Assasinations and blasts in Armenia continued yesterday

Photo by E-channel

Armenia looks out of control these days with blasts, shooting and assassination attempts following one another.
“2 offices of ‘Prosperous Armenia'[one of the most powerful pro-presidential political parties running for parliament in the elections on May 12, 2007] were blown up” reported Kornelij Glas(ru) about the blasts on the night of April 12, soon to be followed by more detailed posts by other bloggers: Oneworld Multimedia, Hyelog. Soon Onnik Krikoryan of Oneworld Multimedia followed up with photos from the site of bombings and more comments:

Indeed, almost everybody in Yerevan is already pointing the finger at the Republican Party although a few say that either the incident was manufactured to make believe a serious rift between the two exists or that Prosperous Armenia staged the incident themselves. However, as I said, most believe it was the work of the Republicans although the ruling party effectively denies the accusation.

The bloggers can’t stop wondering just how far the assassinations will go, Armenia Blog is comparing Armenia these days with Chicago 80 years ago and quoting ArmeniaNow on listing some of the recent high profile assassination attempts and killings:

The assassination attempt against the Mayor of Gyumri Monday night, leaving three dead and three wounded, is the eighth high-profile and public attack within just over a year. In all the cases, only two arrests have been made, and none brought to justice

JLiving notes(ru) writes about attacks on Parliment candidates: shootings at Hakob Hakobyan’s (Choit) car past midnight and the arson attack at the election office of Sousanna Haroutyunyan.
Well, as Kornelij Glas (ru) puts it in his election leaflet #7, the “Kalashnikov guns have already become the number one brand of the pre-election campaign” in Armenia. This terrible statistics makes it seem like the most dangerous pre-election campaign since Armenia’s independence in 1991, and the campaign has just started on 8th April!!!

Artur Papyan

Journalist, blogger, digital security and media consultant


  1. Observer,
    The title of your entry from April 13 is “Assasinations and blasts in Armenia continue”. I opened it with an expectation to hear about new assassinations and blasts. There were only the latter. Since all the assassination attempts have been discussed by you in the previous entries, they “did not continue”, as of April 13.

  2. Artashes – thank you for pointing out that important shortcoming of my title. The entry was written yesterday midday, so when I was writing it, it was perfectly valid. However, being really busy all day, I had no time to finalize and publish it, so I published the entry past midnight, when the date had already changed and the news was no news anymore. I’ve adjusted the title slightly but am still thinking of ways for modifying it…
    No need to say, that I value really highly careful readers like yourself and will always be glad to receive comments and suggestions.
    More importantly, I certainly do hope, that the blasts and assassinations do not continue anymore. This is outrageous and most disgraceful! And this has crossed all the acceptable boundaries. Something needs to be done fast to drive all these criminals with their utmost disregard for humanity out of the political landscape and out of this country altogether!

  3. Observer, sure it would be good if this crime stopped. Just a pity that civil society has been too busy fighting each other in competition for grants — the other side of the money making machine in Armenia — throughout the 8 years I’ve been here. Unfortunately, nearly everybody is responsible for this situation.
    Probably we can throw in the international community and the Diaspora (its leadership and main organizations, that is) here as well, but ultimately, the only people who can change anything here are the people, but given that corruption and disregard for the law permeates through the whole of society I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting.
    It’s even been interesting to hear that even NGOs are battling each other at present in much the same way as we think two parties might be. No bombs, but the intent is the same. Elsewhere, the media and civil society has lost its sense of impartiality and now everybody is taking sides.
    On that basis alone, I think we can forget the idea of democratic elections in Armenia because to be honest, very few people on either side of the political divide as well as in civil society actually understand what that means. Sad. Very sad.

  4. Onnik – as you well know, I myself come from Civil Society organizations, so it is really hard for me to comment objectively. Hence, I will refrain from commenting. Your points taken, there are certain aspects that I agree with, and some that I disagree.

  5. Well, theoretically most of us come from civil society in one shape or form, including me. However, my main point stands. The situation in Armenia has been allowed to form even by those who are against that situation. Nothing seems to be done unless money is made available from international donors, and when it is, civil society suddenly becomes active. Incidentally, I received a message from a political party yesterday requesting my presence at one of their press conferences. Would I come free of charge because they won’t pay me. I was shocked, and said of course I’d cover the event if I had the time and it was of interest in terms of news. Anyway, according to that party, some journalists and media outlets are demanding payment to cover events and that includes both pro-government and pro-opposition media. The same was also said to me by another party the other day as well. Very sad.

  6. However, as the main urgent need is for these elections to be transparent, why not discuss this? Transparency, accountability and inward constructive criticism is necessary for every walk of life here if the country is to truly develop in my opinion.

  7. Onnik,
    Please transparently list all the sources and the size of your financial compensation for last 8 years in Armenia. Then compare it with that of some unknown and struggling Armenian journalists. It might not appear so shocking after you do that.

  8. Artashes, you have no idea what you’re talking about. I have spent many years of my life working for free or for salaries far lower than that earned by local journalists because I do what I believe is right first and foremost. Many times, because I lack the connections and the ability to sell out, I remained without income for months and used my own savings to fund my projects that others did not touch until years later when money was made available for them.
    I’ve seen them submit false receipts and take undisclosed payments for partisan articles and so on. I find your comment insulting and not least because I’ve worked for free for some outlets (Bars Media) and for next to nothing for Hetq for years. Foreign commissions keep my head above water while I wait for the next one although thankfully this year I’m getting more and more of them. I’m glad to say that rather than rely on friends and relatives in funding bodies, international organizations and media companies,
    I have now gotten to this situation by hard work and on its strength. I could have sold out like I see many others do, but I didn’t, and I never will. Anyway, no doubt you apply the same logic to corruption in the governmental, education and medical spheres, or are you for some reason trying to argue for a totally discredited media in Armenia which lost the trust of the population long ago?

  9. Man, really, if only you knew. Struggling journalists. Jesus, really…
    Anyway, the media is so bad here, I’m so glad to hopefully now be in the position where I can work for people outside of Armenia. Sorry, but usually I come to the conclusion that few people work cleanly in Armenia which makes attacks on the Government so ironic.
    Usually, the same system and mechanisms of corruption are at play in all areas of life, including civil society. It’s just that the amounts are different, although by no means small. Nevertheless, it doesn’t leave me with much faith that things can be different or changed because if the government is replaced, new people come along with the same way of thinking and acting.
    And for those established in the media, civil society, the medical sector, etc, life is not hard, c’mon. Fair enough, earn your living, but for those that sell out, please don’t — keep some ethics, pride, and some integrity. One thing about struggling journalists/photographers who do have some talent and integrity, though, I’ve done my damndest to help as many as I can.
    However, either there has been resistance from those established in control of all the finance available, or I’ve discovered that when they sold me the bleeding heart poverty story they actually meant they weren’t rich enough. I’ve seen it too many times and worked my arse off for too long, often driven only by what I believe in, to even consider your rationalization as justification for the situation.
    Still, you could be right, who knows? Perhaps corruption is the model for Armenia’s development, but if so, understand that it’s the same thing whether it’s situated at the top or the bottom. That for me, is sad and a moral disaster for any country.

  10. Onnik,
    First, I did not mean to insult you (I am quite fluent in English: when I do intend to insult people it comes through unmistakeably :)).
    I do not know anything about you except that you are a British photographer and journalist of Armenain descent and have made some name for yourself in that capacity. I got to know about you some years ago, with the photo report on Kurds/Yezidis of Armenia (it was you, right? Now I am not even 100% sure, it was quite some time ago.)
    So, I assumed (maybe, incorrectly) that you have made your career and/or name in Britain, or at least outside of Armenia, and then came here having some more or less solid financial basis (contracts with international agencies, or whatever). The latter allows you to do what you consider the right thing to do as a reporter. And I compared that with those Armenian reporters who have an ambition to become good journalists but need to eat food also. How can they sustain themselves and not “sell out”, as you say? I don’t know about the world of journalism in general, but in Armenian conditions is it at all possible to be guided ONLY by your conscience and make a living? Who is a financier of a truly independent media in Armenia? The media itself? Can it exist against the will of the government/oligarch mafia? I really don’t know, and if you and the Observer can enlighten me with Concrete answers to these questions I will be grateful.
    In that context, the specific fact of asking money for coverage of the political event did not strike me as an instance of either corruption or selling out, but a way for an even objective and unbiased reporter to make a living. Does it make sense?

  11. Well, it makes sense, but let’s then turn this around. There are those who don’t take informal ayments and there are those that do. My take, there is no excuse for corruption in any shape or form, and usually, the ones doing this in this context are not struggling. They have been taking informal payments for so long that it has become a matter of habit. It also doesn’t help the process of elections or democratization in Armenia. Those that don’t take the bribes usually stay poor, but they don’t sell out.
    As for me, I worked in human rights organizations and media in England (Kurdish Human Rights Project, Bristol Evening Post, The Independent, The Economist) and I moved here to take up a UN contract on an albeit higher than normal local salary because I wanted to be here. I resigned after 3 months because the work environment was appalling. I then volunteered for 1 year with Bars Media because I wanted to work on something i believed in. Thankfully, I also started working for The Armenian Weekly newspaper in the U.S. covering the stories that nobody else was covering at the time.
    That included poverty issues, trafficking and so on. Often I used my income to pay for transportation and equipment. Meanwhile, I learned that those who usually approach the Diaspora with sob stories about how tough their life was were doing very well indeed, and through connections, friends and relatives were also in receipt of tens of thousands of funding on a semi-annual basis. Even so, most didn’t do their job professionally, in my opinion.
    I also did some work for Fox News, Transitions Online, and others, but don’t believe they pay well. They pay a local rate for materials, and usually the international media is not interested in Armenia except at key times such as elections. Even then, and we can see this now, the large media outlets are not interested in these elections save for the occasional report by a local stringer. Nevertheless, I covered the issues I believed needed to be covered and continue to do so. Meanwhile, I worked for local publications for local salaries while also helping some of those “struggling” journalists and media outlets get financial assistance from abroad.
    Later, I discovered that there was a lot of hidden funding going on from international donors who didn’t want their names associated with partisan articles critical of the government, or even from Diasporan foundations. A friend who works in the media says that journalists from the local papers earn at least $600/month in hidden income. Not sure if that’s true, but he’s a reliable and trusted source on information in other areas. Sure, there are struggling journalists, but they don’t take informal bribes so why should others who are in a very good situation indeed?
    It’s the same matter of a mentality of accepting corruption and not abiding by a certain level of ethics that affect every sphere of life in Armenia. However, no you’re right. Now the outside world is paying more attention to the situation in Armenia, there is slowly more interest in stories from here. Thankfully, my work that has always been determined by what needs to be covered rather than international donor direction and control has been noticed and it’s not so tough now that I don’t have to work in a country where political affiliation, corruption and connections define even the media field.
    Meanwhile, civil society continues to get its grants and in my opinion, most NGOs — which also includes some media outlets because it means they can receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding — are in urgent need of transparency and oversignt mechanisms being strictly applied. Many media outlets also do not reveal the source of their funding, and if you knew how much money was changing hands you’d also understand why certain types of stories are suddenly appearing. Anyway, many media outlets are in receipt of funding for this campaign period, and you just don’t know about it.
    In that case, the independence and professionalism in the media has to really be called to account. There are only a few journalists that I can say first and foremost cover their stories impartially here which is why the media is not trusted. People don’t trust the pro-government media, and they also don’t trust the pro-opposition or supposedly “independent” press. Readership is pitifully low and we get into a vicious circle. A proper publication could be self-sustainable by gaining the trust of its audience, but it’s easier and more lucrative to take money off others while writing or photographing on demand.
    Anyway, the amount of connections as it pertains to international interest in Armenia is low. Even so, when I meet a young journalist or photographer struggling to work through a corrupt system of connections, I do everything I can do support and promote them even though I could just take the work myself. Perhaps that’s stupid and I should become as cynical and greedy as many others, but I can’t do that. I believe in the reliable flow of information and I believe in ethnics and supporting the development of a professional media.
    Unfortunately, we do not have that in Armenia because of the way money defines the system just as it does in other areas. Sure, you can argue that this is natural for a transitional country such as Armenia, but the fact is that if you believe that you are supporting the perpetuation of a system that results in similar activities in the education, medical, cultural and political spheres. The sum result of that is precisely what you’re now witnessing in this election. Let’s face it, if some journalists and media only cover the parties they’re paid to — or even worse, they’re sympathetic to — what hope is there for democratic elections.
    Indeed, with most of the electorate already disinterested in the election despite millions of dollars being made to the media and civil society for this election period is it any wonder? Anyway, I work my arse off, and I don’t take bribes or informal payments. I even just resigned from a project because of its partisan and biased approach to the election even though I didn’t know if I would have work to go to. So, if I can work like that, why can’t others.
    You know, for many of the main players in all spheres of life in Armenia, it is no longer a matter of survival and hasn’t been for a long time. It’s simply a matter of personal enrichment. Nobody is satisfied, and they want more and more and more without realizing that if it comes at the expense of personal integrity and ethics it might actually be better just to leave. Probably that’s why many still do, while those that benefit from this situation are actually happy to stay.
    Again, the electorate realizes this. They see no difference between the opposition and the government. They see them as formed from the same mould. They believe that one group of individuals who have enriched themselves will be replaced by another who have done the same before when given the chance and that will do so again. Sorry, there is no justification for this situation. We need honesty, accountability and integrity in all walks of life, and while there are of course exceptions, it is not so easy to find in the media, in government, in opposition, in civil society or pretty much anywhere.
    There are those that remain outside of this system, and it is those that have given up hope for this country because there’s always a justification and rationalization for the situation by anyone involved in it. Sorry, but I don’t buy that argument. My 5 year old son was born here and is an Armenian citizen, and it is because of this situation that I worry about his future. Anyway, this is going way off the point and rather than imply that I must be “milking it” like many other Diaspora Armenians here, just keep to the issue at hand.
    By all means argue that corruption and an abuse of trust/power is necessary for many to survive, but don’t consider you know about my situation when you don’t and when you then take it personal. I can understand your argument, but when there is LOTS of money changing hands there is no need for more to be accrued. Or maybe I’m just naive. This election has become a battle between two sides — those that want power for their own ambitions and those who want to retain it. Meanwhile, partisan groups in the media and civil society have taken sides for the same reason with very few stuck in between.
    We can all decry the situation in Armenia, but we are all ultimately responsible for it. It’s not jsut the government that are to blame, it’s also those structures and groups that should exist to counterbalance the authorities such as the media and civil society. It’s why the population doesn’t trust any of them, and it’s why they just struggle in their lives while others around them enrich themselves not through hard work, but through their own networks.
    Anyway, that’s the last I’m saying on the matter, and as I’ve thankfully got work for those outside Armenia who do not work in the same manner as those inside, it’s time for me to get on with that. There’s a war going on between two sides now, and another between one of those sides, and I’m just going to do my job. The future is at stake for this country, but those fighting the war might say this, but they don’t understand it, nor do they think or act in any way different than the other side.
    Chigidem, maybe the Republicans are responsible for the bomb blasts against the Prosperous Armenia offices, I don’t know. But it’s interesting to note that Zhirayr Sefilyan threatened the same against those political forces he didn’t support either in case they retained power. So, civil society rubs its hand with glee at the first case while lamenting the second. My take? The rule of law is important and should apply to everyone. If that isn’t the case, there is no difference between any of the parties to this conflict.
    Okay, end of rant. As someone said to me the other day, why do I waste my time reading blogs? Unfortunately, despite the possibility for blogs to become independent sources of information, the danger is that they too now take sides and become partial, not objective and actually biased. Maybe that’s the logical conclusion, but like the civil society and the media, I had hoped for so much more.

  12. This can perhaps be considered partisan because Stepan Safarian and ACNIS are linked to Heritage, but it sums up the position of both the pro-governmental and pro-opposition press. It’s just that while the pro-government media have control of the TV, the other side simply works in the same way through the print media. There is no justification for either.

    The monitoring has illustrated yet again that certain electronic media serve
    the interests of specific political parties or pro-establishment forces.
    “The media remain a weapon at the hands of political powers, and are not a
    means for unbiased information and a true fourth estate. This situation
    cannot become a guarantee for free and fair elections,” the monitoring group

  13. Onnik,
    I completely agree with your main point: we need more honesty and decency in public life. The way it is going will bring a generational change of much more cynical, insolent, and “I-have-money-or-power-I-can-fuck-your-guts” type of people. They may disguise it under “European” rhetoric but every local citizen will know his/her place and not make noise. Some kind of Sicilian mafia. And I am not trying to be funny. The result will be that people like you will take their children and get out while alive.
    The most painful part is that a big part of the population (those who actually are being oppressed) will legitimize that order, as paradoxically as it sounds. Very similar to the way they are legitimizing Dodi Gago.
    What can be done to prevent such a scenario? I don’t know.
    Let me tell you one episode from my life. It was in 1991 or 1992, the period when the situation with bread was very difficult. The shop not far from my house just received a new delivery of bread, and I was standing in the line to get some. I was 21 or 22 at the time, and I was never a macho type, or “goghakan”, as they were called. Just a quiet type. Adult people, grandpas, etc. are standing in line. Suddenly some kid, age 9-10, comes in, gets to the stand cutting the line, and demands bread. Everybody is silent, and he would get it if I didn’t interfere approaching him and telling to get in line. There follows the usual: “Ara, du ov es?”, etc., with the brazen arrogance of a completely spoiled child. I tell him, in my literary Armenian, that he is a brat and his ears should be pulled. He pushes on, and I, very uncharacteristically, reach for his ear and hold it. I didn’t even manage to twist it, since he broke down crying (nobody ever humiliated him publicly, I guess), loudly promised to bring somebody, and got out of the shop. Again, I never do such kind of things, I usually avoid fights, etc., call me a chicken if you want. That day I had enough, I guess. But why am I telling it now? To tell you about the psyche of all those people in the line, the screwed, the humiliated, the simple folk. Do you know what their reaction was after that brat left?? No, they did not say: “You were right, young man, how much can we endure every son of a bitch coming and spitting in our faces and getting the bread out of line?” They, of course, did not say: “Don’t be scared, we are all with you, we will put whoever he is calling in his place!” They did not even say: “Poor guy, you are obviously not a macho, be careful now.” No, they talked to each other: “O, the boy is the son of that Nickname!” and then turned to me (I still had some waiting to do, it was not my turn): “Here, come and get your bread!” That’s it! No single approving word!! Moreover, there was some disdain (!) in their intonation, I swear. It was like: “Here, get your bread, you troublemaker!” I was absolutely shocked! I was ready for anything but not that. I couldn’t say a single word. I did get my bread – yes, out of line, as if THAT was my purpose, how ridiculous! – and went out feeling humiliated MUCH more by these people than by the brat….. Eh, Armenian people… Don’t tell me about Armenian people. Because of things like that, when I hear: “We all are responsible for all the problems of our society, we should not blame the government, we should start with ourselves”, I know for sure that NOTHING will change for better! However theoretically correct, those words are total rubbish in practical sense. You don’t tell a raped person: “You should get up and fight! And if you don’t you will be raped again, and the blame will be on you!” If he/she could fight there will be no rape in the first place…..
    (As for the brat, for the first days after the incident I was very uneasy walking on the street (my house is just one bus stop away from the shop), but nothing happened. Then I forgot about it…)
    On a separate note, did you see my comment directed to you some time ago here, at the Observer’s site? I guess not. You said you did not know what was going on in Armenia in the early 1990s and complained that not much was published in international sources. Yes, very little was published indeed, but in 1997 there was a really interesting article in the Journal of Democracy that tried to analyze political structure INSIDE Armenia (and not just talk about the Karabakh conflict):

  14. When I was in Armenia last, our driver, otherwise a hard-working decent citizen, told me not to be upset about the police stopping cars for small bribes – ‘They’re not paid much’ he said. My reaction was that corruption is corruption whether by top officials, or low-level people. Until the regular citizen is outraged by all levels of corruption and stands up against it the society will not be a healthy one.

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