Friday, 18 August 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... Russian plane contains fire propagation!

August 15, 2017 Tuesday 4:42 PM GMT
Russian plane contains fire propagation in Armenian nature reserve,
ministry says

EREVAN, August 15. /TASS/. The Russian Emergencies Ministry’s Il-76
the plane has made its sixth Tuesday’s flight to the forest fire scene in
Armenia, having contained fire propagation there, the republic’s
Emergencies Ministry reported.

"At 18:55 (17:55 Moscow time), the Russian plane sixth time flew from
Erevan’s Erebuni Airport to the Khosrov Forest state reserve where
trees and bushes have been on fire since Saturday," the ministry
reported. According to the ministry, "further spreading of fire was
largely contained from the air."

The next flight of the Russian plane "will, most probably, occur on
Wednesday morning," the emergencies ministry said.

According to latest information, 56 firefighters from the Armenian
Emergencies Ministry, 105 servicemen of the national army and 55
foresters are fighting the fire, the ministry stressed.

The Khosrov Forest is located near Ararat, 61km south-east of Erevan.
The Il-76 aircraft of the Russian Emergencies Ministry dispatched
there by the Russian government at Armenia’s request has been fighting
the fire in the nature reserve since the morning. 

RFE/RL Report
Armenian Wildfire Largely Extinguished
August 16, 2017
Tatevik Lazarian
Helped by a water-dropping Russian aircraft, firefighters in Armenia
appeared to have largely extinguished on Wednesday a massive wildfire
that erupted in a nature reserve southeast of Yerevan late last week.

The Ilyushin-72 plane, which joined the firefighting efforts on
Tuesday, carried five more flights from a Yerevan airfield to the
Khosrov Forest State Reserve throughout the day, dropping another 200
tons of water on the mountainous area.

The Armenian Ministry for Emergency Situations said the jet sent by
the Russian government "created security zones and a humid environment
in order to prevent a repeat outbreak of fires." The blaze was mostly
contained on Tuesday and all but extinguished by the following
evening, according to statements issued by the ministry.

"The fire is contained and under control," Emergency Situations
Minister Davit Tonoyan told RFE/RL's Armenian service (
at the scene.

Tonoyan said the firefighters and other emergency service workers are
now engaged in "post-extinguishment works" aimed at preventing renewed
outbreaks. They were joined by more than a hundred Armenian army

Heavy rain forecast for Wednesday evening was expected to give a
further boost to the ongoing efforts at the Khosrov reserve. In
Tonoyan's words, the Russian plane will again fly over the area on
Thursday morning before the authorities in Yerevan determine whether
it is still needed by them.

The fire broke out on Saturday and spread quickly due to high
temperatures and strong winds. According to preliminary government
estimates, it burned about 400 hectares of woodland in the next four

The Khosrov reserve occupies roughly 25,000 hectares of land, around
9,000 of which is covered with forests.

Another major wildfire broke out near a village in the southeastern
Vayots Dzor province on August 10 and reportedly spread to 650
hectares of land partly covered with trees. The authorities took four
days to put out that blaze.

Critics have blamed the Rescue Service and other divisions of
Tonoyan's ministry for the scale of the damage, saying that the
authorities were caught unprepared for such calamities. Ministry
officials reject the criticism. They argue that mountainous terrain
made is practically impossible for them to use fire engines.

The Armenian Ministry of Environment Protection, which oversees the
country's forests and nature reserves, is also facing
criticism. Environment Protection Minister Artsvik Minasian rejected
on Wednesday claims that his agency did not take necessary precautions
despite weeks of unusually hot weather.

"There is some silly information that's being circulated," he
said. "In particular, it is claimed that specially protected areas
were taken under control only after these fires erupted. That is not
the case."

Minasian cited special fire warnings which he issued to forestry
officials on July 17. "All of our facilities were put on high alert,"
he said.

Law-enforcement authorities suspect that both wildfires were caused by
human negligence. They have launched criminal investigations but not
charged anyone yet. 

PanARMENIAN.Net, Armenia
Aug 14 2017
Google speech recognition now supports Armenian
PanARMENIAN.Net - Google speech recognition can now support the Armenian language, the company said in a blog post on Monday, August 30. 

After bringing voice typing (aka c instead of typing) to 30 languages and locales around the world, Google’s speech recognition now supports 119 language varieties, in Gboard on Android, Voice Search and more. 

The full list of newly supported languages and locales includes Amharic (Ethiopia), Armenian (Armenia), Azerbaijani (Azerbaijani), Bengali (Bangladesh, India), English (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania), Georgian (Georgia), Gujarati (India), Javanese (Indonesia), Kannada (India), Khmer (Cambodian), Lao (Laos), Latvian (Latvia), Malayalam (India), Marathi (India), Nepali (Nepal), Sinhala (Sri Lanka), Sundanese (Indonesia), Swahili (Tanzania, Kenya), Tamil (India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia), Telugu (India), Urdu (Pakistan, India). 

"To incorporate 30 new language varieties, we worked with native speakers to collect speech samples, asking them to read common phrases," Google said. 

"This process trained our machine learning models to understand the sounds and words of the new languages and to improve their accuracy when exposed to more examples over time." 

Daily Sabah, Turkey
Aug 16 2017
Turkey's Catholic Armenian community celebrates landmark mass

Turkey's Catholic Armenian community held a religious service on Monday in the western city of İzmir's St. John Cathedral Basilica. 

The Mass bears importance for the community as it is the first time they were able to pray in the historic church in 95 years. 

The 19th-century basilica, heavily damaged in the Great İzmir Fire in 1922, was handed over to the use of NATO troops based in the city in the 1960s and was left unused for decades before its restoration in 2013. 

Rev. Vartan Kazancıyan from an Istanbul Armenian church presided over the religious service attended by some 150 people. 

The basilica was among the properties returned to ethnic and religious minorities after decades of discriminatory state policies toward those minorities. 

RFE/RL Report
Russian PM Hails Rising Trade With Armenia
August 14, 2017

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev welcomed a continuing
double-digit growth of Russia's trade with Armenia when he met with
his Armenian counterpart Karen Karapetian on Monday.

The two men held talks on the sidelines of a meeting in Kazakhstan's
capital Astana of the prime ministers of Eurasian Economic Union (EEU)
member states.

"On the whole, the situation is not bad because there is an increase
in both deliveries of goods from Armenia to Russia and overall
commercial exchange between our countries," Medvedev said in his
opening remarks at the meeting. "We are continuing to coordinate our
positions on joint investment projects, on a number of areas of
economic cooperation which have emerged of late."

"So on the whole, things are going well, but this doesn't mean that we
have nothing to discuss," he added.

"I also want to discuss a number of issues, including dates for your
visit to Armenia," replied Karapetian.

Official Armenian statistics show that Russian-Armenian trade
increased by over 23.7 percent to $737.5 million in the first half of
this year. By comparison, Armenia's trade with the European Union
amounted to $677 million in the same period. It was up by 18 percent
in absolute terms.

Russia surpassed the EU as Armenia's leading trading partner after a
similar rise in bilateral trade recorded last year. Armenian exports
to Russia alone jumped by 51 percent in 2016. Officials in Yerevan
attributed that to Armenia's membership in the EEU, a Russian-led
trade bloc comprising five ex-Soviet states.

Analysts believe that a stabilization and certain strengthening of the
Russian ruble in 2016 was also a key factor. The Russian currency
weakened sharply against the U.S. dollar in 2014 and 2015 due to the
collapse of oil prices and Western economic sanctions imposed on
Moscow. As a result, Russian-Armenian trade plummeted in 2015. 

Armenpress News Agency, Armenia
August 16, 2017 Wednesday
Volume of goods of Armenian production increases: 25% exported to
Russia, 26% to EU states

YEREVAN, AUGUST 16, ARMENPRESS. Armenia takes steps to create
favorable conditions to increase the volume of domestic production, as
well as for producers.

Vazgen Safaryan – chairman of the union of domestic commodity
producers gave an interview to Armenpress on this topic.

-Mr. Safaryan, how many percents of the domestic commodity products are
in the Armenian market?

-It’s difficult to mention a concrete number, however, year by year the
volume of our product types is increasing. In particular, more than
80% of textile and agricultural products are domestic products. Exotic
fruits imported from other countries comprise less percent that is
not produced in Armenia. The local wheat ensures nearly 50% of the
demand, and the remaining part is being imported from abroad.

-In which spheres there is a potential to develop domestic production?

-There is a great potential in the chemistry field. The government takes
steps to re-launch the Nairit plant. We also have great potential in
the jewelry industry, in the production of jewelry from precious metals.

RFE/RL Report
Visitor Influx Blamed For Surge In Armenia-Russia Airfares
August 17, 2017
Arus Hakobian

A senior Armenian government official on Thursday attributed a sharp
rise in the cost of commercial flights between Yerevan and Moscow and
other major Russian cities to the increased number of visitors to

The prices of tickets for flights from Yerevan to key Russian
destinations, which account for most of Armenia's air traffic, have
shot up this month, prompting complaints from travelers. A one-way
Yerevan-Moscow air ticket now costs at least 110,000 drams ($230), or
twice as much as it did just a few weeks ago. The vast majority of
those flights are carried out by Russian airlines.

Sergey Avetisian, the head of Armenia's civil aviation authority,
blamed the price hikes on a nearly 30 percent rise in the number of
people visiting the county which he said was recorded in the first
seven months of this year.

Avetisian said airlines are now struggling to meet the "unexpected"
extra demand for air travel between Armenia and Russia. He also argued
that August has traditionally been the peak season for those flights.

"We are trying to do everything together with the airlines so that
they increase the number of seats or carry out additional flights,"
Avetisian told journalists.

"I am expecting today some responses regarding additional flights," he
said. "We have to understand that in order to increase the number of
flights an airline needs to have vacant aircraft. If it does not have
vacant aircraft it will have to redirect them to Yerevan from other

The official insisted that the seasonal price hikes are not raising
questions about the liberalization of Armenia's civil aviation sector
which was announced by the government almost four years ago.

The government decided to switch to the so-called "open skies" policy
in October 2013 following the bankruptcy of the Armavia national
airline. The latter had enjoyed exclusive rights to fly to Europe, the
former Soviet Union and the Middle East for almost ten years.

The liberalization, strongly backed by Western donors, meant that
local and foreign carriers meeting safety standards can carry out
flights to and from Armenia without any restrictions. Some of them
have entered the Armenian aviation market while others expanded
existing flight services.

The number of passengers processed by Yerevan's Zvartnots
international airport as well as a much smaller airport in Gyumri has
grown significantly since 2013. Avetisian's department expects it to
reach a new record high this year.

TRT World, Turkey
Aug 17 2017
Turkish Imam goes the extra mile for ancient Armenian church 

Metin Halici, an Imam of a mosque in Yozgat, Turkey is taking care of an ancient church based in the courtyard of the mosque.

We keep this chapel clean and ready for worship because we care about people and respect their beliefs, Metin Halici says.We keep this chapel clean and ready for worship because we care about people and respect their beliefs, Metin Halici says.

An Armenian church built in the year 120 AD by Anatolian priests, is located in the courtyard of Yozgat's Sarikaya Mosque in Turkey.

Besides a cross drawn on its door, the building does not look like a church from the outside.

However, Armenians still come from as far as the US and Argentina to worship there.

The Imam of the mosque Metin Halici, has taken it upon himself to keep both places of worship clean.

He grabs a broom and dust cloth to clean the ancient church a few days every week.

This is his story:

Watch the video at turkey/turkish-imam-goes-the- extra-mile-for-ancient- armenian-church-9717 

Tablet Magazine
Aug 14 2017
Jerusalem of Clay
For a century, locally made Armenian pottery has brought together the holy city’s major religions in a uniquely artistic way
By Sara Toth Stub
Behind a green door on Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa, the winding Christian pilgrimage route through the Old City that follows the Way of the Cross, is a small room filled with colorful ceramic bowls, tiles, and other other wares. Many of these pieces contain crosses and Biblical scenes popular with the Christian tourists who frequent this area; but there are also plates designed to hold the challah for Jewish Sabbath meals and tiles with Arabic verses from the Koran.

“We make things here from all the local traditions, and we are very proud of that,” said Hagop Karakashian, 50, the locally born manager of this Jerusalem Pottery store, whose grandfather was among the city’s first Armenian ceramics artists.

Although Jerusalem’s Armenian Christians are one of the city’s smallest minority groups, their intricately decorated, hand-painted wares are among the most popular souvenirs purchased by visitors to the city. The tiles made here and in a handful of similar workshops decorate many of Jerusalem’s famous buildings, and are used to mark the names of streets in Hebrew, Arabic, and English throughout the Old City. With the 100th anniversary of the city’s first Armenian pottery shop now approaching, this school of ceramics has come to play an integral part in the city’s cultural landscape.

“We just hope the city stays quiet so we can do our work in peace,” Karakashian added when we spoke in July amid the ongoing tensions and violence following a terrorist attack that killed two Israeli police officers on the Temple Mount. But it is in fact the city’s tumultuous history that created this unique style of ceramics. Jerusalem’s storied Armenian ceramics tradition can be traced back to one of the Middle’s East’s most influential and controversial players: the British diplomat Mark Sykes, who authored a secret 1916 agreement with French officials that would divide up the Middle East along lines that continue to have ramifications today. It was Sykes’s taste for interior design that unintentionally set off a chain of events that ultimately gave a second chance at life for Karakashian’s family and their art work.

When the British military took over Jerusalem from the crumbling Ottoman Empire in 1917, the city’s streets were filthy, buildings were dilapidated, and many of its monuments had fallen into disrepair. The first British military governor of the city, Ronald Storrs, was especially disturbed by the condition of the Dome of the Rock, the 7th century Islamic shrine built on the site long-revered by Jews as former home to the two Temples. The exterior walls, which were covered with thousands of tiles made in Turkey during the 16th century reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, had seen better days.

“The magnificent tiles kept constantly falling off the walls and could frequently be found for sale in the Old City,” Storrs wrote in his diary. He added repair of this shrine to a long list of other improvement projects for the newly-formed Pro-Jerusalem Society, an organization funded by donors abroad to complete public works projects, establish museums, and encourage handicrafts in the city.

One major challenge for the Dome of the Rock project was where to find new tiles. There was no local ceramics industry in Jerusalem at the time, and Turkey, where the original tiles came from, was enemy territory. But then Storrs remembered a bathroom he had once used at a Sykes estate in Yorkshire, England, which was decorated with similar tiles.

“I remembered Mark Sykes’s Armenian friend, David Ohannessian, who had crafted the Persian bathroom in Sledmore, and summoned him from Damascus,” Storrs wrote in his memoirs.

Ohannessian was a leading ceramicist who had completed projects throughout Europe and the Middle East—meeting many dignitaries along the way, including Sykes. He had recently used his wealth and connections abroad to flee his hometown of Kutahya, Turkey, escaping the increasing violence and persecution by Ottoman authorities against the Armenian community. Ohannessian agreed to the work, and briefly returned to Kutahya and brought along with him to Jerusalem two other prominent Armenian artists and their families: Neshan Balian, a potter, and Megerdish Karakashian, a painter and the grandfather of Hagop, the current owner of the Via Dolorosa workshop.

“For my grandfather, this was a good chance to escape the genocide in Armenia,” Hagop said, referring to the Ottoman government’s mass deportation and torture campaign that ultimately killed 1.5 million Armenians during WWI. “This Dome of the Rock project really gave him the chance to live.”

But soon after the Armenian artists set up shop on the Temple Mount, planning to fire their new tiles in the 16th century kilns left near the Dome of the Rock from Suleiman’s renovation project, they struggled to replicate the thickness of the original tiles, made with Turkish materials. The old kilns never worked. Funds for the project quickly dried up. Eventually, the project was abandoned and the workshop closed.

The artists from Kutahya then set up a workshop on the Via Dolorosa, called Dome of the Rock Tiles, in homage to the project they never did. It was from here that they began to leave their mark on the city, producing colorful tiles, mainly with floral designs, for a number of public buildings. Balian and Karakashian eventually left Ohannessian on the Via Dolorosa to establish a new workshop outside the Old City walls on Nablus Road.

Both of these workshops not only continued to produce tiles for public buildings and wares like vases and bowls, but also developed new designs based on their experiences and encounters in the Holy Land. The fusion of the ancient Armenian technique and floral and geometric patterns that had been in their families for generations with local motifs—including images from area mosaics, Biblical landscapes, and Jewish symbols—gave rise to a whole new art form, said Nirit Shalev-Khalifa, a scholar in ceramics at Ben Gurion University of the Negev and curator of several exhibitions of Armenian work.

“They have established something very local,” Shalev-Khalifa said. “It is more fitting to call the works made by these Armenian refugees ‘Jerusalem ceramics,’” rather than Armenian ceramics. The art form has also managed to do what many politicians have not: to appeal to people from all three of the city’s major religions. The tiles can be found in places ranging from the Rockefeller Museum to the American Colony Hotel to the Israeli President’s Residence.

“Even though so many groups in the city are divided from each other, these ceramics are one of the few things embraced by all,” Shalev-Khalifa said. “It’s something that people from all three major religions here feel is special and really represents the local culture.”

Ultimately, the Dome of the Rock was repaired with Turkish tiles in 1962, when it was under Jordanian jurisdiction. But the Armenian ceramics makers remained influential in the city. Although Ohannessian eventually closed his shop and left Jerusalem for Beirut in 1948, the Karakashian and Balian families, who parted ways in the 1960s, both still maintain workshops in the city.

Recent decades have also seen the opening of more workshops, with six now active in and around the Old City. One of those relative newcomers is Garo Sandrouni, a Jerusalem-born Armenian painter who began to work with ceramics when he was in his 20s, and opened a workshop and store in the city’s Armenian quarter in 1983.

“In Jerusalem, 34 years ago is not so long ago,” said Sandrouni, laughing. He decided to switch from canvas painting to ceramics when he realized it had become symbolic of the Armenian community, said Sandrouni, whose father settled in Jerusalem after fleeing the genocide in Turkey. “I fell in love with these ceramics and decided to go in that direction. Not only am I a ceramicist, but I sell also my history, my story,” he said as he sketched a floral design onto a vase on a recent summer morning. “Behind each piece there is a story, and when I explain that story, it gives me pride.” In addition to crafting products and images that appeal to all religious sectors of Jerusalem, the Armenian workshops have also come to employ non-Armenians, Israeli Jews, and Palestinians.

“That is the only way we can survive,” Sandrouni said. “Although I am not so optimistic about the future of this industry.”

Among his and other artists’ worries is the always-expanding industry of cheaper, machine-made knock-offs, which fill most of the city’s souvenir shops. These products are made in factories in the West Bank city of Hebron or in China, and often sell for less than one-fifth the price of the handmade items, making them appealing to tourists.

“The sad thing is they are also marketed as Armenian ceramics,” Sandrouni said. “And, most believe that. Yes, it is a threat to us.” He said the Armenian artists need to come together and set up standards certifying which products are authentic. But, unfortunately, both Sandrouin and Karakashian said, even though their work appeals to a diverse audience, most of the Armenian ceramicists themselves rarely speak with each other.

“There is a lot of jealousy and arguments over the past,” said Sandrouni, whose two brothers were once in the ceramics business with him, but now have their own, separate studios.

Back at Jerusalem Pottery, Karakashian said he has recently begun training his 15-year-old daughter in the craft, determined to keep it alive.

“She is a teenager now, so I am not sure what she will do,” Karakashian said with a smile. “But this pottery has really become a symbol of Jerusalem, and we are very proud of that, and it is important to keep it alive.” 

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