Monday, 10 April 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... The Promis + many other news


The National Student, UK 
Film Review: The Promise
Keri Baptiste at City University, London
9th April 2017 

The Promise is the harrowing story of the Armenian Genocide disguised as a love story.

The Promise focuses on the character of Mikael Pogosian, from a small town in the Turkish mountains, who wishes to study medicine in Constantinople. He accepts a betrothal so he can use the dowry to pay his way. Once in the city, living with family, he encounters his little cousins’ tutor, Ana, and finds himself falling in love, despite the promise that he has made.
Oscar Isaac plays the role of Mikael brilliantly. He puts so much raw emotion and energy into all of his performances that it’s hard to be anything but enraptured by his presence on the screen. Charlotte Le Bon, who plays Ana, encompasses a lot of strength of will and emotion into the typical love interest that makes her just enchanting to watch on screen.

Christian Bale’s character of Chris Myers is not as endearing but just as engaging. This has to do with the importance of his role within the story – the reporter who is sending information about what the Turkish government is doing to the Armenian people. It is through the eyes of Chris Myers that you, as an audience, get a glimpse at some of the atrocities that took place during that time period that don’t touch Mikael or Ana. He is the outsider, someone who is experiencing it through human empathy only, and that is something that most audiences will understand as they watch this film.

On the surface, this is a very simple and sweet story about honour and love and vows sworn but, because of the backdrop of history, this story becomes so much more. It speaks of true horrors that are rarely spoken about, due to the denial that has set in internationally.

Director Terry George spoke about how he wished for this film to be accessible to everyone, so it can be “a tool of education as well as entertainment”. This is something that he has succeeded on.

The romance is believable and sweet and the conflict comes from the promises made, the relationships broken and the idea that falling in love has no sense of right or wrong. The devastation of human life is shown so honestly, and for those who watch and have prior knowledge of the Armenian genocide, can't help but feel gratitude that George handled this subject with such care.

The only issue I had with the movie was to do with whitewashing. Whilst there were Armenian actors in this movie, the main characters are all played by non-Armenian actors and it would have been nice to have that representation right there.

The Promise is an emotional experience about a truly horrific time, and the hope and love that can be found there. And, as Terry George wished, there is something for everyone.

The Promise is due to be released on 28th April through Entertainment One.
Yes, We Can’t! The Apathetic Business of the Armenian Elections
April 7, 2017
Nelli Babayan
When voters re-elect an incumbent, it usually means the country is on the right track. Well, not everywhere and especially not in Armenia, which held parliamentary elections on April 2.

Armenia’s foreign debt has tripled since 2008; instead of an agreement with the European Union, it joined the Eurasian Union with no tangible benefits; increasing brain drain has shrunk the population; 30% of Armenia’s population lives below the poverty line; and in 2016, the escalation of the frozen conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh almost exploded into full-scale war. Yet, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), which has been ruling together with the incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan since 2008, has managed yet again to cement its rule with an unprecedented share of votes.

Maintaining the Swamp 

These elections were arguably pivotal since they were the first elections to occur after a constitutional referendum in 2015 that effectively moved the country from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary one. Research tells us that a parliamentary system is more conducive to democratization than a semi-presidential one. However, the opposition in Armenia has claimed that the constitutional changes were carried out with the single goal of ensuring President Sargsyan’s continued power once his second term comes to an end in 2018, but President Sargsyan repeatedly has stated that he would not remain in power after his term ends. Indeed, while he is the party’s leader and the party’s image revolves around his personality, he did not lead RPA’s candidate list. However, given frequent shuffling in the Armenian government and the lack of requirement for strict succession in the new parliamentary system, he could remain in power as the new prime minister as a result of coalition building or rearrangements within RPA.

Since its independence from the Soviet Union, the Armenian political party scene has featured constant floor-crossing, vague party platforms, and the emergence or name changes of various parties and alliances just in time for the next election cycle. The RPA was founded in 1990 based on an anti-Soviet movement and Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-determination, fully coming into power in late 1990s. Officially pursuing the foreign policy of national conservatism, President Sargsyan and the RPA have brought Armenia’s foreign policy into close alignment with Russia, while trying to maintain pro-European rhetoric. President Sargsyan and the RPA have faced numerous popular protests against habitually rigged the elections, rampant corruption, and lack of transparency and accountability.

This time, a total of nine parties and alliances of parties participated in the elections, competing for 105 seats. The vote threshold to enter the parliament was 5% for parties and 7% for alliances. Under the current electoral system, the government requires a “stable parliamentary majority” consisting of 54% of seats. If none of the parties receives that percentage of the votes/seats and does not form a coalition with other parties, 28 days later, a second round of elections is held between the top two winning parties.

In early March 2017, opinion polls showed that 26% of respondents preferred well-known tycoon Gagik Tsarukyan’s alliance of parties, while 22% preferred the RPA. Tsarukyan came to prominence in the 1990s as an arm-wrestling World and European champion and a well-connected oligarch, who generously donated to charitable projects, including paying tuition or covering medical expenses of low-income families. Until 2015, Tsarukyan was also the leader of the second largest political party, Prosperous Armenia (Bargavach Hayastan), which often positioned itself as the “party of the people.” Indeed, during campaign periods, disregarding the requirement of the electoral law, he would promise to help voters asking for financial assistance. However, in 2015, after publicly stating that he would oust President Sargsyan through street protests, he abruptly left politics. With his comeback in late 2016, Tsarukyan positioned himself as the beacon of change pandering to the impoverished population with economic promises void of any specific policies. However, critics have described his return as a tacit understanding with Sargsyan and an attempt to dilute and draw votes from the traditional opposition parties, such as the Heritage or the Armenian National Congress.

In late March, the preference in opinion polls reversed in favor of the RPA, which received the approval of 29% of respondents. As of April 3, the RPA received 49.12%; “Tsarukyan” party alliance received 27.32%; the newly formed “Yelk” (Way out) alliance received 7.7%; and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) received 6.57% of the votes. The Central Electoral Commission will finalize the results and seat distribution on April 9.

It comes as no surprise that observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) noted no irregularities with the conduct of the elections. Along with Armenia and Russia, other members of the CIS are Belarus, Azerbaijan, and the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Yet, reporters and independent observers have repeatedly documented illegal crowding at polling stations, absence of police even if required by law, ballot box stuffing, illegal campaigning by electoral commission members, carousel voting, and supervision of voters.

The international observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Parliament (PACE) stated that the elections were generally calm and improved the representation of women and minorities. Vote count was transparent, but it was marred by irregularities such as influence from party representatives. Reports show how members of the RPA and Tsarukyan’s alliance would stand close to voting booths and exert psychological pressure on voters.

However, OSCE/PACE observers also mentioned that the elections and the use of new technologies such as fingerprinting and livestreaming did not restore confidence in the electoral process. The European Union provided Armenia with EUR 7 million for these technological improvements to ensure transparency. There was no substantial debate in the media, which focused more on personalities, rather than party platforms. At the same time, observers mentioned having credible information of vote buying, while refusing to name culprit parties. Also, Transparency International Armenia representatives stated that vote buying was pervasive in the pre-elections period. Sources in Armenia point to the RPA offering AMD 15,000 ($30) and the Tsarukyan alliance offering AMD 10,000 ($20) for a vote. A Radio Liberty reporter was assaulted while witnessing money distribution to voters.

The length that the two most resourceful parties would go to ensure votes was expected by anyone familiar with Armenian politics. And the paranoia of allegedly externally orchestrated color revolutions has also spread to the Armenian elections and apparently to Russian operatives who aim to ensure the persistence of a Russia-friendly regime. Starting in late March, multiple Russian accounts on Twitter have been posting fake emails supposedly from USAID Armenia (see below). However, one would think USAID staff would not be sending letter-headed emails from a Gmail account and would also bother to run a spellcheck to ensure correct English grammar.

Make Armenia Droopy Again 

It seems both the observers and the locals are finally coming to the realization that democracy is not an overnight effort. As the OSCE mission chair mentioned during a press conference on April 3, the period in-between elections is as—if not even more—important than campaign season, and Armenia needs time to implement reforms. Yet, Armenia has had over two decades to adopt and implement various reforms.

If the results of these elections remain unchanged, then Armenia is likely to continue on the same path: submerged in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, pulled even closer into Russia’s sphere of influence, and paying lip-service to European cooperation with fluctuating outcomes. Moreover, there seems to be no urgency for improvement since the incumbent regime knows that neither the European Union nor the United States will harshly criticize its undemocratic practices. While the United States has dialed down its rhetoric of championing democracy, the European Union is still interested in advancing its policies in its neighborhood or Russia’s backyard. Despite violations outlined by the OSCE, both the EU and the United States congratulated Armenia with “well-administered” and “orderly” elections.

Yet, what might seem as discouraging improvements, however, is not the unwillingness of the ruling elite to risk their power by running free and fair elections, or even the disinterest of powerful international players. The most inauspicious factor is the apathy of the opposition and the populace. Local operatives of vote-buying parties do not even attempt to disguise their actions anymore and openly state that they supervise voting in their precincts. In an interview to the Radio Liberty on the day after the elections, the Yelq alliance leader seemed to dismiss violations: “Even if the people voted because they were paid, they accepted that money out of their own volition.” Such an apathetic attitude towards violations underlines the endemic social and economic problems in the country that with every elections cycle become further entrenched and harder to eradicate. However, the ruling party is unlikely to acknowledge this apathy and would rather spin the lack of demonstrations and loud complaints as the legitimization of its rule.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether democratic forces would finally manage to reorganize, unite, and spread awareness beyond the capital.

Editor's note: Nelli Babayan is a Black Sea Fellow at FPRI, a Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, D.C., and Associate Fellow at the Center for Transnational, Foreign and Security Policy at Freie Universität Berlin.
Armenia’s Martirosyan becomes European champion 

Rio 2016 Olympic silver medalist Simon Martirosyan (Armenia) was declared 2017 European weightlifting champion, and he won his first champion’s title in the seniors’ competition.

In the Men’s 105 kg division at the 2017 European Weightlifting Championships that are wrapping up in Split, Croatia, the 20-year-old Armenian athlete lifted a combined weight of 414 kg (184 kg in the Snatch and 230 kg in the Clean & Jerk), and, also, won gold medals in both the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk competitions.

In the combined total, Martirosyan surpassed the second-place weightlifter by 17 kg.

This was Armenia’s third medal at the 2017 European Weightlifting Championships. Earlier, Sona Poghosyan (Women’s 75 kg) and Tatev Hakobyan (Women’s 90 kg) had won bronze medals in their respective weight divisions.

Huffington Post
April 9 2017
Eurovision 2017 - Armenia’s Entry 

Armenia is sending Artsvik with her entry Fly With Me ( reviewed here ).

Artsvik was born on 21st October 1984 in Armenia. When she was 5 years old she and her family moved to Moscow, Russia. After graduating from school, Artsvik decided to continue her studies as a speech therapist psychologist at Moscow State Pedagogical University. However music was always a big part of her identity. Since her early childhood Artsvik was singing, creating melodies and exciting everyone around her.
In 1992 Artsvik met Whitney Houston when she first watched The Bodyguard. This is when she knew that music will always be her one true passion in life. Still, it took her some time to take the risk to leave everything and follow her dreams. On a new year’s eve she made a wish and that was when her musical journey began.

In 2012 Artsvik became a member of the Jazz Parking Project . During the same year she auditioned for The Voice of Russia, becoming a nationwide sensation. She began to develop a fanbase and so Artsvik began to record covers of hit songs as well as originals; Why, No Fear, I Say Yes and Сестры по духу. Over the years she has also participated in numerous international music festivals all over her world, growing both as a person and a professional on her way to Europe’s biggest stage.

In 2016 Artsvik decided to move back to Armenia. It was always her dream to represent her country at the biggest music event in Europe, so she decided to audition for national broadcaster AMPTV’s new show, Depi Evratesil, the Armenian national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. After each performance Artsvik continued to receive the highest points from both juries and viewers, thus becoming the winner of the competition and getting a chance to represent Armenia at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Manchester Evening News
April 6, 2017y
Armenian pledges to chip in with more goals

HENRIKH Mkhitaryan has promised to deliver more goals and assists
during his second season with United.

The 28-year-old has struck seven times this term and assisted five
more goals having endured a difficult start to his United career under
Jose Mourinho.

Mkhitaryan made just one substitute appearance during a two-and-a-half
month exile in the autumn and netted his first United goal at Zorya
Luhansk in the Europa League.

The Armenian has received the club's Goal of the Month award in three
of the past four months and Mkhitaryan is eager to become more potent
in 2017-18.

"No, not yet," he said in the United programme on whether he was 'in
tune' with the Premier League. "I still have places where I can
improve and have room to improve. I know myself very well and I am
sure that I can do better, and I will do better, because I am
confident. I know very well within myself that I can do more.

"I want to say that, for next year, I am going to have more goals and
more assists."

Mkhitaryan admitted in an Armenian interview last week he had a slight
injury against Middlesbrough and elaborated on his decision to remain
on the bench for last month's fixture.

"I felt it was going to be better if I didn't take the risk against
Middlesbrough," he added. "Because I did not want to miss the rest of
the season.

"So hopefully nothing will happen and I am ready to start playing again."

European Union News
April 8, 2017 Saturday
Register of Commission documents: Assistance to the population of
Nagorno-Karabakh Document date: 2017-02-24 P8_QE(2017)000951 Questions
for written answer

Brussels: Public Register European Parliament has issued the following document:
1117098.EN PE 598.967

Question for written answer E-000951/2017
to the Commission

Rule 130

Frank Engel (PPE)

Subject: Assistance to the population of Nagorno-Karabakh
Parliament has repeatedly stated that the EU should engage with and
provide assistance to the population of Nagorno-Karabakh.

However, no Commission or Council official, not even the EU Special
Representative for the South Caucasus, is known to have visited this
territory in decades. The EU has provided no assistance to the people
of this region, in spite of the terrible toll of war.

This treatment is markedly different from that of other non-recognised
territories in Europe. Though not internationally recognised, Northern
Cyprus, Abkhazia and Transnistria have all benefited from the EU’s
engagement and their populations have received EU assistance.

The population of Nagorno-Karabakh is severely affected by its
enforced isolation. With no route to the outside world and no
international assistance, the economy of Nagorno-Karabakh is being
stifled, while its people are suffering from poverty and living under
the constant threat of war.

In view of these considerations, is the Commission prepared to allow
EU officials to travel to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh?

Is the Commission willing to support the basic needs of the most
vulnerable people in the region? 


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