Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... Pan-Armenian Council

RFE/RL Report
Sarkisian To Set Up `Pan-Armenian Council'
August 18, 2017

President Serzh Sarkisian is pressing ahead with plans to form an
advisory "pan-Armenian council" that will consist of senior officials
from Armenia and representatives of its worldwide Diaspora.

Sarkisian met with the chairman of the Armenian Constitutional Court,
Gagik Harutiunian, and other state officials on Friday to discuss
ongoing preparations for the inaugural session of the council which
his office said will take place next year.

Plans for creating such a body were first announced in 2015 by a
high-level commission that organized official commemorations of the
100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. The
commission was headed by Sarkisian and comprised other senior Armenian
state officials as well as the top clerics of the Armenian Apostolic
Church and leaders of some Diaspora organizations.

It was agreed that the council will seek greater international
recognition of the genocide, examine "conditions of Armenians around
the world" and coordinate "pan-Armenian activities." Practical
modalities of its creation were supposed to be worked out by a task
force headed by Hartiunian and Vigen Sargsian, the then chief of the
presidential staff who became Armenia's defense minister last October.

A statement by the presidential press service said Harutiunian
presented "approaches and mechanisms" for the council's formation
during Friday's meeting chaired by Sarkisian. It said the head of
state instructed officials to draft a package of corresponding
decisions that will be discussed at an Armenia-Diaspora conference
slated for next month. One of those documents will relate to "the
agenda of the first council meeting to be held in 2018."

The statement did not specify whether the Pan-Armenian Council will
hold its first meeting before or after Sarkisian completes his final
presidential term in April 2018. The president has still not publicly
clarified whether he plans to stay in government in another capacity.

There are an estimated 8 million to 9 million ethnic Armenians around
the world. Only up to 3 million of them live in Armenia. Most of the
others reside in Russia, the United States, Europe and the Middle

RFE/RL Report
Armenia Warns Turkey Over Possible Deal With Eurasian Union
August 21, 2017
Emil Danielyan

Official Yerevan has scoffed at reports that Turkey would like to sign
a free-trade deal with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU),
pointing to the long-running Turkish economic blockade of Armenia.

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted Turkish Economy Minister
Nihat Zeybekci as saying on Friday that Ankara is seeking to open
negotiations on a "customs agreement" with the EEU in an effort to
expand Turkey's commercial ties with Russia.

"A free trade agreement between Russia and Turkey will lead to a new
level of partnership," Zeybekci told a business forum held in the
Turkish city of Izmir. He said it would not run counter to his
country's customs union with the European Union established in 1995.

Armenia, which joined the EEU in 2015, was quick to react to the
Turkish minister's reported statement. "First of all, the EEU's
founding treaty does not provide for a possibility of joining the EEU
customs area," Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian said on

"Furthermore, it is ridiculous that the talk of joining the EEU
customs area is coming from Turkey, which unilaterally closed [in
1993] the Turkish-Armenian border -- the only land border between
Turkey and the EEU customs area," Kocharian added in written comments.

Turkey has kept the border closed and refused to establish diplomatic
relations with Armenia out of solidarity with Azerbaijan, its closest
regional ally. Successive governments in Ankara have made the
normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations conditional on a
resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to
Baku. Yerevan rejects this linkage.

The Armenpress news agency quoted another, unnamed official from the
Armenian Foreign Ministry as warning that any deal between Turkey and
the Russian-led trade bloc would have to be backed by all EEU member
states, including Armenia.

Russian government officials have not yet publicly commented on the
possibility of such a deal with Ankara.

Last year, Armenia vetoed Pakistan's request for an observer status in
the Parliamentary Assembly of another Russian-dominated alliance of
ex-Soviet states: the Collective Security Treaty Organization
(CSTO). Armenian officials argued that Pakistan refuses to not only
establish diplomatic relations with Armenia but also formally
recognize the latter as an independent state.

Just like Turkey, Pakistan has always fully and unconditionally
supported Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict, accusing Armenia of
military aggression against its Muslim neighbor. 

RFE/RL Report
Armenian Government `Determined' To Sign New Accord With EU
August 21, 2017

The government remains "very determined" to sign later this year an
agreement on deepening Armenia's links with the European Union, Prime
Minister Karen Karapetian insisted on Monday.

"We are going to sign [the agreement,]" Karapetian told reporters as
he visited a pro-government youth camp in the resort town of

The Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was
finalized by Armenian and EU officials in Yerevan in March. It is due
to be signed during an EU summit in Brussels scheduled for November.

The CEPA is a less ambitious alternative to an Association Agreement
negotiated by Armenian and EU officials in the summer of
2013. President Serzh Sarkisian scuttled that deal with his unexpected
decision in September 2013 to make Armenia part of the Russian-led
Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The volte-face was widely attributed to
strong Russian pressure.

Asked whether Yerevan might abandon the CEPA as well at the last
minute, Karapetian said: "Can there be developments that will prevent
the signing? I don't see them at the moment."

Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian similarly dismissed last month
opposition speculation that Armenia may be pressurized by Russia not
to sign alternative deal containing the main political provisions of
the cancelled Association Agreement.

For her part, Naira Zohrabian, the chairwoman of an Armenian
parliament committee on European integration, said on June 21 that
Yerevan has "discussed" the key CEPA provisions with the Russians and
that the latter do not object to them. 

Panorama, Armenia
Aug 19 2017
Medical tourism on the rise in Armenia, surgeon says 

Armenia has seen an increase in the inbound tourism flows to the country for medical reasons especially during the summer season, an Armenian surgeon said at a news conference on Saturday. 

Plastic surgeon Hayk Yenokyan, Associate Professor at Department of Maxillofacial Surgery of Yerevan State Medical University, said that the medical tourism gradually becomes an accomplished sector in Armenia, as evidenced by the increase of tourism flows for the purpose registered annually. 

“While only Diaspora-Armenians visited Armenia to receive medical services in the past, now foreigners arrive in the country for the purpose as well. People from Sweden, Denmark, Middle East, Iran and even the UAE arrive in Armenia for medical tourism,” the surgeon noted. 

Dr. Yenokyan informed that the plastic nose surgeries continue to be the most popular procedure in Armenia. “Our foreign partners already accept that the Armenian surgeons surpass many in terms of the nasal surgery. You become more skilled when you perform the same operation multiple times,” he said, meantime underscoring the competitive prices in Armenia. 

“The plastic operations are much more affordable in Armenia compared to the U.S.,” the doctor noted. 

Psychologist Lilit Khachatryan, present at the discussion, said that the tourists also seek psychological counseling in Armenia, namely people from Israel, Belgium, England Russia and the U.S. sought support in the country. 

The specialist also added that psychological counseling is more expensive in Armenia compared to many cities in Russia, however it is more affordable to compare with the U.S. or Europe. 

ARKA, Armenia
Aug 21 2017
Armenia’s grape production to be 20 percent less this year, expert says 

YEREVAN, August 21. /ARKA/. Armenia’s grape production will be less by 15-20% this year, compared to 2016, the head of the National Wine Center Avag Harutyunyan told journalists on Friday. According to him, official figures usually range production of grapes in Armenia between 200,000-300,000 tons, but according to the Center's estimates, it does not exceed 100,000 tons. 

"This year, the real production will be 70-75 thousand tons, because the winegrowers were in a difficult financial situation and could not protect the vineyards from winter frosts in a timely and proper manner," said Harutyunyan. In his words, about 10 thousand tons of grapes will fail to find buyers. 

He said the government-proposed price for grapes is 140 drams for 1 kg. This will ensure self-sufficiency of the produced grapes enabling farmers even to get a small profit. 

"However, in this case, there is a risk that about 30 thousand tons of grapes will not be sold due to lack of funds of processing companies," said Harutyunyan. 

He noted that according to the calculations of the Center, the cost price of grapes used to make wine this year is from 90 to 127 drams, without taking into account the wages to producers and transportation. 

Armenian Minister of Agriculture Ignaty Arakelyan said earlier that because of natural disasters and the low price last year wine growers were unable to work more productively in 2017. ($ 1 - 478.57 drams). -0- 

Aravot, Armenia
Aug 19 2017
Armenian gymnast sets ‘Guinness’ record for 92 rotations on high bar 

Four-times record-holder David Fahradyan set the next fifth record making 92 rotations in a row on a high bar with a reverse grasp in the USA in 2016. At the meeting with journalists, David Fahradyan informed that recently he has received the record certificate. “The record application was accepted, and a few months later we received the online certificate, and now we have received the original certificate itself. Such a record was not made by any gymnast, I had been training for about three years. This is the fifth record: it’s unique in gymnastics, to have 5 certificates”, noted David Fahradyan.

He noted that high bar is one of the forms of gymnastics: “Rotations are unusual, I hold on the bar almost with two fingers, with my arms in opposite position. Preparing for the record took a long time. I made 94 rotations, the application was for 51 rotations, but I surpassed within 2 minutes and 18 seconds”.

David Fahradyan has been going in for gymnastics since he was 7 years old. He has founded a gymnastics school. He teaches at YSU Sports Department.

Aravot, Armenia
Aug 17 2017
Landlocked Armenia looks to technology education for country’s future
By Amy Lieberman 

KARINJ, Armenia — The journey from Yerevan to the northern province of Lori normally takes four hours, but with the one main road undergoing repairs in the summertime, the car trip through Armenia’s wild green mountains can now stretch on all day.

A few visitors finally reach the the public school in Karinj, a village of about 700 people in this rural, sparsely populated region bordering on Georgia. The stately, Soviet-style building still holds many of the era’s relics — musty gymnasium equipment, wooden desks and chairs, and even the same strict teaching method once modeled decades ago.

In one tucked-away, bright classroom on a recent Saturday afternoon, a group of 13 students chatted freely in a semi-circle and giggled at the presence of guests. Their teacher encouraged them to stand up and share family traditions, and to also show how they constructed their completed LEGO mindstorms robots — customizable, moveable creations they program by applying lessons of physics, math and engineering.

In a poor, rural school in Armenia, this mix of science and free-flowing creativity in a classroom is still rare — but it might increasingly be what is necessary to help the country face some of its most challenging socioeconomic problems.

Leading Armenian health and education NGOs are driving forward a progressive educational technology strategy to rethink development in this lower middle-income, south Caucasus country: Infuse creative, technology-centered education into the classroom to provide youth with adaptable work and life skillsets, and boost their chances of finding jobs in their hometowns, or within Armenia.

“When you go to these villages you see that these kids are kind of hopeless, in a way. They are disappointed and their main angle is to come to Yerevan, or think about leaving to work in Russia, as their fathers have done, and this is a real problem,” said Ester Hakobyan, a programs director for the Children of Armenia Fund , or COAF. She led the session in the “SMART” classroom on storytelling, designed to teach kids the art of collecting family historical stories and sharing tales, skills they could use if they go into the local tourism industry.

“What we try to do is create some kind of future in the villages for these kids,” she explained.

While migration from Armenia has slowed since the 1990s, weak economic conditions have contributed to more than 250,000 people leaving the landlocked country of just 3 million since 2008. About 30 percent of Armenians live below the national poverty line and in Lori — the province with the highest rate of migration — it is common to find households temporarily absent of men, who have gone to work in Russia.

Yet despite the lack of available jobs within Armenia, which faces an unemployment rate of about 16 percent, the country has seen a recent growth in its IT sector . And Armenian health and education NGOs such as COAF and the learning initiative the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies , are finding they can bring low-income, rural students into the wave of Armenia’s rising tech scene.

The work also has the potential to replicate in other countries facing similar problems of high rates of youth unemployment and migration, and so Armenia’s experiences could have much to teach the rest of the world, according to COAF and Tumo Center.

“The biggest disease this country has is a lack of belief in the future,” explained Tim Straight, the honorary consul of Norway and Finland and the founder of a fair trade handicrafts organization, Homeland Development Initiative. “In the IT sector, these kids are smart, really smart. They are going to do really well in this country, but there is the reality that they could earn five times more elsewhere. And it becomes a choice of, ‘My language, my kitchen, my culture,’ or is it the money that matters?” Horizon Weekly NewspaperCOAF’s SMART Center, which remains under construction, will launch next year.

COAF and the Tumo Center, both founded by members of the Armenian diaspora — Turkish-born, New York-based businessman Garo Armen and Lebanese born, Dallas-based telecommunications businessman Sam Simonian, respectively — are both quickly scaling up ed tech initiatives throughout the country.

The six-year-old Tumo Center has a flagship, soaring building in Yerevan — originally constructed for $20 million — where it hosts up to 7,000 students aged 12-18 at any time for free, tailored four-week long after-school programs. Students develop their own personal learning plans through a software system that encourages them to take different courses in animation, game development, web development, digital media and other creative fields based on their preferences and performance. Teachers are Armenian experts, and also international field experts who travel for the short courses.

“It [the work of the Tumo Center] is complimentary. We are not substituting, saying we replace the Armenian schools,” explained Marie Lou Papazian, the managing director of Tumo Center, a Lebanese-born Armenian who moved from New York to oversee the center.

“The school has a specific mission. They teach language, math, geometry and we don’t teach those materials. But through tech, through the Internet, you have access to so many possibilities. You can create so many interesting things and when you engage the kids, you see results fast.”

She spoke from her office inside the Tumo Center, a hub of constant activity, late one recent afternoon. Students streamed throughout the glass building to play games and work on mobile computer workstations — individual computer desktop and chair sets, whose power and ethernet cable are connected to the ceiling, allowing the user to move seamlessly across a room. Down the hall, auditions for an advanced music class were underway.

International interest in the Tumo Center’s unique, individualized model, and unanticipated student engagement, has come in tandem, as the center has expanded to other small cities in Armenia, with support of the Central Bank of Armenian and some private sector groups. The public-private partnership model is also at play in Yerevan, where it rents out space to tech companies, including the image software application PicsArt.

Moving beyond Yerevan, Armenia’s largest, capital city, to address “brain drain” across the country is a shared goal of COAF, a partner organization that has opened up six “SMART” ed tech rooms, including the one in Karinj, over the last two years. Students, and also adults in the community, can access these rooms to research — not just play games, as they sometimes do at home — on computers to learn about the environment, health and to also build robots. Some instruction is in English. Horizon Weekly NewspaperEster Hakobyan engages with students in a SMART room in Lori, Armenia.

“We understood that traditional, every-day approaches were not possible, so we decided to start a SMART initiative to bring best available practices here. We see potential in Lori,” said Hakobyan, a teacher originally from the region. “We needed a creative working space for kids, who are not used to going to a classroom and being comfortable there, but having very strict rules of behaving. You never see a kind of open work space in a classroom unless you go to very fancy schools. Here furniture is movable. There are walls you can write on.”

COAF, which traditionally centers is work in education, health care and infrastructure, will open a SMART Center in early 2018 in Lori — a building now underway whose vision could match the grandeur and scale of the Tumo Center. The glass, one-level structure will flow with the mountains, explained the architect, Paul Kaloustian, of Beirut, giving visiting students an immersive feeling when they come to take free courses in technology, business and civil engagement, arts and music and environmental practices.

One challenge is to draw in adults from surrounding communities. They might struggle to either physically reach the center, or feel like they have nothing to gain from it. There is a sharp divide between Armenia’s younger and older generations, explained Straight, who spoke of Armenia’s “lost generation” of older women in particular, who learned few skills — beyond sewing, cooking and farming during the Soviet times — that they are now able to translate into work.

Shahane Halajyan, COAF’s SMART Initiative manager, says that Armenia has no option but to ensure that communities can be engaged with ed tech.

“We know that for each individual resident, the condition of the schools is very important and we try to enhance community involvement. But to try to enhance community involvement is not easy to do,” she said. “What we struggle with is, when you are in schools, things go easier. When you move into the community you have to go into effective implementation. With SMART, we have no option but to be successful. We have to make sure it works, because of the investment. There is great potential here we need to access.”

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