Archive for the 'Armenia' Category

Armenian-Azerbaijani Diplomaski

After a year of skirmishes and angry rhetoric in the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan have released a hopeful joint statement, committing to “resolve all controversial questions in a peaceful manner.”

One can’t help but wonder whether the power of the white powder of Sochi, the Russian resort of the 2014 Winter Olympics, has engendered positivity that has lacked in previous meetings. According to media reports, Azerbaijani president Aliyev joined the host, Russian president Medvedev, in skiing while Armenian president enjoyed snowmobiling. Not that either of the South Caucasus presidents need more partying, but partaking in joint recreational activities is seemingly a good way forward.

via Reuters

Armenia’s Police Responds to Domestic Violence Petition

A response from Armenia’s police regarding a domestic violence petition is hopeful but confusing.

A letter addressed to me signed by the head of Armenia’s national police headquarters Eduard Ghazaryan states that the petition addressed to the Prime Minister (demanding, in part, justice in the death of Zaruhi Petrosyan, a victim of domestic abuse) has been received by Armenia’s police and forwarded to the Investigative Service within Armenia’s Ministry of Defense (an agency created in late 2008, according to an interview by the unit’s chief Armen Harutyunyan) for “discussing it in the framework of criminal case 44112310.”

The unit, according to its chief, is set to investigate crimes committed by contract-based servicemen of Armenia’s army while on duty.

Zaruhi Petrosyan’s husband Yanis Sarkisov (who killed Zaruhi with his mother)  is a contract-based serviceman in the Armenian military. But was he on duty when he murdered his wife?

At first, I took the letter as a positive sign.

It is awkward, however, that the military investigators are looking into the case of domestic violence.

They do not have, as far as I understand, any authority to prosecute Zaruhi’s other killer – the mother-in-law – neither do they seem to have authority to investigate the possibility of the brother-in-law’s involvement (two specific demands that our petition made).

“Click-to-Share Democracy” in Armenia

My newest post for Ararat Online Magazine is called Armenia’s Click-to-Share Democracy and explores the recent netivisim (Internetnet activism) boom in Armenia:


Women abused in their homes, conscripts humiliated in the military, and children abused at schools. None of the above are new phenomena in post-Soviet Armenia. But that’s the impression one gets by observing Armenia’s social networking. Day after day, YouTube videos (largely shared through Facebook) emerge depicting human rights violations, followed by societal anger, activism, and some government action.

In early September 2010, a video emerged showing humiliation of two conscripts in Armenia’s military. Within one week, and after vociferous anger floating through Armenian accounts of YouTube and Facebook, the abusive career major was arrested. Less than a month after the military video, a video interview with a young woman (and her mother-in-law) describing her sister Zaruhi Petrosyan’s two-year abuse at the hand of the latter’s husband and mother-in-law resulting in Zaruhi’s death hit the Internet. Tens of thousands watched the video; over 3,000 signed a petition, sponsored by this author, to Armenia’s prime minister, demanding justice and swift passage of domestic violence legislation. And less than a week after Zaruhi’s video, a YouTube clip showing abuse of a middle-school kid in the classroom sparked more anger — resulting in the dismissal of the teacher.

None of the above human rights abuses are new to Armenia. But until recently, Armenian citizens have heard about these instances through unconfirmed rumors — state-controlled or self-censored media wouldn’t show these videos on TV and aggressive opposition newspapers are not a reliable source either.

Read the full post on Ararat Magazine.

Traffic Police Transparency

A driver in Armenia with an Iranian-Armenian accent tapes traffic policemen as they pull him over for what he believes to be bogus reasons. Entertainingly audacious.

The Annual Vandalize Armenia’s Holocaust Memorial Event

This time it’s a big swastika and “Death to the Jew” in Armenian.  This is at least the 3rd time in the past five years that Armenia’s tiny Jewish Holocaust memorial has been vandalized. I blogged about earlier desecrations in 2006 and 2007

It seems like it has become a tradition in Armenia to vandalize the monument (which has been replaced a few times – the newest one commemorates both Armenian and Jewish victims of WWI and WWII, respectively), which I call “Annual Vandalize Armenia’s Holocaust Memorial” event.

Sure, this is the work of a few. Sure, Armenians should be more sensitive to the Holocaust because of their own experience of genocide. Sure, vandals actually hurt Armenia by such an act of racism. Sure, these hate attacks might have been rare if Israel wasn’t maliciously denying the Armenian genocide.

These are statements we hear every time the monument is vandalized. We are missing the point though. What we need is acknowledgment that there is troubling anti-Semitism in Armenia (and among Armenian communities around the world). The repeated vandalisms are but one example.

A Video Story of Armenia’s Poverty

Zaruhi’s Petition

Little over three weeks ago, a 20-year-old Armenian woman named Zaruhi Petrosyan was killed by her husband and his mother. Zaruhi’s death ended her 2-year ordeal of domestic abuse and will – one hopes – be the start of finally passing the domestic violence legislation. Armenia has promised the latter since November 2008, when Amnesty international issued a report on domestic violence in Armenia (my very first Global Voices Online post summarized reactions to it) stating that more than a quarter of Armenian women are victims of physical brutality in their own homes. The government of Armenia was reminded of the need for legislation this week through a petition signed by 3,196 individuals.  Below is an email I sent to the signatories of the petition after closing it:

Dear Friends:

Thanks to you, Armenia’s Prime Minister has received a petition signed by over 3,000 individuals calling for justice in the death of Zaruhi Petrosyan – a fair prosecution of her abusers and expedited passage of domestic violence punishment and prevention legislation.

The email to the Prime Minister’s office consists of a two-page introductory letter (in Armenian) to the petition, the petition results (a .pdf document with your signatures and comments mostly in English), and the draft law on domestic violence (in Armenian) that was submitted to the government earlier.

Many of you signed the letter because of your justified anger over Zaruhi’s brutal murder. Hopefully, you will continue fighting domestic violence in Armenia and everywhere around the world. To stay informed about developments on our petition and future action on domestic violence in Armenia, you may check my website at or email me at [email protected]. Finally, I’d like to thank key individuals and organizations who helped with the petition, including Susanna Vardanyan, president of Women’s Rights Center in Armenia, for her guidance and support; Hasmig Tatiossian for co-managing the signatures and organizing the “Zaruhi Petrosyan is my daughter” Facebook campaign; Adrine Akopyan for creating the “Please Sign the Petition for Zaruhi and Other Victims” Facebook event; and bloggers and journalists for covering the petition in their reports and posts (including at EurasiaNet, MediaLab (in Armenian), Tert (in Armenian), Panorama (in Armenian), The Armenian Weekly, Global Voices Online, Ditord, ArmeniaNow (Armenian version), Hetq Online,  ArmTown (in Armenian), 168 Hours (in Armenian) etc.). Again, thank you for taking the time to sign the petition.

If I receive correspondence from Armenia’s government on the petition, I will post it here.

An Assembly for Oligarchs

Amid a 15% decline of GDP and consistent 26% poverty in a country of just three million citizens, Armenia’s parliamentary chamber has gone through an extreme makeover at the cost of $1.3 million dollars.

 via Hetq, a glassed cubical for the media

True, it looks very attractive – just like the luxurious cars that Armenia’s oligarchs – many of whom have a seat in the parliament – ride. But is the money wisely spent on the new chamber? Some might say yes – after all, the chamber will eventually become the house of a democracy that Armenia’s citizens secretly hope for.

Yet, despite president Serz Sarkissian’s praise of the flamboyant chamber as a ride on the “path of democracy,” the new chamber of the National Assembly doesn’t even have a public gallery (for citizens who want to see their lawmakers in action) – the otherwise only reasonable need for a makeover. Even the media is complaining from the glassed cubicals they have been assigned. This is a house of and for oligarchs, not a national assembly.

The Cost of Cyber-Nationalism

Turkish hackers are infamous (try a simple Google news search), Russia is regarded as cyber-criminal haven, and Azerbaijan and Armenia are known for mutual cyber-attacks (what one might call ‘nagorno cyber attacks’). Web surfers in all these four countries lose at the end. According to SPAMfighter, “Internet security company AVG Technologies has revealed that web surfers in Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia are most likely to face risks while online.”

One argument is that internet vulnerability ultimately means stronger security – the more you are attacked, the better protection you seek.

But is this a reasonable price for the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan, technically at war over Nagorno-Karabakh and clearly responsibly, in part, for the risks in both countries, to pay?

With quality of life so low in both countries, Internet shouldn’t become a burden for users. “Information wars” are fine since they have potential for dialogue, but cyber wars, how should I say it, suck. Especially if, like me, you are not the best when it comes to protecting your computer from viruses.

Time for cyber dialogue.

Wildlife Wars in Armenia and Azerbaijan?

A month after Armenia’s districting of a new wildlife sanctuary, Zangezur, its ex-Soviet neighbor Azerbaijan has renamed a newly-expanded national park – not too far from the one in Armenia – Zangezur.

The environmentally praiseworthy move may prove politically dangerous. While a likely coincidence, the name-sharing of the two parks could increase the already sky-scraping atmosphere of mutual distrust and information wars. But the incident also has potential to help Armenia and Azerbaijan – technically at war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and locked in so-far-unsuccessful negotiations – to acknowledge some of their overlapping history.

History is hotly (and hostilely) contested in Armenia and Azerbaijan, with both trying to delegitimize each others’ national claims. Azerbaijan, for instance, outright distorts Christian Armenia’s ancient roots in the region – often deliberately destroying distinct Armenian monuments (and later denying their previous existence in the first place) to support its absurd case.

Armenia, in turn, exclusively (and religiously) insists that the idea of “Azerbaijan” is a mere construction of 1918 when a Persian toponym (the northern part of Iran) was applied to a newly-established Muslim Turkic country in the Caucasus. While accurate, Armenia’s argument ignores Azerbaijan’s diverse ethnic composition which is not completely limited to colonizing Turkic tribes from the other side of the Caspian but also includes some native peoples who, on their turn, share blood with Armenians. This explains why native Armenians and largely-settler Azerbaijans are genetically more related than either would want to admit.

Instead of emphasizing commonalities, which hasn’t been limited t conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been each demanding exclusive rights to geographic names. The name of the new sanctuaries in both countries, Zangezur, for instance, is the name of the mountain range that separates southernmost Armenia’s Syunik region – often called Zangezur itself – from Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave. Instead of considering history-sharing, both Armenia and Azerbaijan regard Zangezur and Nakhichevan (and neighboring Nagorno-Karabakh) their exclusive historic lands.

The history dispute is a headache. But it may contain the key to solving the conflict. The Western and Russian negotiators of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict deliberately overlook (and wrongly so) the delicate issue of history and cultural protection. Instead, they should work toward an honest and straightforward address of historical disputes. If indeed a coincidence, the two Zangezur sanctuaries should remind Armenia and Azerbaijan (and the dithering negotiators) that “power sharing” – in this case the coequal right to using common historical names – maybe the road to sustainable peace.

Would a “sister” program between the Zangezur reserve in Armenia and the one in Azerbaijan help bring some change?

Next Page »