Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter – 03/18/2004


MARCH 12-18, 2004












On May 7-14 a group of 19 Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists visited
Cyprus. The trip was organized by Yerevan and Baku Press Clubs under a
bilateral project “Possible Resolutions to the Karabagh Conflict: Expert
Evaluations and Media Coverage”, supported by Network Media Program of Open
Society Institute. Assistance in the preparation and the realization of the
visit was provided by Press and Information Office of the Interior Ministry
of Republic of Cyprus and personally its representative Loucas Louca, the
Press Department of the Embassy of Republic of Cyprus in Russian Federation,
the Chairman of the Cyprus Journalists Union Andreas Kannaouros, Press and
Information Office of the Government of Northern Cyprus.

The purpose of the visit of this – as the hosts invariably noted, for the
first time so numerous – group of representatives media and journalistic
associations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Mountainous Karabagh was to try and
gain an insight into the Cyprus problem and, possibly, draw parallels with
realities of our region.

The thirty-year-old – since 1974 – history on negotiations on the reunion of
Northern and Southern Cyprus may be drawing to its end. Should the direct
dialogue of the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and the
Turkish community of the island fall flat till March 22, according to the
plan of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and under his auspices, the
guaranteeing countries, Greece and Turkey, would join the talks. Should this
stage end in a failure too, Kofi Annan will present his final proposals. If
this version of the plan is again disagreed on by the parties, the final
solution will be given by simultaneously conducted referenda in the North
and the South of the island. The suggested referendum date is April 21 – a
most remarkable month in the newest history of Cypriots.

After the military coup in Athens on April 21, 1967 and the “black colonels”
assuming power, on July 15, 1974 an attempt to join Cyprus to Greece was
made that resulted in the entry of Turkish troops on the island.

On April 23, 2003 free movement was allowed across the so-called “green”
line of separation. According to the Spokesman of the Government of Republic
of Cyprus Kypros Chrysostomides, after the border opening, about ten
thousand of Turk and Greek Cypriots cross it and not a single incident was
registered. “Is it not the best proof that the two communities can and want
to live together?”, Mr. Chrysostomides stresses.

Finally, the freedom of movement enabled the Turk Cypriots to receive
passports of Republic of Cyprus. According to the figures of RC Interior
Ministry, currently 13.5 thousand of “Northerners” have such passports. For
those unaware I will explain the significance of the moment: on May 1, 2004,
RC is joining the European Union and, therefore, the zone of free movement
for its citizens is significantly expanded. However the RC Interior Minister
Andreas Christou places equal emphasis on the fact of “local importance” –
since this same April last year 34 thousand of Cypriot Turks received
identification cards. “Overall, in our archive we have records of having
issued such ID cards to 115 thousand Cypriot Turks”, the Minister noted.

Our meeting with Prime Minister of the unrecognized Turkish Republic of
Northern Cyprus Mehmet Ali Talat was before his departure to Ankara for
consultations with the Government of Turkey – the only country that has
officially recognized the TRNC. The nearest future will show what reflection
these consultations will have on the position of the new (since 2003) head
of the Government, the leader of opposition Republican Turkish Party. Mehmet
Ali Talat believes that “the political unification of the island is one of
our main tasks”. “We do realize that this cannot continue, the situation
where the Northern Cyprus is not internationally recognized, exists in a
closed system, must be changed. Nothing good will happen if the Southern
Cyprus joins the European Union, and we do not”, the Prime Minister
confesses and adds that if the referenda on the unification yield no result,
a question of who is to blame will arise. The President of TRNC Rauf Denktas
is more radical and insists on the confederation of two sovereign states.

The option proposed by Denktas for Greek Cypriots is absolutely
unacceptably, but there are smaller stumbling blocks, or, as Prime Minister
Talat put it, questions that are being traded. What will be the fate of
migrants from Turkey, who are said to be more numerous in Northern Cyprus
than the indigenous inhabitants? No specific figures are given, as the Greek
party maintains, they make about 125-130 thousands, while according to the
estimates of the Turkish party they are 35% of the 200-thousand population
of the North. Who of these people that have already settled on the island
will be able to stay, and who will have to leave, having received
compensation? What is the percentage of Cypriot refugees from both sides and
how long their re-settlement will last? What will the compensation for their
property left in the North or South be? Greek Cypriots announce about the
35-40 thousand Turkish military troops. The leaders of the Turkish community
do not give specific number in this regard. What will be the further
presence of foreign troops (besides Turkish, there are British and Greek
soldiers) in both parts of the island?

This and number of other questions, also referring to the organization and
administration of the island, have answers given by Annan’s plan, by Greek
and Turkish Cypriots. And almost all of them differ.

The RC Interior Minister Mr. Christou believes in reunification via economic
ties, which are becoming all the intensive after the opening of the “green”
line. He is more concerned with the question what will the cost of the
reunion be for Cyprus? “In my opinion, this will take 6 billion pounds (13
billion USD – Ed.), the maximalists speak about 16 billion. One thing is
certain – we will not be unable to ensure the viability of the state without
donors”, Mr. Christou says. The annual revenue of Greek Cypriots (16
thousand per capita) today is higher not only than that of Turk Cypriots,
but also than that of such “old” EU members as Greece and Portugal. Will the
“Southerners” agree to tighten their belts for the reunification is another
open question. Its answer, I believe, greatly preconditions the “yes” of the
Greek community to the reunification in case of the referenda. Both the
Greek and the Turkish parties in their referendum forecasts were reticent.

At the Southern approaches to Famagusta flags of RC and Greece are flapping.
A bit farther – on another deserted building with its windows and doorways
blocked with bricks the flags of TRNC and Turkey are flown. On the building
facade a poster is attached: “Cyprus will never be Greek”. This is how
Famagusta looks when you gaze at it with a binocular from the South. “This
is truly a ghost city”, I thought, as I directed the lenses at the skeletons
of dead buildings. “Is this the same Famagusta?!” The North dazzled us with
expansive construction of countless glamorous cottages, villas,
bed-and-breakfasts of white, red, green… The rumor goes that not only the
Turkish but also the Greek capital is involved in an effort to return the
past glory to the city – one of the best resorts on the Mediterranean. The
businessmen are prudent folk and are investing in stability…

The Minister of Interior of RC Andreas Christou is confident, that the
intercommunal economic ties along with the institutional frameworks
established by the EU will enable to solve the Cyprus problem very fast. “We
will re-learn walking, having the bitter, but the good example of

The X hour for Cyprus will be on May 1. Will this May Day signal its
accession to European family reunited, or the 30-year separation will
continue? Little time is left. One thing is certain: the changes in the
atmosphere in both South and North do inspire some optimism.

It is much harder to predict, whether we – the Armenian and Azerbaijani
journalists that happened to find themselves on the hospitable Island of
Aphrodite right on the eve of “moment of truth” – will “re-learn walking”.
So alas, it is still too early to draw parallels with the realities of South
Caucasus. But the second purpose of our visit was the discussion of further
cooperation between the journalistic associations and media of the two

Editor of Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter


The statement on the utterances of a number of Armenian politicians and
several publications in the press on the murder of Armenian officer Gurgen
Margarian in Budapest (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 5-11, 2004), signed
by three my colleagues and myself, had much feedback in Armenian press. I
also wish to correct the technical mistake in the YPC Newsletter: the
statement was authored by the LEADERS of four non-governmental
organizations, including Yerevan Press Club, personally but not by the
organizations as such. The statement presents our civil position and today,
after a number of response articles and interviews, there is apparently a
need to re-address the issue and take a broader view of it – this time not
collectively, but individually, considering one by one the grudges that were
presented to us by our opponents.

Thus, we were reproached for not having earlier expressed our condolence to
the family of Gurgen Margarian. Is one to assume that the reproach holds for
everyone that did not either personally or in public address the tragically
bereft family of the young man, that is, the vast majority of our
compatriots? Do the authors of the reproach presume that there is an
Armenian or simply a normal human being who did not shudder at learning
about the Budapest incident and did not share the grief of the parents in
his heart? How moral is it to voice such grudges for no particular reason
other than the wish to give a painful kick to the newly chosen victims of
killer journalism?

There are even attempts to appeal to our conscience: instead of moralizing
to your politicians and media, you’d better lay bare the blatant
anti-Armenian propaganda of Azerbaijanis. These people are apparently
calling to follow their own example, as they roll a ball after a ball on
their own field into the empty gates of the missing rival and exultant
because by absentee goals they reciprocate the equally absentee goals of the
dashing peer shooters from Baku. With due apologies – we do not need such
football. We prefer to express our thoughts and evaluations looking into the
opponent’s face, and we create conditions for dialogues to ourselves and
anyone interested. We address Azerbaijanis on live air from a studio of BAKU
TV company and going out into the crowded streets of THEIR city. Or in BAKU
conference rooms with the cautious and a priori confronting audience. This
is the “Tolstoyism” we profess – slapping ourselves and putting our cheeks
forth to the others! And at home, in Yerevan, we first of all react to what
is alarming in our inner affairs and we think it in no way useful to console
ourselves with the worst situations of the other countries.

We are not forgiven for putting an equality sign between the anti-Armenian
hysteria in Azerbaijan and several “harmless” expressions of our politicians
and media who only called spade a spade. Thus we, as it turn out, give a
wrong perception of Armenia to the international community and weaken its
position in Karabagh negotiations. Firstly, proceeding from the numerous
comparative studies of press and public opinion in the two countries,
conducted during the past years by Yerevan Press Club, I can assume the
responsibility to state: yes, until recently the Armenian media were
positively distinguished from the neighbors by the reticence, a more
constructive approach to the problems. But during the recent months the
quality gap between us started to narrow rapidly, and the response of the
press and politicians to the Budapest tragedy only highlighted the problem.
Even if one omits the unacceptable characterizations of the neighboring
nation, related in this or other way to the murder of Gurgen Margarian (let
them be explained by a strong emotional background), the frequency of
publications on Azerbaijan and Turkey that cannot be qualified otherwise
than absurd and shameful has to be affirmed. It is they and not the
statement of the four NGO leaders that put the equality sign between “there”
and “here”.

The xenophobia virus that seemed to fall asleep together with Soviet
journalism reopened its eyes. The mind of some Suslov-like ideologist
apparently was haunted by an unfresh idea: by the demonization of the
surrounding world one can instill the “proper” patriotism and “proper” sense
of citizenship.

As to the distortion of Armenia’s image in the eyes of international
community, it, certainly, may be present. But this, again, is not the fault
of the statement authors, but of those, who decided to distinguish
themselves by a strong wording to the address of the “foe”. We live among
our compatriots, sense their sentiments and we can reinstate: the ideas with
racist tinge are alien to them. And no one entitled the people who call
themselves popular delegates to discredit all of us. However, the feedback
of the foreign public, contrary to the conjectures made by a number of
newspapers, worries me as a signatory to the statement much less than the
prospects of dissemination of the above-mentioned virus among public at
large. We often complain that it is increasingly harder for the words of
politicians and journalist to find a way to the minds of our compatriots.
But this is the case when the immunity to the publicly expressed ideas is to
the benefit.

To the same extent that it is proper to discuss the aggressiveness of
Azerbaijani media not with our own sympathizing audience but with
Azerbaijani colleagues themselves, the formation of international context
that would favor Armenia in Karabagh issue must be lobbied primarily in the
forums, where various viewpoint and positions are presented. However the
fervent champions of national interests, known to us by appearance on their
own field, very often find themselves “naked” on such forums. Being unable
to build up the argumentation, to give a competent reply to the attacks of
the other party, they willingly and with gratitude concede the first roles
to the compatriots whom they are used to condemning for the lack of
patriotism at home.

Another interesting detail. The most notoriously xenophobic pieces of our
newspapers are, as a rule, present only in the print versions but not
online. Thus, they are sometimes uncomfortable themselves. And all this is
written not for debating with the “rival” or the attraction of attention
among the international community to its own vices, but primarily to
brainwash the citizens of our own country. The information support to the
national interests is therefore rather peculiar!

The critics of the “statement of four” did not miss the opportunity to use
their main weapon which is always at hand when one is eager to sting the
NGOs: “Grant-eaters! They are working off the western money! The statement
was ordered by ill-wishers of Armenia!” One could of course remind our
accusers that our Government as well as the Parliament and political parties
dream of getting foreign funding. That both the state officials and the
deputies have been carried away by establishing adjacent public
organizations long ago, hoping to get and quietly utilize the same grants.
But the eyesore are for some reason the very organizations that, regardless
of what part of their activity is funded and of whether it is funded at all,
are truly active in public life, are always in sight, feel responsible for
the mission they shoulder, strongly respond – as in the case of the
“statement of four” – when they sense something wrong. One could also remind
that one of our accusers was “nurtured” on grants that none of the statement
signatories can even dream of, and she did so with pleasure and for quite a
long time. That the bigger part of the content of newspapers that pounced
upon us – are a direct political, financially ensured order. And this order
is much more morally vulnerable than even the most questionable grant,
because neither its source, nor its amounts or purpose are declared.

I am not quoting names and titles because – unlike the opponents – I do not
consider I have a right to accuse. Fighting back the ungrounded charges in
performing missions from abroad was always a senseless occupation: both
during the 30s of the previous century and in the first decade of the third
millennium. One only has to thank for not being arrested on a newspaper
tip-off nowadays and for not having the dropouts provoked to siege offices,
as it happened in Baku (again at a newspaper prompt). At least so far…

The saddest thing in this all is the sincere disbelief that somebody can do
something contrary to the petty consideration of the moment unselfishly and
because of principles. It is considered proper to throw dirt on
Azerbaijanis without being choosey with the words – and these for some
reasons speak against it! Why should they? They are following somebody’s ill
will! It is the hand, or rather, the pinnacles of the West! Grafted! Any
reasons are suitable, even if the accuser himself does not believe in them.
But the disbelief is even stronger in the simplest explanation – this people
really think so, they are really motivated by concern. During the years that
passed after the Karabagh war a DEED has become almost completely devalued
in our society, even such a simple not conforming action as a public
statement that goes out of the general course arises suspicion. May be this
is the reason why we are not very successful – because for a real move ahead
somebody must make a non-standard effort?

Some newspapers rushed to defend the Chairman of the Parliament Committee of
Foreign Affairs Armen Rustamian and the head of the faction of Republican
Party Galust Sahakian, named in the statement. I am ready to assume that
they are far from being the main “hawks” among the representatives of our
political elite, and the authors of the statement did not aim at
discrediting them. But it is the words they uttered in the context of their
positions that deserved the strictest assessment. The figures of this rank
must commensurate the political dividends that they seemingly acquire from
anti-Azerbaijani rhetoric with the consequences of their statements for the
society and the country.

With all the negativism that poured from the newspaper pages, I am inclined
to consider the opinion exchange (even if confined to labeling) on the
problem to be crucially important for the political and moral climate of the
past months. Also, in the assessments of our opponents valuable thoughts
were voiced. Even the fact that the discussion centered on the terms
“racism” and “chauvinism”, used in the statement, mean the issue is urgent.
The concepts learned by the textbooks of historical materialism and history
of Communist Party of USSR (if “racism”, then “Ku-Klux-Klan”, if
“chauvinism”, then “Great Russian”) in reality need a modern
reconsideration, adequate to international political terminology.
Parallelly, a similar discussion evolved in Azerbaijani press. The appeals
in Baku to make an official condolence to the family of Gurgen Margarian,
counteract to the heroization of his murderer, Ramil Safarov, show that even
in this situation, most unfavorable for the relations of the two countries,
dialogue and attempts to find common ground are possible.

President of Yerevan Press Club


On March 15, at the court of primary jurisdiction of Arabkir and
Kanaker-Zeytun communities of Yerevan, legal proceedings started on the suit
of a member of RA State Commission on Protection of Economic Competition,
Artashes Bakhshian versus “Delovoy Express” business weekly.

The conflict broke out after the publication in the newspaper (#39,
September 25 – October 2, 2003) of an interview with Artashes Bakhshian.
According to Chief Editor of “Delovoy Express”, Edward Naghdalian, the
interview was very extensive and its content -“shocking”. Therefore, the
article was abridged and provided with editorial comments. Afterwards,
Artashes Bakhshian called the editorial office and declared that the content
of the interview was distorted as a result of editorial interference. The
parties did not come to agreement, and Artashes Bakhshian applied to the
court with a claim obligating the weekly to publish the interview in full.
Chief Editor noted that the editorial office was willing to meet this
requirement but only through court decision.

At the first session of the court the parties were suggested to reconcile
and to think it over in the time period provided.


On the evening of March 12, a shooting took place in “Triumph” cafe of
Yerevan, in which five visitors were wounded. The representatives of law and
order bodies, arriving at the site of the incident, hampered the activity of
“Noyan Tapan” news agency correspondent, Armenak Chatinian. As the
journalist said, his press card was crumpled by the police and his camera
snatched away. Armenak Chatinian was transported to the police department of
Center community of Yerevan and released only four hours later. He got his
camera back but without the film containing the shots at the site of the


On March 11, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released its annual
survey about attacks on the press of different countries in 2003.

In the section devoted to Armenia it is noted in particular that “there were
several blows to media freedom in 2003”. As an example to illustrate the
case criminal punishment of the journalists for libel and insult and “the
continued ban on broadcasting” of “A1+” TV are cited in particular. “In a
country where 85 percent of the population receives its news from
television, the ‘A1+’ case has become a touchstone for press freedom”, CPJ

“Armenia’s print media enjoy relative freedom but are largely controlled by
political parties and wealthy businessmen, which dampens outlets’
objectivity. The print press is also plagued by low professional standards”,
the survey runs.

The survey also comments on the trial of the murder case of Chairman of the
Council of Public TV and Radio Company, Tigran Naghdalian.


On March 10, Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) publicized its
annual world press freedom review for 2003. The review examines the state of
the media in over 184 countries, territories and administered areas.

The section devoted to Armenia states that after Armenia’s independence in
1991, the development of a free press and freedom of speech has been rather
slow and often variable. Though there is no direct censorship, but “popular
independent channels are kept off the air, and, as the president of Yerevan
Press Club has pointed out, many journalists in Armenia associate elections
with press freedom violations and fear for their safety”.

The difficult economic climate, according to the IPI review, makes it hard
for the media to become fully independent, and many media are being
influenced by political parties and financial-industrial groups that support

As an example of legislative regulation of media activity, the review
particularly refers to the situation with adoption of RA Law “On Mass
Communication” and the new Criminal Code, which preserved provisions on
criminal persecution of the journalists for libel and insult. It is
emphasized that legislative branch rejected the appeals of many Western
countries and reputable international organizations about the necessity to
decriminalize libel and insult.

As International Press Institute states, the first round of the presidential
election in Armenia did not run smoothly for the media. The first case of
fining a TV company for violation of the regulations for election campaign
coverage of presidency candidates was registered. Besides, representatives
of various independent national media were subjected to intimidation and
physical attacks on the day of elections. There was pressure on “Ankyun+3”
TV (Alaverdi, Lori region) during parliamentary election campaign.

“Attacks on journalists also took place which were unrelated to the
elections”, the review notes. In particular, the researchers describe the
trial on the murder case of Chairman of the Council of RA TV and Radio
Company, Tigran Naghdalian, beating of “Chorrord Ishkhanutyun” newspaper
correspondent, Mher Ghalechian, and head of “Or” newspaper, Gayane Mukoyan.

The review also mentions ban on the air of oppositional TV channels “A1+”
and “Noyan Tapan”. “The official reason for the denial was the claim of the
National Commission on Television and Radio that the ‘A1+’ station lacked
the technical and financial preparation to broadcast. However, many media
workers did not agree with this claim”, the review states.

The situation with press freedom in Armenia is illustrated by other
instances of pressure on media in 2003.


On March 16, National Assembly of Armenia heard and considered the report of
Chairman of the Council of RA TV and Radio Company, Aleksan Harutyunian.
Aleksan Harutyunian presented the 2003 activity of Public Television and
Public Radio headed by him.


“Yerkir” weekly, print organ of governing body of ARF “Dashnaktsutyun” of
Armenia, changed its management. Spartak Seyranian was appointed editor
responsible for the issue. According to Gegham Manukian, previously holding
this position, staff replacements are due to his new job – head of news
department of “Yerkir-Media” TV Company. On December 29, 2003 the latter won
the licensing competition on 56th UHF of Yerevan in which “A1+” TV Company
also participated (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, January 8-16, 2004).


“Parliament” official newsletter of RA National Assembly will from now on be
available on the web. The website of the newspaper is

When reprinting or using the information above, reference to the Yerevan
Press Club is required.

You are welcome to send any comment and feedback about the Newsletter to:
[email protected]

Subscription for the Newsletter is free. To subscribe or unsubscribe from
this mailing list, please send a message to: [email protected]

Editor of YPC Newsletter – Elina POGHOSBEKIAN
Yerevan Press Club
9B, Ghazar Parpetsi str.
375007, Yerevan, Armenia
Tel.: (+ 374 1) 53 00 67; 53 35 41; 53 76 62
Fax: (+374 1) 53 56 61
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: