Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Armenian News... A Topalian... 8 Editorials

29 Dec 18
Pashinyan sure of greater victories in 2019

Caretaker Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has participated in a formal reception on New Year and Christmas holidays for representatives of the state administration system. President Armen Sarkissian, Catholicos Garegin II and outgoing Speaker of Parliament Ara Babloyan were also in attendance.

“The main question that arises in the 2018-2019 boundary is the following: can we do the things we talk about? This question certainly has one answer, it is positive, but simultaneously with this answer there are conditions. Yes, we can, if we are able to believe in our powers, and in order to believe in our powers it is necessary for us to be able to believe in our mission. Our government is a government of a mission that must realize its mission, because it is developed on the faith and trust of our people for the past and future.

This mission is developed on the perception that a people who have passed through centuries-old disasters cannot lose because if it were a losing people this defeat would had arrived long ago. Therefore, the Armenian people is a winner and in 2018 the Armenian people proved this.

We must realize that all issues and tasks that we are developing are assigned to us by the people. All of these issues are solvable and we must solve them on the basis that all of us must understand and record – the solution of these issues is here and there [in the mind and heart]. If we are able to adhere to this formula, we will definitely solve all issues before us.

And the past eight months have proven that we have sufficient will, sufficient coherency, sufficient strength, sufficient people’s support for solving these issues.
I would like to thank all those present for their work during this period, and I want to congratulate for the joint work. Although I can’t say that we have done everything that we would have liked to have finished already, I can’t not mention that during this period we have done the most important thing – we have proved that we are capable of solving the issues set before us, regardless of how likely the solution of these issues seems to anyone.

I congratulate us all on the years of 2018 and 2019. I am sure that just like 2018, 2019 will also be a year of victories, but they [victories] must be greater, more encompassing and more strategic victories. Happy New Year to your families, happy New year to the staff of all ministries, I wish you good luck in your work and in your personal life. Thank you,” Pashinyan said.

Edited and translated by Stepan Kocharyan

Public Radio of Armenia
Dec 31 2018
President Sarkissian's New Year message 

President Armen Sarkissian sent a congratulatory message on the occasion of New Year and Holy Christmas holidays.

“Dear Citizens of the Republic of Armenia,

Dear Compatriots all over the world,

Year 2018 has been a year of great changes, challenges, expectations, and anticipations. 

We have witnessed the best qualities of our nation – unity, togetherness, high moral and civic spirit. 

Very soon, we will have a new parliament and a new government. 

Their success will depend greatly on the citizens of Armenia. Their success will be conditioned by the support of the citizens, as well as by your active participation in the social, political, economic, and cultural life.

Armenia can truly become one of the brightest spots on earth in the areas of innovative ideas, culture, science, economy, and others.

However, the path will not be easy.

There will be difficulties, often conditioned by the factors beyond our control, including the geopolitical realities. 

I wish you all alertness, composure, reasonable thinking, responsibility, and tolerance. 
These are the keys for success. 

Security and sovereignty of Armenia and Artsakh, just and fair resolution of the Artsakh problem will continue to occupy the pivotal place in our lives. 

We are living with a deep understanding that regardless of the place we were born, we all have one Homeland. 

The Homeland should be made prosperous through our joint efforts – through the united efforts of Armenia, Artsakh, and Spyurk.

We need to take care of the pillars of our national identity – our culture, education, spiritual, and familial values. 

The role of our Holy Church in this is critical. 

We need to be more considerate towards our historical and national heritage, our nature, rural areas, towns and cities, our country in general. 
Fellow citizens,

At this moment, I am with all of you in spirit and my mind, I am standing by you, by the troops and officers on the border, by the ambulances and doctors on call in hospitals, policemen carrying out their duties, firemen, bakers, taxi drivers, villagers and workers, scientists, and artists, all of you. 

I am especially concerned with the families which hardly make ends meet. With those who have no housing yet, those who live in border areas, I am concerned with wounded and sick. I wish you all relief and respite. 

Let the new year open doors of success for all of you. 

Let every citizen of Armenia feel the positive spirit of changes. 

We all ought to be guided by this motto: “If others can, we can too, if no one succeeded yet, we will be the first.” 

I wish our Fatherland peace, our families – health, success, prosperity, and happiness, to children I wish laughter and vigor, to eldertly – dignified rest. 

Let in the new year all of you, your families and friends, every citizen of Armenia, every Armenian anywhere in the world be able to dream and see it come true.
Happy New Year!”

Public Radio of Armenia
Dec 31 2018
Catholicos of All Armenians issues New Year address 

His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, has issued the following message on New Year and Christmas: 

Dear Faithful in the Homeland and the Diaspora, It is the festive day of New Year.

We extend Our Pontifical love and blessings from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin to you dear faithful people of Armenia. With warm feelings, we extend our best wishes to those who carry out their duties at this moment at the place of service; officers and soldiers of our army who keep the borders of their homeland unapproachable; those who are united in the churches for prayer and all our children gathered around the festive tables.

On the New Year’s Eve, we extend our gratitude to God, that he kept our Homeland and worldwide people in peace in the passing year, blessed with the good, righteous earnings and achievements in the national and church life. We also thank God that through the patriotic spirit and reasonableness of our nation the political developments in our country had a peaceful course and we are welcoming 2019 with expectations of positive changes.

Every new year is a new beginning, full of expectations of the new, with the desire for the better and perfect. We are connecting with the New Year what we would like to reform, manage and soon see the fulfillment of our goals. The need for reform and civic zeal that are present in our lives will surely bring good results, more care, more effort and aspiration, to strengthen the foundations of the legal state, the fair and law-abiding society, to prosper our country and our entire national life.

This is our way that we have to keep constant, always remembering that Armenia's development and power is the core and condition of our national aspirations for the security of Artsakh and the viability of the Diaspora. Dear beloved, at this moment, when our intentions with good expectations are addressed to the future and our plans, through our Pontifical message we convey Lord’s message: “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).

Our life becomes meaningful with the existence of the divine love. Where there is love there is strength in faith, there is hope abundant and solidarity is prosperous with righteousness and good deeds. “Love never fails”, (1 Corinthians 13:8), says the Apostle. Yes, it grows like leaven, becomes a curve, a steadily effort, a commitment by which our life will be upheld.

With these thoughts and joyous spirit we command our pious people, to continue live and act by supporting each other and to put dedicated efforts for the strength of our motherland and our spiritual and national life.

We wish peace to the world, peace, to our homeland; steadfastness to our statehood and blessings to our worldwide Armenian nation and the entire people. May the year 2019 bring joy to our families and progress and achievements to our lives. Happy New Year!

Dec 30 2018
How Armenia went from a corrupt autocracy to country of the year in six months
By Annalisa Merelli in Yerevan

Walking around the Armenian capital of Yerevan in early June, the last thing a visitor could picture on those streets was a revolution. Spotless, clean, and cheerful, with families out for ice cream and strolls in the balmy late-spring night, the city appeared to be perfectly content.

And yet, only weeks before, the nation had been in turmoil. The streets were filled with protestors demanding the resignation of president Serzh Sargsyan and an end to the corrupt, autocratic government that had controlled the former Soviet republic since 2008.

The year 2018 was one in which authoritarianism made striking gains in countries like Hungary, Poland, and Brazil. But in May, Armenia managed to free itself from autocracy—without shedding a drop of blood. By December, the country had held was was arguably its first fair election in two decades.

Armenia’s so-called “velvet revolution” was a model of democratic engagement, prompting The Economist to name it the country of the year. The story of how Armenians brought about their victory offers lessons for citizens around the world seeking to get rid of corrupt leaders—and reminds us all that it’s possible to bring about political change.

Rehearsals for the revolution

Sargsyan had held the office of president since 2008, as well as the office of prime minister from 2007 to 2008, thanks to a series of crony deals and contested elections. May’s protests were first ignited when, in April 2018, Sargsyan privatized the official presidential residence with the intention of holding onto it regardless of the end of his mandate later that same month. Lawmakers then elected him prime minister, despite the fact that he had pledged in 2015 that he wouldn’t seek the role—further enflaming public fury and sending tens of thousands of protestors onto the streets of Yerevan and other Armenian cities.

But this was not the first time Sargsyan had encountered popular opposition. In fact, the prime-minister-turned-president-turned-prime-minister had been dealing with intermittent protests for years. The results of every election had been contested since 2008. In 2011, a protest led by street vendors against a ban on selling goods on Yerevan’s streets broadened to become a mass political demonstration against both national and local governments. The protests carried on, intermittently, for the entire year. But although they led to some concessions, such as a change in anti-assembly laws, they didn’t turn into tangible victories.

From 2012 on, the protests gained focus—and became a yearly occurrence, as Salpi Ghazarian, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Armenian Studies and co-founder of Civilitas Foundation, Armenia’s first large NGO, told Quartz.

In 2012, there was the Mashtots Park Movement, or Occupy Mashtots, a protest with the goal of stopping the government from turning Yerevan’s Mashtots Park into real-estate property. The movement, led by a group called The City Belongs to Us, managed to stop the project, bolstering spirits with a concrete victory. In 2013, the focus of the protests was a big hike in Yerevan’s transportation fares. In 2014, protestors turned out to oppose pension reform. In 2015, the movement, called Electric Yerevan, centered on the rising cost of electricity.

These victories were both emboldening and limiting, according to both Ghazarian and Ani Paitjan, one of the many young, polyglot reporters who work for Civilitas’s digital media organization, CivilNet. On one hand, citizens got to feel the thrill of accomplishing tangible results. On the other, these small victories signaled, every time, the end of the fight. And when the protests moved away from concrete issues and into the broadly political realm in 2016, with people demanding the government’s resignation, the turmoil wasn’t capable of obtaining similar, relatively quick results.

And so, even as an opposition leader—current prime minister Nikol Pashinyan—emerged in late 2017, many people were dubious about whether it was really possible to move beyond smaller political changes and get rid of the Sargsyan government. ”Everybody was skeptical,” one start-up founder housed by the incubator Impact Hub, who asked not to be identified in order to protect their family’s privacy, told Quartz. The attempts to bring about long-lasting political change had been so numerous that “it just didn’t seem like there were ways to get these politicians out.”

The lessons learned

But as it turned out, all those previous protests—despite their limitations and shortcomings—wound up informing the strategy that successfully toppled Sargsyan. Interviews with Ghazarian, as well as with CivilNet journalists and Impact Hub co-founder and CEO Sara Anjargolian, identified five steps that proved crucial to ousting the authoritarian regime.

Make the protests inescapable. In previous years, the protests began in Yerevan and stayed essentially confined to small, central areas of the capital. This meant that while parts of the capital were occupied, most of the country could go on about its daily business without even taking notice. Pashinyan, by contrast, centered the initial protest in Gyumri, Armenia’s second-largest city. Even when the protests reached Yerevan, they were structured as long marches through different neighborhoods. Every day, the route the protestors took through the city was different. 

Coordinated walks were also happening in other parts of the country, ensuring that everyone could, at some point, see the protesters near their homes or offices.

Go home. In previous years, protests had followed the “occupy” model, with people camping in public spaces until their demands were met. But living this way is necessarily unsustainable; when people started leaving the spaces they occupied, the protests died. This time, protest organizers asked everyone  to go home at the end of each day and reconvene in the morning, in another location, to start another march.

Get the kids. When it comes to finding protestors who are both willing and able, one’s best bet is to head to a university campus. Students have two of the most precious tools for civil disobedience: Idealism and time to spare. Pashinyan got university students to join his movement very early on, ensuring that ranks would remain strong throughout the protest.

Make some noise. When the protests risked dying down, the organizers asked drivers in cities to honk if they agreed with the protesters. This turned the streets into cacophony and chaos, but ensured that the protests were impossible to ignore, and that people had a way to join in that didn’t require quitting their daily activities.

Eyes on the ball. From the very beginning, Pashinyan and his supporters had said they were going after one result, and one only: Getting Sargsyan out of office. No other result was acceptable, and though the government made several attempts at compromise, the protestors turned them all down. More marches, and more noise, followed until the mission was accomplished.

Allies of the people

On top of all this, the revolution was very friendly to the media. CivilNet, as well as other organizations such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, broadcast live from the protests. Pashinyan had a background as a journalist, and the media felt he was trustworthy.

Getting digital media on board was crucial because of an interesting feature of Armenia: Its impressive internet penetration. According to the country’s official statistics, 72.5% Armenians in the country have access to the web. The Freedom of the Net report, which places internet penetration at 62%, considers the country free when it comes to internet access. Mobile penetration, too, is very high, at 119%. All this makes it easy for the news to circulate even in rural areas. And because Armenia has a large diaspora population, online media was particularly key in spreading awareness of the protests.

In CivilNet’s newsroom, Ghazarian explains that Armenia is a country where grandmas casually use Skype, even in rural areas, to speak with their grandchildren and relatives in other countries. Because digital sites have a large diaspora audience following their English updates, they could count on a direct information channel out of Yerevan and into more rural areas of the country, as well as an indirect one: From CivilNet to the diaspora, and then back to people in Armenia through loved ones abroad.

Some outlets were strategic in spreading the demands of the protesters and sharing the size of the uprising. CivilNet, for example, greatly expanded its staff and services to provide nonstop coverage of the protest. But others tried to remain outside the velvet revolution, acting as watchdogs.

That was the case with EVN Report, led by former CivilNet staffer Maria Titizian. During the protests, Titizian told Quartz, her organization, too, provided constant updates through its social media. But unlike others, EVN Report remained cautious in its optimism about the movement’s potential, and remains so.

AAF Shipped $43 Million of Aid to Armenia and Artsakh during 2018
28 Dec 2018
Nouritza Abujamra

The Armenia Artsakh Fund (AAF) delivered $23 million of humanitarian assistance to Armenia and Artsakh during the fourth quarter of 2018.  Of this amount, the AAF collected $22.5 million of medicines and other supplies donated by Direct Relief ($18.3 million); Americares ($3.8 million); Catholic Medical Mission Board ($214,000) and MAP International ($159,000).  
Another organization which contributed valuable goods during this period was Agape Project ($119,000).  
The medicines and medical supplies donated during this period were sent to the AGBU Claudia Nazarian Medical Center for Syrian Armenian Refugees in Yerevan, Arabkir United Children’s Foundation, Institute of Perinatology, Obstetrics and Gynecology  Center, Muratsan Children’s Endocrinology Center, St. Grigor Lusavorich Medical Center, and the health ministries of Armenia and Artsakh.
During the twelve months of 2018 AAF shipped to Armenia and Artsakh the record amount of $43 million of medicines, medical supplies and other relief products. In the past 29 years, including the shipments under its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund, the AAF has delivered to Armenia and Artsakh a grand total of $820 million worth of relief supplies on board 158 airlifts and 2,420 sea containers. 
“The Armenia Artsakh Fund is regularly offered free of charge millions of dollars of life-saving medicines and medical supplies. All we have to do is pay for the shipping expenses. We welcome your generous donations to be able to continue delivering this valuable assistance to all medical centers in Armenia and Artsakh," stated Harut Sassounian, the President of AAF.

RFE/RL Report
Armenian PM Reports Gas Deal With Russia
December 31, 2018
Artur Papyan

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Monday that he has reached an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin on new prices of Russian natural gas for Armenia which will be set in 2019.

“Yesterday I spoke twice with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone,” he said in a live Facebook transmission. “The theme of those phone conversations was the price of natural gas supplied to Armenia. I can say that we found a 
solution, at least for the foreseeable future.”

Pashinian announced that he and Putin agreed that Armenia’s national gas distribution network owned by Gazprom will pay more for the gas supplied by the Russian energy giant. Nevertheless, he said, the price will remain unchanged for Armenian consumers as a result of “our certain internal adjustments.” He did not elaborate.

Gazprom reported later on Monday that its chairman, Alexei Miller, and Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian signed a deal raising the wholesale gas price from $150 to $165 per thousand cubic meters. In a statement, the Russia gas monopoly said it will continue to negotiate with the Armenian government on “the structure of internal gas tariffs” in the South Caucasus state.

The Gazprom-Armenia network has paid its parent company $150 per thousand cubic meters under a previous Russian-Armenian deal that expired on December 31. 

Putin and Pashinian failed to agree on a new tariff when they met in Moscow on December 27. Miller and Grigorian also reported no agreements after holding talks in Saint Petersburg on December 28.

Gazprom-Armenia cut its retail prices for Armenian households and corporate consumers in late 2016. Its chief executive, Hrant Tadevosian, complained in November 2018 that the company has operated at a loss since then. It is not yet clear whether it will be compensated by the Armenian government for the higher gas price and the resulting of loss of revenue.

Pashinian insisted that unlike in the past Armenia will not incur any debts or hand over any energy assets to Russia as a result of his latest understandings with Putin. He said nothing about political concessions to Moscow.

Gazprom cut the wholesale price for Armenia from about $190 to $165 per thousand cubic meters in 2015 and on to $150 in 2016.

Panorama, Armenia
Dec 29 2018
Feodosia National Art Gallery plans digitization of Aivazovsky’s artwork

The artwork of the Russian-Armenian great marine artist Hovhannes Aivazovsky kept at the Aivazovsky National Art Gallery in Feodosia, Crimea, will be digitized, TASS news agency reported. As the Minister of Culture of Crimea Arina Novoselskaya said, the museum will be reconstructed to have a museum district with the expected opening in 2022.

“The collection of the artwork is not yet digitized yet it is planned,” Novoselskaya told the agency, adding no time frame for the completion of the digitization is set yet.

The Aivazovsky National Art Gallery is a national art museum in Feodosia. In 1845, Ivan Aivazovsky acquired a plot in the outskirts of Feodosiya, on the very seashore. He decided to build a house with a big art studio and dreamed to establish a school of painting there. The same year, 1845, the first exhibition comprising 49 works was opened in a part of the house.

The Art Gallery in Feodosiya was the first one-painter museum in the Russian Empire and has grown very famous even in Aivazovsky's lifetime. Besides the fact that unique pictorial canvases were exhibited here, prominent musician and actors - marine painter's friends - performed on the stage specially mounted in the gallery.

To note, Aivazovsky is considered one of the greatest marine artists in history. Baptized as Hovhannes Aivazian, Aivazovsky was born into an Armenian family in the Black Sea port of Feodosia and was mostly based in his native Crimea.

The Times, UK
December 29, 2018  
Review: Mr Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the World's Richest Man 
Gerard DeGroot

The oil tycoon's ruthless pursuit of wealth is a lesson in the pathology of greed, says Gerard DeGroot

Sometime in the summer of 1918 Calouste Gulbenkian was writing to his son, Nubar, from the Ritz in Paris. The Germans were shelling the city from 75 miles away. Boom! Gulbenkian told his son about a new oilfield in Borneo. Boom! Momentarily distracted when the room shook, he resumed his letter. "One shouldn't allow oneself to be put off by those barbarians and idiots," he wrote. Boom!

That moment at the Ritz perfectly encapsulates Gulbenkian. Nothing distracted him from making money. He was, writes Jonathan Conlin, an "inscrutable force of nature", loyal only to himself. Although he had a British passport, he was, in truth, a citizen of nowhere.

Financial reasons alone caused him to be in France during the First World War. The French, he realised, needed petrol. In 1914 their army had 316 petrol-driven vehicles. Four years later they had nearly 98,000. Thirsty engines caused an acute oil shortage. Gulbenkian sought "to profit from the current situation" and, at the same time, ingratiate himself with the French. From that same suite at the Ritz he also, it seems, provided financial advice to the Turks, France's enemy. That was Gulbenkian.

When he died in 1955 Gulbenkian was the richest man in the world, worth about £5 billion in today's money. His was not, however, a rags-to-riches story. The Gulbenkians, a wealthy Armenian family living in Istanbul, were traders. Calouste, born in 1869, was groomed to take over the family firm, but he had grander ambitions. A few years after his father's death in 1894, he cut his ties with his younger brothers. They went bankrupt as he grew steadily richer.

Gulbenkian's timing was impeccable. In 1897 he made a fortune financing London-based mining syndicates. He dealt briefly with the notorious fraudsters Horatio Bottomley and Whitaker Wright, cutting his ties with them just before the market collapsed and the police arrived. As cars began to appear on European streets, he entered the oil business. His strength, writes Conlin, lay in his "skill at negotiation and his nose for promising deals". He turned his lack of loyalty - to person or country - into an asset. "[His] talent for evading attribution to this or that side would underpin much of his . . . success as a deal-maker."

Gulbenkian wasn't interested in oil, other than in what it could bring. He saw an oilfield only once, at age 19. Despite having business interests in Venezuela, Mexico, the United States and the Far East, he never visited those places, nor did he travel to Iraq, Saudi Arabia or any of the Gulf States, from whose oil production he drew 5 per cent. That dividend came from brokering an agreement in 1928 between the big oil companies to co-operate under the umbrella of his Turkish Petroleum Company to exploit Middle Eastern reserves without wasteful competition. Oil experts at first thought the 5 per cent was simply a broker's commission, but he had cleverly negotiated a permanent share. As one business associate remarked, his calm, dignified method of dealing meant that "he could slip a camel through the eye of a needle".

All that wealth made Gulbenkian a celebrity, although a frustratingly mysterious one. "I should like to know what he really thinks," wrote a society columnist, "whether he has a home; whether he plays golf or has any other interest outside money-making." Gulbenkian provided few clues; he dressed modestly to disguise his wealth. He didn't play golf. He owned palatial homes in Paris and London, but didn't live in them, preferring luxury hotel suites. He was, writes Conlin, a "back room fixer of no fixed abode".

His only interest outside money-making was his art collection. He bought widely - Italian Renaissance, Old Masters, impressionists - but not always wisely. When the Soviet authorities tried to raise revenue by selling off paintings from the Hermitage in Leningrad in the 1920s, one museum official noticed how Gulbenkian seemed possessed by his need to buy. "[He's] the greatest obsessive of them all . . . he kept telling me, 'For God's sake, sell me a painting.' He wanted to buy all our junk." When he was reunited with his collection after hiding it away during the Second World War, he didn't recognise some of his pieces and assumed his minions had sold off the good stuff.

Paintings took on human qualities; he fell in and out of love. One painting "flirted", they mated, then "divorced". His wife, Nevarte, should perhaps have been jealous, but she had her own interests, deriving much more real enjoyment from wealth than he ever did. Their paths hardly crossed. As to her husband's frequent infidelities, she was fatalistic. "This is the way things are . . . we love each other sincerely and if we each close our eyes to the other's faults then . . . we will be very happy." She was probably right; he had no interest in the beautiful women he bedded. His physician had advised that frequent sex with young women was a rejuvenating tonic, so he obediently followed doctor's orders.

Mr Five Per Cent 
is a remarkable book, if only because Gulbenkian is not an easy subject. His single-mindedness - in the pursuit of art treasures, sex or money - renders him rather dull. Yet Conlin somehow constructs an engaging tale about this one-dimensional man. Every page is packed with figures, but there are also delightful details that provide welcome contrast to all those labyrinthine deals. An uncharacteristically foolhardy transaction with the Russians, for instance, left Gulbenkian with two tons of caviar and no buyers. He gave the stuff away. Gulbenkian fascinates not because he's particularly interesting in and of himself, but rather because of the shady deals, broken friendships and family turmoil that littered his life.

Gulbenkian, writes Conlin, became "so fixated on protecting his fortune . . . that he seemed uninterested in the purposes for which it was being preserved". That's another way of saying that he worshipped money for itself rather than for what it could do. Other than that brief moment of reflection, Conlin refrains from criticism. Yet this book still provides an important moral lesson about the pathology of greed. We tend to revere those, such as Gulbenkian, who amass huge fortunes. In the process, we overlook their abundant flaws and their lack of ordinary humanity. If Gulbenkian's obsessiveness had been directed towards something other than simply amassing wealth, we might judge him mentally ill.

Gulbenkian's memorial service in 1955 was sparsely attended. At his company headquarters, there was no moment of silence, no condolences extended, no tears shed. That's not surprising. Since he cared about no one, in the end few cared about him. 

Mr Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the World's Richest Man Mr Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the World's Richest Man 
by Jonathan Conlin, Profile, 402pp; £25 

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