Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ambassador-to-be dodges Armenian genocide question

Howard News Service
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- America's next ambassador to Armenia is a verbal gymnast. He has to be, to keep his job.

On Wednesday, career Foreign Service officer Richard E. Hoagland tread prudently through his confirmation hearing.

He picked his way around the word "genocide" in describing the mass slaughter of Armenians between 1915 and 1923. The events were "horrific" and "well-documented" and "historic," Hoagland told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but the genocide word did not cross his lips.

"It's a tragedy; everybody agrees with that," Hoagland said, but "instead of getting stuck in the past and vocabulary, I would like to see what we can do to bring different sides together."

While the highly decorated Hoagland appears a shoo-in for the Armenia post, his reticence did not sit well with the three senators who showed up for his confirmation hearing.

"It's almost absurd to sit here, and you can't utter the word 'genocide,' " said Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota. "We have ambassadors who can't use a word, just a word."

In regions like the California's San Joaquin Valley, southern California, New Jersey and Michigan, well-established Armenian-American populations maintain both a tangible and symbolic stake in U.S.-Armenia relations.

"The local community follows with great interest events in Armenia and also U.S. government policy," noted Barlow Der Mugrdechian, lecturer in Armenian Studies at California State University at Fresno.

In particular, Der Mugrdechian said, activists have been tracking the fate of Hoagland's predecessor, Ambassador John Evans. The Yale-educated Evans ran afoul of his State Department superiors when he acknowledged the accuracy of the phrase "Armenian genocide."

"I informed myself in depth about it," Evans told an Armenian-American audience in Berkeley, Calif., in February 2005. "I think we, the U.S. government, owe you, our fellow citizens, a more frank and honest way of discussing this problem. I think it is unbecoming of us, as Americans, to play word games here. I believe in calling things by their name."

That was contrary to the Bush administration's policy of avoiding the term, out of deference to Turkey's sensibilities. Within a week, the State Department issued a statement from Evans in which he called his remarks "inappropriate" and said he "deeply" regretted them.

State Department officials have declined to characterize Evans as having been fired, but his Armenian tenure was clearly cut short. He became ambassador in September 2004, and Hoagland was announced as his replacement in May 2006. By contrast, his predecessors served three-year terms.

Hoagland previously served as U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan. He has considerable experience with some dicey parts of the world, including service as the lead Afghanistan analyst with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. While in Pakistan in the late 1980s, he worked with the Afghan resistance.

(Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service.)

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Armenian Catholicos Karekin Investigated

Published: Thursday, June 29, 2006
By Cihan News Agency

An investigation has been launched by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecution Office into the world leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, following claims that he 'denigrated Turkishness' in remarks made during his recent visit to Istanbul.

A complaint was lodged at the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecution Office by both Recep Akkus and the strongly-nationalist Turkish Lawyers Union.

The Istanbul Prosecution Office has opened an investigation into the matter.

Catholicos Karekin-II stated last Sunday evening at a press conference at the Turkish Armenian Patriarchate in the Kumkapi quarter in Istanbul that Turkey must recognize the Armenian claims of genocide during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

In his remarks Sunday, the Armenian Catholicos expressed his wishes for more progress in Turkish-Armenian relations.

Remarking that the issue of genocide had been debated by researchers for 90 years, Karekin-II said: "For our people it is not a subject for research. It is an event that took place and it must be recognized." He said that the genocide issue was one of the problems that had to be solved for the normalization of relations between the two countries.

Armenian Catholicos Karekin arrived in Istanbul on Tuesday of last week as the guest of Turkey's Armenian Patriarchate Mesrob II and the Fener Greek Orthodox Partriarchate Bartholomeos. He has since left Turkey for Armenia.

The fate of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire during WWI and after is still a sensitive issue in Turkey.

Armenians claim that 1.5 million Armenians living under the Ottoman Empire were killed as part of an intentional and systematic genocide campaign during World War I.

Turkey denies the allegations that 200,000 Armenians died during forced migrations due to cold weather and bad transportation conditions.

For further information please visit

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Antigenics CEO Receives Humanitarian Award from the Sabin Vaccine Institute

6/29/2006 7:00:00 AM EST
Genetic Engineering News

Antigenics Inc. (NASDAQ: AGEN) today announced that the Sabin Vaccine Institute has awarded the company's chairman and CEO, Garo H. Armen, PhD, the 2006 Sabin Humanitarian Award. The Albert B. Sabin Annual Awards recognize extraordinary figures in biotechnology, medical research and medical reporting, and were celebrated at a gala, themed "Celebrating Hope for a Healthier World," in New York City last night.

"In each case, these extraordinary individuals didn't settle for high achievement in just one area, but they broadened their horizons and multiplied their effect," said H. R. Shepherd, DSc, chairman of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. "They each found new ways to further medical science, reaching out to help a greater cross-section of humanity."

Dr. Armen cofounded Antigenics in 1994 with Pramod K. Srivastava, PhD. Dr. Armen is also the founder and chairman of the Children of Armenia Fund, a charitable organization established in 2000 that is dedicated to the positive development of the children and youth of Armenia. From mid-2002 through 2004, Dr. Armen also served as chairman of the board of directors of the pharmaceutical company Elan Corporation. He received a PhD in physical chemistry from the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

About the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute

The Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute is a public, nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing the work of Dr. Albert Sabin, who envisioned the enormous potential of vaccines to prevent deadly disease. The Sabin Vaccine Institute (SVI) promotes rapid scientific advances in vaccine development, delivery and distribution worldwide. SVI's Cancer Vaccine Consortium provides a mechanism for collaborative activity to speed the research, regulatory process and delivery of new cancer vaccines to the market.

The SVI grants annual Sabin Awards to honor individuals for their extraordinary and ongoing contributions, and generosity of spirit inspiring humanitarian actions. Their personal life and public work exemplify the best of human kindness, and their continuous efforts to alleviate suffering inspire hope for the greater good of all.

About Antigenics

Antigenics is a biotechnology company working to develop treatments for cancers, infectious diseases and autoimmune disorders. For more information, please visit

Antigenics Inc. Media Relations: Sunny Uberoi, 212-994-8206 Investor Relations: Shalini Sharp, 800-962-2436

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Compatriots Shall Not Return

June 28, 2006

Isolationist idea of “returning the compatriots” should be juxtaposed to the idea of Big Russia. President Putin urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work with Russians living abroad “on a higher and more substantial level.” This task is much more important and ambitious than earlier promoted program of returning expatriates to Russia.
Despite such a big diaspora, Russia is practically indifferent to it, and does not work with it. Meanwhile, a diaspora can play a very significant role for the developing counties of the modern global world. It may become a source of influence, a mechanism of building relations, a bridge for technology import.

The economy of many countries relies greatly on the emigrants. Thus, India received $21.7 billion through money transfers in 2005. World Bank estimated that Russia received only $1.81 billion, which is very little even compared to such countries as Serbia ($4.1 billion) and Brazil ($3.6 billion). Many countries directly borrow from emigrants. In the 1950s, Israel issued sovereign bonds for Jewish diaspora in the U.S. and collected nearly $50 million. Later, China, India, Pakistan, and other countries successfully obtained state loans from their diasporas.

However, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Charles Sabel of World Bank believe the influx of expatriates’ money is the least effective way of using fellow countrymen who live abroad. They name Armenia as a bad example, where nearly 3.5 million Armenians lived in 1990, and almost the same number of Armenians lived abroad. The diaspora was organized well, it had enough intellectuals and businessmen, but this did not help Armenia to begin rapid modernization. One of the reasons is that Armenian government regarded foreign Armenian elite as their competitors, and was interested only in money influx, but did not want to involve the diaspora into the life of Armenia.

China, on the contrary, is a good example. Researchers from World Bank write that Chinese authorities managed to link the country to global network of value added formation with the help of diaspora. Foreign companies, owned by Chinese expatriates, joined into world process of goods production in the course of many years of their existence in the conditions of global economy. When Deng Xiaoping proclaimed open-door policy in 1978, emigrants’ companies began purchasing assets in China, move part of their productions there, etc. Thus China established connections between itself and global economy.

In a similar way, the success of Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley and its connections in the U.S. attracted many foreign orders to Indian IT-companies. It is notable that India did not need to draw highly educated migrants back to their homeland. On the contrary, migrants served India best being abroad.

The success of such strategies shows that a country should not isolate itself from the outer world in the conditions of globalization. It should not either regard its emigrants as casts-off, or try to make them return. Russians in Russia and abroad should be regarded as members of Big Russia, the borders of which in global economy exceed its national frontiers.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Armenian justice walk begins

LA Daily News
Marchers leave L.A. for Washington, D.C.
BY CONNIE LLANOS, Special to the Daily News

Nearly a century after the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, the descendants of those victims are finding new ways to heal old wounds.

Water coolers in hand and painful memories in their hearts, members of the United Armenian Students kicked off their 3,000-mile Journey for Humanity on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday. The group, made up of Armenian college students, is marching 20 miles a day until it reaches the nation's capital in the hopes of educating people about the Armenian genocide, as well as other atrocities occurring throughout the world today.

"We have carried this pain for 91 years," said Vahe Abovian, project director for Journey for Humanity.

"We kept hearing `never again, never again,' but it keeps happening," he said.

Abovian, 29, has taken a leave of absence from his job as deacon of the Western Dioceses of the Armenian Church and has sent his wife and two daughters to Armenia to reduce his expenses so he can afford his five-month trip.

He feels compelled to make this sacrifice not only as an Armenian, but as an ethical human being, he said.

"It is personal to me as an Armenian, but the issue of genocide is too big to be trademarked as an Armenian or a Jewish issue," Abovian said.

With the death toll in the Darfur region of the Sudan nearing 400,000, Abovian stressed that recognition of genocides can lead to their prevention in the future.

"The reasons for doing this are twofold," Abovian said.

"We are trying to keep the memories of all genocide victims alive and educating our society and we are demanding that no more crimes against humanity happen," he continued.

Richard Hovannisian, chairman of modern Armenian history at the University of California, Los Angeles, said for many Armenians it is the unresolved aspect of the genocide that causes the hurt to remain.

"It is 90 years after the fact, and the Turkish government will not go on the record," Hovannisian said.

Hovannisian also said that much of the drive behind the genocide awareness movement stems from a belief that had the world paid attention to the Armenian genocide, many other genocides could have been prevented, including the Jewish Holocaust.

He added that youth involvement in the issue is important. "Their idealistic streak should be encouraged," Hovannisian said.

By Tuesday afternoon Glendale Community College student Albrik Zohrabayan had marched 11 miles in 90-degree heat.

"I'm tired," Zohrabayan said in a weakened voice. But he isn't nervous about his trip, despite the unknown territory and summer heat; he only hopes people are open to the message he carries.

"We just hope they are going to support us. That's all we care about."

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Karekin describes killings of Armenians as ‘genocide'

Tuesday, June 27, 2006
ANK - TDN with AP

The head of the Armenian Orthodox Church, Karekin II, described on Sunday the killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in the last century as genocide.

Turkey denies that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I was genocide, and several cases have been brought against those who say otherwise. The cases have been opened under a law making it a crime to “insult Turkishness.”

Karekin II, whose official title is Catholicos of All Armenians, has been facing protests since he arrived in Istanbul last week.

Karekin II was unreceptive to Turkey's requests that Turkey and Armenia, which are neighbors but have no diplomatic relations, open their historical archives to researchers from both countries to try to ease tensions and reach an objective conclusion about the killings.

“For our people research is not an issue. This is something that happened and it needs to be recognized,” the Doğan News Agency quoted Karekin II as saying. “The genocide issue has been researched for 90 years by academics.”

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Nova dance troupe starring in Armenia

Friday, June 23, 2006
TownOnline Watertown TAB
By Noah Bein/ Correspondent

For the first year that he was a member of an Armenian dance group, Apo Ashjian did not dance a single step.

As a recent immigrant to the United States from Beirut, Lebanon, in 1970, the 14-year-old Ashjian felt too shy even to hold the hands of the female members in the dance ensemble, a small local group that was one of many Armenian cultural endeavors in which his parents rushed to enroll him after their move to America.

Despite his initial adolescent timidity, Ashjian faithfully attended each rehearsal.

But eventually he did begin to dance and soon developed an affection for the cultural heritage of his homeland that would continue to grow throughout his life.

"My parents’ only concern immigrating to America was that ’oh my God, if we don’t get our kids involved in Armenian things, they’re going to lose their heritage. They’re going to lose their roots. They’re going to lose their language,’ " Ashjian said.

More than 30 years later, the importance of cultural tradition resonates deeply with Ashjian, a compact, energetic man with short black hair and deep, arching eyes who is the founding director and choreographer of Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston, a nonprofit, Watertown-based Armenian dance ensemble currently celebrating its 20th year.

Sayat Nova has big plans for its anniversary, with all 72 members journeying to Armenia this weekend for a seven-show tour that will make stops at several smaller villages before a climactic final performance at the opera house in the capital city of Yerevan.

In addition, the company has scheduled a chance to reach its largest non-Armenian audience yet with two shows at Boston’s Cutler Majestic Theatre this fall.

Since its inception as an independent ensemble in 1986, the company - named for a legendary Armenian troubadour - has performed throughout the United States and Canada. Its performances present audiences with Ashjian’s interpretative blend of authentic Armenian footwork, bright traditional costumes and symbolic storytelling, which attempts to portray the struggles and triumphs of a people plagued for centuries by hardship and persecution.

Ashjian said he collects the creative material for his dances during trips to Armenia, where he travels the country and often meets with Artousha Karapetian, his former instructor who has scoured the nation’s many small villages for years in search of authentic, regionally diverse dance techniques.

It is from this traditional foundation, Ashjian said, that the creative process begins.

"I keep the ethnicity within all those footsteps, but I put it in a very jazzy choreography," he said, equating his approach to the modern medley of pop and Irish folk dancing used in the hit show "Riverdance."

The result of Ashjian’s work is accurate and authentic, according to Liana Sarkisova, 24, a Sayat Nova dancer who began her training as a child in Armenia before migrating to the United States at age 16 via Russia.

"When I moved here, and I found out there was an Armenian dance group active and alive and traveling, I was really excited," she said. "... I came to practice once, and I loved it because it was exactly the way I remember it was from Armenia."

Practice, practice, practice

At a marathon, four-hour Sunday rehearsal this past weekend at the Watertown Middle School in preparation for the Armenian tour, the group appeared loose but focused. A jovial mood broke out among the dancers during a lunch break, but several yells from the director sent them scurrying into position. Another Ashjian command and the dance began.

The music was frantic and triumphant, with wailing melodies and a frenzied, rolling drum beat. On stage, male dancers in black tights and white T-shirts moved briskly around in quick formation, bouncing their feet lightly to the intoxicating rhythm.

After the dance, three of the men - Levon Kurkjian, Bob Parsekian and Manoug Habibian - took a break to discuss their introduction to Armenian dance, which they said occurred mostly through local Armenian schools, through commutes from Worcester.

The men all cited camaraderie as a reason for continuing with the company, but, they said, there’s also the exhilaration of performing.

"When you do that last stomp on stage after every dance and the crowd goes crazy, it’s like hitting a three-point shot with a second left," said Kurkjian. "It’s like I get that same thrill, that same adrenaline going through your body."

That excitement is part of what Ashjian said he believes will result from the group’s opera house show, a performance that Ashjian said will be attended by a large number of the singers, artists, composers and choreographers who make up "the art life of our country."

"When you step into the opera house, you’re actually making a statement about who your dance company is," Ashjian said.

In a different sense, however, the group’s identity is solidified much more by its place within Armenian heritage than by its artistic statements.

For generations, the small Middle Eastern nation struggled in the face of violence.

Despite a native exodus and worldwide diaspora created by historical adversity, many communities, both at home and abroad, vigorously maintain artistic traditions. Ashjian noted, for instance, that there are currently hundreds of authentic dance troupes in Armenia performing in much the same way Sayat Nova has done in Watertown.

Although the company made one other trip to the homeland for its 10th anniversary in 1995, turnover in the group is high, and Ashjian is quick to point out that currently only 11 members have ever visited the country.

"I want to take these kids there so they can feel the soil, talk to people," he said. "What happened? How is it that we kept our country?"

The scattering of Armenians across the globe would seem to pose a risk of cultural diffusion and a weakening of ethnic bonds. But many Sayat Nova members said a strong sense of pride and spirit provides hope for those who remain in Armenia.

"The dance represents the past, the present [and] the future," said Hagop Ashjian, an assistant director of the group and the younger brother of Apo. "We danced things on the genocide era ... Now we’re basing our dances to the future, and we’re trying to forget a little bit of the past."

"[The Armenians] feel that once people leave Armenia, then Armenia is lost [and] everything is lost," he adds. "When we bring that back to Armenia, they fill up with so much pride, whether we dance good or not. They’re so proud because what they’re working for, all the troubles they’re going through ...[are] actually worth it."

Tanya Mikaelian, 25, a dancer who started hanging around group rehearsals when she was 13 and has been involved with the group for nearly half her life, recalls an exhibition of this sense of gratitude near the end of the 1995 Armenia trip.

At the close of the final show in the capital, after a rousing performance of a dance dedicated to Armenian soldiers fighting on the country’s behalf, Mikaelian said several uniformed military men stood up in the back of the auditorium, lit a flare and proceeded onto the stage, where they outfitted the elder Ashjian with their military garb and happily embraced him.

"It was amazing to see how generous and how happy people were with what they had, even though they don’t have much," Mikaelian said. "It was very nice to see how giving people were back then."

Ashjian said he believes his dancing can help return the favor. "When you finish with such patriotism in the show, people understand that you’re projecting your pride and your spirit of who you are," he said. "You’re appreciating the whole audience that’s in Armenia [by saying] ’thank you for what you’ve done. You’ve survived for us to be able to continue work like this.’"

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

British Filmmaker’s Death in Gaza Continues to Resound

June 24th, 2006
International Solidarity Movement
Posted in Press clippings, Gaza Region
By Sarah Lyall
Published in the New York Times

LONDON, June 23 — Three years ago, in an incident that resonates now with the recent killing of seven members of a Palestinian family on a Gaza beach, a documentary filmmaker was shot to death in Gaza.

Then as now, the victims’ families blamed the Israeli military, which denied responsibility. A major difference is that the filmmaker, James Miller, was a British citizen, and after some prodding from his family, his government has taken up his cause.

At first, about the only thing not in dispute in the Miller case was that he was dead, shot on May 2, 2003, in an area of the Gaza Strip thick with Israeli soldiers. The Israelis said he was a casualty of war. His colleagues said he had been killed in cold blood.

His family fought to know more.

A resolution of sorts came in April at a coroner’s inquest here into the death of Mr. Miller, 34, an experienced filmmaker looking into the effects of violence on children for HBO. The jury’s verdict was that he was murdered.

The killer was identified as the commander of an armored personnel carrier in the Israeli Army who had admitted firing his gun that night, but no one in Israel has been charged, and many of the questions raised in the hours after the shooting have never been resolved.

Suspecting that answers might not be forthcoming, the Miller family sent a private investigator to the scene the day after the killing to do forensic tests — tests, the investigator said, that the Israelis never conducted. In the next few days the army bulldozed the site, destroying much of the remaining evidence, the investigator said.

The Israeli military’s criminal investigation, including the basic task of confiscating and securing the soldiers’ weapons for tests, did not begin until several weeks after the fact.

Lt. Col. Jana Modzgvrishvily, the military advocate for the Israeli Army’s southern command, said in an interview that after Mr. Miller’s death, the army immediately began a standard field investigation, followed by a full military criminal investigation.

She said nine soldiers in the two armored personnel carriers near the scene were repeatedly interviewed and subjected to lie detector tests. She confirmed that the weapons had not been secured for three weeks but said they had been subjected to extensive forensic tests.

It is not just the Miller family who denies that the Israeli inquiry was thorough and comprehensive. So, too, does the coroner at the London inquest, who urged the British government to begin an international prosecution against the commander of the personnel carrier under the Geneva Conventions. So does the British government itself.

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, raised the case last month with Israeli officials, including the defense and justice ministers. He also brought up another case, that of Tom Hurndall, 22, a British antiwar protester who was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier in February 2003, three weeks before and a mile away from where Mr. Miller died.

In Mr. Hurndall’s case, the soldier, Sgt. Taysir Hayb, is serving an eight-year sentence for manslaughter. Lord Goldsmith said he needed “to consider myself whether there ought to be prosecutions here in either of these cases.” He said he did not want to raise expectations but was keeping an open mind.

Speaking of the Miller case, a spokesman for the British Foreign Office, asking that his name not be used in accordance with government policy, said: “We have pressed the Israelis at every level, and at every stage, to agree to a full and transparent investigation. We are disappointed that the investigation wasn’t carried out properly and hasn’t resulted in an indictment, and that the I.D.F. has decided not to discipline the person alleged to have shot James Miller.” The initials stand for the Israeli military’s official name, the Israeli Defense Forces.

Accounts of what happened diverged almost from the moment Mr. Miller was shot.

It was late at night in the ruined town of Rafah, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, and Mr. Miller was concluding his third visit for the film.

He specialized in documentaries about the downtrodden and the oppressed; his past work included “Beneath the Veil” (2001), about the war in Afghanistan, which won Emmy and Peabody awards; “Children of the Secret State” (2000), about famine in North Korea; and “Armenia: The Betrayed” (2002), about the massacres of Armenians in 1915.

Mr. Miller and his colleagues had spent the evening at a Palestinian house, filming Israeli bulldozers knocking down Palestinian buildings.

Two Israeli armored personnel carriers were in the area, investigating reports that a Palestinian tunnel under the Egyptian border was being used to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

The vehicles were fired on during the day, and the soldiers responded in kind. By 11 p.m. or so, things were quiet. The filmmakers decided to call it a night.

Wearing flak jackets and hats marked “TV,” waving a white cloth in the air that they illuminated with a flashlight and shouting that they were British journalists seeking to leave the area safely, Mr. Miller and two colleagues, Saira Shah and Abdul Rahman Abdullah, slowly walked toward one of the armored personnel carriers. But suddenly, according to Ms. Shah and Mr. Abdallah, a shot rang out close by.

A warning, they said they thought. They dropped to the ground. Thirteen seconds passed. Then there was a second shot. It hit Mr. Miller.

He lost consciousness almost immediately and was pronounced dead at an Israeli base. His wife, Sophy, at home with their children, then 3 and 1, and expecting her husband the next day, woke up to a phone call from a distraught Ms. Shah.

Soon it was all over the news. But while Mr. Miller’s colleagues said he had been shot in the front of the neck from the direction of one of the Israeli vehicles, the Israelis initially gave a different account. Mr. Miller walked into an exchange of gunfire, they said, and was hit in the back by a Palestinian bullet.

The next day, the Miller family dispatched Chris Cobb-Smith, a security expert and British Army veteran, to Gaza to investigate.

“The emphasis had to be on us to do the proper investigations, because it was obvious that the I.D.F. was not going to conduct their investigation with any impartiality,” said Mr. Cobb-Smith, whose examination of footprints, tank tracks and traces of blood and bullet holes, among other things, led him to conclude that the shot that had killed Mr. Miller had come from an Israeli vehicle.

He said no one from the Israeli Army had interviewed him about his findings. One of the most important pieces of evidence was a grainy video taken by an Associated Press Television News cameraman from the balcony of the building that Mr. Miller had just left. Seven intermittent shots can be clearly heard on the audio, 13 seconds apart, then 12, then 5, then 15, then 5, then 12.

“These shots were not fired by a soldier in response to incoming fire,” Mr. Cobb-Smith said. “They were slow and calculated and deliberate.” He added, “I have no doubt that it was cold-blooded murder.”

Interviewed at home in rural Braunton, Devon, Mrs. Miller said her husband had worked in hostile environments for 14 years and was known for his extreme caution. She says she has fought so hard not just for her husband, but because she is disturbed at what she sees as the lack of accountability in the Israeli Army in this and other cases.

The Israelis now agree that Mr. Miller was indeed shot in the neck, from the front. But they say there is no evidence that M-16 bullet fragments recovered from his body match the guns of any Israeli soldiers in the area.

And after analyzing the audiotape of the gunfire, an Israeli expert concluded that the first two shots had come from “an urban area” — from the direction of populated Rafah — rather than the Israeli vehicles. Mr. Miller was killed by the second shot.

“The evidence from the military investigation concluded that there was no involvement of I.D.F. soldiers in the killing of James Miller,” Colonel Modzgvrishvily said. “When talking about the death of innocent civilians it is of course very tragic, but unfortunately it is the nature of war.”

Freddy Mead, a British ballistics expert sent by the family, likewise could not link the bullet that killed Mr. Miller to any particular weapon. But Mr. Cobb-Smith said that conclusion was meaningless because of the delay in seizing the soldiers’ weapons and the lack of a credible chain of evidence in the investigation.

The army’s 94-page report shows that the investigation focused almost immediately on the commander of one of the Israeli personnel carriers, the only one who fired his weapon around the time Mr. Miller died.

But although the commander, identified in the report as First Lt. H., gave conflicting accounts in six separate interviews of when and why he had fired, he was adamant — as was every other soldier — that they could neither see nor hear the Britons approaching.

Mr. Miller’s colleagues disputed that, saying the soldiers knew they had been filming from the balcony and had taunted them from their vehicles. The evening was clear, they said; the soldiers had night-vision equipment.

The military’s judge advocate general recommended that the commander, who has since been identified by the Miller family as First Lt. Hib al-Heib, be disciplined for improperly using his weapon. But the recommendation was rejected.

The London inquest, held as is the custom in Britain when a citizen dies in violent circumstances abroad, took place this spring. The coroner, Dr. Andrew Reid, criticized Israel for not participating and joined Mr. Miller’s family in calling for the British government to consider an international prosecution of the Israeli soldier. The Millers have filed a civil suit in Israel.

Anne Waddington, Mr. Miller’s older sister, said that while the jury’s conclusion was reassuring, it was not enough.

“We’ve struggled for three years to put the pieces of this tragic jigsaw together,” she said in an interview. “We have all pursued justice all of our lives, and James was the biggest and best of all in doing that. For the circumstances of his death to be treated with such disdain by the Israelis is something we cannot forgive.”

After Mr. Miller died, his colleagues finished the film, with an ending he had never envisioned: his own killing. Its title was “Death in Gaza,” and it won a host of awards, including three Emmys.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Azerbaijanis miffed at pro-Armenian Canadian MP presence at event for "Nagorno Karabakh Republic"

June 23, 2006
By Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) - Conservative MP Jason Kenney's presence at a fundraiser for a bitterly disputed region in Eastern Europe has created some diplomatic unpleasantness with the Azerbaijani embassy and community in Canada.

Kenney, who is parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, attended a banquet June 11 held by the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund banquet. The group does charitable works in Armenia and specifically Nagorno Karabakh, a breakaway region that Canada does not recognize as a state.

The area has been effectively controlled by Armenia since 1994, and remains a hotly contested area of land since some of it includes occupied Azerbaijani territory. It's is almost completely populated by ethnic Armenians.

At the event earlier this month, anthems from Canada, Britain, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh were played. Kenney read out greetings from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Farid Shafiyev, a councillor at the embassy of Azerbaijan, said his presence is being interpreted by people in both the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities as tacit support for Nagorno Karabakh.

"That kind of undertaking, the singing of anthems in the presence of a high-electoral official, it can be considered a kind of blessing," said Shafiyev. "And I believe the Armenian media caught up with that event and portrayed that as getting attention from Canadian officials."

Shaifyev says he gives Kenney the benefit of the doubt that he didn't know the anthem would be played, but the embassy sent a letter to Foreign Affairs to underline its concern.

Kenney said he attended 14 cultural events that weekend alone, and went to the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund banquet because it was a registered charity. He pointed out that the deputy speaker of the British House of Lords was also there.

"There was no political or diplomatic or foreign relations content to my visit," Kenney said in an interview.

Kenney added that his understanding previous to attending was that the charity raised money for projects throughout Armenia.

"I wasn't aware beforehand that they did this in Nagorno Karbakh, but I can't imagine anybody objecting to Canada supporting clinics, schools, hospitals and the like," Kenney said.

Still, the organization's executive director is a former minister from the disputed territory, and the evening's event's included the reading of a letter from the Nagorno Karbakh "Republic" office in Washington.

One of the banquet's organizers, Migirdic Migirdician, said there was nothing unusual about playing the anthem of the host "country."

Ilham Akhundov of the Canada Azerbaijan Partnership Association said his community doesn't have any quarrel with the group's fundraising activities, only with the playing of the anthem.

"Everybody knows this anthem is of the Nagorno Karabakh republic which actually doesn't exist, our concern is just with that part of the event," said Akhundov, who wrote Kenney a letter of complaint. "He must mention that this is not something that should be done at such level of meetings."

The Conservative government, particularly Kenney, is regarded as a friend of the Armenian community. In April, Harper publicly recognized the disputed Armenian genocide of the early part of the 20th century. That created a diplomatic row with the Turkish government, which recalled its ambassador and pulled out of a NATO training exercise in protest.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin landed in hot water in 2000, after he attended a dinner in Toronto hosted by the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils. Federal lawyers later declared that group a front for a Tamil terrorist group.

© The Canadian Press 2006

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Holocaust museum seeks to inspire

June 23, 2006
Daily Herald

Ida Paluch was a young girl when an aunt hoisted her across the barbed wire, saving her from the fate awaiting most Jews corralled together in a southern Polish city.

It was 1942.

Paluch never again saw her aunt, one of an estimated 6 million people killed during the Holocaust.

Three decades later, Cambodia's Pol Pot regime drove Samorn Nil from his family, forcing him to work in the countryside. Nil lost his father, siblings and 1.7 million countrymen to Cambodia's killing fields.

Kenneth Elisapana escaped the violence that gripped Sudan, dividing the Islamic north from the non-Muslim south, violence that has killed more than 2æmillion Sudanese since 1983. The current conflict in western Sudan's Darfur region claimed an additional 250,000 lives.

All witnessed violence at its worst.

All say we have not heeded its lessons.

"People didn't learn a thing," said Paluch, a 67-year-old Skokie woman. "I always wonder what is the future of this world going to be."

Elisapana echoed the concern.

"After the Second World War, we formed the United Nations and we said, 'Never again.' But today still, regimes continue to kill and rape," said Elisapana, 38, who works at World Relief in Aurora.

Amid this legacy of violence and indecision comes the new $30 million, 64,000-square-foot Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

The suburban center is the latest memorial intended to remember the past and forge a more peaceful future, organizers say. The Skokie-based center joins others in Washington D.C., New York, Houston and Los Angeles.

Holocaust museums are not alone in this mission.

Across the Chicago area and the country, museums remembering those lost to atrocities in Armenia, Cambodia and Bosnia are taking root. This, coupled with more states requiring such history be taught in public schools, fuels hope that knowledge of past mistakes avoids future ones.

"That lesson has not sunk in yet in terms of the global stage," said Brett Kaplan, a Holocaust scholar with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "The undying hope is people can learn how to prevent genocide in the future."

Illinois is one of 16 states with laws concerning Holocaust education.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich last year broadened the state's long-standing Holocaust education mandate to include lessons from Armenia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan.

More than 250,000 visitors are expected each year when the museum opens in 2008.

"We will hopefully create a generation of activists," said Richard Hirschhaut, executive director of the Skokie-based Holocaust center. "We will awaken the sense of responsibility within young people to raise their voices and act when they see hate, when they see intolerance at its earliest stages."

Joining them in the task are organizers of Chicago's Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial.

Run by the Cambodian Association of Illinois, the center is one of the country's only public memorials to victims of the Khmer Rouge. An estimated 2,000 people visited last year.

"The suffering is not just for Cambodian people alone. We live in the same planet. The suffering of a person is also the suffering of all of us," said Nil, 52, who directs social services for the Cambodian group.

"That it still continues to happen ... it's shameful," Nil said.

The burden of action weighs heaviest over western Sudan, many say.

Since fighting erupted in 2003, more than 2 million people have been driven from their homes.

The Illinois Museum and Education Center Web site calls on visitors to urge legislators to press for intervention. Paluch and others in the Holocaust Association for Child Survivors routinely send letters.

Through his work with World Relief, Elisapana does the same. The groundbreaking Thursday for the new Holocaust center underscores the need, he said.

"This is the past we are breaking ground on, but there is a current genocide in Sudan. Are we going to wait and break ground for that history?" Elisapana asked.

Gitta Jaskulski puts her faith in talking.

The 63-year-old Des Plaines woman survived nearly two years in the Theresienstadt concentration camp as a toddler. Fewer than 100 children of the 15,000 held in the camp lived, estimates show.

"It's just so important to tell our story," Jaskulski said. "It's not just something in the history books."

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Speaking the truth System of a Down out to raise awareness

June 23, 2006

What you really need to know about System of a Down is that they're honestly the most important band on the third planet.

There may be better acts, but their elevated, chart-ravaging mix of powerful instrumentation, wicked social consciousness and inventive, multipart harmony has literally redefined what an American band can aspire to. Born in Armenia and created in Hollywood, of all places, no one this popular shows so much soul. The events of 9-11 and its resultant tsunami of counter-attacks on the Middle East being a mere blip in their eternal political advocacy against injustice - be it illegal war, torture, civilian casualty, corporate rollbacks amid record profits, violent pornography or even just simple Hollywood fakery.

No one else makes fighting back so much fun. We're lucky to have them back Sunday at the Oiler rink - Rexall Place - so soon after September's mind-blowing arena show.

Like everyone in the band, bass-player/videographer Shavo Odadjian began his life in Armenia and grew up on bands like Kiss and Dead Kennedys and the wisdom of his grandmother who largely raised him.

Odadjian, swinging his pigtail beard around like a propeller, plays with both a pick and his fingers. He came to System before it even existed, managing Soil - the previous group of Daron Malakian and Serj Tankian - but the three rolled it together in 1995, finally snuggling with drummer John Dolmayan. After a tremendous run including being only one of three bands to have two simultaneous No. 1 albums on the charts, thanks to Mesmerize/Hypnotize, singer/writer Malakian in May announced the band's hiatus following this tour. Good place to start, don't you think?

SHAVO: We've been a band for 12 years, almost. Five records, I can't even think about how much we've toured. After Ozzfest it's a blast-off. The four of us are friends and we've always had things we wanted to do outside the band. Everyone's going to go do their thing, but once we come back, all the stuff we did will bring a new element to the band. It's like a research trip.

FISH: I was blown away when I first noticed how Mesmerize and Hypnotize fit together, in terms of physical packaging and music.

SHAVO: Daron (Malakion) has a really amazing knack for arranging stuff - that's his gift. He worked his ass off trying to get that thing right. It's hard enough to do one record. But to do them one after another as one record that fully makes sense?

FISH: You're politically congruous with the rest of the band?

SHAVO: Yes, but I'm not as vigilant. Of course I have my own beliefs and sometimes I disagree, just like everybody else. Our political side is not where we try and ram it down your throat how to think and how to be. We offer an alternative, and hopefully raise awareness of issues the American press is not allowed to focus on. What we say isn't shocking in Europe. Over here, everything is monitored closely by the government. It's supposed to be a free country.

FISH: I call it a soft fascism. You can say what you like, to a point. But that doesn't change the fact rights are being eroded.

SHAVO: People say we're haters of America. But we're not. We wouldn't be in this country if we didn't love it. But I grew up in New York and Hollywood, so as a kid I got to see a lot of gangs, hookers, and it made me who I am. I also saw my dad come here without a penny in his pocket and be able to raise a family by working three jobs. That inspired me. I always thought in the back of my head when I pull my life together, I'm going to hook my parents up.

FISH: How did you repay them?

SHAVO: (Laughs.) They don't know right now, but I've done little things. They're really proud, right? They won't take a penny from me. I give them an anniversary gift and they're, 'Oh! Why did you spend so much?' But I did stuff underhandedly. They're not going to get another mortgage payment bill. Thank God I wasn't raised spoiled, so I actually appreciate it now. They still work every day.

FISH: I've seen you - you work pretty hard onstage.

SHAVO: My favourite time. Since I was 14 I've worked. I worked hard in college studying philosophy and psychology.

FISH: Because you're an information gateway for people, do you feel a sense of responsibility?

SHAVO: You can ask the same question about songwriting - a lot of Armenians who didn't like heavy music now do because of us. As long as we're happy and speaking the truth and doing it righteously, then let it be. You can't think about it too much.

FISH: You're selling out huge stadiums worldwide.

SHAVO: In Europe, we headlined Download a year ago and that was psychotic - 80,000 people! We played 9 p.m. on Sunday to a sea of humans with no end.

FISH: How do you feel as one person in 80,000?

SHAVO: As long as I feel the energy and love, it can be 80,000 or eight. But I feel on top of the world. It's spiritual. But wait till you hear the stuff I'm doing with the Wu Tang Clan. I've introduced them to Mediterranean and Armenian music, and what we did to rock we're doing to hard-core hip hop. GZA and I are doing production in early June. We're going to be in a real band. It just doesn't have a name yet. But I'm really looking forward to it.


Gig: System of a Down

Venue: Rexall Place, Sunday

Vitals: Breakthrough album was 2002's Toxicity, which debuted at No. 1 on North American charts.

Detailing: Band fights for recognition of First World War's Armenian Genocide.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

"The coverage of political life still remains one-sided, both in private and public-service broadcasting" (OSCE media watchdog)

By OSCE (Press release)

Yerevan, 23 June 2006 - Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, said today that Armenia has made significant progress in improving media legislation, but actual media pluralism remained limited to the print media.

"I am pleased that since 2005 there have been very few atrocities reported against journalists. It is similarly welcome that criminal libel cases have not been initiated since several years," said Haraszti, who was on a three-day official visit to Armenia at the invitation of the Government.

"However, the coverage of political life still remains one-sided, both in private and public-service broadcasting. This confines actual pluralism to the diverse, at times even partisan, but economically very weak print media."

The aim of the visit, co-organized by the OSCE Office in Yerevan, was to assess the state of freedom of the media, giving special attention to the upcoming changes in the legal framework, required by amendments to the Constitution adopted in November 2005.

The OSCE Representative expressed his appreciation for having been received by President Robert Kocharian. He also met the Chairman of the National Assembly Tigran Torosyan, and other government officials, as well as broadcast operatives, journalists and media NGOs.

"We see good pieces of legislation, such as the Constitutional amendments on broadcasting, and the Freedom of Information law," added Mr. Haraszti. "However, implementation is behind the blueprints in some fields. For example, the broadcast law reform required by the Constitution is still missing, as are the implementation rules for the law on Freedom of Information."

Haraszti suggested that pluralizing the composition of the broadcasting boards would lead to diversity in the licensing of private broadcasters, and to more objective news coverage in public television, saying that: "Media reform should be accelerated, especially in view of the upcoming elections."

The Representative on the Freedom of the Media regularly conducts assessment visits in the OSCE region and presents his reports to the Organization's Permanent Council. The reports include an analysis of the media situation and offer practical recommendations for improving the freedom of the press.

© CAUCAZ.COM | Breaking News published on 23/06/2006

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

World Bank predicts Armenian economic growth will slow

Jun 22 2006 10:46AM

YEREVAN. June 22 (Interfax) - Armenian economic growth will slow in the next few years, the World Bank said in a report on Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The World Bank forecasts that Armenia GDP will grow 5.6% in 2008 against 14% in 2005. High world oil prices and a drop in foreign transfers will hinder economic growth.

The experts said the main economic risks are connected with a strong strengthening in the national currency. They said any foreign upheaval could lead to a sharp devaluation in the dram, which would have a negative effect on the country's economy.

The World Bank is predicting a drop in economic growth for almost all of the countries in the region, however oil exporting countries will do better, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Romania. High oil prices will help form a budget surplus in these countries.

The World Bank predicts that the Armenian budget deficit will be close to European standards of up to 3% of GDP. The budget deficit was 1.7% of GDP in 2005. rm

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

The Kars-Akhalkalaki railway: good for Georgia?

Thursday, June 22, 2006, #115 (1135)
The Messenger
By M. Alkhazashvili

The Financial Committee of the U.S. Congress has forbidden American companies from investing in the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway. However, even if U.S. companies don't finance the project it will be quite possible to other sources of funding. Turkey is more than ready to bear the cost, but just how beneficial is this project going to be for Georgia?

Economist Gia Khukhashvili argues that it is necessary to conduct market research, as it could well turn out that the railway will redirect cargo which had been passing through Georgian ports, which would ultimately be detrimental to the Georgian economy.

"It may result in catastrophic conditions for Georgian ports. The government has not thought the decision through. Serious analytical works must be conducted; problems should not be created for our ports, only if this is guaranteed will the project be beneficial" said Khukhashvili in the newspaper Rezonansi.

Analyst Emzar Jgerenaia is far more skeptical. According to him operating the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku railway line won't bring any economic benefits for Georgia at all. "The construction of the railway needs a lot of investment, the line runs through an earthquake zone and additional works will be needed," Jgerenaia said in Khvalindeli Dghe.

Some analysts believe that it would be more profitable to focus on the needs of neighbouring Armenia. According to Akhali Taoba, Georgia should consider Armenia's concern over building the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway and its interest in the reopening of the Sokhumi-Tbilisi line. By discussing this issue with Russia, Georgia could find itself in a stronger bargaining position on the conflict in Abkhazia.

"It is not ruled out that the Kars-Akhalkalaki project and the reopening of the railway line in Abkhazia may have profound effects on the reintegration process in Abkhazia," says the newspaper Akhali Taoba.

But these statements are mostly conjectural, as there has been no detailed costing of the proposed railway, and no funds have yet been raised. The opinions are primarily conditioned by political, rather than economic, attitudes to the issue.

© The Messenger. All rights reserved. Please read our disclaimer before using any of the published materials.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Fears of Turkey's 'invisible' Armenians

Thursday, 22 June 2006
BBC News, Istanbul
By Sarah Rainsford

The head of the Armenian Orthodox church is in the middle of a controversial visit to Istanbul. Karekin II has in the past angered Turks by accusing them of committing genocide against Armenians at the time of World War I. Turkey denies the charges of genocide.

I thought it was a perfectly simple question.

I had gone backstage to interview the conductor of an ethnic Armenian church choir after a rousing performance at Istanbul University.

As the choristers packed up their manuscripts, we chatted for a while about the music and the conductor was all smiles.

Then I asked his opinion on the conference his choir was singing at - the snappily labelled "Symposium on New Approaches to Turkish-Armenian relations".

I wondered if he thought the event could help mend fences. Within seconds, he was edging away from me, apparently deeply uncomfortable.

"I don't want to talk about politics," he pleaded, "we just came for the music!"

It was a telling insight.

Closed borders

Turkey and Armenia are neighbours who might as well be a million miles apart.

Diplomatic relations have been frozen for over a decade; their mutual border is closed.

Part of the reason is Turkey's support for the Azeris in their conflict with Armenia.

But the direct dispute is over a matter of history: The death of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in eastern Turkey during the dying days of the Ottoman empire.

Armenia wants those deaths recognised as genocide. Turkey refuses to accept that term.

For Armenia and its vast and powerful diaspora, getting recognition from Ankara is a mission so important, it is almost a way of life. But here inside Turkey, ethnic Armenians have chosen an uncomfortable silence over confrontation.

I visited Anush and her brother Vartan in a leafy middle class suburb of Istanbul.

Their apartment was typical of the area, but with the odd design twists, like knotted dried flowers on the table that reminded me of my trips to the Caucasus.

"Turks still ask me where I come from," Vartan told me, as his sister brought in the tea. "They seem to have no idea there used to be hundreds of thousands of us here."

Uneasy existence

Anush and Vartan are just two of some 60,000 ethnic Armenians who still live in Turkey - a land their ancestors have inhabited for almost 2,000 years. It is an uneasy co-existence.

"We've lived with violence ever since I was born," Anush told me. "Graffiti on our churches, abuse on the streets. I still think twice in some areas before I say my name openly."

For previous generations life was even tougher.

Anush's parents barely speak Armenian, because their parents worried they would stand out and when Armenian militants began assassinating Turkish diplomats in the 1970s, Turkish Armenian families here made themselves more invisible still.

It is hardly surprising they do not normally voice an opinion on what happened in 1915.

Anush and Vartan are a rare exception and, even so, I have had to change their names.

We know exactly what happened, Vartan told me.

He said his Armenian great grandparents were forcibly deported south, accused of siding with Russian troops against the Turks. They handed their children over to Turkish neighbours for safety and never returned.

There is a similar tragedy behind every Armenian door here, but the local patriarch has banned his community from discussing it - if they want to keep their jobs in Armenian churches and schools.

"It's fear," Anush told me simply.

There have been some early signs of change here. Last year a university in Istanbul hosted the first discussion of the genocide claims in Turkey ever to question the official line. It was hugely controversial but it happened.

And now international pressure on Ankara to re-examine its position is increasing.

Vartan welcomes that but he senses a rise in aggressive, nationalist feeling in Turkey in response.

"If other countries force this issue, it will be terrible for the Armenian people here," Vartan told me quietly.

"If you plunge a man into boiling water, he will burn," he said, "but if you increase the heat gently, he could get used to it."


Unlike the Kurds, Turkey's Armenian population is an officially recognised minority with certain rights and privileges.

But despite that - and despite their silence - Turkish Armenians seem like pseudo-citizens.

Anush told me that in one school text book Armenians are still described as separatists with an eye on Turkish land. History books carry the official view of 1915, of course, with the Armenians exiled as traitors.

And even now, in Armenian schools here, ethnic Armenians are banned from teaching certain "strategic" subjects - geography, sociology, morality, history.

As we talked into the warm evening, and glasses of tea gave way to Armenian cognac, I began to understand the price people like that choir master pay to live in peace in Turkey.

To many Armenians abroad their silence is a sort of treachery. For Anush, Vartan and the others it is about protecting a fragile peace.

But it is all built on the shakiest of foundations.

"I am positive. I do have hopes for Turkey," Anush told me as I put on my shoes to go.

"But I don't remember ever feeling truly comfortable living here. Always at the back of my mind is the thought that one day I may be forced to leave."

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Monday, June 19, 2006

EU slams Turkey in draft progress report

Sun Jun 18, 2006 12:40 PM BST

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The EU criticises the Turkish military's role in politics, a lack of reform and minority rights and relations with Cyprus in the draft of a progress report due later this year, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

The European Union is due to publish a progress report on Ankara's entry bid in October or November, a year after the start of negotiations, which turned frosty on Friday when Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said he would sooner see talks suspended than make concessions over Cyprus.

Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper cited EU sources on Sunday as saying the first draft criticised Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Cyprus, as the EU demands, before the bloc lifts trade restrictions on Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus.

The paper said the draft also notes a slowdown in political reform, the military's continuing influence over political institutions and calls for more work for judicial independence and rights for women and minorities.

It says conditions in the poor, mainly Kurdish southeast, where security forces are fighting separatist guerrillas, have deteriorated and criticises relations with traditional enemies and neighbours Greece and Armenia.

The European Commission's enlargement spokeswoman, Krisztina Nagy, said the report was still a long way off. "I don't think a consolidated draft report exists at this stage. In any case it is much too early to speculate on its content," she said.

The newspaper said the draft would be amended, but the sources did not expect many fundamental changes.

"This is standard EU criticism of Turkey," said an official in Brussels who asked not to be named. "It was present in last year's report and it is likely to be in this year's report."

EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Friday replied to Erdogan's Cyprus comments by calling on Turkey to let shipping from the tiny Mediterranean island use Turkish ports this year.

Last week Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker was quoted as saying membership talks should be frozen if Turkey does not open its ports this year.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has said Turkey, which is not expected to join the wealthy bloc until 2015 at the earliest, could be heading for a "train crash" in its accession process and has urged Ankara to step up reforms.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved. | Learn more about Reuters

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Canada-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Group established

19.06.2006 14:23

YEREVAN (YERKIR) - The Canada-Armenia Preliminary Friendship (CAPF) for the 39th Parliament was established at a meeting in the House of Commons on June 14.

House of Commons and Canadian Senate members were invited by MP Gary Goodyear (Conservative-Cambridge) to attend the founding meeting and elect a new executive for CAPF. So far 32 members of Parliament and Senators have joined CAPF.

In his opening remarks Goodyear thanked MPs and Senators and said: “Your presence demonstrates your support for the positive relationship that exists between Armenia and Canada.

As you know, our Prime Minister recently officially recognized the Armenian Genocide of 1915 in Parliament. We believe that this was a positive step toward healing the wounds of the past and paving the road for a peaceful and prosperous relationship between Canada and Armenia.”

Arman Agopian, the Charge d’ affairs of the Embassy of Armenia, thanked the Canadian parliamentarians for their support and commitment to foster and enhance strong and positive bi-lateral relationship between Canada and Armenia.

CAPF new president invited Aris Babikian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of Canada (ANCC), to relay the message of the Canadian-Armenian Community.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



More than 10% growth of economy will be observed in Armenia in 2006-2007, Rodrigo de Rato, IMF Director-Manager told a press conference in Yerevan. In his words, IMF underestimated the pace of economic development in Armenia while forecasting GDP growth of 6-8%. Being without natural resources, Armenia reached high economic indicators which testifies about the effectiveness of its economy. “Compared to other regional countries Armenia is developing much faster,” he stressed.

In the opinion of IMF Director-Manager, growth of more than 10% and low level of inflation are indicators which can serve as basis for further stable growth of the Armenian economy.

Rodrigo de Rato also noted that the reforms implemented in the country are directed to bringing the legislation of Armenia in compliance with EU standards which makes it possible for the country to compete in the world.

GDP growth of 13.9% was reported in Armenia in 2005 against 10.1% in 2004.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



The government of the Netherlands will provide Armenia with a credit of 5 mln Euro on preferential terms by the end of this year if the country does not turn down its planned economic indicators, Agnes van Arden, minister on development of cooperation of the Netherlands told a press conference in Yerevan.

In her words, the funds will be directed to enlarged business ties between the entrepreneurs of both countries and mutual attraction of investment. She noted that joint ventures are highly preferable with subsequent new employment opportunities.

It should be noted that in 2005 the Netherlands has provided Armenia with a credit of 4.7 mln Euro. The funds were directed to fund management in state sector, democratic development and establishment of civil society.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dog Breath? Not in the new Yerevan

Issue #24 (194), June 16, 2006
By John Hughes
ArmeniaNow editor

On the increasingly infrequent times when I am away from Armenia, people always ask: “How are things there now?”
I used to answer with reports about how often the electricity was off or how many days a week the water worked.

Here, now, is my answer – and I swear on every painted page of Bibles in Matenadaran, I am not making this up:

You can now buy canine toothpaste in Yerevan.

Dog oral hygiene. This is how things are here. While at night desparate men are out shooting strays for about a dollar a tail (this remains the prevailing means of “animal control”), somewhere in the city someone is brushing FiFi’s molars with pet toothpaste that cost more than a month’s worth of potatoes.

The same supermarket that a year ago was offering smoked crocodile, now has a standup display loaded with doggie delights and kitty comforts that include the toothpaste – that would be “shun atamy matsuk” in Armenian – which goes for 5,200 drams ($12.53). Beside it is an electric toothbrush for dogs, $9.39.

Don’t waste your time on charts or data from Wall Street or the “Financial Times”. These are real economic indicators. How are things in Armenia – a country where, in recent memory, bananas were a rarity, and a pineapple drew a crowd of onlookers? Here’s how: A pedicure kit for dogs sells for $15.66.

And here’s how the Outside Eye Unofficial but Real Measure of Disposable Income calculates the swing of the graph . . .

Eight years ago I brought my cat, Brian (RIP), here. We arrived in the middle of the dark night. Before I’d even properly checked out our temporary flat, it was incumbent upon me to arrange for Brian’s toilet facilities.

Should I face that necessity today, I would simply walk the well-lit streets to the 24-hour supermarket and buy a bag of litter. But in 1998? Well:

Inside the kitchen, I found a dust pan, suitable I thought, for scooping up dirt.

Way past midnight and way past any understanding of my unlikely reasons for being in this impoverished but soon to be dog-breath conscious country, I went into the yard to scoop dirt. There was a problem. Specifically, it had rained. Dust was mud. I scooped anyway.

Back inside the flat, I placed the soil in a baking dish, cranked the oven to what I perceived to be the highest setting, and attempted to dry Armenian mud into American cat commodery. I burned it.

Here, in this paradise of culinary splendor, the first thing I cooked was dirt. And I burned it – smoked up the place like Saturday on Proshian Street.

Have you ever smelled burnt Armenian mud? This is my first olfactory memory of my new life.

The next day’s survey of markets turned up no evidence of kitty litter. So I went to a veterinary clinic and explained the need. The vet said he could fix the problem with some imported goods. The cost would be $60. I decided burned mud would work just fine. Nor did Brian, a faithful patron of the aromatically pebbled Fresh Step, seem particulary distressed by the down-scaling of litter luxury.

Such is my perspective when contemplating the absurdity of dog tooth paste in any society, to say little of what it indicates here.

I guess I didn’t mention about the breath mints.

The same kiosk offered an ensemble of canine anti-halitosis goods that included toothpaste, brush and – again I am not making this up – breath mints. For dogs.

After seeing the deluxe kit, I went back a few days later to check the price. Someone had already bought it.

So, how are things in Armenia? Like that. At least in a tiny, tiny, slice of Armenia where people have more money than dogs have fleas. But wait, the dogs don’t have fleas, because the same place offers flea collars, $15.55.

If only Brian could see this place now.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Ralph Lysyshyn Appointed to Armenia

Foreign Affairs of Canada
Diplomatic Appointments
June 16, 2006

Ralph Lysyshyn becomes Ambassador to the Russian Federation with concurrent accreditation to the Republic of Armenia.
Ralph Lysyshyn (BA, McGill University, 1969; MA, University of Alberta, 1971) joined the Department of External Affairs in 1972 and served abroad in Moscow, Lagos, Washington and Brussels, where he was Minister Counsellor at the Canadian Mission to NATO from 1990 to 1994. In Ottawa, he was seconded to the Privy Council Office in 1978 and 1979. At Headquarters, Mr. Lysyshyn held a number of positions, including Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Division and, from 1994 to 1998, that of Director General, International Security and Arms Control Bureau. From 1998 to 2002 he served as the first President of the Forum of Federations. From 2002 to 2005, he was Canada’s Ambassador to Poland and Belarus. He is married to Susan Margaret Lysyshyn. They have three children. Ralph Lysyshyn succeeds Christopher Westdal.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lord of the bling

Jun. 15, 2006. 01:00 AM
The Toronto Star
Rick Westhead

When the siren sounds on the Stanley Cup final, another less publicized annual hockey skirmish will be picking up steam: the fight between jewellery companies to make championship rings for the winners.

Making rings for pro sports teams is a long-standing ritual that has become big business.

In 1893, the Montreal AAAs awarded each of its seven players a plain gold ring inscribed with crossed hockey sticks after the team claimed the inaugural Stanley Cup.

Fast forward a century and times have certainly changed.

When the Tampa Bay Lightning won the NHL title in 2003-'04, the team ordered gold rings that featured 138 diamonds apiece, including a host of rare blue diamonds — sent to Israel to be "radiated" to give them their unusual hue — making up the Stanley Cup on each ring.

Nowadays, pro sports teams are buying championship rings that are sometimes appraised for as much as $30,000, which means orders can run well into the millions of dollars.

In a twist fitting for the sports industry, where most everyone loves an underdog, an upstart Calgary company called Intergold Ltd. is fast becoming a force in the niche business.

Founded by 51-year-old Miran Armutlu, who moved to Canada with his family from Armenia when he was a child, Intergold has become the NHL ring-maker of choice in an industry that for decades was dominated by larger American firms such as Jostens, a Minnesota company that also produces high school and college yearbooks.

Intergold has created rings for the past three Stanley Cup winners, including the Lightning.

It won't be long after the Stanley Cup is presented to this year's winner that Armutlu's company and its rivals will start their sales pitch.

"They're pretty aggressive," Lightning president Ronald Campbell said. "I might have had messages from them on my voice mail even before Game 7."

The Lightning, which beat the Calgary Flames in seven games to claim the franchise's first Stanley Cup, hired Intergold because of positive reviews from its customers and because the jewellery concern was willing to produce more than a dozen ring prototypes for the team. NHL teams can give out the rings to anyone, and some clubs have awarded toned-down versions of championship rings to scouts, arena staff, retired players and even long-time season-ticket holders. (Not all Stanley Cup winners have awarded rings to players. The Montreal AAAs handed out watches after its second Cup win, and the 1915 Stanley Cup recipients, the Vancouver Millionaires, gave players medallions, Hockey Digest magazine reported.)

To be sure, some players and team executives are willing to part with their rings for a price. An unnamed former member of the Boston Bruins recently listed for sale on eBay his championship ring from the 1972 season, when Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito guided the team to a win over the New York Rangers. The asking price: $13,500 (U.S.)

"There is so much hard work that goes into getting these rings that you hate to hear about situations like that," Campbell said. "I'd never consider selling my ring. But everybody has their challenges. Every day you hear about a tough-luck story."

Still, while most recipients probably wouldn't sell their rings, that doesn't mean everyone is enamoured of them.

Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios has two Cup rings — one he received as a member of the Red Wings and the other with the Montreal Canadiens — but he doesn't wear either. Chelios said he gave both to his father, Kostaf, a retired Chicago restaurateur.

"They've gotten pretty gaudy," Chelios said. "They're so heavy that it's almost impractical to wear them. But it's not like anyone's going to say they don't want them."

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Tax Payer Dollars Won’t Be Spent on Kars-Akhalkalaki Railway Construction

15.06.2006 15:26 GMT+04:00

Members of the House Financial Services Committee adhere to U.S. policy goals of regional cooperation and economic integration by ensuring that no Export-Import funding would be used for a proposed rail link project that would connect Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, while bypassing Armenia, the Armenian Assembly of America reported. Lawmakers approved H.R. 5068, the Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act of 2006, which included an amendment introduced by Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY), along with Congressmen Edward Royce (R-CA) and Brad Sherman (D-CA), ensuring that taxpayer dollars will not be spent on efforts that would exclude Armenia from regional projects and commercial opportunities.

Unanimous approval of this amendment by the House Financial Services Committee sends a strong message that it does not endorse attempts to undermine U.S. policy goals, which seeks to normalize Armenian-Turkish relations and to reach a peaceful settlement in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Moreover, the Committee's action echoes recent statements made by Ambassador-Designate to Azerbaijan, Anne Derse, who indicated that the proposed railroad would "not be beneficial to regional integration..."

"With this amendment, we are sending a message to the governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan that continually excluding Armenia in regional projects fosters instability," Crowley told Members of the Committee. " If the Caucasus region is to move forward, we must ensure that all countries move forward together at the same time."

The legislation, which also has a Senate counterpart, would prohibit U.S. assistance for the promotion or development of a railroad that would connect the three countries and exclude Armenia. The House bill currently has 85 cosponsors.

Sherman, who also addressed the Committee, said that the European Union has already publicly indicated that it will not finance a rail project in which Armenia is not involved. "Export-Import made a huge mistake when it approved finance guarantees for the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline in 2003," Sherman told the Assembly. "This amendment puts Congress on record opposing a repeat of that fiasco embodied by this ill-conceived and wasteful rail project." "Our foreign assistance should help end conflict by fostering cooperation," Sherman continued. "We should not entrench divisions by financing projects which exclude countries friendly to the United States."

The next step in the legislative process is a vote in the full House on H.R. 5068.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Murals unveiled at Armenian church

Thursday, June 15, 2006
Cambridge Chronicle
By Rosario Teixeira

The Holy Cross Armenian Catholic Church, located at 200 Lexington St., Belmont, unveiled two historical murals and an art exhibit by artist Daniel Varoujan Hejinian on May 28. The murals are 48 inches by 79 inches each, and are located on the side walls of the church. They depict the baptism of King Drtad and the creation of the Armenian alphabet.

To the left of the center altar, one mural celebrates the 1,700th anniversary of Armenia Christianity. This panel depicts the Baptism of King Drtad as the first Christian King in 301 A.D. Saint Gregory the Illuminator stands on the bank of the Euphrates River and baptizes the King, who is bowed in humility. Queen Ashkhen and the king's sister Princess Khosrovitookht stand behind him, wile two soldiers witness the event. Also depicted in the mural are Mount Ararat in the distance, and in its shadow, the Holy Echmiyadzin Church, which was built 305 A.D. by Saint Gregory and King Drtad.

Located on the wall to the right of the center altar, the second mural celebrates the 1,600th anniversary of the Armenian alphabet and Armenian culture. It depicts Saint Mesrob Mashdotz who created the Armenian alphabet in 405 A.D. for the purpose of translating the Bible into the Armenian language. In this panel, Saint Mesrob holds a pen while through a stream of light the alphabet floats to him through divine inspiration. Behind him, there is the symbolic image of Ft. Mekhitar, who in the 1700's founded the Mekhitarist Order in the island of San Lazarus. Also depicted in the background is the bell tower of the San Lazarus Monastery, because its congregation was devoted to the advancement of learning and the publication of works in the Armenian language, in addition they established schools in populated Armenian communities throughout the world.

The Holy Cross Armenian Catholic Church in Belmont, is the seventh church to display religious murals painted by Varoujan. Saints Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, was the first church to commission Varoujan's religious murals. Twenty years ago, Daniel Varoujan Hejinian completed 46 murals covering the northern and southern walls of Saint Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church. Since then, he has painted many religious murals and paintings in Armenian Churches throughout the United States.

Varoujan has painted several corporate murals in the Renaissance style such as the Causeway Street Mural, a five-story high mural, which is the gateway to the North End; the murals at Fillippo's Restaurant in the North End; and Luccia's Restaurant in Winchester.

For more information, visit

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


[02:53 pm] 14 June, 2006
A1 Plus

WFP Executive Director, James Morris, has approved a two-year operation in Azerbaijan, which will provide 26,833 metric tons of food assistance to 143,500 people displaced by the conflict with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Under the new operation, valued at US$15.7 million, WFP will provide food aid to the most vulnerable of the displaced population, particularly women and children.

“This is likely to be the last phase of WFP’s operation in Azerbaijan. In order to ensure a smooth handover to the Government towards the end of the project, the continued financial support from donors is crucial,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP’s Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, in an appeal to the international donor community for continued support in this critical period of transition.

Inadequate conditions

Since leaving Nagorno Karabakh 13 years ago, many displaced Azerbaijanis still live in inadequate conditions and have severely limited assets.

A WFP Food Security and Nutrition Assessment – the first of its kind in Azerbaijan – was released last year and warned that nearly 300,000 of the one million Azerbaijanis displaced by the conflict with Armenia would continue to rely on food aid for the foreseeable future.

Only 40 percent of the households covered by the survey have access to agricultural land. In all instances most of the produce grown is for family subsistence.

New operation

In designing the new operation, WFP incorporated the findings from the survey and took into consideration the ongoing activities of the government to assist the displaced population by reinforcing its current assistance and benefit programmes.

The operation is aligned with the State Programme for Poverty Reduction and Economic Development and will help Azerbaijan work towards the Millennium Development Goals to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women.

A Food for Education component of the operation will address declining enrolment rates of primary school children and help stabilize attendance by providing school meals.

More employment opportunities

A Food for Work project will increase employment opportunities for rural households, many of whom are displaced people. “Seventy percent of WFP’s beneficiaries are women and children – they are extremely food insecure. Any discontinuation of food assistance at this time will seriously affect their health and nutritional well being.

To avert a disruption of what has been achieved so far with the help of the government, funding is crucial,” said Rahman Chowdhury, WFP’s Representative for Azerbaijan.

Over the past decade, WFP has been pivotal in alleviating the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis displaced by the conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh that started in the early 1990s.

WFP has provided over US$100 million in food assistance to Azerbaijan in the past twelve years to ease the hardships of the displaced population.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Integrity and Determination - All About the Nation

Wednesday, June 14, 2006.
Moscow Times
Issue 3431. Page 10.
By Raffi K. Hovannisian

With the purpose of keeping people informed, newspapers can and should publish, side by side or in sequence, comment pieces offering points and counterpoints concerning conflict situations that affect peace and security.

At some juncture, however, partisan polemics must give way to the consideration of hard facts in order to resolve contemporary divides inherited from the ebb and flow of history. The truth is often harsh and can cause pain to both the messenger and recipient.

None of us -- Armenians, Azeris, Turks -- can boast a spotless register of state-building, mutual respect for human rights, or even regard for the liberty and dignity of our own citizens. We must do better in having our deeds match our words both individually and in concert.

With regard to Nagorno-Karabakh, understanding the following points is vital:

• In no way discounting Azeri cultural affinities, Nagorno-Karabakh has and will continue to be, part of the Armenian patrimony. Its forcible inclusion by Stalin in Soviet Azerbaijan had, and continues to have, no juridical basis under international law. For those who might argue that it does, then so should Nagorno-Karabakh's response to Azerbaijan's civil war, in the form of its 1991 referendum on independence from Soviet Azerbaijan. The referendum was held not only according to universal principles of self-determination and other standards of international practice, but also pursuant to the Soviet Constitution and relevant law on secession.

The question at issue is not the indisputable right of today's Azerbaijan to its territorial integrity, but specifically the lawful frontiers of that integrity. Nagorno-Karabakh's legitimate quest for decolonization and for sovereign control of its own identity, security and destiny is anchored both in fact and in law. Whether acknowledged or not, it is a precedent established in East Timor, Montenegro and other places yet to come and requires no further foundation.

• The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's 1992 mediation mandate and the tripartite 1994 ceasefire bear witness, no matter how or how many times you slice it, to the fact that there can be no enduring settlement to the conflict without the full-fledged participation of the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. That is the bottom line. For its own reasons, the Azerbaijani government in Baku can whip up militant xenophobia, raze the medieval Armenian cemetery at Julfa to the ground and then try with a straight face to deny it. But if it ever means to negotiate, it has to talk to the Nagorno-Karabakh capital of Stepanakert just as much as the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

• No comprehensive solution on Nagorno-Karabakh will ever be achieved without a synchronized normalization of the Turkish-Armenian relationship based on an honest and brave assessment of history and its contemporary consequences. We cannot build a peaceful and prosperous region, where all political actors are on the same page with regard to security and cooperation, by seeking an escape hatch from the record of genocide and its derivative legacy, however sensitive or inconvenient dealing with this history may be. We're all grown men and women. It's time to face the music.

• Finally, we will be unable to forge a meaningful reconciliation -- one that touches the lives of all of the region's nations and people -- without the victory of democracy and rule of law in every jurisdiction, whether considered separately or taken together. There can be no peace, security, realization of national interests or international partnership where tyranny triumphs over liberty and where semi-feudal, post-Soviet verticals of power prejudice the future of forward-looking generations in Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, Turkey, and the world beyond.

The promise of freedom, justice and equity belongs to all of us, but the long road to its fulfillment must start at home.

Raffi K. Hovannisian is the former foreign minister of Armenia and director of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Eurasia Daily Monitor
By Emil Danielyan

Armenia's second most powerful official, Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian, is eliminating the last remaining doubts about his intention to succeed President Robert Kocharian after the latter completes a second five-year term in office in 2008. The past few weeks have made it even clearer that the two men have agreed on a rotation of power that could allow them to dominate Armenian politics for another decade. In a country that has failed to hold a single election recognized as free and fair by the international community, the opinion of voters is considered marginal for the realization of this scenario.

Sarkisian effectively kicked off his presidential campaign last week thanks to an event that could hardly be more apolitical. Armenia's national chess team notched a victory at the 37th Chess Olympiad, which ended in Turin on June 4. The six grandmasters and their coach received a hero's welcome as they returned to Yerevan two days later and addressed several thousand people in the city's Freedom Square. Sarkisian also received congratulations and delivered a speech to the jubilant crowd broadcast live by state television. He happens to be chairman of the Armenian Chess Federation and stayed with the players in Turin throughout the two-week competition. Some government officials and even army generals who joined in the celebrations were quick to claim that this fact was key to the Armenian chess triumph.

Sarkisian, himself a keen chess player, stopped short of explicitly taking credit for the success, but clearly enjoyed himself, looking more like a politician on the campaign trail than a sport executive. For a man long vilified by his political opponents and disliked by many disgruntled Armenians, it was quite a public relations stunt. For local observers, it was a taste of things to come.

That Sarkisian is Kocharian's preferred successor was essentially confirmed on May 20 by the Armenian president's national security adviser, Garnik Isagulian. "One of those who is most experienced and ready to be the next president of Armenia is Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian," he stated at a news conference. "In this case, Armenia's current political course will be pursued."

Indeed, Kocharian could hardly find a more reliable partner who would guarantee his personal security and let him continue to play a major role in Armenia's government. Kocharian and Sarkisian have long known and worked with each other. They both come from Karabakh, having jointly governed the Armenian-controlled disputed region during its successful war with Azerbaijan before ending up in senior government positions in Armenia. They both were instrumental in the 1998 resignation of Armenia's first president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, the man who had brought them to Yerevan.

The Kocharian-Sarkisian duo has proved more effective (and ruthless) in clinging to power than Ter-Petrosian, securing the allegiance of a wide range of pro-establishment parties and clans through a combination of sticks and carrots. The latter have taken the form of largely insignificant government posts that enable the leaders of those groups to enrich themselves but not endanger the duo's exclusive grip on defense, law-enforcement, the judiciary, foreign affairs, tax collection, and dealings with large-scale foreign investors. None of the state institutions managing these key policy areas is accountable to Armenia's cabinet of ministers. Kocharian and Sarkisian are also believed to control a narrow circle of wealthy businessmen that enjoy a de facto monopoly on lucrative imports of fuel and basic commodities.

The pro-establishment groups, especially those represented in the government, allow Armenia's leaders to not only defuse public anger with their policies but also to somehow legitimize their rule, which has been tarnished by chronic vote rigging. (Kocharian was twice "elected" president in 1998 and 2003 and neither election was deemed democratic by Western observers.) Sarkisian is widely expected to officially join forces with one of those governing factions to actively participate in the next parliamentary election, due in May 2007 and seen as a rehearsal of the 2008 presidential ballot. His most obvious choice is Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). However, the powerful defense chief is in no rush to team up with the HHK, suggesting that he is considering other options as well.

There has already been speculation about the possibility of Sarkisian cutting deals with two new, but extremely ambitious, parties sponsored by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian and influential "oligarch" Gagik Tsarukian. Their emergence earlier this year drew concern from another member of the governing coalition, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (HHD). One of its leaders, Hrant Markarian, has charged that both parties are bent on resorting to large-scale vote buying.

According to Hmayak Hovannisian, a supposedly independent lawmaker who is reputedly close to Sarkisian, Tsarukian's "Prosperous Armenia" party was set up with the aim of securing Kocharian's political future. The Armenian leader, he told reporters recently, wants to become prime minister after handing over the presidency to Sarkisian and therefore needs to have a serious power base in the next parliament. Hovannisian further said that Kocharian and Sarkisian would strive to ensure that the HHK, Prosperous Armenia, and Hovsepian's "Association for Armenia" party win the 2007 election at any cost.

This scenario, if true, bodes ill for the freedom and fairness of the upcoming polls. Kocharian and Sarkisian are widely held responsible for entrenching Armenia's post-Soviet culture of electoral fraud, and there is no reason to expect them to renounce something that has served them so well.

(Armenian Public Television, June 7; Iravunk, May 26; 168 Zham, May 23; RFE/RL Armenia Report, May 17)

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.