Armenia's Mher takes the 5th place in "New Wave 2008" international music contest

Watching the “New Wave” (Новая волна) music contest on Armenian Public TV yesterday got me swearing like a taxi driver – the whole contest seemed to be pre-decided! With two Georgians in the jury – the Meladze brothers, it’s no wonder the “Georgia” duet got the first place.
Clearly, it was a Russian show-biz gig. That means really a cool show – but a show where nothing remotely resembling fair voting or considering the opinion of audience can be expected. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen UK or US show-biz producing anything remotely as cool and enjoyable. The contest part of the show took three days, with contestants performing three different songs on the first, second and third days, and evaluated by a jury, composed of Russian show-biz stars.
The “New Wave” international contest for young performers held in Latvia, has become highly popular in the recent years, and has started attracting contestants not only in the countries of former USSR, but also from Germany,Italy, Canada, Finland, Israel. The show lasted 2-3 days and was broadcast on the Public TV of Armenia. And although on the final day Andre kept making all kinds of irritating comments, I must admit the show was excellent.
Armenia was represented by Mher – 26, started singing since he was 4, studied in Russia. Excellent musician I daresay – clearly much better than anyone we have on the Armenian music scene today.
Ukrainian entry, the ‘anti-glamor’ group “Zaklyopki” was also something to be heard, while the “China Town” of Kazakstan was something to be seen – hot!!!
Our Mher was by far the best singer on the stage, but he only got the 5th place. So there I was – a totally frustrated Observer, swearing like a taxi driver, although I generally really enjoyed the show.

Armenia Economy

Isolated Armenia leans on Iran

BBC has a very interesting article on Armenia-Iran relations. A highly recommended read. Here are a couple of interesting points:

Iran does not have too many friends these days, but in a far corner of the Caucasus, on the edge of Europe, it is forming a special relationship.

The story further goes on to tell about Omid Mojahed, a 28-year-old student and entrepreneur, who has started tourism business working in the Iranian market, as well as a restaurant. Omid speaks about attractiveness of Armenia for Iranian tourists and businessmen, and the freedom enjoyed by them:

“In summer I think that 90% of tourists are Iranian. Armenia is so close by and has attractive things – cafes and nightclubs, and beautiful Lake Sevan.”
Omid has also just opened a Persian restaurant, catering for locals as well as Iranian expats, keen for some home cuisine.
Part of that freedom includes an increasingly liberalised economy, and that makes Armenia attractive to foreign investment.
The Armenian capital is hardly an international economic powerhouse, but there are signs that Iranian investors sense an opportunity.

Interestingly, The Armenian Economist has covered the unsatisfactory level of trade turnover between Armenia and Iran, given the huge potential.
The story also explores US discontent with warm Armenia-Iran relations, and explains the situation of blockade the country is in.
PS: My special thanks to Patrik for always sending very interesting info and links to my email address. Duly appreciated!

Armenia Politics

Armenian bloggers take part in Presidential press conference on equal terms with journalists

On July 21 a news conference was held at the presidential office marking the 100th day of Serzh Sarkissian’s presidency. 2 bloggers were invited to the press conference on equal terms with 38 journalists, making the number of invitees a symbolic 40. 40 questions were asked to the president – and bloggers were given the chance to get answers to 1 question each, on equal terms with journalists. In fact, considering that some pro-opposition media weren’t invited, including “Haykakan Zhamanak” newspaper which has the highest circulation among dailies in Armenia (the print-run is over 10,000 copies), the invited bloggers were ‘even more equal’ than some journalists. The precedent is surely unprecedented not only in Armenia, but accross most countries of the world.
It has to be said that Serzh Sargsyan had a blog established on his behalf even before he was sworn in as president of Armenia, collecting several hundred questions from Armenian bloggers on the shaky political situation after the disputed presidential elections held in February and the violent clashes between the opposition supporters and the police forces in capital Yerevan on March 1. With the initiative of Akunamatata_Ser, who remembered that back in March President Sargsyan had promised to answer the questions of bloggers again on his 100th day of presidency, around 50 questions were collected. As the blogger reports in another entry.

It turned out that the people on the helms of government actually look after us and even follow us. Today akunamatata_ser & pigh were invited to the presidential palace!!!!!! It turned out the fact that we remember and don’t forget the promises to bloggers hasn’t slipped the eye of the ‘big brother’

In an excited entry RealArmenia welcomes the participation of Armenian bloggers in the press conference, noteing, that “Armenia ,so far,becomes one of the rare country where the bloggers are going to be equal to journalists” and congratulating Sergey Chamanyan (akunamatata_ser) and Tigran Kocharyan (pigh) for the honor.
Not all accepted the news with the same type of excitement. An arrey of criticism and arguments broke out in the Armenian blogosphere.Nazarian remarked, that “The invited were palace bloggers serving the needs of the regime. The questions they asked obviously were pro-regime.Unzipped went further, wondering “may be the real intention behind recent close engagements of presidential staff with few pro-government bloggers is to discredit blogs/blogging in the eyes of population, in general, from the beginning, without even allowing their further development.” Tumanyan has even looked forward 70 years and created a short negative-fantasy story in the best traditions of Orwell’s 1984.
Veteran journalist Mark Grigorian has initiated a more theoretical discussion on the acceptability of inviting bloggers, i.e. non-professional journalists to a press-conference, which pre-supposes at least a certain degree of professionalism. Mark Grigorian speculates, that although the invited bloggers have around the same numbers of readers as some newspapers, the blogs are still should not be considered as mass media:

The blog is not updated regularly (one day a blog might have several entries, on another days – none at all), the blogger might not necissarily be the author of information published on the blog, and the blog might not always contain inormation — we know that often blog entries are just photos or a link to a music video on YouTube, etc.
Hence blogging requires other skills, then those necessary for working in Mass Media. And that was perfectly illustrated on Armenian president’s press conference.

Former journalist and media professional Ogostos is also not impressed:

There is no logic in the appearance of bloggers in a presidential press-conference []. If presidential spin-doctors consider bloggers full-fledged players in the information field and want to demonstrate their “transparency” by inviting bloggers, they should be aware, that this “transparency” is fully blown-up by the absence of pro-opposition journalists – who are undoubtedly NO LESS FULL-FLEDGED PLAYERS. If the presidential sprin-doctors view bloggers as civil-society, they should also invite other members of civil society and call it public consultations or something else, instead of inviting a press-conference.

In response to the wave of criticism, Pigh makes some valid points, saying he doesn’t respect most journalists because of their “unscrupulousness, non-professionalism and venal practices” and draws the picture of the experienced blogger, who has no editor slowing down and stopping from publishing any information, as there’s no salary involved at the end of the month. The blogger says his motive to attend the press-conference was to promote blogging and blogosphere, and he beleives the objective was reached. “Take it easy, people”, Pigh tells his critics, summerizing the acheivements:

Dear bloggers. It is so cool that we, positionists and oppositionsists, have stepped on the feet of journalists with our blogs. And even with our professionalism. I personally am flattered to see, that the number of my blog’s pageviews surpasses 90 percent of printruns of Armenian newspapers. It is great to be able to enter the blog, see a post and be able to express your agreement disagreement (instead of running to the courts and demanding refutation in the newspapers). [] Virtual reality is slowly, but surely stepping on the feet of printed press. Progress, has slowly but surely penetrated here as well.



The democratic alliance “United Javakhk”, a grassroot NGO advocating for human rights of Javakhk Armenians, was attacked and crashed without any solid legal grounds by the Georgian special police units in the city of Akhalkalak.

Armenia Economy

Wow! Armenia is a Banana Republic after all!

A most incredible story was published by Hetq today:

In 2006, Armenia imported 8,614 tons of bananas; 7,056 tons from Ecuador, 1,509 from Costa Rica, 38.2 from Guatemala, 3.2 from Thailand and .2 tons from Iran. In the same year Armenia exported 3,002.2 tons of bananas to the Bahamas and 90.7 tons to Georgia. (emphasis is mine)

In 2007, Armenia imported some 17,198 tons of bananas, almost twice as much as in 2006. Armenia didn’t export any bananas in 2007.

I’ve made a little map to illustrate the locations of a) Armenia b) Equador c) Bahamas to illustrate, that it is entirely impossible that Armenia could have imported bananas from Ecuador to ship it back to Bahamas. It is just nonsense.

Armenia Politics

Armenia-Turkey Relations: Where are we heading?

Over the past three years there have been some initiatives by Turkish and Armenian authorities to start some type of dialogue. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested Armenian President Robert Kocharyan to establish a joint commission on Armenian Genocide issue, which was met with cautions response of the official Yerevan. On a more recent example, Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan has invited Turkish President Abdullah Gul to visit Armenia on September 6, 2008 to watch the World Cup qualifying match between Armenia and Turkey.
While the officials on both sides have not achieved any substantial results, a conductive environment has been created, at least in Armenia, for discussing possibilities of Armenian-Turkish reconcilliation. Strangely enough, reactions of the political forces on all sides of the political spectrum have so far been very disappointing. The pro-government parties have been reluctant to speak, with Kiro Manoyan of Dashnaktsutyun being a rare exception to speak up. The opposition, on the other hand, have been taking a rather strange stance, mostly ridiculing the attempts of President Serzh Sargsyan to do something that Levon Ter-Petrossian was suggesting in his pre-election program: start dialogue with Turkey.
Frankly, I don’t think anything will come out of this, considering the current political situation in Turkey – they have much bigger worries now then the Armenia-Turkey relations. However, I would have expected the political forces in Armenia, and especially the pro-government parties to start more logical and grounded discussions on the possibilities of improving Armenian-Turkish relations, especially as ‘their’ president – Serzh Sargsyan has come forward with the initiative.
Well, I guess we have what we have… or to be more correct, we don’t have what we don’t have – which is – political parties and political idiologies. This is just one more illustration, that there are no political parties in Armenia whatsoever.

Armenia Politics

Armenian opposition persists in holding protest-rallies

While many people call the attempts of Armenian opposition to protest the results of February 19, 2008 Presidential elections by holding rallies as a pointless waste of time and efforts, it’s hard to imagine, what else the radical opposition could do at this point – their support is slowly declining, the government shows no genuine desire to engage in dialogue with them, international bodies seem to have exchanged their demands for Armenia’s democratisation with the vague promise for compromise in Nagorno Karabakh issue.

Meanwhile the opposition rallies continue: last week there was one in Gyumri, today the rally in Yerevan seems to have attracted less people then in the previous one. With summer heat driving people away from Yerevan and the holiday season killing all types of enthusiasm for action, political or otherwise, looks like this is just a lost cause for the opposition, or a way to slowly calm down the anti-government moods still persisting among a large number of people.