Monday, January 25, 2010

Observers, the Free Society Institute, and the Cayman Islands

Now, it was no surprise when the ruling regime used violence, fraud, and intimidation to keep votes going their way, and other voters and journalists away from polling station, during the recent District #10 elections in Yerevan.
The elections did, however, bring to my attention an NGO known as the "Free Society Institute" (FSI). I first read about them in one of the a1plus articles which was reporting on the election, and mentioned that someone named Armen Sahakyan, supposedly an observer from the FSI NGO, was swearing at and physically threatening a journalist. This fellow and a "colleague" of his, David Simonyan, also from the FSI, were mentioned in a later article as well.
I have to admit, I was someone surprised that someone masquerading as an observer would be so hostile - or, vice versa - someone so hostile would masquerade as an observer. So I did what I always do, I Googled the Free Society Institute. And, aside from one incident where it seems the Free Society Institute was confused with the Soros foundation Open Society Insitute (very different, but with understandably confusable names), here is what I found:

-There are numerous Free Society Institutes, including in Eastern Europe and South Africa. They seem to be completely unrelated, and I could not find a website for the one in Armenia.

-The name that come up most often with the organization when Googled is Edgar Hakobyan, who was, at least several years ago, the chair of the organization. Anahit Daniyelyan is the only other name that came up, and she is/was apparently the head of the branch in Stepanakert.

-I did find that this Free Society Institute has been sending "observers" to elections Armenia for several years. And, for the mostpart, they like what they see:

- Regarding the May 2007 Parliamentary elections, Edgar Hakobyan stated that they had 1405 observers, there were no gross violations, and that it met international democratic standards.

-During the presidential election of February, 2008, "army officers dressed in civilian clothes are sitting as observers, which is a violation of the Electoral Code." They were registered with FSI.

-Regarding the January 10, 2010 elections, Hakobyan was quoted as saying "No violations, no emergency situations have been registered... The voting is very civilized, the turnout is very high."

Being curious by nature, I emailed the two emails I could find, to Mr Hakobyan and Ms Daniyelyan, asking for more information, or at least to be pointed in the right direction for more information, about the organization. It has been over a week. The emails did not bounce back. I have not heard a thing.

FSI has obviously been involved for quite a while. In fact, Edgar Hakobyan himself has been to the Council of Europe Summer School for Democracy, as the head of FSI. And, the FSI, and their observers are cited in at least one OSCE report about elections in Armenia.

Now, getting a lot of information about individuals in Armenia on the web is difficult, as many of the names are common, which makes verification difficult.

And maybe I am about to get an answer back. I would in fact really appreciate that. I would like to be able to either realize that there has been some misunderstanding and they are one of many grass roots organizations in Armenia aiming to instill democracy and Human Rights, or, know that this organization does for the banditocracy what an account in the Cayman islands does for a banker.

If I ever do get a response, I will absolutely post it.


nazarian said...

Interesting discovery.

tzitzernak2 said...

Before posting this I put the question out there on Facebook, who are these guys at FSI? I did get a few responses, all of which felt that FSI is basically a tool of the banditocracy. I received a similar response after I posted the piece as well.
In my curiosity and attempt to get some solid facts, this is what I came up with.
And still, I have no response.

nazarian said...

The whole thing is a big sham - these are just particles of the system that is sucking the country dry. Did you see that they've been selling off the livestock of the country to Iran? They've run out of things to sell and can't get more credit from the West.