Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Armenian News... A Topalian... Armenian Government vows Major Reforms

RFE/RL Report
Armenian Government Vows Major Reforms After Karabakh 

Sargis Harutyunyan

Citing "new challenges" emanating from the unresolved Nagorno
-Karabakh conflict, the Armenian government pledged on Thursday 
to streamline its expenditures, step up its declared fight against 
corruption and improve the domestic business environment.

Prime Minister Abrahamian announced a push for major reforms as he
opened a weekly session of his cabinet. He said that the increased
risk of a full-scale war with Azerbaijan is forcing the government to
"review" its policies.

"Are we developing?" Abrahamian told ministers. "Are we combatting
corruption? Do we have a strong army? The answer is yes. But is that
enough for us to confront the new challenges? I think I will express
everyone's view if I say no, it's not."

"We must redouble, multiply our efforts to become a more efficient
state," he said. To that end, the government will downsize many of its
agencies through staff cuts and thus be able to spend more on the
country's more urgent needs, he said, hinting at defense and national

Abrahamian went on to promise a tougher fight against corruption which
he said will be evaluated by ordinary Armenians' perception of the
scale of the chronic problem. The government, he said, will target
widespread conflicts of interest among Armenian officials.

"We need to very quickly introduce tough mechanisms that would
preclude the participation of individuals holding public posts and
their relatives in state procurements," declared the premier.

Armenia's problematic business environment will be another focus of
reforms promised by Abrahamian. The government, he said, will
specifically make tax administration less arbitrary and investigate de
facto monopolies.

"I admit that the government has not been consistent enough in getting
to the bottom of this problem and not initiated an open public
dialogue in a timely manner," he added. "It's time to rectify this

Abrahamian told the Ministry of Economy and state anti-trust
regulators to "analyze" within the next three weeks the monopolies'
impact on economic competition in Armenia.

"The key challenge is to ensure that all markets are open [to any
entrepreneur,]" Economy Minister Artsvik Minasian told reporters after
the cabinet meeting. He suggested that the regulators could be given
more legal powers for that purpose.

As recently as in February, Minasian's predecessor Karen Chshmaritian
declared that the authorities in Yerevan are not seeking to eliminate
the monopolies because their existence is inevitable in a country like

Some lucrative forms of business in Armenia, notably imports of fuel
and foodstuffs, have long been controlled by large companies belonging
to government-linked individuals. Local and foreign economists say the
resulting lack of competition in those sectors hampers faster economic

Abrahamian as well as President Serzh Sarkisian have repeatedly
pledged to tackle corruption and create a level playing field for all
businesses in the past. Armenian businesspeople, economists and civil
society members have reported no fundamental improvements in those
areas so far.

Sarkisian has been facing growing calls for sweeping political and
economic reforms since the April 2 escalation of the Karabakh conflict
that nearly led to a full-scale war with Azerbaijan. Many think that
Armenia needs such changes in order to be able to counter further
Azerbaijani attempts to end the conflict militarily. 

Azerbaijan attempted to test the Armenians’ defences, 
Thomas de Waal writes

“The most likely cause [for the ceasefire to crack on April 2] was an
Azerbaijani attempt to test the Armenians’ defenses and force them to
negotiate from a weaker position,” writes senior associate with
Carnegie Europe, Thomas de Waal in Politico Europe.

According to him, Armenia and Azerbaijan are two or three steps away
from a Bosnia-style conflict that could be deleterious for the wider

“The 1994 ceasefire was supposed to be a prelude to the peace
agreement that never came. The ceasefire has been under heavy strain
for a couple of years now. Azerbaijan has been building up its store
of heavy weapons and both sides have engaged in rhetoric more extreme
than at the height of the conflict in the 1990s.

The ceasefire finally cracked on April 2. The most likely cause was an
Azerbaijani attempt to test the Armenians’ defenses and force them to
negotiate from a weaker position. But the human price was high.
Officially, several dozen people were killed. Experts put the death
toll nearer to 200, including many civilians,” the expert writes.

According to Tom de Waal, a security vacuum has opened up around
Karabakh. It will only be filled by serious peace talks — or by more
fighting. He also mentions that other regional neighbors are also
alarmed. “Georgia, in particular, could become caught in the
crosshairs. Armenians and Azerbaijanis constitute Georgia’s two
biggest minorities. The BP-run Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline that
runs through the country could also become a target.”

Waal also writes Russia has done little since the ceasefire of April 5.

“This balancing game means that Russia is unable to set the agenda in
Karabakh. So the common belief that, if things get worse “Russia can
handle it,” is misplaced. This poses a challenge to the United States
and France. Neither has done enough to offer a balanced international
plan,” the expert concludes.

Azerbaijan violates the ceasefire hours after OSCE monitoring: 
Armenia MoD
12 May 2016
Siranush Ghazanchyan

Hours after the OSCE monitoring in Martakert region, the Azerbaijani
side violated the ceasefire at tahe line of contact, leaving an
Armenian soldier killed. This testifies to the fact that the
Azerbaijan ignores the mediating efforts targeted at the settlement of
the Karabakh issue, Armenia’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

The Azerbaijani side used artillery weapons of different calibers,
mortars and grenade launchers as it violated the agreement on
ceasefire starting from 19:30, May 11.

According to the NKR Defense Ministry, private of the NKR Defense Army
Armen Hrayr Martirosyan, born in 1996, was killed in Azeri firing in
the northern direction of the line of contact at about 20:00, the
Ministry said.

Investigation into the details of the case is under way.

The activeness of the rival was pressured as a result of retaliatory
measures taken by the front divisions of the NKR Defense Army.

The fact that the incident occurred hours after the OSCE monitoring in
Martakert region comes to prove the urgency of implementation of
investigation mechanisms, the Armenian Defense Ministry said.

22 years after conclusion of the ceasefire agreement
12 May 2016
Siranush Ghazanchyan

Lusine Avanesyan
Public Radio of Armenia

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the ceasefire agreement signed
between the Defense Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the
Commander of the Nagorno Karabakh Army.

The document has no time limitation and had been in place for 22 years
with relative success. However, in April this year Azerbaijan
unleashed large-scale military actions against Karabakh, but the
aggression was rebuffed and on April 5 the Chiefs of Staff of the
Armed Forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan reached a verbal agreement on
cessation of hostilities. Afterwards, Azerbaijan tried to refuse from
the trilateral agreements signed in 1994-1995, but the attempts were

Masis Mailyan, Head of the NKR Public Council on Foreign Policy and
Security Affairs, participated in the signing of the 1994 agreement in
the capacity of the Adviser to the NKR Army Commander on political
Issues. He says that “after the April war the parties are farther from
a political deal than they were in 1994.”

According to him, the “no war, no peace” situation has changed today.
Azerbaijan officially declares it withdraws from the ceasefire
agreement, which means that the issue of defense of Armenia and
Artsakh becomes urgent. “We need guarantees of non-resumption of war,
and the NKR Defense Army is the main guarantee. As for the diplomatic
field, the Armenian sides should strive to ensure NKR’s return to the
negotiating table and change the logic of the talks,” Masis Mailyan

Expert Hrach Arzumanyan also agrees that the Armenian side should
assume a different stance in the negotiations, but before returning to
the negotiating table we should reach the condemnation of Azeri

“Azerbaijan keeps shooting, which comes to prove that Azerbaijan has
not refused from the idea of solving the issue through force, while
every aggression should be condemned,” the expert said. “The
international law provides for this opportunity,” he said. 

Armenian Ambassador disappointed over EBU statement

Armenian Ambassador to Sweden Artak Apitonyan gave interview to
Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, reflecting on the Eurovision 2016
Armenian representative Iveta Mukuchyan’s demonstration of 
the Nagorno Karabakh Republic flag in the live transmission 
of the first semi-final as well as the following statement by the 
organizers of the song contest.

The paper writes that the demonstration of the flag resulted in a
political controversy, while the Armenian Ambassador slamming the
decision by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), producer of the
Eurovision Song Contest.

To remind, on May 11, the EBU issued a statement, condemning Iveta
Mukuchyan’s actions and announcing sanctions handed down to AMPTV to
be decided at the next meeting of the Eurovision Reference Group in
June. EBU also warned that Armenia could be disqualified for a further
breach of the rule this year.

“I am quite disappointed over the decision. The incident was
inappropriately exaggerated. Getting back to Iveta’s press conference,
it turns out that the singer waved the flag out of merely humanitarian
considerations,” Apitonyan told as quoted by the Swedish paper.

The Ambassador further argued that the incident was indeed politicized
after the speech by Deputy Director of the Azerbaijani TV Company, who
was the one who delivered an imbalanced and excited political speech.”

Asked whether the April escalation around the Nagorno Karabakh was a
factor which added sensitivity to the fact of waving the flag,
Apitonyan noted:  “Quite the opposite, the escalation of the conflict
makes it urgent to raise humanitarian issues. We should consider that
as well.”

To Apitonyan, the European Broadcasting Union succumbed to the
pressure by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, while EBU event manager
Sieste Bakker dismissed the claim, suggesting the EBU decision was in
line with democratic principals.

“With all due respect to the Ambassador, I do not share his views and
hope he will consider our divergences,” Mrs. Bakker told, recalling
the EBU statement calling the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh as
tense and therefore the appearance of the flag viewed as a serious
breach of Rule 1.2.2h of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. The
relative rule states,  "no messages promoting any organization,
institution, political cause or other, company, brand, products or
services shall be allowed in the Sho

RFE/RL Report
Donor Funding Secured For Street Repairs In Gyumri

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) 
and other Western donors have allocated 22 million euros 
($25 million) in funding for badly needed repairs of streets in 
Armenia's second largest city of Gyumri.

The EBRD will finance most of the project with a 14.6 million-euro
loan disbursed to the Armenian government on Wednesday.

"The project will be co-financed by investment grants to a total
amount of 7.3 million euros provided by the EBRD Special Shareholder
Fund (SSF) and other international donors," the London-based bank said
in a statement on a loan agreement signed by its managing director for
Eastern Europe, Francis Malige, and Armenia's Deputy Prime Minister
Vache Gabrielian.

"The street rehabilitation program will include new asphalt pavements,
upgraded drainage infrastructure, improved facilities for pedestrians
and overall road safety improvements," said the statement. "The street
lighting refurbishment will introduce new energy-efficient LED
lighting, a control and monitoring system, pole replacement and
renovation as well as power cable replacement."

"The new LED lighting is expected to cut the cost of energy
consumption significantly and will result in annual electricity cost
savings for the municipality," added the EBRD.

Gyumri's roads have been in an increasingly poor condition in the last
few years. Most of them are now dotted with deep potholes and thick
layers of mud. Some streets are practically impassable, placing
residents of nearby buildings beyond the reach of public transport and

With the tacit approval of the municipal administration, the city
council drew up in 2014 a list of six major streets that were in a
particularly urgent need of repairs estimated to cost $2.6
million. The central government rejected the council's request to
finance the road works, citing a lack of funds.

The rebuff only added to a growing sense among local residents that
they are paying the price for President Serzh Sarkisian's poor showing
in Gyumri during Armenia's last presidential election held in February
2013. Most of them voted for the main opposition candidate, Raffi
Hovannisian, at the time.

In 2013, the government also effectively froze the protracted
construction of new homes for hundreds of Gyumri families still living
in temporary shelters 27 years after a catastrophic earthquake that
ravaged their city. Government officials denied any political motives
behind those decisions.

Just two days before the December 2015 referendum on his controversial
constitutional changes, Sarkisian announced that the government will
spend $25 million on capital repairs of Gyumri's streets and lighting
network. He also promised free housing to hundreds of local families
who lost their homes in the 1988 earthquake.

Despite the last-minute promise, most local voters rejected the
constitutional amendments seen as vital for Sarkisian's political
future. Gyumri was one of Armenia's few urban communities where the
Central Election Commission (CEC) registered a "No" vote in the
nationwide referendum. 

RFE/RL Report 
IMF Also Expects Slower Growth In Armenia
Sargis Harutyunyan

Economic growth in Armenia is likely to slow to about 2 percent this
year, a senior official from the International Monetary Fund said on
Wednesday, echoing the World Bank's most recent forecast.

"I think that we have to be realistic for 2016," Teresa Daban Sanchez,
the head of the IMF office in Yerevan, told RFE/RL's Armenian service
(Azatutyun.am). "I don't think that economic growth will be rapid. It
should stand at around 2 percent."

"This growth rate is not bad # given what is happening in Russia and
the European Union," said Daban Sanchez.
Bank also forecast last month that the Armenian economy will
likely expand by 2 percent in 2016.

The Armenian government recorded a growth rate of around 3 percent
last year despite decreased domestic consumption resulting from
falling remittances from Armenian migrant workers in Russia.

Separate government data for different sectors of the economy suggests
that Gross Domestic Product increased more rapidly in the first
quarter of this year. The National Statistical Service (NSS)
registered 9 percent and 10 percent year-on-year increases in
industrial output and services other than trade. The Armenian
agriculture sector grew by 3.3 percent in the same period, according
to the NSS.

These gains contrasted with a 1.1 percent drop in the volume of retail
and wholesale trade reported by the government agency. It explains why
first-quarter Armenian imports fell by 16 percent.

By contrast, Armenian exports soared by over 26 percent in
January-March 2016. Russia generated most of this increase, NSS
figures show.

"We are going to push the economy forward," Prime Minister Hovik
Abrahamian said in March.

Analysts caution, however, that faster growth will not be sustainable
unless the Armenian authorities genuinely crack down on tax evasion
and end their privileged treatment of wealthy government-linked
businessmen that control lucrative sectors of the domestic
economy. The IMF and the World Bank have for years been pushing for
such reforms. 

Why Turkey's Historic Churches Are Being Turned Into Mosques
May 11, 2016

Christians in Turkey have become a tiny minority. The few 
remaining Christian churches in Anatolia are also on the path 
to total annihilation.

By Uzay Bulut

The Clarion Project

Christians in Turkey have – throughout the centuries -- been turned
into a tiny, dwindling minority.  The remaining few Christian churches
in Anatolia are also on the path to total annihilation.

 Hagia Sophia in Trabzon: Church-mosque-museum and now mosque again

The Hagia Sophia, Greek for “Holy Wisdom,” was one of the many
historic Orthodox churches located in the city of Trabzon.  Watch this
short video by the marine archaeologist Susan Langley to see the
unique etchings on the walls of the former church:

The third and youngest of the Hagia Sophia's in Turkey, the church
was first converted to a mosque during the Ottoman rule.  In 1964, it
was turned into a museum. Since 2013, however, it was converted into a

Christian symbols in the church have been damaged or destroyed. Nails
have been pounded into the walls in order to hang curtains inside the
new “mosque” to create a separate section for women. The frescos on
the ceiling have been veiled with wooden curtains and the mosaics on
the floors have been covered with a carpet.

Frescos like these in the Hagia Sophia have been covered up since the
church was converted into a mosque.

Some walls have been painted green.  A toilet and ferroconcrete
structures have been built around the former church.

The city of Trabzon (or “Trapezus” in Greek), is located in the
ancient land of Pontos, in the north-eastern Black Sea region of
Turkey. The first Greek settlements appeared in the region as early as
800 BC. Many renowned Greek philosophers, such as Diogenes and Strabo,
were born and raised in Pontos, which means “sea” in Greek.

The region is also central to the Christian faith. Pontos and its
inhabitants are mentioned thrice in the New Testament. The Pontic
(Pontian) people were some of the very first converts to Christianity.
Trabzon had its own bishop as early as the First Council of Nicaea in
AD 325.

“Trabzon,” wrote the historian Sam Topalidis, “was the ancient capital
of the Greek-speaking Komnenos Byzantine Kingdom (1204–1461) within
the Pontos—the northeast portion of Anatolia adjacent the Black Sea.
It survived until 1461, eight years after the fall of Byzantine
Constantinople when both localities fell to the Ottoman Turks.”

The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II invaded and captured the city after a
month-long siege and took its ruler and his family into captivity.[i]

 A forgotten genocide: Pontic Greek genocide

Pontos was first invaded by Seljuk Turks in the 1070s and 1080s, and
then by the Ottoman imperial army. The demographics as well as the
culture of the region have ever since been totally changed.

“During the following two centuries of Ottoman rule, the 16th and 17th
centuries, Greek communities in Asia Minor resisted constant pressures
to convert to Islam,” reported the Pontian Greek Society of Chicago.

“Most managed to preserve their religion, ethnic traditions, and
culture. During the 17th and 18th centuries, however, thousands of
Greeks were forced to convert to Islam, among them 250,000 Pontian
Greeks. Thousands of Greeks fled to Christian Russia to escape Turkish
persecution, particularly following the numerous Russian-Turkish wars
in the 19th century."

The gravest mass murders of Christians took place during the latest
stage of the Ottoman Empire as well as the founding phase of the
Republic of Turkey.

The main organizer of the Christian genocide was the Ottoman Committee
of Union and Progress (CUP) whose aim was to achieve the
“Turkification” of Anatolia by eliminating Christian communities.

In 2007, the International Association of Genocide Scholars 
(IAGS) declared:
“Be it resolved that it is the conviction of the International
Association of Genocide Scholars that the Ottoman campaign 
against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 
1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, 
and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks.”

“These atrocities,” according to the Pontian Greek Society of Chicago,
“include the burning of hundreds of villages and the murder of their
inhabitants, particularly in the Pontus region. In September of 1921,
this campaign of terror and extermination resulted in the arrest and
execution of hundreds of prominent Pontian Greeks on trumped-up
charges of treason.

“As a consequence of the deliberate and systematic policy of ‘Turkey
for the Turks,’ approximately 2.5 million Armenians, Assyrians, and
Greeks were murdered or were victims of the ‘white death.’ This term
was used to describe all deaths that resulted from lack of food,
disease, and exposure to the elements during the deportations and
death marches.”

“The Pontians had suffered a lot throughout their history of nearly
3,000 years,” wrote the author Olga Balytnikova-Rakitianskaia. “But
the genocide was the most terrible of their misfortunes, for it
deprived the Greeks of the Black Sea not only of their friends and
relatives, but also of their native land.”

The final stage of the end of the Greek Orthodox civilization of
Pontos was during the 1923 compulsory exchange of populations between
the states of Greece and Turkey. As a result of this forced population
exchange conducted in the aftermath of the genocide, Anatolian and
Pontic Greeks were forcibly removed from their homeland.

In extreme panic and fear of their lives, the majority of Greeks had
already fled before the signing of the convention, according to the
researcher Aris Tsilfidis.

“The Convention concerning the Exchange of Populations between Greece
and Turkey which was signed on the 1st of May 1923 was conducted in
order to save the remaining 189,916 Greeks from further persecution
and death at the hand of the Turks.”

Even 93 years later, the very few remaining traces of Christianity in
Turkey are still being systematically eradicated by state authorities.
Apparently, even the supposed “secular” constitution of the country
has not enabled many historic churches in the country to remain

Today, Trabzon is one of the cities with the highest number of mosques
in Turkey. According to the statistics of Turkey’s Presidency of
Religious Affairs (Diyanet), the city had 1,952 mosques in the year
2014, which means there is no shortage of mosques in the city.

The systematic conversions of historic churches or 
church-museums into mosques, therefore, speak volumes 
about the level of tolerance, religious freedom and pluralism 
in Turkey.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State (ISIS) has also been busy converting
historic churches into mosques in their self-declared

In 2015, the Chaldean Churches of St. Joseph and of St. Ephrem in
Mosul, for instance, were turned into mosques by ISIS terrorists.

Nuri Kino, president and founder of “A Demand For Action,”
toldNewsweek the church conversion is proof of the Islamic State's
intentions with Iraqi Christians.

"A year ago they said, 'Convert, pay or die.' Then it turned out to be
a lie, that even if you pay, you will not be able to stay," Kino said.

"If they changed a church to a mosque it is further proof of their
cleansing, something that many call a genocide," he added. "They
destroy our artifacts, our churches, and try to erase us in any way
they can."

The intentions of Turkey and the Islamic State (ISIS) -- in terms of
their treatment of Christians and churches -- appear to be quite
similar, with one exception: The Islamic State is a rogue regime;
Turkey is a NATO member and a candidate for EU membership.


[i]  “Trebizond: The Last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era,
1204-1461”, by William Miller, Publisher: Argonaut Inc. 1969.

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