Archive for the 'Yerevan' Category

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.

Amnesty Int’l Reports Violence Against Women in Armenia

An 8-page report by Amnesty International documents widespread domestic violence and sexual abuse of women in Armenia. According to the findings, while one in four Armenian women are physically violated by family members, many more are psychologically abused.

Worst of all, violence against women is a taboo in Armenia, with all-male government agencies reluctant to investigate “private matters” and women afraid to report abuse in the first place. Moreover, the report says that many women in Armenia help perpetuate the widespread abuse by treating violence as normal. Amnesty quotes an infamous Armenian saying that translates, “A woman is like wool; the more you beat her, the softer she’ll be.”

The government of Armenia in essence denies that domestic abuse is an issue in the Republic, although there has been some talk by officials about change. There are still no laws that deal with the issue.

This conventional violence in Armenia, as the report carefully suggests, has translated into people not carrying about human trafficking.

Armenia: Politics Banned in Stadium Amid Turkish Visit

Political signs of any kind – including banners about the Armenian Genocide – will not be allowed in Yerevan’s largest soccer stadium this Saturday where Armenia and Turkey will play for the first time.  Armenia Liberty quotes the chair of Armenia’s Football Federation as saying, “Only football-related placards will be allowed there. A victory for Armenia would send a much stronger message that a few banners.”

Armenia’s nationalist Dashnaktsutyun (ARF) party, in the meantime, has started protesting Turkish president Abdulla Gul’s anticipated visit to Yerevan to watch the game with his Armenian counterpart. 

While Turkey officially denies the Armenian genocide, blockades Armenia and has taken a partisan side in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, many are encouraged by the recent positive developments in the Armenian-Turkish dialogue.

Armenia: Genocide Museum-Institute Website Updated

I just noticed that the website of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute has finally been updated with a somewhat professional design on January 19, 2008.

The website has also posted a previously unpublished interview with Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink who was assassinated exactly a year ago in Istanbul. Talking about the circumstances that led to the establishment of Agos, the Armenian newspaper that Dink edited, he said:

The word Armenian was considered to be an abuse; the Turks connected the Armenians with the Kurdish Worker Party (PKK) or with ASALA (the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia). There was a great anxiety and trouble in the community when the Karabagh problem was discussed in Turkey.
We lived like a worm. We heard what was on TV but could do nothing. We apposed, cried, told that all these were lie but could not speak loudly. We need to break the wall, it was necessary.

One day the Patriarch Ghazanchyan invited us and told that there was a photo of an Armenian priest and [Pkk leader] Abdullah Odjalan in the “Sabah” newspaper and there was written under the photo “Here is the fact of Armenian and PKK collaboration”.

Then His Holiness stated that it was a lie, the priest was not an Armenian. He asked me and my friends who were with me at that time what we thought about all that. I expressed my point of view and suggested that it’ll be meaningful if we invite a press- conference. It was a brave action, all the local and international press came and it was a great success. The impression was indescribable.

After the meeting I suggested that it was nonsense to invite a conference on every occasion, we had to take definite steps. And I suggested publishing a newspaper.

Talking about minorities in Turkey, Dink said:

You will not find anything connected with minorities especially the Armenians in any textbooks. There are facts on minorities only in the textbook of the National Security. In the elementary school there is not even a sentence like “Ali gives the ball to Hakob”; Ali will always give it to Veli. When we observe them we are nowhere.
Only in the textbooks of National Security you may find the word “Armenians” which will take place in the unit of unprofitable groups which play bad tricks with Turkey.

Traditional Ceramic Figures

Loosavor, an art blog from Armenia, posts traditional ceramic figures made by Aram Hunanyan, “the cultural ambassador of Yerevan.”


My favorite one is the third female figure (from left) holding what seems to be her husband’s head.

New Holocaust Memorial Vandalized in Armenia

A swastika has been painted on Yerevan’s new Holocaust memorial a year after the old and repeatedly vandalized memorial was replaced with this new monument that commemorates the Jewish and Armenian Genocides of the 20th century. 

According to the Jerusalem Post:

Unknown vandals defaced a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in central Yerevan last week, scrawling a swastika on the simple stone structure and splattering it with black paint.

The defaced memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in central Yerevan, Armenia. Photo: Michael Freund

Rabbi Gershon Burshtein, a Chabad emissary who serves as Chief Rabbi of the country’s tiny Jewish community, expressed shock upon discovering the vandalism while escorting visitors to the site on Wednesday.

After calling the police and local government officials to inform them of the incident, he said, “I just visited the memorial the other day and everything was fine. This is terrible, as there are excellent relations between Jews and Armenians.”

A senior adviser to Armenian President Robert Kocharian denounced the defacement as “a provocation”, and promised Rabbi Burshtein that it would be taken care of forthwith.

The monument has been defaced and toppled several times in the past few years. It is located in the city’s Aragast Park, a few blocks north of the centrally-located Republic Square, which is home to a number of government buildings.

The text inscribed in Hebrew on the stone reads, “To be or to forget: in memory of the victims of the Holocaust”.

Armenia’s Jewish population is estimated at between 300 and 500 people, most of whom live in the capital of Yerevan.

Photo from  The new Holocaust Memorial during its opening on October 27, 2006

It is interesting that the Jerusalem Post fails to mention that the Holocaust memorial doesn’t only commemorate the Jewish but also the Armenian Genocide.  The dual-commemoration was obviously done with the hope that anti-Semites in Armenia would not dare to vandalize a monument that also honors the Armenian Genocide. 

The new vandalism seen in the Jerusalem Post photo is quite minor compared to what was done to the old Holocaust memorial in Yerevan in early 2006.

While the vandalism on the former memorial was most likely organized by a group known as Armenian-Aryans (I remember reading in one of their 2002 or 2003 publications talking about the Holocaust Memorial as something immoral to exist in Armenia), the new vandalism seems to be a work of an individual anti-Semite given the “minor injuries” of the new memorial.

As I have written before, the head of the “Armenian-Aryans” was one of the speakers at the Holocaust denial conference a year ago in Iran.

Yerevan Zoo: Elephant Gets a Girlfriend

Amid international controversies, the male elephant in Armenia’s Yerevan Zoo has finally found a partner.  But instead arriving directly from South Asia, Hrantik’s girlfriend comes from where many Armenian guys go to for fun – Russia.

But Hrantik should feel very luck because his new wife – yes, they had an actual wedding – is a super star who has abandoned her career to make Hrantik happy. 

Russia Today informs:

Two elephants marry in Armenia December 16, 2007, 18:41

Two elephants marry in Armenia

The zoo in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, has marked the wedding of two elephants – Grand and Candy. Hundreds of guests attended the ceremony, complete with traditional Indian dances.

The bride came all the way from Moscow. She was a star of Moscow’s Animal Theatre, but abandoned her career to be with the elephant she loved.

New living quarters were built at the zoo especially for the newlyweds.

Customer Service in Armenia

The lack of customer service in Armenia is often blamed on the Soviet legacy. But where there so many cafes and restaurants in the Soviet Union?

While in Armenia earlier this month I could not but dislike the bad customer service almost in all cafes and restaurants (with the exception of an entirely unknown cafe within a gift shop, “Treasures of Armenia,” on Abovyan street in downton Yerevan where customer service is the best in the world; “The Club,” “Art Bridge” were not bad either). In the gorgeous Astral cafe, for example, during our third visit my friends and I had to leave it because no one approached us to help in 30 minutes. In Jazzve, another famous place, I had to ask the manager to send a waiter to help us. And on Princess Marianna, a ship-cafe in the Hrazdan gorge, I had to give “tips” on how to be nice to customers to their waiter. And I’d better not talk about the funny waiters in Harsnaqar resort at the lake Sevan.

It feels like waiters in cafes are about to start a fight with you. Yes, WAITERS and not WAITERS AND WAITRESSES because for some reason 99% of cafes have male waiters only. On one hand, it is good that Armenian women don’t have to go through the regular sexual harrasment by working in cafes*, on the other hand I felt like I was in an Arab country where men serve in bars and restaurants. And I am pretty sure this new “fashion” of having men serve comes from many Armenians’ beloved Dubai, the place on the Earth I hate perhaps the most. Too bad that places like Dubai have become many Armenians’ model. But for some reason many like going to Dubai; well, those eastern Europeans are taking their introduction to capitalism/materialism obsessively.

Ironically, capitalism – I think – can help us understand the lack of customer service in Armenia. I was surprised to find out, for instance, that bills in Armenia’s many cafes include the “service charge.” This means you are not supposed to tip the waiter because they already charge you for it. For the customer, it may be a good deal because the “service charge” is usually only 5% in contrast to the 15% charge in the United States and other places in the world. Sadly, most waiters don’t even get this 5% because many cafes are said to keep a percentage from the “service charge.”

No wonder waiters don’t care about the customer. No matter how they serve, they are going to get the same paycheck which is very very little money to survive with in Armenia. And since they make so little money, all they can think about is what to do to make more. This was best observed in the beautiful Parvana restaurant complex in the Hrazdan Gorge, where the waiters – again all males – would gather in groups once a while and I guess talk about saving food from customers to later resell them or take them home. A former barman, who is now involved in the entertaiment industry, told me he would sell his own products at the bar in order to make money.

Capitalism may not be the only explanation for Armenia’s common lack of customer service. Still, I am pretty sure if the culture on tipping based on service replaced the precharged service fee there would be some improvements. And ordinary Armenians should also learn to tip. I understand that money is scarce in Armenia, but if they afford going to a cafe they should anticipate leaving something for the waiter. And the waiter should be a helper and not a headache.

And yes, I was looked at as a fool when I tipped 15%. But hey, I do it in the West and why not do it in Armenia?

*The other thing I noticed that the direct manager of the male waiters is often a lady.

“I wish I could live here”

A letter from Canadian Doctor Berge Minassian who is visiting his ancestral Armenia:

Yerevan is ALIVE.  The traffic of cars and people is
unbelievable.  And everyone is Armenian!  Tonight I
sat on the steps of the hotel in the main square and
watched the flag across the circle on the other
building.  A slight breeze was making it fly about
tricolored and such a source of pride.  The moon rose
above, the smiling happy people strolled about, the
beautiful young girls and couples with smiles that we
simply do not see in Toronto…  We had a bite, walked
on Abovian.  Spoke for half an hour with a T-shirt
salesman on the street.  Of course he knew someone we
knew from the old country, and we almost went to his
place to carry on the conversation, a perfect
stranger, yet a feeling as if he is an uncle.

Saturday, we will see Gayaneh Ballet at the Opera
house, and each night this week we could have attended
a different play, had we had time from all the
meetings and kef.

I wish I could live here.

As an economy blossoms an ancient capital suffocates

I am behind at my work, in my classes, in updating Blogian! I don’t know why, but I am trying to catch up with everything. So my apologies for not updating Blogian for a few days. I was so out of mind that wrote a post titled “It was not genocide” referring to the UN court decision that Serbia was not guilty of genocide. As one reader pointed out, the court did not say that a genocide was not committed against Bosnian Muslims, but that the country of Serbia could not be held responsible for the actions of Serbian militias in Bosnia. These are different entities, with a reference to a new theory that not only states can violate human rights, but also non-governmental groups.

Armenian children against deforestation

via (June 2004)

Human rights violation or not, the deforestation in Armenia’s capital Yerevan is becoming more and more alarming day by day. My sister says she is unhappy that the cold is gone, because the construction has started again and it is sometimes impossible to breath in the streets. But her five-year-old daugther has been having trouble breathing during the winter too. She is young and doesn’t have the immunity to fight pollution. 🙁 Bear in mind that this climate change+construction dust just became this intolerable in the last 3.5 years, because 3.5 years ago I was in Armenia and the problem was not this tangible.

The title of this post is from an Agence France-Presse article that appeared at YahooNews several hours ago. I hope you will read this having in mind that this happens all around the world. If you care about Yerevan, maybe you should do something about it. I should take my own advice, but I don’t really know what to do at this time apart from the 9-minute film that I produced and posted at

Crazy Horse, a Native American leader, has said that we have not inherited the land from our ancestors but borrowed it from our grandchildren. We had borrowed the land for thousands of years from today’s 5-year-olds in Yerevan who have trouble breathing. Will we have 5-year-olds in 25 years who will breath at all?

As an economy blossoms an ancient capital suffocates


by Mariam HarutunianThu Mar 1, 11:10 AM ET

Waking one cold winter morning, Yerevan resident Susanna Pogosian drew back the curtains and got a shock: workmen had razed the trees opposite her home, literally overnight.

“Trees that had stood there for decades were lying on the ground. We were all in shock. It happened right in front of the eyes of the police, who didn’t lift a finger,” said Pogosian, recalling the day last month when the trees in the nearby playground were cut down.

Residents of this ex-Soviet republic are finding that after the dire economic straits they experienced in the 1990s, the runaway growth they now enjoy also has a downside: destruction of greenery and creeping desertification.

The Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse brought this country a war with neighbouring Azerbaijan and the shut-down of factories, but also the destruction of thousands of trees as energy supplies failed and people scoured the hills for fuel.

The war has since been replaced by an uneasy ceasefire and despite closed borders with both Azerbaijan and Turkey, the economy is on the rise, thanks partly to investment by emigres from Russia and the United States.

Economic growth in Armenia has averaged 10 percent annually for the last 10 years, according to the World Bank, and last year’s growth rate was 13.4 percent, according to official statistics.

But this upswing has not been matched by improved governance in the Armenian capital, where poor oversight means that the land is drying up in and around this city of some 1.2 million people.

Yerevan, famous for the pink colouring of city centre buildings, dates from before the eighth century BC and, like many Soviet urban centres, has since seen a sprawl of high-rise apartment blocks on the outskirts.

Residents take pride in the lush city centre parks and in Yerevan’s unique position, within sight of nearby Mount Ararat, a revered national symbol that actually lies in Turkey.

But now they find desert animals such as snakes and scorpions increasingly turning up in their apartment blocks located in the valley in which Yerevan was built.

Pogosian says she and others fought a legal battle to prevent the development near her house, but to no avail and the foundations are now being dug.

“A well-known businessman caught sight of the land, and wants to build a hotel complex… Eventually, as he had a permit from the ministry for nature protection, they decided to carry out their barbaric plans at night,” she said.

Ecologist Karine Danielian, of Yerevan’s State University, says the city has lost 12 percent of its green space in recent years.

“Big businesses have built on any large or small space between buildings,” said Danielian.

“The capital is reverting to semi-desert with all the climatic characteristics, flora and fauna that implies…. The tall buildings appearing in the centre reduce air circulation. The city is being suffocated,” she said.

The head of the city’s environmental protection department, Avet Martirosian, says he is concerned by the loss of green space and developers are now required to plant additional trees and grass when they build.

City authorities also plan an ambitious “re-greening” programme.

This will include planting 50,000 trees and 30,000 shrubs, with special attention paid to restoring vines and creepers that once covered many buildings, shielding them from noise, dust and the sun, says Martirosian.

He says 150,000 dollars (114,000 euros) has been allocated to growing saplings at a nearby nursery, including varieties that can cope with pollution.

Under the plans, the amount of green territory in the city will increase by 4,500 hectares (11,000 acres) by 2020, he says.

This does not satisfy ecologists or sceptical local residents in a country where corruption and poor governance are serious problems however.

Danielian says that the new saplings will be no replacement for the mature trees that are being lost. “Why should we repeat the mistakes other cities have made?” she queried.

Local resident Aik Bersegian, a 60-year-old mechanic, is also distrustful: “These plans only exist on paper. The authorities adopted a law on protecting the environment but themselves don’t respect it. It’s happening in front of our eyes.”



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