Archive for March, 2009

Georgia: Holy Conception

The ex-Soviet Georgia doesn’t need virgins for holy conception. Instead, in order to boost population growth, Georgia’s holy father has promised to personally baptize every child born to a family with already two kids. The result? Twenty percent increase already.

From BBC (via my friend Artyom’s Facebook post):

At the end of 2007, in a move to reverse the Caucasian country’s dwindling birth figures, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, came up with an incentive. He promised to personally baptise any baby born to parents of more than two children.

There was only one catch: the baby had to be born after the initiative was launched.

The results are, in the words of the Georgian Orthodox Church, “a miracle”.


The country’s birth rate increased by nearly 20% during 2008 – a rate four times faster than the previous year.

Many parents say they took the decision to have another child on the basis of the Patriarch’s incentive.


Obama’s Genocide Dilemma: My Solution

In several days, Barack Obama will visit Ankara. In largely Muslim Turkey, America’s popular president is still a favorite. But how will Obama deal with a human rights issue he has long considered a matter of principle?

President Obama will undoubtedly be asked by journalists in Turkey of his views about a newly introduced Congress bill recognizing the WWI Armenian Genocide.

How will he react? How should he react?

Scenario A: Obama will avoid public questions about the genocide. Asked by reporters if he supports the congressional resolution, Obama will stay away from comment or say he doesn’t oppose it. This is what many Armenian-Americans hope for: if Obama stays out of the genocide resolution, it will pass. But by staying out from such a vibrant development, Obama will let Congress undermine his authority as foreign policy chief. He can’t afford Congress run the show.

Scenario B: Obama will acknowledge in his reaction the Armenian Genocide (like he did in 2005 in Baku when confronted by angry Azerbaijani journalists) and try to justify the move. Obama will have limited time and much pressure in his reaction. It won’t be a good articulation and he may regret the consequences. He can’t afford ruining a press conference in his first foreign policy trip.

Scenario C: Obama will say he doesn’t support the resolution, condemn the Armenian Genocide but use the most elegant linguistic exercise to avoid usage of “genocide” itself. If his does this, he will mimic George W. Bush. Obama can’t afford being George W. Bush.

Is there hope for genocide recognition without nationalist backlash in Turkey and without undermining the presidency in the US? Yes there is – but there may be one and only one option: Obama needs to be proactive.

Most scenarios on Obama’s handling of the Armenian Genocide issue are of reactive measure: how he will respond and what he will answer. Instead, Obama needs a proactive approach.

In his Turkey speech before the Q&A, Obama should talk about honor and genocide. He should say the following:

“I represent one of the best stories on earth, one of the best countries in history, and of the most proud places in the Universe. And the country I love more than anything else has its dark sides. You see, America was founded on the corpses of its native people who were subjected to genocide and destruction. Acknowledging this fact doesn’t make America a worse place. In fact, it is by recognizing history that Americans can claim greatness. It is my hope that the great people of Turkey will do the same – acknowledge and denounce the destruction of the Armenian community during WWI who, like Native Americans, saw genocide and destruction.”

Many Turks have justly noted that America should see its own problems before denouncing others’. If Obama recognizes the genocide of Native Americans in Turkey, he will maximize the chances of finding an audience ready to listen and accept. And after that speech, there won’t even be a need for a congressional resolution.

Armenia: Marshrutka Democratization

My 6-year-old niece brought up a discussion of societal corruption this week while riding with her parents the public minibus – known as “Marshrutka” in Armenia and in other ex-Soviet countries.

She unintentionally prompted a democratization discussion by singing a song for the passengers who enthusiastically clapped at the end. One of the older woman passengers asked my niece, “When will you be performing on stage?”

“It is $1,000 to perform on stage,” answered my niece – suggesting that the answer was “never.”

The passengers got angry at a society where a 6-year-old talented child knows she has little prospects to succeed since the charge for a single performance is $1,000.

Does talent matter? My niece has been attending a world-famous children’s sing group/school in Armenia for a few years. She is one of the two, if not the only, student who has been continuously receiving straight “A”s, and her teachers call her “a child with exceptional talent.” But to participate in a local national festival with a solo performance, group parents need to pay $1,000 for production, dress, etc. And the only qualification for students to participate in the performance is to come up with the $1,000. So talent, in this case, matters not.

To appease the mashrutka passengers, my niece said, “Don’t worry; I am going to leave Arevik anyway.” The passengers got more concerned, “No, please don’t!” The woman, who had sparked the discussion by asking when my niece was going to perform on stage, said, “You will succeed no matter what. Don’t worry.”

Isn’t something wrong in a society where a 6-year-old knows that the price for “success” is $1,000?

Turkey: Official Numbers on Armenian Deaths

The New York Times has an interesting article which details the publishing of a WWI official Turkish source saying that 972,000 indigenous Armenians “disappeared” in the Ottoman Empire between 1915-1916.


According to a long-hidden document that belonged to the interior minister of the Ottoman Empire, 972,000 Ottoman Armenians disappeared from official population records from 1915 through 1916.

In Turkey, any discussion of what happened to the Ottoman Armenians can bring a storm of public outrage. But since its publication in a book in January, the number — and its Ottoman source — has gone virtually unmentioned. Newspapers hardly wrote about it. Television shows have not discussed it.

“Nothing,” said Murat Bardakci, the Turkish author and columnist who compiled the book.

The silence can mean only one thing, he said: “My numbers are too high for ordinary people. Maybe people aren’t ready to talk about it yet.”

For generations, most Turks knew nothing of the details of the Armenian genocide of 1915 to 1918, when more than a million Armenians were killed as the Ottoman Turk government purged the population. Turkey locked the ugliest parts of its past out of sight, Soviet-style, keeping any mention of the events out of schoolbooks and official narratives in an aggressive campaign of forgetting.

But in the past 10 years, as civil society has flourished here, some parts of Turkish society are now openly questioning the state’s version of events. In December, a group of intellectuals circulated a petition that apologized for the denial of the massacres. Some 29,000 people have signed it.

With his book, “The Remaining Documents of Talat Pasha,” Mr. Bardakci (pronounced bard-AK-chuh) has become, rather unwillingly, part of this ferment. The book is a collection of documents and records that once belonged to Mehmed Talat, known as Talat Pasha, the primary architect of the Armenian deportations.

The documents, given to Mr. Bardakci by Mr. Talat’s wife, Hayriye, before she died in 1983, include lists of population figures. Before 1915, 1,256,000 Armenians lived in the Ottoman Empire, according to the documents. The number plunged to 284,157 two years later, Mr. Bardakci said.


Interestingly, according to the article, Mr. Bardakci’s grandfather was a member of Talaat Pasha’s Union and Progress Party, the organization that committed the genocide. While Mr. Bardakci says the extermination was not a genocide (maybe because he doesn’t want to be sued?), it is still interesting that he would publish a record that will not be helpful, to say the least, to the “denialist community.”


Still, it is a measure of Turkey’s democratic maturity that the book was published here at all. Mr. Bardakci said he had held the documents for so long — 27 years — because he was waiting for Turkey to reach the point when their publication would not cause a frenzy.

Even the state now feels the need to defend itself. Last summer, a propaganda film about the Armenians made by Turkey’s military was distributed to primary schools. After a public outcry, it was stopped.

“I could never have published this book 10 years ago,” Mr. Bardakci said. “I would have been called a traitor.”

He added, “The mentality has changed.”

Azerbaijan: Interview with writer Alekper Aliyev

Azerbaijani journalist and writer Alekper Aliyev’s latest novel, “Artush and Zaur,” has attracted much interest due to its plot. The novel tells the story of an Armenian and an Azeri lover, who get separated because of the war over Nagorno-Karabakh. The catch is: the lovers are gay men. With homophobia being so big in both Azerbaijan and Armenia, Aliyev’s novel will be discussed for a while. To get answers to questions that interest me, I e-mailed Alekper Aliyev. Below are my questions and his answers (translated from Russian):

1. What feedback have you received in Azerbaijan about your new novel?

I still receive much positive and negative feedback. And that is understandable –the book cannot be accepted universally, not only in Azerbaijan but also in the whole world. Of course, there are more unsatisfied [people] in Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, these people are shocked by the fact that books with gay theme would be written and published. And these people haven’t even seen the book with their own eyes.

2. Are there any plans to translate the novel into Armenian and English?

I am going to translate the book into English. Most likely some in the US are already working on it. The Russian translation of the book is already ready. We will soon start publishing the book in Russia. In Armenian… You know, unfortunately, I don’t know Armenian and I don’t have Armenian-speaking acquaintances in Baku. But I have many friends in Armenia, including writers, translators, and publishers. We will wait for the release of the Russian version and then we will be able to talk about translating the book into Armenian and even into Georgian.

3. What, if any, feedback have you received from Armenia/Armenians?

The feedback from Armenia has mainly been negative. The Armenian society is a homophobic society. In that sense we [Azeris and Armenians] are very much alike. I didn’t except that Armenians would applaud me [in the first place]. Tough they haven’t read [the book] either and are shocked just from the title itself and from the suspected content of the novel.

4. Is there something you would like to add?

I wish our region [Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia] peace and happiness. We have the obligation to live like humans. We don’t have another choice.

First Anniversary…

Today marks the the first anniversary of post-election violence in Armenia that left 10 people dead…
May the victims rest in peace.
Some of our last year’s coverage:

Armenia: Catholicos Rejection Rumor Confirmed

European Parliament Resolution on Armenia Unrest

Armenia: Ban Lifted

Armenia: Blocked

Armenia: Video Shows Servicemen Shooting on Protesters

Armenia Online: Mourning the Dead

Official Report by Republic of Armenia Ombudsman (Human Rights Defender)

New York Times Editorial on Armenia’s Post-Election Unrest

Armenia: Opposition Leader Publishes Column in Washington Post

Armenia: Reflections on Unrest

Russia: PRAVDA Column Suggests U.S. Role in Armenian Unrest

Armenia: Rumors Say Deaths Underreported; Police Blame Opposition

Armenia: Soldiers Shave on Streets

UK Response to Post-Election Unrest in Armenia

Armenia: Information Blockade Continues Amid State of Emergency

Armenia: Opposition Conference Attended by Foreign Media Only

Armenia: Public TV Video from March 1, 2008 Post-Election Protest

Human Rights Watch: “Police Beat Peaceful Protesters in Yerevan”

Banned in Armenia, Election Protests Continue in Southern California

Armenia: Four Dead Identified

Armenia: Police Confirm Eight Deaths

In Pictures: Armenia Protests

Armenia: Opposition Blames Government “Agents” for Looting and Riots

Armenia Unrest: The End?

U.S. State Department Statement on Political Unrest in Armenia

Los Angeles: Armenian-Americans Urged to Call Congress

Armenia: Media Stop Reporting Protests After State of Emergency

Armenia: Opposition Media Comply With Censorship

Armenia: The State of Emergency Text

Armenia: Situation Getting Worse

Armenia: Authorities Deny Deaths

Armenia: Protest Deaths Rise

Armenia: There Will Be Blood

Armenia: Reports of Ongoing Police Brutality