Saturday, 4 February 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... H Dink Foundation - Turkey Past and Present

Habap Çeşmeleri / Habap Fountains / Հաւաւի Աղբիւրները
Hrant Dink Vakfı / Hrant Dink Foundation

A longish but hugely inspiring film based on  the restoration 
of a once Armenian fountain by volunteers and villagers, giving
a glimpse of village life before the genocide with memories 
recounted by the Kurds who live there (some with Armenian 

BBC Radio 4 - Start the Week, Turkey: Past and Present
Armenia’s population stands at 2,986,500 people
January 31. 

Armenia’s permanent population as of January 1, 2017 stood at 2.986.5 million people, by 12,100 people less from the year before, according to the National Statistical Service (NSS).

The drop is attributed to the prevalence of the negative migration balance of 24,600 people over the natural population growth of 12,500.

According to official data, the number of urban population in 2016 decreased by 5,300 people to 1.901.7 million. In the capital city the population decreased by 2,200 people. In rural areas, the population decreased by 6,800 people to 1.084.8 million people.

On January 1, 2016 Armenia’s population was less than 3 million for the first time since the 1970's. In 2016 the number of births in the country decreased by 2.3% to 40, 638. The number of deaths increased by 0.9% to 28, 129.-0- 
Emigration and low birth rate are the main reasons behind Armenia’s declining population
February 1. 

Emigration and low birth rate are the main reasons behind Armenia’s declining population, a demographer Ruben Yeganyan said today. According to official data of the National Statistical Service, the country's population as of January 1, 2017 was estimated at 2,986,500 people, a decrease of 0.4% from the year before.

"There is nothing strange in the fact that the population of Armenia continues to decline. The main reasons are emigration and low birth rate,’ Yeganyan said in an interview with Novosti-Armenia.

According to him, the birth rate is falling because the young people of reproductive age born in the 90s of the 20th century are not numerous. He said the birth rate is also affected by a string of socio-economic factors.

As regards the situation with emigration, according to the demographer, there are both labor and ‘irrevocable’ emigration, when Armenian families settle down for permanent residence in another country.

"Today I do not see any prerequisites for a change in the demographic and migration situation. Changes require serious socio-economic reforms. Today we do not see steps or desire to carry out these reforms." he said.

According to the National Statistical Service, the number of births in Armenia in 2016 decreased by 2.3% to 40,638 babies, while the number of deaths increased by 0.9% to 28,129. -0-
5% of Population Emigrated from Armenia Over Past 3 Years
February 1, 2017 

Nearly 150 000 people – or 5% of the country’s population – have emigrated from Armenia over the past 3 years, Haykakan Zhamanak newspaper reports. According to the official data published by Armenia’s National Statistical Service on Tuesday, the difference between the number of those who left and those who arrived in the country in 2016 amounted to 54 031.

“In other words, more than 54 000 people permanently left Armenia in the past year. This, in essence, is the net emigration figure for 2016. For comparison, in 2015, the number of emigrants was 47 676 people, and in 2014 – 47 074 people.

“The 2016 rise in the emigration rates could be linked to the [early-April escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict], and the summer events surrounding the armed takeover of the headquarters of a police patrol service regiment in Yerevan,” the paper suggests.
Freedom in the World 2017: Armenia & Karabakh ranked as ‘partly free’
31 Jan 2017 

The Freedom House ranks Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh as “partly free” in its Freedom in the World 2017 report.

Armenia’s neighbors Georgia and Turkey are also ‘partly free,’ while Azerbaijan and Iran are ranked as ‘not free.’

Armenia’s partners in the Eurasian Economic Union Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are listed among ‘not free’ countries. Kyrgyzstan is ranked as ‘partly free.’

Freedom in the World is an annual global report on political rights and civil liberties, composed of numerica l ratings and descriptive texts for each country and a select group of related and disputed territories. The 2017 edition covers developments in 195 countries and 14 territories from January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2016.

Freedom in the World assesses the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or government performance per se. Political rights and civil liberties can be affected by both state and nonstate actors, including insurgents and other armed groups. 

LA Times
Glendale Lawyers Are Accused of Embezzling Armenian Genocide Survivor Benefits 
February 2, 2017 
By Andy Nguyen
Two Glendale attorneys could face disciplinary action after the State Bar of California alleged they embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from a multimillion-dollar settlement relating to the Armenian Genocide. 

The state bar filed several disciplinary charges last year against Vartkes Yeghiayan and Rita Mahdessian, including misappropriation of funds and moral turpitude. They claimed the couple, who are married, had siphoned more than $300,000 of settlement money stemming from a class-action lawsuit over survivor benefits from the Armenian Genocide. 

The two have denied the charges. 

According to bar documents, the couple misrepresented two nonprofit groups they created to appropriate the funds. 

In 2005, a class-action lawsuit was brought against French insurance company AXA S.A. over survivor benefits from descendants of Armenian genocide victims. Yeghiayan and Mahdessian were co-counsels on the case. 

The resulting settlement was $20 million, with the insurance company being required to pay $17.5 million. From that settlement, a $3 million Unclaimed Benefits Fund was set up, naming nine specific beneficiaries, according to documents from the state bar. 

As part of the fund, any money left after paying the main settlement and administrative costs could be distributed to charitable organizations recommended by the suit’s lawyers — namely Yeghiayan and Mahdessian. 

The state bar said one of the nonprofits, the Center for Armenian Remembrance, was created three months after the settlement was approved and based out of the couple’s Brand Boulevard law firm. 

The second nonprofit, the Conservatoire de la Memoire Armenienne, also was said to be based out of the attorneys’ office. 

According to the state bar, the two then requested more than $300,000 be given to the organizations because they qualified as charitable. However, Yeghiayan and Mahdessian failed to produce any record of charitable activity or disclose their ties to the nonprofits, according to court documents. 

The two are accused of using some of the funds on their own law firm and to pay college tuition for their two children.
Finnish monk, author of 500-page book on Armenia:
'I never encountered such beauty anywhere'
By Nvard Chalikyan 

Finnish monk, Professor of Theology Serafim Seppälä has for years been studying the Armenian culture and history and has a number of publications on this topic, among them a 500-page book on Armenian art and culture; he is currently working on another book on the topic of the Armenian Genocide. In the interview with Father Serafim speaks about his works and his unique personal experience with Armenia, which he says is the last corner of the Middle Eastern cultures where the old Christian tradition is still preserved and which he calls the home of his soul.

- Father Serafim, you have been engaged in Armenian studies for years and you have a number of books written on cultural and religious issues related to Armenia. How did you as a Finnish Orthodox Monk first get interested in Armenia? What topics have you studied in particular?

- I was interested in Armenia before I became Orthodox, but it is a long story. As a young student in the 90’s, I wanted to become a Christian but I did not know what kind of Christian I should be. There were dozens of different denominations in Helsinki and I visited all of them. The Orthodox church was the last one on my list! Before that I already visited an Armenian church in Istanbul.

I was studying Oriental studies and Semitic languages in Helsinki, also reading a lot of books on the history of Christianity. I became convinced that Christianity by its spirit is an eastern religion, and the Oriental Churches are the closest to the original. Then I went to Jerusalem for a year and experienced them all: the Syrian Orthodox, Copts, Ethiopians and Armenians. I lived in the Armenian quarter, in a tiny hut on the roof of an Armenian house.

So it was for me a personal and academic pursuit. I translated spiritual literature from Syriac (Aramaic) into Finnish, but I never had a chance to study Armenian. Then I became Orthodox, and some years after that I went to a monastery. The monastic years were very busy. Each day 14 hours of church and work, and in the nights I was preparing a PhD.
Then by surprise, I got a job from the University and the Church blessed me to go. Only then I was able to fulfill my dream and go deeper with Armenia.

- What interesting discoveries have you made while studying Armenia?

- For me everything Armenian surviving from pre-Genocide times is a revelation of supreme Beauty. Vaspurakan Miniatures, duduk tunes, folk dances, sharakans, Sayat Nova, Artsakh carpets, even reminiscences of tight rope dances! I never encountered such beauty anywhere. Combining this with the history of massacres and bloodshed, the combination is absolutely unique.

These things are the home of my soul. It hurts me every time when I see or hear these precious pearls being replaced by Western rubbish in Yerevan.

Armenia is the last corner of the Middle Eastern cultures where the old Christian tradition is still in the heart of the whole culture from operas to holy caves. This is so precious.

I am not blind for the practical problems of Armenia, but there are practical problems in all countries. An ultimate example: people make much more suicides in well-to-do Finnish villages than in poorest Armenian villages. Why? Could it be that there is still something precious in poor Armenian villages, something that the Finns lack?

- You have actually studied the philosophy of the Armenian Genocide as well as the Armenian art of the post-genocide period, didn’t you? Could you share some of your findings and ideas in this regard?

- Yes I did a study on the cultural aftermath of the genocide: How the Armenian art, paintings, movies, literature and the whole identity has been affected and constructed by the genocide and its denial. It felt like the deeper I dig the more painful it is.

The term genocide is nowadays used very lightly. When a few thousand die in the Middle East conflicts, even politicians immediately label it as genocide. In an actual genocide, even the deaths are a secondary problem, whether thousands or millions.

I see genocide basically as an ontological event, a systematical attack against existence in all levels: past, present, future. The past of Armenians was and still is being destroyed by Turkey. The present was taken away from those 1.5 million. And the future, the whole way of life, this is the true problem of genocide. To sit and chat in a church-yard in LA is not the same as to sit and Chat in Aghtamar. The know-how of thousands of years of traditions in prayers, folk songs, carpet-making etc. went into ashes. This is the essence of genocide.

At the moment I am already writing a third book for the 100 years anniversary. This time my idea is to portray Western Armenian village life, with all of its feasts and so on, and to present an overview of a few martyrdoms based on survivor memoirs.

I never write about politics or diplomats and such. For me, they are marginal. What is important is the actual people and their spirit - in spirituality and in arts.

- Father Serafim, you are also the author of a 500-page book titled “East of Ararat” on Armenian culture, history, art and religion. Could you say in a few words what the book is about and what its message is?

- For 15 years I waited for someone to make a book about Armenian culture in Finnish, and no-one did. So I understood that I need to make it myself. It is a cultural history introducing twelve most important chapters of Armenian history. I tried to make it so that it is not a dry catalogue of empires and rulers and power relations, but rather a historical exposition of Armenian identity. Why and how things like Avarair, Catholicos, alphabet, Narekatsi, Aznavour etc. are constituents of modern Armenian identity.

- Is this book going to be translated into English or Armenian?

- I am afraid not. It is meant for Finnish audience. To my great joy, there are already hundreds of Finns who have travelled to Armenia with this “brick” in their hand. They say that in Armenia they see things and perhaps experience them deeply, then they read and understand.

In fact, it seems that I have contributed to the emergence of a curious sub-culture in Finland: we have dozens of people who love Armenia deeply, with all of its shortcomings, and even can feel the authentic karot. Most of my friends have been to Armenia like 5 times, and more they go, the crazier they turn! At the moment one of them is riding a horse from Jermuk to Sevan!

- It is really great to discover that we have such amazing Finnish friends who love Armenia like this! You have visited Armenia for a number of times; when are you planning to visit again?

- Well, twice a year I bring a group from Finland. In October to Northern Armenia, and then in May we’ll go to Artsakh and Siunik. I hope to spend the Christmas time in Armenia, too. I cannot stand many months outside.

- Thank you very much for this interesting conversation and for all the precious work that you are doing! You are always welcome in Armenia. 

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