Vardan Ghukasyan's son in custody

Several news sources report that Gumri mayor Vardan Ghukasyan’s son – Spartak Ghukasyan, has handed himself to authorities late last week. Spartak Ghukasyan had gone into hiding after apparently initiating a high profile shootout in the city center back in May. The incident, which involved the son of a Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia) party member and injured several civilian bystanders, rocked the city and made headline news in the country. In what is to be considered an exceptional case, the authorities were compelled to display force by commissioning special police units into the city.
Aravot cites unnamed sources suggesting that Vardan Ghukasyan had received an ultimatum on surrendering his son, from the president, otherwise risking loosing his post. The daily further suggests that pressure was also applied by the prime minister. The fact that Spartak Ghukasyan handed himself over to authorities appears to confirm this information.

Too Many Pop-Stars in Armenia?

There are so many “pop-stars” in Armenia, that it is becoming hard to find ordinary people in this country – after all, we are only 3 million!
While it all started with Artur Grigoryan’s Theatre of Song, it was ALM and Shant TV who spoiled Armenian music landscape once and for all. Yesterday I spent 5-6 minutes watching some kind of new music star show on Shant TV, and then another one on Armenia TV, only to turn to ALM and find Tigran Karapetovich complaining, that Shant has taken away all his stars: diamonds, jewels, etc. The problem, as I see it, is not that we have too many stars and star shows, the problem is – we don’t have even a single pop-star!!! All this fighting for “stars”, calling names to each other, etc is just ridiculous. We don’t have anyone we can speak of as our home-bread Armenian music star, which the world would recognize.
This news item I saw today on A1plus, in which Nune Yesayan and Shushan Petrosyan are complaining about the new singers who hinder former stars, was the end of it. I can’t bear and will just shout: “SHUT UP YOU ALL”! What is it you are fighting for? This miserable media market, which can’t sustain even a single star? Or are you complaining, because the new kids have taken your place near the table of the ruling political force – when they go on their pre-election campaign? This is just ridiculous…

Negative Trends of Negative Trade: Armeni'as foreign trade balance deficit made $838mln in January-June, 2007

The jumpy Caucasian Tiger – i.e. Armenia’s economy grew by 11,2% in January-June of 2007, according to Banks.am, and it looks as if life has gone for good to better, with average monthly salary increasing by 20.5% as compared to the same period of 2006, thus making 71344 drams.
Somehow all these growth figures make me remember the Soviet times with impressive growth figures being reported each year, while people could hardly find anything in the shops. Today, one can find everything in the newly built shiny shops, but how much of that is affordable? In a recent post over quality of life, I’ve spoken about how figures and reality don’t add up. Is it all thanks to the National Statistical Service of Armenia? I wouldn’t be surprised to find out, that the guys there have no clue about statistics – you would hardly expect a brilliant scientist working there on the average salary of 52491 drams as they have gladly reported, noting that it represents a 22.1% rise for organizations feeding from the state budget.
Another way I can explain the degrading quality of life despite growth figures in the economy is the foreign trade turnover of Armenia:

[Banks.am, Mediamax, July 20, 2007] The foreign trade turnover of Armenia in January-June of 2007 totaled 674.7bln drams or $1892.0mln, having increased by 36,5% as compared to the same period of 2006.

As the press service of the National Statistical Service of Armenia told Mediamax today, the export volume during the accounting period made 187.7bln drams or $527.0mln, and the import volume totaled 487.0bln drams or $1365.0mln.

The deficit of the foreign trade balance in January-June of 2007 stood at 299.3bln drams or $838mln.

 

With the tendency of Armenian Dram’s exchange rate growth vs all major currencies of the world it seems like we will soon stop selling anything abroad. On the experience of my own household, I wouldn’t expect to live better, if I’m buying everything I need to survive, and not bringing any money home. Is there any economist over there to help me change my mind?

Traffic Accident on Yerevan-Gyumri road

[A1plus | 16 July, 2007] A Mersedes car with 45 ՏՕ 005 number has hit a tree, then the metal electricity tower around 21:10, on July 15, which has caused the death of 5 of 7 passengers, while the 2 others have been taken to Gyumri hospital after Gyulbenkyan.

[Yerkir-Media | 16 July, 2007] also carries the sad news with a video update. As I personally travel this road nearly every weekend, I have to state, that this year only I’ve eye-witnessed 4 accidents on that road. The problem with the highway is that, while it was built back in the 70s, when cars were a relative rarity, nothing has been done to expand/widen it to meet the demands of the day. While the officials keep saying, that 18-20,000 new cars are entering Armenia every day, and while all the road infrastructure in Yerevan is under reconstruction, nobody has been talking even about any remote plans to expand the key road which connects Armenia with Georgia and is one of the three main import-export highways for the country. As the amount of cars, including large trucks carrying goods back and forth increases, the only sensible solution would have been to build a second road along the old one, and organize traffic on one direction on each segment. Even with that the amount of traffic would be very high, but at least the number of traffic accidents would decrease, and lives would be saved – which is all that matters after all, isn’t it?

Armenia-Turkey Relations: is there anything to be done?

While the lingering bitterness of the 1915 Armenian Genocide underlies much of the tension between the modern states of Armenia and Turkey, several key factors have served to exacerbate relations between the nations over the course of the ensuing century[1]. Throughout the Cold War the Armenia – Turkey border has been the meeting point of Soviet and NATO forces and the fact that it must be closed forever has become a fact of life for both societies throughout the past century. The fact that it was open for a short while only to close again in 1993[2] as part of Turkish sanctions[3] against Armenia and its continuous support of Turkish ally Azerbaijan, with which Armenia is engaged in what seems like an endless conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh independence, has further strengthened the perception that the border will never be opened again among Armenians. In fact, not only Armenian observers, but also official Baku, Heydar Aliyev in particular have claimed more then once, that Baku holds the key to Turkish-Armenia relations[4].

From the Turkish perception on the other hand, it must be noted, that in the 1970s, a guerrilla organization, calling itself the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia[5], took to assassinating Turkish diplomats in several European countries. These killings contributed to stoking resentment of ethnic Armenians among Turks, while inciting nationalistic sentiment in Turkey, a feature of the state reflected today in its persistent campaign to deny or rationalize the 1915 massacres of Armenians. The 2007 assassination of Armenian intellectual Hrant Dink by a Turkish nationalist, and the ensuing scandal in which his killer was exalted as a hero by some government officials while in police custody[6], served as a stark reminder of just how egregious the historical-political tensions remain even today.

Generations after generations have grown with the mentality that the two nations are the deadliest of enemies, and nothing has been undertaken to update the mindsets of the two nations and bring them in sync with the current realities, which are: Armenia and Turkey are neighbor states, and will remain so for the centuries to come. In the Globalized world, where international efforts to face the Millennium Challenges are atop political agenda of most powerful states; where human value and democracy have been declared as the leading principles not only by the international community, but also and especially by the Modern Turkish and Modern Armenian states; the only way forward for all the states in the South Caucasus, the gateway to the island of peace, democracy and prosperity – the European Union, is cooperation, dialog and mutual understanding. Recent EU accession talks with Turkey[7] have highlighted the need for improved relations between Turkey and Armenia and a variety of recent geopolitical developments have put pressure on the two countries to resolve their differences[8]. Official efforts to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey have not resulted in any significant progress towards a border re-opening[9].

It is mostly businessmen on both sides of the border, especially in the regions of Kars in Turkey and Shirak in Armenia, who speak about the importance of border opening, plus some NGOs, who are inspired by a recent round of grants from the Eurasia Foundation(which is naturally pushing for US interests in the region). On the whole however, we have been seeing the negative attitudes grow in both societies especially since the assassination of Hrant Dink. Today more and more often we are seeing publications about the dangers Turkey represents for Armenia, like the one about Dr Khachik Ter-Ghukassian, where in an interview with the PanARMENIAN.Net the Professor of International relations and politics of the Universidad de San Andrés in Buenos Aires is looking at the military-strategic partnerships Turkey is developing with Georgia and Azerbaijan and shifting the focus in its foreign policy to Northern Iraq.

If Turkey’s succeeds in realizing its plans Armenia will be isolated from the world, according to him. “Curiously enough, such state of things is not convenient for the U.S. which insists on opening of the Armenian-Turkish border. However, normalization of relations without preconditions is a dangerous tendency. Turkey doesn’t open the border proceeding from political reasons: the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, the Armenian Genocide and absence of fixed border with Armenia. The only legal basis for demarcation of borders is the Sevr Treaty. No agreement signed after Sevr, namely the Kars and Moscow treaties, do not have juridical effect, since the signatory powers stopped their existence as elements of international law. The Sevr Treaty was signed August 10, 1920. Borders with independent Armenia had to be marked by a neutral mediator, namely the United States, according to it,” he said.

“At that we should not forget that Turkey has always been the biggest danger for the Armenian people. This opinion should be shared by the whole nation, both in Armenia and Diaspora. On the other hand, opening of borders can tell on Armenia’s economy. Georgia, where the local industry was destroyed because of the abundant flow of cheap Turkish goods, can serve as an example. Certainly, Armenian economy can’t compete with the Turkish, but we will have an outlet to the world, at least. Although, we are not ready to make a reality of the scenario we will be offered,” he said.

Casting a sober view on the latest developments, I have to acknowledge, that all the beautiful talk about neighborhood, EU integration, possibility to coexist peacefully together and to mutually benefit from bilateral trade seem to fly out of the window once you consider all the latest developments in the region and growing tension not only between the main Caucasian states: Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, but also big boys like US, Russia, EU, NATO, Turkey and Iran. So is there anything to be done? Or do we really need to do anything? Today, as I’m writing these lines, I am becoming more and more pessimistic. Turkey indeed represents the greatest danger for Armenia, and even my open-mindedness and unbreakable belief in the importance of Western vector of development in Armenian foreign policy and support for growing EU/NATO integration don’t seem to help here.

 

Bibliography


[1]Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus”, By Svante E. Cornell, Published 2001, Routledge, ISBN 0700711627, Page 302-303

[2] http://www.globalheritagefund.org/news/GHF_in_the_news/economist_ties_that_divide_june_17_06.asp

[3] “Central Asia and the Caucasus: transnationalism and diaspora” By Touraj. Atabaki, Published 2005 Routledge, ISBN 0415332605, Page 89

[4] “Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus”, By Svante E. Cornell, Published 2001, Routledge, ISBN 0700711627, Page 304

[5] Minorities in the Middle East: a history of struggle and self-expression, By Mordechai Nisan, Published 2002, McFarland & Company, ISBN 0786413751, Page 177

[6] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6335633.stm

[7] “Turkey and the Eu: An Awkward Candidate for EU Membership?”, By Harun Arikan, Published 2003, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., ISBN 0754634337, Page 122

[8] “Turkish Foreign Policy in an Age of Uncertainty”, By F. Stephen Larrabee, Ian O. Lesser, Published 2003, Rand Corporation, ISBN 083303281X, Page 106

[9] “Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus”, By Svante E. Cornell, Published 2001, Routledge, ISBN 0700711627, Page 304

2007 Quality of Life Index: Armenia 84th, Georgia 84th, Azerbaijan 130

Via Sticky Artz I came across the The Quality of Life Index 2007 by InternationalLiving.com according to which the following 10 countries are the best places to live in considering Cost of Living, Leisure & Culture, Economy, Environment, Freedom, Health, Infrastructure, Risk & Safety, Climate indicators. Continue reading “2007 Quality of Life Index: Armenia 84th, Georgia 84th, Azerbaijan 130”

Poll: Which Is The Best FM Radio in Yerevan?

The recent developments related to Radio Liberty got me thinking about the issue of which is the best FM Radio in Yerevan. I must confess, that I only listen to two Public Radio Frequencies: First Program of Public Radio at 107.6 MHz and Radio Jazz at 103.8 MHz. The poll which I’ve created on Ballot Box and posted a link below is just a matter of curiosity – to see what are the tastes of this blog’s readers 🙂

Click Here To Vote!

Internal Migration – Every Friday

You would only fully understand this post if you were born outside Yerevan. You see, everything in Armenia is concentrated in Yerevan: education, business, jobs, career.
Add to this the strength of traditional Armenian families, traditional Armenian parents, claiming that they won’t leave their father’s graves and move to that hell – called Yerevan and quite displeased with the fact that their sibling has decided to move to the capital after all that “they’ve done for her!!!”.
…and the final touch: mothers having high blood pressure or imitating heart attack because they miss the child away from home so much!!! The result is internal migration – every Friday evening, after close of business day.
4 years in Yerevan – and I’ve spent more time on the road Yerevan-Gyumri more time then in Church, all my life (OK, I’m not that religous, I admit ;)). 4 years in Yerevan – and I’ve read more books in the minibus, then I’ve done in my 5 years of University study! (Now that’s an impressive figure).
The travel is done in those minibuses – usually Russian GAZELs or Fords powered with natural gas. The sits are crammed together, making sure that each minibus takes 15 people at least x 1200 drams each. That means that with my 1,81 cm height and relatively long legs I can only fit on an aisle-sit, or suffer the consequences. Nobody’s ever heard of air-conditioning of course, and Armenians also have this ideofix, that drought from the open window can kill you, so its often a topic for arguments.
Nobody pays for kids, and kids rarely get a sit on their own. Sitting on the legs of the caring parents when its 36 degrees Celsius outside, and a little more inside the minibus can be a ‘HOT’ experience, so this little one in the photo decided, that he’d rather stand in the aisle.
All in all I’ve grown accustomed to those 2 hour trips to Gyumri on Friday evenings, with all these young faces going home to see Mom & Dad, only to come back Sunday evening or Monday with the FIRST minibus if they make it. Why not? Isn’t this life?

RFE/RL Update: The Law Against Radio Liberty Has NOT Passed


Lragir.am reports, that the legislative amendments designed to limit foreign media from broadcasting on the Armenian public TV/Radio frequencies and seen largely as directed against the Radio Liberty Armenian Service ahead of the upcoming presidential elections, have not passed the second reading in the Armenian Parliament today.
According to the same source 63 MPs have voted for the legislative package, 1 MP – Alvard Petrosyan from the ARF party has abstained from voting. The opposition parties: “Heiritage” and “Rule of Law” have not voted at all, thus creating a situation, where there has not been enough quorum to adopt legislation.
While this is the first major victory of opposition in the newly elected parliament, nothing is decided yet. I will continue to follow the developments and prey that whatever happens, Radio Liberty Armenian Service – my personal favorite news source from Armenia continues its work throughout the Presidential Campaign in February 2008 as, with many other media specialists and experts in Armenia, see this move especially designed to block RFE/RL from providing accurate coverage of developments as Robert Kocharian – turned into Freedom of Speech Enemy #1 in this country leaves his post for good.
Video via Echannel.am

Hand's Off Our Liberty!

Representatives of a number of non-governmental organizations and active citizens marched from the Freedom Square to the National Assambley building, demanding Freedom for “Liberty”.
“At all times in our newest history, whenever we were experiencing retreat from democracy, one of the first steps has been stopping the “Liberty” broadcasts\. Today we are again living such times”, – according to the president of the Yerevan Press Club – Boris Navasardyan.
While the protest action by a couple of dozen Radio Liberty supporters was in progress outside the gates of the Parliament, debates continued within – without much progress. Some details have emerged from the discussion, changes have been suggested by the Prosperous Armenia, Republican and “Rule of Law” parties – but as the suggestions from the coalition parties do not change anything substantial in the legislative initiatives, whereas the suggestions of the opposition parties don’t look as if they have a slightest chance, no real change is expected to the situation until tomorrow morning, when the final vote will be held on the government proposed legislation, which in essence is an attempt to deprive Radio Liberty of its current broadcast capacities and audience in Armenia.

Photo and quotes via Echannel.am.

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