Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Less than 24 hours apart...

The news regarding the supposed thaw between Turkey and Armenia continues. Hurriyet and Azerbaijan's APA are just two of many more sources reporting that there have been ongoing talks between Yerevan and Ankara about improving relations, and potentially opening the border. Of course, it seems generally accepted that a lot depends on Obama's next move. Nalbandyan continues to deny most of what is being reported in the news. Of course, this isn't a new tactic for the regime - denial and mixed messages beget confusion, hopelessness, and disinterest.
The Public Radio of Armenia website reported most recently on the potential thaw on 3.30.2009 at 16:22. Three articles and less than 24 hours later, 3.31.2009 at 10:52 is the article entitled: PACE positively assesses Armenia’s implementation of Res. 1643. Coincidence?

APA has an article quoting Ross Wilson, former US ambassador to Azerbaijan and Turkey. In the article, he is quoted as saying: “I think what is critical in that complicated part of the world that try to put together some of the building blocks that produce peace. Peace for the relationship between Turkey and Armenia, resolution perhaps between Azerbaijan and Armenia on Nagorno Karabakh conflict, be able to reach to move forward." The quote is out of context, clearly. But I think it points out what is truly important to those who "deal" with these issues. Principles such as Peace and Stability apply only when convenient.
Not so different from the principle of "respect for truth and peace" that Arman Rustamyan refers to in his letter to Howard Berman, which the ARF seems to apply on an "as needed" basis.

[thanks to informative dialogue between Bruce Tasker and Ani on Khosq for bringing some of the references to my attention]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Open Letters... Javakhk and Political Prisoners

In the past few days, two Open Letters caught my eye:

Open letter of Vahagn Chakhalyan to the President of Georgia Mikheil Saahakshvili
Chakhalyan is the leader of the «United Javakhk» Democratic Alliance» political movement


the Letter from the Wives of the Political Prisoners to Mr. Hammarberg

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Cheryomukha-7, blunt objects, and the Order

We've known for a while now that three of the victims of March 1 were killed because of supposed "incorrect use" of the the Cheryomukha-7, whose shells are meant to be fired into the air (and not directly at a person).
First there was a question of how old the shells were: it was noted that they were outdated, and maybe that was the problem. Or that they were used improperly because instead of being fired into the air, they were fired directly into a crowd. And Russian exports reported that even aged shells, if shot into the air correctly, wouldn't kill someone.
But the autopsies showed that two of the three were shot in the head, and one in the hip - the cause of death not at all related to gas, but to direct impact.
Initially it was thought that experts would be able to trace shell fragments to specific guns, which was important especially as investigators had discovered that there were only four officers who were carrying those weapons. But somehow, the fragments didn't lend themselves to further studies and identification. And even now the government refuses to answer specific questions about the use of those weapons.
Alla Hovhannisyan, mother of Tigran Khachatryan, the first victim of March 1, has been interviewed multiple times, and has pointed out significant discrepancies in the investigation and reports. As the ArmeniaNow article from March 1 on the topic reports, the Prosecutor's documents state that “Tigran Khachatryan, at about 20:00 along with several participants of the mass disorder, went to the Leo crossroad from Myasnikyan’s statue, and he died there at about 21:30.” Yet, the last video he caught on his phone was for 2 minutes starting at 21:19, the demonstration held at the Myasnikyan’s statue. How could he have be at Leo Street since 20:00 and have shot the demonstration at the Myasnikyan’s statue? How could he have gone a kilometer in 8 minutes and appeared in the Leo Street and ‘participated in the mass disorder’? (paraphrased from the article).

Well, yesterday's RFE/RL had another interesting tidbit.
Testifying before the commission earlier this week, Khachatrian mother, Alla Hovannisian, revealed the findings of a forensic examination which suggested that the young man was repeatedly hit by a blunt object before being shot dead late on March 1.

If the forensic examiner is correct, then this yet a whole new dimension. There is no error, no expiration, no miscalculation or incorrect use in beating someone. There is no incorrect firing angle, no distance, and no anonymity.

And in the end, we're still left asking, who gave the order?

[see 2/20/09 article from ArmeniaNow for a summary]

Monday, March 23, 2009

Vardanyan reports that he is giving Jhangiryan 3 years

Anyone who has listened to or watched the news in Armenia knows that there seems to be some type of race among reporters to see who can speak the fastest, even to the extent of being almost incomprehensible at times. For those television newscasters reading from a paper report, they often read so quickly that they barely have time to lift their heads to look at the camera.
Which is why it is not surprising that Judge Vardanyan spoke so quickly, and didn't raise his head during his sentencing of Jhangiryan - he was reading a report. Maybe he wrote it, maybe he even chose what to say,.. maybe. But compare how he reads his document, and how Jhangiryan read his own, almost 50 page text on the 18th, and what's happening is clear. As his lawyer Lusine Sahakyan said, "Vardanyan was unable to disobey an order."

This is the video of the sentencing:

Lragir posted the text of Jhangiryan's speech, but then it disappeared. However, the text of the document, is available here, in Armenian only. It is a longer document, but one well worth reading.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Against Self-Empowering Hierarchies and Destructive Mentalities

There's obviously been a wide variety of reactions to the announcement that LTP would be running for mayor. I think its brilliant. However, listening to the radio there are clearly those, it would seem both regular folks as well as regime individuals, who feel that the position is below him, or that he would be taking a step down. A recent lragir article addressed this to some extent a well, noting that that type of mindset is very hierarchical, and a remnant of the Soviet mentality.
The announcement is a tactical move, one of the crucial differences between someone like LTP and Sargsyan/Kocharyan. Another crucial difference is exactly what lragir points out, the mindset. The SS/RK purpose is to maintain power, and to gain more, for themselves, even at cost to the people and the country. What LTP is showing is that it is not about the power, or about an individual or an ego, but about an idea, a long-term goal, about finding the best way to get things changed.
What it comes down to is this - SS/RK are the folks who brought us the violence of March 1, the repressions and the political imprisonment that continue today - all in the name of their own power and rank. Of course they couldn't foresee LTP running for mayor - they wouldn't think of it themselves because it is not in their visual field. To now say that this move by LTP and the ANC is shameful, or looks bad, because it is a step down, is a very hierarchical, and Soviet, as Lragir pointed out, mindset. And a very harmful one to a country that is trying to move forward.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


The Civilitas Foundation put out their report of 2008- about 10 of 60 pages of which are devoted to the significant domestic issues surrounding the presidential elections. Well, there is a lot to say about those 10 pages, and their purported objectivity and "unique Armenian perspective." Below is the start of some thoughts about the document...


Isn’t it just wonderful that Vartan Oskanyan, who served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs under Robert Kocharyan for ten years, is so motivated to create a civil society in Armenia? Who could have had better training? Kocharyan must have been a paragon of democratic instincts, despite the fact that he could not understand why an opposition should exist, let alone function.

Soon after leaving office in March 2008, Oskanyan initiated Civilitas to promote democracy, but especially civil society, which apparently did not yet exist in Armenia. Maybe then it is a very specific civil society that he is promoting, he and whoever is, in substance, supporting Civilitas offices (the poshest of any NGO in Armenia) and personnel. Ten years of unqualified service should be worth something, for sure. But is that all there is to the story? Maybe there are some answers to be found in the most recent report by Civilitas, “Armenia in 2008.”

In its introduction, the Report acknowledges that there are a number of international organizations that produce accountings of major events and issues of relevance to Armenia. This one, it promises, will be distinct from the others for its “Armenian” perspective. I guess organizations such as the Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor for one, which continues to produce reports on ongoing events in Armenia, are not considered to provide an “Armenian” perspective, or at least not the correct, “mature” one (p.33)...

there's more, keep reading

The document seems to no longer be accessible in English from the Civilitas Website - luckily I saved it when it was still accessible. Click here to see the full report.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Hitting below the belt, literally

Gagik Shamshyan, photojournalist for Aravot and Chorrord Ishkhanutyun, was admitted to the hospital after being beaten by security personnel at Yerevan State Linguistic University. After a protest action today, he and other reporters had gone to get the viewpoint of the university administration. Their entrance to the building was blocked by security personnel, who soon became very aggressive. Shamshyan was kicked and beaten, and in the radio story (see below) Shamshyan describes how he fell to the floor, and security kept kicking him and swearing at him, and how he kicked back to protect himself. He was kicked in the groin, and later noticed he had bleeding. He was taken to the hospital, and as per the a1plus article, he has been diagnosed with a fracture of the urethra.
The Ombudsman has already made a comment about the situation, calling for consequences; A1plus is reporting that someone named Mirijanyan has been detained.
We'll see whether he's prosecuted or not, whether there are any consequences.

Armenialiberty Radio, 15:00 report: story starts at 5:15 minutes, you can hear Shamshyan being beaten starting at 6:38 minutes

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Ombudsman 's Report, 2008

The Ombudsman's office has published its Annual Report for 2008. It is available only in Armenian at this point, and I haven't had a chance to read all 275 pages at this point. Harutyunyan is being criticized from all sides for the report, with the government saying his statements are unfounded and not objective. The Opposition, it seems, is critical that the document did not address the events surrounding the elections. Mr. Harutyunyan truly is one of those walking quite a difficult line. As the Opposition has truth on their side, I wonder what the government has on their's to pressure the Ombudsman.

Friday, March 6, 2009

How many people came?... And does it matter?

I had a chance, just this week, to catch a glimpse of the most recent Armenian Observer. I was actually somewhat impressed that the front story, March 4, was on the March 1 Demonstration in Yerevan. The title: "Over 10,000 people gather in central Yerevan to rally on the 1st anniversary of March 1st political clashes." Two main thoughts came to mind - here's one of them.

How do we estimate the number of people at a rally? The reported estimated numbers at this demonstration range from 5k-100k, and this huge range is typical of not only Armenia's demonstrations over the past 18 months, but other countries as well. So I Googled it. Apparently a professor at Berkeley tackled this problem during the Vietnam protests by putting grid markings on the ground where people stood, and averaging the densities per known area over time, at different demonstrations. This is what he found:
-Loosely packed people will stand approx one arm's length from the next person, which is approximately 1 person per 10sq feet = 1 person/.93 meter squared
-Tightly packed folks will be at 1 person per 4.5 sq ft= 1person/0.42 sq meter
-Very tightly packed people will be 1 per 2.5 sq feet = 1 person / .23 sq meter

What one eyewitness on March 1 this year told me was that it took 45 minutes for the march to pass by. If we assume that a moderately slow march is about 3 mi/hr, which is 5km/hr, thats 5 km/hr for 45 minutes, which is 3750 meters of people. People seem to be closer to each other in the front than in the back, and also more people in a row in the front than the back. So lets say on average there are 15 people in a row, and they are on average between the tightly and loosely packed. Obviously, this calculation is far from ideal, but lets see what it gets us:

15 in a row, at (.42+.93)/2 = .675 sq meters per person. That's .82 meters length and width for each person's average box. 15 people across x .82 = 12.3 meters across

12.3 meters x 3750 m = 45,000 sq meters
45,000 sq meters / .675 m sq per person = 66,666 people, if they were between loosely and tightly packed.

We can play with the numbers, making it less dense - for example, let's say they are loose all the way through. Thats the 1p/.93 msq, which is a .96 x .96 m box.
15 people across x .96 m = 14.4;, 14.4m x 3750m = 54,000 msq; and 54,000msq / .93msq per person = 56,250 people.

And I think these figures, looking at video and pictures, are if anything, an underestimate.

Impressive, I think. Not just the numbers, which can potentially be fudged any way you like. But that after so much time, so many come out in the cold, in a context of fear and repression, and for some, disheartenment, to speak out for themselves.

As much as I would love to know the concrete numbers, it is actually not the number that matters the most.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An important 50th birthday

March 5 marks what would have been the 50th birthday of Vazgen Sargsyan.
There is much to be said, revered, and even debated, about the life of this Armenian Hero.
He was assassinated on October 27, 1999.
Some pawns in the game were found guilty.
Is there any doubt in what truly happened?
Have we not seen this pattern of violence again?
I do find some comfort in the thought that the respect for such a man is shared by supporters of both sides of the present crisis: a Freedom Fighter, a man who died for his country, for his principles.

May he rest in peace.
May his hopes and dreams for a better Armenia come true today.
Vano Siradeghyan's famous letter to Vazgen Sargsyan can be seen here (Armenian Only). Unfortunately, I don't remember the original link/site I saved this from.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

March 1, 2009 - One year on

UPDATE: here is LTP's speech today

One year on, and the repressions and violence continue. The Trial of the 7, Jahangiryan's trial, and others continue, with no real signs of turning toward following the laws set forth in the Constitution, or any real logic, for that matter. Some trials have concluded, with outcomes that boggle the rational mind. A year on, we still have over 50 political prisoners (whether or not Jupiter and Mars have aligned in a way that they can be recognized by PACE as such, or not). We still have a government bent on silencing those who would speak out in any way. A year on, there are no answers, no resolution - only postponements, misinformation and confusion.

My sincerest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives of their loved ones.
My deepest gratitude to those who continue to struggle for a better Armenia.

At this moment, police are blocking access to Matenadaran, and limiting incoming traffic from the outlying regions. LTP has already arrived at the scene. A police official has news that someone who has been in hiding may come to the demonstration today (eg Sukiasyan or Pashinyan), as per A1plus. SS lit a candle at St. Sarkis in memory of the 10 victims - I wonder if it was the candle he was too busy to use last year, getting inaugurated, on the Karasunk (40th day of mourning) of the victims of March 1.

It seems it is not just Armenians who have been looking ahead to this day. The US State Department and Human Rights Watch just released scathing reports regarding the current situation in Armenia. Journalists/Reporters from around the world seemed to take a heightened interested: Al Jazeera, Institute for War and Peace, The Moscow Times, to name a few.

And what is the rest of the Armenian nation doing on this historic day?

SDA is having a conference in Paris, where a documentary on March 1 will be shown as well. I'm hoping the documentary will be made available online.

The AAA is kicking off their annual Advocacy conference in Washington D.C. Have a great time at your Gala Banquet!