Thursday, 10 May 2018

Armenian News... A Topalian... Pashinyan for PM?

Pashinyan Nominated for Prime Minister Ahead of Tuesday’s Vote

YEREVAN—With the signature of 41 members of Armenia’s Parliament, Nikol Pashinyan was nominated for the post of prime minister ahead of Tuesday’s election, marking the approval of one-third of lawmakers required.

The Parliament press service confirmed this in a statement issued at around 4 p.m. Thursday.

Pashinyan said he had received firm assurances from the Republican Party of Armenia after he met with the party’s parliamentary bloc leader Vahram Baghdasaryan earlier on Thursday.

“He [Baghdasaryan] reaffirmed that the Republican Party of Armenia faction in the National Assembly will assist the people’s candidate in getting elected prime minister,” Pashinyan said in a Facebook Live post on his page.

On Wednesday, after thwarting Pashinyan’s victory a day before, the Republican Party of Armenia announced, after a meeting with former prime minister Serzh Sarkisian, that it would not introduce its own candidate and it would support any candidate that is supported by one-third of the legislature.

Pashinyan called his candidacy a “fait accomplish.” It is believed that the signatures came from lawmakers in businessman Gagik Tsarukian’s faction, which holds 31 seats, Pashinyan’s own Yelk alliance, which has 9 votes and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation with its seven votes. The aforementioned three groups voted in favor of Pashinyan’s candidacy during Tuesday’s vote.

On Tuesday, in a vote of 56 to 45 the parliament failed to elect Pashinyan due to the Republican Party of Armenia’s refusal to cast their ballots for the opposition leader. Immediately following the vote, at a rally in Republic Square, Pashinyan called for a general strike, which on Wednesday saw tens of thousands of Armenians in Yerevan and around Armenia blocking main roads, highways, railroad stations and even Zvartnots Airport. The peaceful protesters, that include mothers with their baby strollers, students and people from all walks of life, managed to paralyze the city, all the while affirming their commitment to the People’s Movement, which started on April 13.

Tuesday’s vote, which capped off almost nine-hour marathon parliament session, came after some dramatic speeches on the parliament floor, among them a speech by ARF parliamentary faction leader Aghvan Vartanyan who broke with his party and announced that he would vote against Pashinyan. His colleague in parliament and ARF Bureau member Armen Rustamyan was quick to point out that his ARF bloc was caught off guard by Vartanyan’s remarks and proceeded to vote for the opposition leader. Soon thereafter, the ARF Supreme Council of Armenia issued a statement calling for Vartanyan’s immediate resignation from parliament.

Vartanyan complied and handed in his resignation of Thursday. The ARF is yet to announce who will fill Vartanyan’s seat.

Internal political situation in Armenia discussed with Alan Duncan
May 3,2018 

Today, Armen Sarkissian had a telephone conversation with Alan Duncan, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The interlocutors discussed the internal political situation in Armenia. The parties stressed the importance of solving the problem through constructive dialogue, exclusively within the framework of the Constitution and the laws.
May 3 2018
Artsakh Defense Army denies another Azerbaijani media reports on targeting civilians

The Azerbaijani media outlets on May 3 spread another disinformation according to which the Armenian forces shelled last night at the direction of civilians carrying out renovation and repair works near Jamanli village of Aghdam region as a result of which the equipment working in the scene was damaged.

The defense ministry of Artsakh issued a statement in this regard, denying the Azerbaijani media reports.

The statement says: “The Defense Ministry of the Republic of Artsakh denies the aforementioned information pursuing provocative goals by Baku and once again reminds that the Defense Army units have never targeted and will never target the civilian population.

As always, the Armed Forces of Artsakh continue adhering to the ceasefire regime established in the line of contact and never act in the role of an attacker”.

PanArmenian, Armenia
May 5 2018
Karabakh situation remains tense for second week 

The situation on the contact line between Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) and Azerbaijan remained tense for a second week in the period between April 29 and May 5.

Accumulation and movement of Azerbaijan’s manpower and military equipment have been observed since April 30.
To assess the situation, the OSCE Mission on May 3 conducted a planned monitoring of the ceasefire on the line of contact between the armed forces of Artsakh and Azerbaijan.

Overall, 200 ceasefire violations - 3000 shots in total - by Azerbaijani army were registered in the past week.
The Karabakh frontline units continue holding the upper hand on the contact line and protecting their positions.
May 3 2018
Russian fighter jet crashes in Syria, one of pilots was ethnic Armenian

A Sukhoi-30SM Russian jet has crashed in Syria killing both of its pilots, including captain of the crew ethnic Armenian Mayor Albert Davidyan, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, spokesperson of the Armenian defense ministry, said on Facebook.

TASS reports the fighter jet crashed in the Mediterranean during the climb shortly after taking off from the Khmeimim airdrome.

According to preliminary estimates, a bird hit the plane’s engine.

The Economist
'Velvet Revolution' so far': Russia seems sensibly wary of interfering
May 3rd 2018

IT LOOKS more like a carnival than a revolution. Instead of burning tyres and mounting barricades, young people wrap themselves in Armenian flags, dance in the streets and block the roads by playing volleyball or simply sitting on carpets. On the morning of a general strike, a five-year-old boy drove a toy car with an Armenian flag through an empty street. In the evening, vast construction trucks loaded with students drove and hooted through Yerevan.
But behind the street theatre lies a velvet revolution led by a young generation of Armenians against an old guard who have controlled the country since its independence in 1991. Their victory is not yet complete, but their anticipation of success seems likely to be self-fulfilling. On May 1st, in an attempt to hold out, the ruling party blocked the election as prime minister by parliament of Nikol Pashinian, the leader of a three-week-old protest that has galvanised the entire former Soviet republic of some 3m people. A dozen pro-government MPs desperately tried to discredit him as a dangerous anti-Russia candidate, unacceptable to the Kremlin, which has a tight economic and military grip over Armenia. But Moscow was silent, confident of its strategic hold on Armenia  and unwilling to back the losing side.
That evening Mr Pashinian addressed tens of thousands of people who filled in the main Republic square. “Beloved nation, proud citizens of Armenia. People in parliament have lost the sense of reality. They don’t understand that 250,000 people who came onto the streets in Armenia have already won. Power in Armenia belongs to you—and not to them.” His words sparked jubilation. To prove his point and his strength, Mr Pashinian called a general strike paralysing the city and the country.
A few hours later, on May 2nd, the ruling party appeared to cave in, implying it would back him in next week’s parliamentary session. It may still spring a nasty surprise, but is unlikely to regain control over the country—at least not for now. Mr Pashinian has led a textbook velvet revolution, made possible by textbook mistakes by the government, which tried to hang onto power after losing its legitimacy.
Mr Pashinian managed to personify Armenians’ resentment against a corrupt elite. Donning Che Guevara-style fatigues, he went around the country on foot, preaching non-violent protest. By doing so, he decentralised the revolution, making it virtually impossible for the authorities to quash. In the capital he appealed to students and young people with no memories of the Soviet past, but a strong sense of dignity and justice. Mr Pashinian’s brief detention doubled the size of the crowds in the streets, leading the prime minister to resign last week and perhaps making Mr Pashinian unstoppable.
Crucially, the challenger avoided any subject such as ideology or geopolitics that could divide the country and antagonise Russia. Unlike the revolutions in Georgia in 2003 and in Ukraine in 2004 and again in 2014, which were fought under the slogans of joining Europe and NATO, Mr Pashinian talked strictly about internal matters like corruption and justice, which everyone can agree on. He made populist promises and pledged that Armenia will remain with Russia’s security arrangements. Not a single European flag was waved in Yerevan and no slogan pronounced Armenia’s European destiny. But the fear of mentioning Russia-related subjects only highlighted Russia’s importance.
While Moscow clearly distrusts revolutionaries, it has so far decided not to interfere in Armenia, hoping that inflated expectations and lack of money will do their own damage. “It has been the smartest Kremlin policy I’ve seen for years,” says Alexander Iskandaryan, the head of the Caucasus Institute, a think-tank. Armen Grigoryan, one of the revolution’s leaders says, “All the stars were aligned, and even Saturn moved into the same position it was in 1988.” That was when protests in Armenia provided the first rumblings of the storm that was to bring down the Soviet empire three years later.

Open Democracy
May 4 2018
On the edge: how rural Armenia is responding to the country's "Velvet Revolution" 
Ashot Gazazyan 

While revolution is the preserve of the city, Armenia's rural population is watching and waiting to see what happens next. 
"Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution”, declared by protest leader and parliamentarian Nikol Pashinyan, is shaking this small country’s towns and villages, bringing many of its citizens out onto the streets. Over the past three weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have  blocked roads and public spaces in a bid to paralyse public transport, picketing public institutions and transport hubs. Their demands? The resignation of Serzh Sargsyan, who has ruled the country since 2008. Sargsyan’s eventual resignation, on 23 April, shocked everyone — and not only in Armenia. The Yelk (Way Out) opposition alliance, which gained slightly more than seven percent of the vote at the last parliamentary elections, has, in effect, brought down the ruling Republican Party’s parliamentary majority and the government. The past few weeks may taken their toll on people’s nerves, but the protests have been peaceful, without any loss of life.

Last week, the Republican Party frustrated attempts to appoint Nikol Pashinyan as prime minister in parliament. But there’s grounds to believe that Republican members of parliament will support the opposition leader on 8 May. Pashinyan, meanwhile, is promising the Armenian public simple things — and society has, it seems, on the whole believed him. But people don’t forget that they also believed Serzh Sargsyan when he first ran for president in 2008.

Daniel Ioannisyan, the head of the Union of Informed Citizens NGO, reminds me that Sargsyan used to assure Armenia voters that he’d never permit the country to regress in any field — whether the economy, democratic institutions or human rights. That was in 2008. And a year later, Armenia experienced an economic downturn. Back then, Sargsyan explained this situation by referring to the global financial crisis. In 2013, Ionnisyan tells me, Sargsyan stated that “a government, which cannot guarantee seven percent of economic growth, should resign”. The government, in the end, couldn’t guarantee that either. But in 2015, the authorities carried out a constitutional referendum, which transferred significant powers from the position of president to the prime minister. Sargsyan thus prepared a third term for himself as Armenia’s leader. As it turned out, Armenian society didn’t support this move.
Meanwhile, roughly 30% of Armenians live below the poverty line — unemployment is on the rise, with a third of people unemployed. The country’s external debt has risen, making up 55% of GDP by the end of 2017. And the number of families leaving the country for a better life has increased — over Serzh Sargsyan’s two presidencies, roughly 300,000 have left Armenia. According to official statistics, slightly less than three million live in Armenia — in reality, it’s much lower, and a significant proportion  lives in the capital, Yerevan. And outside Yerevan, the rates of poverty and unemployment are higher.

 Karen Voskanyan. I’m in the village of Pokr Vedi on the Ararat plain, just south of Yerevan. Mount Ararat, over the Turkish border, is clearly visible from here, but Karen Voskanyan, 33, isn’t much interested in the landscape. He needs to feed his seven young boys. Though the state pays the Voskanyan family 10,000 drams (roughly £15) per child per month, there still isn’t enough money to make ends meet — and it’s still hard for Karen to get by working odd jobs.

“I’ve got a small patch of land, but unfortunately I can’t develop it,” Karen tells me. He’s tried, but there’s not enough money for equipment, water, fertilisers. The lack of money and weather means that whatever he does do never works out. “I barely managed to pay off all my loans, I don’t want anything more to do with the banks.”

“Of course, we didn’t expect to see so many people come out on the streets. We went to Yerevan ourselves to take part in the protests” 

Now Karen’s planning to leave to work in Russia: “I’ll work in construction. I’m trained as a bricklayer and tiler.” He’s worked in Russia before and says that he can make 50,000-60,000 roubles (£800-950) a month there.
Avet Manukyan, who’s the father of four, is facing a similar problem. I meet him in his garden, which he was expecting to give a good harvest‚ but frosts have taken half of it. He’s also now planning to work in Russia.

 Avet Manukyan. People here aren’t much interested in politics. But they know about everything to do with agriculture. For instance, they were pleased by Nikol Pashinyan’s recent statement about an amnesty on penalties and fines associated with overdue consumer and agricultural loans, and a reduction on interest rates. But these statements remain just that — statements — and young people are leaving to work in Russia.
“Of course, we didn’t expect to see so many people come out on the streets. We went to Yerevan ourselves to take part in the protests,” villagers tell me, saying that they hope “there’ll be more justice” in Armenia.

It should be said that the vast majority of village leaders are members of the Republican Party, and this means that here people voted, as a rule, for the ruling party during the 2017 parliamentary elections. In election season, roads were repaired, fertilisers brought in and there was constant access to irrigation water. Then the problems began again. To be solved in time for the next election cycle.

“All this because the government doesn’t change for decades,” the villagers tell me. “The people who are in power forget about their promises and begin to think about very different things — and not about the people.”
Republican public and elected officials have in fact made statements to the effect that the “people don’t know themselves what they want” — and this was their main mistake. Armenian society understood all too well what it was doing and why. It was impossible not to notice that the authorities were stagnating, and the country needed a breath of fresh air. Nikol Pashinyan understood all too well that people were suffering, otherwise they wouldn’t leave the country to work or live abroad, instead staying at home for jobs that were adequately paid. 

 Avshar village, Ararat province. There’s problems in the village of Noyakert, too. And although Ovannes Arutunyan, the head of the village (and a Republican Party member), tells me that 2,000 people live here, not all of them are managing on the agricultural front.

For example, grape- and vegetable growers aren’t happy with the trade prices for their produce. The companies that take their produce pay 120-130 drams per kilo of grapes, while they need to be paid 150-160 drams per kilo of they’re going to make any money. For a kilogramme of tomatoes, the villagers will get 30-40 drams. “Of course, this isn’t enough to cover fertiliser, rent for equipment, water.”

“I always view new authorities with suspicion, although I can’t say that everything was wonderful under the old ones”

If you add the fact that the intermediary companies pay for produce six months (and sometimes a year) after they hand it over, then you understand where the money often goes: paying off loans and other payments.

“I always view new authorities with suspicion, although I can’t say that everything was wonderful under the old ones,” Georgy Paravyan, a resident of Noyakert, tells me. Georgy grows melons, grapes and tomatoes on his land. “We don’t know anything about the new people in power. We have their promises, and we need to see how far they’ll be implemented,” he says. According to this farmer, a lot will depend on people themselves — the land can feed you if, of course, you treat people in rural areas right. “Of course, the government should be accountable. Stability is good only when people’s prosperity rises too.”

The grapes grown in Ararat are the best in the world, the farmers tell me. And the wine, naturally, isn’t bad either. But, as Georgy tells me, that is yet to be recognised commercially: “While the economic ties between Russia and Georgia deteriorated after 2008, Armenia didn’t manage to take the Georgian wine niche on the Russian market. “But this is already politics, not economics,” he concludes in a business-like manner.

People in Ararat remember well when Armenia signed the agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015, but the sharp fall of the Russian economy and rouble meant that the export of Armenian wines to Russia dropped by 70%. The wine and cognac factories couldn’t afford to buy the villagers’ grapes at the previous rate, and a lot of produce went to rot. This was the first major shock to Armenian agriculture after Serzh Sargsyan refused the Association Agreement with the European Union in 2013 and chose to join the EEU.

At the bottom of the Khor Virap monastery, local kids offer tourists the opportunity to release doves into the sky. The doves soar in the sky, circle over the Turkish border and then return to their nests in Armenian villages. Just like Armenians the world over, waiting to return home.

This time, it’s Nikol Pashinyan who’s promised a just and prosperous Armenia. People are incredibly optimistic right now, but everyone understands: if another government stagnates once again and forgets why it’s there, then the people know what to do if they need to remind them. 
About the author

Ashot Gazazyan is a journalist for Deutsche Welle. He is a member of the board of the Yerevan Press Club and is the author of several books. 

‘What the Hell Just Happened?’ Armenians, Civic Nationalism and Rewriting the Activist Handbook
Armenia Commentary Featured Amenia’s People’s Movement

For my generation of Armenian-Americans, the Armenian part usually stands out. Fierce patriotism, love of the nation, love of our culture and music, and love of our history all usually take their rightful place in our identity. The American part does its duty as well. It adds something that some might perceive to be a western cliché, yet at the same time, the hallmarks are always present: the love for democracy, the rule of law, institutional patriotism, and love of the Constitution of these United States of America. In my beloved Glendale, Armenian-American activism has made for a unique, inseparable blend of local affairs and Armenian issues effectuating change. Ask anyone in California’s 28th Congressional District if you don’t believe me.

In the United States, we hold our personal rights and freedoms in the same vein as Holy Scripture. We learn about our system of governmental checks and balances by the time we are in elementary school, and some of us further study how that interplay regulates our “imperfect union,” in order to build “a more perfect union.” The common denominator in our system of governance is the Citizen; the most powerful entity in any functioning political system.

Over the past few weeks, Armenians in Armenia and around the world have been witnessing the “what the hell just happened” stage in our history. And yes, while there may be better ways to describe it in proper form, I will save that for the policy analysts or the creative writers, and go with my jargon… Stale attitudes began to fade. Skepticism began to turn into optimism. The most inspiring part of it all were the creative acts of civil disobedience. I think even deep down inside me, there was this understanding that it’s going to be the same old story: debates among friends, wringing our hands, and moving on with the day. Except, that didn’t happen.

How It All Happened
In Armenia and around the globe, we were at a crossroads as a people. After calling for genocide recognition from the superpowers year after year, and watching the issue fall on deaf ears, issues of how the diaspora can better engage Armenia were always a matter of debate. Some repatriated Americans living in Armenia tended to side with national security as the most pressing issue in the homeland, which gave a tacit nod of approval to the Serzh Sarkisian’s regime. Whether we liked him or not, he put Armenian security as a priority, and for that we must give credit where credit is due. Others, much like myself, while holding national security paramount, realized that the situation for those living in the country was simply worsening at a quicker pace than would be expected. Due to the serious issues of outmigration from the country for better opportunities abroad, there wouldn’t be a national security apparatus where a nation is losing its population left and right. There seemed to be a deadlock and a lack of momentum within our communities.

Then, it happened. Sarkisian made it clear that he wasn’t going anywhere. After indicating that he was going to walk away as soon as Armenia was to be a parliamentary republic, he gladly accepted  the nomination from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, which is structured like any Communist holdover. This would ail the country, by what many correctly pointed out to be the continued, institutional corruption in Armenia.

And so, a handful of elites, led by the now deposed Prime Minister Sarkisian, assumed power without any term limits. As the country switched from a semi-presidential system to a traditional parliamentary system, many feared that the guise of a more transparent government, by and for the elites, had far more sinister implications. That is why thousands of Armenians from all walks of life took the streets in Armenia and around the world: to reject the monopoly of power.

Many critics among us still think that Armenians in Armenia don’t have the political maturity to handle systemic change. However, and I cannot emphasize this enough, they are very, very wrong. In Armenia, there has always been one true check against power: The Armenian Citizen. We, as those who have been exposed to institutional democracy, can speak in platitudes of how important civic engagement is. However, Armenia’s citizens no longer accepted the status quo, and took direct action, because they’ve learned through experience. In other words, they walked the walk, and quite fittingly with the “ Kayl Ara, Merzhir Serzhin” chant.

So What Does All of This Mean?
Taking a stand is nothing new to the Armenian people. Since the founding of the 26-year-old Armenian Republic, and even before, Armenians have been actively seeking to change their plight both locally and globally. The Artsakh Liberation Movement was the first organic national movement within the borders of the USSR. This was instrumental to the founding of the third Republic of Armenia in 1991. Thereafter, thousands of Armenians took to the streets in 1998 to successfully call for the resignation of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. They also took those same steps, when then President Serzh Sarkisian assumed his role as president in 2008. This movement even led to a crackdown that was allegedly led by Sarkisian and then outgoing president Robert Kocharian. They showed their civic force in 2012 when vendors in Mashtots Park were forced to shut down. They did so during the “Electric Yerevan” movement in 2015. With each of these civic movements came lessons. All of these major movements led to “What the Hell Just happened;” and what a beautiful thing it was to watch.

Within the last three weeks, Armenia’s citizens and Armenians around the world truly rewrote the activist’s handbook. It started with determination: the daunting task of toppling a corrupt regime, and positive energy… While Armenians everywhere are no strangers to activism, we found the missing ingredient in the formula: across-the-spectrum unity in the face of corruption and nepotism.

While many of us are fiercely patriotic and nationalistic, we also discovered a new type of nationalism in the process: Armenian civic nationalism. An informed citizen is a powerful citizen… And so, Yerevan coordinated with Glendale. Attorneys both here and in Armenia began to focus their efforts on uncovering the mechanisms of the fraudulent activities that regime members have been or still are engaged in. Across the globe, Armenians are discussing the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, it’s parliamentary processes and procedures, and practically all of us are sitting and predicting what could possibly come next in a new Armenia.

So What is Next? 
What we witnessed over the course of the last few weeks in our beloved homeland was awe-inspiring, beautiful—organic. Local activism has reached the global stage, and become a case study into how civil disobedience, unity, and trust in the youth of a nation can shape the future of of a nation. As of this writing, not a single person was seriously injured or killed. This is the bloodless revolution, and hopefully, in the next coming months and years, it will stay that way.

Globally, this too will have its impact. As a friend pointed out, “Armenia finally left the Soviet Union.” Armenians, by taking matters into their own hands, were able to put themselves in a new position, one of strength and unity. The best reflection of this strength will be when the people inside Armenia’s borders are happy, prosperous, and civically engaged.

Because of the irreversible civil awakening that occurred in the past few weeks, the Armenian citizens showed, in taking back the country from the throes of authoritarianism, they will come to the international stage with more leverage. They will come with open hands, much like the revolution did. The population, currently at a state of war with neighboring Azerbaijan, now has more dignity. Needless to say, a motivated, dignified Armenia will better protect its borders. Better still, the confidence of investing in Armenia and its people will increase. Our generation of so-called diasporans will engage the homeland in a more positive light. Gone are the days where corruption was a foregone conclusion.

While there are miles and miles to go, in order to build a nation are ancestors can only be proud of, the future is bright for our young republic. Power to the people.

The National Geographic Magazine
May 4 2018
Barefoot winemakers likely worked in cave where oldest leather shoe was found.
by James Owen

As if making the oldest known leather shoe wasn't enough, a prehistoric people in what's now Armenia also built the world's oldest known winery, a new study says.
Undertaken at a burial site, their winemaking may have been dedicated to the dead—and it likely required the removal of any fancy footwear.

Near the village of Areni, in the same cave where a stunningly preserved, 5,500-year-old leather moccasin was recently found, archaeologists have unearthed a wine press for stomping grapes, fermentation and storage vessels, drinking cups, and withered grape vines, skins, and seeds, the study says.

"This is the earliest, most reliable evidence of wine production," said archaeologist Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
"For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years," he said. 

The prehistoric winemaking equipment was first detected in 2007, when excavations co-directed by Areshian and Armenian archaeologist Boris Gasparyan began at the Areni-1 cave complex.

In September 2010 archaeologists completed excavations of a large, 60-centimeter-deep vat buried next to a shallow, 1-meter-long basin made of hard-packed clay with elevated edges.

The installation suggests the Copper Age vintners pressed their wine the old-fashioned way, using their feet, Areshian said.

Juice from the trampled grapes drained into the vat, where it was left to ferment, he explained.

The wine was then stored in jars—the cool, dry conditions of the cave would have made a perfect wine cellar, according to Areshian, who co-authored the new study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Wine Traces
To test whether the vat and jars in the Armenian cave had held wine, the team chemically analysed pottery shards—which had been radiocarbon-dated to between 4100 B.C. and 4000 B.C.—for tell-tale residues.

The chemical tests revealed traces of malvidin, the plant pigment largely responsible for red wine's colour.
"Malvidin is the best chemical indicator of the presence of wine we know of so far," Areshian said.

Ancient-wine expert Patrick E. McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, agrees the evidence argues convincingly for a winemaking facility.

One thing that would make the claim a bit stronger, though, said McGovern, who wasn't involved in the study, is the presence of tartaric acid, another chemical indicator of grapes. Malvidin, he said, might have come from other local fruits, such as pomegranates.

Combined with the malvidin and radiocarbon evidence, traces of tartaric acid "would then substantiate that the facility is the earliest yet found," he said.

"Later, we know that small treading vats for stomping out the grapes and running the juice into underground jars are used all over the Near East and throughout the Mediterranean," he added.

Winery Discovery Backed Up by DNA?
McGovern called the discovery "important and unique, because it indicates large-scale wine production, which would imply, I think, that the grape had already been domesticated."

As domesticated vines yield much more fruit than wild varieties, larger facilities would have been needed to process the grapes.

McGovern has uncovered chemical and archaeological evidence of wine, but not of a winery, in northern Iran dating back some 7,000 years—around a thousand years earlier than the new find.

But the apparent discovery that winemaking using domesticated grapevines emerged in what's now Armenia appears to dovetail with previous DNA studies of cultivated grape varieties, McGovern said. Those studies had pointed to the mountains of Armenia, Georgia, and neighbouring countries as the birthplace of viticulture.
McGovern—whose book Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages traces the origins of wine—said the Areni grape perhaps produced a taste similar to that of ancient Georgian varieties that appear to be ancestors of the Pinot Noir grape, which results in a dry red.

To preserve the wine, however, tree resin would probably have been added, he speculated, so the end result may actually have been more like a Greek retsina, which is still made with tree resin.

In studying ancient alcohol, he added, "our chemical analyses have shown tree resin in many wine samples."

Ancient Drinking Rituals
While the identities of the ancient, moccasin-clad wine quaffers remain a mystery, their drinking culture likely involved ceremonies in honour of the dead, UCLA's Areshian believes.

"Twenty burials have been identified around the wine-pressing installation. There was a cemetery, and the wine production in the cave was related to this ritualistic aspect," Areshian speculated.

Significantly, drinking cups have been found inside and around the graves.

McGovern, the ancient-wine expert, said later examples of ancient alcohol-related funerary rituals have been found throughout the world.

In ancient Egypt, for example, "you have illustrations inside the tombs showing how many jars of beer and wine from the Nile Delta are to be provided to the dead," McGovern said. 

"I guess a cave is secluded, so it's good for a cemetery, but it's also good for making wine," he added. "And then you have the wine right there, so you can keep the ancestors happy."

Future work planned at Areni will further investigate links between the burials and winemaking, study leader Areshian said.

Winemaking as Revolution
The discovery is important, the study team says, because winemaking is seen as a significant social and technological innovation among prehistoric societies.
Vine growing, for instance, heralded the emergence of new, sophisticated forms of agriculture, Areshian said.
"They had to learn and understand the cycles of growth of the plant," he said. "They had to understand how much water was needed, how to prevent fungi from damaging the harvest, and how to deal with flies that live on the grapes.

"The site gives us a new insight into the earliest phase of horticulture—how they grew the first orchards and vineyards," he added.

University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Naomi Miller commented that "from a nutritional and culinary perspective, wine expands the food supply by harnessing the otherwise sour and unpalatable wild grape.
"From a social perspective, for good and ill," Miller said, "alcoholic beverages change the way we interact with each other in society."

The ancient-winery study was led by UCLA's Hans Barnard and partially funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

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