Friday, 29 July 2016

Armenian News... A Topalian... Ordination to Priesthood

Ordination to the Holy Priesthood 

Deacon Vahe Bagdasarian and Deacon Saro Kalayjian are 

ordained together by the hand of Diocesan Primate Archbishop 
Khajag Barsamian at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York. 

This is an illuminating video of the service of which we do not 
witness in the UK. The interesting aspect is the commentary
in English explaining the badarak's background as the service
develops: well worth watching for one's personal education and 
for those unable to easily attend church services.
Regrettably the rest of this email is not in the same spirit.
Armed group seizing Yerevan police headquarters warns 
about dangerous escalation

An armed group that seized police regiment in Yerevan has been
deprived of electricity, food and medical assistance for over 24

Their phones were switched off starting from last night, member of the
Founding Parliament initiative Alek Yenigomsyan said.

At the moment, the actions of authorities are leading to escalation
and are not contributing to successful talks. In addition, an attempt
was made to approach the territory and destroy the wall, a military
helicopter was seen in the sky above the police regiment in the

“Any attempts to exert pressure lead to the way of dangerous
escalation,” he said, expressing hope for reasonable approach of the

Albert Baghdasaryan read the statement on behalf of the initiative
group of the coordination council. The statement says that President
Sargsyan personally will be responsible for possible bloodshed and
urges to supply the group with food, water and medicine as well as
medical assistance. They urged the people of Armenia to gather on
Khorenatsi Street to determine the future actions.

The statement also contains a call to Armenia-based foreign diplomats,
international agencies, ICRC to take over a role of mediators to find
peaceful solution to the situation.

“We will start the process of disobedience, armed conflict will move
into the civil and political fields. Yerevan will encounter numerous
hotbeds of resistance,” the statement reads. 

RFE/RL Report
Thousands March In Support Of Gunmen In Yerevan
July 26, 2016
Sisak Gabrielian

Thousands of people marched in Yerevan late on Monday in support of
opposition gunmen that have occupied an Armenia police station for
more than a week to demand the release of their jailed leader and
President Serzh Sarkisian's resignation.

It was the biggest crowd attracted by the Founding Parliament radical
opposition movement since its 30 or so armed members seized the police
station in Yerevan's southern Erebuni district on July 17.

The protesters marched from a street section in Erebuni to the city
center and then walked back to that location, chanting "Serzhik, go
away!" and "Sasna Tsrer!" -- the name of the armed group linked with
Founding Parliament.

The march was organized by Founding Parliament and several other small
opposition groups in protest against the Armenian authorities' alleged
refusal to provide more food to the gunmen holed up in the seized
police compound.

Alek Yenigomshian, a Founding Parliament leader not involved in the
armed attack, said the authorities stopped food supplies, cut off
electricity to the compound and blocked mobile phone communication
with them on Saturday after the gunmen released their four remaining
hostages. He gave the authorities until Tuesday morning to allow
opposition activists to deliver food to the armed oppositionists.

It was not clear what the protest leaders will do if their demand is
rejected. Yenigomshian said only that they will again rally supporters
on Tuesday evening.

"We are already winning," Yenigomshian told the crowd visibly
numbering between 2,000 and 3,000.

"Fifty-thousand people must stand here tomorrow," he said after the
march ended at around midnight.

The police said, meanwhile, that the gunmen burned down on Monday
evening three more police vehicles that were parked in the
compound. They released a photograph of one of the vehicles set on

The protest leaders did not deny the information, saying that their
armed comrades may thus be protesting against the blockade imposed by
the authorities.

Earlier on Monday, the authorities again urged the attackers to
surrender to security forces surrounding them. The National Security
Service indicated that they may well avoid imprisonment if they lay
down their arms.

RFE/RL Report
Yerevan Gunmen Offered Clemency
July 25, 2016
Artak Hambardzumian
Sisak Gabrielian

The armed members of an opposition group holed up in a police station
Yerevan may well avoid imprisonment if they surrender to
law-enforcement authorities, Armenia's National Security Service (NSS)
said on Monday

"In case of the existence of conditions defined by Armenian
legislation, individuals voluntarily backing away from a crime can be
exempted from criminal liability," the NSS said as its standoff with
the gunmen entered into a second week.

"In this regard, the militants were handed on July 25 written
clarifications and explanations on the sequence of actions which must
be taken by them and the route for their surrender," it added in a

The NSS note delivered to the gunmen was publicized by the Armenian
police. It lists articles of the Armenian Criminal Code that allow
individuals taking hostages or seizing government buildings to avoid

"You still have time to lay down your arms and surrender," says the

The NSS did not specify whether the authorities would also not
prosecute anyone in connection with the killing of a senior police
officer carried out during the July 17 attack on the police station. A
leader of the gunmen has claimed that Colonel Artur Vanoyan was shot
dead "by accident."

The NSS said at the same time that it is seeking to resume
negotiations with the armed members of the Founding Parliament
opposition movement which were mediated until this weekend by Vitaly
Balasanian, a Nagorno-Karabakh politician.

The talks resulted in the release on Saturday of four police officers
held hostage by the attackers. The latter refused to negotiate with
Balasanian after he claimed that Founding Parliament's arrested
leader, Zhirayr Sefilian, no longer demands President Serzh
Sarkisian's resignation.

The authorities appeared to have stepped up pressure on the gunmen
following the release of the gunmen, reportedly halting food and
electricity supplies to them and blocking access to their mobile
phones. As a result, the standoff escalated on the night from Sunday
to Monday, with the gunmen setting fire to a police van commandeered
by them. A military helicopter briefly hovered over the seized police
premises early in the morning.

Alek Yenigomshian, a Founding Parliament figure, said the vehicle was
burned down in protest against the blockade imposed by the
authorities. He said that the authorities have also stopped providing
medical assistance to one of the gunmen wounded during the July 17

The NSS statement insisted, however, that the authorities offered to
hospitalize the man but were rebuffed by the armed group. The security
agency also said it has arrested several more individuals suspected of
aiding the gunmen. It did not name any of them or specify the total
number of people detained in connection with the armed attack.

Speaking to journalists on Monday morning, Yenigomshian accused the
authorities of deliberately heightening tensions. "Serious
developments may occur at any moment," he warned. "We hope that
prudence will prevail within the ruling regime."

Yenigomshian is one of several members of an opposition "coordinating
council" holding daily demonstrations in support of what Founding
Parliament calls an anti-government "rebellion."

In a statement, the council gave President Sarkisian until 8 p.m. to
ensure renewed food and power supplies to the gunmen. It also urged
supporters to rally at that time to discuss "our further steps."

Mehr News Agency (MNA), Iran
July 23, 2016 Saturday
New convert aspires introducing Shi'ism to motherland

MASHHAD – A newly convert from Armenia has said Shi'ism has
been the subject of very little missionary attempts in Caucasian

Rena, is married to an Azeri husband from Tabriz, as she says to Astan
Quds News Agency; "I have the dream of returning to my country and get
my Christian countrymen familiar with Islam and Shi'ism; I am from
Armenia and according to the Armenian customs, every person is free to
choose his or her own religion. I had very little information about
Islam when I was single."

"When my husband met me in Armenia, he proposed me and said, jokingly,
that he wants me to convert to Islam. At that time I got familiar with
Shia Islam for the first time; in the earliest opportunity, I came to
Iran and opted for, after lots of studies and research, Shia Islam as
my official religion."

"A few months after my conversion to Islam, I came to Mashhad with my
father-in-law and restated the formula of faith (shahadatain) at the
Razavi Holy Shrine. I had a really strange feeling and became proud of
my conversion, when I saw the Razavi golden dome for the first time",
Asrian noted, "I have visited different holy shrines up to now but
Mashhad is totally different for me as I feel real calmness and peace
at the Razavi Shrine."

"I wish I had an opportunity to return to Armenia and promote Shia
Islam since there is no propagation for Islam and Shia rituals there,"
Rena told Astan Quds correspondent. 

Russia Direct
July 26 2016
Why Russia, the West should pay attention to what happens 
in Armenia
Jul 26, 2016
Pavel Koshkin 

The seizure of a police station in Yerevan might have serious implications not only for Russia, but also for Turkey and the entire Caucasian region. Here is why.

The public unrest in Armenia that resulted from a recent seizure of a police station in Yerevan by radical opposition activists should be a warning sign for all stakeholders, including Russia and Georgia, seeking a peaceful resolution for Nagorno-Karabakh. This territory has become the source of one of the thorniest disputes in the post-Soviet space , involving both Azerbaijan and Armenia in a long-standing conflict that recently spilled over into the Four-Day War in April .

The Yerevan incident in mid-July resulted in more than 50 people injured in clashes near a police station when armed men — those who seek to return Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia — held hostages during a tense standoff lasting several days. Even though the hostages were finally released, the seizure turned into large-scale public unrest on the streets of Yerevan.

This incident could put at stake Russia’s recent attempts to pacify Yerevan and Baku, as well as have important ramifications for the West. The Yerevan incident through the lens of Nagorno-Karabakh

Moscow is not only the only stakeholder that could lose from the current protests in Armenia. The unrest in Yerevan might reverberate in other post-Soviet republics like Georgia, with its huge Azeri and Armenian minorities. Furthermore, it could be another test for the viability of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, which was created in 1992 as an institution to foster the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The three co-chairs of the Minsk Group — Russia, France and the U.S. — are countries with either big Armenian Diasporas or extensive political ties with Yerevan. In 2007 they came up with a roadmap for achieving a peaceful settlement of the protracted conflict.

Given Nagorno-Karabakh’s yearning for independence and Azerbaijan’s attempts to take hold of the disputed territory, the conflict reflects a fundamental tension between two basic principles of international law: people’s right to self-determination and the territorial integrity of a country. From a security point of view, Nagorno-Karabakh “remains one of the most dangerous challenges in the Caucasus,” according to a report of the Moscow-based analytical agency Foreign Policy .

Numerous Russian and foreign experts argue that the current mechanism of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — the OSCE Minsk Group — leaves much to be desired. The peacemakers have found themselves in a deadlock, trying to resolve the conflict without involving other participants of the peacekeeping process.

The OSCE tools have lost their power and prestige over the last twenty years, according to Thomas de Waal, a senior associate who covers the Caucasus region for Carnegie Europe. The international stakeholders have seen Nagorno-Karabakh slipping down their agendas and “have increasingly focused on managing the conflict rather resolving it,” he argues .

Moreover, amidst a mass military buildup in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and frequent clashes on the 160-mile line of contact and the Armenian-Azerbaijani international border, it is becoming increasingly difficult to pacify both sides.

“The rotating one-year chairmanship structure of the OSCE means that the chairman in office lacks institutional memory on the issue,” de Waal wrote . “Gradually, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, for whom the conflict remains the number one national priority, have become the chief conductors of the process and found ways to manipulate the OSCE mechanisms.”

However, at the same time, de Waal sees the Minsk Group format as “the only viable mechanism.” Dismantling it “would be an exercise of questionable merit that would take up valuable time.”

Despite all its flaws, the Minsk Group format is the best way of dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict 

Likewise, Russian and Armenian experts believe that despite all its flaws, the Minsk Group format is the best way of dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflic . Even though it fails to resolve the conflict and pacify Baku and Yerevan, 
it does prevent the tensions from spinning out of control, according to the participants of a Russia-Georgia forum on the problems in the South Caucasus, which took place in Batumi, Georgia in mid-July.

However, it doesn’t mean the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh doesn’t require new formats that will involve other important stakeholders. The problem is that the OSCE Minsk Group brings together only Russia, France and the U.S. Yet it is crucial that other international players “with a genuine interest in resolving the conflict are allowed to contribute more to the process,” as de Waal highlighted. He believes that the EU, Georgia, Iran or even China, one of the key investors in the region, should be more involved in resolving the conflict.

Meanwhile, Sergey Minasyan, the head of the Political Studies Department at the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute, argues that there is no need to modify or expand the Minsk Group format, given that Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are not eager to involve in this process a NATO member — Turkey.

Nagorno-Karabakh: Common agenda for Russia and Georgia“

After all, Ankara is very biased and it openly supports Azerbaijan,” he told Russia Direct . “In fact, it is involved in the conflict because it carries out a transportation and communication blockade of Armenia. Thus, what all other external stakeholders can do at best is to try to save neutrality and foster the further work of the OSCE Minsk Group.”

In fact, Nagorno-Karabakh could also become a common agenda for Moscow and Tbilisi, together with other challenges such as the increasing terrorism threat in the region. It might bring the countries together and, if not resolve, then at least alleviate their tensions over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

However, experts remain skeptical about this. According to them, pragmatism is hardly likely to prevail in this situation, given the different clout of Moscow and Tbilisi in the region and lack of mutual understanding over the Russian-Georgian conflict . In fact, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue doesn’t play a key role in Russia-Georgia relations. However, pundits don’t rule out the situational cooperation between Moscow and Tbilisi at the bilateral level.

“Institutionally, Moscow and Tbilisi won’t cooperate over Nagorno-Karabakh because there is no urgent need in such cooperation, but it doesn’t mean that Moscow cannot coordinate its initiatives with Georgia or other stakeholders like Turkey and Iran,” Sergey Markedonov , an associate professor at Russian State University for the Humanities and an expert on South Caucasus, told Russia Direct .

It is obviously important for both Georgia and Russia to prevent the resumption of military escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh, but this agenda is hardly likely to bring Moscow and Tbilisi together , because there are other problems among their top priorities including differences over South Ossetia and Abkhazia , according to Minasyan.

Today most stakeholders are preoccupied with Syria and Ukraine and, as de Waal points out, remain “reluctant to engage more fully.” But they could regret it if the conflict turns into a full-scale war, which could be possible if Yerevan recognizes the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Baku keeps provoking an escalation. In this scenario, obviously, there will be few winners, with the key casualties being Russia and Georgia.

In the case of Russia, both Armenia and Azerbaijan remain two of Moscow’s important strategic partners in military trade. For example, Azerbaijan continues to buy Russian weapons , including helicopters, anti-aircraft missile systems, tanks and artillery systems. Likewise, Moscow sends armored vehicles and other military hardware to Armenia.  Military confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan would also mean the total failure of Russian diplomacy (and the OSCE Minsk Group format). It could also undermine Russia’s clout in the post-Soviet space.

Regarding Georgia, any escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh would lead to tensions within the country, given it brings together the Armenian and Azerbaijani Diasporas.

“The situation is very difficult for Georgia, because it has close economic ties with Azerbaijan and has some joint infrastructure and energy projects, for example, the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline,” said Markedonov. “Georgia depends on Azerbaijan’s energy and sees Baku as a strategic geopolitical partner. But at the same time it has huge Armenian and Azerbaijani Diasporas. That’s why Tbilisi — like Russia — tries to be above it and straddle between Armenia and Azerbaijan.” 

Nagorno-Karabakh: Underestimated challenge?

Most importantly, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could drag Moscow and Ankara into a new confrontation, given Turkey’s unequivocal support of Nagorno-Karabakh. After the escalation in the region in early April, Turkish President Recep Erdogan predicted that that Nagorno-Karabakh would come back to Azerbaijan, while former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutolgu said that Ankara “will do its utmost to accelerate the liberation of Azerbaijan’s occupied territories.”

Today Moscow and Ankara appear to be improving their relations, given the Turkish president’s recent apology for the downing of a Russian jet in late November 2015. However, the escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh could hamper their attempts at reconciliation, so no one should be interested in a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“Both Baku and Yerevan would be under pressure to invoke the security assistance treaties they have signed with Turkey and Russia, respectively, and to try to drag Ankara and Moscow into a proxy war. These security dynamics make both local and international actors prisoners of the Caucasus ,” warns de Waal.

This article is based on discussions that took place at a forum on the problems of the South Caucasus in Batumi, Georgia, organized by the Gorchakov Foundation, a Russian organization focused on public diplomacy, and Caucasian House, the Georgian Center for Cultural Relations. Given that Turkey is a member of NATO, the local incident in Yerevan might reverberate globally and have grave implications not only for Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also for Russia, Turkey and the West. 

But the unwinding series of events that started with the hostage seizure in Yerevan might severely hamper any peacekeeping attempts and provoke further escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh. This is how a local incident in Armenia could become a regional conflict in the worst-case scenario.

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