Saturday, 3 January 2009

Armenian News (there will be a short gap until the next)‏

Armenian PM Defends Government Response To Global Crisis
By Anna Israelian and Ruben Meloyan

Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian has insisted that his government can
minimize the global economic crisis's impact on Armenia by implementing
large-scale regional projects, `drastically' increasing public spending
and providing hundreds of millions of dollars in cheap credit to local

`This aggressive spending policy by the state will help us neutralize
negative consequences [of the crisis] and create jobs,' Sarkisian said
in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL broadcast on Saturday.

The deepening worldwide recession is being increasingly felt in Armenia
where economic growth has slowed down dramatically in the third quarter
of this year. Official statistics show its Gross Domestic Product
increasing by 7.2 percent in January-November 2008, down from 13 percent
recorded in 2007. Economists anticipate an even more modest growth rate
next year.

Sarkisian reaffirmed and defended the Armenian government's strategy of
dealing with the crisis which he presented to parliament last month. One
of its three key elements is a significant increase in public spending
on road and housing construction and other infrastructure projects.

In particular, the government plans to spend $250 million on completing
the protracted reconstruction of Armenia's northern regions devastated
by the 1988 earthquake. According to Sarkisian, this alone will create
5,000 more jobs in the unemployment-stricken area.

`Parallel to that, we will drastically increase lending to small and
medium-sized businesses,' he said, reiterating government hopes to
borrow $250 million from the World Bank and other foreign donors for
that purpose.

The government will need much greater foreign funding for several
ambitious projects which Sarkisian said will also cushion the effects of
the global crisis. Those include construction of a new nuclear plant and
a railway connecting Armenia to neighboring Iran. Sarkisian spoke of
`very strong interest' in the plant's construction shown by foreign
investors but did not specify potential sources of at least $1 billion
needed for putting the project into practice.

The prime minister dismissed reports that the crisis is putting growing
downward pressure on the national currency, the dram, and that the
Central Bank of Armenia is spending heavily to prop up its value. `We do
not intend to artificially interfere in the formation of exchange rates
because that is fraught with many negative consequences,' he said.

Speaking during a visit to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau, Sarkisian also
insisted that the government is on track to implement an ambitious
reform agenda which he unveiled after being appointed prime minister in
April. That includes measures to combat widespread tax evasion, improve
tax administration and create equal conditions for all businesses.

The seriousness of the stated reform drive has been called into question
by a continuing government crackdown on an Armenian business group owned
by Khachatur Sukiasian, a rare millionaire businessman openly supporting
the opposition. Several Sukiasian-owned companies were inspected by tax
officials and accused of tax evasion shortly after the tycoon voiced
support for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. One of them, the Bjni
mineral water plant, was forced to suspend its operation and put up for
sale by the government last month after refusing to pay 4.2 billion
drams ($13.5 million) in fines.

Sarkisian denied any political motives behind the tax authorities'
treatment of Bjni and stuck to the government line that it is part of a
broader government crackdown on tax evasion. `It is obvious that Bjni
committed serious violations, avoided fulfilling its tax obligations,'
he said.

`Such violations were also found in many other enterprises,' added the
Armenian premier. `Unlike Bjni, those enterprises accepted their guilt
and met their obligations to the state budget, whereas Bjni has been
trying to politicize the matter.'

Sarkisian argued that several other Sukiasian-owned businesses such as
the Armeconombank commercial bank have not been penalized by tax bodies.
`I am personally making sure that no illegal actions are taken against
that bank,' said the former Central Bank governor. `Armeconombank is one
of our best banks and it continues to thrive and has no problems [with
the government.]

`If Bjni had operated as transparently as Armeconombank does, it would
not have had problems.'

Armenian `Coup' Trial Again Adjourned
By Astghik Bedevian and Ruben Meloyan

Under Armenia's laws regulating court hearings, trial participants must
stand up when judges make their way into the courtroom. The seven
oppositionists tried for attempting to `usurp state authority' and
organizing mass riots after last February's presidential election refuse
to comply with this requirement in protest against what they see as a
politically motivated case.

The defendants, among them former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian
and three parliament deputies, remained demonstratively seated at the
start of the third court hearing on the high-profile case on Saturday.
The judge, Mnatsakan Martirosian, again construed this as a contempt of
court and adjourned proceedings until January 9 moments later.

`We won't stand up no matter how many times you have us taken away,'
Arzumanian told the judge. He also demanded that Martirosian address him
as `Mr. Arzumanian,' rather than `defendant Arzumanian.'

`We consider this trial illegal and won't stand up because right from
the beginning the judge has neglected our rights,' said another
defendant, parliament deputy Miasnik Malkhasian. He suggested
sarcastically that President Serzh Sarkisian cut short the trial with a
decree setting punishment for each of the defendants.

Armen Harutiunian, the state human rights defender personally monitoring
the trial, discussed the situation with Martirosian afterwards. He said
he will meet other judicial experts to discuss possible ways of resuming
the trial that would satisfy both sides.

`Because the Judicial Code requires [defendants] to stand up he can not
start hearings after being treated disrespectfully,' Harutiunian told
reporters. `We are in a kind of deadlock. To me the positions of both
the judge and the defendants are acceptable.'

Although the courtroom was mostly empty on Saturday, journalists and
photographers were again barred from entering it and had to follow
proceedings from monitors placed in an adjacent room. Court officials
refused to explain the ban which Harutiunian condemned as

Journalists were similarly barred from the courtroom during the previous
court hearing held on December 23. It was marred by bitter verbal
exchanges between defendants' relatives and plainclothes police officers
brought into the courtroom.

Most of those relatives boycotted Saturday's hearing at the urging of
the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). The opposition alliance
claimed last week that the Armenian authorities need an excuse to hold
the trial behind the closed door and are planning to provoke more ugly
scenes in the court for that purpose.

In a related development, a group of civil rights activists monitoring
conditions in Armenia's prisons has backed opposition claims that
another defendant, Grigor Voskerchian, and at least two other
oppositionists kept in Yerevan's Nubarashen prison were beaten up on
December 23. A member of the group, Artur Sakunts, told RFE/RL that it
submitted a corresponding report to Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian on
December 25. He said Danielian forwarded the report to the Office of the

Also last week, President Serzh Sarkisian ordered Danielian to
investigate the torture allegations. A spokesman for the Justice
Ministry department managing the Armenian prisons said on Monday that
the inquiry is still in progress.

The department strongly denies the allegations. According to its version
of events, the department's `rapid reaction' unit met with fierce
resistance from some Nubarashen inmates as it conducted regular searches
in the prison on December 23. It says the unit had to use force against
those prisoners that seriously injured its commander.
The Weekly Standard
Dec 29 2008
Washington, DC

Several days ago, about 200 hundred prominent Turkish intellectuals
launched a first-ever online petition apologizing for the "Great
Catastrophe" in connection with the massacres of up to 1.5 million
Armenians in Turkey during 1915-1917. Titled "I apologize", the brief
statement reads as follows:

"My conscience cannot accept the ignorance and denial of the Great
Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I
reject this injustice and -- on my own behalf -- I share the feelings
and pain of my Armenian brothers - and I apologize to them."

The authors of the statement, among them Cem Oezdemir, the new leader
of the German Green Party, deliberately opted for the term "Great
Catastrophe" in an effort to stay clear of the ultra-explosive term
"genocide". While genocide scholars widely agree that the killings
of the Armenians constituted the first genocide of the 21st century,
Turkey strongly rejects such accusations to this very day, arguing
instead that those killed were simply the victims of civil war. So far,
about 22,000 people have signed the online petition, not that many
for a country of more than 71 million inhabitants. Several Turkish
nationalist counter-websites with titles such as "I Expect An Armenian
Apology" or "I Do Not Apologize" have already garnered more than five
times as many votes as the initial "I Apologize" petition.

Turkey's top leadership, too, has begun a strong push-back to
counter the apology campaign. The powerful army, for instance,
has warned ominously that the petition could "bring about harmful
results". Finally, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan came up with his
own rationale for why he opposes the online petition, saying that
"I did not commit any crimes, so why should I apologize?". As
a private individual, for sure, Mr. Erdogan was not involved in
any of the Armenian massacres. But coming from a Turkish statesman
eager to join the European Union, Erdogan's statement and cavalier
attitude regarding a very dark chapter in Turkish history is simply
not acceptable in the 21st century.

In contrast to Erdogan's remark, I am reminded of how then-German
Chancellor Helmut Kohl dealt with the issues of personal guilt and
collective moral and political responsibility in his historic January
1984 speech to the Knesset in Israel. He said: "I speak to you as
someone who could not get caught up in guilt during the Nazi period
because he had the grace of a late birth." At the same time, however,
Helmut Kohl (born in 1930) never left any doubt that as the German
Chancellor, he was willing to assume collective moral and political
responsibility for the atrocities perpetrated by Nazi Germany during
the 1933-1945 period. Prime Minister Erdogan's stubborn refusal to
assume collective moral and political responsibility for the "Great
Catastrophe" displays a lack of statesmanship and casts a long shadow
on Turkey's aspirations of joining the European Union any time soon


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