Archive for August, 2008

Turkey: President to Visit Armenia Next Week for Football Match

It seems like Turkey’s president Abdullah Gul will visit Armenia next week, when the national football (soccer) teams of both countries play on Saturday, September 6, 2008.

In the word’s of Turkey’s nationalist Hurriyet newspaper:

“Turkish President Abdullah Gul has accepted an invitation from his Armenian counterpart to watch the World Cup qualifier between the Turkish-Armenian national teams in Yerevan as the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the visit would contribute to renewed relations between the two countries, Vatan daily reported on Saturday.

[…] “

Denver: Democrats Are Coming

By the end of the week, my family and friends around the world won’t ask me “where is it?” when I tell them I live in Denver.


In a few hours, the Democratic National Convention will start in a city that last year had over 12 million overnight visitors. Still, Denver is not, yet, as famous as New York, Chicago, Dallas or Los Angeles.


But with its beautiful architecture and nature, Colorado’s capital and largest city Denver will quickly win hearts. The nearby Red Rocks, the beautiful State Capitol (where I work), yummy restaurants and cozy bars offer locals and visitors exceptional pleasure and leisure.


Dating back to 1858, Denver is a century and a half old. It became the state capital after Golden and Colorado City lost their bid. It was a simple decision – Denver had more women than any other city in the state.


More women – more rights. In 1893, women in Colorado won their right to vote – only the second in the nation. In 1894, three women were elected to serve in the House of Representatives. Before them, no woman had served as a senator or representative anywhere else in the United States.


In 1908, when the Democratic National Convention met in Denver for the first time, women were allowed to be delegates at the convention for the first time. It wasn’t until 1920, though, when the federal government extended the right to vote to all women.


Along with progressive history, Colorado has darks sides too. In 1864, Colorado volunteers (who thought they were fighting in the Civil War) exterminated an entire peaceful camp of Native Americans at Sand Creek. And in the 1920s, Colorado’s governor was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.


With a diverse history, Colorado isn’t ethnically very diverse. Denver is the exception, where along with white Americans you will see Americans from all races and of all countries. Perhaps this diversity is what makes Denver so hospitable. Hospitality in Denver is almost as good as in Armenia.


Speaking of Armenians, many people get surprised when they find a quarter-century-old Armenian Genocide monument-plaque at the Colorado State Capitol. And although the Armenian community is not very large (perhaps 4,000 in and around Denver), its roots are very old.


Once I came across to a January 27, 1884, article in the local Rocky Mountain News. It talked about four Armenians, originally from what is now eastern Turkey, who had come from Italy. In Denver, they had become merchants. But in their hearts, they had always stayed Armenians and dreamed of returning to their homeland. Their hope was to return to Armenia: “My brother feels as I do, that in our own beautiful land in Asia Minor lies our destiny and it may be that near our old home we shall find at last the ancient site of Eden.”


Had they returned to Armenia, they would have been killed either in the Hamidian massacres or in the Genocide of 1915. I don’t know if they returned or not.


A number of Armenian friends – many of them with the media – are visiting Denver for the Convention this week. Voice of America is planning to interview local Armenians and guests.


I learned from the U.S. Embassy last month that Armenia had two-member delegation traveling to Denver for the Democratic National Convention.


WELCOME to all who are in Denver this week.  

The Independent: Hidden Armenians

Robert Fisk has another moving and provoking column on the Armenian Genocide in The Independent:

“”It’s a tiny book, only 116 pages long, but it contains a monumental truth, another sign that one and a half million dead Armenians will not go away. It’s called My Grandmother: a Memoir and it’s written by Fethiye Cetin and it opens up graves. For when she was growing up in the Turkish town of Marden, Fethiye’s grandmother Seher was known as a respected Muslim housewife. It wasn’t true. She was a Christian Armenian and her real name was Heranus. We all know that the modern Turkish state will not acknowledge the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, but this humble book may help to change that. Because an estimated two million Turks – alive in Turkey today – had an Armenian grandparent.


As children they were put on the death marches south to the Syrian desert but – kidnapped by brigands, sheltered by brave Muslim villagers (whose own courage also, of course, cannot be acknowledged by Turkey) or simply torn from their dying mothers – later became citizens of the modern Turkey which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was to set up. Yet as Maureen Freely states in her excellent preface, four generations of Turkish schoolchildren simply do not know Ottoman Anatolia was between a quarter and a half Christian.

Heranus – whose face stares out at the reader from beneath her Muslim headscarf – was seized by a Turkish gendarme, who sped off on horseback after lashing her mother with a whip. Even when she died of old age, Fethiye tried to record the names of Heranus’s Armenian parents – Isguhi and Hovannes – but was ignored by the mosque authorities. It was Heranus, with her razor-sharp memory, who taught Fethiye of her family’s fate and this book does record in terrible detail the now familiar saga of mass cruelty, of rape and butchery.

In one town, the Turkish police separated husbands, sons and old men from their families and locked the women and children into a courtyard with high walls. From outside came blood-curdling shrieks. As Fethiye records, “Heranus and her brothers clung to their mother’s skirts, but though she was terrified, she was desperate to know what was going on. Seeing that another girl had climbed on to someone’s shoulders to see over the wall, she went to her side. The girl was still looking over the wall; when, after a very long while, she came down again, she said what she had seen. All her life, Heranus would never forget what came from this girl’s lip: ‘They’re cutting the men’s throats, and throwing them into the river.'”

Fethiye says she wrote her grandmother’s story to “reconcile us with our history; but also to reconcile us with ourselves” which, as Freely writes, cuts right through the bitter politics of genocide recognition and denial. Of course, Ataturk’s decision to move from Arabic to Latin script also means that vital Ottoman documents recalling the genocide cannot be consulted by most modern-day Turks. At about the same time, it’s interesting to note, Stalin was performing a similarly cultural murder in Tajikistan where he moved the largely Persian language from Arabic to Cyrillic.

And so history faded away. And I am indebted to Cosette Avakian, who sent me Fethiye’s book and who is herself the granddaughter of Armenian survivors and who brings me news of another memorial of Armenians, this time in Wales. Wales, you may ask? And when I add that this particular memorial – a handsome Armenian cross embedded in stone – was vandalised on Holocaust Memorial Day last January, you may also be amazed. And I’m not surprised because not a single national paper reported this outrage. Had it been a Jewish Holocaust memorial stone that was desecrated, it would – quite rightly – have been recorded in our national newspapers. But Armenians don’t count.

As a Welsh Armenian said on the day, “This is our holiest shrine. Our grandparents who perished in the genocide do not have marked graves. This is where we remember them.” No one knows who destroyed the stone: a request for condemnation by the Turkish embassy in London went, of course, unheeded, while in Liverpool on Holocaust Day, the Armenians were not even mentioned in the service.

Can this never end? Fethiye’s wonderful book may reopen the past, but it is a bleak moment to record that when the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was prosecuted for insulting “Turkishness”, Fethiye defended him in court. Little good it did Dink. He was murdered in January last year, his alleged killer later posing arrogantly for a picture next to the two policemen who were supposed to be holding him prisoner. It was in Dink’s newspaper Agos that Fethiye was to publish her grandmother’s death notice. This was how Heranus’s Armenian sister in America came to read of her death. For Heranus’s mother survived the death marches to remarry and live in New York.

Wales, the United States, even Ethiopia, where Cosette Avakian’s family eventually settled, it seems that every nation in the world is home to the Armenians. But can Turkey ever be reconciled with its own Armenian community, which was Hrant Dink’s aim? When Fethiye found her Aunt Marge in the US – this was Heranus’ sister, of course, by her mother’s second marriage – she tried to remember a song that Heranus sang as a child. It began with the words “A sad shepherd on the mountain/Played a song of love…” and Marge eventually found two Armenian church choir members who could put the words together.

“My mother never missed the village dances,” Marge remembered. “She loved to dance. But after her ordeal, she never danced again.” And now even when the Welsh memorial stone that stands for her pain and sorrow was smashed, the British Government could not bring itself to comment. As a member of the Welsh Armenian community said at the time, “We shall repair the cross again and again, no matter how often it is desecrated.” And who, I wonder, will be wielding the hammer to smash it next time?””

Field notes from Georgia

At a difficult time when thousands of people are evacuating Georgia for Armenia, one person is doing the exact opposite. Yerevan-based British photojournalist and fellow blogger Onnik Krikorian is in Georgia covering the conflict with Russia.


Writing about a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza and Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, Onnik reports an incident that conventional media rather leave unmentioned.


But, I also have to say, I was not impressed and wondered what the U.S. Secretary of State thought of sharing center stage with a man who likened the Russian invasion of Georgia with a girl being raped because she wore a short skirt. Such statements during the press conference did not appear sufficiently presidential, in my opinion, and were seemingly not reported by the mainstream media.


Onnik’s photos are available here.

Lakota Plan Civil Disobedience Through Fishing

Native American activist Russell Means, known for long-time activism and for the recent controversial declaration of Lakota independence, is looking forward to August 25. But he won’t be in Denver to attend the first day of the Democratic National Convention or protest Columbus Day holiday, which was first celebrated in the Mile High City in 1907.

Instead, “America’s angriest Indian” will be in his native land with a group of supporters protesting what they consider violation of a federal treaty.

In the words of Republic of Lakotah website:

In the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Russell Means, the Chief Facilitator of the Republic of Lakotah, is organizing a group of Lakotah Indians to enter Sheridan Lake Recreation Area near Rapid City, South Dakota, refuse to pay the admission fee, and fish without paying the license fee. Means claims that Lakotah retained the right to fish and pass in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty territory and that those rights continue today and backed by Article VI of the Constitution of the united states of America.

The event, which is being billed as the Lakotah Freedom Fishing Day, is about much more than the admission fee or the fishing license fee; it is about getting the South Dakota and United States governments to follow their own laws. Means said, “After having been an occupied nation for over 150 years, we have asked the United States government to leave our country. Meanwhile, until the United States Government leaves Lakotah territory we will take every opportunity to insist it follow its own laws and that its states do the same.”

Lakotah have given notice to Larry Long, the Attorney General of South Dakota, of its plans for this event.  Means said he has not heard from Long yet and does not know if the state plans on allowing the Indians to fish and pass or if the park rangers will issue citations or arrest any of the Lakotah fishermen. Means plans to call in federal marshalls to enforce the treaty rights. Means said, “According to the Civil Right Act, federal marshalls should arrest any state official who tries to stop Lakotah from entering the park and fishing. However, if the United States ignores its own laws to deny Lakotah rights, it will certainly not be the first time.”

This historic event is planned for Monday, August 25th, at 1:00 p.m.   

One Thousandth Post and Still Looking Ahead

At times original news, sometimes reposts from other websites and often with commentary, this blog has been reaching thousands of readers since October 2005.


This is my thousandth post, marking a journey that has changed me and, hopefully, some of my readers too. Often when I look back at older posts, I see need for revisions and rewrites. But I hardly edit earlier posts – perhaps trying to please evolutionists and cyberarchaeologists.    


Keeping in line with Gandhi’s advice to ‘be the change you wish to see in this world,’ I hope I will be able to continue bringing my readers news and views on Armenia and the world. If one doesn’t believe in continuous self-improvement, then he is ready to die. I want to live and I will try to keep Blogian alive.  

Georgia and South Ossetia: Realpolitik 101

Timid and emotional, Georgia’s Mikhail Saakashvili is no longer the confident democratic president the South Caucasus leader was a few weeks ago. Underestimating the right of might, his wish to win back breakaway South Ossetia has become a nightmare in his ex-Soviet country. In an ironic way, Saakashvili might have strengthened Russia instead.


“When the president ordered to attack Tskhinvali [the capital of South Ossetia], we knew then we were doomed,” told a Georgian woman to Newsweek. “How come he didn’t realize that?” Saakashvili might have recognized the hardships that Ossetian and Georgian families were going to face in the face of the military action, but he either didn’t realize Russia’s role in Eurasia or hoped for American military build up in his country.


Understandably, Saakashvili is popular in Georgia right now. During wars, people tend to support their leader, especially when the enemy is someone considered long-rooted colonizer. But the war, despite the de jure cease fire, is not going to help Georgia in the short run. Perhaps Saakashvili thought it might help Georgia in the long run. Here are some convictions that might have had a role in the Georgian president’s decision.


Assumption 1. Saakashvili takes his democratically-elected (while forgetting his not-so-democratic crackdown on the opposition) status a privilege. To some extent it is true, but right is not always might in the realpolitik – especially when you are the president of an entire country.

Assumption 2. Saakashvili thinks his western education and pro-western attitude is an extraordinary asset. Having a degree from Columbia doesn’t change the world imperial order.

Assumption 3. States’ protection of “territorial integrity” is the West’s (especially the United States’) most-adored principle. Even in not-so-U.S.-friendly countries, like Bolivia, the State Department most of the time defends “territorial integrity.” (“[W]hy on earth should arbitrary lines drawn up by Stalin be the basis for statehood in the 21st century?” would respond Ossetians).


Having the above convictions, these are two scenarios that might have crossed Saakashvili’s mind.


Scenario 1. U.S. Military build up in Georgia would follow a Russian action after provoking the latter to attack Ossetia. This would be a perfect opportunity to invite NATO and U.S. soldiers to Georgia (forgetting that the U.S. has already has a front with Russia with the NATO bases in eastern Turkey).

The bases could be used in a possible strike against Iran (especially if Saakashvili’s old friend John McCain becomes the president, and especially if Azerbaijan continues being an authoritarian country, and, thus, proving to be an unsuitable U.S. ally).   

Scenario 2. Given the history of Ajaria (another breakaway region that Saakashvili was able to reunite with Georgia without a single bullet), Georgia’s respect in the West (Bush visited Tbilisi a few years back) for its democratic image, and Georgia’s possible prospects to become more energy-independent from Russia due to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, Saakashvili might have thought Russia would either ignore the attack on South Ossetia or would try to negotiate with Georgia.


Neither the above nor any other scenario would have been beneficial for Georgia. The attack on South Ossetia was a perfect opportunity for Russia to showcase its power and new role in the region and in the world. Few political analysts would have expected inaction from Russia. So Saakashvili must have expected counterattack as well, but he either overestimated his abilities or underestimated Russia’s capable aspirations. Or he had a long-term vision of Iranian invasion. In either case, neither thought makes him a good leader for his people.


Speaking of the people, the latter were the last thing that either Saakashvili or Russia cared about. Some time back Saakashvili skillfully fought racism in his country by saying, “For those in Georgia who hate Armenians, I will be an Armenian; for those who hate Azeris, I will be an Azeri. People have said I am Ossetian. I will gladly be an Ossetian. I will be a Jew as well, and this will be a great honor for me.”  One wouldn’t t attack South Ossetia out of love for Ossetians, would they?


Russia’s rhetoric was even more ironic. Claiming that it was defending its citizens, Russia came to “protect” a people who are generally treated as second-class citizens, to say the least, in Moscow. Like the rest of the people from the South Caucasus, Ossetians are part of the Russia’s “blacks,” people without blond hair who are often killed on the streets for simply not looking ethnic Russians. While it is not hard to understand racism among bitter and uneducated youth, Russian government’s inaction to prevent or even fully prosecute hate crimes in Moscow and other cities is inexcusable.


Double-standards and hypocrisy is no news in politics. But even if Scenario 1 works and the U.S. moves in, Georgia’s people and their neighbors are not going to win in the long run. Small states working for a superpower don’t win. They need to work with superpowers, all of them. That’s one lesson Saakashvili didn’t learn at Columbia.

Hannah Montana has an Armenian Boyfriend

This may be totally inappropriate for this blog, but I am tempted to share the news that America’s “youngest queen” Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana) has reportedly an Armenian-American boyfriend – Adam Sevani.

Armenia: Love and Hatred

“If you are Turks, stay on the bus; if you are Armenians, get off and join us!” shouted an angry pro-opposition protestor after stopping a minibus in Yerevan on March 1, 2008. He then angrily looked at a woman with a child silently suggesting her to get off the bus to join Armenia’s former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s post election protest.

“Are you expecting me to get off a bus with my child?!” The angry woman’s response paid off, and she was left alone. That is left alone for a while.





In a few days, after several people were killed on the day of the protest, there was a knock on this woman’s door – now it was the police looking for protestors. “Did you participate in the protest?” she was asked. After saying “no,” her husband was escorted out and taken to the local police department – he hadn’t participated in the protest either. In fact, the couple hadn’t event voted in the elections. Yet they were harassed twice – by the opposition and the government. This is a true story. It happened to someone I have known for all of my life.



In these days there is no middle ground in Armenia. One will laugh at you if you say you are neutral. In fact, being neutral may be seen as something more sinister than being for one or the other. Tensions are high – a couple even divorced over the presidential election. Armenia’s brightest comedian Vartan Petrossian (no relationship to the former president) mentioned this in his “Love and Hatred” – a brilliant and well-attended play about Armenia’s political polarization.



Vartan Petrossian’s message was clear – Armenia’s society needs love. But change should start by changing and improving ourselves. And women in politics can play an important role. Of course he delivered these messages with humor – and one wonders whether most of the audience got the point – especially in regards to women’s rights. In any case, the audience loved Vartan Petrossian.  





There was hardly any love on August 1 – when, according to Agence France Press, 5,000 people attended a pro-opposition protest outside Matenadaran (a manuscript depository). As my cousin and I were approaching Matenadaran, one of the speakers (who we couldn’t see) was urging to send the “current administration to grave.”



When Levon Ter-Petrosyan took over the podium, he was greeted with cheers by most of the crowd (others were seemingly observers like myself). Levon started his long, lecture-like speech making several points – Armenia’s legislative branch has become the tool of the executive branch, even Stalin didn’t pursuit such a totalitarian intimidation of opposition supporters, the current president won’t be able to solve serious problems such as environmental protection, etc. The last one was my favorite part of the speech. At last environment is getting some kind of attention by some group in Armenia – although it was mentioned as part of a long list that merely seemed to point the lengthy load of responsibilities that the government doesn’t work on.


Anyway, Levon’s speech was initially quite interesting. He got my attention when he said that since 1999, after he left politics, Armenia’s parliament had not voted against any proposal by the executive branch or overturned any veto by the president. He said that compared to the statistics when he was president (1991-1998), it “couldn’t be compared.” I am not kidding. I expected Levon to give some details or facts but his comparison was limited to saying that it couldn’t be compared. That was disappointing.


Anyway, I don’t want to sound like an anti-Levon activist. I actually have to agree with one of the people I interviewed that Levon’s presence in politics today is in many ways positive. He has built a very strong opposition and the government is, without doubt, concerned with the situation. Cosmetic or not, the new administration is making some reforms which would be unlikely had Levon been absent from Armenia’s politics.



Yet it is ironic that most people who are for Levon do not love him; they hate Serge – Armenia’s current president. A phone booth had been vandalized with “Mah Serzhikin” (“Death to Little Serge”) resonating with one oppositionist leader’s message, as I have quoted above, to send the current government to grave.


A friend, who is pro-Levon due to being anti-Serge, suggested that the current president has the chance to use the March 1 event as an example of possible further clashes to pressure oligarchs out of economic monopoly in the country.


(Believe it or not, elimination of monopoly would make huge changes in Armenia. Armenia’s most competitive industry is perhaps the taxi service, and it is way the cheapest thing that Armenia offers. A thirty minute drive can cost as little as $3, and most short commutes are usually $2. This is because there are hundreds of taxi services in Armenia – no monopoly whatsoever – that is until the price for the monopoly-controlled natural gas goes up in early 2009.)  


Another thing that needs improvement is the often-government-controlled media. Two hours before the start of the protest, when I was watching state-controlled public television’s 5:00 p.m. news, I didn’t see any information about the upcoming event at Matenadaran. Instead, Haylur – the news program – spent over five minutes talking about a jazz/fashion (not even mentioning where and why it took place) festival that had taken place the day before.


I had actually gone to the theatrical fashion event with several friends. It was pretty good, and I almost fell in love with one of the models there. That’s as close as I got to seeing love in public.   


All photos by the author (copyright

Armenian Navy Band in Los Angeles

For those of you who live or will be in Los Angeles next week, do not commit the crime of not going to Armenian Navy Band’s concert. You have to go – even if you have to charge it on your credit card. Until 2007, I didn’t like the Band at all. But when I went to their concert, I fell in love with them. You will too.

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