Monthly Archives: January 2010

Saving Teghut Forest

06_07-teghut-1

There is an excellent, concise article on Hetq Online briefing readers about the situation surrounding the threat to the Teghut Forest, located in the northern part of the Tavush region.

As you may know, the forest is scheduled to be felled in a business plan absurdly approved by Armenia’s Ministry of  Nature Protection. Three organizations which will argue their case against the plan are going to court–they are the Transparency International Anti-corruption Center, the Vanadzor Office of the Helsinki Civic Assembly and EGODAR.

The article points out that 357 hectares of forest are to be cleared to make way for a copper mining project taken on by the Armenian Copper Programme (ACP). Many species of endangered wildlife that make Teghut their home have been cited in the “Red Book” published  International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and they even appear in the Armenian Red Book listing endangered species. Rare species of plants and trees will also be affected by the felling.

Here’s an excerpt:

Teghut and the surrounding area are home to several animal species listed in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red Book. There are also 7 bird, 7 mammal and 2 reptile species listed in the Armenian Red Book that make Teghut their home.

It should be safe to say that there is some kind of link between Armenian government officials and the management of ACP, as the Ministry of Nature Protection would logically never agree to such a plan assuming the people there were actually doing their jobs for the benefit of their own country, especially when endangered wildlife species are at stake. I can’t understand how that ministry would actually approve such a business plan that would wreak havoc on Armenia’s ecosystem.

Although that at least 1,000 people are expected to be put to work by the ACP, which I doubt will be long term, I can’t justify the further disintegration Armenia’s fragile ecosystem for the sake of business and employment.

Armenia Tree Project five years ago estimated that the total forested area coverage of Armenia was only around 6 percent. At the beginning of the 20th century it was something like 20 percent. By the time Armenia became part of the Soviet Union that figure dropped to 11 percent.

Armenia cannot afford to turn into a desert. The northern parts of the Teghut and Lori regions are blanketed by rich forests which are essential to the survival of Armenia’s ecosystem. The country’s forests have been suffering from illegal cutting to stuff the pockets of money grubbing oligarchs and greedy men in government for years. Can you imagine what Armenia would be like without forests one day? We can’t let that happen.

Sirusho and Levon’s Wedding

A friend of mine just sent me a hyperlink pointing to a telling photo album on the image sharing web site, Flickr. All the photos there were of the wedding of the famous Armenian pop singer Sirusho to Levon Kocharian, son of former Armenian President Robert Kocharian. Then I did a Google search for “sirusho wedding” to verify the son’s name  and several links to photos as well as videos of the celebration on YouTube came up in the results.

All the photos on Flickr retain the original file names, and they were taken with a Canon EOS 50D. This obviously means that the photographer leaked these photos to someone else who uploaded them under the name, “kocharian.” There is no information about this user, other than that he joined Flickr sometime this month, and he has not posted any other photos other than those of the wedding.

In the pictures of the reception are various government ministers, members of parliaments, and oligarchs taken at some “wedding hall” presumably in Yerevan. As evident in one of the photos the couple arrived in a black Rolls-Royce. All the heavyweights are there. MP Gagik Tsarukyan of MultiGroup fame (who showed up wearing a blue tee shirt) sits next to the Prime Minister, Tigran Sargsyan. President Serge Sarkisian is seen dancing with his predecessor and wife, Bella Kocharian. The chairman of parliament Hovik (Moog) Abrahamyan, Yerevan mayor Gagik Beglaryan and his predecessor and others who I don’t recognize off hand shake hands with the former president to congratulate him. The entire leadership of the country is partying! Needless to say, no opposition party members are in the photos, including leading members of the ARF, which is surprising since they are so chummy with President Kocharian.

I find it surreal that so much visual information of this private event is all over the Internet, and whoever leaked the photos and videos obviously got away with it. But how is this possible?

Army Day a Holiday?

Today is Army Day in Armenia. On Monday Jan. 25 President Serge Sarkisian was giving out medals to select veterans in their honor during an apparent played-down ceremony–who picked them out is anyone’s guess.

So government is closed for the day as well as various companies and undoubtedly, NGOs. Remarkably, the media seems to be working, naturally a good thing.  On Sundays newspaper offices are all closed, which is odd since there is always news to report, day and night.

Anyway, a friend yesterday pointed out to me that on Army Day Armenians should be ever vigilant, rather than be at home lying around and drinking coffee or throwing back vodka shots throughout the day. After all, Armenia is still technically at war with Azerbaijan, despite the ceasefire that has been in effect since 1994. So long as no peace treaty is signed, there shouldn’t be any call for celebrating the past achievements of the Armenian army with an official day off from work–it is even satirical, borderline surreal.

Indeed, the soldiers of Armenia proudly defending  their nation should be commended and respected. Many young men flee Armenia when they turn 18 so they won’t be conscripted, claiming political asylum or making up cockamamie excuses not to stay and serve. Some even live in Armenia illegally as non-citizens, having moved here from another former Soviet country to escape military service there.

I am always proud to hear of someone choosing to serve bravely, unafraid of any hardships they may encounter either at the hands of despicable sergeants or poor living conditions, depending on the location. Men must serve two-year terms, although they may be extended another year due to a drought of able bodies, since less babies were born during the war. You can always pay a $5,000 “fee” to be exempt from service, or you can essentially buy yourself an easy position, like a desk job to avoid the front lines, far away from random crossfire.

Let’s hear it for the army, but in the meantime keep astutely alert. We’re not out of the woods yet.

Check out a great photostory about Nagorno-Karabagh Republic’s armed forces on Hetq Online.

Bodyguards and Parliamentarians–Any Difference?

Hetq Online printed a great story yesterday written by Edik Baghdasaryan about bodyguards being part of the respected elite in Armenia. Often they are getting more attention under the spotlight than the members of parliament they are supposedly protecting. The article is laden with satire, yet brilliantly describes the current socio-political climate in Armenia, which oftentimes borders on the absurd.

Here’s an excerpt:

Those bodyguards and skinheads really need to be congratulated. They’ve become one of the most stable of all segments in the rocky Armenian socio-economic environment. The nation must honor their achievements accordingly. Thumb through the papers and you’ll come across a constant flow of articles about these guys. They’re in the spotlight; front and center.

They command respect because they carry guns and have the green light to go. The ones who paved the roads they cruise down are their oligarch bosses; members of parliament.

Without those bodyguards, these MP’s are a bunch of losers – they can’t take a step without them; not even out of the house. They need the bodyguards to defend their worldly possessions; the result of their conniving and flouting the law.

These MP’s and their bodyguards represent the “cream” of the nation. It is incumbent of each and every one of us to offer thanks to these bodyguards for preserving and protecting our valued MP’s, our people’s chosen elite.

The average citizen, upon entering the voting booth, not only casts a ballot for their member of parliament but for the MP’s bodyguards as well. The person with the strongest security staff naturally wins the election. There’s another rumor making the rounds that in future elections, the faces of a candidate’s bodyguards will also appear on campaign posters. People might not recognize the candidate himself, but at least they’ll see who the guys are protecting him. Voters should know these things; no?

You can read the full article here.

Are The Protocols Coming Undone?

Seems that Ankara is not happy with last week’s Armenian Constitutional Court decision regarding the protocols, and they’re letting the whole world know it.

Hetq Online reports the following:

An article in Today’s Zaman, entitled “Normalization with Armenia at risk, says PM Erdogan”, states that during yesterday’s phone call between foreign ministers of the two nations, the Turkish Foreign Mnister Davutoglu told his Armenian counterpart that right after the documents were signed, a public awareness campaign was launched in Turkey and the Protocols were sent to Parliament, whereas Armenia has not yet done so.

According to the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement on Jan. 18, the Armenian constitutional court’s “grounds for decision” over the conformity of the protocols to their constitution “contain preconditions and restrictive provisions which impair the letter and spirit of the protocols” and “undermine the very reason for negotiating these protocols as well as their fundamental objective.”

Burak Özügergin, the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told Today’s Zaman that Armenia has taken the heart out of the protocols and created a new, restrictive situation. He further explained that on the one hand, the court had ruled to approve the protocols, which call for the establishment of a joint commission of historians to better understand past events, but on the other it refers to the Declaration of Independence of Armenia.

Paragraph 11 of the Declaration of Independence states, “The Republic of Armenia stands in support of the task of achieving international recognition of the 1915 Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia.”

“Then why establish a commission of historians?” Özügergin said.

In the fifth paragraph of the Armenian court’s ruling it says that the protocols “cannot be interpreted or applied” in a way that would contradict the provisions of the preamble to Armenia’s constitution and the requirements of paragraph 11 of its Declaration of Independence.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Özügergin pointed out another issue of concern for the Turkish side — the main limitations the Armenian court has placed on the protocols in that the court made all clauses of the protocols conditional on the implementation of two main obligations: “establish diplomatic relations” and “open the common border.”

On Wednesday, Hurriyet quoted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying, “We took it directly to our Parliament, without making changes. We didn’t employ a mediator on the text. We didn’t carry out any read-between-the-lines operations. This is a proof of our sincerity. Armenia has tried to change the text.”

Now it is Turkey who is playing the blame game about preconditions attached to the protocols. Wasn’t it Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who repeatedly stated to the Turkish and international pressafter the protocols had been signed that the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia cannot be established without a Nagorno-Karakagh peace deal in Azerbaijan’s favor? They have been saying this repeatedly and unabashedly for months now. There is not one provision in the protocols that alludes to a peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict in exchange for an opened border. Last week when Erdogan visited Moscow Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated essentially that Turkey had to back off and not confuse the two issues, and Washington has alluded to the same, although in more vague language.

I think, given the rhetoric that Turkish diplomats have been reiterating, the Constitutional Court’s ruling is certainly helpful to the Armenian side, because it clearly shows that Yerevan can also play hardball. Naturally, Ankara is demonstrating that it isn’t happy, just as it has all along, which is good. I’m looking forward to a derailing of the protocols quite honestly. I thought it was foolish for Yerevan to sign them in the first place, and given the recent bickering, both sides are probably regretting having been pressured to get on with the diplomatic fence-mending process.

I really don’t think that the Turks and Armenians are anywhere close to resolving their differences in the spirit of peace and mutual understanding, which is evidently absent.