Friday, April 30, 2010

Dear Alik, that is NOT an apology - just stop talking and resign.

Alik Sargsyan, head of the Police of Armenia, is reportedly apologizing - multiple news sources have headline stating that he is apologizing, with regards to the Khalafyan case. But what is he apologizing for?

Once I actually read the texts, I saw no condolences offered. No apology for the beating, torture, death and murder of a young man at the hands of his department. No promise to investigate how such a thing could have happened, or maybe to see if it may have happened before. No talk of how to prevent such things in the future.

What I did see was an apology for spreading disinformation. And promises to punish without pity those who gave him the disinformation. Promises to punish those directly responsible for the violence.

Sorry, but that doesn't cut it, Alik. Where is the apology for the murder of a young man? Where is the apology for fostering an environment that allows and likely encourages such behavior? Where is the apology for just plain out being wrong, if its actually true that you did not know from the very beginning.

That is your department, Alik. You are responsible for knowing what happens, for the environment you foster, for fully researching your facts before you make statements.

Promising punishment, boundless punishment, is just hitting back and passing the buck. It is a perpetuation of violence, not logic or law or justice. Promising punishment to subordinates means those subordinates will pass that on to their own subordinates, and so it goes down the lines. And who gets it in the end? Well, whoever is at the end of the receiving line. And who is that for police? Well, citizens, that's who. And that's probably how we ended up with police killing a common citizen in the first place, not to mention innumerable instances of police beating protesters (including women and the elderly), and March 1.

Alik, you just keep saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, over and over. Open mouth insert foot, again and again.

My suggestion? Stop talking. Just resign.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What a great invitation...

One of Pashinyan's most recent pieces is an open invitation to Armenia's Ombudsman to come visit him in the Nubarashen Penitentiary for a discussion. The piece, not surprisingly, is full of wit, satire, and irony. But mostly an incredible wit.

The only further comment I will make is for clarification purposes. "Dollar Armen" is the well known nickname of Armen Harutyunyan, who is the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Armenia. Comments and references which bring this into question directly or indirectly in Pashinyan's article are stylistic or for effect, not true questioning. Interestingly enough, until a friend clarified for me, I thought he had earned the nickname due to what some have observed - the progressive increase in quality and presumed price of his suits since after March, 2008. So, in my eyes, at least as reliable as such observations and information are, he's earned the nickname twice, if not thrice. Since, as an Ombudsman, while he has made some moderately strong comments here or there, he's left more unsaid, than said.

And now, without further ado...

Let me see, Now
I wasn’t there, but the brother-in-law of my friend’s nephew, who is the mechanic of one of the carousels located at Monument, once heard a visitor at the carousel recounting to another: during an interview on Shant TV, Nver Mnatsakanyan asked RA Human Rights defender Armen Harutyunyan if there were political prisoners in Armenia. Human rights defender Armen Harutyunyan replied, in an arrogant tone, that of course there were not. This information is supported by another source— by the husband of the aunt of my other friend’s brother-in-law. That means that Armen Harutyunyan really made the statement. So now, when the ombudsman has assumed the responsibility of declaring that there are no political prisoners in Armenia, I find myself asking: Then who am I? Why am I in the “Nubarashen” penitentiary? And then sometimes, when I think about the ombudsman’s statement, I can’t help but wonder: Is it possible that I am a criminal or a swindler? Is it possible that I was once a lecturer and accepted bribes from my students to give them a good grade; and, because I didn’t trust the local currency I accepted bribes in Dollars only, which is why students dubbed me Dollar Armen? Try as I have, I can’t recall that kind of episode in my life, and as far as I remember, Dollar Armen refers to an entirely different person. I wonder where the person known as Dollar Armen is nowadays. Could he be in the cell next to mine? But as far as I was able to determine, there is no such person as Dollar Armen either in the cell next to mine, or in the one facing me or, for that matter, in any other cell, although many here would not mind it if Dollar Armen shows up in their cells, as a prisoner. They say they want to talk to him. But until such time as justice in Armenia reaches Dollar, let’s not digress from our theme. Our theme is human rights defender Armen Harutyunyan’s declaration that there are no political prisoners in Armenia. If Armen Harutyunyan is so convinced that there are no political prisoners in Armenia, then I invite him to meet with me at the “Nubarashen” penitentiary and explain my verdict to me; to enlighten me on the crime I have committed for which I am now in the Nubarashen penitentiary almost as a convict. I will pose only legal questions concerning my verdict, my legal case, the understanding of a political prisoner. But there is one condition: I have no time for pointless drivel and my talk with Armen Harutyunyan, the question and answer session between us would have to be recorded. The human rights defender should agree to the conditions and make sure that the recording will indeed take place. Then, our discussion should appear in the newspapers and the actual recording would be posted on the internet. If he agrees to these conditions then I would really invite him to such an important discussion. Oh, before I forget, I am busy today and tomorrow. So the earliest I can receive the human rights defender is Friday afternoon. In the meantime, I would like to ask those who have information about Dollar Armen to leave a message on my website or to send the information to the following address: Office of the Human Rights Defender, 56a Pushkin St., Yerevan. I think the RA human rights defender will offer a generous reward to all those who will help him reveal the identity of Dollar Armen.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Some basic arithmetic might help

A week or two ago there was an HAK statement regarding the 180 degree turn police took while the FIDH conference was going on. In an attempt to make the police and authorities of Armenia appear to have a developed sense of Human Rights and Democracy, the demonstration and march had a minimal police presence, with no provocations or violent actions. But what it really highlighted boils down to simple arithmetic (maybe some basic algebra is involved):

(1) Police + demonstrators = demonstration + altercations/violence
(as 2 years of demonstrations have shown us)

(2) Demonstrators = demonstration + (- altercations/violence)
(quantity negative/lack of altercations and violence)

If we do the subtraction, we are left with

(3) Police = altercations/violence

But is this really the case? Is this mathematical finding true? Let’s add some recent and past events. I won’t list them, but just a quick stroll through any of the papers or blogs, or Human Rights reports for that matter, shows what seem to be endless lists of police and red berets beating, punching (with brass knuckles at times), pushing, kidnapping, and opening fire on demonstrators. In addition to Levon Gulyan’s apparently curious and accidental death while in police custody, now there is the case of Vahan Khalafyan, who somehow obtained bruises and knife marks on his body and two (assumed) fatal stab wounds to his belly, also while in police custody. His friends were luckier, and were only beaten and threatened with sexual assault. Now, Police Chief Alik Sargsyan said right away that this was suicide, and that there was absolutely no torture involved (how he knew so quickly is unclear). As Alik Sargsyan pointed out, why would you torture someone if they have already confessed (see hnazarian). But just yesterday a policeman was arrested for possibly forcing him to commit suicide (which is just nauseating – see unzipped). Police presence alone is associated with violence. Now, the police themselves don’t understand why anyone would have this impression, as Bazaz so kindly pointed out (see my last post).

So independently of the equations above, we arrive at:

(4) Police=Altercations/Violence

We could even add on a little here. As HAK pointed out, the police are basically the minions of the oligarchs and authorities. And what do the bosses of the police do when left to their own? The same thing. Take last weekend – two gangs basically had a shoot-out. But they weren’t just any gangs, they were actually members of two different political parties. And according to at least one source, it seems at least one high up government official was there too, though it is being denied. And this most recent skirmish was not the only one. So, as the police are actors of the authorities, it makes sense that:

(5) Authorities=Altercations/Violence

And in the end it all fits together. Whether we subtract out equation (2) from equation (1) and get (3), or look at (4) and (5) which were arrived at independently with independent data, we arrive at the same conclusion. It is the police presence, the actors of the authorities, which bring violence. Not the demonstrators, not the

Not that we didn’t all know this already. The manipulative and violent tactics of the current regime, as well as the desperate measures it is willing to take to buy time while they are in their current quagmire. Unfortunately, it is Human Rights and Democracy in Armenia, and most importantly, the people of Armenia , who have paid the price thus far.

And many in the West who purport to stand for Human Rights and Democracy, used this to their own political ends, and supported and trusted Sargsyan. But now they know the truth firsthand. The top story on rfe/rl today is "Armenia Stall Turkey Deal."

I wonder what comes next…

N.B. But, according to Oskanyan, the main problems in Armenia are the economic and political monopolies. Not lack of Human Rights, Police Violence, or any of that. Wow. At least mention it in there, somewhere, Mr. Oskanyan.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Armenian police, especially Bazaz, have feelings, too!

It seems maybe I've been a bit too harsh on the Armenian police, and Bazaz (aka Robert Melkonyan). In a recent interview on RFE/RL (April 16, 2010, 15:00 broadcast, start at 9:30), Bazaz expressed the following - my rough transcription and translation:

"If a demonstration has been organized, it is my job to keep the public order, and the safety of the participants of the demonstration. When the demonstration is over, we will go observe our [Police] Day.

[Interviewer quotes Melkonyan] We are not what many people imagine us to be. We are people too, with human qualities.

For some reason, certain media try to, want to, constantly make the police out to be violent, boorish, illiterate, incompetent... But if you were to talk to us, you’d see that we have very good specialists, very professional police…

From a young age, they make the children scared of police. [garbled words]they say, I”ll tell the police, and they’ll punish you. For some reason, this type of attitude toward police starts to grow in people from a young age. We don’t know why. And naturally, police prohibit certain actions, which are not allowed.

I myself have been to other places – Denmark, Switzerland, Paris, France – I have seen how the police there disperse their demonstrators. We are very gentle, we are very humane.

It is a natural reaction, with regards to a government official. As a policeman or not, the president of our republic is our president, and I consider hurtful comments about the president to be inappropriate."

Many apologies for failing to empathize with you.
I can't imagine why anyone would think anything negative of the police in Armenia.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On self-restraint, sitting on concrete, and lay-ins

While the FIDH conference was happening, the police tried to behave themselves. They managed to do so on the first day, though they didn't do as well on the second. I imagine folks like Bazaz were bursting at the seams to just go beat up someone, or at least something. But, for those two days, or at least the first one, he just wasn't around. Which may be the only way someone like him can resist abusing and attacking peaceful protesters, by just not being around them.

Soon after, Pashinyan's appeal regarding the January Parliamentary seat election went back to court. Of course, he wasn't allowed to be there - that would just be a crazy idea. Pashinyan's supporters were outside, and it seems the police who were there were probably using one of their new "techniques" to keep the peace: they kept repeating that they were trying to keep things calm, and didn't want disruptions, and wanted people to move onto the sidewalk. Sounds good, right? Except that they weren't making any disturbance, and were ALREADY on the sidewalk.

For those who watch the web videos, the face and voice of former political prisoner Vardges Gaspari has become quite familiar. He is quite impassioned, and can often be seen chanting even when others have stopped. And I remember at least one occasion where he staged his own lay-in - he just lay right down on the ground amongst the protesters, refusing to move. And this is just what he did outside of Pashinyan's case just last week, with a huge picture of Pashinyan draped on top of him, refusing to move.

I think that, for many reasons, people just have no idea what to do with this. Sitting, much less laying, on the street in Armenian culture is very, very, odd - its just not done. Next time you are in Armenia, sit on the pavement -people will walk past you and just look at you like you're absolutely crazy. And having a man, especially an older man, laying on the street makes many, as can be seen in the videos, very uncomfortable, apart from what he is yelling and why he is doing it.

The police are in an even tougher spot when he does this. Because they too feel uncomfortable with the site, but they also know they're supposed to do something about it. But what? What do you do with someone lying down on the ground?

And that is exactly the point. Sit-ins, or lay-ins, are a great way to make life peacefully difficult for those who want to harass or beat you. It is civil disobedience at its best.

[photo from Aravot]

Friday, April 9, 2010

Prison Diary: Flowers from Shirin Ebadi Բանտային օրագիր. Ծաղիկներ Շիրին Էբադիից

The latest entry in Pashinyan's Prison Diary is below.
I will say only that I hope Shirin Ebadi gets to read this piece.
Prison Diary: Flowers from Shirin Ebadi
Dedicated to the memory of Gayane Babayan

The television set in our cell at the Nubarashen penitentiary has recently gained a very serious competitor. During the day we look at the competitor more than we watch the television screen. It is a bouquet of red and yellow tulips that has added an unbelievable hue to our cell. When the bouquet appeared in our cell, my cellmates and I tried to remember when it was that we had last seen fresh flowers. We realized that it was a very long ago; and then we realized that we had needed these flowers in our cells to attain “total bliss”. And now we try to prolong that happiness as much as possible; we do not spare sugar and before our morning coffee we offer it to them first. I received that bouquet of flowers the day before from Nobel Prize recipient, human rights defender and Iranian citizen Shirin Ebadi in the meeting room of the Nubarashen penitentiary.

The human rights defender had brought flowers to all the political prisoners whom she visited that day. And you should have seen that scene. Accompanied by the prison guard, the prisoner (in this case, me), with a bouquet of flowers in his hands, walked down the prison corridors under the apprehensive gazes of the other prisoners. It was evident from their gaze that this was the first time they were witnessing such a scene. Confusion persisted in their gaze even after they recognized me; they understood that an important event had taken place.

That happening was indeed important. For the first time in history of the penitentiary, a Nobel Prize recipient had visited it. At first, when I saw the flowers in Shirin Ebadi’s hands, I felt proud of my country, my fatherland. I thought that the penitentiary had welcomed the Nobel Prize recipient, world-known human rights defender Shirin Ebadi, with a bouquet of flowers. But I was to be disappointed. On the day dedicated to Motherhood and Beauty, the female human rights defender herself had brought flowers to a prisoner whom she considers a political prisoner and a kindred spirit. At the beginning of our meeting Shirin Ebadi told me she was sorry she was meeting me in prison. I told her that it was worth being in prison if that meant getting such a bouquet of flowers.

I can’t predict how long the red and yellow tulips will survive under prison conditions. But I want to believe that this will be the last visit the Nobel prize recipient will pay to Armenian prisons. I believe that the name Armenia will become synonymous with Freedom, the Defense of Human Rights, Lawfulness and Democracy. I believe that my and my friends’ presence in prison today symbolizes our fidelity to a Free and Independent Armenia. I believe that our children will live in a Free and Blissful Armenia.

Political Prisoner
From Nubarashen Penitentiary
Բանտային օրագիր. Ծաղիկներ Շիրին Էբադիից
Նվիրում եմ Գայանե Բաբայանի հիշատակին

«Նուբարաշեն» քրեակատարողական հիմնարկի մեր խցի հեռուստացույցը վերջին օրերին լրջագույն մրցակից է ձեռք բերել: Օրվա ընթացքում մենք ավելի շատ նրան ենք նայում, քան հեռուստացույցի էկրանին: Կարմրադեղին վարդակակաչների փունջն է դա, որ անհավանական երանգ է տվել բանտային մեր խցին: Երբ այդ ծաղկեփունջը հայտնվեց խցում, խցակիցներով սկսեցինք քննարկել, թե վերջին անգամ երբ ենք կենդանի ծաղիկ տեսել. պարզվեց բավական վաղուց, պարզվեց նաեւ, որ հենց այդ ծաղիկներն էին մեր խցին պակասում` «կատարյալ երջանկության համար»: Ու հիմա ջանում ենք հնարավորինս երկարացնել այդ երջանկությունը. շաքարավազը չենք խնայում, ու առավոտյան սուրճից առաջ նախ նրանց ենք հյուրասիրում: Այդ ծաղկեփունջը նախօրեին Նոբելյան մրցանակի դափնեկիր, իրավապաշտպան, Իրանի քաղաքացի Շիրին Էբադիից եմ ստացել` «Նուբարաշեն» քրեակատարողական հիմնարկի տեսակցությունների սենյակում: Իրավապաշտպանը ծաղիկներ էր տարել բոլոր այն քաղբանտարկյալներին, ում այցելել էր այդ օրը: Եւ պետք էր տեսնել այդ տեսարանը. կալանավորը (տվյալ դեպքում ես) վարդակակաչի փունջը ձեռքին վերակացուի ուղեկցությամբ քայլում է քրեակատարողական հիմնարկի միջանցքներով` բազմաթիվ այլ կալանավորների մտահոգված հայացքների ներքո: Նրանց հայացքներից ակնհայտ էր դառնում, որ առաջին անգամ են նման պատկերի ականատես լինում: Նույնիսկ երբ ճանաչում էին ինձ, տարակուսանքը նրանց հայացքում չէր վերանում, չնայած` հասկանում էին, որ, ուրեմն, ինչ-որ կարեւոր իրադարձություն է տեղի ունեցել: Իսկ իրադարձությունը իսկապես կարեւոր էր. պատմության մեջ առաջին անգամ Նոբելյան մրցանակի դափնեկիր էր այցելել քրեակատարողական հիմնարկ: Սկզբում, երբ միջանցքում-հեռվից Շիրին Էբադիի ձեռքին ծաղիկներ տեսա` մեջս հպարտություն խաղաց երկրիս, հայրենիքիս համար: Ինձ թվաց, թե քրեակատարողական հիմնարկը ծաղիկներով է դիմավորել Նոբելյան մրցանակի դափնեկիր, աշխարհահռչակ իրավապաշտպան Շիրին Էբադիին: Բայց ինձ հիասթափություն էր սպասում. Մայրության եւ գեղեցկության օրը կին իրավապաշտպանը ինքն էր ծաղիկներ բերել մի կալանավորի համար, որին քաղբանտարկյալ ու համախոհ է համարում: Մեր հանդիպման սկզբում Շիրին Էբադին ասաց, թե ցավում է, որ ինձ հետ բանտում է հանդիպում: Ես էլ ասացի, որ հանուն նման ծաղկեփունջ ստանալու արժեր բանտում հայտնվել: Չեմ կարող կանխատեսել, թե կարմրադեղին վարդակակաչները որքան կդիմանան բանտային ռեժիմին: Բայց ուզում եմ հավատալ, որ սա Նոբելյան մրցանակի դափնեկրի վերջին այցն է հայաստանյան բանտեր: Հավատում եմ, որ Հայաստան անունը դառնալու է Ազատության, Մարդու իրավունքների պաշտպանվածության, Օրինականության, Ժողովրդավարության հոմանիշ: Հավատում եմ, որ իմ ընկերների եւ իմ բանտում գտնվելն այսօր` Ազատ եւ Երջանիկ Հայաստանին մեր հավատարմությունն է խորհրդանշում: Հավատում եմ, որ մեր երեխաները ապրելու են Ազատ եւ Երջանիկ Հայաստանում:

«Նուբարաշեն» ՔԿՀ-ից

Նիկոլ Փաշինյան -

Ապրիլ 9, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

Update on Ashot Manukyan -or- Its Time for the Regime to Go

I received the update below regarding the status of political prisoner Ashot Manukyan. I have posted it verbatim (except for the attached links, whose format I changed), with my comments below.

Ashot Manukyan, still imprisoned for fighting against the hijacking of Armenia, has won a slight battle today. The Court of Cassation (Constitutional court) has found that one of the laws the prosecution had used is unlawful. They remanded the case to the Supreme Court. Mr. Manukyan has been in jail for 2 years already.

There is a current initiative that should be passed only with the commitment of the Armenia lobby to push for an end to this regime (or at least its practices). The Dept of Defense should not open Armenia as a procurement option for Afghan operations (see the proposed amendment to the DFARs). This money will only be stolen.

Unfortunately, there has been no help from the Diaspora lobby. Case in point, at the Policy Forum Armenia seminar held at Georgetown last month, leaders and academics joined to discuss the possibilities of Diaspora-Hayastan relations. Each speaker had well-thought ideas, but NONE dared mention the elephant in the room: the absolute corruption of the present Oligarchy and the uselessness of moving forward without a serious regime change. audio link

Here is an article that proceeded the decision today:

The political prisoner Ashot Manukyan challenged the constitutionality of Article 309.1 of the RA Criminal Code at the Constitutional Court, which allows prosecutors to take back the accusation from the Court, make it more severe, and then resubmit it.
62 year old painter Ashot Manukyan is sentenced to six years imprisonment for his involvement in the events of March 1, 2008. This past Tuesday, the CC was scheduled to consider the appeal by Manukyan and make a decision. At the conclusion of two hours of discussions, the members of the CC decided to restart the deliberation of the appeal. The reason for this was that CC President Gagik Harutyunyan was absent, and the other 8 members of the CC were unable to reach a decision without him. This means that the CC decision, and therefore whether the political prisoner is freed or not, depends on Gagik Harutyunyan.

article link

This may have some potential to be some progress in the case, a small step forward maybe, but if this step is at all consistent with this regime's actions to date, it will be circular and unethical - any steps made will be for show. I would absolutely love for this regime to prove me wrong, and free Mr Manukyan as well as all of the political prisoners... but even that would be just a start to the change that is needed. But it would be an important start.

And of course, I love the idea that Diasporan organizations would organize and pressure the US and other western governments with the goal of supporting Armenia, a real, free and independent Armenia. But that is almost less likely than Sargsyan switching places with Mr Manukyan, himself. Again, though, I'd love to be proven wrong on this one.

I must say, however, that while I was not at the PFA meeting and have not yet had a chance to read what is available from the meeting (so my commentary on the meeting is limited), PFA is one of the only armenian organizations based outside of Armenia that has been critical of this regime, and has published informed, analytic pieces that challenge so many aspects of the criminal regime that has taken Armenia hostage. In contrast, well established organizations, the AAA, ANCA, church, AGBU and the rest of such groups have kept quiet, if not openly supported the regime, or some aspect of it.

All in all, what is this regime showing by putting a 62 year old man, a painter, in prison for his politics? The same thing it shows when it beats children, abuses women, and shoots at its own people- and more recently sells out not only its present, but past and future to save its own behind- it has to go.