Thursday, 23 February 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... Election Turns Ugly

Istanbul Patriarchate Election Takes Ugly Turn
Mirror Spectator
Editorial 2-25 Feb 2017
By Edmond Y. Azadian 

The Istanbul Armenian community is one of the most isolated in the diaspora, participating in minimal interaction with the rest of the Armenian communities around the world. Given the fearful atmosphere in which they are forced to live, it is logical that they try to avoid making waves in managing their community affairs. They are instinctively attuned to the political pendulum, which cyclically may swing from periods of freedom followed by periods of repression. 

The Armenian community is recognized as a religious minority by the authorities in Turkey. For the last nine years, however, a time bomb has been ticking because of that classification. That time bomb began ticking when the elected patriarch, Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan, was declared incapacitated and a race to succeed him began. 

The vacuum created at the Patriarchate contributed to the confusion and chaos in the community. Two groups appealed to the authorities to obtain permission to elect a new patriarch or a co-adjutor patriarch. The government did not need any better excuse to extend the confusion by authorizing neither proposal. 

In the interim, Archbishop Aram Ateshyan managed to appoint himself as a vicar by the Clerical Assembly, a religious body there which is beholden to him. That was an unusual step which the community believed it was temporary. However, Archbishop Ateshyan tried to extend the arrangement by ingratiating himself to the authorities. A blatant example was his simpering letter to President Erdogan after the German Bundestag voted to recognize the Armenian Genocide. He also abused his position for personal gain and tried to justify his abuses unabashedly. His delaying tactics paid off and his candidacy gained some traction. The authorities did not hide their sympathy towards the docile clergy which signified a nod to the affluent leadership of the community, whose business dealings depend entirely on the good will of the government. Thus, Ateshyan was heading towards an eventual fait accompli when the ticking time bomb blew out. 

Indeed, there are three other announced candidates for the patriarchal election besides Ateshyan, namely Archbishop Sahak Mashalyan, Primate of Germany Archbishop Karekin Bekjian and Primate of Gougark Diocese in Armenia Archbishop Sebouh Chuljian. Of the three, Mashalyan was serving in Istanbul as the head of the Clerical Assembly. Exasperated by the foot-dragging by Ateshyan, he threw in the towel. He asked the Assembly to designate a final date for the election and the termination of Ateshyan’s term as vicar. When the Assembly declined his request, he decided to resign from all his positions, give up his candidacy and leave the country. 

That intemperate action threw the community into turmoil. 

A hasty convocation was invited with the participation of all VADIP members. The VADIP is an informal council composed of the representatives of all parish councils, school boards and heads of charitable organizations. The council is headed by Bedros Shirinoglu, who is also the president of Holy Savior (Sourp Purgich) Hospital. Mr. Shirinoglu was successful in arranging a meeting with President Erdgoan, who had promised to get involved personally and designate an election date, after the country’s constitution referendum. Incidentally, Shirinoglu used the opportunity to badmouth Garo Paylan, an act of uncalled-for conniving docility. 

The election of the patriarch is not the only case in limbo. All the schools, charitable organizations and hospitals have been denied permission to hold elections for many years. This degree of intrusion and micromanagement by the government contravenes the clauses of the Lausanne treaty of 1923, which supposedly guaranteed the freedom of minorities in Turkey. Now that Turkey is a “trusted ally” of Europe and the US, no one will bother enforcing the clauses of that treaty. 

Before the communitywide planned convocation at the Bezjian Amira Hall at the Kumkapu Patriarchate, another meeting was held involving the two feuding clergymen, with the participation of 10 prominent community leaders. 

While the larger group of representatives was waiting impatiently to convene the meeting, a smaller, closed group was continuing its deliberations past the meeting time. 

Finally, an agreement was hammered out between the two clergymen: It was decided to hold a meeting to elect the locum tenens for the Patriarchate on February 17, to form a committee to expedite the election on the 18th and to submit a formal request on February 20 to the Istanbul governor to designate May 28 as the election date. The reason that the meeting dragged on for so long was that the agreement did not include a clause requesting Ateshyan’s resignation as vicar after the election of the locum tenens. Mashalyan had eventually conceded to sign the agreement, all along arguing that continuing the vicar’s role after a locum tenens is elected is counter to the rules of the Armenian Church. 

As Mr. Shirinoglu entered the hall with the document in his hand, rather than the anticipated reaction to a peace agreement, he was confronted with hostile reactions. Many have called for the resignation of Archbishop Ateshyan and some of the arguments have even degenerated into brawls. 

After many heated arguments both pro and con, the crowd was dispersed without witnessing a firm solution to the crisis. While the agreement has been suspended, the two clergymen have been invited to Holy Echmiadzin to iron out their differences before Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, who has been following the events day by day. 

It is extremely difficult to detect all the nuances of the problem, especially by reading the newspaper accounts published in Istanbul. Because of the terror-filled atmosphere, the media there has resorted to self-censorship. Consequently, they have developed a style marked by verbosity. One has to read column after column to get to the gist of the matter. The only journalist who has dared to call a spade a spade was Hrant Dink, who lost his life because of his honesty. Agos, founded by Dink, does not favor Ateshyan’s candidacy and by the same token, does not endorse Mashalyan’s temperamental behavior. The two other daily newspapers, namely Jamanak and Marmara are very vague, understandably, because whoever is elected patriarch has the resources to punish the papers. The Patriarchate indirectly subsidizes the newspapers through paid ads. Archbishop Mutafyan had used that method effectively in the past in silencing criticism leveled at him in the media. Even besides the financial relationship the newspaper editors are circumspect to figure out that they will have to live with whoever is elected. Therefore, they do not wish to rock the boat. 

For centuries Armenians have placed their confidence in the church and the clergy for good reason. But over the years, the church has become a shell of its former self in the hands of inept, self-centered and vindictive clergymen. 

In view of the drama unfolding in Istanbul, any rational group would disqualify both candidates who are at each other’s throats for self-glory. 

RFE/RL Report
New Karabakh Constitution Enacted
February 21, 2017
Sargis Harutyunyan

Voters in Nagorno-Karabakh overwhelmingly backed controversial
constitutional changes in a referendum held on Monday, officials in
Stepanakert said on Tuesday.

According to official preliminary results of the referendum released
by the local Central Election Commission (CEC), more than 87 percent
of them voted for the unrecognized republic's new constitution that
allows its president, Bako Sahakian, to extend his rule. The CEC put
the voter turnout at 76.5 percent.

The commission chairwoman, Srbuhi Arzumanian, said it has received no
formal reports of irregularities from local, Armenian or more than a
hundred foreign observers. The latter mostly monitored the vote in a
personal capacity.

"Nothing problematic can be said about this referendum," said Frank
Engel, a pro-Armenian member of the European Parliament from

"I would hope that more actors in the international community take
note of the fact that in this part of the South Caucasus people decide
freely," Engel told reporters in Stepanakert.

The foreign observers also included Reiner Morell, Germany's former
ambassador to Armenia. "In my view, it was a fair, normal and
democratic referendum," Morell told RFE/RL's Armenian service
( The vote demonstrated "the effectiveness of statehood"
established by the Karabakh Armenians, he said.

As was the case during the previous Karabakh ballots, Azerbaijan has
condemned the referendum as illegal. The Azerbaijani government said
this week that it will add the non-Armenian observers to its list of
foreign nationals who have been declared personae non grata in
Azerbaijan because of their trips to Karabakh.

Morell said he is "not at all worried" about being blacklisted by
Baku. "I think that a blacklist is not helpful in spreading
democracy," he said.

The United States, Russia and France -- the three nations trying to
broker a solution to the Karabakh conflict -- commented rather
cautiously to the referendum last week. In a joint statement , the
U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group noted that
"the de-facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities view the use of such a
procedure as an effort to organize the public life of their

But they stressed that the referendum results will "in no way prejudge
the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh or the outcome of the ongoing
negotiations" on a peaceful resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani

Armenia, meanwhile, hailed the Karabakh leadership's handling of the
vote on Tuesday. "Once again the people of Artsakh demonstrated that
their will to build a democratic society is irreversible despite all
the difficulties resulting from the continuing use of force and
threats of it, the economic blockade and other hostile actions by
Azerbaijan," Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said in a statement.

Nalbandian claimed that Baku regularly condemns "democratic processes"
in Karabakh because of its own poor human rights record.

The new constitution drafted by Sahakian and backed by most Karabakh
parties envisages the Armenian-populated territory's transition to a
presidential system of government. Proponents of this change say a
fully presidential system of government will put Karabakh in a better
position to cope with the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan.

Sahakian's political opponents maintain, however, that the main
purpose of the reform is to enable him to stay in power after he
completes his second and what was supposed to be final five-year term
in September 2017. The previous Karabakh constitution barred him from
seeking a third term.

The new constitution overrode that restriction. It will fully come
into force after Karabakh's current parliament dominated by Sahakian's
supporters serves out its term in 2020. Karabakh will be governed by
an interim president chosen by the parliament until then. Sahakian
will be able to run for president in 2020 and hold the top post for
two consecutive terms.

Speaking to journalists on Monday, the Karabakh leader declined to
clarify whether he plans to stay in power after September.
Special vineyard in Armenia cultivates more than 250 varieties of grape
February 22 

A special vineyard established in Armenia cultivates more than 250 varieties of grape, Avetik Nersisyan, an expert at the regional office of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said to ARKA news agency. He said a model garden is also created that will be used to hold special training courses for local farmers to teach them how to use new technologies. 

He said that FAO assisted also in the technical equipment of the Vegetable and Melon Crops Center, which will be growing traditional varieties of vegetables for Armenia. 

"Experts have repeatedly warned that some traditional Armenian varieties of vegetables could be lost. These fears prompted a decision to develop and preserve Armenian varieties of vegetables, and to stimulate their production," Nersisyan said. 

According to him, the Centre is furnished with the necessary equipment, growing Armenian varieties of vegetables for seeds, and is concluding also contracts with farmers for the supply of seeds. 

In cooperation with FAO an apricot garden was created a few years ago in Armenia, where all the main varieties of apricots grown in the country are assembled. Given its successful experience, it was decided to jointly create a vineyard that will preserve the existing grape genetics, which is essential for the development of viticulture. 

Studies show that there were more than 600 known varieties of grapes in Armenia. Today only 60 varieties are being grown.
The Elton John AIDS Foundation to Host Special Viewing/Awareness/Fundraising Venture at its 25th Oscar-Night Party 

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.—The Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF)’s 25th annual Academy Awards Viewing Party will held on Feb. 26, at West Hollywood Park, during which Sir Elton John and David Furnish will introduce Open Road and Survival Pictures new film The Promise , which tells the story of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey at the outset of WWI. Written by Terry George and Robin Swicord and directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), The Promise stars Oscar Issac, Christian Bale, and Charlotte Le Bon. 

“We have only to look at the horrific HIV/AIDS outbreak that followed in the wake of the Rwandan genocide in the mid-1990’s to understand the direct connection between human rights atrocities and public health crises like the AIDS epidemic,” said EJAF founder Elton John. “Through our friendships with the Manoukian family and producer Dr. Eric Esrailian from UCLA, David and I became more personally aware of the Armenian Genocide and its timely relevance to social issues today. The film’s theme #KeepThePromise can be interpreted as keeping the promise to remember and learn from the atrocities of the past, as well as keeping the promise to end AIDS. At EJAF, we are committed to #KeepThePromise and raise awareness about this powerful film that uses classic storytelling to inspire people to take action today. We are honored to share the important timing of our Oscar-night event to introduce people to The Promise .” 

In addition to sharing EJAF’s vision for championing human rights, The Promise team at Survival Pictures has taken the unprecedented step of making the commitment to donate all proceeds from the film to nonprofit organizations including EJAF and other human rights and humanitarian groups. As part of this commitment and to inspire party guests to give generously, Survival Pictures will match the pledges guests make to EJAF via text and live auction purchases made during EJAF’s Academy Awards Viewing Party with the goal of making this a record-setting evening. 

“Such giving has never happened with a film of this scale, we wanted the world to know about it, and we are incredibly grateful,” said EJAF chair David Furnish. “We are honored to announce this generosity, thanks to the late philanthropist and humanitarian Kirk Kerkorian, on the eve of EJAF’s 25th annual Academy Awards Viewing Party. Not only is The Promise committing to support EJAF’s work, but matching funds will be provided to inspire donors even more throughout the event and live auction.” 

Survival Pictures has also developed a social impact campaign for The Promise to help educate the global public about the genocides and mass atrocities of the 20th and 21st centuries, the discussion about the legal definition of genocide, and historical denialism. The impact campaign will inform and inspire people to take action so they become part of the anti-genocide movement led by human rights organizations like EJAF as well as change-makers dedicated to ending crimes against humanity and bringing perpetrators to justice. 

The film sets a love story in the midst of the growing unrest in 1914 Turkey leading up to the horrors of the Armenian Genocide. As the Great War looms, the mighty Ottoman Empire is crumbling. Constantinople, the once vibrant, multicultural capital on the shores of the Bosporus, is about to be consumed by chaos. Michael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), arrives in the cosmopolitan hub as a medical student determined to bring modern medicine back to Siroun, his ancestral village in Southern Turkey where Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians have lived side by side for centuries. Photo-journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale), has come here only partly to cover geo-politics. He is mesmerized by his love for Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), an Armenian artist he has accompanied from Paris after the sudden death of her father. When Michael meets Ana, their shared Armenian heritage sparks an attraction that explodes into a romantic rivalry between the two men. As the Turks form an alliance with Germany and the Empire turns violently against its own ethnic minorities, their conflicting passions must be deferred while they join forces to survive even as events threaten to overwhelm them. Promises are made and promises are broken. The one promise that must be kept is to live on and tell the story. 

“The Armenian Genocide must, of course, never be forgotten and should be recognized, but our current headlines show that the same patterns of human rights violations are being replicated in too many parts of the world today,” said producer Dr. Eric Esrailian. “We are honored to have the support of Elton, David, and the entire EJAF family, and by joining forces, we can help the people in the world who need assistance right now.”
Armenian government is not doing enough work – Human Rights Watch 

The government of Armenia has made some bold commitments to reduce the number of children in residential institutions, but it is not doing enough work in this direction, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. 

The 102-page report, “‘When Will I Get to Go Home?’ Abuses and Discrimination against Children in Institutions and Lack of Access to Quality Inclusive Education in Armenia”, documents how thousands of children in Armenia live in orphanages, residential special schools for children with disabilities, and other institutions. They often live there for years, separated from their families. More than 90 percent of children in residential institutions in Armenia have at least one living parent. Human Rights Watch also found that the Armenian government is not doing enough to ensure quality, inclusive education for all children. Inclusive education involves children with disabilities studying in their community schools with reasonable support for academic and other achievement. 

“The government of Armenia has made some bold commitments to reduce the number of children in institutions, but needs to make sure those promises are backed by serious, sustained action,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “All children have the right to grow up in a family, and government and donor resources should support families and children, not large institutions.” 

The problem, according to researchers, is not financial. According to UNICEF, financial support for children in institutions in Armenia is between US$3,000 and US$5,000 per year per child. These funds could be used for community-based services and direct support to families which are less expensive in the long term, according to UNICEF. 

The government is not doing enough work to provide inclusive education for all children. 

Inclusive education involves children with disabilities studying in their community schools with reasonable support for academic and other achievement. Children with disabilities often do not attend classes with other children or if they are in the classroom, may not be provided with the services they need to participate in an academic curriculum. They may instead be given art, sewing, or other tasks to occupy them. For many children with disabilities, their education consists primarily or exclusively of one hour or shorter individual sessions once or a few times a week. They are not involved in the learning process and simply sit in the classroom. 

Mari Minasyan, 12, attends an inclusive school in Goris town. She is the only child with disabilities in the school which does not have the necessary accommodations for children with disabilities. 

“It is very difficult for me to ascend the steps, there is neither an elevator and nor a ramp. I also have difficulty in going to the toilet because our classroom is on the 3rd floor while the toilet is on the 1st floor,” she said. 

The authors of the reports say that all children have the right to grow up in a family, and government and donor resources should support families and children, not large institutions. 

Community schools should have sufficient staff so that a child can receive inclusive educational and grow up in a family. “The government should urgently provide community-based services and quality, inclusive education so that all children, including children with disabilities, can grow up in a family,” Human Rights Watch said in the report.

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