Thursday, 14 December 2017

Armenian News... A Topalian... Anniversary of Spitak earthquake

Panorama, Armenia
Dec 7 2017
Armenia Today marks 29th anniversary of devastating Spitak earthquake 

Today marks the 29th tragic anniversary of one of the worst natural disasters in our contemporary history - the devastating Spitak earthquake. Around three decades later, the pain and grief from the disaster are not eliminated and wounds - not healed with tens of thousands of lost human lives and hundreds of thousands homeless, some living in temporary shelters up to these days. 

On December 7, 1988 at 11:41 am local time (07:41 UTC/GMT), an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale struck the northern Armenia. The epicenter was in the city of Spitak and surrounding villages. The magnitude in Spitak was 10; Gyumri, 9; Stepanavan, 9; Vanadzor, 8-9; and Yerevan, 6. The total zone of the disaster covered 3k sq. meters, hitting a total of 21 towns and districts, 343 villages. 

According to official data, the quake killed 25,000 people, leaving some 20,000 people wounded and 514, 000 homeless, while the value of material losses were estimated at US $10 billion. 

The devastating earthquake destroyed 17% of the housing of the republic, 170 industrial enterprises quitted their activity. Major damage was caused to architectural, historic, cultural monuments as well as to 917 educational institutions. 

Thanks to the efforts of ordinary citizens and rescuers, about 45,000 alive and dead people were recovered from the ruins, 12,500 were hospitalized. 

Expert conclusions later revealed that the main reason for such extensive damage was that the seismic risks all across the country had been underestimated. The special government-assigned commission to look into the earthquake aftermath identified that seismic resistance norms for construction had been violated, as was its quality and technology, construction materials failed to meet state standards. 

Most human casualties were the result of poor construction, delay of the rescue efforts, lack of knowledge and skills necessary to implement disaster risk reduction activities and awareness of the population during emergency situations. 

The Armenian Weekly
Dec 7 2017
Armenian Churches Urge Trump to Reconsider Divisive Jerusalem Declaration 

BEIRUT—As one of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem is home to some of the world’s historic ethnic communities and spiritual center for monotheistic communities. The Armenian presence in Jerusalem dates back to the fourth century AD when Armenia adopted Christianity as a national religion, and it is one of the oldest pockets of the Armenian Diaspora. 

Because of its significance to the global Armenian world, leading figures in the Armenian spiritual community were quick to voice condemnation of the the recent declaration by United States President Donald Trump regarding the status of Jerusalem. In a press conference, President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, stating that doing so would be “nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.” He also called for preparations to begin moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv. 

In response, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem released a statement, signed by the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate and Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate, called for the President to reconsider the decision and “continue recognizing the present international status of Jerusalem.” 

“Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm… We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division,” read a part of the declaration. 

His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia, also rejected President Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 

During the Catholicosate’s World General National Assembly’s visit with Lebanese President General Michel Aoun on Thursday, Aram I said that the move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may have negative repercussions in a volatile region of the Middle East and may jeopardize the ongoing peace process. 

The Catholicos also emphasized the need to respect the legitimate rights of Palestinians and to preserve the rights of three monotheistic religions in Jerusalem. 

During the meeting with World General National Assembly representatives, President Aoun reiterated his stance on Trump’s Jerusalem decision saying that it was dangerous and threatened the credibility of the U.S. as a peace broker in the region. 

The World National General Assembly of the Holy See of Cilicia convened on Dec. 4 , under the presidency of Aram I and with the participation of around 100 clergy, lay delegates, and invited guests representing the prelacies of the See across the world. The meeting will conclude on Dec. 8. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Nalbandyan also released a statement, highlighting Armenia’s interest in preserving peace in Jerusalem, citing the historic Armenian community there, and calling for negotiations between the parties. 

Pan Armenian, Armenia
Dec 5 2017
Armenia hits back at Turkey over Erdogan's false accusations
Ankara is the one that has been blocking the normalization of relations with Yerevan, Armenia's deputy foreign minister Shavarsh Kocharyan said after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Yerevan of keeping "the gates of friendship with Turkey locked under the Armenian Diaspora’s pressure."

In his speech to the members of his ruling AK Party, Erdogan reportedly blamed Armenia for freezing out Turkey, when it was Ankara that closed its borders with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan, which at the time was waging a brutal war against Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh).

"Channels for normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations are well known - the Protocols signed in Zurich and their ratification," Kocharyan said in a tweet.

"Since Turkey refused to ratify those protocols, it's Turkey itself that has blocked and continues to block the channels for normalization of relations."

Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey
Dec 6 2017
Authorities knew about Dink’s murder six months before: Case suspect Yıldız 

Speaking at a hearing of the case on Dec. 5, former Trabzon Gendarmerie Intelligence head Lt. Col. Metin Yıldız said the authorities knew of a plot to assassinate Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink six months before he was shot dead in 2007.

“We heard from Coşkun İğci, who worked at the Soil Products Office, that [Yasin] Hayal was planning the killing of Hrant Dink,” Yıldız, who is being tried under arrest in the case, said at the 14th Istanbul Heavy Penal Court.

“I briefed Ali Öz about this. He gave me no orders. It was busy in the department at the time, so I focused on other tasks. But it was certain Hayal and three or four others would be carrying out this act. There was an intelligence loop,” he added.

However, former Trabzon Gendarmerie Chief Ali Öz, who is also being tried under arrest, said in the same hearing that he “does not recall being conveyed this information.”

“My fault is not ordering the personnel to write down such allegations at the time. My mistake is that I trusted the office. I believe the personnel had no bad intentions. Information was skipped in this matter but that information was not on the records,” Öz added.

Dink, the former editor-in-chief of weekly Agos, was shot dead outside his office in Istanbul’s Şişli district on Jan. 19, 2007 by 17-year-old Ogün Samast, who had traveled to Istanbul from the Black Sea province of Trabzon before the murder.

Relatives and followers of the case have claimed government officials, police, military personnel and National Intelligence Agency (MİT) officials played a role in Dink’s murder by neglecting their duty to protect the late journalist.

Pan Armenian, Armenia
Dec 6 2017
Armenia dodges EU blacklist of tax havens, pledges to improve 

Armenia has not been included in the European Union's blacklist of tax havens, released by the EU’s ECOFIN Council on Tuesday, December 5.

Earlier reports suggested that the 28-member block might include the country on such a list alongside Turkey, Serbia, Cook Islands, the Marshall Islands, Panama and Tunisia.

The EU said Armenia, alongside 22 other countries, failed tax transparency standards but made sufficient commitments to improve the area of fair taxation.

The EU's final blacklist list includes 17 countries: American Samoa, Bahrain, Barbados, Grenada, Guam, Korea (Republic of), Macau, the Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Namibia, Palau, Panama, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Armenia and the EU signed the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership agreement in late November. Although the deal lacks trade component, it will nevertheless boost economic ties between the country and the bloc.

Panorama, Armenia
Dec 6 2017
Armenia UNESCO recognizes Armenian Kochari dance as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has included the Armenian Kochari traditional group dance in its list of intangible cultural heritage at the twelfth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage taking place in Jeju Island, Republic of Korea.

“Kochari, traditional group dance, just inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” the organization said on Twitter .

Earlier this year, Armenia’s application for including “Kochari traditional group dance” in UNESCO list was positively assessed by the independent experts of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

“Kochari is a traditional dance that is widely performed throughout Armenia during holidays, festive celebrations, family ceremonies and other social events. It is open to all participants, irrespective of age, gender or social status.

Kochari provides a sense of shared identity and solidarity, contributes to the continuity of historical, cultural and ethnic memory, and fosters mutual respect among community members of all ages. It is transmitted through both non-formal and formal means, and is one of the rare traditional dances whose chain of transmission has never been interrupted,” reads a statement on the organization’s official website.

Armenia ratified UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) in 2006 and, until now the organization has included four Armenian elements in its intangible cultural heritage list – the traditional Armenian bread lavash, the Armenian duduk, the khachkar (Armenian cross stones) and the Armenian national epic "David of Sassoun".

RFE/RL Report
Armenian Government Reports Further Drop In Poverty
December 05, 2017
Marine Khachatrian

Poverty in Armenia continued to fall slowly last year despite sluggish
economic growth, the National Statistical Service (NSS) said on

In an annual report, the government agency said 29.4 percent of
Armenians lived below the official poverty line as of the end of 2016,
down from 29.8 percent in 2015.

The poverty line is set at almost 40,900 drams ($85) per month. The
NSS regards as "very poor" over a third of some 880,000 Armenians
whose average monthly income did not exceed that figure. Another
54,000 people are considered "extremely poor," NSS officials said as
they presented the report to journalists in Yerevan.

Adrine Babloyan of the Yerevan office of the United Nations Children's
Fund (UNICEF) also spoke at the news conference. Babloyan expressed
concern over the fact that at 34.2 percent the poverty rate among
Armenian children was still above the nationwide average. And it did
not shrink considerably in 2016, she said.

Poverty fell more rapidly during an almost a decade of double-digit
economic growth in Armenia that came to an end with the onset of a
global financial crisis in late 2008. It stood at 27.6 percent at that
time but soared to almost 36 percent in 2010, one year after the
country's Gross Domestic Product shrunk by over 14 percent.

Economic growth has been modest since then. It all but ground to a
halt in 2016 but seems to have significantly accelerated this
year. NSS data released in recent months suggests that the Armenian
economy is now on course to expand by at least 4 percent.

Senior government officials have said that rapid poverty reduction is
contingent on an economic growth rate of at least 5 percent. Prime
Minister Karen Karapetian's cabinet set this annual growth target in
its five-year policy program approved by parliament in June.

The 120-page program says that sustained faster growth will cut
poverty to about 18 percent by 2022.

Using a different methodology, the World Bank has recorded lower
poverty rates in Armenia. According to it, just under 25 percent of
Armenians lived in poverty in 2016. In a report released in May, the
bank forecast that the poverty rate will fall to 22.2 percent in 2019.

The NSS currently estimates the average monthly wage in the country at
just over 190,000 drams ($394).The official rate of unemployment
exceeds 20 percent. 

RFE/RL Report
Armenian Authorities Again Told To End Vote Buying
December 04, 2017

Officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
have pressed the Armenian authorities to combat vote buying and abuse
of state resources during fresh discussions on the conduct of
Armenia's last parliamentary elections held in April.

Representatives of the OSCE's election-monitoring arm, the Office for
Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), visited Yerevan last
week to formally present their final report on the elections won by
the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).

The report released in July says the authorities largely respected
"fundamental freedoms" during the "well-administered" vote. But it
also cites "credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on
civil servants and employees of private companies."

The report also contains a set of policy recommendations. It says,
among other things, that the authorities should "publicly discourage"
vote buying or selling and ensure that Armenians are not forced to
"vote in a particular way."

In a weekend statement, the ODIHR said its representatives "explored"
the report's findings and recommendations at their meetings with
government officials, lawmakers, leaders of major Armenian parties and
civil society members. It said they also "proposed concrete steps that
can be taken by various stakeholders to address the recommendations."

"The ODIHR team drew attention to priority recommendations aimed at
addressing persisting issues of vote-buying and abuse of state
resources with a view to strengthening public confidence in the
electoral process," added the statement.

"ODIHR stands ready to offer its support in implementing the
recommendations, including through a review of amendments to electoral
legislation, advice on good practices and matters of technical
implementation," it quoted Alexander Shlyk, head of the ODIHR
Elections Department, as saying.

Throughout the parliamentary race the HHK was accused by its political
opponents and independent media of handing out vote bribes and
pressurizing schoolteachers, civil servants and other public sector
employees to vote for it. Armenian opposition parties say that those
illegal practices were decisive in the HHK's election victory.

The party headed by President Serzh Sarkisian denies having
systematically resorted to them. It insists that the vote was largely

The European Union and the United States endorsed the findings of
nearly 440 European election observers that were mostly deployed by
the Warsaw-based ODIHR. At the same time they cautiously praised the
authorities' overall handling of the April 2 polls. The EU's foreign
policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said through a spokesperson on April
4 that the official vote results "reflect the overall will of the
Armenian people."

The OSCE-led mission did not report significant instances of multiple
voting, one of the most serious forms of fraud that marred previous
Armenian elections. The authorities in Yerevan enacted last year a set
of opposition-backed legal amendments designed to prevent such

That led to the introduction of electronic voter authentication
devices in all polling stations across the country. The authorities
also installed web cameras to broadcast online voting and ballot
counting in the vast majority of those stations. The EU allocated over
$7 million for the purchase of that equipment.

Panorama, Armenia
Dec 4 2017
Tobacco production on the rise in Armenia 

In January-October 2017, the tobacco production volumes increased by 14.4% in Armenia compared to the same period of 2016, according to the data released by the National Statistical Service (NSS) of Armenia.

As was informed from the NSS, in the indicated period of 2016, 18 million 792.2 thousand units of cigarettes were produced in Armenia, whereas 21 million 491.6 thousand units of cigarettes were produced in the country in January-July of the current year.

The tobacco production share in the general production sphere in Armenia has made up 14.4% due to the registered increase.
To note, surveys indicate that more than 50 percent of Armenia men above 16 and almost 4 percent of women smoke.

USC Institute of Armenian Studies
December 5, 2017 

The Russian expansion into what is now known as the South Caucasus region in the years from the 1790s to 1820s brought the area to attention of major Western powers, particularly Great Britain. Two memoirs published by British military officers also offer a glimpse into Karabakh, about a decade after it became part of the Russian Empire.

George Keppel traveled from Tabriz in Persia to Astrakhan in Russia in 1824. His route took him through Shushi (then referred to as Sheesha), Shemakha, Baku and over Dagestan. Keppel, incidentally, was a Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, of the British Royal Family.

Crossing the Persian-Russian border over the river Araxes, Keppel described the natural beauty of the Karabakh region and passing through its Armenian villages, called them “remarkable for their cleanly appearance.” Keppel described Shushi as a town of about 10,000 people, though recently affected by war-related population decline. By contrast, Baku at the time of Keppel’s visit was twice smaller than Shushi. At the time, Shushi was three-quarters Muslim and one-quarter Armenian, Keppel is nevertheless hosted by a local Armenian leader named Aga Bek.

The town of Shushi was built seven decades earlier, as a political center of the newly-expanded Karabakh Khanate, a semi-autonomous entity within the Persian Empire led by Shia and Turkic-speaking Jevanshir tribe. The expansion involved the colonization of the majority Armenian highlights that were up until then known as Khachen, Aghvank or Artsakh. That colonization period followed the Armenian rebellions of the early 18th century that accompanied the initial, aborted Russian push into the Caucasus under Emperor Peter the Great, and eventual collapse of the five Armenian melikdoms. The 1820s was thus a period of transition for Karabakh similar in some respects to the 1990s that followed 70 years of is status as an Autonomous Oblast within Soviet Azerbaijan. 

The second memoir was authored by James Edward Alexander , a British officer serving as a military adviser to the Persian Shah. That account focuses on the Shah’s failed campaign to regain the South Caucasus from Russian control between 1826 and 1828 that involved a siege of Shusha and an attack towards Russia’s political center in the region, Tiflis, the modern Tbilisi.

Alexander notes key roles played by Armenians of Karabakh in the campaign. Russian forces were led by Gen. Valerian Madatov , a Karabakh-born Armenian who emigrated to Russia in 1790s and gained prominence during Napoleonic wars. From 1816, Madatov returned to the Caucasus and tooк command of Russian forces in Karabakh that included Armenian and Muslim auxiliaries. In 1826, in addition to their role in defense of Shushi, local Karabakh Armenian forces also staged guerrilla-style attacks on the larger Persian forces as they advanced through Kura valley. Persian army retaliated against local Armenians, particularly in Ganja, who were attacked after the Persian army sacked that city.

Madatov subsequently defeated a larger Persian force at Shamkhor, in contemporary Azerbaijan’s northwest, and regained Ganja, while Persians abandoned the siege of Shusha and withdrew over the Araxes river. Following his military defeat in 1828, the Shah ceded Erivan and Nakhichevan Khanates to Russia. The newly acquired area was organized into the Armenian Oblast that eventually emerged as the foundational entity for the Armenian Republic. Karabakh acquired 15 years earlier along with Ganja, Shemakha and Baku was incorporated into the Caspian Oblast , the foundational entity for the Azerbaijani Republic.

In 1829, Russians defeated the Ottoman Turks acquiring most of western Georgia, except for Batumi, which would be won, along with Ardahan and Kars, in 1878.

The outcomes of these two wars fought over a three-year period from 1826 to 1829 established the contours of the South Caucasus’ political geography that largely remain in place two centuries later.

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