ArmeniaNow.Com July 29, 2005

ARMENIANOW.COM July 29, 2005
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ArmenTel Hell: Subscribers get no service, no satisfaction from mobile
phone provider

By Anush Babajanyan
ArmeniaNow reporter

For nearly a month ArmenTel, the biggest telecommunication provider in
Armenia (and until July, the only provider), has left its subscribers
unable to make phone calls for reasons unknown even to ArmenTel

Armenian Minister of Transport and Communications Andranik Manukyan
has demanded that ArmenTel fix the problem as soon as possible. On
July 14, Manukyan assured the public that the ArmenTel problem would
be settled by the next day. The next day was two weeks ago, and
nothing has changed.

ArmenTel has invited specialists from abroad but say they still
haven’t determined the causes of the breakdown.

Meanwhile the provider – for which users pay from 43 to 45 drams
(about 10 cents) per minute – is asking its customers to not even try
to use its service.

`Every attempted call that doesn’t have a real need just reduces the
possibility for a successful call of other users and at the end of all
users,’ said a statement from the company.

Predictably, the message did not sit well with subscribers.

`I think it’s outrageous that ArmenTel officials asked us not to try
to call several times,’ says Marina Gabrielyan, 37, an ArmenTel
user. `How can we not try if we need to reach someone?’

The breakdown of the ArmenTel connection coincided with the launching
of VivaCell, the second mobile operator, on July 1. ArmenTel and
K-Telecom, the owner of VivaCell, share one frequency, which is
believed to be the reason for the poor service.

A July 15 press release on the ArmenTel website, however, states that
`the anticipated increase of traffic due to the launch of the new
operator was not enough to cause the problem.’

Whether VivaCell affected ArmenTel’s connection or not, it certainly
affected its prices. After VivaCell offered prices cheaper than
ArmenTel, the latter responded with a summer promotion and is now
cheaper than VivaCell. For example, the prices for the postpaid cards
are 43.20 AMD/min (9 cents) for ArmenTel, and 44-55 AMD/min (10-12
cents) for VivaCell.

The sharp decrease of ArmenTel prices resulted in an increase of

`Maybe if ArmenTel wouldn’t have lowered prices so fast it wouldn’t
have so many new subscribers, whom it obviously can’t afford,’ says
Narine Grigoryan, 46, an ArmenTel user, `that’s why we can’t call

Although a little more expensive, VivaCell provides better
connection. (But, while Armentel — when it works — reaches about 80
percent of Armenia, VivaCell is restricted mostly to areas close to

`I couldn’t wait for the ArmenTel connection to settle,’ says Ruben
Nazaryan, 31, an entrepreneur, `so I changed my mobile provider
several days ago. It’s much better now.’

There have constantly been complaints by ArmenTel users about the
quality of the connection, the lack of prepaid cards and their
price. This mainly concerned the subscribers, but not so much the
government or ArmenTel. While prepaid cards from ArmenTel are easier
to buy now, and the prices are lower, the connection is so bad that it
worries now both ArmenTel and the government, which controls 10% of

In 1997, the Greek company Hellenic Telecommunications Organization SA
(OTE) bought 90% of ArmenTel.

`This privatization will raise interest and trust in Armenia. This is
the biggest one so far and it was done professionally,’ said a
government official at the time.

Now, however, not even government officials seem capable of assuring
that the service itself be `done professionally’.

Building Benefits: Armenian economy grows on strength of construction boom

By Shakeh Avoyan
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

The Armenian economy grew by 10.2 percent in the first half of this
year helped by a continuing major upswing in the construction and
service sectors, according to government statistics released on

The reported data puts Armenia on course to register a double-digit
rate of economic growth for the fifth consecutive year. Its government
says robust growth has resulted in a considerable fall in widespread

`Our forecasts on the main indicators have proven correct and we have
had a growth rate exceeding 10 percent during the first six months of
the year,’ Trade and Economic Development Minister Karen Chshmarityan
told reporters.

According to the latest macroeconomic data, construction remains the
fastest growing sector of the economy, having surged by 43 percent
from January through June. It is followed by the service sector where
growth was reported at 15.5 percent. Armenia’s industrial output, by
comparison, rose by just 5.3 percent.

The official figures also show a 31.3 percent rise in the volume of
Armenian exports despite a dramatic appreciation of the national
currency, the dram, against the U.S. dollar and the euro. However, the
figure does not include cut diamonds, Armenia’s number one export
item. The country’s net imports were up 24.2 percent.

`Our external trade has more than doubled in the last four years,’
said Chshmarityan. `Exports alone have nearly tripled. These
indicators testify to positive trends in the Armenian economy.’

Armenia’s macroeconomic performance was welcomed last week by a
visiting senior official from the International Monetary
Fund. `Armenia is on a promising path toward sustained high growth and
the alleviation of poverty,’ said Agustin Carstens, the IMF’s deputy
managing director.

The Armenian authorities say that despite a highly uneven distribution
of its benefits the economic growth has had a major impact on living
standards. Household income surveys regularly conducted by them show
the proportion of Armenians living below the official poverty line
falling from 50 to 43 percent between 1999 and 2003. The poverty rate
calculated with a World Bank methodology is even lower: 33 percent.

Dis-Connected?: Premiers visit to Akhalkalaki draw attention to
transport/communication obstacles

By Aris Ghazinyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

Armenia’s vulnerability in establishing transport and communication
has become the focus of attention as talks intensify around
construction of two interstate railroads, both of which would bypass

In May, 2004 a consortium was formed between Russia, Azerbaijan and
Iran for the purpose of establishing the Baku- Astara-Resht-Kazvin
railroad. Other proposals include an agreement between Georgia and
Turkey to construct the Trabzon- Batumi-Tbilisi and
Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi railroads, enabling Turkey to maintain direct
ties with Azerbaijan and Central Asia.

The blockade of Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan as well as of the
Abkhazian section of the Caucasian railroad drive the republic into a
deadlock, and raise concerns that Armenia is being further crippled.

`The Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi project emerged due to the efforts of
Azerbaijan and Turkey, which are seeking to prevent Armenia from
integrating into regional programs,’ Armenian Assembly of America
(AAA) Board of Directors Chairman Anthony Barsamian said on July
21. `The AAA will stop any attempts to isolate Armenia and will work
towards its inclusion into regional transport routes that will benefit
all states of the South Caucasus.’

It is in this regard that the draft legislation submitted to the
U.S. House of Representatives on July 21 aimed at banning
U.S. allocations for the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi
railroad should be viewed. The bill is drafted and submitted by the
cochairmen of the U.S. Congressional Armenian Caucus Joe Knollenberg,
Frank Pallone as well as congressman George Radanovich.

`The U.S. must not assist or elaborate the proposed
Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi railroad construction project bypassing
Armenia and ignoring the existing Kars-Gyumri route,’ said
Knollenberg. `It obstructs regional cooperation and is directed at
destabilizing the situation in the South Caucasus. This railroad
construction project undermines U.S. long- term interests in the

This issue was addressed also during the July 24 working visit of
Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan to Georgia where he visited
the regions of the compact residence of Armenians in the country’s
Samtskhe-Javakheti province. Accompanied by his Georgian counterpart
Zurab Nogaideli he also visited the Akhalkalaki area of this province
where 90 percent of the population is Armenian. It is through the
territory of this region that the construction of sections of the
Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi railroad is planned.

In Akhalkalaki the premiers were met by protestors who vowed they
would never allow the railroad through their region.

`Against the background of geopolitical games unfolding in the
territory of Samtskhe-Javakheti, against the background of the role of
Turkey in them and in the aspect of the issue of repatriation of
Meskhet-Turks to the region it is simply inadmissible,’ Chairman of
the `Javakhk’ Democratic Alliance Vahagn Chakhalyan told
ArmeniaNow. `We will undertake all measures to prevent this

Chakhalyan handed to the prime ministers a petition from the region’s
population that included a request to re-open the Kars-Gyumri railroad

`Of course, the building of the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi railroad is
an internal affair of Georgia, which is seeking to maintain railroad
communication with Turkey,’ Margaryan said on July 24. `Meanwhile, I
think that it would be less expensive to restore communication along
the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi vector than building a new railroad.’

In this connection, the Armenian premier mentioned the initiative of
the cochairmen of the U.S. Congressional Armenian Caucus who submitted
the above-mentioned draft legislation for consideration three days

During the working visit of the Armenian premier to Georgia, besides
the issue of railroad communications the sides also discussed the
problem of motorway communication between the two countries.

The region of Samtskhe-Javakheti situated in the extreme south-west of
Georgia is one of the largest provinces in the country and includes
six administrative regions – Adigen, Aspindza, Borzhomi, Akhaltsikh,
Akhalkalak and Ninotsminda. In the south and south-west it borders on
Armenia (the customs point of Bavra) and Turkey (the customs point of
Vale) respectively. Five of the six regions of the province border on
Turkey, and the region of Ninotsminda borders on Armenia. Thus,
geopolitically Samtskhe-Javakheti is a key region of Georgia.

The border point of Bavra is situated at a height of 2,150 meters
above sea-level, in an area where winter lasts for more than seven
months. The meeting of the prime ministers of Armenia and Georgia took
place at the state frontier which despite all official assurances has
not been delimitated yet. The bumpy road that can hardly be called
interstate communication symbolizes the way of Armenian-Georgian

(Since the early 1990s official Tbilisi, about every two years, raises
the issue of an immediate start to construction in the strategically
important section, however it hasn’t happened yet. Meanwhile, it is
Armenia’s only land exit to the outer world that lies not through a
Turkish-populated territory.)

`It is a very important factor that deserves special attention,’ said
Chakhalyan. `We cannot forecast events, but we must always remember
that the Turkic population near road and pipeline communications may
(disrupt operations) as it happened in the Marneuli region during the
energy crisis in Armenia when the gas pipeline leading to Armenia was
constantly the target of explosions. (The Marneuli region of Georgia
is adjacent to Armenia and is mainly populated by Azeris who were
periodically exploding the section of the pipeline supplying Armenia
with Russian and Turkmen gas in 1992-1994.) Thus, the need to build a
normal interstate road acquires additional meaning.’

As the Georgian prime minister stated, currently a general plan on the
reconstruction of all road communications of Georgia is being
developed, and one of the links of this plan is the building of normal
roads in the Armenian- populated regions. This project is developed in
the context of the well-known Millennium Challenges program, and in
this aspect it has relation to Samtskhe-Javakheti as well.

`This project is expected to be launched in 2007,’ Georgia’s premier
said on July 24. `The total cost of the works in the province’s
territory is evaluated at $120 million, with $100 million to be
secured through U.S. support, and $20 million from the budget of

The premiers also informed the media that the works will be conducted
in four sections: Akhalkalaki-Akhaltsikh, Akhaltsikh-Tsalka-Tbilisi,
Akhalkalaki-Karzakh (towards Turkey) and Akhalkalaki-Ninotsminda
(towards Armenia).

A Chance to be Heard: New law would introduce lobbying in National Assembly

By Mariam Badalyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

A newly introduced law on lobbying would provide Armenian NGOs and
businesspeople a more favorable environment for advocating change via
the National Assembly.

Though some NGOs and businesspeople have successfully impacted
legislation, presently, there is no systematic mechanism for
lobbying. Under the new law, Members of Parliament would be obliged to
reply to proposals presented by accredited lobbyists.

The draft law is to be debated in the autumn session of Parliament. If
adopted, the law would go into effect next year.

This week the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Armenia held
discussions at the Tekeyan Center in Yerevan in cooperation with the
Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Trade and
Development. Representatives of local and international
non-governmental organizations, government authorities, business
people and experts discussed the law’s provision.

`The law targets creating transparency in law-making processes,
providing equal opportunities for civic participation and boosting
participatory processes in Armenia,’ Justice deputy minister Ashot
Abovyan said during his opening speech.

The deputy minister underlined that the new regulatory framework is in
line with Armenia’s anti-corruption and poverty- reduction strategies.

`Regulating lobbying activities will make it possible to introduce
competitive and attractive mechanisms for the protection of public and
business interests.’ The UNDP `Support to Information and Democratic
Governance’ (SISDG) specialist Vahan Asatryan noted.

The discussion was focused on rights and responsibilities, licensing
and accreditation of lobbyists, financing, limitations and methods of

In general, Armenian NGO representatives and small and medium
entrepreneurs present at the discussion were happy with the draft law,
because they believe it will allow them not only to voice their
concerns about social and economic aspects of life in Armenia but also
be more involved in affecting legislative changes.

However, they pointed out some shortcomings in the draft law. For
example, Levon Nersisyan president of `Astghik’ non- governmental
organization of disabled, is concerned about a provision in the draft
that could limit the lobbying power of NGOs.

Head of another NGO – Consumers Union – Armen Poghosyan thinks that
mechanisms of lobbyist activities in the law are vaguely formulated
and need some improvement.

`It appears that lobbyists should draft their own versions of laws or
legal acts and present them to MPs or local government officials,
whereas activities of lobbyists may vary from advocating votes or not
to vote for a law, to inducing officials to change flawed policies or

Nersisyan pointed out that the requirement of higher education found
place in the new law is less essential than age limitation.

`It is crucial that lobbyist, who I believe must be an expert in this
or that field, be experienced, which is gained only over years,’ he
says. ‘It is commonly practiced in the world and you will not find a
newly graduated lobbyist, yet in Armenia we may come to that very

Lobbying is a new phenomenon for Armenia, however some Armenian NGOs
may well boast with their experience in lobbying.

Nersisyan recalls that in 2000 their organization succeeded, through
organizing discussions and actions, in making the rights of physically
challenged considered during the reconstruction of government
buildings in the Republican square as well as pavements and 14
crossings on Mashtots and Sayat-Nova streets.

Later on `Astghik’ NGO united 46 other organizations, which
successfully advocated inclusion of the issue in the projects of road
construction by Lincey Foundation funds.

Nerisiyan believes the new law will enable NGOs to promote a favorable
legislation in a simplified manner.

`The law will establish the institute of relationship between MPs,
government officials and NGOs. Meeting an NGO representative and
considering social concerns he or she puts forward will become an
essential component of their work.’

Before Parliament meets in the fall, proponents of the law will meet
with representatives of small and medium-sized businesses and with
NGOs to further explain the draft.

One Faith?: The `oldest Christian nation’ wrestles against tolerance
in matters of religion

By Mariam Badalyan & Gayane Lazarian ArmeniaNow reporters

Every morning 69-year-old Albert Khashkhashyan opens a small
ramshackle booth to spend his day. He is not rushing to return home,
as no one is happy for his return. It is eight years that he is
rejected by his family.

`I have a large family, but there is no one waiting for me at
home. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have destroyed my family,’ says

The Khashkhashyans live in a four-room apartment in a suburb of
Yerevan. A construction engineer by training, Khashkhashyan headed the
construction of five flour-mills in Iran in the 1980s. Those were
happy days for a father of four children.

His life turned shambles in 1992 when his elder daughter, Elen, became
a Jehovah’s Witness. Gradually, she was joined by her two sisters,
brother and mother.

`My heart aches because of my children’s delusions,’ says
Khashkhashyan. `My daughters have forgotten about everything –
education, career, leisure, marriage. They spend days attending
religious gatherings and preaching. And my son refuses to serve in the
army… I find my children lost for the society.’

Albert Khashkhashyan considers himself a victim of Jehovah’s Witnesses
religious organization, or `sect’, as he calls it.

When Armenia gained independence in the 1990s, citizens also gained
the right to explore `alternative’ religions. Some, like Jehovah’s
Witness (and including Mormons) are a striking departure from the
traditional Christianity for which Armenia is famous. Contrary
beliefs, habits, practices, dogma, are met not only with suspicion but
with fear and intolerance by those who see the `sects’ as a threat to
the national religion – and the national character.

Currently, there are 56 religious organizations registered in
Armenia. They represent 12 religious trends, out of which 8 are
Christian confessions: Apostolic, Catholic, Russian Orthodox,
Evangelical, Baptists, Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses,
Pentecostals. Moonies and Mormons in Armenia are not registered as a
religious organization.

Freedom of religion has become a hot topic in Armenia within the past
year. In the fall of 2004 the registration of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a
religious organization with 22,000 members in Armenia, which had been
denied registration for more than ten years, was received differently.

Despite some discriminatory provisions in the new law on alternative
service (link to Vahan’s story?) international organizations and some
NGOs considered the registration of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a big step
forward on the way towards establishment of a democratic society.

The same fact, however, aroused the frustration of many citizens and
even some local NGOs. Numerous TV, radio programs, newspaper articles
periodically highlight the problems of religious rights.

The Center for the Rehabilitation and Help to Victims of Decadent
Sects NGO, the Association for the Protection of Individual and
Family, as well as a public committee consisting of 44 youth
organizations led by the Republican Party’s youth division find
addressing the problem critical for society.

Currently, courts are considering seven complaints that relate to
property disputes. People come alleging that a sectarian family member
had sold a common property and gave the money to the organization he
or she attends without considering the will of other family
members. Albert Khashkhashyan has a similar claim against his wife,
who sold an apartment belonging to the family, which Khashkashyan
inherited from his grandmother. The wife, he says, gave most of the
money to the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization.

`At stake is the Armenian statehood, physical and mental health of the
society, unity of families,’ declares the head of the Republican
Party’s youth division and National Assembly member Armen Ashotyan.

`If a military dodger throws himself out of the balcony on the 8th
floor and his parents, at the dismal scene of their boy’s smashed
body, say it was Jehovah’s will, whose rights is the sect violating?
Should the state ignore such kind of cases?’ says lawyer Ruzanna
Ter-Vardanyan, who currently is involved in a civil case dealing with
a deprivation of maternity rights of a Jehovah’s Witness.

MP Ashotyan considers the religious provisions of the `sects’ that put
mental and physical health of people at risk to be particularly
dangerous. A doctor by training and occupation Ashotyan says he has
witnessed numerous cases in hospitals when a patient is near death,
but his family did not allow life-saving blood transfusion for
religious reasons. (According to Jehovah’s Witnesses interpretation of
the Bible, blood transfusion is a sin as it equals to the biblical ban
`to eat meat with its blood’. Since 1961 when this interpretation was
declared by Jehovah’s Witnesses, many members of their organization
worldwide, including children, died. Recently, under external pressure
they had to modify this doctrine and now allow blood transfusion, but
it is allowed only among their members. )

According to Ashotyan many family arguments occur on the ground of
religious `intolerance’, which weaken the society.

Head of Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization Hrach Keshishyan
denies all accusations: `How can a philosophy that preaches tolerance
sow discord? I think the reasons are different, but people link them
to the religion.

`Our name is often speculated upon,’ he says. `But a Jehovah’s Witness
neither steals, nor embezzles. Can there be a better patriotism than

`Often a woman’s husband is against her visits and there emerges the
problem of the family’s destruction,’ says pastor Karen
Khachatryan. `In similar cases, we advise our members to preserve
family peace and leave the church community. Since 2000 Karen is the
founding Pastor of `Rema’ Pentecostal Church.

Instead, Pastor Karen asserts, that their organization, like any other
non-apostolic religious organization in Armenia, is discriminated

`If you periodically attend a gathering to read the Bible with a
non-Apostolic group, you are a `sectarian’; people will point at you,’
Pastor Karen says. `But if you attend the Apostolic church you are a

Apostolic church priest Ghevond Mayilyan, the head of the Christian
education center of the Holy See of St. Echmiadzin claims that
religious organizations like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Rema, use
suspicious methods to attract and keep members.

`They use the `bombardment of love’ to attract a person,’ Fr. Ghevond
says. `Treating a man with love and giving him/her social aid they tie
him/her to themselves. Central bodies of many financially powerful
totalitarian sects make large investments in Armenia for attracting
even more members. What is it done for?.’

Hrach Keshishyan claims Jehovah’s Witnesses do not use methods other
than the ones by the Apostolic church, which serve the same goal – to
sow the best qualities in a person. Members of their organization are
honest and law-abiding.

`The cultivation of externally safe and even praiseworthy qualities in
a person contains grave risks,’ MP Ashotyan is convinced. `Even the
sectarian pastors themselves do not know why it is done. In reality it
has one aim – to make the people governable. There is danger for the
statehood, health of the society and unity of families.’

Armen Ashotyan thinks a well-coordinated approach is needed to make
room for misunderstood beliefs.

`The state, church and society must struggle together,’ he says.

Referent of the Department for Religion and National Minorities
Affairs of the RA Government staff Vardan Astsatryan says the state
should not become over involved in controlling the religious
organizations. The society itself must be able to give its own
assessments and fight with acceptable methods.

Astsatryan says that currently, the only control that the state has
over religious organizations is through their registration, which
would enable it to operate freely, for example rent premises, invite
guests from abroad, publish newspapers, etc.

`Only by registering a religious organization we will bring it to the
legislative field,’ says Astsatryan. `And if it avoids registration,
then it has something to hide.’

Despite the advantages offered by registration, there are
organizations in Armenia, which prefer to stay out of the legislative
field. According to the head of the Center for the Rehabilitation and
Help to Victims of Decadent Sects Amaryan some 10 organizations
including Satanists, Scientologists, Transcendentalists exist in
Armenia, but are not registered.

`Try to find a person openly declaring he or she is a Satanist,
whereas the place they gather in Yerevan is commonly known. Rituals of
Satanists contain dangerous elements, there is no doubt they are
anti-humane. Naturally, they will not get registered in Armenia,’ says
Amaryan. `Other trends such as scientologists or transcendentalists do
not consider themselves to be a religion. However, their activities
are related to the spiritual field and should be controlled as well.’

The state does not even count the number of members of religious
organizations absolutely relying on the data submitted by religious
organizations, which according to Astsatryan may be faked for
different reasons.

`The number may be presented as large if the organization wants to get
funds from abroad,’ says Astsatryan. `And, on the contrary, it can be
presented as small, if they feel pressured in the country.’

Nevertheless, Astsatryan thinks this approach is rather proportionate
with the rights of the religious organizations.

Astsatryan admits, however, there are shortcomings in the legislation.

`Since in 1991 (when the Law on the Freedom of Conscience and
Religious Organizations was adopted) the religious diversity was a new
phenomenon for our society, it didn’t have time to give assessment to
it,’ Astsatryan explains.

One of the shortcomings of the current law according to Astsatryan is
that although it foresees bans for violations, it does not give its
legal consequences, that is, does not stipulate punishment for them
(whether administrative or of other nature). In these cases a
corresponding body – the prosecutor’s office, contents itself with
only a warning.

Currently, a group of experts work on a new law, which involves
members of NGOs and among them is the Helsinki Committee in Armenia.

The chairman of Helsinki Committee Avetik Ishkhanyan, finds that in
the new law first of all the monopoly of the Armenian Apostolic church
and discrimination towards other religious organizations must be

`There is no definition to the word proselytism,’ Ishkhanyan says,
`which is banned by the current law. The absence of definition leads
to ambiguities, which for sure work not on the side of religious
organizations other than the Apostolic church.’

Notwithstanding with what Ashotyan and Amaryan claim, Helsinki
Committee, an international non-governmental organization in Armenia,
claims that according to the complaints they receive, it is the
religious organizations that mostly complain of rights violations.

The Helsinki Committee receives several serious complaints each year
from religious organizations during a year. Among them are
discriminations at workplace, humiliation during alternative service,
beatings during preaching, and torture during forced military service.

However, although not excluding that serious violations by religious
organizations might have taken place, the chairman says the Committee
has received only one complaint against a religious organization so

`A man came saying that his wife – a Jehovah’s witness – has taken
their children abroad,’ Ishkhanyan recalls. `He blamed the religious
organization for the breakup of the family. We were ready to help him,
but he never came back again.’

Ishkhanyan says the field needs serious expertise and research.

`So far we have rumors and a couple of journalistic articles, but no
serious research. Whereas, without an expert’s assessment there is a
fear to appear with even more bans on the right to freedom of religion
in the new law.’

Geghuhi’s Story: From strangling to surviving . . . to knitting

By Anush Babajanyan
ArmeniaNow reporter

On a night in 1913, when it is no longer safe to be Armenian in the
town of Tekirdagh, a young couple seek refuge with others hiding from
Turkish soldiers.

They reach a safe house and ask entry . . .

`Who is it,’ comes the voice from inside.

`Suqias,’ answers the man with his wife and infant.

>From the other side a voice says: `Don’t let him in, he has a child.’

`She’ll be silent’ says the father.

`Will you strangle her if she is not?’


And so begins 92-year old Geghuhi Kivrikyan’s story of survival . . .

The town of Tekirdagh is on the cost of Marmara Sea in western
Turkey. It is the capital of Tekirdagh province, with a population of
around 100,000.

At the end of the Ottoman Empire period the population of the city was
not more than 40,000. Mostly Greeks and Armenians lived there.

In 1913 Turkey was in battles with the Bulgarians. They began
deporting the Armenians and Greeks from the city, leaving only
families where the husband served the Turkish Army.

One of the families to be forced out was that of Geghuhi
Kivrikyan. She was born in 1913. The deportation began when Geghuhi
was six months old and was the reason for that night when her parents
sought safety in a basement near the river . . .

Others also hiding, let the family in, after Geghuhi’s father made his
awful promise to silence his daughter if necessary.

After an hour the baby got hungry and began to cry. The father kept
his word, and began to strangle her.

`My mother grabbed me and ran to the street,’ Geghuhi says. At this
point the child had fainted. `She had to jump over some fences, but I
was too heavy. So she would throw me over the fence and then
jump. Because of the pain from hitting the ground, I recovered.’

Geghuhi’ mother, Aghavni, fled with her daughter to the town of Bigha.

`We haven’t heard from my father since then,’ Geghuhi says.

Geghuhi and her mother stayed in Bigha until 1922.

`One day in 1922 several groups of Turks came to town and began
shooting Armenians and Greeks,’ Geghuhi says, `They shot people for 24

`There was 25 or 30 of us women hiding in a house when they began
shooting. We jumped from the windows. Mother was the last one
left. When running out a vase hit her. She held her head and
cried. The Turks thought they shot her and stopped shooting. ‘

At the end of the day there was around 50 Armenians left in the town.

`A Turk general came to us and said that he will let us go if Anitsa,
a beautiful Armenian girl he had seen around, marries him. He gave us
three days.’

The girl didn’t agree in the beginning because her two brothers had
been killed by Turks. But the imploring of all the people made her

The next day Greek ships came and took the remaining Greeks and
Armenians to Greece.

`We lived in Greece until 1947, my mother, her sister, and I. There
was no male relative left…’

Life in Greece was very poor. Geghuhi’s mother didn’t get married
again and had to support her daughter by herself and with the help of
her sister.

Geghuhi recalls using powdered milk cans as drinking glasses, and that
Aghavni wove carpets in order to make a living.

`They sent me to learn tailoring, and I made my own dowry later,’
Geghuhi says.

Geghuhi got married in Greece with a man who was also from
Tekirdagh. His family hadn’t been deported but had moved to Greece.

`My husband’s family wasn’t forced out or hurt. But his grandparents
died in deportation, and his 17-year-old aunt was raped, and died

Geghuhi and her husband, Harutyun, moved to Soviet Armenia in
1947. Geghuhi was 34 at the time. After moving she had three sons. Now
she has six grandchildren and two grand-grandchildren. She lives with
the family of her youngest son Mihran.

`This year is the 20th year of Harutyun’s death. He died on April
24…’ Geghuhi says.

Geghuhi knits.

`I’m lucky that I can see and hear well,’ Geghuhi says, `I get up at
night because of the pain in my body and knit…’

(Anush Babajanyan is a journalism student at American University of
Bulgaria, serving an internship with ArmeniaNow.)

Hawkish about the Baze: Opinion divides on the merits of Armenia’s
youth festival

By Gayane Abrahamyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

The Pan-Armenian student and youth festival known as Baze (Hawk in
Armenian) will open tomorrow, July 30.

Representatives of all Armenia’s marzes, the Yerevan communities,
Artsakh, Javakhq and various communities of the Diaspora will
participate, along with students from the republic’s universities and
media. There will be 10 representatives from each organization,
bringing together more than 2,000 young people aged 18 to 30 to show
off their skills in various sports, music, dance, painting and
intellectual competitions.

Yerevan’s streets will sparkle with the red, blue and orange colors of
the Baze T-shirts until August 5. The competition and companionship
will make everyone forget the discomfort of the intense August heat.

The sharper the competition among the participants, however, the more
acute becomes public opinion about the annual festival: what is it for
and is it worth the expense?

`The idea is good but not for our country, especially if its organized
every year; besides the beautiful idea from the very beginning was
spoiled by the political exploitation of it. In 2003, they actively
participated in Robert Kocharyan’s presidential campaign and now it
has been turned into a party or `republican’ gathering,’ says Mihran
Hakobyan, President of the Yerevan State University Student Council.

The State Budget has allocated 75 million drams (nearly $170,000) to
the organization of the 2005 Baze festival. Arthur Poghosyan,
executive director of the Pan-Armenian Youth Fund, says the money will
go mainly on accommodation in Yerevan for the `hawks’ arriving from
the Diaspora and Armenia’s regions.

`This festival will contribute significantly to connecting young
Diaspora Armenians with the motherland, build friendships and
encourage young people in marzes out of their passive life; this has
no trace of a political purpose,’ Poghosyan insists.

Shushan Grigoryan, 21, from Hrazdan recalls as her happiest days the
three pre-election days at the Baze, when she had an opportunity to
show off her singing abilities.

`In marzes and villages there is no youth life, neither theater, nor
cinema, nor even a disco. Where can we go? We sit at home and feel
that we get older earlier than other young people,’ says Shushan.

Hakobyan argues that the $110-$140,000 spent annually on the festival
in the past five years could be used to reconstruct or open culture
houses in at least 20 villages, where young people could find
entertainment for the whole year instead of just a few days.

`Patriotism in youth should be inspired not only by singing patriotic
songs or playing football. For instance, we have developed a program
to provide business training for young people in all of the marzes,’
he says.

`They will get an opportunity to have their own business and that will
help them to stay in the homeland, not go to Russia in search of their

According to him, serving the homeland with one’s own work is
preferable to learning `the lines from Nzhdeh cited by heart and
patriotic songs’.

`The horrible thing is that 80 per cent of the festival organizers are
from the Republican party and blindly follow their ideas; if our
country is in such a condition then that is everybody’s fault,
including the Republican party. Consequently we need to struggle
against the growth of this party,’ says Hakobyan.

Eleonora Manandyan, head of the `New Armenia’ non-governmental
organization supports the young representative of the university. She
says: `The budget of the Baze is unimaginable for many organizations
involved in much more important problems for the country.

`Last year, 60 million drams were allotted to the Baze from the State
Budget for 600 young people to be entertained for 3 days, yet
alongside this we have innumerable half-ruined schools and villages
without any schools at all.’

Marietta Simonyan, a 58-year-old teacher, believes the idea of the
all-Armenian festival is good, but there is a need to realize it in
other ways.

`There are numerous programs that bring young Armenians from the
Diaspora to Armenia, such as `Land and Culture’, but no one goes to
Dilijan to have a rest and play games like the `bazes’ do. They work
voluntarily in an organization or reconstruct a village school or a
kindergarten; this is also a way of connecting with the motherland,’
says Simonyan.

According to Simonyan, even during the wasteful Soviet years there
were very few camps for students; instead, construction units carried
out repairs, gathered potatoes and worked in canning factories.

`They would sing after work too, make bonfires, dance, and
compete. But they would help the homeland with their work, not spend
the limited resources of the budget.’

Politics of Protection: Group urges review of `cultural genocide’
during Turkey’s application

By Zhanna Alexanyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

While the European Union considers Turkey’s application for
membership, some Armenians are using the time of intense inspection to
rally their cause against what they call `cultural genocide’.

Earlier this month a group of Armenian intelligentsia met in Yerevan
to discuss ways to bring attention to the destruction of Armenian
architecture on Turkish soil.

Armen Hakhnazaryan, who has founded an organization for studying
Armenian architecture 35 years ago in Germany, says they have
struggled for recognition of the Genocide by Germany, but the German
Bundestag adopted the resolution condemning the events of 1915 only
now that EU membership is being considered.

`Those facts about the cultural genocide that we presented to the
members of parliament and various parties played a big role also,’
Haknazaryan says. `Not because they did not know about it and their
eyes suddenly opened, but because from the point of view of politics
of today they are afraid of the 70 million population entering
Europe. We should use the moment.’

The German members of parliament who put the resolution into
circulation consulted with Hakhnazaryan who has devoted himself to
publicizing the `cultural genocide’. (Although the term `cultural
genocide’ is not part of the 1945 UN Convention on Genocide, it is
widely accepted by the international community.)

`During the last several years the term cultural cannibalism is
used. That is a nation not only exterminates the other’s values but
also expropriates. And that is cannibalism,’ says head of Turkic
Department of Oriental Studies Institute of the National Academy of
Sciences Ruben Safrastyan.

He also presented the legal bases of the question that can be used by
Armenia to raise the question of responsibility of Turkey before
international instances.

The policy of Turkey may be condemned by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty,
1972 European Union World Culture and Natural Heritage Agreement and
1992 Agreement on Preservation of Architectural Heritage; the first of
which committed Turkey to preservation of monuments of the Christian
minority living on its territory.

A resolution on the Armenian Genocide by the Council of Europe in 1987
can also be helpful to Armenia in this matter, according to which the
European community demands Turkey to respect and preserve the
historical monuments of the Armenian nation. The extermination of
Armenian monuments in Turkey began with the Armenian Genocide and
continues up to now.

If in 1920s there were more than 900 Armenian churches in Turkey. By
1974 according to data publicized by UNESCO more than the half of them
had been destroyed, 212 ruined and 197 needed urgent reconstruction.

`Crumbs have remained and their number decreases day after day. We
have losses every single day. We lost our country, before we could
recognize it,’ says coordinator of the Armenian branch of the
organization for the research of Armenian architecture Samvel

Specialists charge that Turkey exterminates Armenian culture by
turning churches into mosques, and by other means.

`I was heavily impressed with the Urfa Cathedral that was used in 1915
to burn 3000 Armenians alive and that has turned into fire depot after
the creation of the Turkish republic,’ informed Safrastyan.

Safrastyan and others also claim that monuments have been ruined by
`excavations’ in search of buried gold.

Head of the Spiritual Treasury of the Mechitarist Congregation Father
Harutyun Pstikyan spoke about the cultural vandalism in Georgia and

`The only one among our neighbors that preserves Armenian monuments on
its territory is Iran,’ said the representative of the Mechitarist

In the end of the discussion an open letter was addressed to the
Armenian authorities that urged authorities to call Turkey to
responsibility for destruction of Armenian culture.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress