Saturday, 5 August 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... History Repeats?

Lragir, Armenia
Aug 1 2017
History Repeats? Armenia's Condition to Russia
Haikazn Ghahriyan, Editor-in-Chief 

The tough policy of the United States on Russia has brought up questions in the Armenian public on the appropriateness of the presence of Armenia in the pro-Russian blocs, the Russian-Turkish rapprochement. 

In particular, parallels are drawn at the developments of the 1920s when the two defeated in war and collapsed empires, Russia and Turkey, lent a hand to each other to prevent the influence of the West on the region and to divide the region. As a result, the Armenian state was eliminated, the Armenian territories were handed to Turkey and Azerbaijan, the Russian-Turkish troops completed the massacres and displacement of the Western Armenia in the territory of Armenia taken over by Russia. About 300,000 Armenians were killed and 500,000 Armenians were displaced to the inlands of Russia. 

Eventually, the Russian-Turkish status quo lasted for about 100 years. It was broken through in the first war in Karabakh when the Armenian armed forces established the new borders. 

Currently, Turkey and Russia are in almost similar international situations, in noticeable isolation and blockade. Despite several incidents, Russia and Turkey are trying to set up close relations and not to allow the growth of influence of the United States and the West in the region and the change of the one-hundred-year-old status quo. 

Russia arms not only Azerbaijan but also Turkey, and this fact is another reason to compare the current period with the events of the 1920w when Russia provided weapons and wheat to the Turkish army. It is noted that in this situation both countries can resolve their problems in prejudice to the interests of Armenia. 

Are these comparisons appropriate in new times? In fact, there is similarity between the situations, including the current process for a “new world order”. Besides, Turkey has figured out, especially after the downing of the Russian jet and the murder of the Ambassador, that it has a big value for Russia and is now trying to have a say. 

Nonetheless, everything is not so equivocal, and the concerns about the recurrence of history are appropriate unless they conduct an adequate policy. History repeats in the case of the peoples who reject the path of creating their own destiny, their own vital territory and state building. For example, when Armenia still thinks that the formula “land for status” is acceptable, history will repeat. 

The same historical experience shows that Armenia is growing and becoming stronger after Russia “leaves”. This was the case in 1918 and 1991. Armenia should state Russia’s “presence” from the point of view of its own interests and role, helping them to leave with dignity. 

BNE IntelliNews
July 17 2017
Armenia Country Report Jun17 - H1, 2017 

Armenia, a country of 3.2mn, grew by a stagnant 0.2% y/y in 2016 and a more modest 6.4% y/y in the first five months of the year. The higher-than-anticipated growth at the beginning of the year has fuelled hopes that the Armenian economy has recovered from last year’s slowdown. The growth in May was prompted by a 20% y/y increase in industrial output, 15% growth in trade and 14.3% growth in services. 

Poised to grow by 3% y/y in 2017, the Armenian government has plans for large-scale reforms in the second half of the year. The plan is aimed at boosting economic growth to an average of 5% in 2017-2022. According to Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, the plan includes "concrete actions" aimed at achieving targets related to unemployment, the minimum wage, economic growth, exports and tax to GDP ratio. 

However, the country's reliance on remittances, which account for some 10% of GDP, will continue to represent a risk that makes the Armenian economy vulnerable to external shocks ahead, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

As a net energy importer, Armenia saw its foreign trade deficit widen to $678mn in the first five months of year, as import growth continued to outpace export growth. The country’s growing public debt to GDP, which stands at 50%, is a source of concern for multilateral lenders like the World Bank who have warned the government to contain it in order to avoid further pressure on the state budget. 

Meanwhile, consumer prices have been deflating since 2016. They increased marginally by 1.6% y/y in May and 0.4% y/y in January-May, and remain within the government's target range of 2.5% to 5.5%. 

On the political front, the ruling Republican Party (HHK) won Armenia’s April 2 parliamentary election with almost half of the votes, thus enshrining its grip on power that began in the late 1990s. A renewed round of peace negotiations between Armenia and its Caucasus neighbour Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region led to the escalation in border violence amidst fears that the decade-long conflict between the two countries over the region is close to turning into a war. 

Iran News
August 2, 2017 Wednesday
Iran to restore its UNESCO-inscribed churches

In line with the goal of jumpstarting the tourism industry, Iran has
allotted some $370,000 to the restoration of the UNESCO-inscribed
churches that are located in northwest of the country.

"A sum of 14 billion rials (roughly $370,000) will be channeled into
restoration plans for the UNESCO-inscribed churches in Iran," Cultural
Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization Deputy Director
Mohammad-Hassan Talebian told IRNA on Sunday.

"The identity of historical churches [in the country] must be
preserved and the cultural heritage organization makes efforts to
promote them by the means of organizing religious ceremonies and
conducting conservation projects," Talebian added.

The official made the remarks during a visit to Qareh Klise (the
Monastery of Saint Thaddeus), an ancient Armenian monastery that
played host to a religious gathering by the Christians in a
mountainous landscape of West Azarbaijan province, adjacent to the
borders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.

The organization also plans to document a total of 450 Armenian
churches and 150 Assyrian ones, ILNA quoted Talebian as saying on

Qareh Klise has always been a place of high spiritual value for
Christians and other inhabitants in the region. Every summer, it hosts
gatherings of pilgrims coming from Iran and Armenia to observe special
religious ceremonies such as Holy Communion and baptism.

Together with St. Stepanos Monastery and the Chapel of Dzordzor, St.
Thaddeus was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008 under
the title "Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran".

UNESCO says these edifices are examples of outstanding universal value
of the Armenian architectural and decorative traditions.
Public Radio of Armenia 

Armenian monastery in Turkey is privatized
03 Aug 2017 

The Armenian monastery of Holy Trdat in Tortan village of Turkey’s Erzincan (Yerznka) Province was privatized in name of 16 Muslim residents of this village, reports.

Aziz Dagcı, the head of one of the Armenian associations in Turkey, stated that it is impermissible for the church to be handed over to residents, according to the Turkish news website Aktif Haber.

“It turns out that if the Armenian community wants to perform a Divine Liturgy or other ceremony, it must get permission from these 16 residents of the village,” Dagcı said.

He stressed that by this the Treaty of Lausanne’s provisions on religion and the rights of national minorities are violated.

To note, the remnants of nine saints were kept in the churches located in the area of the Holy Trdat monastic complex.
Aug 3 2017
Armenian member of Turkey parliament condemns building of toilet on Armenian cemetery 

Garo Paylan, Istanbul Armenian MP of the opposition pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey, reflected on the press reports regarding the building of a toilet and a changing room for a public beach at Lake Van, and on an Armenian cemetery.

In a statement that is posted on the HDP website, Paylan noted that the said area in Edremit (Artamed) district of Van Province is a historical site where there are Urartian monuments. Also, he recalled that 100 years ago, this place was Khorgom village that was densely populated with Armenians.

Garo Paylan condemned the Turkish authorities’ decision to build the aforesaid public beach’s toilet and a changing room on an Armenian cemetery, and demanded that measures be taken to remedy the situation.

RFE/RL Report
Armenian Exports Up In 2017
August 01, 2017

Armenia's exports continued to grow rapidly in the first half of this
year, helped by higher international prices of copper.

According to the National Statistical Service (NSS), they were up by
21 percent year on year, at $994 million.

Copper, molybdenum and other base metals and their ore concentrates
remained the country's number one export category with a 43 percent
share in the total. First-half export revenue from them soared by 30
percent on the back of last autumn's sharp rise in the copper prices.

This appears to explain why Armenian exports to the European Union,
the main buyer of Armenian mining output, rose just as rapidly and
totaled almost $302 million in January-June 2017.

By comparison, Armenia exported nearly $220 million worth of goods --
mostly prepared foodstuffs, alcoholic beverages and fresh fruits and
vegetables -- to Russia, the NSS data shows. Those exports were up by
27 percent in the same period.

The government agency also recorded a nearly 26 percent rise in
Armenia's first-half imports that exceeded $1.8 billion. With domestic
consumer demand remaining sluggish this year, this growth may stem, in
part, from a government crackdown on widespread corruption within the
national customs service.

Earlier this year Prime Minister Karen Karapetian's government
effectively pledged to ensure a steady increase in exports that would
eliminate Armenia's huge trade deficit within the next five
years. Senior officials from the Ministry for Economic Development
forecast that exports will approach the $2 billion mark this year and
rise by another $450 million in 2018.They said Russia and other
members of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will absorb
most of the extra exports anticipated by them.

In its policy program approved by the Armenian parliament in June, the
government committed itself to achieving an annual economic growth
rate of around 5 percent in 2017-2022. The program describes rising
exports as "the key engine" of that growth, saying that the government
will strive to facilitate Armenian manufacturers' access to Russia,
the EU and other foreign markets.

Panorama, Armenia
Aug 1 2017
70 percent of readership are young men aged 18-35 in Armenia, literary critic says 
“There are book readers in Armenia, simply the reading scales are not satisfactory for us,” an Armenian literary critic said at a news conference on Tuesday.

According to literary critic Arqmenik Nikoghosyan, the fact that numerous copies of the 2000 books printed in Armenia make it through to libraries, with some of them enjoying 100 print-run consumption at bookstores, comes to prove that there are readers in the country.

“The [reading] scale is certainly not what we would desire, which is based on the value system, the social-psychological and moral atmosphere in our country. However the claims that we deal with a non-read generation are untrue,” the speaker said.

“Today over 70 percent of the readers who attend libraries or acquire books from bookstores are young men aged 18-35.”

In Arqmenik Nikoghosyan’s words, the world literature is the most popular among the readers.

“If the contemporary writers need to present their books or provide additional information on their works to attract readership, the world literature presents itself to the readers already advertised and evaluated,” the literary critic observed.

He also added that the books will cost less in Armenia when their sales increase in the country.

Armenpress News Agency , Armenia
August 1, 2017 Tuesday
Turkey makes decision to demolish house of Sevan Nishanyan located in
Izmir's Şirince village
The list of buildings that aresubjected to demolition in the Şirince village 
of Turkey’s Izmir province includes also the house of Istanbul-based ethnic 
Armenian scholar, linguist Sevan Nishanyan, as well as 2 buildings belonging 
to the Nesin Foundation which has been formed by Nishanyan and scholar
Ali Nesin, reports.

A decision was made to demolish 95 small hotels, 22 resorts and houses
in the village which have been declared illegal with an explanation on
contradicting to the development plan.

Ali Nesin told Duvar newspaper that they have not received any
notification over the demolition of one of the buildings.

The demolition works launched on August 1, at 09:00. 3 buildings will
be demolished initially.

The decision on demolishing buildings in Şirince was made since 2011,
however, it was postponed for various reasons.

Nishanyan has been serving a 17-year prison term since 2014 in a
minimum security “open” correctional facility. On July 14, he exited
the premises and never returned.

Shortly after escaping prison, the scholar tweeted : “The bird flew
away – with the same wishes to the remaining 80 million”.

Nishanyan was arrested and imprisoned in Turkey for carrying out
“illegal” construction in his own garden.

Even Turkish media said the arrest was an obvious framing by Turkish
authorities, because Nishanyan has publicly criticized Turkey’s
government’s mistakes.

Numerous activities and individuals have called for his release,
saying that the true reason of his arrest is the fact that he dared to
criticize the official history of Turkey by writing the “False
Republic” book.
Aug 2 2017
Armenia: Ethnic Minorities Gain a Voice in Parliament
by Maxim Edwards 

MP Knyaz Hasanov (center), representing Armenia’s minority Kurdish population, chairs the new parliament’s inaugural session on May 18 under a tradition giving the oldest member that honor. Armenia is the most ethnically homogeneous of all the post-Soviet states. But it has become a pioneer in the Caucasus by being the first country in the region to offer guaranteed parliamentary representation to its minority communities. (Photo: Armenian Presidential Press Service)

Armenia is the most ethnically homogeneous of all the post-Soviet states. But it has become a pioneer in the Caucasus by being the first country in the region to offer guaranteed parliamentary representation to its minority communities.

Following April’s elections , Armenia now has four ethnic minority MPs – one each from the country’s Yezidi, Assyrian, Kurdish, and Russian communities – in its 105-seat parliament.

But the process by which they were elected, which required them to ally with one of Armenia’s existing political parties, raises doubts about the extent to which they can effectively represent minority interests.

The four new minority deputies are: Arsen Mikhaylov, the long-time president of the Assyrian community organization “Atour”; Yezidi representative Rustam Makhmudyan; the Kurdish community leader Knyaz Hasanov; and Tatyana Mikaelyan, a former bank manager born in Tatarstan, representing the Russian community. Hasanov even chaired the new parliament’s inaugural session under a tradition giving the oldest member that honor.

They were chosen under a provision in the new constitution, adopted in 2015 , that sets aside four seats in parliament for minority representatives nominated by parties. Three of the new deputies represent the governing Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), and Mikaelyan the Prosperous Armenia bloc of oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan.

Prior to this year, Armenia had only ever had two non-Armenian MPs: the current speaker of parliament, Edik Sharmazanov, is of Pontic Greek descent and an ethnic Georgian, Nana Togoshvili, served in the 1990s.

The fact that the representatives are selected through a party list “to my mind, restricts their role as ethnic representatives,” said Hranush Kharatyan, an ethnographer and former presidential advisor on national minorities, in an interview with “It seems to me that representatives of specific minority communities should be elected without party obligations.”

But, she added, “whether it’s good or bad, only time will tell.”

The four minorities represent tiny portions of Armenia’s official population of slightly over 3 million. According to the 2011 census, the Yezidis number about 35,000; Russians about 12,000; Assyrians about 3,000; and Kurds 2,000. Throughout the Soviet period, Azeris comprised Armenia’s largest ethnic minority, with over 160,000 members, according to the 1979 census. But the overwhelming majority fled the country between 1988 and 1991, amid the outbreak of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Minority groups today have varying political agendas. Russians are mainly urban, and for the most part, are integrated into Armenian society. Yezidis , by contrast, are more isolated and often semi-nomadic, creating challenges in education. The Yezidis and Assyrians also have sought to call attention to the plight of their co-ethnics, who are among the most vulnerable victims in the wars in Iraq and Syria. Makhmudyan has said that one of his priorities is to officially recognize the massacres of Yezidis in the Middle East as genocide.

Some in Armenia’s opposition have suggested that the new minority representatives are serving as a means for the Republicans to cement their grip on power. Hasanov, in an interview with Sputnik Armenia, said that the Republican endorsement helped the party among Armenia’s Kurds. “The RPA included us in their list as candidates, and we tried to get representatives of our community to give their votes to the RPA,” he said, adding that “of course in our association there are also people with opposition views.”

The question of representation aside, it is a common phenomenon that small minorities in Armenia side with governing parties, believing that such affiliation is the easiest and safest way to protect their interests.

Meanwhile, some analysts contend that the numbers of Armenia’s minorities are too small to have tangible electoral clout independent of existing parties. The electoral threshold to gain representation in parliament is 5 percent, or about 100,000 voters – far higher than the combined total of all Armenia’s ethnic minorities, noted director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan. “Without some quota, there’s very little chance that any minority deputy would enter parliament,” he said.

“It’s of course true that national minorities mostly vote for the incumbent party, and I realize that’s not the case in Europe,” said Vartan Ascatryan, Armenia’s presidential advisor on national minorities, in an interview with “But here in Armenia, they require the support of the ruling party to help resolve all kinds of social and economic problems.”

No other Caucasus country has ethnic quotas for parliament. Georgia, the most ethnically mixed of the three countries in the South Caucasus, now has its most diverse parliament : with 11 out of 150 seats held by ethnic minorities, including Armenians, Azeris, Ossetians, Abkhaz, and Yezidis. Azerbaijan has a handful of MPs representing the Talysh and Lezgin communities, as well as an informal practice of always having at least one Russian and one Jewish member of parliament.

The separatist entity of Abkhazia is one of the most ethnically diverse parts of the Caucasus, but ethnic Abkhaz – by most counts a minority in the territory – dominate its government. Currently, the de facto 35-member parliament has only three minorities, all Armenians, under an informal “ gentleman’s agreement ,” whereby parties nominate minority candidates in districts where they predominate.

“I think there’ll be a certain resonance throughout the Caucasus region,” Ascatryan said of Armenia’s new minority quotas. “It could be an example to other countries — if such a monoethnic country as Armenia can manage to extend this right to its minorities, then others certainly can.”

Editor's note: Maxim Edwards is a writer and commissioning editor at openDemocracy Russia (oDR).

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