Archive for the 'Democracy' Category

Armenia: More Nasty Politics

Reflecting the prejudiced spirit of the post-election unrest in Armenia, nazarian has published a list of “unArmenians” that includes artists, academicians, bureaucrats, oligarchs and even some opposition leaders who are arguably supportive of the current establishment. 

Armenia: Nasty Politics

When, on March 1, 2008, a high school friend from Yerevan woke me up with text messages urging me to update Blogian, I asked him why he was involved in the opposition movement. His answer was that Robert Kocharyan (the president at the time who was going to be replaced by Serzh Sargsyan) was a Turk! My friend’s reference was to Kocharyan’s and Sargsyan’s origin in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Turkic Azerbaijan that sustained its independence through a bloody war in the 1990s. Ironically, my friend’s father also hails from Karabakh.

Days after ten people died on the streets, I asked my friend again why he was supporting Levon Ter-Petrosyan (Armenia’s first president and the current leader of the opposition). His answer was that he was fighting for freedom of speech.

While there is a sense of working for justice among people on either aisle of Armenia’s post-election conflict (pro-government people arguing for stability and opposition people arguing for more democracy), there has been an awful hatred in both sides. That hatred, unfortunately, doesn’t only show the division but implies prejudices in Armenia’s society – hating Turks, anti-Semitism, sexism and other kind of biases.

This morning, for instance, I received a fake photo (posted above) of Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan with a kippah with the Star of David on his hand. Ironically, I didn’t receive the photo from a teenager but from a self-perceived intellectual from Iran’s Armenian community (and a reader of this blog). While Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s wife is Jewish, attacks against the opposition have often used anti-Semitic remarks.

More ironically, a self-declared anarchist website, which loudly supports the opposition, also has fake photos depicting Armenia’s government not as Turks, despite the popular sentiment among opposition radicals, but as Nazis.


And Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s official blog posts an image by Ara Aslanyan that depicts Armenia’s current president Serzh Sargsyan’s chest as a vagina (suggesting that the president is a “pussy”). This is after the opposition’s strategy to use women in their protests.


Until Armenia’s society condemns this kind of racism and sexism, their work for justice is not going to prevail.

Armenians and Progressive Politics

As one of our readers has noticed, I will be on a panel discussing the recent post-election unrest in Armenia at the City University of New York later this month.  It is organized by Armenians and Progressive Politics symposium (formerly known as Armenians and the Left).

So if anyone will be in New York on Saturday, May 31, I hope to see you there.

Although I knew a year ago that I’d be asked to participate in the symposium (perhaps discussing environment or human trafficking or even the destruction of Djulfa), my (I guess non-partisan) blogging on the unrest was the main reason I was asked to talk about the political developments in Armenia. And since I will graduate with my BA in Political Science next week, this is a panel I am really interested in.

Armenia: Environmental NGO Accused of Improper Political Activism

Writing in his weekly USA ARMENIAN LIFE MAGAZINE  column (received in an e-mail), managing editor Appo Jabarian shares reactions to a broadcast video, also posted at, in which he criticized opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan and defended Armenia’s government’s actions in the March 1, 2008 post-election clashes.

While saying that he wasn’t surprised to receive e-mails of both support and disagreement from individual activists to his message delivered on behalf of a group of Armenain-American journalists, Jabarian – who is often regarded as nationalist for his views – says an offensive letter from a non-governmental organization (NGO) was quite unexpected. The Diasporan journalist says that a short research finds that the NGO in question is, in theory, working for environmental issues and is funded by an organization based in the United States. In Jabarian’s own words:




On Monday, April 21, the editorial offices of USA Armenian Life Magazine received a letter titled “Repulse from Armenia!”


It said: “‘Armenia[n] Life’ exactly repeats the statements made by Kocharyan, and other barking ‘puppies’ like Tigran Torosyan or Aghvan Hovsepyan, but even in a more disapprobatory [sic] tones. These types of biased statements are more destabilizing rather than stabilizing, and forcing a thorny wedge between Armenia and Diaspora. Who gave you [Jabarian] the right to make an appeal on behalf of the Diasporan Armenians? Do you think that you are the ‘Messiah’ of the Nation? Your recent columns proved once again that you are paid prostitutes [sic] of Kocharyan-Serzh [Sargsyan] regime, and your publications remain at inferior level intended for ‘hade bye’s like you! — P.S. ‘Turkey Life’ would be more appropriate to your bull s**t ‘offline’ magazine.…” — It was signed “Ecological Academy NGO.”


The website of “Ecological Academy NGO” describes its “mission statement” as follows: “‘Ecological Academy’ visualizes Armenia’s future in sustainable and socio-economic development of the society, in parallel with environmental improvement and harmony. The ‘Ecological Academy’ is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that favors enhancement of environmental quality in the Republic of Armenia, advancement of environmental science and education, by carrying out educational, research, technical-advisory, project-appraisal, public-awareness-raising actions.”


A brief research on the “Ecological Academy NGO” revealed that this particular NGO is financially linked to The Natural Capital Institute, a U.S.-based privately funded organization. The Institute boasts on its website: “Our donors choose to invest in the Fund because of our commitment to safeguarding their privacy.”

The mere conflict of interest and action by the Ecological Academy raises a number of questions.


Is “Ecological Academy NGO” confounding its vision of “Armenia’s future in sustainable and socio-economic development of the society, in parallel with environmental improvement and harmony” with its anti-Armenia political activities?


Are Ecological Academy’s U.S. backers aware that their “Project” in Armenia is in fact conducting political opposition to the Armenian government as opposed to focusing on its “stated mission?”


Isn’t Ecological Academy a non-profit organization that is exempted from income taxes, and as such is governed by the strict laws of Armenia?

Does one of the Armenian laws not explicitly bar NGO’s from any overt or covert political activity?


Speaking of NGO’s in Armenia, there is no question that several NGO’s are honest and genuine humanitarian enterprises. However, according to various reliable sources, there are a number of Armenian NGO’s that are set up by foreign funds for the explicit purpose of covertly meddling in Armenia’s internal political affairs. Is Ecological Academy one of these covert “NGO” operations?


Shall any of us be surprised to discover that certain NGO’s are fronts for espionage and other treacherous activities, undermining the national security of a target nation — in this case Armenia?


There is no question that Armenia’s national security authorities are highly aware of the potential dangers presented by certain so-called NGO’s. However, they may need to further step up their scrutiny of these foreign-funded NGO’s.

U.S. Helsinki Commission: April 17 Hearing on Armenia

According to a press release posted on the website of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, the latter agency will hold a hearing on Armenia on April 17, 2008.

(Washington, D.C.) Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing entitled, “Armenia after the Election,” on Thursday, April 17 at 2:00 p.m. in room B-318 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Since the February 19 presidential election, Armenia has experienced its most serious political crisis in over a decade. The March 1 confrontation between the authorities and supporters of the opposition resulted in at least eight fatalities and the imposition of a state of emergency, causing serious damage to Armenia’s reputation. Although Prime Minister Serzh Sarkissian has been elected President, some opposition leaders refuse to recognize the outcome and government opposition relations remain tense. The state of emergency has been lifted but restrictions on freedom of assembly continue in effect.
The hearing will focus on the ramifications of these developments for Armenia and the United States, especially the ongoing Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia s qualifications for assistance from the Millennium Challenge Account.

Testifying before the Commission will be:

Mr. Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs

Mr. Vigen Sargsian, Assistant to the President of the Republic of Armenia

Mr. Arman Grigorian, Spokesman for former President Levon Ter-Petrossian

April 9: How to Avoid Blood

April 9, 2008 is the day for the inauguration of Armenia’s next disputed president – Serzh Sargsyan. Armenia’s government has raised eyebrows by deciding to hold an unprecedented military parade in capital Yerevan’s Liberty Square on that day – with the apparent attempt to occupy a popular staging area for protests. The recent protests – that ended with the deadly clashes of March 1 followed by a 20-day state of emergency – had also started in the Liberty Square. So had Armenia’s call for independence from the Soviet Union – both for Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh).

April, as I have quoted a famous writer before, is the cruelest month of the year. We have to be careful for April 9. It seems that Armenia’s national church – the Armenian Apostolic Church – realizes that. They are having a memorial service on April 9 in all Armenian churches for the eight people who died on March 1, 2008. April 9th is the 40th day of the deaths – memorial that Armenians almost always mourn. The Apostolic Church is apparently trying to help avoid any further blood. And if this tactic works in the short run, it won’t work in the long run.

Many, including this blog, have argued that opposition and authority are not different in Armenia. They all want power. They all want to be in charge and oppress their opponents. It is time to move forward from this argument for the time and look into solutions. The fact is that many in Armenia are not as mad at the authorities as at the Public TV – which serves to the pleasure of the authorities often to a disgusting degree.

Here is my proposal – which has to be implemented before April 9, 2008. So the authorities have two days.

  • Armenia’s Public TV (H1) must offer airtime twice a day, effective April 10, to the de facto banned A1Plus TV station. The Public TV cannot review the content of the News provided by A1Plus Tv. Indeed, it seems that A1Plus TV shares my view that if there was free media in Armenia March 1 might have been avoided. After (and if) A1PlusTv gets back on the air, such programing on H1 shouldn’t continue
  • Armenia should cancel the military parade in the Liberty Square
  • Since the Liberty Square is a public park, the permit for protests and gatherings should be limited to 4 hours to any organizations or the government – with a first come first get basis
  • The board of directors for the Public TV should consist of seven publicly elected individuals: two have to be opposition members (elected by the people); two appointed by the government, one has to be a currently enrolled student between the ages of 18-25 voted for by the people, two can be any other citizens – not politicians or government or opposition employees – voted for by the people. This office should be limited to two years with maximum of three lifetime terms.  The first election should be set up for April 21
  • Armenia’s government must free all arrested opposition activists on April 24 – the day that Armenians commemorate the Genocide

This proposal itself is a short term (for the next 2 years) solution. But it must be done now.

Armenia: Popular News Website Closes Comments Section, an Armenian investigative journalist website regarded as one of the most objective in the South Caucasus despite its often open support for the political opposition, has blocked all users from commenting on its articles citing constant usage of inappropriate language by some of its readers.

“Given that some individuals have continued to exploit the Comments Section for expressing personal vitriol and the use of foul language, rather than to advance true dialogue and debate,” explains on its website, “we are left with no recourse but to temporarily close it.”

Hetq’s move somewhat resonates with the now-lifted state of emergency in Armenia that the government issued following the March 1, 2008 violent clashes between opposition supporters and the police. The state of emergency at the time banned all media from reporting any political information other than statements provided by the authorities. has also deleted all previous comments – all originally posted without moderation. Recalling some of the comments I read before they were deleted, I can understand why Hetq would get sick and tired of many intolerant, polarized, extremist and irrational comments made by supporters of both the opposition and the authorities.

One thing that could have done is moderation of comments – post those without inappropriate language and intolerance. This could provide some with the opportunity to rethink their usage of words. Given the enormous number of comments moderation might have been technically and practically impossible for Hetq to do. But what kind of message is Hetq delivering with entirely blocking the comments section?

I hope our colleagues at Hetq will come to share our approach to Armenia’s politics that social revolution will bring political reforms. Unless there is a social-cultural revolution in Armenia where people learn to say ‘Thank You’ and ‘Sorry’ to each other and until the roots of intolerance are eliminated, there is not going to be democracy in Armenia. And Hetq could support this movement by starting moderating the comments instead of blocking them all.

Another Human Rights Watch Press Release on Armenia


Armenia: Lift Ban on Peaceful Protest

Opposition Demonstrators Detained Under New Restrictions

(New York, March 27, 2008) – The Armenian government should lift new restrictions on freedom of assembly and cease detaining opposition supporters participating in peaceful protests, Human Rights Watch said today.  

On March 25 and 26, 2008 police detained at least 60 opposition supporters in Yerevan who were peacefully demonstrating against restrictions imposed last week on public assemblies following violent clashes on March 1 between police and opposition protesters. All were released after several hours in detention, but on March 27, another 21 opposition supporters were detained and their fate remains unknown.  
“The Armenian government should allow peaceful demonstrations, not ban them,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The new restrictions effectively punish peaceful demonstrators for the violence that took place on March 1.”  
The Armenian National Assembly passed amendments on March 18 which allow for extensive restrictions on public gatherings following “disturbances leading to the loss of human life.” The wording is a clear reference to the events of March 1, when violence erupted between security forces and protesters after police had earlier used force to disperse demonstrators protesting alleged fraud during the February 19 presidential elections. At least eight people were killed and more than 130 injured. The restrictions on public assembly are indefinite, remaining in place until the completion of an investigation into alleged crimes committed during the disturbance.  
Every evening since a three-week state of emergency was lifted on March 21, several hundred opposition activists and supporters have been organizing what they call “public walks” on Northern Avenue, a pedestrian street in the capital’s downtown. They quietly protest against the government’s new restrictions on assembly. At these “public walks,” people walk around, chat with one another, sit on public benches, and play chess or read books. On March 25, police began detaining dozens of those participating in the “public walks.”  
The new amendments violate Armenia’s obligation to respect peaceful assembly. The European Convention on Human Rights, to which Armenia is a party, guarantees freedom of assembly, and governments may not place unreasonable restrictions on this right. The European Court of Human Rights has described the right to assemble peacefully as “one of the foundations of a democratic society” and has made clear on a number of occasions that individuals cannot lose their right to peaceful assembly as a result of punishable acts committed by others in the course of a demonstration.  
Authorities have used the changes to the law to deny at least six requests from opposition parties to hold demonstrations at Freedom Square in downtown Yerevan. The government justifies the denials by claiming that participants in the March 1 violence may seek to participate in future demonstrations as well.  
Human Rights Watch spoke with four opposition supporters detained on March 26. One said: “I was sitting on a bench on Northern Avenue and reading a book, when two uniformed police officers approached me, asking me to go with them. When I asked why, they advised me not to ask questions and to just follow them if I wanted to avoid problems. I obeyed. There were others who did not obey this command, and the police twisted their arms behind their backs and stuffed them into a car.”  
Opposition supporters were taken to the Kentron police station, photographed and asked for their names and addresses. Two hours later, they were transferred to Yerevan district police stations near their homes. After several hours, detainees were taken individually to the police department chief for a brief interrogation and then released. No official charges were brought against any of the detainees.  
Police officials told Larisa Alaverdian, the former Ombudsperson of Armenia and now an opposition parliamentarian from the opposition Heritage Party, that the detentions of people participating in the “public walks” are done in order to question suspected opposition party activists as part of the criminal investigation into the March 1 events. However, one released detainee told Human Rights Watch that the police chief was trying to talk him out of participating in the “public walks” on Northern Avenue. 

Armenia: State of Emergency No More


Image: Post-Election Protest Demonstration, Yerevan © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2008 

Onnik Krikorian writes about a demonstration in Armenia following the expiration of the state of emergency. He also posts some parties’ concerns about the authenticity of a dramatized and edited video that showed police shooting toward protesters. Interestingly, the video appeared on the Internet about ten days after the actual post-election unrest – raising the possibility of a some level of fabrication.

Nonetheless, given that at least one non-activist, who was on his way to home when he discovered himself surrounded by protesters and the police, was killed with a bullet on his forehead strongly suggests that police have shot toward the protesters. Furthermore, as an Associate Press photo testifies, just past Friday (after the authorities lifted a 20-day state of emergency) a riot policeman used “an electroshock device to disperse opposition supporters in Yerevan.”

A police officer in riot gear, center, uses an electroshock ...

Image: (AP Photo/Photolure, Mkhitar Khachatryan) .(AP Photo/Photolure, Mkhitar Khachatryan) 

Armenia: Internet Boom

The recent post-election unrest in Armenia and the state of emergency that has banned much of the media activities has given an unprecedented Internet boom. Blogs and websites are literally being created every time, such as,, and, while existing websites are getting record visits from Armenian users.

My own blog, which in the past was visited only by a handful of visitors from Armenia every day, has received most hits from Armenian host servers in the last two weeks.

Even before the state of emergency, and on March 1, 2008, it was impossible to visit Armenian websites such as and due to record visits.

The Internet is, undoubtedly, contributing to Armenia’s democratization and society’s engagement. No wonder why the government has started blocking this or that website. 

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