Armenian Reporter – 2/16/2008 – front section


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February 16, 2008 — From the front section

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1. Armenian presidential race heats up

2. No fatalities as airplane burns in Yerevan airport

3. Washington briefing (by Emil Sanamyan)
* Armenian-Americans mourn loss of Rep. Tom Lantos
* Rep. Sherman questions Secretary of State about proposed Armenia aid cut
* Reports: Anti-Armenian activist is Sen. Clinton’s delegate to DNC convention
* Billionaire Georgian government opponent dies in exile

4. In Hrant Dink murder trial, a third hearing is held (by Talin Suciyan)
* 2,000 hold placards "For Hrant, For Justice"

5. "The objective was to get rid of all Armenians" (Interview by Efnan Atmaca)
* Taner Akçam, the author of Ermeni Meselesi Hallolunmustur [The
Armenian Issue is Resolved], states: "We can comfortably assert that
in light of these documents, the thesis that what was experienced in
1915 does not fit within the definition of genocide from 1948 is no
longer credible."

6. The Candidates: Serge Sargsian believes that Armenia’s future lies
in a knowledge-based society (by Maria Titizian)
* Promises fight against poverty
* Touts record as defense minister

7. Shushi Revival Fund is set to undertake a fundamental makeover of
the city (by Betty Panossian-Ter Sarkissian)

8. Flying over the fire for Diyarendarach (by Betty Panossian-Ter Sarkissian)

9. The presidential campaign heats up (roundup)

10. Levon Ter-Petrossian’s accusations are "immoral" Vartan Oskanian says

11. Fire at the Justice Ministry

12. News Analysis: Armenia elections: Polls point to Sargsian victory
(by Emil Sanamyan)
* Ter-Petrossian’s campaign adds intrigue

13. Living in Armenia: The murky political waters (by Maria Titizian)

14. Letters: Armenia was written all over her wardrobe (by Lucine Kasbarian)

15. Editorial: Armenia prepares to elect a president

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1. Armenian presidential race heats up

YEREVAN — Citizens of Armenia will be going to the polls on Tuesday,
February 19, to vote for their next president. After two five-year
terms, President Robert Kocharian will be stepping down and the
country is gearing up to choose his successor.

The major candidates have been touring the country and the districts
of Yerevan, meeting and greeting potential voters.

Large political rallies have been organized by the leading
contenders in the race. Artur Baghdasarian, Vahan Hovhanessian, and
Levon Ter-Petrossian each had tens of thousands of supporters out for
their respective rallies in Freedom Square in Yerevan.

Mr. Ter-Petrossian plans another Freedom Square rally for February 16.

Serge Sargsian will conclude his presidential election campaign with
what is expected to be a large show of force at Republic Square on
Sunday, February 17, which is the last day allowed for campaigning
according to Armenia’s Electoral Code.

While some candidates attempted to campaign on the issues, the
political atmosphere deteriorated as allegations and accusations were
made of treason, vote rigging, and bribery. Many, including the Holy
See of Etchmiadzin have called for calm in the country.

See the last of our candidate profiles, a campaign round-up, and
commentary, below.

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

2. No fatalities as airplane burns in Yerevan airport

YEREVAN — All 18 passengers and 3 crewmembers survived a harrowing
incident at Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport at 4:15 a.m. on Feb. 14.
During the takeoff of a CRJ-100 Belavia airplane headed for Minsk, the
left wing of the plane hit the runway, causing a fire to erupt. The
plane then skidded off the runway, broke into two pieces, and burst
into flames. Emergency crews responded instantly, evacuating
passengers and crew and bringing the fire under control.

Six people were taken to a Yerevan hospital with injuries.

The airplane is manufactured by the Canadian Bombardier company.

An investigation into the crash is being conducted by the Civil
Aviation Agency and law-enforcement bodies of Armenia. Participating
in the investigation will be the International Aviation Committee of
the CIS with the participation of representatives from Belarus and

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

3. Washington briefing

by Emil Sanamyan

* Armenian-Americans mourn loss of Rep. Tom Lantos

Rep. Tom Lantos (D.-Calif.), 80, died on February 11 due to
complications from cancer, his office reported. A member of Congress
for 28 years, Mr. Lantos was chair of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, which last October overcame unprecedented opposition from
the Turkish government, the Bush Administration, and influential
figures in the Democratic Party and passed a resolution that affirms
the Armenian Genocide.

Mr. Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, voted for the
measure and then, amid threats by Turkey to retaliate against U.S.
interests, went on national television to defend its passage as "a
significant step in restoring the moral authority of U.S. foreign

"U.S. foreign policy was strong when it was based on a sound
foundation of a moral authority," Mr. Lantos told the PBS Newshour on
October 11. "It’s Abu Ghraib and similar episodes which have
diminished our standing globally. And the international community is
not critical of the fact that the United States calls a genocide a

"Congressman Lantos played a pivotal role in securing the Committee
passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution last year," said Ross
Vartian, executive director of the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs
Committee. "His principled stance and eloquent arguments in favor of
this — the only right policy — have earned him the respect of the
Armenian American community. We mourn his passing and hope his
principled stand will inspire other American foreign policy leaders."

The chair of the Armenian National Committee of America, Ken
Hachikian, and the Armenian Assembly of America’s executive director
Bryan Ardouny praised Mr. Lantos’s leadership and offered condolences
on behalf of their respective organizations.

Last month, Mr. Lantos announced plans to retire from Congress later
this year. On February 12, following his death, California Governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a proclamation to hold a special election
on June 3 to fill Mr. Lantos’s congressional seat. Former California
State Senator and Armenian-American Jackie Speier is heavily favored
to win that election.

* Rep. Sherman questions Secretary of State about proposed Armenia aid cut

In congressional testimony on February 13, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice discussed the Bush Administration-proposed budget for
the next fiscal year and was questioned on the proposed cut in U.S.
assistance to Armenia.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, questioned the administration’s proposal to cut Armenia’s
aid allocation from $58.5 million appropriated by Congress last year
to $24 million in fiscal 2009. (See this page in the February 9
Armenian Reporter.)

In response, Dr. Rice appeared to justify the cut by pointing to
assistance the United States is providing Armenia under the
performance-based Millennium Challenge Account.

Mr. Sherman also recalled the administration’s opposition to the
Genocide resolution. "It adds insult to injury that the Bush
Administration would seek to dramatically cut funding for Armenia,
while stifling efforts to recognize the historic tragedy of the
Armenian Genocide," Rep. Sherman said, according to his office. "I
will make every effort to ensure that Congress restores full funding
for Armenia."

In testimony the same day, Dr. Rice promised to heed the call by
leaders of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and re-appoint a
"special energy coordinator who could especially spend time on the
Central Asian and Caspian region." The State Department had a
designated envoy focusing solely on Caspian energy between 1998 and

* Reports: Anti-Armenian activist is Sen. Clinton’s delegate to DNC convention

Mehmet Celebi, a Chicago-based Turkish-American businessperson who is
on record as promoting Genocide denial and Armenia-bashing, is a major
donor for the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.)
and has been selected as one of her delegates to the Democratic
National Convention, according to the Senator’s campaign web site. In
addition to large personal contributions, Mr. Celebi has helped the
campaign raise more than $100,000.

On February 11, the New York Post picked up reports by the National
Review and other online political blogs that have pointed to Mr.
Celebi’s involvement in the Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, a 2006 Turkish
film with highly anti-American and anti-Semitic content. Ms. Clinton’s
campaign did not return the Post’s request for comment, but shortly
after the publications appeared, the web site of Mr. Celebi’s company,
BMH Worldwide Entertainment, went off-line.

In February 2007 the Turkish Daily News noted Mr. Celebi’s
cooperation with the Turkish leadership. He reportedly told the
newspaper, "Prominent figures of the [Armenian] diaspora pay Hollywood
to make genocide movies…. We should also be relying on such methods
and commission movies explaining Turkey’s side of the story."

Ms. Clinton is currently in a tight race for Democratic presidential
nomination with Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.), whose campaign has gained
momentum after winning elections in five states as well as the
District of Columbia since Super Tuesday.

* Billionaire Georgian government opponent dies in exile

Arkady (Badri) Patarkatsishvili, 52, a Georgian billionaire who last
year promised to use his fortune to oust President Mikhail
Saakashvili, died on February 14 at his home in Britain. Local police
said the death came after a sudden heart attack and that they had no
evidence of foul play.

One Georgian opposition politician called the death an "indirect
murder," reported the same day. The Georgian government has
charged Mr. Patarkatsishvili with an attempted coup d’etat.

The businessperson, who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s,
went to Georgia after facing charges of embezzlement there. About a
year ago, he fell out with Mr. Saakashvili, whom he had previously
supported, and has since left Georgia, reportedly fearing for his

Mr. Saakashvili was re-elected in a contentious election last month
and continues to face opposition protests. At a February 6 hearing of
the U.S. Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza admitted that the Georgia’s
most recent "election was not an example or a model to be followed
elsewhere in the world," but urged the opposition to forget about
trying to overturn its results and instead focus on upcoming
parliamentary elections.

In a sign of continued U.S. support for Mr. Saakashvili, the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee on February 13 passed a resolution urging
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to invite Georgia, along
with Ukraine, for membership talks in the organization. Mr.
Saakashvili is also expected to pay an official visit to Washington
next month.

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

4. In Hrant Dink murder trial, a third hearing is held

* 2,000 hold placards "For Hrant, For Justice"

by Talin Suciyan

YEREVAN — The third hearing of the Hrant Dink’s murder trial was held
on February 11 in Istanbul, at the Besiktas Heavy Penal Court. It
lasted eight hours. The hearing was videotaped, a first for Turkey.

The court heard the testimony of two defendants: Erhan Tuncel, a
police informant, and Yasin Hayal, who is accused of having recruited
and armed O.S. [Ogun Samast -Ed.], the boy who has confessed to
pulling the trigger.

Mr. Tuncel read from a prepared text and declined to answer
questions. He said, "I did what I was expected to do. If I had had bad
intentions, I would not have informed about the murder." He repeated
the names of eight police officers with whom he said he was in
contact. One of them is Muhittin Zenit. Mr. Zenit was working for the
Trabzon police. He was the one who called Mr. Tuncel after the murder
and said, "My brother, [the murderer] was not supposed to run away,
but he did." This phone call was part of the evidence that police knew
about the murder before it took place. During the hearing, Mr. Tuncel
assailed Rakel Dink, the widow of the murdered man, saying "She ended
up being a saint over us."

* Bone age 19

The age of O.S. is to be examined at the next hearing, which is
scheduled for February 25. According to forensic medical experts, bone
evidence indicates that he is 19 years old. The case is being heard in
closed court, and the defendant faces 18 to 24 years of imprisonment
because of his age. (He faces another 8.5 to 18 years on charges being
a member of a terrorist organization and carrying an unlicensed gun.)
If his age at the time of the crime is established as 19, he would
face life in prison and he would be tried in open court.

The court declined the request of Dink family lawyers to join the
cases against two gendarmes in Trabzon and a police officer in Samsun.
The officers will be tried for gross negligence and withholding

* Lagendijk followed the hearing

Joost Lagendijk, chair of the European Parliament’s Joint
Parliamentary Committee with Turkey, was present in court. Mr. Hayal’s
lawyer, Fuat Turgut, requested that Mr. Lagendijk be asked to leave,
referring to him as a brussels sprout. The request was declined.

After the hearing Mr. Lagendijk said, "The important thing is that
whether the people in the backstage are included in the court case.
There are police and gendarmes who should have been here, but are not.
They knew about the murder beforehand. We think the information
gathered in the framework of the ‘Ergenekon’ gang case is related to
Hrant Dink’s murder."

Mr. Hayal’s lawyer Fuat Turgut had been taken into custody in the
framework an operation organized by the police against "Ergenekon," an
ultranationalist gang. He was later freed.

Some 2,000 people were gathered outside the courthouse with placards
in three languages, Armenian, Turkish, and Kurdish, reading, "For
Hrant, For Justice."

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

5. "The objective was to get rid of all Armenians"

Interview by Efnan Atmaca

* Taner Akçam, the author of Ermeni Meselesi Hallolunmustur [The
Armenian Issue is Resolved], states: "We can comfortably assert that
in light of these documents, the thesis that what was experienced in
1915 does not fit within the definition of genocide from 1948 is no
longer credible."

[On January 25, the Turkish daily Radikal published an extensive
interview with Taner Akçam on his new book, The Armenian Issue Is
Resolved: Policies Against the Armenians During the War Years
According to Ottoman Documents. The book sold out within the first
week of publication in Turkey. The title is a direct quote from Talaat

The text of the interview, translated from the Turkish by Fatima
Sakarya, appears below with permission.]

It has been exactly one year since the assassination of Hrant Dink.
Last Saturday, on this first anniversary, tens of thousands gathered
once again "For Hrant, For Justice." Taner Akçam, whose book, Ermeni
Meselesi Hallolunmustur ["The Armenian Issue Is Resolved"] opens up
the debate about what occurred in 1915 with new documentation, has
also just been published, and Akçam, who dedicates the book to "my
brother Hrant, who will always represent the nobility and virtue of
having a conscience… Dear Hrant, everything is as we had spoken…,"
both memorialized his friend and brought a new viewpoint to the
matter. By building connections, one by one, among new records he was
able to obtain, Akçam brings new perspectives to the policies which
were enforced against Armenians in 1915. In his book, subtitled
Policies Against the Armenians During the War Years According to
Ottoman Documents, while revealing each of the many telegrams sent by
Talat Pasha, Akcam states that the deportation of 1915 was the last
stage of the Turkification policies of that period. In particular,
supported by primary sources, he explains how this project was
personally developed well in advance by Talat Pasha and put into
action through the efforts of the Teskilat-I Mahsusa (Special
Organization). One of the most crucial documents in the book, the one
which gives the book its title, is a telegram from Talat Pasha: "The
Armenian issue is resolved. There’s no need to stain the nation and
the government with extra atrocities."

Q: The events of 1915 are a huge controversy. The opposing sides of
the controversy continually claim to possess and then publish
important documents, and argue about whether or not to open up the
Ottoman archives …On the other side, there are others who state that
in writing about history a "document cult" shouldn’t be created and
that the process shouldn’t be reduced to a war of documents. Meanwhile
your book is completely based upon documentation…What and how can
records tell us anything?

Taner Akçam: If you are being open and honest, historical records
can easily provide a general framework for how events occurred. Still,
you need to distinguish here between two separate points. First of
all, the main issue is the frame, the model you are creating when you
are gathering these documents. Secondly is the question of how much do
the records you’re presenting truly reflect reality. If someone
possesses an understanding of history that is nationalistic and
racist, the history they write will reflect that, and by
discriminating in the choice of records, they will try to prove that
position. Additionally, the records you find and use are products of
the ideological and political beliefs of the period in which they were
produced. It is for that reason that the question "What is the truth?"
is the subject of such serious argument in historical scholarship. One
thing is certain, though. The thing called "the truth" is not a thing,
not a treasure that is buried somewhere in the ground and it is up to
us to dig it up. For example, if a hundred years from now, you were to
research the bombing of the Umut Kitabevi (Umut Publishing House) in
Semdinli in 2005, you would find plenty of state documents asserting
that the publishing house had been bombed by the PKK. [Translator’s
note: The bookstore was bombed by army officers, but law enforcement
forces produced some documents to claim that it was the PKK that
bombed the bookstore.]

Keeping these two things in mind, nevertheless the place to start is
the historic records. You have no other choice. The important thing is
to maintain a critical eye when examining any particular document or
body of documents. First of all, in order to defend your thesis, you
need to present a series of records that is both comprehensive and
widespread. Secondly, there should be a continuous "balance and
control" relationship between the records you are presenting and the
argument you are trying to make. This is precisely what makes history
a social science. The use of deep and varied sources of material along
with total honesty are the two crucial elements of historical study.

Q: How important are the records in this book?

A: They are the records of a government and a party that managed to
deport and kill Armenians in 1915. For the most part, they consist of
coded telegrams that were sent by the Ministry of the Interior to the
regional offices. When you consider the difficulty of communication in
that era through postal services and the like, the importance of these
records is even less in doubt. In order to maintain high volume and
speedy communications with the regions, the government [at that time]
had established a special bureau and by way of that office managed to
send short and frank orders to the regional offices. For this reason,
these records provide a primary source of information about a party
and a state that planned a deportation and killings.

Q: Is it possible to state that, in view of the records which the
book brings to light, there is no longer any doubt that what happened
was a genocide?

A: Yes, we can comfortably assert that in light of these documents,
the thesis that what was experienced in 1915 does not fit within the
definition of genocide from 1948 is no longer credible and can be
dismissed. The officials of the Turkish government, who view the
Ottoman records as the only reliable source, will see that our
government records also show that the Union and Progress party
followed a policy that endeavored to destroy the Armenians.
Nevertheless, there are those who will deny this, and they will
continue to deny it. There are many people today, still, who do not
believe that the Jews were annihilated by the Nazis. I need to add
this: In Turkey, particularly among those who defend the official
state position and who claim to be historians, you will hear extremely
ignorant comments like "Where is the document to show genocide? Prove
it." Genocide does not have [is not proved with] a single document.
The holocaust against the Jews didn’t consist of a document here and a
document there. What history and the social sciences do, or should do,
is to illustrate the chain of events by way of an accumulated ball of
knowledge from as detailed a record of documents as can be produced.
As the documents which I published show, how to label the events that
are described is a conclusion that you make based upon the
documentation. In other words, genocide is identified by a certain
picture that is revealed. You give the picture that name, which is why
the picture you present has to be created by way of hundreds of tiny
pieces of information. As I state in my book, in trying to understand
and describe what occurred in 1915, I did not have a special purpose
to "prove" genocide. I find this kind of approach to be deficient and
wrong and more properly the duty of a prosecutor or judge. However,
after the publication of these documents, I know that those who claim
that what occurred in 1915 cannot be called a genocide do not have
much more to say.

Q: Almost all of the documents you obtained reveal that the action,
in your words "to cleanse Anatolia of Armenians," was taken by the
personal orders of Talat Pasha through the party apparatus, not the
state government. Could this be the start of a new period for the
Armenian problem?

A: It absolutely should start a new period. Still, you need to
remember that these telegrams were sent to the regional offices by
Talat Pasha under the aegis of the Ministry of the Interior. While
some of the telegrams bear his signature, others do not. Those were
signed by the director of the office. These are state documents, not
party documents. Nevertheless, when it comes to 1915, I believe and
defend the notion that it is extremely important to make the
distinction between state and party. As much as the state was taken
over by the [Union and Progress] party, the same party which defended
a dictatorship had rendered many of the government functions impotent.
Every action that the party took was taken by way of government
channels. Still, within governmental organs, there were points of
resistance against what the Party was doing. If you make a state-party
distinction, you begin to see and understand that there were very many
honest state officials during that period, who resisted and opposed
the murders committed by the Union and Progress party. In fact, -some
of the records are the results of the efforts of some honest state
officials to have the events recorded within state documents.

Q: What sort of results, both negative and positive, can be expected
if Turkey acknowledges the Armenian genocide?

A: There isn’t a single state that I know of or recognize that has
been harmed by acknowledging past wrongdoings. Is there any country
that you can name which was beset with problems because it faced its
history? None! Quite the contrary, those regimes that had tried to
cover up history, that had denied the cruelties and injustices that
occurred in their past, ended up facing very serious problems and were
even demolished. Turkey will only mature and gather praise once it has
accepted a historical injustice. A Turkey that manages to face the
historical injustices of its past will be able to take its deserved
place among world nations with greater ease. So acceptance of the
injustices in the past will not only not produce any negative result,
it will do the opposite.

I would like to add that there isn’t just one way to face history
and acknowledge an injustice. I would like to point out here that
there is a difference between scholarship and politics. As a social
scientist you may not be very convincing if, in light of all the
records and information available, you use some term other than
"genocide" to identify the events of 1915, but a government has many
alternatives at its disposal when confronting history and
acknowledging historic injustices. At the top of the list would be to
stop referring to those who discuss it as "traitors," to stop killing
them or dragging them through criminal prosecutions. Freedom of
thought and democracy are the preconditions for acknowledging one’s
history. Secondly, you will need to develop a language that describes
what occurred as morally unacceptable. A language that denounces and
condemns murders is absolutely crucial. After that, in harmony with
this new language, you need to take some steps that heal this
injustice, that work towards fixing it. Here there are dozens, if not
hundreds, of ways to go about this. Our politicians need to see that
the matter isn’t just about getting stuck on one single word. They
need to approach the problem from a rich and wide net of

Q: If we look at the matter from the perspective of the Diaspora…in
light of these new found documents, what kinds of steps might they

A: There is a very misguided belief in Turkey. Unfortunately, both
the state and politicians as well as some progressive and democratic
intellectuals spread this mistaken belief and information. According
to them, the Armenian Diaspora consists of a uniform, monolithic
block, and there are some serious differences between the Diaspora and
the state of Armenia. According to the beliefs of those who hold this
position, the real problem is with the Diaspora; the Armenians of
Armenia take a different position on things. This is simply not true.
There is no singular, homogeneous, monolithic Diaspora , nor are there
any serious differences between the Diaspora and Armenia regarding
this subject. The Armenians of the Diaspora are as diverse in opinion
as Turkey is divided into thousands of positions. …Among them there
are dozens of opinions and positions. I believe that my book in
Turkish will not only positively affect Armenian circles but also will
have a positive effect in increasing the numbers of those in Turkey
who will want to resolve our differences in a peaceful and brotherly
way through direct contact.

Q: At the end of the book you state, "What we need is to recognize
the reality that we are face to face with an action that is morally,
conscientiously unacceptable and to develop a language that expresses
that." What do you mean by this new language?

A: The language of conflict differs from the language of friendship,
mutual respect and peace. The language that dominates the
administration and mainstream media in Turkey today is one that views
the Armenians as the enemy, as a traitor and the Other. It’s a racist
and aggressive language. The administration and mainstream media
continue to conduct the discourse around what happened in 1915 with a
wartime mindset. For that reason, historians like me, who think
critically, are branded as traitors, and they organize campaigns
against us. Hrant Dink was murdered as a direct result of this
language and this mindset.

First of all, we need to put an end to this wartime mindset and to
this aggressive language. There are many within Armenian circles who
see the problem with the same point of view and use the same
aggressive language. We have to establish and develop a humane
language that doesn’t view Armenians and Turks as enemies, which
doesn’t brand the other as a traitor, doesn’t demean the other, and
views Armenians and Turks with respect. Armenians and Turks will be
able to construct their future upon this foundation of mutual respect
and friendship.

Q: Another of way asking this is, what steps need to be taken so
that the matter in question is resolved through democratic means?

A: Prior to anything else happening, the borders between the two
countries need to be opened without any preconditions, and diplomatic
relations should be initiated. It is very difficult to explain how
Turkey can have no objection to maintaining diplomatic relations with
Syria, a country with a population of 10 million which has protected
Abdullah Öcalan for years and depicts Hatay as falling within their
own borders, and yet reject diplomatic relations with Armenia, a
country of 3 million. First unconditional diplomatic relations, then
the opening of the borders, and then the rest will come. Additionally,
Turkey has to see that this matter isn’t just about history. Turkey
has to see that it has everything to do with how [Turkey] behaves
towards minorities today.

Q: How do you evaluate the Hrant Dink assassination’s effect on
resolving the Armenian issue? In particular, would you characterize
the way society embraced Dink after the assassination, and the way it
lead to openly discussing the Armenian issue, as a positive thing?

A: Hrant Dink was the most beautiful gift that Turkey could present
to Armenia and the Diaspora. Hrant was the most important person who
could bring these two countries, these two peoples, together. When we
were in Yerevan in 2005, I used to tease Hrant that if I were the
Turkish government, I’d have him appointed the symbolic, spiritual
ambassador to Armenia. Turkey killed its ambassador; it broke the
olive branch that it could have extended. What’s worse is that the
ones who broke this olive branch are organized within the police and
gendarmerie forces. Those officials who knew about the assassination,
who planned and directed it, have not only not been punished, they
have been rewarded and promoted.

I can’t state enough how important it is for society to embrace
Hrant Dink. Within him they [Turkish society] have discovered a
dynamic, a potential to bring these two nations together. Both the
Armenians in America, who are cursed as "Diaspora" in Turkey, and the
people in Istanbul shed tears for Hrant. Hrant brought everyone with a
heart together. He’s become the symbol for what needs to be done to
resolve this problem. We must build a monument for him and memorialize

Q: Could the policy taken by the AKP (Justice and Development Party
of Turkey, now in control of the Administration) to act in harmony
with an EU framework be a positive step toward resolving this problem?

A: I don’t believe that the AKP has any thoughts on this subject.
They don’t give even the slightest indication of having any thoughts.
Either they don’t know anything about the subject, or they think it is
enough to continue promoting the traditional lies. In fact, if the AKP
actually followed their Islamic roots, they could make some serious
headway on the subject. There’s only one thing I could ask of the AKP,
and that’s to take their Islamic roots seriously.

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

6. The Candidates: Serge Sargsian believes that Armenia’s future lies
in a knowledge-based society

* Promises fight against poverty

* Touts record as defense minister

by Maria Titizian

YEREVAN — As the current prime minister and President Robert
Kocharian’s designated successor, presidential candidate Serge Azati
Sargsian promises stability and continuity as well as reforms.

He is running on a record of seven years of double-digit economic
growth. The portion of the population living in poverty has fallen
from more than half in 1999 to 27 percent last year. Average wages
have increased more than fivefold in the same period, from $40 a month
to $220. Armenia’s exports have increased from $234 million to over
$1.1 billion, and imports from $802 million to more than $3 billion.

The economic reforms of the past have worked, he argues, and it is
now time for "second-generation" reforms to "create the best
conditions for business and investment."

Mr. Sargsian’s platform calls for internationally competitive tax
and customs rates and policies. Where there is economic regulation, it
should help business by establishing a level playing field and
reducing risk. The platform calls for a focus on small and medium
enterprises. For state-owned enterprises, it calls for better and more
transparent management.

For agriculture, Mr. Sargsian’s platform calls for greater
industrialization and the establishment of food processing plants to
make produce available to distant markets.

Mr. Sargsian believes Armenia can become the financial services
leader in the region. "The Stockholm’s Stock Exchange entering Armenia
is graphic evidence of that," his platform says. Affordable mortgages
and car loans as well as insurance are among the services called for
in the platform.

* Combating corruption

Mr. Sargsian acknowledges in his platform that "corruption, the shadow
economy, and unequal competitive conditions" are serious problems for
Armenia. "One of the key issues of our policy will be efficiently and
consistently struggling against bribery and corruption," his platform

"We will strive for a new Armenian mindset that will not tolerate
the phenomenon of corruption. Personal contacts must not be the basis
of our system and whoever promotes bribery will not be considered as a
comrade, friend, or fellow party member but as a law breaker."

When asked by the Armenian Reporter’s Emil Sanamyan in an October
22, 2007, interview in Washington, about "the widespread perception
that certain figures in government and in business" can act with
impunity, Mr. Sargsian was unwilling to acknowledge that this is a
major problem. He had said, "There is a difference between perception
and reality. I state with all responsibility that today in Armenia
there are no individuals or groups that are above the law."

Mr. Sargsian continued, "The tax collection targets that our
government has set for 2008 will also help dispel such perceptions. If
we are able to meet our targets it will become clear to everyone that
no so-called oligarch is above the law.

"We have a complex approach to corruption that includes introduction
of stricter legal punishments for economic crimes, such as tax
evasion; higher salaries for state officials; more transparent
administrative mechanisms. Perhaps in this issue we are lacking a
public relations campaign that would showcase punishments for corrupt

"That is not to say that we do not have shortcomings, we have plenty
of them. And I appreciate all criticism of such shortcomings."

* Europe as a neighbor

There are differences in foreign policy between Mr. Sargsian and the
man he hopes to succeed. Mr. Kocharian has been reluctant to endorse
Turkey’s bid for European Union membership, saying only that the
accession process could work to Armenia’s advantage.

"We have an interest in having as neighbors states that are more
predictable, more developed, more democratic," Mr. Kocharian stated at
a joint press conference with then-President Jacques Chirac of France
in Yerevan on September 30, 2006. "We see no danger to ourselves in
the process of [Turkey’s] admission; perhaps the contrary. Of course,
we want that during this process the issues that concern us also find
their solutions. And that the system of values, the belief in open
borders that exists in Europe apply also to Turkey’s policy — not
just at the final stage of Turkey’s admission, if that happens, but
from the start."

In a December 11, 2007, interview with the Financial Times, Mr.
Sargsian stated his position. Under the headline, "Armenia Backs
Turkey in EU," the Times reports:

"’I think it would be good for us if Turkey’s desire to become a
member of the European Union were satisfied. Maybe the problems
between us could find a solution within a EU framework,’ said Mr
Sargsian, … adding he hoped Turkey would produce proposals for
improving ties with Armenia…. Referring to Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
Turkey’s prime minister, he said: ‘I don’t think it’s correct to say
he’s not committed to establishing relations with Armenia. We’ll see
what happens in the future.’

"Mr Sargsian, describing himself as optimistic that Armenia and
Turkey would make progress, asked: ‘After all, what do we gain, what
do the Turks gain, from the present situation? Even in the time of the
cold war, when Armenia was part of the Soviet Union and Turkey was in
NATO, we used to have a certain relationship with Turkey. A railway
line was built through Armenia to Turkey. A high-voltage electricity
line was built between the two countries. Why should my wish for
relations not be logical now?’"

Mr. Sargsian also rejects Armenian territorial claims against
Turkey. In his October interview with the Reporter, he said he was
"surprised by conclusions of certain second-tier Turkish officials"
that recognition of the Armenian Genocide "would lead to some other
claims. This is surprising, because it is unclear how one would lead
to the other. How can any territorial or other claims be realized
anyway?" he asked.

On the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, however, Mr. Sargsian’s
position appears to be much the same as that of President Kocharian:
an international status that would formalize the nonsubordination of
the Nagorno-Karabakh republic to Azerbaijan and provide for a direct
overland border with Armenia and international guarantees of
Karabakh’s security.

The two, along with the late Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan,
resisted a unilateral territorial compromise advocated by
then-President Levon Ter-Petrossian in 1997 that did not address
Karabakh’s status. Mr. Ter-Petrossian, who insisted on it, was forced
to resign the presidency.

* Qualified specialists

"The urgency of economic development in the 21st century is to form a
knowledge-based society. The main drivers are ideas and discoveries
and the ability to introduce these into everyday life sooner rather
than later," Mr. Sargsian’s platform argues. It advocates a
restructuring of the system of science and education in Armenia.
"Knowledge will be the only stable currency; therefore, a reliable way
of enrichment is to get a good education," his platform argues.

At a public rally in the province of Kotayk on February 10, Mr.
Sargsian said, "I cannot see how Armenia is to develop without
knowledge and advanced research."

At the same rally he added, "I am going to wage a deadly fight
against poverty by ensuring that our plants and factories are
rehabilitated from idleness. Our children should live in a society
healthier than the one we live in now and the government should avail
itself of every citizen’s contribution. My team will be a squad of
professionals who will be set the task of making Armenia the country
of dreams of any Armenian so that we are quoted as an example by other

Mr. Sargsian emphasizes the maturity and professionalism of his
team, in contrast to the teams put forward by all his opponents, and
especially that led by Mr. Ter-Petrossian. Although in the campaign
for the May 2007 parliamentary elections, Mr. Sargsian had called the
Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s pledge to double pensions a "fairy
tale," in the run-up to the presidential election Mr. Sargsian’s
government pushed through a 65 percent raise in pensions. He now
promises further increases to "ensure a decent life for pensioners."

Mr. Sargsian’s campaign also notes his experience as Armenia’s
longest-serving defense minister, and the progress the Armenian armed
forces have made under his leadership, arguing that of all candidates
in the field he would make the best commander-in-chief.

* * *

* Serge Sargsian

Serge Sargsian was born on June 30, 1954, in Stepanakert in a family
originally from the village of Tegh in the Goris district of Armenia.
Following two years of army service, Mr. Sargsian graduated from the
philology department of Yerevan State University in 1979; concurrently
he worked as a welder at the Yerevan electro-technical plant. From
1979 to 1988, Mr. Sargsian worked in the Communist Party structures of
Nagorno-Karabakh rising to the post of senior aid to the region’s
first secretary, Genrikh Poghosian, in 1988.

From 1989 to 1993 Mr. Sargsian was in charge of the Self-Defense
Forces of Nagorno-Karabakh, playing one of the leading roles in the
movement for Karabakh’s freedom, mobilizing broad support for the
Armenian war effort and ensuring the survival of Karabakh’s
population. From 1990 to 1995, Mr. Sargsian was concurrently an
elected member of Armenia’s Supreme Council (Parliament).

In 1993, Mr. Sargsian was invited to join the Armenian government,
first as defense minister in 1993-95, then as director for (and later
minister of) National Security in 1995-99, and combining the latter
post with that of minister of interior between November 1996 and June
1999. From 1999 to 2000 Mr. Sargsian was President Robert Kocharian’s
chief of staff and secretary of the National Security Council. He
retained the latter post as he returned to serve as minister of
defense from 2000 to 2007. Since April 2007 Mr. Sargsian has been
Armenia’s prime minister.

After joining the ruling Republican Party in July 2006, Mr. Sargsian
led the party to victory in May 2007 parliamentary elections.
Concurrently, Mr. Sargsian heads the Yerevan State University alumni
council and the Armenian Chess Federation.

For his service to the country, Mr. Sargsian was awarded with the
order of Golden Eagle and the title of the Hero of Artsakh, the order
of the Combat Cross of the first degree, and the order of Tigran the

Married since 1983, Mr. Sargsian and his wife Rita have two
daughters, Anush and Satenik, and a granddaughter Mariam. Mr. Sargsian
has two younger brothers: Levon, a veteran diplomat and former
Ambassador to Syria, and Aleksandr, a businessman elected to
parliament last year.

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

7. Shushi Revival Fund is set to undertake a fundamental makeover of the city

by Betty Panossian-Ter Sarkissian

YEREVAN — Throughout the night of January 18-19 a telebridge was
broadcast live on Armenia’s National TV channel uniting Shushi with
Bethlehem, Yerevan, Moscow, and the Armenian diaspora.

Organized by the Shushi Revival Fund, the Shushi-Bethlehem
telebridge was the first of its kind in Armenia. It weaved together
information on the historical and cultural significance of Shushi;
articulated visions of its potential success; discussed projects
developed by the Shushi Revival Fund, as well as calls to donate to
the Fund.

In the days following the telebridge, the Fund announced in a press
release that approximately $5.7 million worth of donations and
investments had been made to the projects developed by the Fund.

Shushi Revival is a non-profit public fund that was established in
the spring of 2006 through the personal initiative of Yervand
Zakharian, the mayor of Yerevan. The Fund brought together a number of
intellectuals from Armenia, Karabakh, and the diaspora, including Zori
Balayan, Levon Ananyan, Sos Sargsyan, Haroutioun Armenian, Hilda
Choboyan, Haroutioun Khachatryan as members of its board of trustees,
headed by the mayor of Yerevan himself.

The Shushi Revival Fund states that through the donations from its
benefactors, it aspires to return Shushi to its ancient status as a
cultural, social, and spiritual center. The mission of the Fund puts
at its axis the renovation and preservation of historic buildings and
reconstruction of the city, including the ancient fortress.

"We want to accentuate the historic importance of the city; place
Shushi back on the crossroads of civilizations, and make it a tourist
destination," said Marina Grigoryan, the press secretary of the Fund
to the Armenian Reporter.

Shushi now has its own new city plan developed by Armenian-American
architect Seta Yaghoubian, and where new specific districts have been
added, "preserving the traditional urban characteristics of the
ancient city."

Another project is being realized at a cost of 55 million Dram
(around $180,000.) The project will help to provide tourists with the
opportunity to have a closer look at traditional Armenian arts and
crafts, through crafts centers open for the public.

The fund has two more primary tasks to accomplish in 2008.

Mkrtich Karapetyan, the program manager of the Fund said that the
improvement and renewal of the water and sewage system in Shushi is a
primary objective, adding that the water supply and sewage system in
Shushi is very old and does not function properly.

The installment of the new water system in Shushi is planned to
begin in the coming months. According to cost estimations carried a
few months ago, the renewal of the water system of the city will cost
around $2 million. Part of the donations will serve that end.

Another long-awaited project is the establishment of a printing
house in February. "The printing house will create stable jobs for ten
employees," said Mr. Karapetyan.

Mr. Karapetyan hopes that the printing house will receive orders
from Karabakh, as well as from Armenia, "because we are certain that
the printing house will be the best equipped in Karabakh and will have
enough potential to compete with those in Armenia."

The next project of the Fund is the restoration of the famous
historic Green Pharmacy. The aim of this project is "to provide
medicine with reduced prices," explained Mr. Karapetyan. In a city
presently short of a single pharmacy, the Green Pharmacy functioned in
the 19th century.

* Finding owners for investment projects

Grigor Hovhannisyan, the executive director of the Fund emphasized
that "Shushi Revival" is not a charity organization. He said,"We are
… creating the business and urban infrastructure of Shushi."
According to the executive director Shushi Revival is a
self-sufficient fund, which can allow itself to draw plans and create
investment packages for the development of the city’s infrastructure.

Over the past two years, Shushi Revival has fashioned several
investment projects and packages. Mr. Hovhannisyan did not reveal the
exact number of the investment packages but did say that each project
was worth around $1-2 million.

Mr. Hovhannisyan did however elaborate on the quantity and nature of
the investments. Thus, the renovation plan of one of the old quarters
of the city contains around 35 business projects. A big-scale business
project developed by the Fund is the restoration of Nataghan’s
Palace, one of Shushi’s historical buildings. The implementation of
the whole project, that of restoring the building and turning it into
a business and tourist destination complete with shops, offices, and
cafés will cost around $3.5 million.

"We first design the investment package and then try to find
tbuyers," said Mr. Hovhannisyan. He added that the Fund simply
facilitates and accelerates the process of investing in Shushi.

"Currently we are working with investors that have already financed
investment packages," said Mr. Hovhannisyan.

In the past year, the Fund has researched monuments and historical
buildings in Shushi, and has sketched plans for their preservation and
restoration, as well as developed business projects related to them.

Most of the $5.7 million announced during the telebridge was the
value of investment packages bought by investors, Mr. Hovhannisyan
said. He noted that during the days and weeks following the
telebridge, the whole package of investment offers grew bigger.

Prior to the telebridge, the Fund had teamed up with various
communities in the diaspora, organizing business forums and presenting
the investment projects. The Fund had focused its attention on the new
diaspora, namely Armenian communities in Russia and former Soviet
countries, because the "Armenia Fund has operated with the classical
diaspora, and there are huge capitals accumulated in those countries
waiting to be invested," explained Mr. Hovhannisyan.

"Roughly stated, besides presenting the national, historical, and
cultural values of Shushi, this telebridge was also a marketing space
for us," said Mr. Hovhannisyan. In the upcoming months, the Fund will
do further marketing of the investment proposals in the communities of
the diaspora.

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

8. Flying over the fire for Diyarendarach

by Betty Panossian-Ter Sarkissian

YEREVAN — St. Hovhannes Church in Yerevan was cheerful on the
snow-white afternoon on February 13.

Young couples, hand in hand had come out of the church and were
among the crowd gathered in the courtyard. They were celebrating
Diyarendarach or Derndez as it is called in Armenia.

Derndez in Armenia is the folk celebration of the Christian holiday
Diyarendarach ("Come forward to the Lord" or "I saw the Lord")
celebrated on February 14. It marks the presentation of the
forty-day-old baby Jesus to the house of worship. The Bible accounts
that when, in accordance to the Jewish tradition, baby Jesus was taken
to the cathedral, Old Simon came forward to meet the Lord’s Son. He
blessed the child and asked God that he may die in peace because his
eyes had seen the Messiah.

However, the Armenian celebrations of Derndez start on the eve of
February 14, when the holiday has already commenced according to the
church calendar. On that day, the Armenian Church also performs the
traditional ceremony of blessing fire and candles.

Toward the end of the church service, a blessed candle is lit from
the altar lantern and a procession takes it out to the courtyard where
the fire of Derndez is blessed and lit.

While the flames of the fire fly high into the air the priests bless
the believers and light the fire with the blessed candle brought from
the church. Newlyweds and engaged couples walk around the fire three
times and when the flames start to die off, the boldest jump over the
fire. Then people light their candles and lanterns from the fire and
take them to their homes to kindle their hearths.

Derndez has a special place in the hearts of the Armenians. In the
diaspora it is the day to present newborns to the altar, following the
example of baby Jesus. However, in Armenia, this holiday relates more
to couples and the concept of family. Many young couples have waited
all year long for this day to come to renew their vows of love and
family bonding.

"We will walk around the fire three times, take the blessed fire
with us to our home and celebrate our Derndez with our friends and
family," said Maneh, 21, and Dainel, 27, who had gotten married last

"We will jump over the fire," said Anush and Hrand, both 23, married
in December. "The blessed fire will clean us from all our sins, and
then we will have a good kef!"

* Remnants of paganism, a symbol of Christ

Fire was the object of worship for the ancient Armenians who had a
whole month dedicated to the god of light and fire, Mihr. Making open
fires and dancing around it, they celebrated the feasts in Mehegan
(modern day February), the coldest month of the Armenian winter.

However, in Christianity, the pagan worship of fire had to be
altered. On Derndez, the Armenian Church does not worship the fire.
but rather sees it as a symbol for the light Jesus Christ had spread
out into the world.

Father Shmavon clarified that: "Jesus is the light and we believe
that every kind of light and fire emblems Jesus Christ and the Holy

The Armenian Church welcomes all folk traditions, which do not
contradict its religion. "People tend to express their joy on holidays
in certain ways, and the church encourages its people to be happy.
Christianity is a religion of bliss," the priest said.

Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians has declared
Diyarendarach as a day of blessing newlyweds and families.

All the new families that have been wed at church during the year
preceding the holiday go to the church they were married in. On
February 14, following mass a special ceremony blessing the newlywed
couples takes place.

The return of these new families to their churches also demonstrates
the potential growth of the family, said Father Shmavon. "Some couples
expect children, and some even come to the church with their first

The parents of six-month old Emma had done just that andbrought
their baby to her first Derndez. "We wanted to bring our child to the
church," said Irina, 23, and Hovhannes, 32.

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

9. The presidential campaign heats up

* Vahan Hovhannesian

"If I consider myself a free man, a strong man, it is because there is
something in my life. Those who do not understand where my
self-confidence, determination and strength come from, should remember
one word: Dashnaktsutiun."

These are the sentiments Vahan Hovhanessian expressed at the
February 8 rally in Yerevan and one that he continues to carry to the
regions in Armenia.

On February 11 the ARF presidential candidate was in the region of
Ararat starting in the town of Masis. He traveled on to Vedi where
there was a protest being staged by hundreds of farmers against the
Borodino food processing plant. The plant, which buys tomatoes from
farmers to process has failed to even pay for the tomatoes it bought
last year. Mr. Hovhanessian met with plant managers and when he came
back out he told the protesters that he had been able to resolve some
of the issues outright and promised to follow the events as they
unfolded between plant owners and the farmers. The Armenian Reporter
has learned that on February 13, many of the farmers received their
money from the plant.

While addressing the crowds in Vedi, Mr. Hovhanessian made the point
that all of them there had come of their own free will and not been
forced to come — unlike other campaigns.

Mr. Hovhanessian said that Armenians find themselves between two
extremes — the old and the current regimes. "The old regime are those
who want to get power back by planting hatred, by ruining everything,
and returning the territories. The current regime are those who say
that it would be good if things remain as they are. Both are wrong,"
he said.

On February 12 the presidential candidate visited the region of Lori
where he met with supporters in the town of Spitak. Mr. Hovhanessian
said that he was pleased to see construction but that the conditions
in which some people continue to live is unacceptable.

He spoke at length about the economic inequality and uneven rate of
development in the country. Mr. Hovhanessian expounded the importance
of encouraging production and export, which would help create new
jobs. He promised to eliminate monopolies and ensure freedom but he
said freedom would come only when an individual is capable of feeding
his or her family through his or her own labor. On February 14 the
presidential candidate and his team were in Vayots Dzor region meeting

The Supreme Council of the ARF on February 13 issued a statement
regarding the tense political atmosphere in the country. The statement
said that although every election can lead to polarization "it is
inadmissible when the election campaign moves out of the realm of
civilized behavior." The ARF believes that the "personal insults of
candidates, threats, hostility and mutual hatred have reached
dangerous levels."

* Serge Sargsian

"I am prepared to step forward with you every day"

Prime Minister Serge Sargsian was in the region of Gegharkunik on
February 11 meeting with voters. He continued to emphasize the
position that while the citizens of Armenia were forced to endure the
cold and dark years, the country is now prospering. As an example he
said, "Now the republic has a natural gas network and we are also
exporting energy."

While in the town of Gavar he said, "I state that I am responsible
for the good and the bad; I am responsible that there are still
families in the country living in bad conditions. But I am also
responsible that we have a strong army, double-digit economic growth.
I am also responsible for the future of Armenia and I am sure that you
will give your vote to the program of our people."

On February 12 the presidential candidate traveled to the region of
Aragatsotn and while he was in the town of Aparan he spoke about
combating poverty. He said, "Armenia was ruled by people who could
have led the country along the path of development. However, their
untalented ruling resulted in the crisis faced by the country."

While Mr. Sargsian was on the campaign trail, there was much
controversy surrounding people from his party. According to Arminfo
Mr. Sargsian’s Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) expelled Sasoun
Mikaelyan, a member of parliament from the party. Mr. Mikaelyan had
publicly stated his support of presidential candidate Levon
Ter-Petrossian on February 9 during the former president’s public
rally in Yerevan. Member of Parliament Hakob Hakobian, otherwise known
as Ledi Hakob had also thrown his support behind Mr. Ter-Petrossian,
along with former member of Parliament Myasnik Malkhasyan. Mr.
Hagopian’s business investments in the district of Malatia have been
shut down and are now under investigation by authorities.

* Levon Ter-Petrossian

Presidential contender Levon Ter-Petrossian had applied to the
Constitutional Court on February 8, invoking Article 52 of the
Constitution, under which elections can be postponed if a candidate
faces "insurmountable obstacles." In his suit Mr. Ter-Petrossian
claimed that negative stories about him on broadcast media had created
such obstacles for him. On Monday, February 11, the Constitutional
Court, after deliberating for four hours, dismissed his claim, saying
that it did not find insurmountable obstacles. However, after issuing
the final verdict, Gagik Harutyunian, chair of the court, stated that
although they found the obstacles not to be insurmountable,
Ter-Petrossian’s complaints are "legitimate and should be addressed by
the National Commission on TV and Radio, the Central Electoral
Commission, and lower courts."

On February 12 news began circulating that Levon Ter-Petrossian had
gone to Moscow a day earlier for high-level meetings with Russian
officials. There was speculation that the former president had met
with Dimitri Medvedev, Russia’s first deputy prime minister who is
expected to succeed Vladimir Putin in the Russian presidential
campaign slated for March 2, 2008. However the Russian RIA Novosti
news agency stated that Mr. Ter-Petrossian had not met with Mr.
Medvedev. It appears that Mr. Ter-Petrossian had instead met with
Leonid Gozman, a deputy chairman of the board of the Union of
Right-Wing Forces Party.

On February 12 a group of protesters held a demonstration in front
of Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s campaign headquarters. The former president
came out and angrily demanded that the police disperse the protesters,
but police, noting that they were peaceful and not disrupting traffic
declined to intervene.

Later that day unknown assailants attacked Krist Gasparyan, head of
Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s Kanaker-Zeitun campaign office and son of the
late Manuk Gasparyan, who had been leader of the Democratic Path

Also on February 12, Raffi Hovanissian’s Heritage Party announced
that it would be supporting Levon Ter-Petrossian in his bid for the
presidency of Armenia. Press Secretary Hovsep Khurshudyan and member
of parliament Vartan Khatchatrian of the Heritage Party at a news
conference stated that the party’s ruling board approved the decision
to support the former president by a simple majority. According to
Armenpress, Mr Khatchatrian said that this decision was made "after
hours of heated debates with a divergence of opinions." Admitting that
there are ideological differences between the Heritage Party and
Ter-Petrossian’s Armenian National Movement, Mr. Khatchatrian
nonetheless said they believed that his comeback has played a big role
in the development of democracy in the country.

* Artur Baghdasarian

At a press conference on February 14, Heghine Bisharian of Country of
Law party and campaign manager of presidential contender Artur
Baghdasarian accused former president Levon Ter-Petrossian of
colluding with the authorities to divide the opposition. Ms. Bisharian
was referring to an article printed in Haykakan Zhamanak, a
pro-Ter-Petrossian daily, which stated that the former president at a
rally in the region of Siunik said that if Artur Baghdasarian doesn’t
join him then he will find himself outside of the political process.
According to the daily, the ploy would play out in a way that would
secure Mr. Sargsian’s victory. With the aid of vote-rigging Mr.
Baghdasarian would garner enough votes to force a second round against
Serge Sargsian. The usually unreliable paper claimed that Mr.
Baghdasarian and other presidential candidates would accept the
outcome of the first round and in the second round "it would be simply
a technical issue to ensure Serge Sargsian’s victory." The paper went
on to allege that Mr. Baghdasarian and Mr. Sargsian had agreed on this
scenario. The paper alleged that Mr. Baghdasarian agreed to proceed in
this fashion after Mr. Sargsian’s aides said that they had videotapes
that could potentially discredit him and his family.

Ms. Bisharian did say that both Mr. Baghdasarian and Mr.
Ter-Petrossian were negotiating regarding a possible union. However
the allegations made in Haykakan Zhamanak put an end to those talks.
"In the evening they negotiate an alliance with us while in the
morning publish slandering claims. This is difficult to explain. Our
candidate has a steady electorate and his popularity is mounting day
after day and we have actually no doubt that he will win the right to
the run-off. If Ter-Petrosian wants the opposition candidate to be in
the second round he should join us,’ said Ms. Bisharian. She added
that her party unequivocally condemns blackmail and appealed to all
sides to "observe political correctness."

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

10. Levon Ter-Petrossian’s accusations are "immoral" Vartan Oskanian says

YEREVAN — Armenia’s Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian appeared on
Shant TV on February 12 to deny a claim by Levon Ter-Petrossian that
the Armenian authorities were prepared to "sell" Meghri in exchange
for Azerbaijan’s recognition of Nagorno- Karabakh. At an election
rally on February 9, Mr. Ter-Petrossian had made that claim and added
that the murder, on October 27, 1999, of Prime Minister Vazgen
Sargsyan and Speaker Karen Demirchian was connected to their
opposition to this alleged plan.

Mr. Oskanian denounced Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s behavior in making such
claims as "immoral" and said that the former president will apparently
"stop at nothing" to realize his political ambitions.

The pro-Ter-Petrossian daily Haykakan Zhamanak published the text of
a document that called for the exchange with Azerbaijan of Meghri,
which connects Armenia to Iran and separates Azerbaijan proper from
its exclave of Nakhichevan, for Karabakh. Mr. Oskanian unequivocally
stated that Meghri was never on the negotiating table. The host of
the program, Nver Mnatsakanian, repeatedly attempted to have the
minister say that it was part of the discussions. "The idea of the
exchange of Meghri for Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to a retired U.S.
diplomat Paul Goble, the roots of which are in the early 1990s. I
clearly remember that in 1994 the proposed idea was discussed with the
participation of the Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian, who
stated at one of the meetings that the proposal could be interesting,
if Armenia also gained the northern part of Nakhichevan. However, I do
not contend that Ter-Petrossian was ready to exchange Meghri for
Nagorno-Karabakh, do I?" asked the minister.

Mr. Oskanian stated that during President Robert Kocharian’s
administration, five proposals on the settlement of the Karabakh
conflict were presented by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. "I declare
with all responsibility that in none of those proposals was there ever
the mention of handing Meghri over to Azerbaijan. I should know as I
was the chief negotiator from the Armenian side. We never held such
talks," stressed Mr. Oskanian.

According to Mr. Oskanian, during his time as foreign minister, many
proposals and plans were presented by individual countries and
organizations "I have many such proposals in my files, but that
doesn’t automatically mean that all of them become topics for
negotiations," he said. "The Armenian side was so repulsed by such a
proposal that after 2000 no one dared to forward this opinion
anymore," the foreign minister stated.

The minister also noted that Armenia has initiated numerous projects
with Iran involving Meghri over the last 10 years.

About the terrorist attack in the National Assembly in 1999, to
which Mr. Ter-Petrossian keeps referring, Mr. Oskanian said, "Robert
Kocharian and Vazgen Sargsyan enjoyed great relations. They last met
shortly before the October 27 attack, I was there personally."

"I can state with all certainty that after his resignation Levon
Ter-Petrossian never met with Vazgen Sargsyan. Mentioning his name now
is immoral," the minister said. "It is time to let the dead rest in
peace and hold discussions among the living," Mr. Oskanian concluded.

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11. Fire at the Justice Ministry

YEREVAN — In the early morning hours of February 9, a fire broke out
in the building that houses the Justice Ministry of Armenia. According
to the Fire Service of Armenia the preliminary cause of the fire was
faulty electrical cable wiring in the attic of the building, which was
built in the 1930s. The Office of the Prosecutor General and the Court
of Cassation are in adjacent buildings, but did not sustain damage.
According to Arminfo, 23 fire teams took part in extinguishing the
fire, which took hours to put out.

The press secretary of the Justice Ministry, Lana Mshetsyan, said no
criminal case of public importance were housed at the ministry. This
statement was to alleviate public and media speculation that the fire
was a result of arson to destroy certain files before the presidential
election. The press secretary did confirm, however, that all documents
connected with the European Court were destroyed. Those files are
under the supervision of the deputy justice minister, who is the
appointed representative of Armenia at the European Court. Meanwhile,
Ms. Mshetsyan said, 90 percent of the documents of the state registrar
were saved.

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12. News Analysis: Armenia elections: Polls point to Sargsian victory

* Ter-Petrossian’s campaign adds intrigue

by Emil Sanamyan

WASHINGTON — Armenia appears headed toward a contentious election on
February 19, pitting Prime Minister Serge Sargsian against his main
challenger, ex-President Levon Ter-Petrossian.

Public opinion surveys, including those commissioned by an
opposition-leaning newspaper, have consistently shown Mr. Sargsian,
who also has the most organizational and financial strength, with a
substantial advantage in public support.

But over the past two weeks Mr. Ter-Petrossian appears to have made
inroads into the Armenian political establishment, gaining enough
momentum to make the outcome of the upcoming vote less predictable.

* Campaigning and organizational strength

While formally there are nine contenders in the upcoming elections,
only four have run full-fledged national campaigns. In addition to Mr.
Sargsian and Mr. Ter-Petrossian, the others in this field are former
Parliament Speaker Artur Baghdasarian, and current Deputy Speaker
Vahan Hovhannesian.

All four candidates have held massive rallies around Armenia,
although the support and organizational strength for the candidates
appears uneven in different parts of the country.

Benefiting from his de facto incumbency, Mr. Sargsian commands the
strongest political machine comprised of the Republican (RPA) and
Prosperous Armenia (PAP) parties, which hold a majority in parliament
and have national outreach. RPA, PAP, as well as the United Labor and
several smaller parties that support Mr. Sargsian cumulatively won
nearly 53 percent of the vote in the May 2007 parliamentary elections.

Mr. Ter-Petrossian in turn is also benefiting from his past
incumbency, with his campaign run primarily by former government
officials who retain political and economic influence around Armenia.
He has also attracted the support of a number of small political
parties that cumulatively won more than 14 percent of the vote last

Mr. Hovhannisian and Mr. Baghdasarian are backed by their respective
political parties — the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which won
13 percent of the vote in May 2007, and the Country of Laws party,
which secured 7 percent.

The votes won by political parties last May can serve only as rough
indicators of the starting organizational strength of the individual
candidates. While Mr. Sargsian and Mr. Ter-Petrossian have polled at
near the levels of the past combined performance of the parties now
backing them (respectively 53 and 14 percent), Mr. Baghdasarian has
been polling better than Mr. Hovannisian.

* Polls and public support

Armenian opposition parties have criticized the integrity of the
public opinion polls that all give Mr. Sargsian a strong lead. But
they have not published any alternative polls that could contradict
such findings. And polls are sufficiently consistent to provide a
general picture of the relative popularity of individual candidates,
more so than turnout at campaign rallies.

Although certain opinion polls, such as those commissioned by Mr.
Sargsian’s campaign (through Sociometer) as well as by media entities
favoring Mr. Sargsian, may raise legitimate concerns about accuracy,
it is harder to allege a pro-government bias in polling funded
respectively by the U.S. government and Aravot newspaper, which
editorially supports Mr. Ter-Petrossian.

The nationwide polls since January have placed Mr. Sargsian’s
popularity anywhere between 43 (U.S.-funded) to 50 (Armenian Public
TV-funded) to 67 (Sargsian campaign-funded) percent, with more recent
polls showing an increase in support.

These findings are generally backed by the polling commissioned by
Aravot, and conducted in Yerevan only. Based on six opinion polls
involving 663 respondents each, conducted at monthly intervals since
last September, Aravot’s polling (see table) puts Mr. Sargsian well
ahead even among the capital’s voters — who, unlike voters in most of
the provinces, have traditionally favored challengers over incumbents.

According to this survey, while many voters in Yerevan would not
state their preferences, the ex-president enjoys the highest
"anti"-rating: that is, when voters were asked to name the candidate
"whom they would never vote for" about 30 percent named Mr.
Ter-Petrossian, and less than 10 percent Mr. Sargsian. According to
these findings, Mr. Ter-Petrossian would also do worse than two other
main challengers would against Mr. Sargsian in a potential run-off
election should none of the candidates win over half of all votes cast
on February 19.

Overall, Mr. Sargsian appears to be polling somewhat better than
President Robert Kocharian was on the eve of 2003 election, in which
Mr. Kocharian won just under 50 percent in the first round and more
than two-thirds of the vote in the run-off. Mr. Ter-Petrossian in turn
is polling substantially worse than the main opposition challenger,
Stepan Demirchian, did in January-February 2003.

* Uncertainty of outcome, and certainty of crisis

Mr. Sargsian is continuing to enjoy advantages in organizational
resources and popular support. Throughout his campaign, he has exuded
confidence and offered only a restrained reaction to the daily barrage
of accusations and insults coming from the opposition candidates,
particularly from Mr. Ter-Petrossian, who has in turn been targeted
heavily by pro-government media.

However, over the last week the ex-president’s campaign has gained
momentum and has to a large degree succeeded in turning the election
into a two-man race. Mr. Ter-Petrossian appears to be attracting
voters who see him as an only candidate capable of mounting a strong
challenge against Mr. Sargsian.

He won the endorsement of Raffi Hovannisian’s Heritage Party (which
won 6 percent of the vote last May), as well as two parliament members
previously allied with HHK, the prime minister’s party. Mr.
Ter-Petrossian has also been backed by Aram Karapetian, a maverick
politician who claims to be close to the Russian government and whose
party won 3 percent of the vote last May.

Mr. Ter-Petrossian has thus largely reconstituted the 2003
opposition alliance, at the time led by Mr. Demirchian. The only
change is that parties supporting former Prime Minister Vazgen
Manukian, who is running separately, have been replaced by Mr.
Ter-Petrossian’s loyalists from the former ruling Armenian Pan
National Movement (ANM).

Last Monday, Armenia’s ex-president went to Moscow and reportedly
assured a pro-Kremlin pundit of his loyalty to Russian interests.
While Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s television ads claimed that he met with
senior members of the Russian government, those claims remained
unconfirmed by Russian officials.

At the same time, the ex-president’s campaign pressured Mr.
Baghdasarian, who has been coming second or third in most recent
polls, to drop out of the race. Earlier this week, Mr. Ter-Petrossian
said he was certain of Mr. Baghdasarian’s endorsement. But on Thursday
Mr. Baghdasarian refused to back the ex-president. Support for Mr.
Ter-Petrossian from other candidates in the race, particularly Mr.
Hovhannesian of ARF, is believed to be highly unlikely.

For months, Mr. Ter-Petrossian has also tried to woo away major
players in Armenia’s establishment who have supported Mr. Sargsian —
particularly PAP leader and businessman Gagik Tsarukian, with little
success so far. Last Wednesday, the ex-president claimed support from
unidentified figures in the republic’s Police and the National
Security Service, but those claims remained unsubstantiated as of
press time.

The outcome of the electoral race, which has increasingly focused on
Mr. Ter-Petrossian, Mr. Sargsian, and to an extent Mr. Baghdasarian,
remains hard to predict. Although Mr. Sargsian remains a favorite, the
two major opposition campaigns also claim the inevitability of their
victory and are unlikely to accept defeat without street protests and
legal appeals to overturn the results.

While only one of the candidates can win, the balance of forces
arrayed and the visible polarization of recent weeks make a
post-election crisis likely, no matter the actual outcome of the vote.

* * *

For statistical tables and chart, see

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13. Living in Armenia: The murky political waters

by Maria Titizian

Pollsters, political pundits, taxi drivers, sociologists, political
scientists, journalists, vegetable vendors, students, old people,
young people, co-workers, politicians, janitors, city officials.
Everybody in Armenia is consumed by the upcoming presidential

The only ones that have yet to to come in on the side of this or
that candidate are possibly the stray dogs of Yerevan. But not to
worry, I hear they’re planning on holding an extraordinary congress
this weekend to decide to support the one person who cares the least
about them. Maybe then they can continue to exist among the garbage
heaps of our fair city unhindered.

There are currently nine contenders for the presidency. While four
or five of them really believe they have a shot at it, the rest are
either single-issue candidates or there to realize someone else’s
agenda or simply window dressing. However, they all claim to have a
vision, a new direction, creative solutions to very complex and deeply
rooted problems. Some are political veterans, others are newcomers and
relatively unknown, some are young and brash, others resolute with
clearly defined policies. One reportedly has too much money and time
on his hands and then there’s the one who has been there and done
that. They have been going from town to town, village to village,
meeting and greeting, kissing babies, shaking hands, making promises.
It all started out nice enough but has now turned ugly and, excuse me
gentlemen but rather unladylike.

To be caught up in the tide of history can be a privilege but also a
very heavy burden. Whether you are a witness or a pivotal figure in
the force of change swirling at your feet, you can’t help but be
moved. The fluidity of events and ensuing chaos can leave you gasping
for air. You can almost feel the wind exiting your lungs as they
slowly and oh, so gently collapse. And everything slows down and time
no longer feels the need to move forward, no matter how much you
cajole or beg it to.

There are many of us who would like time to move a little bit faster
and for February 19 to be a distant memory. The last several weeks
have left all of us in a state resembling something close to despair.
Despair that the country might unravel, that figures once thought to
have been left behind for history and future generations to judge have
come back to life with a vengeance. Rhetoric and demagoguery have
become a mainstream practice or a vile way of vote grabbing. Let’s not
even talk about coercion, bribery, vote rigging or the fear factor.
And then there are the logical alliances that should have happened but
didn’t materialize and in their place political forces once thought
incompatible are aligning themselves with each other.

And then there are those of us who can neither vote nor take an
active, public role in the elections. We can write about them and talk
about them, and trust me we do. We discuss, argue, analyze, diagnose,
agree then disagree, cringe at the absurdity, but most of all we
grieve for the future that just might be compromised. The political
field has become polluted and murky. So many accusations, so many
half-truths are being circulated; accusations of treason; the potently
false claims that some political forces were prepared to sell Meghri
thus denying Armenia a border with Iran; allegations of complicity in
the murders of October 27, 1999, when the prime minister of Armenia
and speaker of the parliament along with others were shot dead in the
National Assembly; while Turkey and Azerbaijan continue on their
belligerence and isolation of the country irresponsible leaders are
telling us to play nice and be friends because they might reciprocate;
demagoguery about the "Karabakh clan" inciting further division and

From this vantage point unrest appears to be inevitable. That line
between integrity and immorality has been crossed and it seems there’s
no turning back. There’s too much at stake for some who claim that
they will continue to struggle in the name of their warped perception
of public service but their personal "honor" and vested financial
interests are the factors that determine this journey. Short films
have been produced by two camps — that of Serge Sargsian against
Levon Ter-Petrossian and vice versa. I am embarrassed and feel a sense
of shame when I watch the new levels these politicians have sunk to.
Pro-government and anti-government print media in the country are on a
free for all — all bets off, all gloves off. The things that are
being written are disgraceful and irresponsible. They are feeding this
filth to a weary population only inciting incohesion for which they
will not be called to answer for.

The situation has deteriorated to such levels that the Supreme
Council of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation released a statement
on February 13 calling for calm, followed the next day by the deputy
leader of the Country of Laws Party. It certainly is a strange,
strange set of circumstances that has led us to this particular
juncture. While Levon Ter-Petrossian’s re-emergence has spoken to the
heart of the disenfranchised and given that particular segment a
glimmer of hope for fundamental change ultimately eradicating Serge
Sargsian’s aura of inevitability, it has also contributed to the
rapidly deteriorating tense atmosphere. Neither Levon Ter-Petrossian
nor Serge Sargsian are talking about their policies, nor their vision.
They have not remained on point but have strayed from the real issues
of this campaign. Everybody and their grandmother is being accused of
collusion, treason, and every other national crime imaginable.

What is it that people should expect from presidential candidates?
They should expect but most importantly they deserve to hear policies,
ideas, solutions, proposals. They need to feel that their next
president will serve them with integrity, common sense, sound economic
policies while preserving national values and protecting their
borders. It angers me to no end that the voice of those candidate(s)
who are engaging the populace in an honest dialogue are being drowned
out by the shrieks of accusations by men who forget that this is not
child’s play. Shame on all those who are forsaking this country to
further their grip on power. Shame on all those whose irresponsibility
is risking the very viability of this country. Shame on all those who
allow themselves to be manipulated. And shame on all those who choose
to remain silent.

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14. Letters: Armenia was written all over her wardrobe


Thank you for publishing Gregory Lima’s cover story in the Armenian
Reporter’s Arts & Culture section ("The Costumes of an Armenian
Woman," Feb. 2) about Lousik Agouletzi’s perspectives, commitment,
artifacts, and art. To re-coin a popular phrase, the map of Armenia
was not only written all over her face, but all over her wardrobe as
well. In this profile, artist and historian Agouletzi successfully
demonstrated how Armenians can survive and adapt without discarding
tradition. As far as I’m concerned, Agouletzi is a role model of the
first degree, and a credit to the Armenians.

Is Gregory Lima’s book, The Costumes of Armenian Women, available
for purchase? I would like to locate a copy for myself.

Very truly yours,

Lucine Kasbarian

Teaneck, N.J.

We understand the book has been out of print for over thirty years.
The originals of the photographs of the costumes (by Peter Carapetian)
are lost, and so there is no prospect of a reprint.

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15. Editorial: Armenia prepares to elect a president

Those citizens of Armenia who are present in Armenia on Tuesday,
February 19, will have the opportunity to head for the polls and
choose one of nine men as the country’s third president. If one
candidate gets the votes of more than half of the electorate, Armenia
will have a new president. Otherwise, voters will choose between the
two candidates with the most votes in a second round, two weeks later.
The new president will be inaugurated by April 9, when President
Robert Kocharian’s second term expires.

As in any contested election, passions are running high in the last
days. This is an indication that people in Armenia care deeply about
who will be their future head of state. That’s a good thing. And the
passion should translate into high voter turnout and unwillingness on
the part of voters to accept inducements to vote for this or that
candidate. That’s also a good thing.

This is an exciting moment for Armenia. It is also a critical
moment: for people to maintain their faith in their burgeoning nation,
the elections must be free and fair, building on the excellent
progress made in the May 2007 elections. The Central Electoral
Commission is legally responsible to ensure that the elections meet
this standard. The president, the government, the Central Electoral
Commission, and various candidates have declared their commitment to
free and fair elections. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of every
citizen to be active and vigilant.

The prime minister, Serge Sargsian, remains the frontrunner. He is
standing on his own record of 15 years at the top echelons Armenia’s
government under two presidents; and promising stability and
continuity in policies that have seen an improvement in the standard
of living of most Armenians. He appears likely to win the majority of
votes either on February 19, or in a second round.

Among the other candidates, three have emerged as his main
challengers: Artur Baghdasarian of the Country of Laws Party, Vahan
Hovhannesian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and Levon
Ter-Petrossian, Armenia’s first president.

All three drew huge crowds to rallies in Yerevan’s Freedom Square
last week. (Mr. Sargsian will hold a rally there on Sunday, February

Mr. Baghdasarian appeals to various segments of the electorate with
specific programs. He advocates closer relations with the West. The
Speaker of the parliament until two years ago, he has since been a
critic of the current government. But he has distanced himself from
the more aggressive rhetoric of Mr. Ter-Petrossian, emphasizing the
need for stability.

Mr. Hovhannesian has likewise emphasized the need for stability as
changes are introduced. Emphasizing his independence from
businesspeople who have a large role in Armenia’s public policy, he
has argued that he can guarantee the independence of the courts and
law enforcement bodies and thus fight corruption. The widely held
expectation that likeminded candidate Vazgen Manukian would drop out
of the race to endorse him did not materialize, to the detriment of
Mr. Hovhannesian’s candidacy.

Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s rally, on Saturday, February 9, drew a somewhat
larger crowd than the rallies of the other two candidates. At the
rally, he received the endorsement of three former supporters of Mr.
Sargsian in parliament. A few days later, Raffi Hovannisian’s Heritage
Party endorsed his candidacy, adding to his momentum.

While a large proportion of the population continue to revile Mr.
Ter-Petrossian and his team (blaming them for the disappointments and
struggles of the 1990s, as well as the suppression of democracy and a
defeatist position on Karabakh), he now stands a chance of taking a
respectable third place — or even going into a run-off as the winner
of the second largest number of votes.

He has reached this point in part by exuding confidence. One thing
that has helped him along has been the fact that a couple of secondary
candidates (particularly Artashes Geghamian), along with Public
Television, have spent an inordinate amount of time attacking his
record and raising the alarm about the presumed policies he would
pursue if elected. With this focus on him, many among the people who
do not want to see Mr. Sargsian win the presidency have become
convinced that Mr. Ter-Petrossian is the only alternative.

There is a legitimate concern that the confidence Mr. Ter-Petrossian
exudes could translate into an unwillingness to accept the voters’
verdict, should it be unfavorable to his candidacy. In the aftermath
of the May 2007 parliamentary elections, some of the groups that have
since formed the core of Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s campaign were at pains
to cast doubt on the unanimous conclusion of election observers that
the elections were mostly free and fair. In defeat, they may escalate
that campaign this time around.

The rhetoric from that camp has been highly confrontational. Faced
this week with the refusal of Mr. Baghdasarian to step out of the race
in favor of Mr. Ter-Petrossian, Mr. Ter-Petrossian actually accused
Mr. Baghdasarian of treason. "Whatever he says, no matter how many
votes he gets, those votes will not be his," Mr. Ter-Petrossian said
on February 16. Unless he drops out to "stand by the people," Mr.
Ter-Petrossian added, "he will betray the popular cause."

In these circumstances, it is especially important for all parties
to help ensure that the elections are held in a calm atmosphere,
without intimidation, freely and fairly. And that all the candidates
and their supporters respect the will of the people. We are confident
that they will. For we have faith in the wisdom of the Armenian

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