Of course the Music Conservatory will once again be one of our targets. If there are any people who are interested in participating and plan to be in Yerevan around this time next year, contact me so you can be on the monitoring staff.

Yea, I could have made a huge stink about this, pulled out all the stops and got a few people fired in the end, but my intention this year was to better learn in a hands on way of what really happens, not based on what people told me happens, but what I discovered for myself (though what people told me was exactly what I discovered).

Oh and as for the Dean. Though he was on the defensive and we both raised our voices, in the end (as it always turns out), he was calling me Janig (my darling), gave me his private phone number, a firm hand shake and big smile when I left his office.