Students protest in Cyprus over closure of historic Melkonian school

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
March 16, 2004, Tuesday

Students protest in Cyprus over closure of historic boarding school

Over 200 students of an historic Armenian boarding school in Nicosia
demonstrated Tuesday against its impending closure.

The U.S.-based foundation that runs the Melkonian Educational
Institute announced it will close the school in June 2005, after over
seven decades.

News of the closure has angered critics who say that profits from the
40 million Cyprus pound (84 million dollars) sale of the school’s
prime assets will leave Cyprus.

Protesting students blocked the main road leading out of the capital,
chanting “Melkonian not for sale” and brandishing placards condemning
the foundation.

The school, Cyprus’s only boarding school, was established in 1926 by
two Armenian brothers to provide shelter to orphans that escaped
genocide at the hands of the Ottomans during the First World War.

Students and teachers claim the New-York based Armenian General
Benevolent Union (AGBU), which had been entrusted with the management
of the school, decided to close the institute without sufficient
justification. dpa mdp ch sc

Armenia hopes for peaceful settlement of Adzharia situation

ITAR-TASS News Agency
TASS
March 16, 2004 Tuesday

Armenia hopes for peaceful settlement of Adzharia situation

By Tigran Liloyan

YEREVAN

Armenian President Robert Kocharyan said he was hoping that Tbilisi
and Batumi would settle their disagreements through talks. Yerevan
hopes that the situation will normalize and that it will not affect
the functioning of Black Sea ports, he said.

“Georgia on the whole and the Black Sea ports of this country have a
very important significance for Armenia,” Kocharyan said in the
course of his visit to a Defense Ministry’s military college on
Tuesday.

The president noted that Armenia’s authorities wish for a peaceful
settlement of the situation around Adzharia was voiced during the
recent official visit to Yerevan by Georgian leader Mikhail
Saakashvili.

“Stability in Georgia has an extremely important significance for
Armenia,” said Serzh Sarkisyan, Armenia’s Defense Minister and
Secretary of the National Security Council under the president.

The minister said he did not share the view that a new war would
break out in the region.

Direct negotiations are only way to Karabakh settlement- OSCE

ITAR-TASS News Agency
TASS
March 16, 2004 Tuesday

Direct negotiations are only way to Karabakh settlement- OSCE

By Sevindzh Abdullayeva, Viktor Shulman

BAKU

OSCE thinks that direct negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia
are the only way to the Karabakh settlement, Bulgarian Foreign
Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Solomon Pasi said at a Tuesday
meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku.

He noted with regret that the OSCE Minsk Group mission had not
brought positive results. “I expect a lot from dialog between the two
presidents, and I will declare that during a visit to Yerevan,” Pasi
said. Pasi will go to Yerevan on Tuesday evening for discussing the
Karabakh problem with the Armenian administration.

The Azerbaijani president said he hoped for more intensive efforts of
the Minsk Group in the Karabakh settlement. The unsettled problem “is
a great danger to the region,” he said.

“Solomon Pasi promised support to the Azerbaijani striving for closer
integration into Europe,” the AzerTadz news agency reports.

The absence of dialog is characteristic of conflicts in the South
Caucasus, Pasi said. He noted that OSCE would boost dialog between
Azerbaijan and Armenia for settling the Karabakh conflict. “We can
offer a dozen of settlement options, but neither of them will be
workable until Azerbaijan and Armenia reach understanding,” he said.

Putin receives congratulations on his re-election

ITAR-TASS News Agency
TASS
March 16, 2004 Tuesday

Putin receives congratulations on his re-election

MOSCOW

Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to receive numerous
congratulations on his re-election to the highest executive post in
Russia from foreign leaders.

Vladimir Putin and his ARMENIAN counterpart Robert Kocharyan held a
telephone talk, a source in the Russian Presidential press service
told Itar-Tass on Tuesday. The Armenian side initiated the talk to
congratulate Vladimir Putin on “great success in the March 14
presidential election in Russia.”

Kocharyan and Putin also discussed practical issues of the
Russian-Armenian cooperation and situation in the Transcaucasia.

UZBEKISTAN President Islam Karimov telephoned Vladimir Putin on
Tuesday, the source said. During the conversation, Islam Karimov
expressed sincere congratulations to his Russian counterpart on “the
convincing victory in the presidential election.”

The two presidents decided to hold a working meeting in Moscow in
April.

SERBIA and MONTENEGRO President Svetozar Marovic sent a message of
congratulations to Putin on his re-election to presidency.

“I am sure that you, filling this executive post, will continue to
make efforts for the further successful development and prosperity of
friendly Russia for the benefit of all its citizens,” Marovic said in
the message.

A source in the Serbia and Montenegro presidential office conveyed
the message to Itar-Tass.

“The deepening of political dialogue with Russia, development of
many-sided and mutually advantageous cooperation and keeping of
traditionally close contacts between our two states” are of much
importance to Serbia and Montenegro, Marovic said.

JAPANESE Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi phoned Vladimir Putin to
congratulate him on his winning the presidential election, the source
said.

The two parties also discussed the vital issues of bilateral
cooperation in 2004, including the schedule of high-level contacts.

Chairman of CHINA’s Central Military Council (CMC), former president
Jiang Zemin warmly congratulated Vladimir Putin in a telegram on his
re-election to the post of Russian president for the second term.

Former Chinese leader expressed confidence that the joint efforts of
the two parties will ensure still more brilliant prospects for
strategic partnership between China and Russia, Xinhua news agency
reported.

On the previous day, Chinese Chairman Hu Jintao congratulated
Vladimir Putin on a landslide re-election for the second term.

Pernod Ricard Latvia boosts turnover 34 pct to Eur. 2 mln in 2003

Baltic News Service
March 15, 2004

ALCOHOL WHOLESALER PERNOD RICARD LATVIA BOOSTS TURNOVER 34 PCT TO EUR
2 MLN IN 2003

RIGA

Pernod Ricard Latvia premium alcoholic beverage wholesaler posted a
turnover of 1.346 million last (EUR 2 mln) in 2003, up 34 percent in
the previous year, reported the company.

The company sold a total of 167,000 liters of beverages, mainly
brandy, cognac, tequila, vodka and wine last year, up 28.5 percent.

20.5 percent of the beverages sold by the company come from Armenia’s
Erevan Brandy Company and its Ararat brandy.

Pernod Ricard Latvia is a subsidiary of the Groupe Pernod Ricars,
Europe’s largest alcohol producer, and was established in 1998.

ARKA News Agency – 03/16/2004

ARKA News Agency
March 16 2004

Forum dedicated to international Women Month to take place on March
19 in Yerevan

ArmenTel tries to evict largest provider of Armenia Arminco Company
from the market

RA Deputy Foreign Minister receives the Ambassador of Ghana to
Armenia

Armenian PM releases Martun Matevosyan from position of Yerevan Vice
Mayor

*********************************************************************

FORUM DEDICATED TO INTERNATIONAL WOMEN MONTH TO TAKE PLACE ON MARCH
19 IN YEREVAN

YEREVAN, March 16. /ARKA/. Forum dedicated to International Women
Month will take place on March 19 in Yerevan, US Embassy to Armenia
told ARKA. The forum will discuss the role of women in such spheres
as international relations, politics, business, mass media and
legislation. L.D. –0–

*********************************************************************

ARMENTEL TRIES TO EVICT LARGEST PROVIDER OF ARMENIA ARMINCO COMPANY
FROM THE MARKET

YEREVAN, March 16. /ARKA/. Armentel tries to evict largest provider
of Armenia – Arminco Company -from the market, Director General of
Arminco Global Telecommunications Andranik Alexanian stated today. He
said that Armentel does not create conditions for development of IT
sector and prevents the one who wants to do it. Alexanian stressed
that Armentel sent official letter to Arminco stating that the
infrastructures created by the provider are illegal. `If Armentel
does it deliberately it means that the company damages us on
purpose’, he said. He added that Arminco plans to build its own cable
through Mehri to Georgia to avoid communication with Armentel.
Joint Russian-Armenian Company Arminco Global Telecommunications was
founded in 1991. 80% of the shares belongs to Armenian party.
The Armenian Government took decision on 8 September 2003 to deprive
ArmenTel company of its monopoly license on mobile services and
Internet.
The Greek telecommunication company OTE obtained through an
international tendering 90% of shares of the telecommunication
company ArmenTel for USD 142.42 mln in the end of 1997. The rest 10%
of shares belong to the Armenian Government. According to the
agreement terms signed by the Armenian Government, ArmenTel was
awarded monopoly rights in the telecommunications sphere for the
period of 15 years. According to the agreement, OTE has undertaken a
commitment to invest in the Armenian telecommunication network USD
200 mln during the first five years. L.D. -0 –

*********************************************************************

RA DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER RECEIVES THE AMBASSADOR OF GHANA TO
ARMENIA

YEREVAN, March 16. /ARKA/. RA Deputy Foreign Minister Tatul Margarian
received the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ghana to
Armenia Francis Yahaya Mahama (residence in Moscow), RA NA told ARKA.
The parties noted the necessity of stimulation of links and
development of cooperation between Armenia and African countries and
the role of Ghana in this issue. Margarian expressed hope that the
relations of the countries will receive new stimuli during diplomatic
activity of newly appointed Ambassador.
Yahaya Mahama in his turn stressed the interest of his country in
establishment of multilateral relations with Armenia. He noted the
importance of direct contacts between the businessmen of the two
countries. L.D. –0 –

*********************************************************************

ARMENIAN PM RELEASES MARTUN MATEVOSYAN FROM POSITION OF YEREVAN VICE
MAYOR

YEREVAN. March 16. /ARKA/. The decree by the Armenian PM Andranik
Margarian released Martun Matevosyan from the position of Yerevan’s
Vice Mayor, as ARKA News Agency was told in the Armenian Government
Apparatus Public Relations and Press Department. T.M. -0–

ASBAREZ Online [03-16-2004]

ASBAREZ ONLINE
TOP STORIES
03/16/2004
TO ACCESS PREVIOUS ASBAREZ ONLINE EDITIONS PLEASE VISIT OUR
WEBSITE AT <;HTTP://

1) House Members Urge Speaker Hastert to Schedule Vote on Genocide Resolution
2) ARF Armenia Condemns British Ambassador’s Ignorant Remarks
3) Kocharian Congratulates Putin, Talks about Region
4) “No War, No Peace” Mood Settles over Renegade Georgian Region of Ajaria
5) Melkonian Educational Institute to Close in June 2005

1) House Members Urge Speaker Hastert to Schedule Vote on Genocide Resolution

–REP. RADANOVICH LEADS EFFORT IN SUPPORT OF H.RES.193

WASHINGTON, DC (ANCA)–A bi-partisan group of over 60 House Members called on
Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) last Friday, to bring the Genocide
Resolution–H.Res.193–for a full floor vote.
“As we saw in Rwanda a decade ago, and as we witness today the signs of a
possible new genocide emerging around the world–as a government and a
people–we must make sure that we apply the lessons of past genocide to
prevent
future crimes against humanity,” stresses the letter initiated by Rep.
Radanovich (R-CA).
The Genocide resolution was introduced in the House last April by
Representatives Radanovich, Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Congressional Armenian
Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Joe Knollenberg (R-MI). It was
adopted unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee in May, and has 111
cosponsors. Its companion legislation in the Senate, S.Res.164, was introduced
last June by Senators John Ensign (R-NV) and Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and currently
has 37 cosponsors.
The resolution, in an effort to stop future atrocities, cites the importance
of remembering past crimes against humanity, including the Armenian Genocide,
Holocaust, Cambodian, and Rwandan genocides. Support for the measure has been
widespread, with a diverse coalition of over 100 ethnic, religious, civil and
human rights organizations calling for its passage, including American Values,
National Organization of Women, Sons of Italy, NAACP, Union of Orthodox
Rabbis,
and the National Council of La Raza.
Joining Rep. Radanovich in cosigning the letter to Speaker Hastert were
Representatives: Tom Allen (D-ME), Rob Andrews (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI),
Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Howard Berman (D-CA), Michael Bilirakis (R-FL), Tim
Bishop (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Michael Capuano
(D-MA), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI), Jerry Costello (D-IL),
Joseph Crowley (D-NY), William Delahunt (D-MA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), John
Dingell (D-MI), Elliot Engel (D-NY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Chaka Fattah (D-PA),
Michael Ferguson (R-NJ), Bob Filner (D-CA), Barney Frank (D-MA), Scott Garrett
(R-NJ), Mark Green (R-WI), Jim Greenwood (R-PA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Luis
Gutierrez (D-IL), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Michael Honda
(D-CA), Steve Israel (D-NY), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Dale Kildee (D-MI), Jerry
Kleczka (D-WI), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), James Langevin (D-RI), Jim Leach
(R-IA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sander Levin (D-MI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Nita
Lowey
(D-NY), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Edward Markey (D-MA),
James McGovern (D-MA), Michael McNulty (D-NY), Marty Meehan (D-MA), Juanita
Millender-McDonald (D-CA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton
(D-DC), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Charles Rangel (D-NY),
Steven
Rothman (D-NJ), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Mark Souder (R-IN),
John Sweeney (R-NY), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

The full text of the letter follows.

Text to Speaker Dennis Hastert

Dear Speaker Hastert:

We are writing to share with you our strong support for bringing H.
Res. 193 to the House floor for a vote as soon as possible.
This measure, as you know, commemorates the 15th anniversary of the U.S.
implementation of the Genocide Convention and reinforces our nation’s
dedication to this landmark human rights treaty. Approved in the shadow of the
Holocaust, the Convention stands today as the international community’s best
hope for the realization of the noble aim of eradicating forever the crime of
genocide. The House Judiciary Committee, recognizing the importance of this
effort, adopted H. Res. 193 without opposition on May 21st. One hundred and
ten Representatives have cosponsored this measure, including both the Chairman
and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee.
As we saw in Rwanda a decade ago, and as we witness today the signs of a
possible new genocide emerging around the world, as a government and a people,
we must make sure that we apply the lessons of past genocide to prevent future
crimes against humanity. Sadly, even as we confront new genocides, we still
have among us those who, against all facts and morality, deny the Holocaust or
seek to rewrite the history of the past atrocities. These hateful deniers
dishonor the dead and threaten the living. They make the world a more
dangerous place by emboldening future potential perpetrators of genocide to
believe that their crimes can be committed with impunity. Adolf Hitler
confirmed this with his chilling remark to his military staff prior to
launching the Holocaust, “who, after all remembers the annihilation of the
Armenians.”
Clearly, the struggle against genocide is not over. The pressing need to
remain ever vigilant was underscored recently by Samantha Power, Pulitzer
Prize
winning author of ” A Problem from Hell: American in the Age of Genocide.”
Commenting on similar legislation in the 107th Congress, she noted that, “For
too long American leaders and citizens have reflexively uttered the phrase
‘never again’ without taking concrete steps to give the slogan meaning. This
legislation marks the beginning of a twenty-first century campaign to get the
U.S. government to commit itself politically and operationally to prevent
future genocide.”
Recalling your support for H.Res. 596 in the 106th Congress and knowing of
your principled advocacy for human rights around the world, we ask that you
please move quickly to schedule a vote on H.Res. 193. Thank you for your
consideration of our request.

2) ARF Armenia Condemns British Ambassador’s Ignorant Remarks

YEREVAN (Yerkir)–Speaking at the National Assembly (NA) on Tuesday, Armenian
Revolutionary Federation (ARF) NA faction leader Levon Mkrtchian condemned
British Ambassador to Armenia Thorda Abbott-Watt’s statements on the Armenian
Genocide.
“A foreign ambassador is obliged to honor the principles and the history of
the people of the country to which they are assigned. . . We have to question
the effectiveness of the ambassador’s future activity in Armenia,” said
Mkrtchian, and asked: “Is the ambassador aware of her country’s policies in
the
Middle East in the period between 1880’s and 1918? If so, what could prompt
her
to make such statements?”
He suggested that if the ambassador is ignorant of the policy, she should
begin to review British diplomatic literature on the issue that sharply
differs
from her view.
Abbott-Watt was quoted by Armenian media as saying that “I do not think that
recognizing the events [1915 mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Empire] as
genocide would be much of use.” In later comments, she had said that the
evidence “was not sufficiently unequivocal that what took place could be
categorized as genocide under the 1948 United Nations Convention on
genocide.”
“We are going to pose these questions to Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign
Affairs
as well, and ask that the issue at hand–the ambassador’s announcement–as
well
as her behavior be addressed with great seriousness,” said the ARF leader.

3) Kocharian Congratulates Putin, Talks about Region

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–President Robert Kocharian congratulated the re-elected
president of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, in a phone conversation
today, where both leaders also discussed issues concerning Armenian-Russian
cooperation, as well as the situation in the South Caucasus region.

4) “No War, No Peace” Mood Settles over Renegade Georgian Region of Ajaria

BATUMI (Eurasianet.org)–A mood of “no war, no peace” spread over the renegade
Georgian region of Ajaria on Tuesday, amid calls by the international
community
for restraint. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili appeared in no mood for
mediation, as he accused Ajaria of engaging in “banditry” and “treachery.” In
Batumi, despite the imposition of an economic blockade, Ajarian leaders are
remaining steadfast in their refusal to submit to Tbilisi’s authority.
Since Ajarian police prevented Saakashvili from entering the region on March
14, both sides have mobilized for a fight, while probing for an opening to
negotiate. Many observers believe that a prospect for compromise, if one
exists
at all, is very small. Both Saakashvili and Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze
have
shown no willingness to be the first to make concessions. Saakashvili remains
insistent that Tbilisi’s authority take precedence over Ajaria’s,
especially in
the area of customs and tax revenue collection. Abashidze, meanwhile, rejects
any move that could reduce his control over the regional apparatus.
Saakashvili has explicitly stated that he will not negotiate with Abashidze,
casting the Tbilisi-Batumi dispute as a make-or-break moment for his
administration’s credibility. He insists that Georgia’s sovereignty depends on
Tbilisi’s ability to assert its authority over all regions of the country.
“Either we now stand firm, all together, and once and for all eradicate
banditry, feudalism, and treachery in Georgia … or we will no longer
exist as
a state,” Saakashvili said.
Abashidze claims that Saakashvili’s aggressive stance is pushing the Ajarian
leadership down a secessionist path. Unless Tbilisi moderates its position on
revenue collection, Abashidze hinted that Ajaria, like Georgia’s other
autonomous regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, would seek to make a formal
break with the central government. “We have already brought Abkhazia and South
Ossetia to the stage of separatism; we have forced them to leave Georgia,”
Abashidze was quoted as saying by the Russian RIA news agency. “Ajaria should
not be treated this way.”
Georgian officials have stressed that they have no intention of resorting to
arms to compel Batumi’s recognition of Tbilisi’s authority. However, Ajarian
leaders suggested the possibility of a clash remained high. “We have
sufficient
strength to meet force with force,” said Jemal Gogitidze, an Ajarian security
official told the Russian Itar-Tass news agency.
Georgian leaders are presently striving to tighten an economic blockade they
imposed on Ajaria on Monday. Georgian warships reportedly prevented at
least 10
vessels from entering Batumi harbor. In addition, Turkey appears to be
honoring
a Georgian government request to close its border crossing into Ajaria.
According to accounts from Tbilisi, the early effectiveness of the blockade
has
unsettled Abashidze. They point to reports that the Ajarian leader has placed
several calls to Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania over the past 24 hours
to bitterly complain about the closure of the Batumi port.
The dangerous escalation in tension has already prompted several mediation
attempts. In a telephone conversation, US Secretary of State Colin Powell
urged
Saakashvili “not to allow this situation … to escalate,” a State Department
spokesman said on Monday. Powell also contacted Russian officials, seeking
assurances that Russian troops based in Batumi would not become involved in
the
dispute. In addition, US Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles met with Georgian
leaders to promote a negotiated settlement.
Solomon Passy, the Bulgarian foreign minister who currently serves as the
chairman-in-office for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe,
held telephone talks with Abashidze, calling on the Ajarian leader to help
preserve the “peace, stability, and territorial integrity of Georgia.”
Also on Monday, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov arrived in Ajaria to act as a
go-between for Ajarian and Georgian officials. Georgian officials view such
initiatives with suspicion, given that the sympathies of Russian leaders lie
with Abashidze. Luzhkov told the Moscow daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta that he
embarked on his mission to Ajaria out of a desire to express solidarity with
Abashidze. “We consider ourselves brothers and, at a time like this, one wants
to stay close,” Luzhkov said. The Moscow mayor added that the source of
existing tension “does not come from Ajaria–it comes from Tbilisi.” The
newspaper report indicated Luzhkov didn’t coordinate his mission to Batumi
with
the Russian Foreign Ministry.
In Moscow, Russian politicians have been quick to criticize Saakashvili for
the Georgian government’s “unpredictable policy.” The deputy chairman of the
Russian Duma’s International Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, suggested
that Saakashvili’s unsuccessful attempt to enter Ajaria on Monday may have
been
an act designed to provoke a confrontation, the Itar-Tass news agency
reported.
Kosachev also suggested that much of the goodwill built during Saakashvili’s
early February visit to Moscow had dissipated amid the Ajaria tension.
Observers in Tbilisi believe the pressure will build on Saakashvili in the
coming days to take action to break the existing stalemate. Georgia’s
parliamentary elections are scheduled for March 28. If the status quo remains
in place on election day, most experts say Ajaria will not participate,
therefore discrediting the results. A faulty election would be a political
disaster for Saakashvili’s administration, perhaps permanently hampering its
ability to promote reforms.
The March 28 elections are also exerting influence over Abashidze’s
decisions,
analysts believe. Elections in Ajaria are routinely rigged in favor of
Abashidze and his political allies, observers explain. Saakashvili’s stated
desire for a free and fair vote is seen as a threat to Abashidze’s
stranglehold
over Ajaria’s political system. Thus, many believe Abashidze is anxious to
find
an excuse to cancel the vote in the region. Kote Kemularia, Georgia’s
ambassador to Russia, said Abashidze’s aim is “to wreck the parliamentary
elections in Georgia” and so “obstruct the establishment of democracy in the
country,” Itar-Tass reported.
While Saakashvili undoubtedly feels a need to act, his options may be
limited.
Political analysts in Tbilisi say that the Georgian military has the
capability
to subdue Ajarian defense units, but only in the event that Russian forces in
Ajaria remain neutral. Russian military commanders have said that the Batumi
garrison will under no circumstances intervene in the Ajarian dispute. At the
same time, Russian politicians have stated that Moscow cannot be a bystander.
Some Georgian political analysts believe that if Saakashvili attempts
military
action, Russian troops stationed in Batumi would come to the aid of Abashidze.
Moscow has a geopolitical interest in promoting tension, even conflict, some
Tbilisi experts maintain. Saakashvili has repeatedly stressed a desire to
steer
Georgia out of Russia’s sphere of influence and into the Western camp. A
conflict in Ajaria would offer Moscow an opportunity to again insert itself
into Georgian domestic affairs, and thus bring a halt to Georgia’s drift
towards the West.

5) Melkonian Educational Institute to Close in June 2005

NICOSIA–The Central Board of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU)
announced that The Melkonian Educational Institute (MEI) will close in 2005.
The statement (full text below) reads that, “after extensive deliberations and
thorough assessment, the Central Board has resolved unanimously to discontinue
MEI [operations] in June 2005. This decision is based largely on the Board’s
conclusion that MEI no longer meets the challenges of its mission in the
present context of the Armenian world.”
The ‘Gibrahayer’ website reported that the situation at Melkonian on Tuesday
morning was very sad. Staff members were shocked and devastated by the
decision, while students tearfully staged a demonstration under the eyes of
the
local TV channels and press.

The following is the complete text of the Board’s unanimous decision:

(AGBU Website)–In the spirit of the discussion and analyses at the AGBU
General Assembly meeting in October, 2002, and consistent with the on-going
assessment of our educational institutions and activities worldwide, the
Central Board has carefully evaluated AGBU programs in respect to their past
achievements, current challenges, and future prospects. The Board has done so
in furtherance of the goals of the organization and its founding fathers.
The Melkonian Educational Institute (MEI), as a significant and historical
institution within AGBU, has been a concern of the Central Board over many
years. After extensive deliberations and thorough assessment, the Central
Board
has resolved unanimously to discontinue MEI in June 2005. This decision is
based largely on the Board’s conclusion that MEI no longer meets the
challenges
of its mission in the present context of the Armenian world. The Board fully
recognizes and honors the continued legacy of the visionary Melkonian Brothers
and is determined to perpetuate their memory through new educational programs
to be implemented within and outside Cyprus, in line with the spirit of their
donation to AGBU.
Throughout its century-long history, AGBU has survived and thrived primarily
because it has recognized and addressed the needs of the Armenian people,
taking bold and forward-looking initiatives in challenging times as necessary.

The statement is signed by AGBU Central Board members.

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BAKU: OSCE Chair Calls on Azerbaijan, Armenia to Continue NK Talks

16 March 2004

OSCE CHAIRMAN CALLS ON AZERBAIJAN AND ARMENIA TO CONTINUE TALKS ON
NAGORNO-KARABAKH

BAKU, 16 March 2004 – The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Bulgarian Foreign
Minister Solomon Passy, has called upon the sides involved in the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to continue dialogue without any preconditions.

Speaking in Baku, on Tuesday, the Chairman-in-Office said: “The key to the
solution is in direct dialogue.”

“The OSCE is always prepared to be a facilitator. We can offer many
scenarios on the resolution of the conflict but it will all be just
laboratory work until both Azerbaijan and Armenia reach an agreement at the
table. The only scenario that will work is the one which is negotiated
directly, with mutual compromises.”

Nagorno-Karabakh was one of the main topics in discussions which the OSCE
Chairman-in-Office held with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev.

During his visit to Baku, the Chairman-in-Office also met Prime Minister
Artur Rasi-Zade, the Speaker of Parliament, Murtuz Aleskerov, and Foreign
Minister Vilayat Guliyev, as well as opposition leaders and representatives
of non-governmental organizations.

Minister Passy said the OSCE Minsk Group was working very hard to help
achieve a solution to the conflict. “But the OSCE is not capable of miracles
and can’t impose a ready solution. History teaches us that with conflicts
time always works against us. The later a solution is found, the more
painful it may be for the people of the region.”

The Chairman-in-Office expressed hope that education, a priority of the
Bulgarian OSCE Chairmanship, would eventually play a role in resolving the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In particular, he noted the importance of having
accurate and objective history books.

“We must invest in the education of the next generation,” the Minister said.
“If we allow our children to be misled by propaganda, the next generation
will find it hard to be objective and walk away from old scars.”

Another topic in the discussions was the follow-up to the recommendations to
the report of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
on the conduct of the Presidential Election of 15 October last year.

“I believe we may now move on, utilizing the lessons learned and thereby
opening the way to free and fair municipal elections, scheduled for later
this year,” the Chairman-in-Office said. “I trust they may provide a
substantial platform for building public confidence across the political
spectrum.”

Minister Passy also brought up the question of disturbances after the
October election and the arrest of a number of people who are now awaiting
trial. He said he had a positive reaction on this issue from President
Aliyev.

“I am pleased to note that court proceedings are now underway. It is my
fervent hope that the process will be transparent and the judgements fair
and appropriate,” he said.

Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site:

http://usinfo.state.gov

The Beleaguered Christians of the Palestinian Authority

The Beleaguered Christians of the Palestinian Authority

A Second-Class People / Regional Repression of Christians / Official PA
Domination of Christians / PA Disrespect for Christian Holy Sites / The
PA Takeover of the Church of the Nativity / The PA and Jerusalem
Christians / Reduction of Christian Political Power / Harassment of
Palestinian Christians by Palestinian Muslims / The Palestinian
Christian Response

Jewish Viewpoints
March 16, 2004

By David Raab
The Christian community in the areas administered by the Palestinian
Authority (PA) is a small but symbolically important one. About 35,000
Christians live in the West Bank and 3,000 in Gaza,^1 representing about
1.3 percent of Palestinians. In addition, 12,500 Christians reside in
eastern Jerusalem.

This population is rapidly dwindling, however, and not solely as a
result of the difficult military and economic situation of the past two
years. Rather, there are numerous indications that the Christian
population is beleaguered due to its Christianity. Taken in context of
the condition of Christians in other Middle Eastern countries, this
picture is especially credible and troubling.

A Second-Class People

Under Islam, Christians are considered /dhimmi,/ a tolerated but second
class who are afforded protection by Islam. /Dhimmitude/ is integral to
Islam; it is a “protection pact” that suspends “the [Muslim] conqueror’s
initial right to kill or enslave [Jews and Christians], provided they
submitted themselves to pay tribute.”2

However, the reality of Christianity under Islam has often been
difficult. “Over the centuries, political Islam has not been too kind to
the native Christian communities living under its rule. Anecdotes of
tolerance aside, the systematic treatment of Christians…is abusive and
discriminatory by any standard….Under Islam, the targeted /dhimmi/
community and each individual in it are made to live in a state of
perpetual humiliation in the eyes of the ruling community.”3 As
described by a Christian Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayil: “a
Christian…is not a full citizen and cannot exercise political rights
in any of the countries which were once conquered by Islam.”4

Palestinian Christians have suffered as /dhimmis/ for centuries. An
English traveler in the Holy Land in 1816, for example, remarked that
Christians were not permitted to ride on horseback without express
permission from the Muslim Pasha.5

Other European travelers to the Holy Land mentioned the practice whereby
“a /dhimmi/ must not come face to face with a Muslim in the street but
pass him to the left, the impure side,” and described how Christians
were humiliated and insulted in the streets of Jerusalem until the
mid-1800s. The British consul in Jerusalem wrote that in the Holy Land,
particularly in Jerusalem until 1839, Christians were pushed into the
gutter by any Muslim who would swear: “turn to my left, thou dog.” They
were forbidden to ride on a mount in town or to wear bright clothes.6

In the early 1900s, sporadic attacks on Christians by bands of Muslims
occurred in many Palestinian towns.7 During the Palestinian Arab revolt
in the late 1930s, which involved very few Christians, if Christian
villagers refused to supply the terrorist bands with weapons and
provisions, their vines were uprooted and their women raped. The rebels
forced the Christian population to observe the weekly day of rest on
Friday instead of Sunday and to replace the tarboosh with the kaffiyeh
for men, whereas women were forced to wear the veil. In 1936, Muslims
marched through the Christian village of Bir Zayt near Ramallah
chanting: “We are going to kill the Christians.”8

In the early 1900s, with the Jewish return to the area, Palestinian
Christians began to band with the Muslims to oppose Jewish immigration,
at least in part as a way to deflect Muslim hostility away from
themselves. As Sir John Chancellor, British High Commissioner in
Palestine, put it in 1931: “Christian Arab leaders, moreover, have
admitted to me that in establishing close relations with the
[Palestinian] Moslems the Christians have not been uninfluenced by fears
of the treatment they might suffer at the hands of the Moslem majority
in certain eventualities.”9

>From 1953 until 1967, Jordan undertook to Islamize the Christian quarter
in the Old City of Jerusalem by laws forbidding Christians to buy land
and houses….It ordered the compulsory closure of schools on Muslim
holidays and authorized mosques to be built near churches, thus
preventing any possibility of enlargement.10

Regional Repression of Christians

The current Christian reality in many Middle Eastern countries is also
difficult. In Egypt, “Muslim, but not Christian, schools receive state
funding….It is nearly impossible to restore or build new
churches….Christians are frequently ostracized or insulted in public,
and laws prohibit Muslim conversions to Christianity….Islamic radicals
have frequently launched physical attacks on [Christian] Copts.”11

Saudi Arabia “is one of the most oppressive countries for Christians.
There are no churches in the whole country. Foreign workers make up
one-third of the population, many of whom are Christians. For their
entire stay, which may be years, they are forbidden to display any
Christian symbols or Bibles, or even meet together publicly to worship
and pray. Some have watched their personal Bibles put through a shredder
when they entered the country.”12

An official Saudi cleric, Sheik Saad Al-Buraik, pronounced in a Riyadh
government mosque, “People should know that…the battle that we are
going through is…also with those who believe that Allah is a third in
a Trinity, and those who said that Jesus is the son of Allah, and Allah
is Jesus, the son of Mary.”13

In Iran, “the printing of Christian literature is illegal, converts from
Islam are liable to be killed, and most evangelical churches must
function underground.”14 Christians are not allowed to testify in an
Islamic court when a Muslim is involved and they are discriminated
against in employment. A 1992 UN report cites cases of imprisonment and
torture of Muslims who converted to Christianity and of Armenian and
Assyrian pastors, the dissolution of the Iranian Bible Society, the
closure of Christian libraries, and the confiscation of all Christian
books, including 20,000 copies of the New Testament in Farsi.15

In Israel, too, Muslim fundamentalists seek to assert dominance over
Christian Arabs. “Attacks against and condemnation of Christians are
also often heard in mosques, in sermons and in publications of the
Muslim Movement.”16 In Nazareth, a significant clash developed in recent
years when Muslims sought to build a grand mosque next to the Basilica
of the Annunciation, the dominant Christian landmark in the town.17

Official PA Domination of Christians

Islam is the official religion of the Palestinian Authority.18 In
addition, fundamentalist Hamas and Islamic Jihad have promoted Islamic
influence on Palestinian society.

Officially, the PA claims to treat Palestinian Christians equally and
pointedly seeks to display this publicly. Christmas is an official
holiday. Arafat has stated as his mission “the protection of the
Christian and Muslim holy places,”19 and several Christians have held
prominent PA positions.

Occasionally, however, contrary messages slip through. In a Friday
sermon on October 13, 2000, broadcast live on official Palestinian
Authority television from a Gaza mosque, Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya
proclaimed: “Allah the almighty has called upon us not to ally with the
Jews or the Christians, not to like them, not to become their partners,
not to support them, and not to sign agreements with them.”20

In addition, no PA law protects religious freedom.21 While asserting
that all Palestinians’ “liberty and freedom to worship and to practice
their religious beliefs are protected,” a PA Information Ministry
statement also stresses that: “The Palestinian people are also governed
by [Islamic] Shari’a law…with regard to issues pertaining to religious
matters. According to Shari’a Law, applicable throughout the Muslim
world, any Muslim who [converts] or declares becoming an unbeliever is
committing a major sin punishable by capital punishment…the
[Palestinian Authority] cannot take a different position on this matter.”22

In attempting to assuage Christians, the statement goes on to say that
capital punishment for conversion “has never happened, nor is it likely
to happen” in the Palestinian territories, but that “norms and tradition
will take care of such situations should they occur.”

The PA’s judicial system also does not ensure equal protection to
Christians. For example, an Israeli government report noted the failure
of the judicial system in Bethlehem to provide protection to Christian
land-owners.

The Comtsieh family (a Christian family) has a plot of land with a
building that serves as a business center in the city. Several years ago
a Moslem family from Hebron took possession of the building and started
to use it without permission.

The Comtsieh family filed a claim with the judicial system and after
long and arduous court hearings, the court ruled in the claimant’s favor.

However, the verdict was never enforced by the police and
representatives of the family from Hebron later appeared with a new
court verdict (signed by the same judge who ruled in the claimants’
favor previously), canceling the previous verdict and ratifying the
Hebron family’s ownership of the property.23

An Israeli government report in 1997 asserted more direct harassment of
Christians by the PA

In August 1997, Palestinian policemen in Beit Sahur opened fire on a
crowd of Christian Arabs, wounding six. The Palestinian Authority is
attempting to cover up the incident and has warned against publicizing
the story. The local commander of the Palestinian police instructed
journalists not to report on the incident….

In late June 1997, a Palestinian convert to Christianity in the northern
West Bank was arrested by agents of the Palestinian Authority’s
Preventive Security Service. He had been regularly attending church and
prayer meetings and was distributing Bibles. The Palestinian Authority
ordered his arrest….

The pastor of a church in Ramallah was recently warned by Palestinian
Authority security agents that they were monitoring his evangelistic
activities in the area and wanted him to come in for questioning for
spreading Christianity.

A Palestinian convert to Christianity living in a village near Nablus
was recently arrested by the Palestinian police. A Muslim preacher was
brought in by the police, and he attempted to convince the convert to
return to Islam. When the convert refused, he was brought before a
Palestinian court and sentenced to prison for insulting the religious
leader….

A Palestinian convert to Christianity in Ramallah was recently visited
by Palestinian policemen at his home and warned that if he continued to
preach Christianity, he would be arrested and charged with being an
Israeli spy.24

Another report in 2002, based on Israeli intelligence gathered during
Israel’s Defensive Shield operation, asserts that “The Fatah and
Arafat’s intelligence network intimidated and maltreated the Christian
population in Bethlehem. They extorted money from them, confiscated land
and property and left them to the mercy of street gangs and other
criminal activity, with no protection.”25

Similar findings were reported in the /Washington Times/ following the
PA takeover of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in April 2002.

Residents of this biblical city are expressing relief at the exile to
Cyprus last week of 13 hard-core Palestinian militants, who they said
had imposed a two-year reign of terror that included rape, extortion and
executions. The 13 sent to Cyprus, as well as 26 others sent to the Gaza
Strip, had taken shelter in the Church of the Nativity, triggering a
39-day siege that ended Friday.

Palestinians who live near the church described the group as a criminal
gang that preyed especially on Palestinian Christians, demanding
“protection money” from the main businesses, which make and sell
religious artifacts.

“Finally the Christians can breathe freely,” said Helen, 50, a Christian
mother of four. “We are so delighted that these criminals who have
intimidated us for such a long time are now going away.”26

Adding insult to injury, during this reign of terror, the PA’s Al Aqsa
Martyrs Brigades (declared a terrorist organization by the United
States) sent a letter to the Bethlehem municipality “requesting” aid in
the form of monetary contributions for military operations. Cynically
adding a symbol of Christianity to their extortion demand, the letter
was signed “Fatah/Al Aqsa Martyrs (and /Church of) Nativity/ Brigades”
[emphasis added].27

PA Disrespect for Christian Holy Sites

The PA has shown contempt for certain Christian holy sites, and there
has been significant desecration as well. For example, without prior
consent of the church, Yasser Arafat decided to turn the Greek Orthodox
monastery near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem into his domicile
during his visits to the city.28 On July 5, 1997, the PLO seized
Abraham’s Oak Russian Holy Trinity Monastery in Hebron, violently
evicting monks and nuns.29

After the outbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000, the PA’s
Tanzim militia chose the Christian town of Beit Jala to shoot at
Jerusalem over other locations from which they could have similarly
targeted communities built on land captured in 1967. They specifically
positioned themselves in or near Christian homes, hotels, churches
(e.g., St. Nicholas), and the Greek Orthodox club, knowing that a slight
deviation in Israeli return fire would harm Christian institutions or
homes.30

At one point, Andreas Reinecke, head of the German Liaison office to the
PA, protested:

I would like to draw your attention in this letter to a number of
incidents which occurred at “Talitakoumi” school in Beit Jala…which is
funded mainly by the Protestant Church in Berlin.

Over the last few days the school staff noticed attempts on the part of
several armed Palestinians to use the school premises and some of its
gardens for their activities. If they succeed in doing this, an Israeli
reaction will be inevitable. This will have a negative impact on the
continuation of the functioning of the school, in which no less than
1,000 [Christian] Palestinians study….You cannot imagine the kind of
upheaval which will be provoked among the supporters of this school [in
Germany] should they discover that the school premises are used as a
battle ground.31

The most glaring example of PA disregard for the holiness of Christian
shrines, however, was the April 2002 takeover of the Church of the
Nativity in Bethlehem by PA forces and their taking over 40 Christian
clergy and nuns as hostages. As confirmed by a senior Tanzim commander,
Abdullah Abu-Hadid, “The idea was to enter the church in order to create
international pressure on Israel….We knew beforehand that there was
two years’ worth of food for 50 monks. Oil, beans, rice, olives. Good
bathrooms and the largest wells in old Bethlehem. You didn’t need
electricity because there were candles. In the yard they planted
vegetables. Everything was there.”32

The PA Takeover of the Church of the Nativity

On April 2, 2002, as Israel implemented its Defensive Shield operation
to combat the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, in Bethlehem “a
number of terrorists took over St. Mary’s Church grounds and…held the
priest and a number of nuns there against their will. The terrorists
used the Church as a firing position, from which they shot at IDF
soldiers in the area. /The soldiers did not return fire toward the
church when fired upon/ [emphasis added]. An IDF force, under the
command of the Bethlehem area regional commander, entered the Church
grounds today without battle, in coordination with its leaders, and
evacuated the priest and nuns.”33

That same day, “More than 100 Palestinian gunmen…[including] soldiers
and policemen, entered the Church of the Nativity on Tuesday, as Israeli
troops swept into Bethlehem in an attempt to quell violence by
Palestinian suicide bombers and militias.”34 The actual number of
terrorists was between 150 and 180, among them prominent members of the
Fatah Tanzim. As the /New York Times/ put it, “Palestinian gunmen have
frequently used the area around the church as a refuge, /with the
expectation that Israel would try to avoid fighting near the shrine/”
[emphasis added].35

And in fact this was the case. The commander of the Israeli forces in
the area asserted that the IDF would not break into the church itself
and would not harm this site holy to Christianity. Israel also deployed
more mature and more reserved reserve-duty soldiers in this sensitive
situation that militarily called for more agile, standing-army soldiers.36

On the other hand, the Palestinians did not treat it the same way. Not
only did they take their weapons with them into the Church of the
Nativity and fire, on occasion, from the church, but also reportedly
booby-trapped the entrance to the church.37

On April 7, “one of the few priests evacuated from the church told
Israeli television yesterday that gunmen had shot their way in, and that
the priests, monks and nuns were essentially hostages….The priest
declined to call the clergy ‘hostages,’ but repeatedly said in fluent
English: ‘We have absolutely no choice. They have guns, we do not.'”38

Christians clearly saw the takeover as a violation of the sanctity of
the church. In an interview with CWNews, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran,
the Vatican’s Undersecretary of State and the top foreign-policy
official, asserted that “The Palestinians have entered into bilateral
agreements [with the Holy See] in which they undertake to maintain and
respect the status quo regarding the Christian holy places and the
rights of Christian communities. To explain the gravity of the current
situation, let me begin with the fact that the occupation of the holy
places by armed men is a violation of a long tradition of law that dates
back to the Ottoman era. Never before have they been occupied – for such
a lengthy time – by armed men.”39 On April 14, he reiterated his
position in an interview on Vatican Radio.40

On April 24, the /Jerusalem Post/ reported on the damage that the PA
forces were causing:

Three Armenian monks, who had been held hostage by the Palestinian
gunmen inside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, managed to flee the
church area via a side gate yesterday morning. They immediately thanked
the soldiers for rescuing them.

They told army officers the gunmen had stolen gold and other property,
including crucifixes and prayer books, and had caused damage….

One of the monks, Narkiss Korasian, later told reporters: “They stole
everything, they opened the doors one by one and stole
everything….They stole our prayer books and four crosses…they didn’t
leave anything. Thank you for your help, we will never forget it.”

Israeli officials said the monks said the gunmen had also begun beating
and attacking clergymen.41

When the siege finally ended, the PA soldiers left the church in
terrible condition:

The Palestinian gunmen holed up in the Church of the Nativity seized
church stockpiles of food and “ate like greedy monsters” until the food
ran out, while more than 150 civilians went hungry. They also guzzled
beer, wine, and Johnnie Walker scotch that they found in priests’
quarters, undeterred by the Islamic ban on drinking alcohol. The
indulgence lasted for about two weeks into the 39-day siege, when the
food and drink ran out, according to an account by four Greek Orthodox
priests who were trapped inside for the entire ordeal….

The Orthodox priests and a number of civilians have said the gunmen
created a regime of fear.

Even in the Roman Catholic areas of the complex there was evidence of
disregard for religious norms. Catholic priests said that some Bibles
were torn up for toilet paper, and many valuable sacramental objects
were removed. “Palestinians took candelabra, icons and anything that
looked like gold,” said a Franciscan, the Rev. Nicholas Marquez from
Mexico.42

A problem that arose during the siege again shows Christian fear of
Muslim domination. Two Palestinian gunmen in the church were killed, and
the PA wanted to bury them in the basilica. “With two Muslim bodies
inside the Church of the Nativity, Christianity could be facing an
absolute disaster in Bethlehem,” said Canon Andrew White, the special
representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Middle East. “It
would be catastrophic if two Muslim martyrs were buried in the church.
It could lead to a situation like that in Nazareth,” he said.43 Only
after intensive mediation efforts were plans to bury the bodies inside
abandoned.

The PA and Jerusalem Christians

Despite having no legal standing in Jerusalem, PA officialdom has acted
similarly there. The PA, in fact, denies historic Jewish – and thus
Christian – ties to Jerusalem. Walid M. Awad, Director of Foreign
Publications in the Palestinian Ministry of Information, asserted: “The
location of the [Jewish] Temple on the Temple Mount is in
question….There are scholars who say that it might be in Jericho or
somewhere else 4 kilometers outside of Jerusalem.” Asked “The New
Testament talks of Jesus going to the Temple in Jerusalem. Are you
suggesting that Jesus went to Jericho rather than Jerusalem?” he
responded, “It depends on what temple you think he went to.”44 U.S.
Ambassador Dennis Ross asserted: “The only new idea [Arafat] raised at
Camp David was that the temple didn’t exist in Jerusalem.”45

A Christian leader, Father Marun Lahham, worries, “Frequent Muslim
declarations that…Jerusalem is [an] Islamic [city] trouble Christians.”46

The PA has begun to interfere with Jerusalem Christians:

[T]he Palestinian Authority-appointed Waqf (Moslem religious property)
authorities attempted to break through into the Church of the Holy
Sepulcher from the adjacent al-Hanaqa Mosque. [They] decided to install
a latrine on the roof of the Church. According to a May 11, 1997, report
in /Ha’aretz,/ “A Waqf internal report, written two weeks ago by the
Waqf’s Jerusalem engineer, ‘Isam ‘Awad, confirms many of the Christians’
claims in the conflict that has emerged adjacent to the Holy Sepulcher
Church regarding construction in the Church. The Church’s claim [is]
that the Waqf has harmed the historical and architectural substance of
the Holy Sepulcher, as a result of a construction addition to the
courtyard of the ‘Hanaqa,’ which leans on the wall of the Holy Sepulcher
and even darkens it by its height.”

Israel attempted to calm down the conflict after the Churches complained
and issued a work stoppage order against it, which was promptly ignored.
The same /Ha’aretz/ story reported that “The Jerusalem district
archeologist in the Antiquities Authority, John Zeligman, wrote to the
Waqf director, ‘Adnan Husayni, pointing out to the Waqf the damage to a
site that is declared to be an antiquity and threatens to go to law if
work is not halted immediately.” Finally, the illegal construction was
halted due to Israeli and world pressure, but we can be certain that
without such pressure the desecration would have continued.47

The PA-appointed Waqf is also working feverishly to convert the Temple
Mount, a site holy to Christians and Jews, into a mosque and erase any
traces of the Temple. In June 2000, /Ha’aretz/ reported that “the
Islamic Movement in Israel has a master plan to build a fourth mosque on
the eastern side of the Temple Mount” and that, in fact, according to a
head of the movement, “the entire area of the Temple Mount is an
inseparable and integral part of the Al Aqsa Mosque.”48

The Wakf made a mockery of the laws of the State of Israel. Wakf
officials [had] requested and received a permit to open an emergency
exit in the new mosque in Solomon’s Stables. [But], in fact, the Wakf
tried to break through four of the underground arches in the northern
part of Solomon’s Stables. To do so, it dug a huge hole 60 meters long
and 25 meters wide in the earth of the Temple Mount…6,000 tons of
earth [were] removed. Some of it was scattered at dumpsites. Some was
dumped in the Kidron River. Antiquities dating back to [the first and
second Temple eras] were tossed on garbage heaps.49

Israel Antiquities Authority Director-General Shuka Dorfman affirms
“categorically” and “in an unequivocal manner, that there is
archeological damage being done [by the Waqf] to antiquities on the
Temple Mount.”50 Under the “guardianship” of the Waqf, “Palestinian
pirates are brazenly digging up Jewish artifacts from the holy Temple
Mount site and trying to sell them on the black market for as much as $1
million.”51

More recently, since the start of the Palestinian violence, the Waqf has
precluded Christians from visiting the Temple Mount, despite the fact
that no security considerations whatsoever are involved.

Reduction of Christian Political Power

Historically, not only has Bethlehem been a Christian city governed
primarily by Christians, but, with its sister towns of Beit Jala and
Beit Sahur, it has been the largest enclave of Christians in the West Bank.

Since assuming control in 1995, however, the PA has been Islamizing
Bethlehem. The city’s municipal boundaries were changed to incorporate
30,000 Muslims from three neighboring refugee camps, severely tipping
the demography. The city also added a few thousand Bedouins of the
Ta’amra tribe, located east of Bethlehem, and encouraged Muslim
immigration from Hebron to Bethlehem. The net result is that the area’s
23,000 Christians were reduced from a 60 percent majority in 1990 to a
minority by 2001.

Also, defying tradition, Arafat appointed a Muslim from Hebron, Muhammed
Rashad A-Jabari, as governor of Bethlehem. He fired the existing
Bethlehem city council that had nine Christians and two Muslims,
replacing it with a 50:50 council. While the mayor is a Christian, the
top bureaucratic, security, and political echelons, and the lower levels
as well, have been drained of Christians.52 Furthermore, “according to
the new local council elections’ regulations designed by the PA – but
not yet put into effect, however – mayors will be nominated by the
council members in their towns. Christians fear that these new
regulations will open the way to the nomination of Muslim mayors to the
traditional Christian towns.”53

While six out of the eighty-eight seats in the Palestinian Legislative
Council have been reserved for Christians,54 representing more than
double their proportion in Palestinian society, the Council is a fairly
powerless entity. Similarly, no Christian holds a position of power in
the Palestinian government.

Harassment of Palestinian Christians by Palestinian Muslims

Palestinian Christians are perceived by many Muslims – as were Lebanon’s
Christians – as a potential fifth column for Israel. In fact, at the
start of the recent violence in 2000, Muslim Palestinians attacked
Christians in Gaza, as confirmed by Fr. Raed Abusahlia, chancellor of
the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem.55

Anti-Christian graffiti is not uncommon in Bethlehem and neighboring
Beit Sahur, proclaiming: “First the Saturday people (the Jews), then the
Sunday people (the Christians).”56 The same has often been heard chanted
during anti-Israel PLO/PA rallies. Accused of wearing “permissive”
Western clothing, Bethlehem Christian women have been intimidated.
Finally, rape and abduction of Christian women is also reported to have
occurred frequently (especially in Beit Sahur), as was the case in
Lebanon.57

Christian cemeteries have been defaced, monasteries have had their
telephone lines cut, and there have been break-ins at convents.58

In July 1994, the /Wall Street Journal/ reported that Palestinian
Muslims would not sell land to Christians and that Christian facilities
and clubs had been attacked by Muslim extremists. Christian graves,
crosses, and statues had been desecrated; Christians had suffered
physical abuse, beatings, and Molotov cocktail attacks.59

Continuing the Islamic tradition of Saladin – who constructed two
mosques contiguous to and taller than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher –
mosques have mushroomed adjacent to and usually taller than churches.
Loudly amplified Muslim sermons have been aired during Christian
services, including the Pope’s April 2000 address in Nazareth, which had
to be halted until the Muslim call to prayer was concluded.60

In February 2002, Palestinian Muslims rampaged against Christians in
Ramallah, and the Palestinian Authority failed to intervene. As reported
by the /Boston Globe,/

The rampage began after Hanna Salameh, a member of a wealthy Christian
family, allegedly killed Jibril Eid, a Muslim construction contractor
from the Kalandia refugee camp, after the two men argued at the Israeli
army’s Kalandia checkpoint….A few hours later, hundreds of men poured
out of the refugee camp and went to Ramallah, where they burned
Salameh’s house and store. They then burned his brother’s store, damaged
several businesses owned by Christians not related to the Salamehs, and
torched the exercise room and terrorized more than 100 children at
Sariya, a scouting and youth center.

Palestinian police did nothing to stop this destruction, according to
numerous witnesses, but drew the line as the mob moved toward Christian
churches, whose leaders the Palestinian Authority is cultivating for
international support in its struggle with Israel.

While officials of the Palestinian Authority and of Fatah insisted that
the incident was simply about revenge and anger, many in Ramallah said
otherwise.

“The truth is this is a problem between Christians and Muslims,” said
one Christian businessman. “There is no security for us. Everyone is
taking the law in his own hands….This [accused] man’s brother, they
burned his house, his shops, his cars, and the police of Ramallah stood
by and watched. This is the democracy of Palestine?”

“The chief of security at Kalandia was in charge of this rampage,” said
a Muslim shopkeeper. “The mayor of Ramallah came, saw what was
happening, and withdrew. I am a Muslim, but I condemn this. These are
savage people.”61

Similar attacks have occurred in eastern Jerusalem.

Over the weekend, a gang of Moslem youths ransacked a pool hall near the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is frequented by Christian youths.
Four of the Christians were stabbed and lightly wounded; one of them
required hospitalization. Witnesses said about fifty Moslem youths
marched through the Christian Quarter to the pool hall Saturday
afternoon, chanting anti-Christian slogans. They attacked the Christians
inside, and broke chairs, tables, and other objects….Old City police
chief Dep. Cmdr. David Givati confirmed that there have been a number of
attacks by Moslems on Christian targets recently.62

The Palestinian Christian Response

Under the Oslo Accords, between 1995 and 1997 the Palestinian Authority
was given civilian control over 98 percent of the Palestinian population
of Gaza and the West Bank. Instead of embracing PA jurisdiction in the
spirit of Palestinian self-determination, however, Palestinian
Christians are fleeing.

Palestinian Christians have fled Islamic rule in the past. In the final
census conducted by the British mandatory authorities in 1947, there
were 28,000 Christians in Jerusalem. The census conducted by Israel
immediately after the Six-Day War in 1967, which ended the 19-year
Jordanian control of the eastern portion of the city, found just 11,000
Christians remaining. Some 17,000 Christians (61 percent) left during
the days of Jordan’s rule over Jerusalem.63

True, there has been a steady outflow of Christians from the Holy Land
for some time. Daughter communities in North and South America had
already outnumbered their mother communities by 1948.64 But this outflow
has accelerated since the rise of PA control.

Between the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords and the 1995 transfer of
Bethlehem to the PA, Palestinian Christians lobbied Israel against the
transfer. The late Christian mayor, Elias Freij, warned that it would
result in Bethlehem becoming a town with churches but no Christians. He
lobbied Israel to include Bethlehem in the boundaries of Greater
Jerusalem, as was the Jordanian practice until 1967.65

In December 1997, the /London Times/ reported: “Life in (PA-ruled)
Bethlehem has become insufferable for many members of the dwindling
Christian minorities. Increasing Muslim-Christian tensions have left
some Christians reluctant to celebrate Christmas in the town at the
heart of the story of Christ’s birth.”66 The situation has become so
desperate for Christians that, “during his visit to Bethlehem, Pope John
Paul II felt it necessary to urge Palestinian Christians already in
March 2000: ‘Do not be afraid to preserve your Christian heritage and
Christian presence in Bethlehem.'”67

On July 17, 2000, upon realizing that then Prime Minister Barak was
contemplating repartitioning Jerusalem, the leaders of the Greek
Orthodox, Latin, and Armenian Churches wrote to him, President Clinton,
and Yasser Arafat, demanding to be consulted before such action was
undertaken. Barak’s proposal also triggered a flood of requests for
Israeli identity cards by thousands of eastern Jerusalem Arabs. (This,
plus the fact that Israel’s own Christian population is actually
growing, refutes any claim that emigration is a result of Israel’s
treatment of Christians.)

Despite their beleaguerment, Palestinian Christians do not speak out
about their situation. “Out of fear for their safety, Christian
spokesmen aren’t happy to be identified by name when they complain about
the Muslims’ treatment of them…off the record they talk of harassment
and terror tactics, mainly from the gangs of thugs who looted and
plundered Christians and their property, under the protection of
Palestinian security personnel.”68

In fact, the Christians’ silence may be precisely because they are a
beleaguered minority with a long history of /dhimmitude./ As Lebanese
Christian Habib Malik describes:

This sentiment is motivated primarily by a desire for a unified position
vis-a-vis Israel. But it also stems from a deeper /dhimmi/ psychological
state: the urge to find – or to imagine and fabricate if need be – a
common cause with the ruling majority in order to dilute the existing
religious differences and perhaps ease the weight of political Islam’s
inevitable discrimination. The history of Palestinian Christianity has,
for the most part, been no different from that of /dhimmi/ Christianity
throughout the Levant.69

One Christian cleric in Jerusalem interviewed by this author compared
the behavior of Christian /dhimmis/ to that of battered wives or
children, who continue to defend and even identify with their tormentor
even as the abuse persists.

Palestinian Christians “internalized this dependence on the Muslim
majority as a social characteristic that persisted even after the
Ottoman reforms of the nineteenth century abolished these rules….The
Christians worried that Muslim religious emotions aroused against the
Jews might subsequently be turned against them.”70

* * *

Notes

1. Daphne Tsimhoni, “The Christians in Israel, the West Bank and the
Gaza Strip,” /Middle East Quarterly,/ Winter 2001.

2. Bat Ye’or, /Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide/
(Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 2002), p. 41.
3. Habib C. Malik, “Christians in the Land Called Holy,” /First Things:
A Journal of Religion and Public Life,/ January 1999.
4. Bashir Gemayel, /Liberte et Securite/ (Beirut, 1983), pp. 37-38,
cited in Bat Ye’or, p. 248.
5. James Silk Buckingham, /Travels in Palestine/ (London, 1821), cited
in Bat Ye’or, p. 98.
6. James Finn, as cited in Bat Ye’or, p. 100 and n. 65.
7. Yehoshua Porath, /The Palestinian Arab National Movement, 1929-1939:
From Riots to Rebellion/ (London, 1977), p. 109, cited in Bat Ye’or,
pp. 160-161.
8. Porath, pp. 268-70.
9. Yehoshua Porath, /The Emergence of the Palestinian Arab National
Movement, 1918-1929/ (Lon don, 1974), p. 303, cited in Bat Ye’or, p. 160.
10. Bat Ye’or, p. 235.
11. Jonathan Adelman and Aggie Kuperman, /Rocky Mountain News,/ December
22, 2001.
12. “Muslim Countries Becoming Bolder in Persecuting Christians,”
/Battle Cry Magazine,/ September/ October 2001.
13. “Saudi Telethon Host Calls for Enslaving Jewish Women,” from the
Saudi Information Service, as reported in the /National Review Online,/
April 26, 2002.
14. Adelman and Kuperman.
15. Bat Ye’or, p. 225.
16. Raphael Israeli, /Green Crescent Over Nazareth: The Displacement of
Christians by Muslims in the Holy Land/ (Frank Cass: London, 2002), p. 60.
17. Serge Schmemann, “Israelis Bar Mosque on Site in Nazareth,”
/International Herald Tribune,/ March 4, 2002.
18. Tsimhoni.
19. /Ibid./
20. MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 138, October 13, 2000.
21. U.S. Department of State, /International Religious Freedom Report:
Israel and the Occupied Territories,/ Oc tober 26, 2001.
22. Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information, December 1997, as
reported in
23. Danny Naveh (Israeli Minister of Parliamentary Affairs), /The
Involvement of Arafat, PA Senior Officials and Apparatuses in Terrorism
against Israel, Corruption and Crime,/ 2002,

24. /The Palestinian Authority’s Treatment of Christians in the
Autonomous Areas,/ Israeli Government, October 1997, translated to
English by IMRA.
25. Naveh.
26. Sayed Anwar, “Exiled Palestinian Militants Ran Two-Year Reign of
Terror,” /Washington Times,/ May 13, 2002.
27. Naveh.
28. /The Palestinian Authority’s Treatment of Christians in the
Autonomous Areas./
29. /Associated Press,/ as reported in Yoram Ettinger, “The Islamization
of Bethlehem by Arafat,” Jerusalem Cloakroom #117, Ariel Center for
Policy Research, December 25, 2001.
30. /Ibid./
31. Letter from Andreas Reinecke to Colonel Jibril Rajoub, Head of the
PA Preventive Security Apparatus in the West Bank, May 5, 2002, from IDF
Spokesperson, May 12, 2002.
32. /Yediot Ahronot/ on May 24 as reported in /Daily Alert,/ Conference
of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, May 30, 2002.
33. IDF Spokesperson, April 3, 2002.
34. Serge Schmemann, “Israeli Military Sends Tanks into Largest West
Bank City,” /New York Times,/ April 3, 2002.
35. “Sharon Proposes Arafat’s Exile While Israeli Forces Shell His
Compound,” /New York Times,/ April 2, 2002.
36. Amos Harel, “IDF Declares: We Won’t Forcefully Enter the Church of
the Nativity Holy to Christians,” /Haaretz, /April 5, 2002.
37. Baruch Kra, “IDF Maintains Cautious Approach in Bethlehem,”
/Haaretz,/ April 10, 2002.
38. Paul Martin, “Arafat Tells Gunmen to Refuse Deal,” /Washington
Times,/ April 8, 2002.
39. “Top Vatican Official Speaks on Bethlehem Cr isis,” /CWNews,/ April
10, 2002,
;art_id=13065.
40. “Vatican Proposes Independent Force to Halt Mideast Violence,”
Worldwide Faith News website, ,
April 15, 2002.
41. Margot Dudkevitch, “Gunmen Stole Gold, Crucifixes, Escaped Monks
Report,” /Jerusalem Post,/ April 24, 2002.
42. “‘Greedy Monsters’ Ruled Church,” /Washington Times,/ May 15, 2002
43. Ori Nir, “Arafat’s Terror in Church: Armed PA Security Forces
Keeping 50 Youths Hostage in Church of the Nativity Cellar,” /Haaretz,/
April 22, 2002.
44. Interview with Independent Media Review and Analysis (IMRA),
December 25, 1996.
45. Interview, /Fox News Sunday,/ April 21, 2002.
46. /Al-Quds,/ June 18, 1999, as reported in MEMRI, Special Dispatch No.
41, August 2, 1999.
47. Murray Kahl, “Yasser Arafat and the Christians of Lebanon,” January
13, 2002,
48. Nadav Shragai, “Islamic Movement Planning Fourth Mosque for Temple
Mount,” /Haaretz,/ June 18, 2000.
49. Andrea Levin, “Desperately Seeking the Temple Mount,” /Jerusalem
Post,/ July 11, 2000.
50. Etgar Lefkovits, “Antiquities Authority: Wakf Damaging Temple
Mount,” /Jerusalem Post,/ March 22 2001.
51. Uri Dan, “Temple Mount Artifacts Looted,” /New York Post,/ April 22,
2001.
52. Ettinger.
53. Tsimhoni.
54. /Ibid./
55. Margot Dudkevitch, “Church Denies Christians Fleeing PA Areas,”
/Jerusalem Post,/ October 26, 2000.
56. Andre Aciman, “In the Muslim City of Bethlehem,” /New York Times
Magazine,/ December 24, 1995.
57. Ettinger.
58. /The Palestinian Authority’s Treatment of Christians in the
Autonomous Areas./
59. Bat Ye’or, p. 244.
60. Tsimhoni.
61. Charles Radin, “Mob Fears Grow in West Bank,” /Boston Globe,/
February 6, 2002.
62. Bill Hutman, “Concern Over Moslem Attacks on Christians in Old
City,” /Jerusalem Post,/ July 18, 1994.
63. /The Palestinian Authority’s Treatment of Christians in the
Autonomous Areas./
64. Tsimhoni.
65. Ettinger.
66. Reported in Adelman and Kuperman.
67. “Yasser Arafat, Christmas, and the PFLP,” /Jerusalem Issue Brief,/
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 13, December 25, 2001.
68. Hanan Shlein, /Ma’ariv,/ December 24, 2001. Translated from the
Hebrew by Palestinian Media Watch.
69. Malik.
70. Tsimhoni.

http://www.lawsociety.org/Reports/reports/1998/crz4.html.
http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0lom0.
http://www.catholicexchange.com/vm/index.asp?vm_id=31&amp
http://www.wfn.org/2002/04/msg00201.html
http://christianactionforisrael.org/prsecutn/yasser.html.

MGM Considers Special Dividend

March 16, 2004
U.S. BUSINESS NEWS

MGM Considers Special Dividend

Move Would Mean Windfall
Of $1 Billion to $1.6 Billion
For Investor Kirk Kerkorian
By BRUCE ORWALL
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian would reap a windfall of between $1
billion and $1.6 billion if the film studio he controls,
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., issues a one-time special dividend of $6 to $9
a share that the company is currently considering.

MGM has been talking about ways to “share the wealth” with shareholders
since last summer, when the company tried and failed to acquire Vivendi
Universal SA’s entertainment assets. MGM recently has eliminated all of
its debt and increased its annual cash flow to nearly $200 million in
2003. The idea of a dividend was floated as a possibility when the
company was in the early stages of considering its options.

In September, MGM Chairman and Chief Executive Alex Yemenidjian said
that the management had at the time decided against recommending any
kind of extraordinary dividend. Later, MGM bought back about 10 million
shares, at about $17 a share, through a Dutch auction that was completed
earlier this year.

‘Committed to Sharing’

Late Monday, however, MGM disclosed that it is contemplating a
“significant” one-time dividend payment, which people familiar with the
matter put at between $6 and $9 a share. “Our management remains
committed to sharing the company’s wealth with our shareholders,” Mr.
Yemenidjian said in a statement. He emphasized that neither the decision
nor its possible timing was yet final.

Of course, while all shareholders would benefit equally on a per-share
basis, the move would most clearly be a boon for the 86-year-old Mr.
Kerkorian, who controls about 74% of the company’s 235 million shares
outstanding. MGM would borrow money at low interest rates to pay the
possible dividend, which would probably be payable in about a month if
the company decides to proceed. The borrowing would then be quickly
repaid; MGM is expected to generate a total of $600 million to $900
million in cash flow over the four years from 2003 to 2006.

Mr. Kerkorian in recent years has at times seemed eager for a sale of
MGM, and the company has in fact said numerous times that it was
pursuing strategic alternatives. In 2001, the company held unsuccessful
talks to merge with Sony Corp.’s Sony Pictures Entertainment. Later, the
company approached possible partners including Walt Disney Co. and
DreamWorks SKG. In 2003, Vivendi made an aggressive bid for the Vivendi
Universal entertainment assets, such as Universal Pictures, but didn’t
prevail. As recently as late last year, MGM held preliminary talks with
Time Warner Inc. that didn’t pan out.

As a rule, it is assumed that Mr. Kerkorian has been seeking a stock
transaction of some kind because of the preferable tax consequences. Yet
even as he has failed to sell the company, Mr. Kerkorian has at times
raised his stake in it. Harris Nesbitt Gerard analyst Jeffrey Logsdon
estimates that Mr. Kerkorian has put about $3 billion into MGM over the
years.

Now, the possible one-time dividend represents a way for Mr. Kerkorian
to realize some return on his investment in MGM, the legendary studio
that he purchased for the third time in 1996, at a low tax rate. The
one-time dividend also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a sale. Once
such a payout is made, MGM’s stock would be expected to decline by about
the same amount as the dividend, though going forward, it would have
higher debt because of the proposed dividend plan.

Tax Consequences

The tax consequences of such a move for MGM shareholders are now more
appealing than they once were. A 2003 tax-relief law cut the personal
tax rate on corporate dividends from a maximum of 39.1% to 15%,
inspiring a wave of companies to raise their dividends. A portion of
MGM’s dividend could be ruled tax-free if it is judged to be a “return
of capital,” owing to the fact that MGM has generated net losses instead
of earnings in recent years.

MGM, with a 4,000-title film library, has generated greater operating
cash flows recently as a result of several factors, one of which has
been the explosion of DVD movie sales in the U.S. The company has also
done a better job of managing its feature-film business, betting less on
risky big-budget movies and more on modest titles such as “Legally
Blonde” and “Barbershop,” which can be enormously profitable if they
become hits.

Write to Bruce Orwall at [email protected]

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