Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Who is Jirayr Sefilyan? It sounds to me that it’s not a new power that he wants to form, but a new Opposition to come to power, since one of the Opposition figures thinking about their own pockets is one of the people that he says will possibly be involved in this new power.

We don’t need a new power, but a new way of thinking and this not just in our “leaders”, but also with the greater population.

A1 Plus | 16:18:14 | 29-09-2004 | Politics |


Jirayr Sefilyan, Coordinator of social initiative for "Protection of Liberated Territories" has today announced in National Press Club that there is no ideological contradiction between Opposition and Authorities. Moreover, there is no ideological contradiction between the former and present Authorities, he says.

As to Opposition, Jirayr Sefilyan thinks no Opposition figure worries about the interests of the nation. They think either about their own pocket, or serve the foreigners. In that case it is necessary to form a new power, which won't be spoilt, will have national ideas and will put the national interest higher the personal one.

We asked Sefilyan if it was probable that he might have a decisive role in creating that power. He said it was possible, moreover, he could assume the responsibility to form the power.

Jirayr Sefilyan said it was also possible that Karabakhi Army General Samvel Babayan and Aram Sargssyan, brother of Vazgen Sargssyan may involve in the process, too.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Though this is a long story, it is very relevant to my January 6, 2004 log about Vahram Parseghyan, who is the former Deputy Minister of Culture and President of the Republic of Armenian’s All Armenian Youth Foundation and is now Preident Kocharian’s controller.

According to this story, the All Armenian Youth Foundation has received at least $350,000 in grants and is questioning if that money was in fact used for its intended purpose. If you read my log from January 6, 2004, it should tell you that there is a really good chance that this money was most probably misappropriated, as this ArmeniaNow story implies.

Anyway, I’ve BOLDED the parts of this story that talks about Vahram Parseghyan and the All Armenian Youth Foundation so you can easily find it.

Kind of a depressing story, so I would suggest that you pop a few Prozacs before starting to read it.

Money for Nothing: Investigation shows misuse of government money via NGO schemes

By Marianna Grigoryan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

An investigation by an agency looking into possible fraud, says it has found that thousands of government dollars designated for youth projects have in fact gone to government officials who pocket the money or give it to relatives.

Nor Hayastan (New Armenia), itself a Non Governmental Agency, claims that from 2001-2003, about 470 million drams ($940,000) should have gone to support of various civic youth organizations who applied for funding via grants. A close look at spending, however, found that only 1.5 percent ($14,100) ) went to NGOs which were not affiliated with officials.

The investigation also found that in at least two cases, money went to non-existent NGOs.

From 2001 to 2003 the government designated more than 20 million drams ($40,000) to Galik Women’s Union NGO and 18 million ($36,000) to Yeritasard Shinarar (Young Constructor) NGO.

In fact there is no information about these NGOs neither at the Ministry of Justice, where all NGOs must be registered, nor at other information agencies.

According to Eleonora Manandyan, the head of Nor Hayastan, their research found that government money is not spent on social improvement, but instead NGOs are created as a means by which officials deceitfully receive money.

Manandyan says that the initiative for the investigation grew from a perceived apathy among youth during the recent oppositional parties’ protests. If money is being spent to instill civic awareness, then where is the result?

“We decided to find out where the money goes, which the government in the form of a grant through a special decision had to allot to the youth, their issues and organizations that deal with those issues,” says Manandyan.

After two and a half months of trying to get information from the Ministry of Culture and Youth Issues, it took a threat of legal action to finally get answers.

“At the Ministry they were thinking that our eagerness would get weaker after constant delays and we would refuse our intention, but that couldn’t happen,” says Manandyan. “We were thinking that the situation wouldn’t be encouraging, but the results were so terrible that for several days we simply couldn’t believe it.”

After receiving the information and doing the investigation the organizers have formed a special list, a Top 25 where they included those organizations that received the biggest grants from the government and the founders of which are tightly connected with the “authorities”.

“It is terrifying that this terrible state system spreads on the youth,” says Manandyan. “The youth today is being purposely spoilt, used, and tomorrow none of the younger ones can go against or oppose authorities, since they will say wasn’t it you who did this? And they will keep silent as they do now.”

Deputies, ministers, deputy ministers, heads of departments and employees at ministries, representatives of the state and the government, businessmen, members of the central electoral committee and other individuals are on the list of the Top 25, among founders of NGOs and friends and relatives of the founders.

“Only an insignificant part of the organizations is ‘non-governmental’, the rest of the NGOs mainly belong to employees at ministries, while many of them even have two NGOs through which they make money,” says Manandyan. “All of those traces lead to the President, Assistant to the President and the Prime Minister.”

According to Manandyan the information that they received was unpredictable and the uncontrollable waste of the money was surprising. For instance, according to her, 62 million drams ($124,000) was spent on traveling, for which there is no accounting of the reasons for the trips.

“During the study from the very beginning it became obvious that there was no sign of any strategy or any standards of project financing, as well as results’ evaluation. The financed projects are mainly made up, false and the financial means exaggerated,” says Manandyan. “The Project Purpose section repeats in case of several organizations, for instance ‘to assist the improvement of the moral and mental state of the village youth’ and huge amounts are shown for financing the purpose.

“If the ‘village youth’ had those amounts probably their ‘moral and mental state’ would improve without any interference.”

ArmeniaNow applied to the government’s Department on Credit and Humanitarian Aid Projects to ask by what standards and logics grants are issued to youth organizations.

“We cannot answer that question,” said the head of the department, Simon Ter-Simonyan.

Manandyan says their research proved that there isn’t any logic. The only link was and remains the family/friend ties and the tighter they are the bigger the grant is. For instance according to the information provided by the Ministry of Culture the All-Armenian Youth Center Foundation which is included in the Top 25 through two organizations has received during those years more than 99 million ($198,000) and 76 million drams ($152,000) grants. According to Manandyan, four million drams ($8,000) were to establish the center and the rest of the money to maintain the center.

According to Manandyan maintaining the center in this case is mainly limited to holding one or two conferences or seminars during a year.

Among the executive directors there are V. [Vahram] Barseghyan who until last year was the Deputy Minister of Culture [now President Kocharian's controller], A. Poghosyan, a member of CEC (Central Electoral Committee) and others, while among trustees is the Prime Minister and other high ranking officials.

In order to get clarifications ArmeniaNow applied to the All-Armenian Youth Center Foundation, but during two weeks the management said it was too busy to give answers, and later left Armenia for 10 days.

“We carry out seminars, give an opportunity to the youngsters to use the rich library,” said the president of Youth Legal and Social Assistance Center (YLSAC) Lilit Hakobyan. “We help the socially needy youngsters and we are colleagues of the Council of Europe.”

Hakobyan (the previous president Lilit Asatryan is currently the Deputy Minister of Culture and the wife of MP Vazgen Khachikyan) told ArmeniaNow that she cannot give any report for the 10 million drams ($20,000) given by the government during 2001-2003, since she’s been the president of the NGO beginning this year.

“In response to our questions to the Prime Minister, representative of the government Simonyan lectured us not to count the state money ‘since we’re not counting yours’,” says Manandyan. “In reality, all we had to deal with was terrible and I don’t know whether we’ll be able to change anything or not. In any case we will try despite the great obstacles.”

Manandyan says they have published reports of their investigation based on which the prosecution is obliged to start criminal cases.

“If we see that the prosecution also remains silent, we, ourselves, are planning to apply to the court,” she says.
I like it when the people speak out and stand up to what they feel is wrong. Bravo staff and parents, don't back down until things are set right!!!


YEREVAN, SEPTEMBER 25. ARMINFO. Today the creative staff and parents of the students of Yerevan Choreographic College again picket the residence of the Armenian President.

It should be noted that the only ballet school in the country, which is 80-years-old, is on a strike for already 15 days. The reason of the strike of teachers and students is known: dissatisfaction with the order of Minister for Culture and Youth Affairs of Armenia Hovik Hoveyan on release of the current Director Norayr Meghrabyan from his post and his replacement by Karen Gevorgyan. The picketers sent a letter to President Kocharyan asking for restoration of "status quo." During the recent reception of the members of the parents committee and the creative staff of the college, an employee of the Presidential Control Service passed Robert Kocharyan's words to them.

He said that the president is informed of all the problems connected with the college and waits for return of Hovik Hoveyan from Germany to finally solve the issue. However, several days have passed, but no final reply has been given to the picketers.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 09/23/2004

Military Police Presence At Opposition Rallies Confirmed

By Hrach Melkumian

A senior Defense Ministry official on Thursday confirmed press reports and witness accounts about the presence of Armenian military police at a series of anti-government protests staged by the opposition last spring.

Sedrak Sedrakian, who heads the ministry's legal department, admitted that military police officers were among security forces that scuttled the opposition efforts to force President Robert Kocharian into resignation.

Under Armenian law the military police is only supposed to investigate crimes and minor offences committed within the country's armed forces. Military police officers were reportedly involved in the extremely violent dispersal of an opposition demonstration near Kocharian's official residence on the night from April 12-13.

Sedrakian insisted that representatives of the feared agency had the right to get involved in the government crackdown on the opposition. `They are obliged to protect the life and the health of servicemen against criminal challenges,' he said. `They are obliged to protect the interests of servicemen.'

The official did not specify just how the campaign of unsanctioned opposition protests in downtown Yerevan, which was branded as a coup attempt by the authorities, threatened the Armenian military. `Frankly, I can not give a more clear explanation,' he told reporters.

Sedrakian was speaking at a news briefing following the approval by Armenia's cabinet of ministers of a new draft law on military police. The legislation envisages no major changes in the existing status and responsibilities of the force subordinated to the Defense Ministry. Its commander will continue to be appointed by the president of the republic.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Tonight I went to Rosa Myrig and Hurnat’s house for dinner. It has been almost a month I would guess since the last time I’ve been to their house.

Rosa Myrig and Hurant seem to be doing well in terms of health goes, though Rosa Myrig says that she feels her heart at times is not beating as it should. The last checkup she had didn’t show any problems, but she has decided that she will take a trip to Stepanagert for a second opinion.

Tonight during dinner, somehow the conversation of water and a lack of came up. Hurant mentioned that he collects rain water, as it seems to be cleaner than the piped in water.

He went on to say that 4 years ago, they didn’t have water service to their house and they use to have a donkey and would bring in their water in containers loaded on the back of their cart.

Well the donkey is long gone, but the stories of having a donkey started and how Hurant’s donkey was more like a horse, which on one occasion started to run and would not stop, which Hurant had to jump from the cart, as the donkey was running for home and the way he was running was sure to overturn the cart.

From that story, Hurnat remembered his younger days in Baku and the time when he had to jump from a moving car and onto another moving car coming in the opposite direction to escape a group of people out to hurt, if not kill him.

The story he told was that he was defending a girl he didn’t even know, who came out of the movies from the back entrance and some guy confronted her and would not let her pass the ally she was exiting from. Hurant walked up to the girl, who he told to follow him as if she knew him and as he was escorting her passed this guy, an altercation started, where Hurant knocked the guy out and then knocked down the guy friend who came running to assist him. After that a group of the two guys friend overpowered Hurant, tossed him in the back of a large truck to take him who knows where. Hurant knew they were maybe going to kill him, so when another truck was coming in the opposite direction, he got up on the cab and jumped.

It seems that Hurant was always the defender of Armenian girls in Baku and during his university years he was the bodyguard/bouncer of the Armenian girls dorms.

One story he told I wont repeat in it’s entire form, other than it happen in the late 1940’s and he was defending one Armenian girl who was from Martuni, living in Baku. He is not sure, but the guys that were bothering her, he pounded their heads to the ground, knocking them out and then having to run to escape from the police. He never knew if he killed the guys, but suspected that he may have killed one of them, but again, was never caught, nor did he ever return to that part of Baku to find out.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
20 September 2004

Karabakh's Babayan 'In Need Of Treatment' After Jail

By Ruzanna Stepanian

Samvel Babayan, Nagorno-Karabakh's former military leader set free on
Friday, is now in Yerevan and needs to undergo medical treatment after spending more than four years in a maximum security prison, his relatives and friends told RFE/RL on Monday. One of them said that he might travel abroad for that purpose soon.

Babayan, once the most powerful man in the unrecognized republic, arrived in the Armenian capital immediately after being pardoned by Karabakh President Arkady Ghukasian whom he had allegedly plotted to assassinate. Officials in Stepanakert said the amnesty is a "partial" one, meaning that he will be on a one-year probation.

Babayan's wife Irina said that the former commander of the Karabakh Defense Army will not speak to journalists for the time being. She said he has instead been receiving relatives, friends and political allies at their Yerevan apartment. Among those who met him was Hrant Khachatrian, a senior member of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance.

"Samvel Babayan hasn't changed in terms of his appearance, mental horizon and ability to understand things," Khachatrian said. "You would never think that you are talking to someone who has been in jail for about five years because he is informed about almost everything."

"That said, you could notice some traces of prison life on his face. He is definitely in need of medical treatment," he added.

Babayan was arrested in March 2000 just hours after an attempt on the life of Ghukasian and sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment a year later for allegedly masterminding the plot. He denied any involvement. His supporters insist that the case against the former army chief was politically motivated.

There has been no official explanation for Babayan's unexpected release. Ghukasian's office said only that he was in a group of more than 30 convicts pardoned by the Karabakh leader. It is not clear whether Babayan applied for an amnesty.

Babayan's release was welcomed by Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) whose Karabakh branch is not always supportive of Ghukasian's policies. "I am happy that Samvel Babayan is free," Hovannisian told RFE/RL. But he refused to speculate about possible motives for the pardon.

"There was apparently one reason for that," said Artashes Geghamian, another opposition leader and longtime Babayan supporter. "It was clear to all of us from the outset that Samvel Babayan has nothing to do with that assassination attempt. Some people apparently turned remorseful and decided to rectify the mistake committed by themselves four and a half years ago."

Khachatrian, for his part, suggested that "for many people, if not for everyone, Samvel Babayan is now more useful being at large than in prison."

Sunday, September 19, 2004

If you ask me, this would not be a bad move by the President, since today’s Parliament is filled with criminals who as MPs are exempt from prosecution by the law. They are also in power to make sure that what laws are adopted, work for their best interests and not those of the people. I’m also in favor of a very small minority presents of Armenians from the Diaspora in Parliament, who could at very least present other points of view on why cretin things should be considered.


YEREVAN, SEPTEMBER 11. ARMINFO. Friday, an Armenian MP, Artashes Geghamyan, called Armenian President Robert Kocharyan to dissolve the parliament and become a guarantor of new fair parliamentary elections in the country.

Speaking at an assembly of the National Unity party's activists, Geghamyan said that such a step would justify the president's "previous sins." He also urged the former ruling party of Armenia, the Armenian Pan National Movement (APNM), not to "bomb" the opposition with its biting sarcasm, but to join it for restoration of the Constitutional order in Armenia.

In his speech, Geghamyan also touched upon a possible departure of Armenian militaries to Iraq. Of course, we must combat terrorism, but Armenia has no moral right to send its experts to other country struggling against terrorism when terrorism prospers inside it and the killers of the Georgian citizen Poghos Poghosyan and the organizers of the terrorist act in the Parliament have not been punished so far. Artashes Geghyamyan touched upon the failure of Armenian sportsmen at the Olympic Games in the Athens, the heavy socio-economic situation in the country, the inevitability of the Karabakh clan's exile from Armenia, his vacation in the Spanish Valensia and others things. However, during 2-hour sitting of the party's activists, no one remembered the tragic events in Beslan, which took the lives of 300 hundreds of people, including 9 Armenians.

English Version:
Armenian Version:

15 September 2004


September 4, 2004 saw the grand opening of CS Media City, the compound where the television companies Armenia TV (director – Gagik Mkrtchyan), ArmNews TV (director – Eduard Saribekyan), and TV-5 (director – Nune Yesayan), the Media TV Advertising Company (director – Hovhannes Tovmasyan), the CD Records Center, the FM-10 Radio Station (director – Grigor Nazaryan) and the CS Publishing House (director – Vardan Aloyan) are located.

Armenia TV is owned by Bagrat Sargisyan and Gerard L. Cafesjian. Sargisyan and his family own the other companies as well.

At the opening ceremony, which President Robert Kocharyan attended along with Gerard L. Cafesjian and many senior Armenian officials, the introduction of a “super system” was announced. This system, as Armenia TV advertises periodically, retransmits more than 50 TV channels. But it's not yet clear what frequency will be used to transmit the programs being advertised, since, as the National Commission on Television and Radio (NCTR) has stated on many occasions, there are no vacant frequencies in Armenia .

In a September 9 th interview with the newspaper Aravot, Iskhan Vardanyan, the head of the licensing department at the NCTR said, “The NCTR at the moment is not in possession of any vacant frequency to allow transmission in the gigahertz wave band. We have not provided frequencies in this wave band to any company. The A-UP Satellite Transmission Company, which is being advertised continuously, is not known to us and has no license. In other words, the commercial stating that more than 50 TV channels are being retransmitted in this wave band has been a real revelation for the National Commission. I would like to emphasize that there has been no tender organized by us to provide any frequency to any company for such retransmission. In the meantime, the Commission has already informed the relevant agencies, asking that they take the necessary measures to prevent any illegal broadcasting.”

So on September 4, 2004 , Robert Kocharyan personally pushed the button launching illegal broadcasting.

Bagrat Sargisyan has offered no explanation as yet. The presidential administration is silent, as is Gerard Cafesjian.

Television broadcasting without a license is a criminal offence in Armenia . In the official translation, Article 188 of the Criminal Code of Armenia, Illegal Entrepreneurial Activity , states: “Entrepreneurial activities without state registration or without special permit (license), when such a special permit (license) is mandatory, accompanied with infliction of a large damage to the citizens, commercial organizations or to the state, is punished with a fine in the amount of 200 to 400 minimal salaries, or with an arrest for the term of 2 to 3 months.”

And according to Paragraph 2 of the Article, “The same act accompanied with infliction of a large damage to the citizens, commercial organizations or to the state: is punished with a fine for the amount of 300 to 500 minimal salaries, or deprivation of the right to hold certain posts or practice certain activities for up to 3 years and with or without a fine in the amount of 50 minimal salaries, or imprisonment for the term of up to 2 years.”

In a practical sense then, the president of Armenia is now an accomplice in a criminal act. It's not clear yet whether Bagrat Sargisyan will be called to task, but we do know that the media mogul has been summoned to the president's office.

The commercial aired on Armenia TV also claims that CS Media is connected to the US-based Dish Network, which means that Armenia TV programs can be seen in the United States . It turns out that this is false information; many American Armenians have tried to watch these programs, only to be told that the network had no such channel.

So Armenia TV has also violated various articles of the Law on Advertisement of the Republic of Armenia, by disseminating false information, and deceiving and swindling hundreds of thousands TV-viewers and customers.

But will the law be applied in this case? Of course not.

This is what had to happen

The president's entourage had to deliver the president and have him press some buttons. It was the same thing when he cut the ribbon to open the Prometheus Factory in Vanadzor for the second time. Rest assured, he will cut the ribbon a third time as well. For there is no one in his entourage to tell him, “You shouldn't do that—it's immoral, it's dishonest, it's wrong.”

We were silent as the Armenia TV “balloon” was inflated; a once non-existent TV station has now become a giant. The Sargisyan family kept going, and none of us said that that's not the way to create television, that it's not enough to take foreign TV shows, attach some text, and put Bagrat Sargisyan's name on them as director. That if you don't mention where these scenes, these documentaries come from, which other people have worked on for years and spent vast amounts of money on, then you're just a plagiarist. We didn't say any of this because we were their colleagues, we thought, “At least they have a job.” None of us told Artem Sargisyan (Bagrat's father) that he shouldn't spend so much time preaching the purity of the Armenian language, since it's the Bernard Show, broadcast by his family's TV station, which pervert the language. We only cast about for ways to justify our silence later on.

At the September 4, 2004 opening CS Media City, the president was brought in, put in front of a button, and told to push it. And he did push it. Standing next to him was Gerard Cafesjian, who doesn't know anything about the morals and manners of Armenia . The philanthropist pushed the button, too, without realizing that he had been dragged in an illegal act.

Bagrat Sargisyan is in a position to avoid responsibility now. He can say, "I'm not the one who pushed the button, it was the president of the country and a US citizen, Gerard Cafesjian."

And the members of the entourage just made the show complete. Even the outspoken oppositionist, Victor Dallakyan, played a role. He was sparkling, he was pleased, he liked it up there. Parliament member Hranush Hakobyan put in a fine performance, as always: “This is further proof that there exists in Armenia an independent mass media.” Congratulations!

The day CS Media City was opened, Armenia TV's news program established a connection with a certain US senator. No one actually heard what he said; his voice was not audible under the Armenian translation, which we can only hope had some connection to what the senator really said.

The foreign minister was present, of course. This was an especially important event for him, since his advisor, Salpi Ghazarian, played a significant part in making Gerard Cafesjian's investment in Armenia TV happen.

This is what had to happen, because we tacitly tolerated it when three TV broadcasting frequencies were awarded to the Sargisyan family at once. This is what had to happen, because everyone watched as the ArmNews reporter would carry two microphones into a press conference, and switch between the ArmNews microphone TV-5 microphone in the middle.

The government's response will be, “So what?” And they'll be right. So what? So what that the president pushed the wrong button? They'll organize another show, and arrange things so that when the president pushes the button this time, it'll be legal.

Edik Baghdasaryan

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Poll Finds Public Distrust In Armenian Anti-Graft Plan
By Armen Zakarian 17/09/2004 10:26

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
September 17 2004

Armenians remain overwhelmingly skeptical about the success of their government's declared fight against corruption with almost half of them believing that it itself is the biggest obstacle to the rule of law, according to a new poll made public on Thursday.

The survey conducted by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), a private think-tank, shows that nearly two thirds of about 2,000 people interviewed across the country are not familiar with an anti-corruption strategy unveiled by the authorities last year. Only 5 percent of them are confident that it will be successfully implemented, ACNIS pollsters said. Forty-nine percent said they would subscribe to the view that "a corrupt regime can not fight against itself." Others attributed the perceived lack of results in the stated anti-graft crusade to government incompetence and pervasive influence of business "oligarchs."

The authorities' anti-corruption plan approved by Western donors is a set of largely legislative measures designed to curb illegal practices such as bribery and nepotism. A special body headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian was formed earlier this year to oversee its implementation. The Council on Combating Corruption in turn set up a "monitoring commission."

The success of the council's stated mission was called into question in 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.

According to the ACNIS survey, the most common popular perception of the problem's root causes is a political one, with 42.8 percent saying that Armenia's rulers lack legitimacy because they did not come to power as a result of democratic elections. "In a country that has disputed elections many people agree that the government gives privileges and other rewards to those who helped them come to power," Stepan Safarian, a leading ACNIS analyst, told journalists, presenting the survey results.

More than a third of those polled said they were offered bribes in return for voting for particular candidates in last year's presidential and parliamentary elections. Most claimed to have refused to accept the illegal payments.

Votes bribes are one the most frequent forms of Armenia's chronic electoral fraud which marred the 2003 elections criticized as undemocratic by international observers.

The poll also suggests that nearly half of Armenians bribe government officials at least once a year. The bulk of those who admitted doing so said their kickbacks were meant to ensure fair and lawful treatment by government bodies. Health care institutions, the judiciary and the military were singled out by most respondents as the most corrupt structures in Armenia.

This is a huge mistake and if Washington approves Armenia for $900 million, knowing what they know, then it will be clear that they are willingly feeding into and intentionally perpetuating corruption in Armenia.

I say once again that until corruption is greatly reduced in Armenia and a few people go to jail for misappropriation of funds, then the Armenian people should not allow its government from participating in the Millennium Challenge Account that Washington is offering.

It’s quite clear from Armenia’s proposals to Washington, they are presenting programs that will allow them once again to have an opportunity to enrich their own personal wealth by misusing, and/or misappropriating funds by overcharging by a few times for roads and water systems, inevitably pay starvation wages to the common workers and stuffing the difference in their pockets.

If the Millennium Challenge Account funds were properly used in Armenia, then they would be used to promote private enterprise, concentrating the majority of its resources to go to the industrial sector that produces exportable goods. It should require that it funds only ventures that pay non-starvation wages and follow all rules of law. But even this I would not recommend until corruption is greatly reduced, as the people who are being entrusted in government with managing these funds are the same people who I would toss in jail for misappropriation of funds. This is one of those fox in the hen-house situations.

Dear United States President George W. Bush and the people at the Millennium Challenge Account,

On behalf of the Armenian people who I have spoken to in Armenia, we kindly ask you to reject any applications from our government for funding from your noble program.

Don’t get us wrong, we DO NOT oppose a fairly elected democratic government (which ours is in question of being such by the majority of its citizens and also the international community), we appose corruption and those who do not play by the rule of law which should make our country fair and prosperous.

Until we can put corruption under control and make our laws work, any funding you would provide would do us more harm than good and for that reason, we ask that you help us by not helping us with funding from MCA

We thank you for understanding our desires and wishes.

Respectfully yours,

The common person living in the Independent Republic of Armenia

Ps. Good luck in the November elections. May the best man win so the world as a whole will win.

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 09/17/2004

Armenia To Ask For $900M In Extra U.S. Aid

By Atom Markarian

Armenia is seeking as much as $900 million in additional U.S. government assistance for the next three years and would like to spend most of the money on getting its battered irrigation and drinking water infrastructure into shape, officials said Friday.

The requested extra aid would come as part of the U.S. government's Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), a scheme designed to promote political and market reforms around the world. Armenia as well as neighboring Georgia were included last spring in the first group of 16 countries eligible for it. Each of them has to present and substantiate specific aid proposals that will be considered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a government body in charge of the MCA.

According to Aram Andreasian, head of the State Committee on Water Resources, the Armenian government has already finalized its package of proposals and will submit them to Washington by the end of this month. He said two thirds of the requested sum are proposed to be used for improving patchy water supplies to Armenian households and farmers.

`As far as our [MCA] package is concerned, the water sector is in greatest need of investments,' Andreasian told a news conference after a weekly cabinet meeting.

Armenia's notoriously inefficient drinking water network has undergone sweeping structural reforms over the past two years. The authorities promised in late 2002 that the situation with water supplies will improve radically after introduction of water consumption meters. Most Armenians have already bought and installed them at their own expense. However, change has been very slow so far.

Andreasian reiterated a government pledge to extend round-the-clock water supplies to 80 percent of the Yerevan households by the end of this year. But with less than half of them having running water for 24 hours a day at the moment, this seems highly problematic.

Even more difficult is access to irrigation water in the country's rural areas. The problem is high on the list of grievances routinely cited by impoverished villagers.

Andreasian's controversial predecessor, Gagik Martirosian, estimated that at least $300 million worth of capital investments will be needed for ensuring normal functioning of the sector. The government has already received some $150 million in low-interest loans from the World Bank for that purpose.

Earlier this year, an ad hoc commission of the Armenian parliament accused the government of misusing one such loan worth $30 million. The allegations were rejected by the government and the World Bank's office in Yerevan.

Andreasian revealed that the government wants the Americans to set aside $137 million for road construction and repair in Armenia. The Armenian government would spend the rest of the requested sum on education and agriculture, he said.

The U.S. government has already allocated some $1.5 billion in regular assistance to Armenia since 1992. It remains to be seen whether it will agree to the drastic increase in aid levels sought by Yerevan.

The total amount of MCA funds made available by the administration of President George W. Bush for this year is $1 billion. The figure is expected to soar to $5 billion in 2006.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
17 September 2004

Former Karabakh Army Chief Released From Jail

By Emil Danielyan

Samvel Babayan, the controversial former commander of Nagorno-Karabakh's army, was pardoned and set free on Friday more than four years after being imprisoned on charges of plotting to assassinate the president of the Armenian-populated unrecognized republic, Arkady Ghukasian.

An official in the Karabakh government told RFE/RL that Babayan, 39, was in a group of local convicts who were given an amnesty by a presidential decree. The official added that the amnesty granted to the once powerful general is a "partial" one, meaning that he will be on a one-year probation.

Other sources said that Babayan arrived at his apartment in Yerevan later in the day, suggesting that he will now spend most of his time there. He is legally barred from holding a senior government post in Karabakh for the next five years.

A former car mechanic, Babayan became the commander of the Karabakh Armenian army at the height of its victorious 1991-1994 secessionist war with Azerbaijan. He later emerged as the disputed region's most powerful man, concentrating sweeping political and economic powers in his hands at a time when Karabakh was led by Robert Kocharian, the current president of Armenia.

Known for his hard line on Azerbaijan, Babayan lost power in late 1999 after his defeat in a bitter power struggle with Ghukasian. He was arrested in March 2000 just hours after an attempt on the life of the Karabakh president and was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment a year for allegedly masterminding the plot. Also sentenced were the two men who confessed to seriously wounding Ghukasian in a late-night ambush in Stepanakert.

Babayan denied any involvement in the assassination bid throughout the trial, accusing the Ghukasian of waging a political vendetta against his most formidable opponent. His protestations of innocence were strongly backed by his supporters in both Karabakh and Armenia. The most prominent of them is opposition leader Artashes Geghamian.

It is not yet clear who initiated Babayan's sudden release from a fortress jail in the Karabakh town of Shusha. Kocharian public hinted at the possibility of a pardon in November 2001. But Ghukasian has until now argued that the former war hero does not qualify for an amnesty because he has not admitted his guilt.
President of Artsakh forgives General Babayan for allegedly ordering his assassination

I got a call from a friend this morning telling that Samvel Babayan has been set free from prison and sent home. I asked him if he was sure and he said he was one million percent sure.

I called the mayor of Martuni to see what he had heard of this and he said that the President has the right to forgive people in prison (amnesty) and set them free and the President did just this yesterday, forgiving Samvel.

Yesterday when I was in Stepanagert, I was visiting some friends who were talking about how it may soon be that the President resigns due to the recent elections of mayor of Stepanagert, as most certainly the new mayor who is said to really be serving the peoples interest, will uncover many thing that have happened over the past years, which will end up exposing the President for who he really is.

I’m now wondering if Samvel’s release from prison is an attempt to counter what the new mayor could do to the President’s reputation? It has always been very clear that the President or Prime Minister do not like Samvel and wanted to get him out of the way, which they did. Could it also be that the new mayor has something that points to Samvel’s innocence and this was done to correct a wrong the President did, before it could cause damage to him?

I called a couple journalist friends to see what light they could shed on this subject and they were very confused as to why this has happened?

One taxi driver told me yesterday that if they let Babayan out of prison, nothing good will be waiting us. I’m not sure if I agree with this, as sitting in prison does give one time to reflect on the past and makes one wonder what got them there?

I know that on Samvel’s 34th birthday, he sat at home with one visitor from Yerevan, who is a close friend of mine, and reflected on the past and all the mistakes that were made that brought on hard times for our people. After this birthday is when he started to try to make some changes, which got him dismissed from his post and later on the alleged assignation attempt was made against the President, which landed him in prison for being the one that ordered it, but there was not a shred of solid evidence presented at the trial to prove such claims.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

A1 Plus | 15:55:46 | 16-09-2004 | Social |


Armenian Center for National and International Studies held a discussion Thursday over the results of Corruption in Armenia survey conducted by the Center.

37% of 1956 respondents were offered bribe at the 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections. 32,5% of them have taken it.

The survey shows corruption in Armenia is considered as political phenomenon. 42,8% think current authorities formed thank to bribe and fraud has to protect those who helped them to come to power and retain it.

19,4% find corruption the most effective way for accumulation of wealth.

Head of Economic Researches Center Ashot Tavadyan doesn't share opinion that Armenian people tolerate bribery and have come to terms with that phenomenon.

He says this idea is imposed by the authorities and added that people become indifferent when see their complaints remain fallen into neglect.

In Tavadyan's opinion, broadly-worded state program against corruption provides no clear idea about the steps to be taken.

He says there are many absurd provisions in the program such as a statement that Customs Services not National Assembly are in charge of legislative changes in custom area.

Tavadyan said the government program had been taken sceptically by 25,3% of respondents, 69,3% found it hard to answer the question and only 4,9% were optimistic about the program.

"Corrupted authorities can't struggle against themselves", said the majority of the survey respondents.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
13 September 2004

College Faculty On Strike Over 'Illegal' Leadership Change

By Ruzanna Stepanian and Gayane Danielian

Armenia's flamboyant Culture Minister Hovik Hoveyan was embroiled in a fresh scandal on Monday as the staff of a state-run ballet school went on strike in protest against his decision to replace their executive director.

The faculty of Yerevan's State College of Dance Art said it will not resume classes until Norayr Mehrabian is reinstated in his post. They challenged the competence and integrity of the new director chosen by Hoveyan.

The appointment of Karen Gevorgian, a senior official from the State Pedagogical Institute, came after Mehrabian's unexpected decision to resign under alleged pressure from the minister. The latter met with a furious reaction from the college faculty when he attempted to introduce Gevorgian to them on Friday. The "Haykakan Zhamanak" daily quoted one of the professors as saying that he was jostled and "kicked out" by the angry staff.

According to Hovannes Divanian, the college's artistic director, Gevorgian arrived there with a group of armed bodyguards. "When they came, I said, 'Mr. Hoveyan, you have acted illegally'," Divanian told RFE/RL. "Gevorgian is not a specialist. As you know, this college mainly trains ballet dancers. He has nothing to do with ballet."

Divanian claimed that the new director tried unsuccessfully to woo subordinates with a promise to raise their modest salaries. "They think that everything can be done with money," he said. "They are wrong. We work for art, not for money."

Gegham Grigorian, the director of Armenia's State Opera and Ballet Theater, expressed his solidarity with the protesters, saying that he is "shocked" by the minister's actions. What a disgrace," he said. "It is inadmissible to make such appointments without consulting with anyone."

"Maybe some people view such posts as gasoline stations where one can make lots of money. They are badly mistaken," Grigorian said.

Hoveyan declined a comment on Monday. "From now on, Mr. Minister will not give interviews and will only speak live on television so that journalists don't distort his statements," a spokeswoman said.

It was the chief of the Culture Ministry's staff, Gagik Manasian, who agreed to speak to RFE/RL instead. He insisted that Mehrabian himself decided to quit on August 4 and faced no pressure from the ministry. He also defended the choice of a new director, describing Gevorgian as an experienced professional.

Hoveyan's staffing policy came into question even before the dance college row. He already sparked an uproar by naming members of his Orinats Yerkir Party to run several state-run cultural institutions shortly after taking over as culture minister last April. One of those decisions was subsequently reversed by a Yerevan court.

Hoveyan's appointment by Orinats Yerkir was widely seen as an effort to offset the damage caused to the party's credibility by the previous culture minister, Tamara Poghosian. The party is led by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and is often accused of resorting to populism and demagoguery.

Hoveyan track record and public statements have been just as controversial, however. In particular, his use of slangy and rude language at a news conference last spring drew a stern reprimand from Minister Andranik Markarian.

The former poet further raised eyebrows last month when he singled out the ability to organize funeral services from the traits which he believes young Armenians should develop to meet the challenges of adult life. And a few weeks later he opined that major statues in downtown Yerevan, most of them created in the 1960s and 1970s, are already too old and should be replaced. He said they haunt city residents at night and "interfere with their dreams."

Armenian opposition party condemns decision to send troops to Iraq

Noyan Tapan news agency
13 Sep 04

Yerevan, 13 September: The Armenian authorities' decision to send a 50-strong Armenian military unit to Iraq under the command of the Polish military contingent is premature and "simply selfish", the chairman of the Democratic Party of Armenia and a National Assembly member from the Justice bloc, Aram Sarkisyan, has said in an interview with a Noyan Tapan correspondent.

He noted that his party roundly condemned this step and called on National Assembly members to vote down the Armenian authorities' agreement to send Armenian servicemen to Iraq.

"If our powers that be had explained to the USA on time that Armenia had a unique position with a large diaspora all over the world and in Arab countries in the first place, I think this would not have happened. Instead, the Armenian authorities are trying, as they believe, to win the USA round," Aram Sarkisyan said.

In the opinion of the Democratic Party leader, Armenian servicemen should be dispatched when stability is established and peaceful reconstruction starts in Iraq. It cannot be ruled out in the current situation, he believes, that Armenians will be taken hostage, and in this context, the blast at the major Christian church in Baghdad was kind of a signal.

Aram Sarkisyan expressed his perplexity over the fact that Armenian servicemen would be stationed in Iraq within the Polish contingent. "Poland is a NATO member, and our authorities have all of a sudden forgotten that Armenia is a member of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization. This decision is completely confusing from the point of view of political culture."

The Democratic Party chairman is confident that the decision to send Armenian servicemen to Iraq runs counter to the national interests. “While a country like Spain is withdrawing troops from Iraq, Armenia wants to be swept into this vortex."

The Democratic Party has issued a statement condemning this decision of the Armenian authorities. The statement calls on the Armenian public to take an active civic position on this issue.

Note: Aram Sarkisyan is NOT Vazgen's brother (Aram Zaveni Sarkisyan) but Aram Gaspar Sarkisyan who used to Kocharian's Presidential Advisor on Foreign Policy until he resigned.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Coming Soon:

Armenia: Poverty, Transition & Democracy: A collection of articles and photographs by Onnik Krikorian (with an introduction by Emil Danielian).

Published by the Gomidas Institute (Princeton and London), 48 pages, approximately 9,400 words, 27 photographs.

Articles and photographs include subjects such as socially vulnerable families in Yerevan, children in residential care, children and adults with mental disabilities, landmines and rehabilitation of the border regions and settlement in the Kashatagh (Lachin) region between Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh.

A preview is now available online at:

Anticipated date of publication is October / November 2004.

Price is expected to be US $15 plus postage and packing.

To receive details of availability and associated events such as presentations / exhibitions please send a blank email to:

Friday, September 10, 2004

If you ask me, this is a huge mistake. If this is what it’s going to take to become a member of the “European Family”, then I say we send Serzh Sarkisian and Robert Kocharian so they can directly brown-nose with the rest of their “European Family”. Nothing good will come of this and it will be only cause problems for the Armenians that live there.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
8 September 2004

Armenian Generals Unhappy With Iraq Deployment

By Gevorg Stamboltsian

Two senior Armenian army generals have indicated their opposition to Yerevan's plans to join the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq with a small unit of non-combat troops by the end of this year.

"I am not delighted with the decision to send our troops there and the war in general," Lieutenant-General Yuri Khachaturov, a deputy minister of defense, told reporters late on Tuesday. "Because of that the Armenian community [in Iraq] and Armenians in general could have problems in the future."

Khachaturov's concerns were echoed on Wednesday by Major-General Enrico Apriamov, deputy chief of staff of Armenia's Armed Forces. "I can't comment on this because there is an issue of peace keeping and an issue of aggression," he said. "As peacekeepers, we are ready to perform duties to our people for the sake of our homeland."

Asked whether he believes the U.S. invasion of Iraq was aggression, Apriamov replied, "This question should be put to President George Bush. [He should be asked] what he meant by sending troops to Iraq. I am a military officer and am against war."

The comments are a rare expression of personal views by members of the Armenian army's top brass and expose its serious misgivings about the deployment plans reaffirmed by President Robert Kocharian during a visit to Poland on Monday.

Kocharian formally offered his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski to send some 50 military doctors, sappers and truck drivers to south central Iraq administered by a Polish-led multinational division. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian accompanying Kocharian argued that considers itself a "part of the European family" and feels "obliged to participate in the efforts to assure security."

The offer was accepted by and drew praise from the Polish government. "Such decisions are very difficult, but necessary at the time of the joint struggle against terrorism," Kwasniewski said.

Lieutenant-General Artur Aghabekian, another deputy defense minister seen as Sarkisian's right-hand man, told RFE/RL late last week that a team of Armenian military officials will visit Iraq this month to prepare for the arrival of the Armenian troops. He said they will join the Polish-led contingent "at the end of the autumn or the beginning of the winter."

Khachaturov claimed that the Armenian parliament may still block the deployment by refusing to ratify it. His comments also give more weight to fears that Armenia's accession to the U.S.-led "coalition of the willing" could make thousands of ethnic Armenians living in Iraq a potential target of attacks by anti-American insurgents.
I’m back in Artsakh. I was in Yerevan for a week getting body work done on my car after being hit from the passengers side a month.

It was a long drive and I left Yerevan late since my car which was at the body shop was not ready at 1 PM as I was told it would be.

In fact, it was not even painted at 1 PM. I was told at 1 PM that it would be ready by 5 PM.

When I got to the body shop at 6 PM, they were just taking off the paper and masking-tape, with panels, bumpers and so on that still needed to be installed.

Since the work was not going very fast, I helped out and installed a couple of interior door panels, molding and even the front bumper, which was much lighter than I expected it to be.

By the time we finished, it was 9 PM and at that time, I was given the news that my battery was dead because the ignition would not turn off and instead of disconnecting the battery, they just let it die.

We removed the battery from the car that belonged to the owner of the body shop so we could start the car. When I tired to start it, I discovered that there was no gas in my car. We siphoned out some gasoline from the body shop owner’s car and when I tried to start the car, it would not start. After checking if we had any spark to the sparkplugs and discovering that there was no spark, I knew that the coil had burned out when they left the ignition on, as this has happened once before.

The body shop owner gave me his car to go get a coil and some more gasoline. He had a nice car which had a license plate with those fancy number that the police don’t stop (## US 777). I drove to an auto parts store, got a newer Niva coil (they work on Mercedes) and also 4 liters of gas.

I returned to the body shop, installed the coil, filled the gas and right away, the car started up.

We removed the battery that belonged to the body shop owner and replaced my battery with the engine still running.

I paid the bill and headed to a gas station and without turning off the engine (since the battery was not charged yet), I filled up the car, added a liter of oil (I checked the oil before starting the engine to see that it was low) and at 10:15 PM, headed for Artsakh.

The trip was uneventful and at 3 AM, we arrived in Stepanagert to my fiancés brother-in-law and sister’s house, where we woke them up and were given a meal of very tasty green-beans and homemade bread.

The next morning I woke up and took the car to the Sasoun, the auto electrician, to fix the ignition switch. He was busy, so I took the steering wheel apart, removed the ignition and discovered that it was not an electrical problem, but a mechanical problem with the lock.

Fortunately for me, it was nothing that could not be fixed (I think) and Sasoun’s neighbor Zaven works on locks. Something inside the lock was jammed and the key was stuck in the open position. Though Zaven had never worked on a Mercedes ignition, he told me to leave it with him and he would do something. I agreed and left the lock with him, returning to Sasoon’s where I rigged up the ignition device that mounts on the back of the lock so I could use a screwdriver or coin to start my car. Of course if this was Los Angeles, I would fear that someone could steal my car, but this is Artsakh and it is unheard of that someone would steal a car.

In the afternoon we visited with some friends, one of who sees the future in coffee cups. Fortunately for me there are no deaths of people close to me in the near future and I’m relatively happy with lots of wealth coming my way. I also have 2 guests coming, one expected and one I was not expecting (though now I know who the unexpected guest is, as I got an e-mail from her today to inform me of her arrival on the 18th, which is also a day that something good is to happen).

At 5 PM, we headed to Martuni. It was just like I left it, with tons of things waiting for me to do. Though I was only gone for a little more than a week, it seemed like I was gone for a month. I always get a very good feeling when I drive into town and a feeling of relief when I park my car in my garage.

Anyway, I know this was a long boring log, but hey this is what life has been dealing me these last few days.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
7 September 2004

Government Reports Major Drop In Poverty

By Atom Markarian

The Armenian government claimed on Tuesday a major decrease in widespread poverty in the country, saying that benefits of economic growth are finally beginning to trickle down to the socially vulnerable strata of the population.

According to a senior official from the National Statistical Service, preliminary results of a household income survey conducted by the government agency show that the proportion of Armenians living below the official poverty line stood at 42.9 percent at the end of last year. The poverty rate reported by the government a year earlier was 49.7 percent.

"In 2003 poverty eased considerably," the official, Diana Martirosova, told RFE/RL. "The improvement had previously been much slower."

The government's poverty reduction strategy unveiled in 2003 envisaged to bring the poverty rate down to 46 percent by the end of last year.

Martirosova attributed the faster-than-expected improvement found by the survey to the robust growth of the Armenian economy which expanded by 13.9 percent in 2003 and 9.2 percent in the first half of this year. "The economy has been dynamically developing for several consecutive years. That is what seems to have led to the long-awaited decrease in poverty," she said.

The Statistical Service estimates that the aggregate incomes of the population rose by 36 percent in the course of 2003.

The official per-capita poverty threshold is set at 12,260 drams ($24) a month. That means a four-member family with a monthly income worth $100 is not considered poor by the government -- a highly questionable judgment given the cost of life in Armenia.

Some economists therefore believe that the real extent of poverty is higher. They also point to government figures showing that at least 70 percent of Armenians live on a staple diet of potatoes, bread and other cereal foodstuffs.

In another indication of the persisting socioeconomic hardship, Martirosova said that the survey conducted among 6,720 households across the country also found that a typical Armenian family spends two thirds of its income on food. She said the average monthly expenditures by a single household have increased 16 percent to 58,000 drams ($112) over the past year.

Another late night walk which we started walking at 9 PM and were joined by Hovig. After 10 kilometers, we found our way to the internet café under Sil Plaza near Independence Square.

Here an idea for traveler’s with a way to see Armenia and save yourself big bucks on accommodations in the process. The internet café under Sil Plaza has a VIP room which from the hours of 23:00 to 08:00 is only 2,000 dram (less than $4). The room is dark and has really comfortable chairs that recline. Instead of a hotel, you check in to the VIP room at 23:00, check your e-mail and then sleep until 8:00 AM.

When we finished with internet, we walked to the square and sat in front of the fountains, watching the big-screen television that is where there use to be a statue of Lenin. They had on some wildlife program.

I called a taxi, which came and brought us home. Another wonderful walk thanks to some really nice weather.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I’m impressed. My car has been at the body shop for a few days having some minor repairs made due to some rich kid backing his Niva into the side of my car. Since my car has been in the shop, I’ve been taking taxis and public transportation.

Today I took a trip to the building materials market near the Vartan Mamigonian statue and on the way the driver took on more passengers than there was room for. Of course all I could think about is that what he was doing was dangerous and how such service only adds to our problems, including making people a little less human in terms of dignity. I was thinking that it would be interesting work to cut a deal with the government to enforce the law of overcrowded transportation.

On the way back from the market, I took the same mini-van line and was impressed with the driver, who had a very serious appearance, a wedding band (obviously a family man) and best of all when there was no sitting room, he was not stopping for passengers who were waving him down. I was really impressed. He didn’t stop for 5 passengers while I was riding.
We just got back from a midnight walk in Yerevan.

My fiancé decided that we needed to get out of the house for some fresh air and a break from the never ending bad news of the world.

We took a taxi to the Ani Plaza Hotel and were joined by Aris Srpazan’s nephew Hovig. From there, we crossed the street to a Karaoke bar, where we ate Spas, drank Coke, Noy water and orange juice. We each sang one song, paid the bill and my fiancé decided that we would take a walk.

She decided that we would walk up the Cascade, which is the place where Madlene works. My fiancé wanted to ride up the Cascade on the escalator and discovered that the entrance to the escalators was closed. She raddled the doors as the guard watched (Madlene, if you get a report from the guard that sits just above your office about some Diaspora Armenians trying to break into the building, it was my Karabaghi fiancé. We were intentionally using the word “gor” in excess to make sure he knew we were some dumb Diaspora Armenians that were clueless to the fact that at midnight the museum is not open and he should not shoot us for attempting to break in).

We ended up climbing the stairs and after going up the first flight, it started to rain. By the time we reached the top, we were soaked. It was a great and tiring workout.

We walked to Victory Park, which we arrived just before 1 AM. Hovig told us to stand under the arch that leads into the park to get out of the rain and he stood on the street to hail a cab.

After about 5 minutes of waiting and scaring away some street dogs who I guess didn’t like that we didn’t want to share our shelter from the rain, Hovig secured us a cab.

The cab driver, Norig, is a retired store manager. He was driving a 1976 Soviet made Fiat, which was only running on 3 of its 4 cylinders.

As we creped up Monument, Norig told us that the ride will cost us 1,000 drams, as it is past midnight. We didn’t have a problem with the fare and were just happy to be out of the rain and on our way home.

Norig complained about how he worked for so many years and how he now gets a $10 a month pension and for that reason he now drives a cab. He said the income from the cab puts bread on the table.

Norig asked us where we were from. When I said America, he asked why I left such a great country. He added that in the 70’s, he had an opportunity to go to America, but due to his papers, it didn’t happen. He said that he has always dreamt of going to America and even now if he had the opportunity would go.

Just before dropping us off at our destination, Norig started to talk about how bad it was here and how for a few select people to live well, the majority of the people suffer, again stressing that there is no country he knows of where someone who works for over 30 years is given a $10 a month pension.

Anyway, we had a great walk tonight and though I think we’re going to have a cold or flu to deal with as a result, it was worth taking a break from the news, which as soon as we walked in the door, my fiancé turned the television on and continued where we left off.

Monday, September 06, 2004

The Russian terrorist attacks have been consuming my fiancés time. I’m over it and she thinks that I’m being cold hearted for not being interested or shocked at what we are seeing. She really is glued to the television and when I ask her a question, she tells me to be quiet for a second as they are saying something important.

Something important? I remember my childhood and my father getting upset with me for asking him to be quiet while watching the television, to him snapping at me and asking what could be more important on television than him (I was probably watching a game show or cartoons)? That stupid box is what he called the television. I’m now better understanding what he was saying, but of course I’m not going to tell my fiancé what my father use to tell me.

I’m not sure when this is going to end (probably never) and what the Russians will do next, but it’s clear that we are seeing a side of terrorism which we have never seen before (that I can remember) and that is the bloody killing of children. On the other hand, blockades from the West I’m sure could have caused similar effects on children, but since the children effected were not covered in blood, we don’t seem to notice or are shocked at to such atrocities.

I was over at a relatives house last night and he said that the Russians will claim they have reliable information that the terrorist were supported by the Georgians, which will give them reason to help split up Georgia and leave the Western supported government trying to figure out which end is up as their country implodes.

Terrorism, countered by terrorism, which I’m sure will be countered by terrorism and so on, and so on, and so on…

I guess the reality is that there is only so much room in this world and in the end it really is going to be survival of the fittest and most ruthless. Where is flower-power when you need it? Why can’t we all be friends?

When all these things happen in the outside world, it reaffirms my decision to move to Armenia and makes me feel fortunate that I do have a cultural homeland that is mine, with very defined boarders, that I have the right to live here on this relatively safe island.
Have you been following the news in the world? Terrorist attacks in Russia, hurricanes hitting the Bahamas and Florida, floods in China and earthquakes in Japan. What is happening to this world?

The one that I don’t get is the news coverage and especially the journalists that are covering the hurricanes. Why the heck do their stations send them into the storm, which they themselves report to be very dangerous? One reporter told as to where he was and the actor in the newsroom repeated what he had said as him being in the eye of the hurricane, which was calm, to which the reporter said no, I am just outside the eye, which is the most dangerous part of the hurricane [don’t downplay the sensationalism I’m creating]!!!

Now don’t get me wrong, but in the animal kingdom, when there are fires, storms and so on, the animals head for safe ground and never look back to see what destruction the storm has caused. Only man is interested in observing destruction of a hurricane, fire, flood or worse than that, the massacre of 330 people in Russia, half of who were children. And if people where not interested in these things, the news would not show them for days on end as they do.

Of course I have to ask myself what is wrong with me or my fiancé, who are glued to the television to watch to see if the Russian massacre count rises (which it did), but take into consideration that we know that the massacre has happened or the hurricane hit and that should satisfy our need to know, but no, we are humans and have to know everything, even those things that don’t directly effect our world, but do disrupt our sleep and occupies space in our memories and not in such a good way.

My fiancé told me last night that she can’t stop thinking about this massacre and seeing in her head the pictures of children covered in blood. Is such intensively covered news really needed or do we need it to divert our attention from our own problems so we can feel better about ourselves?

As I was writing this log, my fiancé turned the channel to ALM (a local Armenian channel) that one of the programs that seems to occupy most of it’s airtime is an amateur singing program, which is hosted by a man named Dickran Garbeddian (future candidate for Parliament or President if you ask me) and is sponsored by the Multi-Group (Dodi Gago). I was not watching, but heard a Michel Jackson song which has a relaxing sound to it and when I turned to see what they were showing with it, I was shocked. It was scenes from the massacre in Russia and the blood covered children. I asked my fiancé what this was all about? She said they had just shown the news from Russia and since the massacres, they have been showing clips like this following the news. What is the point?

Humans are sick creatures. Why couldn’t I have been born a Dolphin or better yet, a Turtle?

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Here is a message I wanted to share with you.

Dear Friends,

I hope this message finds you well.

For the past year or so, I’ve been preparing for the publication of My Brother’s Road, a biography/memoir about my late brother Monte. The book has been a long time in coming, and it has not been easy to get it published. I’m happy to announce, however, that the London publisher I.B.Tauris will release the book in the UK this coming December, and in the USA in March 2005.

I invite you to visit the website for this book: The site contains information about My Brother’s Road and other books I’ve written, as well as related material, including several full-text articles. At the site, you will also find links to I.B. Tauris and to the Monte Melkonian Fund, Inc., a California 501(c)(3) charitable organization devoted to assisting the neediest of the needy in Armenia.

I plan to expand and improve the website. If you have any ideas for improvements, please let me know. Also, please feel free to forward this message to friends or to link to the site. If you have an email address that you think I should add to my list, please let me know about that, too.

I hope you enjoy the site.

Best wishes,

Markar Melkonian

English Version:
Armenian Version:

1 September 2004

A recent ex-official goes after a journalist

On August 31, 2004 Edik Baghdasaryan, editor-in chief of Hetq Online, was summoned to the Investigative Division of the Police Department of the Kentron District of Yerevan to provide an explanation. "I first asked investigator Arsen Aivazyan about my status, to find out in what capacity I had been called into the police station. He responded that I had no status at the moment. Then I read through the statement made by Artashes Bisharyan, now the ex-head of the Department of Medical and Technological Supply of the Ministry of Health, in which he requested that charges be filed against me in accordance with Article 135 of the Criminal Code of Armenia, for insulting his honor and dignity," Baghdasaryan said. The journalist had been investigating the expiration of one billion drams worth of medicine that had been sent to Armenia as humanitarian aid.

A criminal investigation of the matter is being conducted by the Prosecutor's Office. "The funniest thing is that it has been two years since the criminal case was instituted, but Artashes Bisharyan, the main person responsible for the humanitarian medicine , has not testified in the Prosecutor's Office so far," Baghdasaryan said, adding, "I don't doubt that my articles contributed to the fact that Bisharyan was dismissed, but what can you do? Everyone has to take responsibility for his own actions. I refused to answer the questions at the police station or provide an explanation. I only noted that my investigation is not over yet, and there will be new articles, and new information will come to light. I pointed out that all the answers to the investigator's questions were contained in my articles, and I had no further answers or explanations. It is not clear yet whether criminal proceedings will be instituted against me or not, but one thing is clear - all the information I published is reliable and is based on documents. I examined only official documents, which took me months and months, since they were lists of drugs in thousands of different strengths," Baghdasaryan said.

Kristine Barseghyan

See also:

Humanitarian medicine was intentionally left to expire- 4

Humanitarian medicine was intentionally left to expire - 3

Humanitarian medicine was intentionally left to expire-5: Bisharyan


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Armenian Version:

1 September 2004

Light and shadow in Armenian business

The shadow economy in Armenia amounts to 50-60%, a figure published by the Armenian government itself. Unfair competition is a long-standing, well-known fact in Armenian business. Meanwhile, different organizations keep looking at the causes of this problem, and searching for a solution.

But in a country like Armenia it is not easy to guarantee equal competition among businesses, as is evidenced by a recent survey conducted by the newspaper Azg (See. Azg , August 13, 2004). About 50 % of 500 respondents consider the main obstacle to the development of the small and medium businesses to be:

- red tape (24.8%);
- protectionism/patronage (13.7%0;
- bribery (7%);
- management (5.4%).

According to studies by the NGO Union of Traders, each mid-level (or higher) functionary patronizes between one and fifteen businesses. According to their "caliber", these officials patronize small, medium, or big businesses. Of course, the "protection" for the majority of the 300 businesses considered big are the owners themselves. Some of these owners are members of parliament, the "tentacles" of others stretch to the President's Administration, to super-ministers, and so on.

Nevertheless, according to various official data, these 300 big companies provide some 60% of the state budget. This is an odd fact, if we consider that according to the list of "tax-payers who are more than one million drams in arrears" published by the State Tax Department, the majority of these big "budget filling" companies are unprofitable. Cigaronne, Royal Armenia, Kotayk, Jermuk Group, the Yerevan Milling Plant, Marriotte-Armenia, and other companies have presented the taxation authorities with annual balance sheets describing unprofitable businesses, and yet they have made their contributions to the state budget. Some invisible hand marks in advance the share that the big businesses have to pay as a "tribute", and this share doesn't change, whether the business is profitable or not.

This fact is evidence of the existence of protectionism coming from the highest levels of power. In any case, it is interesting to see how, in fact, the big profitable companies are registered as unprofitable. The scheme is simple: Company N, for example, imports 2X tons of food. Naturally, the company makes transport expenditures adequate to the quantity of the imported food. But the customs post on the border registers not 2X tons of food but just X tons. Thus, it turns out on paper that the registered quantity of imported food (half the real amount), created losses rather than profit for the company.

The big businesses with powerful "protection" feed one way or another the main artery of corruption, "fill 60% of the state budget", and put into operation the shadow extortion. Thus, avoiding taxes and custom duties has become a way of conducting business for big taxpayers.

Tsolvard Gevorgyan, the chairman of the Union of Traders, estimates that the direct taxes paid by big businesses amount to 20-25% of the taxes assigned to the budget.

As is known, the budget is generated from direct (income tax, profit tax) and indirect (VAT, simplified tax) assignments to the budget, and a country in which the collection of direct taxes exceeds indirect taxes is, if not developed, a steadily developing country.

Up to 70% of profit from business is concealed this opinion is held by businessmen, economists, and "protection", alike. On May 15, 1998, the government adopted Decision # 298, "On measures related to the introduction of cash registers." This process was supposed to be implemented step-by-step. But the 200 trade fairs and vendor's stalls operating in the republic were left out of this decision. To fill the gap, Decision #698 (October 30, 2000) was adopted. When competent authorities began implementing the requirements of the decision, we witnessed mass rallies and pickets organized by traders and vendors in front of the government and parliament buildings. Orinats Yerkir Party's political lobby in the parliament joined the protesters.

In November 2001, a joint working group consisting of representatives of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of State Revenues, the State Standards Department, and NGOs was set up to "study the process of implementation of the requirements of Government Decisions number 298 and 698." From November 12 to November 30, 2001, the working group conducted a sample study at the consumer goods markets (trade fairs) of Yerevan. It turned out that only 1-2% of the 5,000 stalls in the markets had cash registers. The Petak bazaar, in particular, had 264 stalls (though according to our information there were 800 stalls at Petak at the time of the inspection) and only 17 of them had cash registers; at the Hayastan bazaar there were 416 stalls and only two cash registers, at the Narek bazaar, 470 stalls and no cash registers, and so on.

Super-profit and shadow circulation

The bazaar owners pay to the budget 3,750 drams a month for one square meter. But the falsification starts with the declaration of the space, when a fraction of the actual area is declared.

"If I declare the actual size of my spot, where am I going to get the money to pay allowances to the families of fallen war veterans, or to socially insecure families?" one of bazaar directors, who didn't want his name published, asked us. The traders who rent spots at the bazaars (between $100 and $800 a month depending on the size) are not registered as individual businessmen or legal entities, and don't pay taxes.

Let us consider one example. A certain owner has 100 square meters of space, for which he pays 375,000 drams a month (100 X 3,750) or about $700. If he has 10 traders who pay about $400 a month each in rent he gets $4,000 a month. The remainder after subtracting tax allotments ($4000- $700) comes to a sizeable sum - $3,300. But in real life the situation is much more distressing, since the shadow amounts reach billions of drams.

Tsolvard Gevorgyan of the Union of Traders says that the tenants pay their landlords between $100 and $800 a month and "thus the same amount goes into the owners' pockets. The shadow sums come from within the retail margin, which is 3-5%. In the case of 100% commodity circulation, these sums arising from 5% of the circulation can reach $12,000-15,000. We should consider how much money would go into the Treasury if these sums were taxed and, what is more important, the extent to which this would contribute to the creation of equal competition among businesses."

The fact that the prices at the bazaars remain low compared to those in stores is due to the existence of the shadow economy. The bazaars have no shortage of customers, but the Treasury is deprived of its share of the profit.

Perfecting the legal framework

Bazaar owners are required by law to give working permits to legal entities or to licensed individual businessmen. Although the violation of this requirement is subject to confiscation of up to 50 % of the total turnover, and if repeated, is subject to criminal liability, the trade fair owners, with their powerful "protection" have always gotten around this Article of the Law on Taxation.

In 2002 the number of entities subject to simplified tax was 12,000, and in 2003 this number was 18,000. Thus, in a year the number of entities grew by 50%. If we add that during the same period of time, the rate for the simplified tax rose 75%, we will see after rough calculation that in place of the of 3.7 billion drams collected in simplified taxes in 2002, 9 billion drams was supposed to be collected in 2004, but in fact only 5.1 billion drams were collected. Some 3.9 billion drams in taxes was not collected, becoming shadow circulating capital.

Protectionism and corruption are alarming phenomena not only in the field of big business but within small and medium businesses as well. Tsolvard Gevorgyan believes that this situation is first of all the result of the imperfection of the legal framework. This fall the National Assembly will consider the draft "Law on Trading Workplaces" co-authored by the Union of Traders. It is unclear yet whether it will be possible to overcome political lobbying. If the law passes, cash registers will be required in the trade fairs. Otherwise, nothing will change; big business will remain in the realm of shadow monopoly.

Mariam Stepanyan


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Armenian Version:

1 September 2004

Thugs beat up journalists, with the connivance of parliament members

On August 24, 2003 , Armenian journalists were physically attacked once again. This time, in Tsakhkadzor, Gagik Stepanyan, a bodyguard of parliament member Levon Sargisyan, beat photojournalist Mkhitar Khachatryan of the news agency PhotoLur and reporter Anna Israelyan from the newspaper Aravot.

Covered in forests, Tsakhkadzor is a resort area famous since Soviet times. Many USSR sports teams used to train here, but today Tsakhkadzor is better known as a vacation spot favored by President Robert Kocharyan, and, in direct connection, the place where oligarchs and government officials build private getaways. Since there is no room in the town itself, they cut down forests and fence in land for their mansions.

Stepanyan and Israelyan were putting together material on these mansions when they were attacked by several shaved-headed thugs, Stepanyan among them. His boss, MP Levon Sargisyan, is known to the public as "Flour Mill Lyov". A member of Serge Sargisyan's circle, Sargisyan is known as an active participant in and big contributor to Robert Kocharyan's election campaign.

His companies import and produce flour, and the Ministry of Defense buys flour for the Army exclusively from him. Thus, he is unlikely to ever have trouble selling his product, as long as Serge Sargisyan is minister of defense.

Interestingly, when on April 5, 2004 , journalists covering an opposition rally near the Nairi Cinema were beaten up, "Flour Mill Lyov" happened to be at the nearby Oscar Café. His bodyguards were among the perpetrators of the violence. It looks like he was directing their actions from a short distance away.

The other thugs who attacked the journalists on April 5 th were bodyguards of MP Gagik Tsarukyan. Tsarukyan, who is known by the name "Dodi (Stupid) Gago", denied that these men worked for him. But the fact is that until April 5 th they worked as his bodyguards. Tsarukyan is a member of Robert Kocharyan's inner circle and one of the richest businessmen in Armenia. (Of course, on paper, his companies are unprofitable). This oligarch cut down a huge section of the forest in Tsakhkadzor to built private houses and cottages.

On August 27, 2004 the Office of the Prosecutor General of Armenia announced that criminal proceedings had been instituted regarding the violence against journalists.

On August 28th a number of media outlets organized a joint protest in which ninety journalists went to Tsakhkadzor in nineteen cars. They drove around the town taking pictures of the forests that have been cut down and the private houses of various government officials and businessmen.

Staring today, we will publish the names of the owners of the houses built in the green areas of Tsakhkadzor.

The journalists' first stop was the home, or as a sign at the entrance states, "recreation area" of the president of the company Multi Group and member of parliament, Gagik Tsarukyan. Tsarukyan first purchased the Tereshkova Camp for Children, two buildings on one hectare of land. Subsequently, his territory was expanded to 20 hectares, and a section of the forest was destroyed and 21 cottages built. According to the mayor of Tsakhkadzor, Garun Mirzoyan, "There will be 26 cottages here, according to the design."

Some of these cottages and trees are shown in the pictures.

But that's not all.

Next to this plot, Tsarukyan has built two huge mansions.

Edik Baghdasaryan

Friday, September 03, 2004

When did this start on Armenian television? What you ask? Hyrenik television, which broadcasts children’s television programming was airing Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in English this afternoon.

Not that I have anything against using cartoons to teach children English in a classroom environment, I know that for the most part, the children here don’t understand English, so I have to wonder why they didn’t air the Russian version, which is a language that our children seem to understand much better.

I say this, as by not understanding the language, all one understands is that cups, saucers, cabinets and so on can talk and the fight scenes, which for a child were quite graphic and just like most Hollywood movies, instills indifference to violence especially to children.

As soon as the cartoon was over, my fiancés 5 year old niece became aggressive and was tossing her toys all over the house (her rag-doll went airborne and took out some crystals from our living room chandelier), replicating the fight scenes. It was not until she had a chance to watch some Russian children’s program that was were made in the 80’s (though I don’t understand the language, the scenes seem very normal and have minimal aggression) and her mother yelling at her, that she calmed down.

Though Schwarzenegger thinks that Communism destroys individual order, I think it’s Hollywood and all those movies he has stared in that has done much more damage to individual order than Communism could ever do.

Though some may think that Communism is the enemy of Hollywood, Hollywood could be perceived as the enemy of the entire international order.

Associated Press Worldstream
September 1, 2004 Wednesday 12:51 PM Eastern Time

National rankings of economic security

Countries ranked according the International Labor Organization's Economic Security Index, which combines seven different measures of individual economic security, with the highest score being 1.000.

1. Sweden 0.977
2. Finland 0.947
3. Norway 0.926
4. Denmark 0.910
5. Netherlands 0.865
6. Belgium 0.829
7. France 0.829
8. Luxembourg 0.813
9. Germany 0.793
10. Canada 0.785
11. Ireland 0.782
12. Austria 0.782
13. Spain 0.756
14. Portugal 0.738
15. United Kingdom 0.736
16. Switzerland 0.727
17. Australia 0.724
18. Japan 0.718
19. Israel 0.695
20. Italy 0.681
21. Hungary 0.635
22. Slovakia 0.626
23. Czech Republic 0.622
24. New Zealand 0.614
25. United States 0.612
26. Greece 0.592
27. Latvia 0.587
28. Bulgaria 0.582
29. Barbados 0.574
30. Lithuania 0.556
31. Croatia 0.546
32. South Korea 0.545
33. Mauritius 0.536
34. Estonia 0.525
35. Ukraine 0.524
36. Costa Rica 0.521
37. Argentina 0.521
38. South Africa 0.519
39. Brazil 0.517
40. Panama 0.515
41. Russia 0.503
42. Belarus 0.499
43. Moldova 0.495
44. Romania 0.456
45. Philippines 0.455
46. Chile 0.447
47. Azerbaijan 0.425
48. Mexico 0.418
49. Tunisia 0.412
50. Algeria 0.409
51. Tajikistan 0.404
52. Ecuador 0.395
53. Venezuela 0.393
54. Lebanon 0.390
55. Georgia 0.389
56. Turkey 0.381

57. Kyrgyzstan 0.380
58. China 0.356
59. Egypt 0.339
60. Albania 0.339
61. Peru 0.339
62. Sri Lanka 0.330
63. Kazakhstan 0.320
64. Uzbekistan 0.312
65. Thailand 0.287
66. Armenia 0.285
67. Honduras 0.276
68. Burkina Faso 0.266
69. Colombia 0.258
70. Nigeria 0.254
71. Zimbabwe 0.254
72. Madagascar 0.249
73. Ivory Coast 0.247
74. India 0.246
75. Morocco 0.237
76. Turkmenistan 0.230
77. Indonesia 0.228
78. Ghana 0.227
79. Congo 0.226
80. Senegal 0.223
81. Benin 0.215
82. Congo 0.148
83. Ethiopia 0.142
84. Pakistan 0.136
85. Mauritania 0.128
86. Burundi 0.098
87. Rwanda 0.073
88. Bangladesh 0.070
89. Sierra Leone 0.060
90. Nepal 0.051

Thursday, September 02, 2004

When I caught a by chance glimpse of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speech he delivered Tuesday at the Republican National Convention that was aired in Armenia on CNN, I was stunned to hear him say: “My fellow Americans, make no mistake about it terrorism is more insidious than communism, because it yearns to destroy not just the individual, but the entire international order.”

How could Schwarznigger compare communism to terrorism? I would think that it would be more appropriate to compare America to terrorism, but I guess in America, that would not raise your popularity.

All I can say is that Schwarznigger is one brainwashed naive American who I hope never becomes president, as if his speech is an indication of the direction he will take America, then he could do more damage to the world than Bush has. He should have stuck to acting.

If you want a good scare and see what an immigrant American thinks and gave as “a very personal speech”, take a look at:

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I met a fellow Diaspora Armenian who is from Iraq yesterday at Victory Park. He works at one of the cafes, making Shahurma (a meat sandwich).

When I ordered up my Shahurma, he asked me where I was from? I told him America, to which he told me he was from Iraq, his family originating from Van.

After telling him my father was born in Iraq and my grandmother’s family originated from Van, we instantly bonded.

Hovanness told me that he moved to Armenia 8 years ago and left Iraq because of the war. He has no idea as to if his father is alive or not and has tried for some time to establish contact with him. He added that when he talks about this subject, his eyes fill up, something my fiancé later on pointed out to me.

He wanted to know what I was doing here and why I left America to move here?

He said that Armenia is really a wonderful place, but said that it is lacking real paying jobs. His job pays him $2 a day and with that, he needs to support his wife and children.

In Iraq he was an automobile mechanic and worked on Mercedes and BMW’s. He also played basketball, of which he said with his present situation, he has had to give all that up.

He commented that working a 10 hour day for $2 is very hard and said that in Iraq, he made a very good living and had people working for him.

His opinion of the present day situation was not all that positive and I guess you can’t blame him one bit for feel the way he does.

Eurasia Insight
By Emil Danielyan

Armenian opposition leaders recently announced they would prolong their boycott of parliament. The announcement appeared to dash President Robert Kocharian's hopes of putting to rest questions about his administration's legitimacy.

Kocharian and his critics have been at odds since the 2003 presidential election, which was tainted by numerous voting irregularities. The defeated opposition candidate, Stepan Demirchian, has refused to recognize the election results. To draw attention to their complaints, Demirchian and other opposition leaders have maintained a boycott of the legislature. Opposition MPs have already refrained from participating in parliamentary sessions for seven months.

On August 27, the executive board of the opposition Justice alliance, headed by Demirchian, decided to continue the boycott during the next legislative session. The alliance bloc's key ally, the National Unity Party (AMK), is expected to follow suit. Justice and the AMK are the only opposition forces represented in Armenia's National Assembly, holding 23 of its 131 seats.

Justice leaders complain that Kocharian's administration has not met any of their demands. "None of the reasons for our walkout from the National Assembly has been addressed," one of them, Victor Dallakian, said, singling out the authorities' refusal to hold a "referendum of confidence" in Kocharian.

The Armenian Constitutional Court, in a non-binding decision concerning the 2003 presidential election tally, had suggested a referendum on Kocharian's authority. However, the parliament, which is dominated by Kocharian loyalists, refused in February to debate the issue. That, in turn, prompted Justice alliance and AMK lawmakers to launch their boycott.

The continuation of the boycott keeps open the possibility of renewed street protests against Kocharian. In March, Justice and AMK began organizing mass demonstrations in an effort to force Kocharian's resignation. The protest effort, however, never gained enough political momentum to pose a serious danger to Kocharian's hold on power. Ultimately, the protests ran out of steam in May, amid a government crackdown. The opposition formally abandoned the protest strategy in late spring, but has remained defiant, pledging to continue to fight for "the restoration of constitutional order" in Armenia.

Authorities, mindful of the boycott's negative impact on their democratic credentials abroad, have tried hard to get the opposition minority back to the parliament. They have offered, in particular, to give the opposition a voice in the planned reform of Armenia's constitution and in the writing of new electoral legislation. At the same time, the Kocharian majority has threatened to strip opposition members of their parliament seats. Under Armenian law, parliamentarians can be expelled from the legislature for absenteeism.

The threats do not seem to be taken seriously by Justice and the AMK, though. "Are they so stupid to do that? I don't think so," said Justice lawmaker Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the president).

The boycott aside, opposition leaders appear to be struggling to formulate new political tactics. Opposition leaders acknowledge that their spring protest tactic was ineffective and is now being reconsidered. The AMK's outspoken leader Artashes Geghamian, for example, now believes that Armenians should be urged to take to the streets only for a decisive and quick push for power.

Most local analysts doubt the opposition has the ability to organize crowds big enough to force Kocharian's resignation. Still, the government is taking no chances. In late August, officials tightened rules for the holding of public gatherings. Those rules are grounded in a new Armenian law that Council of Europe legal experts believe violates European standards on freedom of assembly.

Meanwhile, there is mounting speculation about Kocharian's political future. The Armenian constitution bars the president from seeking a third term. But some presidential supporters have suggested that Kocharian, now in his second term, could be a candidate in the next presidential vote, scheduled for 2008. A package of constitutional amendments drafted by Kocharian and his top allies would keep the two-term restriction. However, the proposed amendments may still undergo changes before being put to a referendum next year.

Assuming that the 50-year-old Armenian leader will voluntarily quit in 2008, he must already be thinking about a successor. The most obvious choice seems his most trusted lieutenant, Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian. Both men are natives of Nagorno-Karabakh and have worked in tandem ever since moving to high positions in Yerevan in the 1990s.

With his pervasive influence on economic affairs, Sarkisian is widely regarded as the second most powerful official in Armenia. However, his presidential ambitions would not sit well with at least one of the three parties represented in Kocharian's coalition government, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

Among other potential successors are parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and Justice Minister David Harutiunian. They publicly clashed during a parliament session earlier this year after Baghdasarian accused Harutiunian's ministry of misusing a World Bank loan to strengthen Armenia's judiciary. The accusations were construed by some commentators as a sign of unfolding personal rivalry between the two relatively young politicians.

A new influential government faction, headed by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian, has also emerged in recent months. Hovsepian is close to Kocharian, and has cobbled together a strong support base in Aparan, his home region in central Armenia. Hovsepian's ostensibly apolitical organization already has several representatives in the parliament and is aspiring to amass greater political clout. A leading Yerevan daily, Haykakan Zhamanak, has described him as another potential presidential nominee.

The presidential succession question has not generated much interest among ordinary Armenian citizens, many of whom doubt the fairness of the electoral process. As another newspaper, Aravot, editorialized in late August; "The next president will be the one who will have the security structures and gangs of [government-connected] thugs at his disposal."

Editor's Note: Emil Danielyan is a Yerevan-based journalist and political analyst.