Civil Society organizations demand border opening

The war in Georgia has left the countries of the South Caucasus struggling with substantial risks and challenges. As a consequence of the recent crisis, which further exacerbated an impasse created by the existence of the protracted conflicts, the region is deprived of a vital vain to transport goods through the countries of the region. The railroad running through Georgia is practically useless today because of the destruction of the bridge near Gori. There is already fuel shortage in Armenia and before long the impacts will be felt by other countries of the region, especially as the situation shows no signs of improvement.
A group of NGOs from Armenia, Turkey, Georgia have issued a call today, urging the initiation of a ‘new age of cooperation’. “The Governments in Ankara, Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan have a unique chance to prove their credentials of good neighbors willing to contribute positively to the regional peace and stability”, the call states, urging a collective action to immediately unblock railroad communication networks in the region.
The group are also presenting some very interesting calculations: “Any train can reach from Samsun on the Black Sea coast of Turkey to Yerevan in 34 hours, to Tbilisi in 36 hours and to Baku in 49 hours. From Mersin, which is on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, it will take 37, 39 and 52 hours respectively. This simple. The railroad can become functional in few hours, once a political decision is made.”
Meanwhile, Unzipped reports, that “the group of specialists of the South Caucasian Railways is repairing the railway station Akhuryan 2 on the railway Kars-Gyumri”. This is very probably related to the upcoming football match between Armenia and Turkey, to which a large number of Turkish football fans are expacted.

Western Union international money transfer system is prohibited in Armenia

Western Union LogoAugust 25 decision of the Armenian Central Bank the Western Union international money transfer system is prohibited in Armenia. The CB Council decided to prohibit participation of the Armenian banks in the mentioned system and annul the contracts with it. The decision is motivated by the Armenian banks’ risk management.
In reality, it all started after Azerbaijan protested the fact, that Western Union, Money Gram and other money transfer systems are operating in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. In response to Azerbaijan’s demands, the Western Union and Money Gram stopped their operation in Stepanakert branches of “Artsakhbank”, “Unibank” and “Armeconombank”. Earlier Azerbaijan had also demanded the closure of the Stepanakert branch of VTB bank. It seems, that Azerbaijan is adopting a more comprehensive strategy of isolating Nagorno-Karabakh. I wonder what will be the next step? Demanding the Russia-controlled electiricy network in Armenia to stop providing electricity to Karabakh? Stopping the sun from shining on that territory? What?

Abkhazia, South Ossetia to become a measure of Russia's international influence

Both houses of Russia’s parliament have urged Dmitri Medvedev to recognize the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, BBC Reports. Although voted unanimosly in favour by both houses of Russian Duma, the bill will have to be ratified by President Medvedev, before it comes into action. The choice is not as easy as it seems, however, and the Kremlin might delay its decision while it carries out wider negotiations with the West on the crisis. The decision to recognize the independence of the two breakaway regions might become a testing ground of Russia’s international influence and the Abkhaz and South Ossetian struggle for independence might end up either like Kosovo, whose independence was accepted by a substantial number of governments, or like Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey. Will Russia want to take the risk? Will it have to force allies like the CSTO members, Venezuela and Cuba?
It is almost certain, that if Russia pushes for it, Armenia will have to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Meanwhile Armenia hasn’t recognized Kosovo yet, although given our quest for self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh, it would have seemed like the most natural thing for us to do. We would have everything to gain and nothing to loose, especially as it would be fully in line with out ‘complimentary’ foreign policy and would demonstrate at least a limited degree of independence from Russia. Meanwhile, recognizning the two breakaway regions of Georgia, our main export route, is going to be a controversial choice. And while it would be great news for Nagorno-Karabakh, the economic consequencies might prove destructive for the Armenian economy.

The Armenian Observer blog news

Starting from today the Armenian Observer blog will be available on domain along with its old address. This has been done purely for your convenience so it will be easier to type the address of this blog. Meanwhile, I’m also looking for other authors/contributors to this blog, so if you are interested, please leave a comment to this entry.
I will be travelling intensively from September 1st to 15th, so for that period the blog will be updated less frequently. However, I’ll try to make sure, that no major development is left without our attention.
Meanwhile, this is a good occasion to remind you, that I also run a number of other blogs: The Armenian Citizen blog, Angry Root’s LJ and Munetik – the Armenian version of the Observer blog.

Constitutional Freedom of Expression forced out of Northern Avenue

It has become obvious that the protesters of Northern Avenue can’t avoid incidents, that pursue an aim to restrict their constitutional right to freely express their opinion. People taken to the police station have become a usual thing, but no one expected the Police to see danger also in the posters fixed on the walls of the buildings.
On August 25, as people of Northern Avenue said at about 10:30 about 20 policemen intruded and started tearing the posters. There were very few people there at that time. Probably it was a planned operation, as the Police had chosen the time when most of the go home or to their workplaces. On hearing this news lots of people hurried to the Northern Avenue after the incident. Some of them said that the reason of this operation were recently added big posters (including the big poster of Robert Kocharyan).
We cannot surely justify the Police operation, as the poster is another way of expressing an opinion and as it’s written in article 27 of the Constitution “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression including freedom to search for, receive and impart information and ideas by any means of information regardless of the state frontiers”.

By Seiv (New author on Ditord)

Government bill threatens Lake Sevan

On August 21, 2008 the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia adopted a government bill giving green light to increased water release from Lake Sevan. According to the original law 240 million cubic meters of water should have been taken from the lake to be used for electricity generating via Hrazdan Cascade and irrigation puposes. The new bill will allow the release of 360 million cubic meters of water.

The authorities are explaining the need for increased water outflow from Sevan with the short summer drought and low water availability in artificial water resrvoirs used for irrigation purposes. This is the first such increase for the past 8 years, since a law on the lake’s protection was adopted in 2001. Meanwhile environmentalists are protesting the measure and claiming, that “the government simply wants to salvage expensive houses and resorts located along Sevan’s coastline. Those properties have been at growing risk of being submerged by Sevan’s rising waters” as RFE/RL reports.

Before the heated debates in the parliament yesterday, the authorities had been preparing public opinion in favour of water release from the lake in the course of the past two-three weeks by showing news reports and footage of drained artificial reservoirs and dry gardens of Ararat valley. No news reports ever indicated the existence of concerns among environmental protection groups or independent scientists. Moreover, there were several rainfalls throughout the country within the past two weeks, which would seem to have alleviated the problem of water shortage, especially as most of the farmers have gathered the harvest by now and shouldn’t need as much water (as I have a small garden in the south of Yerevan, I know first-hand what I’m talking about here).

The Sevan Defense Initiative have disseminated a call to protest the government bill. “According to the opinion of independent scientists duplication of the
volume of released water from Lake Sevan is impermissible and dangerous
for the lake. Climate conditions during 2008 have not been as
unfavorable as to generate a need for a measure. While, the declared
increase of demand for irrigation water is not justified adequately” the call states.

Armenia 2 – 1 Turkey

Henrik Mkhitaryan scored the late winner in Yerevan (© Khachik Chakhoyan)
Unzipped has an exciting post about the surprise win of the Armenian national youth team (European Championship Qualifying Stage of the Under 21 Championship) over Turkey.  Although the game was not that significant and the youth teams are rarely considered important, the fact that the game took place between these two countries which lack diplomatic relations since Turkey closed the Armenian border in 1993 is seen an important first step, to be followed by a game between the national teams of Armenia and Turkey on September 6th.
Although the chances of the Armenian team to win on the September 6 match are rather slim, the win of the youth team has inspired Armenian football fans with renewed confidence.
The game is very promising from a diplomatic perspective as well. Armenian president Serge Sargsian had invited the Turkish president Abdullah Gul to visit Yerevan and watch the game in July. Abdullah Gul has been postponing his decision about accepting or rejecting the invitation. Possible protests in Armenia against Turkish President’s visits are among the reasons for Gul’s hesitation and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun have said they’ll definately stage actions in Yerevan.
At any rate, thousands of Turkish fans are also expected to arrive in Yerevan for the match and the Armenian authorities have already promised to slash visa fees for them. According to some Armenian media reports the Turkish fans have applied to their government asking them to open the Turkey-Armenian border for one day, so they could use the Kars-Gyumri railway to arrive in Armenia and cheer for their team. If true, this might become another significant development in establishing relations between the two neighboring countries.

Unprecedented levels of violence against journalists in August

August 2008 was unprecedented with the amount of violence against media representatives. Gagik Hovakimyan of “Haykakan Zhamanak” (August 1), freelancer Gagik Shamshyan (August 5), Gohar Veziryan of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” (August 6), Lusine Barseghyan of “Haykakan Zhamanak” (August 11) and Hrach Melkumyan of the Armenian service of Radio Liberty (August 18 ) were all subjected to attacks and illegal actions of police, court officials and unidentified males for their affiliation with media outlets known for their criticism of the authorities and oligarchs.
This new wave of attacks against the freedom of speech and expression comes at a time, when the Republic of Armenia is claiming its willingness to implement the provisions of the PACE resolutions 1609 and 1620 issued in the aftermath of the March 1, 2008 violence in the country, which includes a clause on improving the situation with the freedom of speech in the country.
A group of 7 non-governmental organizations have issued a statement expressing their concern with the developments and pointing to the unwillingness of the authorities to undertake effective measures to stop violence and interference with the professional activities of journalists and media representatives.
In a poll marked by widespread irregularities, vote buying and bullying, power was handed down by incumbent president Robert Kocharian to his protege Serge Sargsian. Administrative resources were used extensively to control the media coverage of the election campaign and ensure the victory of government preferred candidate, which resulted in severe degradation of the media and freedom of speech situation in the country as well as provoked a bloody clash between the opposition supporters and police forces in the center of capital Yerevan on March 1, 2008.

Russian bloggers go after YouTube

Evgeny Morozov | Wednesday, August 20, 2008

While the real war between Russia and Georgia may be over, the Internet war lingers on, with virtual battalions continuing to fight on sites like YouTube.
The point of contention is a short clip of a Fox News program, in which Shepard Smith, the host, interviewed two South Ossetians: a 12 year-old-girl from Walnut Creek, Amanda Kokoev, and her aunt, Laura Tedeeva-Korewiski, who happened to be in the region when the war broke out. The interview went fine until she blamed Georgia for the war. Smith, in a rather abrupt manner, interrupted and asked for commercial break – only to have the aunt call on the Georgian government to resign when they returned on air. “That’s exactly what Russians want,” whispered Smith, as he cut them off again – this time forever. Continue reading “Russian bloggers go after YouTube”

Two Polish journalists denied entry to Armenia?

Polish PassportReporters Without Borders has circulated a press release, calling on Armenia to lift bans on two Polish journalists who, according to the media watchdog, have been denied entry into the country in the past six days. The press release reported the case of Wojciech Jagielski, a well-known foreign correspondent working for the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, on 14 August. The journalist was turned back at the land border between Armenia and Georgia, where he had been covering the war. He had planned to drive from Tbilisi to the Armenian capital of Yerevan in order to get a flight to Warsaw from there. He was forced to return by road to Tbilisi. Jagielski was told by the immigration official, that he was on a list of journalists banned throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States.

A similar problem happened with Reporter Marcin Manon of TVP, the Polish public TV station, who was turned back on arriving in Yerevan on 12 August on a flight from Warsaw which the Polish government had chartered to evacuate its citizens from Georgia. He had hoped to continue to Georgia but immigration officials told him he was persona non grata in Armenia and had to return to Warsaw. Gazeta Wyborcza told Reporters Without Borders it believes there is a list of undesirable journalists that is used by all the countries that are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Meanwhile the Armenian authorities were quick to deny such charges. According to RFE/RL the immigration authorities in Yerevan denied reports that two Polish journalists covering the war in neighboring Georgia have been barred from entering Armenia because of being allegedly blacklisted by Russia.

Looks like we have the word of the Reporters Without Borders,Gazeta Wyborcza and two Polish journalists against the word of the Armenian authorities. I’ve decided who to trust. Have you?

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