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Thursday, 29 January 2009

Armenia’s ruling Republican party leader blasts Europe... comparing 1 March events to World War II

As if ruling Republican party's parliamentary leader Galust Sahakyan's previous comments were not enough ("Another HHK leader, Galust Sahakian, caused a stir last month by stating that Armenia could join organizations uniting Islamic nations if it is punished by the PACE"), here is another 'masterpiece' from the deputy chairman of that party. He compares 1 March events in Yerevan with that of World War II to 'justify' that Europe "has no moral right" to teach human rights lessons to Armenia. Truly, from ridiculous to more ridiculous.

*RFE/RL

Europe has no moral right to teach Armenia lessons on democracy and human rights because values espoused by it were responsible for the World War II and Nazi crimes against humanity, a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party (HHK) said on Thursday.

Razmik Zohrabian made the blistering attack as he commented on pressure exerted on the Armenian authorities by the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) over their deadly post-election crackdown on the opposition. In a resolution adopted this week, the PACE said dozens supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian “may have been charged and imprisoned for political motivations.”

“Because Armenia was not stripped of its [PACE] vote, I don’t want to criticize the assembly in strong terms now,” Zohrabian told RFE/RL in an interview. “But we must not forget that when they teach us lessons on human rights and freedoms and cite European values, we can recall what happened during the World War II in Europe. People were even burned and buried alive there. Was that also part of the European values or it is not part of the history?”

“So when there were events here [in March 2008] that resulted in casualties, in terms of human rights, that is not as great a tragedy as a world war waged under European values,” he charged. “This is just one example. I can bring up more of them.” [...]

Two Armenian deputy ministers "disciplined for assault"

While I like the fact that on this particular occasion prime minister’s reaction was that in a right direction, I do believe that involvement of state officials in assault makes their positions untenable. They have to go. We had number of similar incidents in past. They do get repeated because officials involved consider themselves to be above the law and their seats "protected".

*RFE/RL

Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian issued on Thursday a “strict reprimand” to two Armenian deputy ministers of health who reportedly assaulted and beat up two other men at a Yerevan restaurant late last month.

The officials, Tatul Hakobian and Abraham Manukian, were put under a criminal investigation earlier this month. The Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body conducting the investigation, has not formally charged them yet.

The opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak” reported on January 16 that the incident occurred as the two officials partied at the Mexican restaurant with a group of friends and loudly swore in the process, ignoring the presence of other patrons. It said one of them, former Energy Minister Mels Hakobian, protested against the use of foul language.

“The deputy ministers were angered by Hakobian’s warning and together with about a dozen friends severely beat not only Hakobian but his son-in-law,” claimed the paper. “The latter was taken to hospital with injuries.”

The SIS, which is subordinated to state prosecutors, said on Thursday it opened a criminal case in connection with the incident on January 2, two weeks before the publication of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” report. In a written statement sent to RFE/RL, the SIS implicated only one of the deputy ministers, Manukian, in the beating.

The statement said Manukian, his son and several other men assaulted Hakobian and two other persons outside the restaurant with “hooligan motives.” “The investigation is continuing, and measures are being taken to clarify all details of the incident,” it added.

Sarkisian condemned both vice-ministers for their “unacceptable conduct in a public place” as he chaired a weekly session of his cabinet earlier in the day. “Unfortunately, this phenomenon still exists in the Republic of Armenia,” said the prime minister. “I receive complaints from our citizens that many officials abuse their position and don’t realize that they occupy that position to serve the people, rather than use it for their personal interests.

“We will soon adopt an ethics code and the norms set by that code will apply to everyone. Those state servants who can’t imagine themselves acting within the bounds of those norms will have to resign.”

Armenia PACE delegation plane made a forced landing in Turkey

Due to unfavourable weather conditions in Yerevan (mist/fog), Czech airline plane with Armenian delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on board, along with journalists who were in Strasbourg, made a forced landing at the airport of the Turkish city Trabzon, reports Novosti-Armenia, citing Armenian airport official. They now expect to arrive in Yerevan overnight from Thursday to Friday.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Armenia: not PACE but real humiliations (my top 3)

There were endless statements over the past few weeks that voting at the PACE to deprive Armenian delegation of voting rights is a “humiliation” for our country. Well, we are now escaped that “humiliation” for at least 2 more months. PACE has just voted to come back to Armenia’s implementation of its obligations at its April session. But did we escape from real humiliation? I do not think so. PACE is not a right place to look at for “humiliation”.

I am not mentioning here broader issues like no free elections, state of human rights in general and so on.

Here are real humiliations which Armenia faces currently (my top 3):

1. Existence of political prisoners
2. Armenian parliament
3. Lack of independent TV station (with nation-wide coverage)

Armenia: speaker of parliament and prime minister quarrelled over the “mouse”?

I have no idea if this story is true, but love it nevertheless.

Reports say that relations between speaker of Armenian parliament Hovik Abrahamyan and prime minister Tigran Sargsyan are rather strained. Allegedly, at one of New Year events, a middle-level civil servant of the prime minister office, in the presence of prime minister Tigran Sargsyan himself, said that "the year of mouse ended, it’s now time to get rid of mice." (speaker of Armenian parliament Hovik Abrahamyan is known for his nickname “mouse”)

This was overheard by one of Hovik Abrahamyan’s people and immediately reported back to the speaker. He later demanded from the prime minister to dismiss that employee. Speaker’s demand was swiftly rejected by prime minister, as per pro-opposition Haykakan Zhamanak daily.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Letter to the PACE from the wives of Armenia's political prisoners

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

January 25, 2009


Dear Delegates,

We are writing to you on behalf of the wives, mothers, and sisters of Armenia’s political prisoners and detainees in connection with the February 19, 2008 presidential election and its aftermath. On Tuesday, January 27, 2009 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is to consider the implementation by Armenia of Assembly Resolutions 1609 and 1620. We ask that you remember the victims of the continuing political repression in Armenia as you decide what course to take.

We commend the Monitoring Committee for its December 22, 2008 Draft Resolution, which recognizes that our loved ones are indeed political prisoners and that strong actions are necessary to bring the Armenian government into compliance with the requirements of the Council of Europe and its obligations to its own people.

Since the passage of Resolutions 1609 and 1620 and the December Draft Resolution, the authorities have failed to take meaningful steps that correspond to the promises they have made to you and to us. We know that you are well informed by the Armenian National Congress and others of recent developments in Armenia. Without repeating all that you have learned from them, we wish to confirm, from our personal experience, that political repression has only worsened recently. A number of political prisoners have been beaten and moved to more dangerous prison cells, in attempts to intimidate them and break their will. The trail of seven has been repeatedly postponed by the judge, denying detainees the right swift justice. Their relatives have been threatened and intimidated by scores of plainclothes policemen inside the courtroom. Outside the courtroom, peaceful supporters have been repeatedly been harassed and abused by an army of police and red berets. This is what we live through every day.

There have been many calls both here and abroad for a general amnesty for the political prisoners. The government response has been cynical and cruel. The authorities have launched a campaign of intimidation to persuade prisoners and those who have received suspended sentences to formally request pardon from Serzh Sargsyan; in exchange they must confess to crimes they did not commit and renounce further political activity. Several, under extreme duress, have succumbed. The vast majority have resisted and will continue to resist. On the evening of Saturday, January 24, well aware that Armenian newspapers do not publish on Sunday and Monday and so no public response would be possible before Tuesday, Serzh Sargsyan’s office announced the pardon of sixteen men convicted in connection with the March 1 events. None of these men, however, is on our list of political prisoners. They are not oppositionists, but rather hoodlums and petty criminals planted by the authorities among the crowd of peaceful protestors.

While granting these questionable pardons, government representatives have repeatedly suggested that no general amnesty is possible until the trial of seven has run its course. This argument is flawed legally, logically, and morally. There is no law that would prevent the immediate release of all political prisoners and detainees. In terms of logic, there are dozens of prisoners who have already been convicted on various charges solely on police testimony; their release should not be connected in any way to the trials that are ongoing. Morally, it is well known that the trial of seven could go on for years and years. These men have already spent nearly 11 months in jail, completely unjustly. To even suggest that they should remain in captivity at the mercy of the Armenian justice system for who knows how much longer is deeply wrong.

It is well known among the citizens of Armenia, and should be recognized by the PACE as well, that all government actions taken to deal with the situation thus far have been last-minute attempts to deceive, to save face, and to avoid for as long as possible the inevitable consequences of the campaign of political repression that began well before the election of February 2008. Similarly, the promised revision of Articles 225 and 300 of the Criminal Code, while welcome, is an act of desperation and deceit, rather than good will, and offers no real guarantee that justice will be done.

We don’t wish to see our country further estranged from European structures and values, but it is these very values of democracy, freedom, and human rights that our loved ones have been persecuted for espousing. Each additional day that the authorities are given to fulfill their obligations to the Council of Europe and to their own people is an additional day in Soviet-era prison cells for these men, bringing with it risks to their health and well-being, and physical, financial, and psychological hardship for their families.

We remind you that the members of the Armenian delegation to the PACE are part of the system that has allowed and encouraged the unraveling of democracy to take place. While they may be men of good will individually, they are under tremendous pressure to serve the interests of an unjust and illegitimate regime. We ask you to remember our families, and our children in particular, as you make your decision on Tuesday.

Respectfully yours,

The Wives of Armenia’s Political Prisoners Coordinating Group

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Open Letter Against Intolerance

This Open Letter is prepared by the Women-Oriented Women’s (WOW) Collective (Queering Yerevan blog) against homophobia, hate and intolerance spread by recent publications in Armenian media as well as statements by some representatives of civil society and politicians in response to Armenia’s endorsement of the UN gay rights statement.

(For background, please read here, here, and here)

Unzipped and Unzipped: Gay Armenia endorse this Open Letter.

To sign the letter, please visit Queering Yerevan (Armenian version; English version). Thank you!!

Open Letter (in English)

Բաց նամակ

Հայաստանի կառավարության կողմից ՄԱԿ–ի` միասեռականների իրավունքները պաշտպանող հռչակագրի ստորագրումից ի վեր (դեկտեմբեր, 2008), պաշտոնական ու ընդդիմական մամուլում բազմապատկվել են միասեռականների դեմ արտահայտվող հռետորությունները։ Շատ լրատվամիջոցներ հրատարակում են լրագրողական տեսանկյունից տգետ հոդվածներ, որոնք առավելագույնս թաղային բամբասանք են հիշեցնում։ Նման երևույթները կարելի էր աչքաթող անել, եթե շատ դեպքերում զանգվածային մամուլը չվտանգվեր դառնալու ատելության ու անհանդուրժողականության խոսափող։ Առավել ցավալին այն է, որ այս հրապարակումները նույնիսկ չեն ցուցադրում տարրական լրագրողական պրոֆեսիոնալիզմի նշույլ՝ հասարակ հետազոտական տնային աշխատանք։

Չեն հասցեագրվում տարրական հարցեր, ինչպիսիք են՝ ի՞նչ է միասեռությունը, ովքե՞ր են միասեռականները Հայաստանում, ինչպե՞ս են ապրում, տարբե՞ր են առավել լայն հասարակությունից, թե՞ ոչ (իհարկե, նման հարցադրումները միանշանակ պատասխան չունեն)։ Չնայած նույնիսկ հարցադրումների բացակայությանը՝ միասեռական տղամարդիկ միանշանակ բնութագրվում են որպես ազգային անվտանգությանը սպառնացող խնդիր, Արևմուտքի «անկումնային» բարքերի արդյունք, այլասերվածության օրինակ, պաթոլոգիա, իսկ կանայք ընդհանրապես անտեսվում են կամ քարկոծվում՝ կնոջ ընդունված ավանդական կերպարին չհամապատասխանելու համար։

Վերջին շրջանում միասեռականների նկատմամբ ատելություն սերմանող ու հնարավոր բռնության տեղիք տվող հրապարակումներից է Առավոտ թերթում լույս տեսած ՀԱՅ ԼԵՍԲՈՒՀԻՆԵՐՆ ԱԿՏԻՎԱՑԵԼ ԵՆ հոդվածը (Առավոտ, 22 հունվար http://new.aravot.am/am/articles/culture/54469/view), նույն թերթում տպված Հանրապետական կուսակցության երիտասարդ «աստղ» Էդվարդ Շարմազանովի այն հայտարարությունը, թե ինքը «կտրուկ դեմ է» միասեռականներին և բնապահպան ու «Հանուն Կայուն Մարդկային Զարգացման» ասոցիացիայի նախագահ Կարինե Դանիելյանի հայտարարությունը. «Միշտ համարվել է, որ մարդկանց մոտ 4-5 տոկոսը ունի այդպիսի շեղումներ , դա եղել է դարերով ի վեր և ընկալվել է որպես հիվանդություն, որպես շեղում» (Սեռական փոքրամասնությունների շահերը պաշտպանող քաղաքական հայտարարությունը դժգոհություններ է առաջացրել
[ 2009/01/12 16:00 ] ՀԵՏՔ, հասարակություն, Քրիստինե Աղալարյան):

Հավատացած լինելով, որ նման հայտարարությունները մեծապես տգիտության արդյունք են, որն արտահայտվում է ճնշող հայրիշխանական համակարգը պաշտպանելով ու ներկայացնելով որպես համազգային արժեք, բայց և այնպես գիտակցելով, որ հեղինակավոր պետական գործիչների կողմից արտահայտված կարծիքները կարող են հասարակության կողմից ընկալվել որպես պաշտոնական քաղաքականություն, քաղաքացիական հասարակության կառույցները և մի խումբ անհատ անձինք խստորեն դատապարտում են ատելություն ու անհանդուրժողականություն տարածող հայտարարությունները։ Վերջիններս անտեսում են քաղաքական/հասարակական/մշակութային գործչի պատասխանատվությունը առավել լայն հասարակության նկատմամբ, ինչպես նաև Հայաստանում ապրող միասեռականների կենսական անվտանգությունն ու կոնկրետ փորձառությունը՝ որպես հասարակության մաս։

Կոչ ենք անում պետական գործիչներին, լրագրողներին, ուսուցիչներին, բժիշկներին և հասարակության լայն շերտերի հետ գործ ունեցող այլ մասնագիտությունների տեր մարդկանց ու ընդհանրապես բոլոր քաղաքացիներին, ծանոթանալ միասեռական կանանց ու տղամարդկանց հուզող խնդիրներին, միասեռականությանն առնչվող ժամանակակից սոցիոլոգիական, մշակութաբանական գրականությանը, ինչպես նաև Հայաստանում բնակվող միասեռականների հասարակական ակտիվիստական գործունեությանը։

Խնդրում ենք ստորագրել վերը շարադրված բաց նամակը և ըստ ցանկության ավելացնել սեփական մտորումներն ու հայտարարությունները։

Կանանց Ուղղված Կանայք (queeringyerevan.blogspot.com)
24 հունվար, 2009

Patrick Azadian: "Are we really Hrant Dink?"

Highly recommend this excellent piece by Patrick Azadian. Very brave, and very honest. Sadly, many try to hijack Dink's legacy for their nationalistic agenda, which is a complete opposite to what Dink's legacy should be.

(Patrick Azadian is a writer and the creative director of a local marketing and graphic design studio living in Glendale. He is a columnist in Glendale News Press.)

On the inside, are we Hrant Dink?
Glendale News Press

Monday marked the anniversary of the murder of Hrant Dink, the Turkish-Armenian author who championed freedom of speech and tolerance.

On the occasion, some chose the slogan “I am Hrant Dink” to express their support. On many of Internet’s social utility sites supporters swapped their personal images with that of Dink. [...]

Are we Hrant Dink?

People like Dink do not come along very often. Indeed, he was not a man of “sides.” He wanted the Armenians to set themselves free of the “poison” they carry in their veins because of the act of genocide. He did not allow the act of genocide to be the main determinant of his identity. [...]

Am I Hrant Dink?

Make no mistake, Dink did not forget the past. When referring to the genocide he once said: “Call it what you want. I know what happened to my people.”

His self-assured approach suggested that he cared intensely for the present and the future, not just the past. He exuded confidence reserved for individuals free of victim mentality.

And he did this in a hostile environment. Not from Glendale or Montreal. Not from Washington, D.C. or Paris.

Referring to his environment Dink said: “To be honest, I feel haunted day in, day out. Ever seen a pigeon? Seen how it keeps turning its head? It shudders at the slightest noise, ready to fly away any instant. Can you call that life? The difference is that I can’t fly away like a pigeon.” [...]

Are we really Hrant Dink?

Dink is still not fully understood in Turkey nor the Diaspora. So forgive me for feeling that the slogan “We are all Hrant Dink” can ring hollow at times.

I leave you with a few simple thoughts:

To my Armenian brothers and sisters: “Are we willing to free ourselves of our genocide-centric identity? How long will we allow an outside entity to dictate our actions?”

To my Turkish cousins: “Is your collective conscience clear? Are you proud of what your ancestors did to mine?”

We are not Hrant Dink.

*Thanks to Onnik for this link.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Armenian neo-nazi get united and organised. Does anyone care?

In December 2008, just before New Year holidays, the Association of Armenian Nationalists was established in Armenia by notorious ultra-nationalist groups and individuals. Among them – Armenian Aryan Order, ultra-nationalist group known for its anti-semitism and homophobia. The declared aim of this newly established union is “bringing together similarly-minded people in Diaspora and Armenia, and the creation of a strong Armenian nationalist organisation”.

They made number of political statements in past, related to current issues; number of hateful speeches to put themselves into headlines. They did even small protest action against Israel over Gaza. Do not get fooled. The rights of the Palestine people are the least they care about. They have different agenda.

True, these groups’ influence seems insignificant for now, and the situation in Armenia is not as dramatic as in Russia where numerous ethnic Armenians, along with other foreigners or non-Russian locals were murdered by neo-nazi. However, prevention is the best way to deal with the problem. Surrounded by significant internal and external problems, more nationalism and intolerance is the least which Armenia needs now. The key to solving many existing problems in our society, as well as those facing internationally is more tolerance and less nationalism.

Any exhibition of hate by these groups or this newly established union should face the strongest opposition of mainstream political forces, civil society and law-enforcement agencies. This is, of course, more like a wishful thinking. Sadly, the reality is different, and at times it’s very difficult to discern voices of our mainstream political parties or civil society representatives from those of neo-nazi. In past, not a single politician, civil society representative or media outlet (one or two exceptions) condemned hateful statements by Avetisyan, head of Aryans.

Interestingly, as head of Aryans mentioned during a press conference yesterday, they will aim to collaborate with similar organisations in neighbouring countries, as well as Europe and... Russia. I wonder what the ‘outcome’ of their meeting with the Russian ‘colleagues’ would be. So far we are aware of only one type of ‘outcome’ after such ‘meetings’.

We do not want instances of hate graffiti and hate speech to evolve into something uglier, do we?


*source of photos: Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2007

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Monday, 19 January 2009

Reporters Without Borders call for an end to the scandalous impunity for security forces on 2nd anniversary of Hrant Dink’s murder

*Reporters Without Borders

On the second anniversary today of the murder of Hrant Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian origin, Reporters Without Borders reiterates its solidarity with his family, colleagues and friends. The editor of the weekly Agos, Dink was gunned down outside the Agos office in Istanbul on 19 January 2007 by Ogun Samast, a youth from the northeastern city of Trabzon. Two Trabzon men, Erhan Tuncel and Yasin Hayal, were the alleged masterminds.

“We join all those who continue to mourn Hrant Dink and who want justice done,” Reporters Without Borders said. “And we call for all the different aspects of the case to be tried together, as this is the only way to end the scandalous impunity enjoyed by those members of the security services who knew there was a plot to kill Dink and yet did nothing to stop it.”

There is no longer any doubt about the fact that members of the police force and gendarmerie were aware of the murder plot and failed to react. A report by the prime minister’s office on 2 December directly implicated the security forces.

“Intelligence about preparations for an attack by Yasin Hayal, the fact that the Armenian patriarch, Mesrob Mutafyan, had requested protection for Armenian institutions (because of the tension resulting from France’s decision to make it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide) and the events that took place during Hrant Dink’s trial all justified the utmost vigilance,” the report says. “The Directorate for Security arguably failed in its duty by neglecting to place Dink under protection.”

The same report recommends that the head of general intelligence in Ankara, Ramazan Akyürek, should be investigated. Trabzon chief of police prior to Dink’s murder, Akyürek had agreed to Erhan Tuncel’s working as police informer. Akyürek is accused of failing to ensure there was a sufficient follow-up to the information he was given, and of failing to coordinate the efforts of the various services so that Dink would be protected.

Another report, by the interior ministry, says the entire Istanbul police command acted with negligence in this case.

So far, only members of the Trabzon gendarmerie have been prosecuted and the Istanbul police continue to enjoy complete impunity. On 27 June 2008, the Istanbul regional administrative court banned any investigation of police chief Celattin Cerrah and seven other officials, including intelligence chief Ahmet Ilhan Güler, insisting that that they made no mistakes.

The Dink family lawyers say Law 4483 governing judicial proceedings against state officials poses a major obstacle to any prosecutions. “The senior officials we accuse in this case are precisely the ones who have so far been briefing the prosecutors conducting the investigations,” the lawyers say. “It is no coincidence that our complaints alleging ‘falsification of documents’ have gone nowhere.”

The lawyers want the eight members of the security forces prosecuted under article 83 of the criminal code, which punishes “negligence resulting in the death of another person” rather than for just “negligence,” as has been the case so far.

The lawyers have brought three complaints before the European Court of Human Rights. They have also brought a complaint before the High Council for the Judiciary against the three judges who banned any judicial proceedings against the Istanbul police chief and his aides.

The trial of Samast, Tuncel, Hayal and 16 other defendants on charges ranging from “deliberate homicide” to “membership of a terrorist organisation” began before an Istanbul court of assizes on 2 July 2007 and is still under way.

At the same time, two gendarmes are being tried by a magistrate’s court in Trabzon and six other gendarmes have been charged, including the head of the gendarmerie in Trabzon.

Several demonstrations in Dink’s memory are being organised in Istanbul. One was held by the “Friends of Hrant Dink” at 2:30 p.m. today at the site of the murder, in the Istanbul neighbourhood of Osmanbey. A concert is being organised on 22 January in the district of Beyoglu, the proceedings of which will be handed over to the Hrant Dink International Foundation. An exhibition entitled “Hrant Dink and the Fraternity of Peoples” will run until 6 February.

Hrant Dink Day in London

2nd anniversary of Hrant Dink's assassination

Vigil outside the Turkish Embassy
Belgrave Square , London SW1x 8PA
from 1.00 p.m.- 2 p.m.
"Turkey face your past, respect your Minorities!"

Meeting in Committee Room 6 of the House of Commons
at 6.00 p.m. on

The cultural rights of the minorities of Turkey

Speakers:
Des Fernandes (Author of The Kurdish and Armenian Genocides, Apec 2008)
(and others tbc)

Maral Dink, niece of Hrant, will participate too.

Organisers: Armenian Solidarity with the Victims of All Genocides, Nor Serount Cultural Association, Centre of Halabja (CHAK), Seyfo Centre

Ermenilerle - With Armenians (new blog by Turkish guy who visited Armenia)

"well, i stayed in armenia long enough to write about it. if you ask “how long”, long enough: to be dialed as wrong number, by my armenia cellphone that can be had for free when you land to the airport.. to learn cafes/bars to go regularly.. to be stopped in the streets several times to be asked for adresses –perhaps this one has something to do with my “looking pretty like a hay (armenian)”; we’ll return to this one later. and the funny thing is, i stayed long enough to give an adress – yes, in yerevan, i replied the question “where’s l’orange cafe,” asked not by an ordinary person but a taxi driver , as “on tumanyan street”.

i stayed in hayastan (armenia) for 11 days. aiming at a minimum contribution to someones knowledge, i write here about my experience, observations and remainings in me.

turkish-armenian relations, as known, is a deep cut. may this one do some good.."

http://armenianturkishpeace.blogspot.com/

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Armenian jazz: Tatevik Hovhannisyan



Archive footage by A1+ from her concert in 1999.

"We Are All Hrant Dink" - the Hepimiz movement in Turkey

*Today's Zaman

The ridiculous headline "Hepimiz Keviniz" (We are all Kevin), broadcast by Star news on the announcement and arrival of Kevin Costner as the figurehead of Turkish Airlines' (THY) new first-class service, has been viewed as a gross and thoughtless misappropriation of a serious slogan chosen by Turks to express their sympathy for persecuted people both nationally and internationally.

The phrase "Hepimiz" (All of us) was made popular after the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007. Dink was a talented writer, and as an Armenian with great faith in the Turkish people, he spent his life working to create an environment of tolerance and love that would accept him and others like him who did not fit into the state's narrow definition of "Turkishness." When his murderer, Ogün Samast, a 16-year-old, ran from the scene shouting "I have killed the gavur [foreigner or non-Muslim]," the nation responded with an outburst of shame. The streets were flooded with people and signs all defiantly proclaiming the same message, "Hepimiz Hrant'ız, hepimiz Ermeniyiz" (We are all Hrant, we are all Armenian).

Since then, the slogan has become a byword for grassroots movements defending human rights, free speech, equality, feminism and anti-racism. In 2008 when Italian peace activist Pippa Bacca was murdered while hitchhiking across Turkey in a symbolic bridal gown, her death was commemorated by those who mourned the abuse of her innocence and hope and by women's groups protesting her rape and murder with the words "Hepimiz Pippa'yız." The slogan made its first appearance of 2009 at the opening night party of the film "The Queen at the Factory." Hande Yener, the oft-touted Madonna of Turkish pop, stars in the film, which revolves around a brother's inability to accept his sister's homosexuality; she started the party by announcing "Hepimiz Gay'iz." The most recent example of the use of this phrase was in response to the savage attacks on Gaza, which have prompted marches in Turkey under the banner "Hepimiz Filistinliyiz" (We are all Palestinians). [...]

The Hepimiz movement is a small but encouraging sign in a country that has no specialized national body to combat racism and few NGOs to fill that gap. [...]

Turkey: Flash mob performance to mark Hrant Dink anniversary

’We were shot on that day, too.’

*Hurriyet

ISTANBUL - Turkey’s right-minded people have mobilized under the slogan ’We were shot on that day, too.’ More than 300 people, from students to pensioners, are planning to gather on the anniversary of Agos editor-in-chief Hrant Dink’s assassination.

The message, "We were shot on that day, too," has been sent over popular friendship network Facebook and will bring more than 300 people together to raise awareness of the assassination of weekly Agos editor-in-chief Hrant Dink.

Hundreds of people, including students and retired people, will come together in an initiative started by Turkish youth to give a performance on Jan. 18 and 19 at 3 p.m, to commemorate the anniversary of Dink’s murder.

During the performance, the moment when Dink was shot and fell will be reenacted. A camera will record the performance. The performers will fall down one by one. Each of them, after lying down for a few seconds will reenact the moment when the soul leaves the body. The only thing the performers need to do is to get up and walk without looking at the camera after they stand up.

In correspondence with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review about the Başka Culture House event, performers Eylem Akkaya, İlker Eraslan, İbrahim Baş, Erdi Biltekin and Hüseyin Civan wrote, "The Dink murder is the deepest and freshest wound caused by Ergenekon, the deep state and counter guerrillas. We will also commemorate our intellectual people, who have also been the victims of murder. We call on everyone to join us for Dink and for justice." [...]

’As a society, we were all shot with Dink, too’
Aside from the goal Akkaya spoke of, one of the biggest aims of the performance is to reenact the "social shooting," said Baş, "When Dink was shot, our society was also shot and wounded. We should never forget this pain."

Speaking about Dink’s mission, the performers said, "Dink was our brother, who defended the brotherhood of people and fought for it. He was shot and we were shot too. This pain is the pain of all of us."

The performers, who seek to draw attention to the importance to the normalization of the common language of brotherhood in Turkey, as opposed to the language of nationalism and racism, said, "We should speak of the damage of the language of nationalism and racism to all people from the very young to the very old. We can have safety and peace only when we normalize this thought."

Performances at the Başka Culture House will continue after the commemoration to Dink. Performers will come together a short time later and draw attention to the tragedy in Palestine. Those who want to join flash mob performances can obtain information through www.ydnedir.de.ki

Armenian American groups set out their priorities and expectations ahead of Obama’s inauguration

As president-elect Barack Obama is preparing to formally take the office in Washington, Turkey's foreign minister Ali Babacan “warns” US against recognising the Armenian Genocide.

"It would not be very rational for a third country to take a position on this issue... A wrong step by the United States will harm the process," the Anatolia news agency quoted Ali Babacan as saying late Friday.

Turkey has "never been closer" to normalizing ties with Armenia, its eastern neighbor, and a breakthrough could be secured in 2009, the minister said, according to the AFP.
In the meantime, a letter signed by Armenian American organisations “outlines the priorities and expectations of the Armenian American community on a range of issues, including Barack Obama's pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide”.

We are writing, as the collective leadership of Armenian American advocacy, civic, religious, charitable, and educational organizations, to congratulate you on your historic election as President of the United States and to warmly welcome your inauguration to this high office. On behalf of some two million Americans of Armenian heritage, we look forward to working with you and your Administration to end the cycle of genocide, strengthen U.S.-Armenia relations, contribute to Armenia’s economic growth, and work toward a fair and sustainable regional peace.
They specifically mention that the only wording acceptable for the Armenian community and expected from Barack Obama is the term Armenian Genocide.

As you have stated on several occasions, America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. The clarity of your promise is particularly welcome in light of the unfortunate practice of past U.S. Presidents to use, under Turkey's pressure, evasive and euphemistic terminology rather than directly acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. The term, Armenian Genocide, is the only one that can meaningfully be used to characterize the crime committed by Ottoman Turkey. We look forward, in the coming weeks, to your firm and principled leadership in clearly and unambiguously ending the sad chapter of the U.S. Executive Branch’s capitulation to pressure from Turkey.
The letter also touches upon US-Armenia relations and Karabakh conflict settlement.

In terms of ensuring a durable regional peace, we echo your call for a Nagorno Karabagh settlement that respects democracy and self-determination and encourage you to ensure that these principles serve as the pillars of any agreement. As you know, a vital key to peace, in Nagorno Karabagh and around the world, is direct dialogue. For this reason, we encourage elimination of all artificial barriers to U.S.-Nagorno Karabagh contacts, communication, and other means of increasing our level of mutual understanding. With Azerbaijan’s President once again threatening war, as recently as in his New Year’s message, it is more important than ever for the United States to strengthen the current ceasefire, to work through the OSCE process to secure the commitment of all parties to the disavowal of force, and, as a matter of high priority for our government, to take concrete steps to prevent a renewed war in the South Caucasus. Our ability to advance these and our nation’s many other interests in this strategically pivotal region would be substantially enhanced by a concerted effort on the part of our government to expand U.S.-Armenia relations.

You may read the letter in full here.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

New York plane crash: Reporting power of Internet and blogging

Iconic image of New York plane crash

Telegraph - New York plane crash: Twitter breaks the news, again

Within minutes of US Airways flight 1549 ditching in New York's Hudson river, the blogosphere was buzzing with the news. Emails, Twitter messages, mobile phone photos and hazy videos about the crash flitted across cyberspace. Some reassured friends and loved ones that all was well; others simply documented the unfolding drama as all 155 passengers and crew made their way to safety using the jet's inflatable emergency chutes.

Twitter, the increasingly popular microblogging service, was, as ever, leading the pack. When dozens of New York-based Twitter users started sending 'tweets' about a possible plane crash in the city, the news spread like wildfire across the Twitterverse. Indeed, Twitter users broke the news of the incident around 15 minutes before the mainstream media alerted viewers and readers to the crash. The first recorded tweet about the crash came from Jim Hanrahan, aka Manolantern, four minutes after the plane went down, who wrote: "I just watched a plane crash into the hudson riv [sic] in manhattan".

And it wasn't just text messages that were telling the story; photos, too, were playing their part. Twitter user and iPhone owner Janis Krums was on one of the New York commuter ferries diverted to pick up the stranded airline passengers. He used his mobile phone to take a dramatic snap of the downed plane, and uploaded it to TwitPic, a service that enables Twitter users to instantly share their snaps over Twitter. "There's a plane in the Hudson," Krums tweeted . "I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy."

His dramatic image was instantly forwarded across the Twitterverse and picked up by numerous blogs and news websites, causing the TwitPic service to crash under the sheer weight of user numbers. Noah Everett, TwitPic's founder, said it showed the powerful "snowball effect" of social media. [...]

See also - LA Times - Citizen photo of Hudson River plane crash shows Web's reporting power

*source of photo

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Hate, Lies & Ignorance – well known Armenian environmentalist Karine Danielyan attacks government for signing UN gay rights statement

'It’s a threat to national security! It’s a disease!' – says formerly respected Armenian environmentalist, head of the association “For Sustainable Human Development” NGO Karine Danielyan.

'It’s a matter of fighting discrimination and inequality' – says Dzyunik Aghajanyan, chief of international department, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs . My respects to Dzyunik Aghajanyan.

For all details and much more – see Unzipped: Gay Armenia

*source of photo: Hraparak

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Armenia: 2009 World Report (Human Rights Watch)

*Human Rights Watch

Armenia
Events 2008


Armenia experienced one of its most serious civil and political rights crises since independence when security forces used excessive force on March 1 against opposition demonstrators protesting the results of the February 2008 presidential election. Violent clashes erupted between police and demonstrators, and authorities arrested several hundred demonstrators and prosecuted more than a hundred opposition supporters. A state of emergency temporarily restricted several basic freedoms, including freedom of assembly. International condemnation of the use of excessive force during the March 1 events and of the state of emergency was widespread.

Elections and Election-Related Violence
The February 19 presidential election was won by Prime Minister Serj Sargsyan, but was marred by election-day violence and irregularities. On election day, assailants threatened and attacked opposition activists protesting what they believed to be electoral fraud, domestic observers, and journalists at eight polling stations. Several assaults occurred in the presence of police and election officials who did not intervene; in one case a policeman appeared to assist assailants. International observers also reported violations, including campaigning near polling stations, ballot stuffing, vote buying, and counting and tabulation irregularities. Observers criticized the Central Election Commission for its apparent failure to properly investigate complaints.

On February 20, tens of thousands of supporters of Levon Ter-Petrossian, the main opposition candidate, took to the streets in downtown Yerevan. The protests continued peacefully for 10 days.

On March 1, special police forces confronted the demonstrators using excessive force, beating them with batons and attacking fleeing demonstrators. Some demonstrators also resorted to violence, including throwing stones and burning vehicles. The clashes resulted in at least 10 deaths (eight demonstrators and two police officers), and scores of people were injured. Police detained several hundred demonstrators, charging more than one hundred opposition supporters and others with organizing or participating in illegal demonstrations and mass disturbances. Police committed due process violations including incommunicado detention, denial of access to counsel, and failure to investigate allegations of ill-treatment. Subsequent trial proceedings raised fair trial concerns: several detainees were convicted solely on police testimony and in expedited trial proceedings.

The government declared a state of emergency on March 1, temporarily restricting freedom of movement, assembly, expression, and access to information. The state of emergency was lifted fully on March 21.

Under pressure from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Armenian authorities have taken steps to establish an independent inquiry into the March 1 events, but have yet to hold anyone responsible for the deaths.

Media Freedom
Police targeted journalists covering the February demonstrations. On February 29, police attacked photojournalist Gagik Shamshyan while he was attempting to photograph them. On March 1, police detained Shamshyan, took his camera, and beat him; he needed hospital treatment for his injuries and was released after the intervention of the Armenian ombudsman. Also on March 1, police hindered a Radio Liberty correspondent's work and beat the driver of her car. Police detained at least two other journalists during demonstrations in Yerevan and Gyumri.

Under the state of emergency, media could use only official information from state agencies to report on national affairs. The National Security Service (NSS) prevented at least seven opposition and independent newspapers from publishing, and blocked websites. At least two newspapers protested the restrictions and refused to print. Although media restrictions were lifted on March 13, NSS representatives interfered with the same seven newspapers' printing, allowing them to publish only on March 21. In late March tax authorities hit at least four newspapers with apparently politically-motivated audits.

In October, the Court of Cassation overturned a February 29 ruling against the founder of the Gyumri-based television station GALA for allegedly illegally using the local television tower, but left in force a March 19 fraud conviction. The cases emerged following an October 2007 tax audit that was widely seen as retaliation for GALA's airing a September 2007 Ter-Petrossian speech critical of the government. The Asparez Journalism Club of Gyumri was apparently targeted for supporting GALA. On January 19, an assailant attempted to set fire to the Asparez office, and on March 21 two unidentified men torched a car being used by Asparez director Levon Barseghyan as he returned to the car from GALA.

In June 2008 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Armenia had violated article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to the independent broadcast company A1+. The court held that laws regulating awarding of broadcast licenses failed to protect against arbitrary interference and that denials of a license to A1+ were unlawful. As of April, A1+ had made 12 unsuccessful attempts to regain a license since going off air in 2002. In September 2008 the National Assembly amended the law on television and radio to suspend all licensing until a digital switchover scheduled for 2010. The amendments are seen as further efforts to deny A1+ a license.

The Yerevan Press Club reported several apparently arbitrary arrests of journalists, and the beating of two journalists, Lusine Barseghyan, an Armenian Times reporter, and Hrach Melkumyan, Radio Liberty acting director, by unknown assailants in separate incidents in August. The journalists believe they were targeted for their professional activities.

On July 18, a presidentially-appointed commission rejected an early release request by Arman Babajanyan, editor of the independent newspaper Zhamanak Yerevan, who had been convicted in 2006 of forging documents in order to evade compulsory military service. Babajanyan had served two years of a three-and-a-half-year sentence and was eligible for early release on parole for good conduct.

Freedom of Assembly
Just before the government lifted the state of emergency, on March 17, 2008, the National Assembly passed restrictive amendments to the law on meetings, which were criticized by the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Subsequent further amendments in April eased some of the restrictions. The government denied numerous opposition requests to hold public rallies in late March, and at least 90 people participating in peaceful "public walks" organized by opposition supporters in Yerevan were briefly detained.

Torture and Ill-Treatment
According to local human rights defenders, torture and ill-treatment in custody remain widespread. Several people detained in connection with the March 1 events alleged physical abuse during apprehension, transfer to police stations, and in custody. At this writing, the authorities have not investigated these claims.

In June a Yerevan court ordered additional investigation into the May 2007 death of Levon Gulyan, who was found dead after police arrested and interrogated him. The authorities allege that Gulyan jumped from a second-storey window of a police station while trying to escape, a claim denied by Gulyan's relatives who believe he was tortured.

Attacks on Human Rights Defenders and Political Activists
In November 2007 a group of unknown assailants beat Narek Galstyan, leader of the youth wing of the opposition Social-Democratic Hnchakyan Party. Two days earlier, police had briefly detained Galstyan and another activist for posting leaflets critical of Serj Sargsyan.

In May 2008 the chairman of the Armenian Helsinki Association, Mikael Danielyan, was wounded when an assailant shot him from a pneumatic gun, following an argument while both men were stopped at a traffic light. It was reported that the assailant was a former leader of the Armenian Progressive Party. Criminal investigation into the attack is ongoing.

Also in May, Arsen Kharatyan, a leading member of the pro-opposition democratic youth movements Sksela and Hima, was beaten in Yerevan by several unknown assailants, and sustained serious head injuries. Another Hima member, Narek Hovakimyan, was attacked and beaten in June.

Key International Actors
International election observers from the OSCE, Council of Europe, and the European Parliament declared that the February elections were "mostly in line" with international standards, but noted concerns about the election process. International and domestic observers also criticized uneven media coverage of candidates prior to the elections.

Citing concerns about the Armenian authorities' reaction to the March 1 events, the United States froze further payments to Armenia from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a five-year US$235.65 million program for reducing rural poverty. In several statements, the European Union expressed concern about the authorities' use of force and arrests of demonstrators.

Following a visit to Armenia in early March, the OSCE's special envoy for the South Caucasus called on the Armenian authorities to lift the state of emergency and expressed "regret" that "maximum restraint" had not been used during the crisis.

During its urgent debate on Armenia in April, the PACE threatened to suspend Armenia's voting rights unless it took a series of urgent measures, including revoking the amendments to the law on meetings, conducting an independent inquiry into the March 1 events, and releasing those detained on seemingly politically motivated charges who had not committed any violent or serious offense. At its June session, the PACE welcomed progress in some of these areas, but regretted that Armenia had not complied with all requirements.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg conducted three visits to Armenia in 2008. In addition to gathering information about the March 1 events, Hammarberg provided support for establishing an independent inquiry.

2nd Hrant Dink conference in Turkey

Bianet reports that on 16 January Bosphorus University will host its 2nd Hrant Dink Human Rights and Freedom of Expression Conference. The conference is held in memory of Turkish-Armenian journalist, editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, Hrant Dink, who was assassinated in Istanbul on 19 January 2007.

Prominent British human rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman, chair of the British Institute of Human Rights, will speak on “Freedom of Expression: A Universal Right”.
Bindman was born in 1933 and has been a lawyer in London since 1960. Bindman was legal adviser to the Race Relations Board (1966-73). He then spent ten years as legal adviser to the Commission for Racial Equality until 1983.

Bindman is the author of many articles in the legal profession's journals and in the national press. He has broadcast frequently on his specialist topics. He has represented the ICJ, IBA, Amnesty International and other bodies in human rights missions overseas.

He has received several human rights awards and is a visiting lecturer at University College London and London South Bank University.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Dink-2? - Turkish intellectuals under attack for "I apologise" campaign

Reuters reports that a "Turkish prosecutor has opened an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against the authors of an online apology for the World War One killings of Armenians, state-run news agency Anatolian reported on Friday." They could face charges under the infamous Article 301 for "insulting Turkish identity".

In mid-December, more than 200 Turkish intellectuals launched an online petition "I apologise" which reads:

"My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them. "

I wrote in my post that even though they did not mention the G-word, this is a remarkable step forward by a group of Turkish thinkers in a country where Armenian Genocide still remains a taboo, albeit a broken one, and where by mere mentioning of the Genocide one could get persecuted or killed.

Here we are. Not only initiators are facing a possible criminal charges (these would possibly be dropped as it would cause an international outrage) but as BBC reports, they are facing now a very real physical threat:

"Police said on Friday they had information that a man arrested this week was gathering intelligence and planning an attack against one of the organisers of the apology campaign.

Police said he had recently travelled to several cities and made it known that he was planning an action that would "shake Turkey", the BBC was told by a source who did not want to be named.

The man's uncle was reportedly among more than 30 people arrested on Wednesday in connection with an alleged ultra-nationalist coup plot.

Documents found in the raids led to the discovery of weapons and explosives in the forest outside Ankara, police say.

Some Turkish writers, who have promoted more open discussion of the Armenian issue, have been targeted by ultra-nationalist Turks.

The Turkish-Armenian writer Hrant Dink was killed last year for openly saying that the events of 1915 were genocide.

Previously he had been tried for "insulting Turkishness" for his comments on 1915."

Arto Tunçboyacıyan - Yaşar Kurt: 'against hatred and animosity'




*via Hürriyet

ISTANBUL - Arto Tunçboyacıyan, a famous musician and composer of Armenian origin who lives in the United States, and Yaşar Kurt, who learned of his Armenian origins after the age of 40, have produced an album in Armenia giving messages ’against hate, animosity’

The paths of two Anatolian musicians crossed at Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. One is Arto Tunçboyacıyan, world famous musician and composer from the United States, and the other is Yaşar Kurt, one of Turkey's most important musicians who learned from his great-uncle that he was of Armenian origin at the age of 40.

Kurt, who says it was a shock for him to learn the truth about his identity, went to Armenia in 2007 upon the invitation of Tunçboyacıyan to satisfy his curiosity about his culture, which he knew nothing about. At that time, the assassination of Hrant Dink, editor in chief for the Agos newspaper, occurred in Turkey. Having the sensitivity of a musician, Tunçboyacıyan composed "Nefrete ve Kine Karşı" (Against Hatred and Animosity) and decided to start a joint project with Kurt as soon as they came together.

Tunçboyacıyan and Kurt have started recording with the Armenian Naval Band, which Tunçboyacıyan had formed a decade ago with other Armenian musicians, and completed an album that included the mentioned song. Tunçboyacıyan sang in Armenian and Kurt in Turkish. The duo recorded the album in a short period but met problems when they decided to release the album in Turkey. Although they were covering for all the expenses, record companies were not into the idea of releasing "Nefret ve Kine Karşı," according to Kurt. The duo did not give up hope and finally signed a contract with Arma Müzik. The album, which raises a voice against hatred and animosity in two languages, will be released in the coming days.

Kurt spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and expressed his feelings. "Big pains were experienced in the past. Those pains influenced my life. I learned about my Armenian roots when I was 40. If we honestly want to reach the truth, as Turks and Armenians, we must eliminate hatred and animosity." More...

Thursday, 8 January 2009

How Russia-based Armenian film director Anna Melikyan 'escaped' Mumbai terror attack

She is most famous for her film "Mermaid". Writing for Hollywood Reporter, Anna Melikyan notes of life "full of mystical coincidences":

"I was born in Armenia, in Yerevan, and moved to Moscow right after graduating from school. My way to filmmaking was a logical step -- actually I did it all my life, although I didn't know that it was directing. I made some shows at school even when I was in a kindergarten. We had a special part of class time that we called "Fairy Tales From Anna." All the children would sit in the circle and I was in the center of it, telling fairy tales. Now I'm doing the same thing, I'm telling fairy tales.

"Mermaid" is a very personal film. I can't say that it's absolutely autobiographical, it wouldn't be true, but it's still much related to me. The themes in "Mermaid" -- wish fulfillment, destiny, accidents and mystical happiness in our everyday life -- all of them are interesting for me. This is probably because these things actually happen. For example, I was in the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai (I was presenting "Mermaid" at the festival there), and I decided to change my plane tickets and come back home earlier. I just arrived in Moscow, and I turned on the TV and saw the terrible images of the hotel on fire, and how it was taken by terrorists. If I didn't change my tickets, I would have been there. Life is full of mystical coincidences."

*photo: "Mermaid" - A young woman lives in a world of her own making after she decides to stop speaking in this bittersweet, whimsical tale from writer-director Anna Melikyan. (source)

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Armenia: political prisoners calling for human rights Ombudsman’s resignation

I received a statement signed by 42 political prisoners strongly condemning Armenian human rights Ombudsman Armen Harutyunyan and demanding his resignation.

This statement follows pre-New Year holiday reports that some of the detainees were beaten and ill-treated in prison. Unsurprisingly, Justice minister denied the allegations. However, RFE/RL reported that Ombudsman Harutyunyan has expressed “serious concern” at allegations, having his aides visit the detainees. “A statement by the ombudsman’s office said Voskerchian insisted that he was punched and kicked by the commander of a Justice Ministry squad inspecting Nubarashen because of his political affiliation and activities. The oppositionists claimed that the incident occurred during searches conducted in his and other inmates’ prison cells, the statement said.”

I assume this strongly worded statement by political prisoners was influenced by reports of Ombudsman’s meeting with president Serj Sargsyan after which the latter instructed Justice minister to launch an “internal investigation”.

Political prisoners state that instead of demanding an immediate criminal investigation, Armenian Ombudsman backed an “internal investigation” which detainees believe is a way of cover-up. Statement by political prisoners also accuses Armenian Ombudsman in leniency re human rights violations in Armenia and him being involved in a “monitoring mission” of court hearings instead of clearly condemning them as politically motivated. Thus, the signatories argue that Ombudsman Harutyunyan is serving the authorities’ interests trying to avert Council of Europe sanctions.

Statement concludes by calling for human rights Ombudsman to resign, expressing “hope” that his follower would be different and true to the calling of human rights defender.

In the meantime, opposition Armenian National Congress issued a statement today strongly condemning reported beatings of imprisoned opposition activists and demanding criminal investigation. While criticising the Ombudsman, they stopped short of calling for his resignation.

In a separate statement, Armenian National Congress reminds that the “case of seven” court hearings of high profile oppositionists on coup charges will resume on 9 January, 12pm, at the Yerevan Shengavit district court building. They ask supporters to gather outside the court building to prevent possible provocations and turn the current trial into the “trial against authorities”.

I do agree that political prisoners have grounds for complaining of actions or inactions of Armenian Ombudsman. Armenian Ombudsman should have been more vocal in fighting human rights abuses in Armenia. However, let’s not forget that during emergency situation in March it was the only state institution which was able to deal with the human rights issues. Also, in following months, there were many occasions that the Ombudsman’s office helped in resolving human rights violations. Reports by Armenian Ombudsman on 1 March and following events were critical in making the case heard worldwide. By demanding his resignation now, political prisoners will not get desired justice. New Ombudsman will be appointed by the same authorities whose legitimacy is questioned by the opposition and detainees themselves. There is no way that they would trust this new Ombudsman more than the current one. Quite the contrary.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Alternative Christmas Message

There is this tradition in the UK. Since 1993, one of the main TV channels – Channel 4, each Christmas broadcasts an Alternative Christmas Message (formal one - by Queen). The “alternative message” is normally delivered by someone famous and controversial, be that celebrity or politician.

We do not have a tradition of Christmas message in Armenia, but we have New Year one by country’s president.

I would propose delivering this message to one of our political prisoners, or perhaps a prominent oppositionist and newspaper editor Nikol Pashinyan who is currently on the run and hiding following 1 March events. As we should not have political prisoners while celebrating Christmas. We should not have people who are in hiding because justifiably they do not trust our legal system and courts.

And to all readers of my blogs who celebrate Armenian Christmas (and to those who do not), have no doubts, no matter what anyone says - You Are Beautiful!

Merry Christmas!!

P.S. And one more thing. We can’t have Christmas without good old animation. Here is the perfect one, in a true spirit of Christmas.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Celebrity news – Chris Evans and Natasha Shishmanian

British golfer, journalist, writer and model Natasha Shishmanian of Armenian descent married BBC Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans in August 2007. Natasha is a daughter of British Armenian Aram Shishmanian, non-executive director of Resolution plc (UK insurance company) and board member of Britannic Group.

OK magazine reports that the couple’s first baby together is due in January. “Not one to remain tight-lipped about his life, Chris has been keeping his Radio 2 listeners in the picture – in the early days he said: “Mother and 6cm human are both officially rockin!”

The baby is Natasha’s first. Chris Evans has a 21-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.

*photo – via BBC