Monday, 9 May 2016

Armenian News... A Topalian...It is hard to be Armenian in Turkey

 – columnist
Elif Shafak

Amid the political turmoil in Turkey this week, culminating in the
prime minister’s announcement that he’ll stand down within days, it
was Oscar Wilde who became the subject of a heated debate in the
Turkish parliament. A member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic
Party (HDP) said he wanted to quote a line from Wilde. A deputy from
the ruling AKP party objected to the idea of citing someone who was
neither Muslim nor Turkish. “Do you not have any examples from this
culture, this civilisation?” Yet another AKP member confused the Irish
author with the Oscars, to which a female HDP deputy, Burcu Özkan
protested: “It’s Oscar Wilde. He is not an award, he is a man!”

When they are not debating Wilde, MPs are busy exchanging blows.
During a discussion to strip them of their immunity – a deliberate
amendment that might lead to the trial and incarceration of Kurdish
MPs – Garo Paylan, an Armenian deputy, was kicked, punched and
subjected to hate speech by several AKP members. Paylan said:

“What they can’t digest is this: a person of Armenian identity 
reveals their lies and stands upright.”

It is hard to be an Armenian in Turkey. Or a Kurd, or an Alevi, or
gay, or a conscientious objector, or a Jew, or a woman, or someone who
just doesn’t agree with what is happening in the country. If you
happen to tick more than one box, life is even harder. The list goes
on and on. Diversity has been stifled. Freedom of speech has been
abandoned. An “ideology of sameness” dominates the land. That ideology
is shaped by Turkish nationalism, Islamism and authoritarianism
blended with machismo and patriarchy. The tension in politics
penetrates all aspects of daily life.

Turkey is no longer simply politically polarised. It is now bitterly
divided into two planets: those who support and will continue to
support the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, no matter what; and 
those who are, for a variety of reasons, against him. The president, 
who is theoretically above political parties and strictly neutral, is in
truth, anything but. Erdogan is the most divisive politician in
Turkey’s modern po
litical history.

A full, unconditional obedience to the leader is expected from AKP
members. There isn’t even the slightest trace of inner-party
democracy. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s announcement surprised
everyone. He said his resignation was not a choice, but rather “a
necessity”. It is no secret that his successor will be someone fully
approved and controlled by Erdoğan, who will even further consolidate
his power. Eventually, Erdoğan wants to change Turkey into a
presidential regime with a monopoly of power.

What little opposition exists is fragmented, scattered, and
demoralised. Since the Gezi Park riots three years ago, people have
been increasingly and systematically intimidated. On average, every
four days someone is being sued in Turkey for insulting Erdogan –
almost 2,000 people since he became president. Among them are artists,
journalists, cartoonists, academics, even students for Facebook
comments. Over the years, as Turkey’s media has been curbed, social
media has become more politicised. Now that too is heavily monitored.
Turkey tops the countries demanding content removal from Twitter.

Everything is shifting in Turkey – and very fast. We Turks live with a
feeling of “what now?”, knowing that every day something new 
happens. As the country slides backwards, what we have in 
our hands is not a democracy but a crude form of majoritarianism. 
The central components of democracy – such as separation of powers, 
rule of law, freedom of speech – are all but broken.

Murat Belge, a well-known academic and columnist, was put on trial for
insulting the president. Academics who signed a peace petition
criticising the government’s actions in southeast Anatolia have been
slated in pro-government media. Some have lost their jobs. Four were
imprisoned. The infamous article 301, which claims to protect
“Turkishness”, even though nobody knows what exactly that 
means, has re-emerged.

There are three major dangers: an absolutist monopoly of power; the
total collapse of the Turkish-Kurdish peace process; and the loss of
secularism. Recently the parliamentary speaker, Ismail Kahraman, came
up with a horrifying proposition: “Secularism shouldn’t take place in
the new constitution.” Secularism was the one principle that separated
Turkey from other parts of the Middle East. It made the country
relatively more liberal, more open, more diverse. And the recent talk
by some AKP members about developing a religious constitution is
alarming – particularly for women, who need to uphold secularism more
loudly and wholeheartedly than men because they have more to lose in
an Islamic fundamentalist regime. Befittingly, Bayan Yani, a humour
magazine produced by an all-female staff, and whose title means “the
seat next to a woman on public transportation”, drew a cartoon of a
Turkish Marianne leading the people with the caption: “Long live

Hikmet Chetinkaya and Ceyda Karan, two veteran journalists from the
daily Cumhuriyet – one of the last remaining alternative voices in the
media – have been sentenced to two years in prison for reprinting
Charlie Hebdo cartoons. During their trial Islamist slogans were
chanted in the courtroom. The sentence profoundly shocked Turkey’s
democrats. Today, in Reporters Without Borders’ world press freedom
index, Turkey ranks 151st of 180 countries.

In the past we had a solid tradition of black humour. Politics was
always rough, but it was OK for the people to laugh at politicians.
Not any more. Recent research shows that only half of Turkey’s people
think it OK to criticise the government publicly. When Angela Merkel
allows German comedians to be sued by Erdogan, it is a clear message
to Turkey’s democrats: “You are all alone.”

So what happened to the Turkish model we used to be so hopeful about?
That unique blend of western democracy, secularism and majority-Muslim
culture and pluralistic society is today empty rhetoric. Even the EU,
to which we Turks once so aspired, has turned into a political game.

However, Turkey has millions of beautiful people who – though deeply
depressed, demoralised and lonely – are globally connected and ahead
of their government. And that quote in parliament which fell on deaf
ears? It was about the vulgarity of power.

RFE/RL Report
Karabakh Tries To Resettle Civilians Displaced By Fighting
Narine Ghalechian ## Sargis Harutyunyan

Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh are scrambling to resettle hundreds of
local residents who fled their homes immediately after heavy fighting
broke out along the Armenian-Azerbaijani "line of contact" around the
territory on April 2.

Most of those people lived in the villages of Talish and Mataghis
located in Karabakh's northeastern tip, just a few kilometers from the
heavily militarized frontline. Both settlements were entirely
evacuated after being shelled and attacked by Azerbaijani troops at
the start of the worst hostilities in the Karabakh conflict zone since

The Armenian-controlled villages remain virtually empty to this day as
their displaced civilian residents are too scared to return home. The
same is true for dozens of other Karabakh Armenian families who fled
the nearby town of Martakert also close to "the line of contact."

Talish, already ravaged during the 1991-1994 with Azerbaijan, was hit
particularly hard by the fighting, with dozens of local houses
destroyed or damaged by heavy shelling from Azerbaijani
positions. Most of its 550 or so residents took refuge in Armenia.

More than 130 of them -- mainly children, women and elderly persons --
are now hosted by their relatives living in the central Armenian town
of Charentsavan. The cash-strapped local authorities have only been
able to pay 20,000 drams ($42) to each displaced family.

Ruzanna Sargsian, a 26-year-old woman, fled Talish with her newborn
son, leaving behind her husband and brother who serve in the Karabakh
army. "I hope they stay alive," she said with tears in her eyes. "I
want to again live in Karabakh, if not in the village, then in

With prospects for the conflict's de-escalation still uncertain,
Karabakh's government is already trying to provide people like Ruzanna
with temporary housing in other, safer Karabakh towns and villages. In
recent days, a team of Karabakh Armenian officials visited Armenia and
met with refugees for that purpose.

"We have opened temporary shelters in the [Karabakh] town of Shushi
and offered our citizens to settle there," Artur Aghabekian,
Karabakh's deputy prime minister, told RFE/RL's Armenian service
( on Wednesday.

Most Talish refugees, at least in Charentsavan, are in no rush to
relocate to other parts of Karabakh, however. "We will return to
Talish as soon as it's safe to live there," one of them, Gayane
Abrahamian, said. "We don't intend to live in another village."

Armen Hayrapetian, another villager, also told the visiting officials
from Stepanakert that he and his family are only willing to return to
Talish and rebuild their ruined house there. The 33-year-old man said
his main concern is the safety of his young children.

Aghabekian admitted that it would be too dangerous for the displaced
people to return to Talish or Mataghis now. But he said the Karabakh
authorities are committed to their eventual repatriation.

"We could only save their lives," said Aghabekian."We have to do a lot
more for them."

"We will do everything to have our compatriots return to Artsakh
(Karabakh)," added the Karabakh Armenian leader. 
Eurovision’s "flag policy" amended: Artsakh’s flag will be tolerated
6 May, 2016

YEREVAN, MAY 6. The European Broadcasting Union has issued
a statement according to which the Eurovision Song Contest flag policy
has been amended. “Armenpress” reports, citing the Facebook page of
the Union, the statement says that after reflection and constructive
talks with several participating delegations, Eurovision Song Contest
organisers have agreed to relax the flag policy, and to allow
national, regional and local flags of the participants. This is in
addition to the flags of all UN member states, the EU flag and the
rainbow flag, as stipulated in the original guidelines.

The EBU also proposed a more tolerant approach to other flags as long
as the audience respects the non-political nature of the Eurovision
Song Contest and do not deliberately attempt to obstruct the camera
views. This proposal was approved by the Eurovision Song Contest's
governing body, the Reference Group.

Earlier information was spread that according to this year’s “flag
policy” of Eurovision, Artsakh’s flag was in the list of banned flags.
Later, the European Broadcasting Union apologized to all those who had
been offended by the promulgation of the list of the banned flags,
which was not intended for promulgation. 
Jerusalem church leaders remember Armenian Genocide
06 May 2016
Siranush Ghazanchyan

A delegation of bishops and priests of the different Churches of
Jerusalem visited the Armenian Patriarchate to extend Easter wishes to
the Patriarch and his community, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

The delegation, led by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop
Fouad Twal, was composed of the main leaders of the Churches of
Jerusalem and the priests and pastors accompanying them. Anglican,
Lutheran, Ethiopian, Coptic, Syriac, Melkite, Roman Catholics and
others met, greeted, and settled together in the elegant reception
salon of the Armenian Patriarchate. All the Jerusalem Churches have
the tradition of meeting in the different bishoprics, in a
warm-hearted and fraternal ambience, exchanging greetings and good
wishes during the two major liturgical feasts – Christmas and Easter.

On behalf of all the Churches, the Latin Patriarch has the privilege
of delivering a short speech extending best Easter wishes to His
Beatitude, Archbishop Manougian, and to the Armenian community.

In his remarks, Patriarch Twal highlighted how “all Christians are
united in joy in the risen Christ”. A week after the one hundred and
first anniversary of the Armenian genocide, the Latin Patriarch
assured his “Armenian brothers” of prayers for all Armenians facing
the “terrible situation of suffering that they endured and continue to
endure, in certain countries.”

The Patriarch did not fail to make an explicit reference to the
genocide perpetrated by the Turks, 101 years ago: “We recall the
events of the genocide and pray they will never be disregarded. Sadly,
though we are told never to forget, many do...”

Speaking next, Patriarch Manougian warmly thanked Patriarch Twal and
the present leaders of Churches, while recalling in turn how the
Paschal mystery constitutes the heart of the faith of all Christians.
Referring to the brotherly friendship that unites the Churches, he
mentioned, not without emotion, the “support and assistance” given by
the Latin Church and the Vatican during the genocide: “A support that
Armenians will never forget.” 

Turan Information Agency, Azerbaijan
May 5, 2016 Thursday
Armenians backed off - they will not recognize Karabakh

Today during a few hours Armenia has changed its own opinion on the
issue of recognition of Nagorno Karabakh. So at 11:00 o'clock in the
morning at a government session was approved the bill on Karabakh's
recognition and sent to Parliament, which included the issue in the
agenda of the extraordinary meeting of 10 May. However, late in the
afternoon Yerevan's mood suddenly changed. Initially, a spokesman for
the prime minister Gohar Gasparyan on his page on Facebook wrote that
"the government has approved at today's meeting of the draft law
submitted by the two deputies on the recognition of independence of
Nagorno Karabakh. In conclusion, was noted that the Government binds
the adoption of the bill, taking into account the discussions between
Armenia and Karabakh and the subsequent developments, including
external factors. Therefore, at this stage, the government did not
give approval of the bill on recognition of Nagorno Karabakh's
independence. "

Then the Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia Shavarsh Kocharyan said
that "the question of the recognition of Karabakh will be included in
the agenda of the Armenian Parliament in the case of new aggression of
Azerbaijan." After the announcement of the inclusion of the bill on
the agenda of the parliament, presidential press secretary Dmitry
Peskov said diplomatically that Moscow hopes that the parties will
avoid steps that could upset the delicate truce. Following this, the
head of the Committee of the State Duma for CIS Leonid Slutsky openly
stated that "the bill could lead to an escalation of violence on the
border, which is unacceptable." We can only guess what conversations
took place today between Moscow and Yerevan, which made Armenia to
reverse so quickly. 
Thomas de Waal: Why we need to contain the Caucasus crisis

“Four days of violence in April unfroze the generation-old
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is no exaggeration to say that Armenia
and Azerbaijan are two or three steps away from a Bosnia-style conflict
that could be deleterious for the wider region,” writes Senior
Associate at Carnegie Europe Thomas de Waal in Politico.

“Can this crisis be contained before it escalates? We first need to
challenge one common preconception: the idea that Russia can fill that
security vacuum and manage the conflict. Its problem is that it has
simultaneously mediated and destabilized the conflict. The Russians
have been selling arms to both sides. An estimated 85 percent of
Azerbaijan’s weaponry comes from Russia, while Russia has a military
alliance with Armenia, sealed by a new treaty signed in 2010.

“This balancing game means that Russia is unable to set the agenda in
Karabakh. Both Baku and Yerevan are skeptical of Russia’s intentions.

“In Armenia especially, the new backlash against Russia is significant.
Because Russia has no military presence on the ground and no monopoly
on the peace process, both countries can block plans for a Russian
peace-keeping force that would reassert its influence in the region.

“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,” Tom de Waal writes.

“Unless progress is made now, more fighting is likely to break out
after the international spectacle of Azerbaijan’s much-coveted Formula
1 race in Baku ends in late June,” concludes the author.

Russia Direct
May 6 2016
Independence for Nagorno-Karabakh: A hard dilemma 
for Yerevan
May 5, 2016
Sergey Markedonov

What will be the implications if Armenia recognizes the Independence
of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic?

On May 5 the Armenian government assessed the draft bill on the
recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s independence (it is a
disputed territory claimed by former Soviet republics Armenia and
Azerbaijan). Nevertheless, the document contains very careful wording
and implies that Yerevan will make decisions depending on the dynamics
in the turbulent region.

Does it mean that Armenia is trying to use the playbook, which Russia
used in 2008, when it recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as
independent? While trying to answer this question, Russian Foreign
Minister Sergey Lavrov warned against beating the alarm and proposed
to stick to the wait-and-see approach.

However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that today Armenia’s
leadership is talking about reassessing the status of Nagorno-Karabakh
much more frequently than previously. At the same time, the country’s
authorities try to be very careful in their rhetoric. After the
military escalation in the region in early April, Armenian President
Serzh Sargsyan announced that Yerevan would recognize Nagorno-Karabakh
as independent only in the case if its confrontation with Azerbaijan
turns into a full-fledged war.

On May 3 the website of Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released
Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan’s opinion. He said that the
recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh depends on the further development of
the situation. “If Azerbaijan unleashes new military aggression, the
recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh will be included in the agenda,” he
told journalists.

Yet it would be reckless to deal with the Nagorno-Karabakh problem
without taking into account the historical and political context. The
problem perennially accompanies the whole history of modernday
Armenia’s statehood, when it turned from one of the Soviet republics
into an independent state.

The Armenian historiography is impacted by what some Armenian
historians describe as “karabakhization”, which means that pundits and
politicians assess Armenian history through the lens of the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In particular, prominent Armenian experts
Alexander Iskandaryan, the director of the Yerevan-based Caucasian
Institute, and Babken Arutiunya, a professor at Yerevan State
University, use the metaphor “karabakhization of historiography” to
explain how Yerevan saw political shifts that took place in the late
1980s and early 1990s.

The origins of the future confrontation between Yerevan and Baku come
from their disagreements over the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh
Autonomous Region, predominately populated by Armenians, but claimed
by the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic. As a result a movement for
reunification of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh emerged between
1988-1991, but disappeared shortly after the collapse of the Soviet
Union. Why did it happen?

Unlike other Soviet republics, Armenia tried to secede from the Soviet
Union in accordance with its legislation to alleviate the challenges
of integrating in the international community. And the
Nagorno-Karabakh burden (in the case of their reunification) could
become an obstacle for Armenia to win international recognition of its
own statehood. That’s why its post-Soviet leadership preferred to
support Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians politically, diplomatically and
militarily without giving any legal commitments.

Remarkably, many people from Nagorno-Karabakh succeeded a great deal
in Armenian politics. Among them are the second Armenian president
Robert Kocharyan, who headed the country from 1998 to 2008, as well as
current Defense Minister Seyran Oganyan. The latter had also rich
political experience in Nagorno-Karabakh as one of its ministers
(interestingly, Armenia’s defense on the line of contact with Azeri
troops was called “the Oganyan Line” going back to the well-known
experience of Finnish Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim).

Likewise, current Armenian President Sargsyan had extensive political
experience in Nagorno-Karabakh during the Soviet period. Moreover,
during the 1993-1994 military conflict with Azerbaijan, he headed
Armenia’s Defense Ministry. It was the time when the two hostile
post-Soviet republics reached a ceasefire deal.

No wonder journalists dubbed the Armenian political elites as “the
Nagorno-Karabakh clan”, which, however, has lost its previous clout
today. The current president diversified his team and invited
influential political figures, who are not related to
Nagorno-Karabakh. However, ideologically, they unanimously support the
self-determination of Armenians living in the breakaway republic and
this is one of the top priorities of official Yerevan.

Oddly enough, the Armenian opposition is even more radical. It is
partly because it is not involved in the negotiation process with
Azerbaijan like the participants of the Minsk Group of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an
international tool aiming to pacify Baku and Yerevan.

So, the opposition can be more tough and emotional in its rhetoric.
After all, its representatives Zarui Postandzhyan and Grant Bagratyan
initiated the idea of recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence in
May 2016. And it is not the first time they rigorously advocated this
initiative. In contrast, the authorities repeatedly turned down this
plan previously and waited for the right moment.

So, why does the Armenian government exploit the idea on
Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence proposed by the opposition?  The
reasons seem obvious: the early April military escalation in the
region and Azerbaijan’s tactical military successes. Even though the
previous status quo is not so far collapsed, it was severely damaged.
Yerevan is doing all in its power to seek some guarantees against
another military escalation.

This might be the reason behind Armenia’s reluctance to continue the
negotiations and, probably, its attempts to reinvigorate the debate on
recognizing the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh republic. But
does it mean that Yerevan is ready to cross the red line? It remains

The unilateral recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence without
a referendum means the violation of the basic principles promoted by
the Minsk Group. If this scenario plays out, it is Armenia that will
be accountable for violation

After all, the unilateral recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s
independence without a referendum means the violation of 
the basic principles promoted by the Minsk GroupIf this 
scenario plays out, it is Armenia that will be accountable 
for violation. It is hardly likely to benefit from it because it won’t 
either strengthen the ties between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia 
nor raise their cooperation to a new level. In addition, it will give 
some advantages to Baku not only on the battlefield, but also at 
the negotiating table. So, the costs are very high.

Thus, Yerevan is raising its stakes, while demonstrating its
decisiveness before the domestic audience and sending signals 
to the international community that its patience is not limitless. 
At the same time, the Armenian authorities remain cautious and 
seem to take the wait-and-see approach to prevent further

They are mindful about the risks of recognising Nagorno
-Karabakh’s independence. They understand that such a move 
might lead to another military confrontation. So, it remains to 
be seen if Yerevan will follow the example of the Kremlin, which 
recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent eight years 

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of
Russia Direct or its staff.

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