Archive for February, 2008

California Church Vandalism: A Turkish-American and an Armenian Priest Disagree (You Won’t Guess on What)

I have received two e-mails in regards to the article I reposted about vandalism at an Armenian Church in California. A painting of what appeared to be Turkey’s flag was deemed as a ‘hate crime’ by the local police. And while a Turkish-American who had nothing to do with the vandalism says he regrets the crime, the Armenian priest of the church says there was no vandalism and, thus, no need to apologize for it.

The first e-mail to me – the subject of which read, “i regret that your church was vandalized………..from a Turkish-American” – stated:


I regret what happened and I hope the culprit in the church vandalism is found soon.


Another e-mail, from a member of the church that was vandalised, informed me of a blog post by the church’s priest who sees no hate in the church vandalism. Fr. Vazken writes:

They did it to us again. After going through what we did after Christmas, the Glendale Newspress, showing its best side as a little town paper that’s trying to make it big, came out with a “Hate Crime” story:

It started Sunday – we noticed a child’s drawing on the wall. It was a moon and a star. I received a call later in the afternoon from an officer at the Glendale Police Department. The graffiti-art had been reported as a hate crime to the department.

Monday morning, a reporter from the Glendale Newspress came by the church looking for the evidence. Horizon (Armenian TV) sent a camera man. The Diocese (one of the priests) called and asked “What happened? Did someone paint a Swastika on your church?”  By midday, a non-story was taking form and shape.

And so… this morning, it didn’t surprise me when the Daily News headlined, “Vandal spray-paints Turkish flag on Armenian church wall”

Wow! A moon and a star had now been transformed into a Turkish hate crime against the Armenians!  What is it about hatred and evil that makes good copy? I guess it sells newspapers. 


Although it is amazingly kind of an Armenian priest not to see hate in the drawing, it is interesting that he refuses to call it a vandalism either.

Showing off? Perhaps, not. I have personally met Fr. Vazken and he is a very good person. This is the guy who organizes “Blood for Blood” event in April asking Armenians to donate blood in commemorating the Armenian genocide by the Turks.

Azerbaijan, Amid Fears of Karabakh Recognition, to Leave Kosovo

Azerbaijan’s regime is pulling its NATO troops from newly-independent Kosovo in apparent fears that the west’s recognition of the tiny state might serve as precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh independence.

Reuters reports:

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has asked parliament to vote to withdraw the ex-Soviet country’s peacekeepers from Kosovo, an Azeri official said on Thursday.

Aliyev submitted the initiative to a parliamentary committee this week, and the vote is expected on March 4. The proposal is expected to pass into law with little opposition.

Azerbaijan has had 33 soldiers serving in Kosovo since 1999 with a Turkish battalion under NATO command.

Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said Kosovo’s recent declaration of independence from Serbia had “sharply changed the political scene”.

“Azerbaijan, as well as a host of other NATO partner-countries, is now re-examining the position of its peacekeeping platoon,” Azimov told reporters.


Karabakh, an indigenous Armenian enclave that Stalin annexed to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s, is de facto independent from Azerbaijan after a war in the 1990s that killed thousands of people on both sides. Azerbaijan’s regime has said it will do everything to return its Soviet territory.

Since Turkey has hailed Kosovo’s independence, it will be interesting to see how fiercely Azerbaijan will deny Kosovo’s independence given Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s close relationship.

Almost Everyone Worried for Obama’s Safety But Himself

The New York Times has an interesting article on the popular fear of Obama being assassinated in which it makes clear that almost everyone but Obama think of a possible attempt on the Democratic candidate’s life:


That afternoon, Mr. Obama’s motorcade passed Dealey Plaza and the Texas Book Depository building, where the fatal shot was fired at President Kennedy in 1963. Several campaign aides looked out their windows, silently absorbing the scene.

Not so for Mr. Obama, who later said he had not realized he was passing the site. And no one in his car pointed it out.

“I’ve got to admit, that’s not what I was thinking about,” he said. “I was thinking about how I was starting to get a head cold and needed to make sure that I cleared up my nose before I got to the arena.”

With KKK membership growing in the United States and some nationalist circles calling for “repairing [Obama’s] damage” it seems logical to expect violent attempts on the Illinois senator’s life. But the latter groups perhaps realize that such a crime would most likely start riots in America and a social revolution that even Obama’s victory would not bring.

Armenian-American Activist Asked to Apologize for Anti-Obama E-Mail

A columnist at an Armenian-American newspaper has written a piece on ARMENPAC activist and Clinton campaigner Annie Totah’s e-mail to some Jewish circles in which she had included an anti-Obama article – condemned by many Jewish leaders – that alludes the Illinois senator of being a Muslim and an anti-Semite. I blogged about the e-mail a few weeks ago.

The columnist writes:


Annie Totah’s e-mail, presumably sent to a Jewish audience to demonstrate the superiority of her chosen candidate (Hillary Clinton), may or may not sway its intended readers. Frankly, I don’t care. In fact I wouldn’t even care if the other candidate were targeted. That’s not the point. Totah and ARMENPAC have chosen to support Clinton. That’s actually good. This way, regardless of who wins, with the ANC’s endorsement of Obama, one faction of our community plugged in.

But resorting to sleazy, innuendo-laden tactics like using this article reflects poorly on us as a community. It certainly reflects poorly on the organizations in which Totah holds high positions. But then, in the Assembly’s case, perhaps this is to be expected. Remember, they won the “coveted” SpitRain Award last August. In case you think I’m overreacting, here’s how Ben Smith describes Totah: “a Washington society figure and Armenian-American activist who’s also a member of Clinton’s finance committee.” Those who don’t personally know any other “Armenian-American activists” might, given human nature, attribute to the rest of us a love of gutter politics.

I’m not starry-eyed, nor delusional. Politics is blood sport. Of course these kinds of things will be done. But there’s a wisdom that’s expected of those holding visible positions in organizations. They cannot be associated with this kind of activity because it reflects poorly on the organization. For all I know, the Clinton campaign may have been following exactly this line of thinking by feeding Totah Lasky’s piece to disseminate.

Please call on Annie Totah, ARCA, ARMENPAC and the Armenian Assembly to apologize for this embarrassing gaffe. If she refuses, those organizations and others she serves should remove her from any offices she holds.

If they don’t, then we the community will know how to judge and not support them in the future.

American Patriotism: Conservative Style Adopted by the Associated Press?

A highly-disliked Associated Press article titled “Obama may face grilling on patriotism” – rated 2.5 out of 5 stars by Yahoo! users – seems to take the somewhat xenophobic definition of “patriotism” by Red Scare-style conservatives for granted.

The Associated Press article starts off by stating:

Sen. Barack Obama‘s refusal to wear an American flag lapel pin along with a photo of him not putting his hand over his heart during the National Anthem led conservatives on Internet and in the media to question his patriotism.

Now Obama’s wife, Michelle, has drawn their ire, too, for saying recently that she’s really proud of her country for the first time in her adult life.


Although the article does end up reporting factual information and interpretation that disclose the black pr against the Democratic candidate later in the article, the anti-Obama lynching campaign by some conservative and nationalist circles to label the Illinois Senator as “un-American” seems to satisfy the Associated Press to use the word “patriotism” without quotation marks in reporting the hateful attempt to make an enemy of a person millions of Americans have voted for.  

And while the lynching campaign against Barack Obama by nationalist circles comes as no surprise – and will definitely become worse in the months to come – it is surprising to see the Associated Press stating that “Obama may face grilling on patriotism” suggesting that it has been somehow demonstrated that Obama is not a “patriot.” The Associated Press is the one that should face grilling… on (un)ethical journalism.

Armenia: What the Heck is Going on?

Yesterday a Kenyan-born American friend (not Barack Obama) texted me stating, “I have been following what’s going on in Armenia – what the heck is going on?”

Image: Levon Ter-Petrossian Post-Election Women’s Protest March, Yerevan © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008 

I haven’t texted my friend back because I haven’t figured out myself what the heck is going on in Armenia. The protests against the official election results continue – and although it is nice to see people challenging the establishment – those very “challengers” are the founding fathers of corruption and crook-like politics in modern Armenia that is not much different from how the current authorities work.

One thing, nonetheless, that can’t be disputed is the people’s strive for change in Armenia. It is not merely about economy and poverty, as most observers and insiders suggest, but also about the treatment that people receive from the government and the way they are told to perceive the treatment by the government-controlled media.

One thing, for sure, that has pissed many people off is the unfair mainstream media coverage of former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s campaign. Needless to say, when Ter-Petrosyan was in power the media did the same against his opponents.

Interestingly, I got to meet the person in charge of Armenia’s public TV’s news department last year and I asked him what was his line of separation between state v. authorities in the context of his recent statement (in an interview to Menq Magazine) that “I will do nothing that would shake the foundations of the state.” Although it was obvious that he didn’t think I was an idiot, his answer was for a complete idiot in which he was trying to explain to me what “state” and “authorities” meant. This demonstrates the mindset of Armenia’s media in dealing with the audience they are talking to.

Armenia: Disturbing Account from ‘Mostly Democratic’ Election

Although Armenia’s presidential election is largely seen as “generally democratic” by most observers, there have been some cases of serious violations and human rights abuses by now president-elect Serzh Sargsyan’s regime. Although Sargsyan’s main competetor (the former president Levon Ter Petrosyan) hasn’t been any better – if not worse – in treating his political rivals in the past, it is disturbing that serious human rights violations have happened during Tuesday’s election.

The ‘worst’ documented account, as told by Human Rights Watch, is the following:

Abovian, about 20 kilometers from Yerevan  
Larissa Tadevosian, a proxy for Ter-Petrosian, has told Human Rights Watch that she went to polling station 28/7 in Abovian at approximately 7:30 a.m. Three large, athletic men approached her, and two of them dragged her out of the polling station. Tadevosian struggled to free herself, but was dragged across the yard and shoved into a car. The three men drove Tadevosian to a deserted area outside the town. After taking her out of the car, one man beat her on the head and face. “They told me that I should be silent and not say anything more about the elections,” she told Human Rights Watch. “They threatened to rape me. They threatened to harm my family.” The men then left Tadevosian in the deserted area and drove away.  
Tadevosian was unable to return to the polling station because of her condition. She went directly to the police, who ordered a forensic medical examination. Two days after the attack, she complained of headaches, dizziness, and other medical problems.  
Gurgen Eghizarian, a proxy for Ter-Petrosian and a former deputy head of the National Security Service, received information that election observers at polling station 28/6 in Abovian had been kidnapped and beaten. He has stated that he went to the polling station together with Erjan Abgarian, a 68-year-old Ter-Petrosian proxy and former head of the customs service. Election commission representatives and observers there denied that they had seen anything happen to the observers, but Eghizarian demanded that the senior election commission representative sign a statement about what had happened. While at the polling station, a group of seven or eight men armed with pistols attacked Eghizarian, his son, and Abgarian, beating them on the kidneys, ribs, and back. Eghizarian told Human Rights Watch that the men also threatened him and the others saying, “Sargsian will be president, and if you go against him, you will be killed.” He suffers headaches and has a bruise on his forehead as a result of the assault.  
A senior official for Ter-Petrosian told Human Rights Watch that at least three other proxies were beaten in Abovian on election day.  
Another Ter-Petrosian proxy who wished to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch that large, athletic men would arrive periodically at another polling station in Abovian and would take prospective voters aside “for a little chat,” apparently in order to influence their votes. These same men also spoke to election commission officials, observers, and candidates’ proxies, and threatened them should they speak out about any violations. This same proxy told Human Rights Watch that in mid-afternoon some men took him aside and threatened him and told him, “You didn’t see anything.” He claimed that these men were responsible for stealing and falsifying ballots and stuffing the ballot box at this polling station. Police stood by and did not respond. This proxy stated that he continued to fear for his safety and had sent his children to another location and was reluctant to leave his own apartment.  

California: Armenian Church Vandalised in ‘Hate Crime’

From Glendale News Press:

Church graffiti deemed hateful

Painting of a star and crescent at Armenian place of worship is being called a hate crime.

By Ryan Vaillancourt

NORTHWEST GLENDALE — Police say vandals who spray-painted a crescent and star design on a wall at St. Peter Armenian Church on Sunday committed a hate crime by meaning to intimidate Armenians by invoking the Turkish flag.

Church congregants discovered what they described as a red crescent and star spray-painted on the wall outside the church, along Kenilworth Road. The graffiti has since been painted over.

Many Armenians harbor deep enmity for the modern Republic of Turkey for its refusal to recognize the genocide committed against Armenians between 1915 and 1918 by the former Ottoman Empire.

Depicting a Turkish flag on the side of an Armenian church would be similar to putting a swastika on a synagogue, Glendale Police Officer John Balian said.

“It’s the same significance,” he said. “This is obviously considered vandalism, but it’s also considered a hate crime if you can prove the perpetrator did it for hatred reasons.”

Police have not identified any suspects and are not pursuing any leads, he said.

“That’s why it’s imperative to get community involvement in identifying the perpetrators,” he said. “Any time you vandalize a church or a synagogue, any type of church, we won’t tolerate it, and we’ll do everything we can to find the people.”

Anoush Dekmejian, a church trustee who believes the vandalism took place during a Sunday morning service, said she immediately recognized the crescent and star shapes as those on the Turkish flag.

“My impression, immediately, was that it was a hate crime,” said Dekmejian, who reported the incident to police at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

But St. Peter’s pastor, Father Vazken Movsesian, who is well-known for his advocacy on behalf of genocide recognition — not only of the Armenian Genocide but the ongoing genocidal conflict in Darfur — downplayed the incident, saying the graffiti was more reminiscent of a child’s depiction of a star and a moon.

He compared the symbols to stationery in his office that shows golden moons and shining stars in the margins.

“You’d be hard-pressed to say it was the Turkish flag,” Movsesian said. “Really, honestly, it seems sensationalized . . . . I really saw a kid’s drawing.”

Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian said he believed the vandalism was tied to racial tensions surrounding a controversial absentee ballot application ordinance.

“I really don’t think that it’s an isolated incident,” Najarian said.

“I think it’s directly related to the attention that the absentee application issue has garnered . . . . Bottom line is, it’s just sad that it has occurred.”

Police are asking anyone with information about the incident to call the Crime Stoppers line, which allows anonymous calls, at (818) 507-7867.

Raffi Hovhannisian Faces Criticism for Turkish Letter

A U.S.-born Armenian politician is facing criticism for the content of a letter he has sent to Turkey’s president. Here is a column by Appo Jabarian summarizing some of the reactions in Armenia:

Raffi Hovannisian Panders to Turkey

At the Cost of Political Bankruptcy

Executive Publisher/Managing Editor

[email protected]

August 29, 2007, Armenia’s Heritage Party leader Raffi K. Hovannisian sent a letter of congratulations to the then newly elected Turkish president Abdullah Gul.

He wrote: “The deep divides between our countries, be they of contemporary character or part of the legacy of the Great Armenian Dispossession, must be overcome and resolved in truth, with integrity, and through the partnership of the two new leaders and their fellow citizens of good faith and conscience.”

Soon after the content of the letter was revealed, the highly insulting term “Great Armenian Dispossession” used in lieu of the words “The Armenian Genocide” sent political shockwaves in Armenia and the Diaspora. Heritage Party officials hoped the issue would disappear with the flow of time. But the exact opposite happened.

On February 13, Armen Tsaturyan of “Hayots Ashkhar” (The Armenian World) wrote a scathing commentary against Hovannisian. He stated: “If we set aside all the political major and minor likability and non-likability issues and are guided by cool logic, we can not define Raffi Hovannisian’s action except with one word: ‘Treason.'”

Tsaturyan reported that Hovannisian pandered to Turkey as follows: “It is to be hoped that, during your tenure and that of the next Armenian president to be elected in several months’ time, Turkish-Armenian relations will enter a wholly new phase of reflection, exploration, discovery, and ultimate normalization.”

“It turns out that the son of historian Richard Hovannisian, a notable heir to the victims of the Armenian Genocide, needs further ‘studies’ on the issue of the Armenian Genocide. With his outlandish proposal to co-initiate ‘studies,’ he is furthering the Turkish obvious goal to establish a joint commission of historians. And that is the shortest route to subjecting the facts of the Armenian genocide to suspicion,” concluded Tsaturyan.

On February 16, according to Noyan Tapan news agency, in an open letter to the Heritage Party, the chairman of the Armenian community of Slovakia Ashot Grigorian blasted Hovannisian: “No doubt, Raffi Hovannisian should have been well aware of the political value of the term ‘genocide,’ whose importance is hard to overestimate today. Turkey is ready to pay dearly if the Armenians agree to replace the term ‘genocide’ with any other word. … In his letter, Hovannisian replaced voluntarily the term ‘genocide’ with another term more acceptable to Turks, thus ruining the work we have done for years and decades. This calls into question today the result of the huge and hard work on passing the resolution on the genocide in the National Assembly of Slovakia. The resolutions passed by the parliaments of about twenty countries have also been deprived of meaning.”

An Armenian activist underlined: “As the saying goes, one should not change horses in mid-stream, Armenians have invested decades of effort to get the words Armenian Genocide recognized. There is no reason to abandon that and start using another word. In fact, the smart thing to do would have been to use all sorts of words like ‘forced deportation’, ‘mass killings’, ‘ethnic cleansing’, ‘dispossession’, but use these words in addition to ‘genocide’, NOT in its place. Also, why is Raffi congratulating Gul? He is neither the President nor the Foreign Minister of Armenia!”

One wonders, what’s going on in the Hovannisian households in Los Angeles and Yerevan?

In early 2006, the grandfather Prof. Richard Hovannisian of UCLA, reportedly told RFE/RL that “in some respects Armenia is now an even less democratic state than Turkey, its historical foe regularly castigated by the West for its poor human and civil rights record.”

On July 30, 2007, on the eve of the passage by U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee of the Armenian Genocide resolution 106, Raffi’s son and the elder Hovannisian’s grandson Garin wrote in the Washington Times: “… Bad congressional resolutions might well begin to sound like good Philip Larkin: ‘Sexual intercourse began /In nineteen sixty-three. …/ Between the end of the Chatterley ban /And the Beatles’ first LP.'” This was not the first time that the second junior Hovannisian has ridiculed and poked fun at his martyred Armenian ancestor’s Cause.

And now, his father, Raffi, all too willingly attempts to jeopardize the Armenian Cause in return of personal political gains.

In 1992, the Raffi Hovannisian the Armenians knew and respected was the steadfast Foreign Minister of Armenia who clearly uttered the words Armenian Genocide in Turkey. He was fired by the then president of Armenia, Mr. Levon Ter Petrossyan ironically for having been honest. Then, Raffi remained in Armenia and pursued the objective to become the next president of Armenia. His efforts were blocked. When that didn’t materialize, his father, Prof. Hovannisian slapped Armenia in the face by preferring Turkey as a “better Democracy” than Armenia. What a change for the worse! Then Raffi’s son Garin “punished” Armenia. So if Turkey is a better democracy than Armenia, how come he is not relocating to what is now called Turkey and pursue his political ambitions there by presenting his candidacy for the presidency of Turkey?

By having pandered to Turkey, Hovannisian overdrew on what was left of his political capital in Armenia-Artsakh and around the world. He effectively antagonized literally millions of Armenians. Every year millions of survivors and their descendants flock to the Armenian Genocide monuments in Yerevan and elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands mobilize in marches condemning Turkey’s continued denial of the Genocide and the wholesale forced occupation of the Armenian lands.

Hovannisian has de facto attempted to torpedo the justice pursued by the clear majority of Armenians. But in fact he torpedoed his own political career

The overwhelming majority of Armenians in the homeland and the Diaspora would prefer to see their beloved republics of Armenia and Artsakh transform their soviet-era corrupt bureaucracies into healthy, fully functioning government bodies. But that desire, along with the urge to seek personal political gain, does not give the Hovannisians or anyone else a green light to make erroneous statements, unfairly belittling, and even worse undermine their fledgling new republics and provide damaging ammunition to the enemy.

Armenia: Presidential Elections and Children

While current Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s lead in Armenia’s presidential elections are not surprising, a local blogger raises concerns about children’s indirect participation in the elections.

Voting 006

Photo: © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008

Onnik Krikorian, a Yerevan-based British journalist, writes at his blog on the elections:

It’s now nearly two in the morning and it’s been a tiring day. However, while report after report of violations and falsification comes in, in the seven polling stations I visited today in the Kentron and Arabkir districts of the city, voting was pretty much calm. That’s not to say that violations didn’t occur elsewhere, or even that all was perfect in these particular polling stations, but rather that the environment for voting was peaceful.

Probably the worst violation I saw, although I’m not sure it goes against the electoral code or not, was a number of mothers allowing their children to vote for them.


While to many – children’s participation in the election in the form of dropping the ballot to the box may sound a violation, I find that participation to be one of the few good things about elections in Armenia.

And that’s not just because when I was a child I (successfully) convinced my Mom to let me drop her ballot in Armenia’s elections.  It is because kids find it interesting and fun to participate in what they perceive a decision making.

Voting 114

Photo: © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008

Actually, I have not seen good arguments against why kids shouldn’t vote. My sister, whose 5-year-old gets angry when she is told she can’t vote, says that her kid changes her mind on the candidates quite often and explains her choice by the candidate’s looks or talks. So the “childish” decision-making doesn’t reflect critical thinking and educated determination some say.

Well, people don’t always – if not most of the time – vote based on much thinking. In Armenia, for instance, one often votes for a candidate because of hating the other candidate due to their regional origin (“I am voting for Levon because Serzh is from Karabakh,” vice verse). Or if they anticipate something for their family (like some of my relatives who would gain power if Levon’s regime returned).

But see, my niece doesn’t make decisions because she hates someone or she will get a government job.

Anyhow, I know that the western ideological hierarchical mindset and its legal framework won’t allow kids to vote in national elections but there must be some kind of autonomy and mock elections that will get young people used to voting.

Field trips, for instance, could be decided in schools through a democratic vote with several options to choose from. Armenia’s schools lack student governments. Well, the university student governments have not been a huge success (usually, exclusively male-dominated and openly partisan) but it doesn’t mean younger kids shouldn’t have the right to some kind of decision-making.

And these are not ‘western’ ideas. Kids often vote in indigenous societies.

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