IT as a tool for Armenian Tourism Industry

IT as a tool for Armenian Tourism Industry


Tourism was declared a priority in Armenia in 2001 when the country was
celebrating the 1,700 anniversary of its proclaiming Christianity as a state
religion. In the following years the number of foreign visitors to Armenia
grew by 92%. In January 2001 the US and Armenian governments set up the
Armenian Tourism Development Agency (ATDA). In September 2001 sponsored by
the International Executive Service Corps, ATDA opened “ARMENIANInformation”
the first information center in the South Caucasus. Armenia possesses vast
cultural and historical treasures but they can hardly make the country a
tourist attraction unless given an appropriate information frame. Experts
say that to become a developed tourist country Armenia needs a strong
information backing. It’s here that Armenia’s second priority, information
technologies, come in helpful. ARMINFO’s correspondent has asked ATDA Deputy
Executive Director Angela Sax to specify how Information Technologies are
used in tourism.

AI: Could you please tell us about ATDA?

A.S.: Our key objective is to present Armenia abroad and to shape its image
of a developed tourist country. We work in three directions: first, to get
involved and to involve other tourism companies in international
exhibitions; second, to actively cooperate with foreign journalists and tour
operators; and third, to arrange various events, like the Kenats festival,
and to ensure their broad coverage in the foreign mass media. The number of
tourists visiting Armenia has doubled in the last three years. I am not
saying that this is our exclusive accomplishment but we have quite a big
share in it.

AI: What do you think about the role of IT in the development of tourism?

A.S.: Information Technologies are simply indispensable for Armenia, a
country almost unknown by the world, I mean on the tourism side. Internet
has long become a part of lifestyle abroad. People even grasp the
information easier when it is presented electronically. That’s why
internet-promotion is so important for shaping the country’s image.

Quite recently we opened a web-site complying with all the modern standards.
Of course, we had some on-line based information before but it was rather
scanty. The development of the new web-portal was
sponsored by USAID and with technical assistance by International Executive
Service Corps (IESC) and TIB, Armenian software development company.

The portal presents Armenia’s sights, cultural and historical values,
national parks, art galleries. All this content will make tours
unforgettable. The site has merged modern “high tech” interface with “high
art” aesthetics, utilizing both ancient and modern Armenian motives. From
interactive maps of cultural landmarks to a comprehensive and easily
accessible database of tour agents, hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and
so much more, the ATDA portal has become the web’s one-stop, on-line,
Armenian tourism venue. Much like the ATDA’s now famous ARMENIAInformation
visitor’s information center, at 3 Nalbandyan Street in the heart of
Yerevan, the new ATDA web-portal is a virtual, full service concierge
facility and an expansive compendium of useful information and resources –
whether that be for travelers and tourists or history lovers and the arts
literati. Sections are thoughtfully organized with easy access navigation
bars; graphics and photos are vibrant and compelling; maps are easy to read
and truly interactive, providing details on any given point in Armenia with
the click of a mouse. Background information and helpful travel hints are
available at every turn; shopping and recreation sites are explored side by
side with cultural centers, museums, concert halls and art galleries;
Armenia’s vast array of architectural monuments and sacred sites are finally
presented in such a way that travel planning is almost as fun as the actual
visit. The site also provides a thorough and constantly updated calendar of
weekly events, available either online or via e-mail subscription. With this
new site, the ATDA has really given both the interested traveler and the
tourism industry professional, no matter their point of origin, a place on
the web to fulfill, as well as provide for every type of Armenian tourism
and travel need.

Today we enjoy wide contacts abroad established mainly through international
exhibitions. The first question we are always asked is whether we have a
web-site. Quite natural as in five minutes we cannot tell everything about
ATDA and Armenia while those concerned want to know the most of the country
they are going to visit. Nowadays, Information Technologies are the most
effective and the cheapest way to disseminate information and to keep in
touch with people.

AI: What achievements have been made in Armenian tourism in the last years?

A.S.: We have already founded an association for coordinating tourist camps
all over Armenia. This is an opportunity for tourists not only to leave
Yerevan for the country-side but also to stay, shop and buy services outside
the capital city and thereby to boost the economic development of the
regions. Foreign tourists enjoy comfort and road restoration project by the
Lincy Foundation came in quite handy. One of our greatest accomplishments is
the recent amendment of article 34 of the law On VAT exempting from VAT home
tourism as well as the services provided by Armenian travel agencies abroad.
This change will make it cheaper for foreigners to come to Armenia. We hope
these changes will cover the hotel business as well.

AI: What can you say about the work of the local travel agencies?

A.S.: All our tour operators are professionals but some of them still keep
to the methods of the Soviet times when the key emphasis was laid on
historical and cultural values (pageant and Christian cathedrals). But after
visiting two-three churches a tourist begins to lose his/her interest in the
country. And so we need new approaches and technologies – ethnic tourism and
adventure tourism.

AI: Are there any projects to develop the so called “extreme” tourism in

A.S.: The country has all the natural conditions for developing the extreme
tourism. But this type of business needs an appropriate infrastructure –
hotels, restaurants, services – and this all needs considerable investment.
The construction of one ski route is not a way out of the situation. Here we
can only advise. The solution is to invest. There are many businessmen who
are ready to invest money in Armenia. Why not redirect this funding to
developing extreme tourism?

AI: Drawing parallels between the two Armenian priorities, IT and Tourism,
what can you say about the attention that the Government pays to these

A.S.: I would not separate these sectors as they complement each other. Both
of them have substantial problems with infrastructure which though very
slowly but are being solved.


Note: The web site was designed and developed by
TIB company on OpenSource technologies which provide robust services, stable
work and security. The system makes it possible for the administrator to
manage the content of the site quickly and easily. Few interactive sections
like Interactive Map of Armenia, Airline Map, and Virtual Tour are created
by joint use of Macromedia Flash, PHP and MySQL database server. The web
site has a search engine, which makes it possible to make a search within
the site as well as from Travel Agencies/Tour Operators’ web sites and other
Armenian tourism related resources. Developer company (TIB) also took care
about the mirror page which is located in the USA and automatically detects
the closest server to redirect users making the view of the web site as fast
as possible independent from the user’s location. The website was developed
in UNIX family OS (FreeBSD, Linux, etc.) using web server Apache 1.x and
higher. Dynamic pages were scripted in PHP with MySQL database back-end.
XHTML (also DHTML) was used as a markup language.

By Viacheslav Khachatryan, ARMINFO News Agency
In cooperation with
© SiliconArmenia 2001 – 2004

Round table on problems of Radio & TV

Azat Artsakh – Republic of Nagorno Karabakh
March 19 2004


Within the framework of the program `Maintenance of Democracy in the
South Caucasus through Freedom of Speech’ Stepanakert Press Club and
the international organization `Article 19′ organized a round table
on March 16 on the topic `Public Radio and Television: Problems and
Prospects’. To the round table were invited the member of the board
of directors of the association of journalists of Poland, freelance
reporter of the newspaper `Recpospolita’ Agneska Romashevska (Poland)
and the coordinator of the European program of the international
organization `Article 19′ Irina Smolina (Great Britain). At the round
table were also present representatives of the Karabakh mass media
and students. The aim was one – to find out what changes have taken
place in the Artsakh radio and television after giving it a public
status. The executive director of Artsakh radio and television Garik
Grigorian informed that recently the public television has been
provided with new equipment. Investments of 25 thousand dollars have
been made. However, the new equipment, according to TV reporter
Narine Aghabalian, is neither due to the council, nor the fact of
changing the status of the television to public. According to her,
soon or late those changes were to be made in the television, which
was dictated by the time. Garik Grigorian mentioned about the
drawbacks in the legislative sphere. `The reason is the RA law `About
the Mass Media’ adopted under the obligation of the Council of
Europe, which was introduced in NKR without any changes. Today there
is a necessity to make changes into this law.’ G.Grigorian also
touched upon the activity of the council of radio and television. `In
the Republic of Armenia the members of the council are paid, whereas
here it is not so unfortunately. The members of the council, except
the chairman of the council, work according to public principles and
their activity is brought to a level of formality. In Armenia the
council directs the public television, radio and the studio of
documentary films `Yerevan’ and carries out gigantic work. Here the
council meets once a month.’ According to G. Grigorian, we are at
martial law therefore we should realize the value of word. `The
notion of full freedom or independence is unintelligible for me,’
mentioned the executive director. In her greeting Irina Smolina
mentioned that in all the post-Soviet countries the problem of truly
independent mass media persists. In many countries, according to her,
only the signs are changed, whereas the activity remains the same.
She said that everything should be done to found a truly public
television for which it is absolutely necessary to be independent of
the government, first of all, financially. According to her, it is
the viewers and the listeners that should implement financing. In the
name of the council Naira Hayrumian summed up the results of the work
done in the past year. According to her, much cannot be done within
an hour of broadcasting, especially that the television of Artsakh
does not have its own broadcasting frequency but is transmitted by
others’ channels. And the solution of this problem, according to
Naira Hayrumian, requires about 100-150 thousand dollars. She also
mentioned the question of increasing the salaries in the radio and TV
for which 17 million AM drams were provided from the state budget.
Besides, according to her, two new programs have been broadcast, the
transmission of the parliamentary hour has been resumed, as well as
the projects of two new talk shows are with the chairman of the
council Maxim Hovhannissian which are still to be discussed. Naira
Hayrumian mentioned that there is need for entertainment shows.
According to her, it is also very important to decide the rating of
this or that program and to have the web site of the television. The
editor-in-chief of the public radio Vilen Bakhshiyan commented on the
idea of Gegham Baghdassarian, the head of the press club that in the
recent 30 years no changes took place in the radio. According to him,
changes were made in the 70’s and 80’s. `Only in these recent years
they were not significant.’ Vilen Bakhshiyan sees their solution in
acquirement of new equipment. Although there were also suggestions to
make changes in the staff. The head of the permanent committee of the
National assembly for foreign relationships and information Vahram
Atanessian touched upon the changes provided in the legislation about
the council of radio and television. According to him, the
legislative field has drawbacks. Besides, the attitude of the
authorities towards the radio and television when transforming from
state to public was not always positive. `It is wrong to unite the
radio and television. One of the serious steps would be separating
them. Moreover, they both must be funded equally.’ According to V.
Atanessian, it is necessary to constitute a special commission which
will deal with providing broadcasting frequencies and licensing. He
also emphasized the importance of overcoming the inertness of the
society, journalists and the political sphere. `Is there demand for
information? It seems that the society is satisfied with the
information it receives (the sources of which are not always
official) whereas the mass media are for educating taste and not for
providing mere information,’ he said. According to the head of the
main department of information under the NKR president Alexander
Grigorian, a public television does not mean a multi-party television
and radio. And in answer to the opinions about becoming financially
independent of the state, A. Grigorian said, `Who in that case will
finance it if not the state? Is our society ready to finance the
public radio and television?’ Agneska Romashevska spoke on the topics
of standards of public TV broadcasting, difficulties in transforming
from state to public radio and television, the tactics of the public
radio and television in the absence of an alternative television. She
presented in detail how this process took place in her home country,
Poland. She mentioned that the journalists are the eyes and ears of
the society and therefore have an important role in building society.
The participants of the round table unanimously characterized the
activity of the public radio as `not excellent’. As to the reasons,
the opinions were different. Some think that technical supply will
help to raise the quality of programs, others think that technical
support is not enough and changes in the staff are also necessary.
Radio reporter Seyran Karapetian supported the first idea. A.
Romashevska added that it will not be possible to attract young
audience unless the time of radio broadcasting is not prolonged.
According to her, the best hours for radio programs are morning
hours, and this gap should also be filled. Member of the Stepanakert
Press Club Karine Ohanian presented the results of the public opinion
poll held among 50 journalists, aiming to find out their opinion what
changes took place in the public radio and television after changing
it into public. Thirty of the questioned fifty were workers of the
radio and television. Thus, in reference to radio 28 answered that no
changes were made (of them 17 working in the radio or television).
Nine people think that certain changes were made. In reference to the
television 19 people think that the appearance changed, but the
contents remained the same. 16 think that certain changes took place.
29 said they prefer the news and analytical programs of the public
television, 10 watch mainly social and political programs, 9 people
watch all the programs, 5 people do not watch any programs, 3 found
it difficult to answer and 5 gave different answers. In reference to
the public radio 19 said they prefer information and analytical
programs, 20 people do not listen to any programs (of them 12 work in
the radio or television), 5 prefer social-political, 4 cultural,
sport and entertainment programs, 4 listen to all the programs, 2
people prefer popular scientific programs and 2 people Russian
programs. 4 of the questioned found it difficult to answer. `Does the
staff of the public television correspond to the present standards?’
This was the next question to which 18 people said that mainly yes
(15 working in the television or the radio), and 15 said mainly no. 7
people gave a negative answer. 2 people gave a positive answer, 4
people found it difficult to answer and 4 gave other variants. In
answer to the same question referring to the public radio 15 people
said that mainly yes, 13 gave a negative answer. 9 think that mainly
yes, 1 gave a positive answer, 11 people found it difficult to answer
and 1 gave a different variant of answer. The question `What changes
would you like to see in the public television and radio?’ was
interesting in the sense that there were no fixed variants of answer
and the questioned had to give their opinions. Thus, 46 people think
that the public television needs new programs, freedom, actuality,
independence from the authorities. 15 people think that there is need
for greater responsibility and professionalism. 12 are for staff and
structural changes. 12 (all of them working in the radio and
television) think there is need for improvement of technical
conditions, 6 mentioned the need of increasing the hours of
broadcasting. As to the radio, the picture is the following: 26 think
there is a need for new programs, freedom, actuality, independence
from the authorities, 16 (all of them working in the radio r the
television) mention the need for improvement of technical conditions,
13 are for staff and structural changes, 8 are for increasing the
hours of broadcasting, and 5 would like to see fundamental changes in
the radio.


Armenian public organizations settling families in Karabakh

Armenian public organizations settling families in Karabakh

19 Mar 04


About 80 poor families from Armenia will be resettled in the Nagornyy
Karabakh Republic in 2004, the executive director of the Yerkir
(Country) union of public organizations for repatriation and
settlement, Sevak Artsruni, told a news conference at a club of
journalists today.

He said that about 35 families from Armenia would settle in Karabakh
in the next two months. The settlers will be provided with cottages
and land plots of 1,500-2,000 sq.m.

Moreover, Artsruni said that the settlers would be legally given some
privileges, for instance, they will be exempted from taxes. It should
be noted that Yerkir (the union includes five public organizations of
Armenia and Artsakh Karabakh ) has operated since November 2002.

He said that developing border zones is very important for Armenia
like for any developing country. Several schools, kindergartens and
hospitals were built in 2003 in Karabakh’s Novyy Shaumyan District New
Shaumyan – Azerbaijan’s Goranboy District and Hadrut District thanks
to Yerkir. The total sum of the programme was 186,356 dollars and
22,732 euros.

Artsruni also said that construction work will be conducted in
Mardakert Agdara , Hadrut and Novyy Shaumyan Districts of Karabakh, as
well as in Tavush and Gegharkunik Districts of Armenia (over 300
settlements). The total sum of the programmes for 2004 is over 400,000
dollars. The programme is financed by the French, Canadian and US
charitable funds France-Karabakh, Armenia, Monte Melkonyan and by
ethnic Armenian families living abroad and engaged in charity

He said that Yerkir is currently registering families from Russia and
other CIS countries who have expressed their desire to return to their
historic motherland, but have no opportunities to do that.

Murky tale of a mercenary adventure

Murky tale of a mercenary adventure

Speculation grows as Equatorial Guinea claims plot to kill president was

David Pallister
Saturday March 13, 2004
The Guardian

The light was beginning to fade over Harare international airport last
Sunday when the 40-year-old white Boeing 727 with a US registration
number landed and taxied to the cargo area. With its cabin lights
dimmed, the pilot indicated he wanted to refuel before flying on. He
declared a crew of three and four cargo handlers. The Zimbabwean
authorities were suspicious, not least because their intelligence told
them that some interesting characters were to meet the flight. The
South Africans, too, appeared to know what was afoot. Within hours an
extraordinary story unfolded to mirror the intrigue of Frederick
Forsyth’s Dogs of War, in which a multinational company hires a bunch
of mercenaries to overthrow an African dictator – based on a 1973 coup
attempt in Equatorial Guinea.

This was not just a case of life imitating art; it seemed as if
history was repeating itself. Could the dogs of war that plagued the
African continent a generation ago be back? The Zimbabweans found 64
men on the plane – 20 South Africans, 18 Namibians, 23 Angolans, two
Congolese (from the Democratic Republic of Congo) and one Zimbabwean
with a South African passport – as well as “military material”. This
turned out to be camouflage uniforms, sleeping bags, compasses and
wire cutters.


Some of the men were said to have been former members of the notorious
32 Commando of the South African defence force, a clandestine unit of
the apartheid regime who went on to join the equally controversial
private military company Executive Outcomes, which carried out
military operations for the governments of Sierra Leone and Angola in
the 1990s. It was formally disbanded in 1999, largely in response to
South Africa’s Foreign Military Assistance Act, which outlaws
mercenary activities.

As speculation about mercenary adventurers grew, Zimbabwe also
announced that it had arrested a former British SAS soldier, Simon
Mann, who had arrived at the airport to meet the plane. He had helped
to establish EO and its British associate, Sandline International –
the military company that helped Sierra Leone beat the rebel group

Mr Mann, ministers said, had been in Harare in February with a South
African called Nick du Toit, apparently seeking to buy arms. The
pilots were identified as Niel Steyl, a South African commercial
pilot, and Hendrik Hamman, a Namibian. Both had in the past worked for
Executive Outcomes.

As the revelations accelerated, the plot spiralled into the
surreal. On Tuesday the information minister of Equatorial Guinea,
Agustin Nze Nfumu, dramatically announced that 15 men – from South
Africa, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Germany – had been arrested for
“plotting to kill the president”, Teodoro Obiang, and that their
ringleader had confessed.

He said one of the men had claimed the group was acting on behalf of
Ely Calil, a Lebanese businessman close to Severo Moto,
self-proclaimed president of a so-called Equatorial Guinean
government-in-exile in Spain, who had tried to mount a coup in 1997.

Mr Calil, who has British and Senegalese citizenship, lives in a
high-gated mansion in one of the more exclusive areas of Chelsea, west
London. He is an adviser to the Senegalese president and reportedly
carries a diplomatic passport.

Two years ago he was arrested in Paris and interrogated by the
magistrate investigating the Elf oil scandal about his role in
handling commissions for the late Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha.

Mr Calil declined to be interviewed by the Guardian. But he told the
London-based newsletter, Africa Confidential, that he had no
connection to the coup plot. However, he agreed that he was a friend
of the opposition leader and had given him “modest” financial support.

Mr Moto has also vigorously denied the allegation, accusing Mr Obiang
of being “an authentic cannibal”. He told Spanish radio: “Obiang wants
me to go back to Guinea and eat my testicles. That’s clear.”

As the allegations swirled, the company that owns the plane, Logo
Logistics, was desperately trying to put its side of the story. An
Englishman, Charles Burrow, a senior executive, told the Guardian that
the men had been travelling to the DRC to guard several mineral
concessions. They had stopped off in Harare to buy some “ancilliary
mining-related equipment”. Zimbabwe, he said,was “one of the cheapest
places on the planet”.

The plane’s flight plan did show that it was heading to Bujumbura in
Burundi on Congo’s eastern border. Mr Burrows explained that Logo had
been set up three years ago, registered in the British Virgin Islands
and administered from Guernsey. He himself was based in Dubai. He
conceded that Mr Mann was an executive of the company.

“My first priority is the safety of these men,” he said. As for the
coup allegations: “I haven’t the foggiest idea what they’re talking

Death penalty

Events then took a dramatic turn. On Wednesday evening, as the
Zimbabweans said the arrested men could face the death penalty and
accused the secret services of Britain, the US and Spain of being
behind the plot, Equatorial Guinea television broadcast an interview
with Mr Du Toit.

Translated from his English into Spanish, he said: “It wasn’t a
question of taking the life of the head of state but of spiriting him
away, taking him to Spain and forcing him into exile and then of
immediately installing the government-in-exile of Severo Moto. The
group was supposed to start by identifying strategic targets such as
the presidency, the military barracks, police posts and the residences
of government members.

“Then it was supposed to have vehicles at Malabo airport to transport
other mercenaries who were due to arrive from South Africa. But at the
last minute I got a call to say that the other group of mercenaries
had been arrested in South Africa as they were preparing to leave the

Contacted again by the Guardian, Mr Burrows acknowledged that Mr Du
Toit worked for Logo. “We have five people in the country working on
three contracts for the government,” he said. He also acknowledged
that he knew Mr Calil, but denied having any commercial relationship
with him.

Back in Harare the allegations were becoming firmer. Zimbabwe’s home
affairs minister, Kembo Mohadi, told a news conference that the heads
of the police and army in Equatorial Guinea had gone along with the
plot against the government. “The western intelligence services
persuaded Equatorial Guinea’s service chiefs not to put up any
resistance, but to cooperate with the coup plotters,” he said.

He claimed that the leader of the group, Mr Mann, had allegedly been
promised cash payment of £1m and oil mining rights and that Mr Moto
had hired them. And in an aside which will delight 007 fans, he said
one of the conspirators who had carried out surveillance in the Guinea
capital of Malabo was called “Bonds”.

Then came the bombshell. Mr Mohadi claimed that, in what appears to
have been a Zimbabwean sting, Colonel Tshinga Dube, director of
Zimbabwe Defence Industries, had accepted $180,000 (£100,000) from
Mr Mann for a consignment of AK-47s, mortars and 30,000 rounds of
ammunition. A more murky interpretation, however, was provided by the
Afrikaans daily, Beeld, which reported that Col Dube had been
“enraged” that the aircraft was impounded and the transaction

Whatever the truth of that, it now seems clear that both South African
and Zimbabwean intelligence had wind of a suspicious operation, which
explains why President Obiang praised Thabo Mkbeki in his television

“We spoke with the South African president, who warned us that a group
of mercenaries was heading towards Equatorial Guinea,” he said.

Yesterday Mr Mohadi said the 67 men would be charged with
destabilising a sovereign state.


The Guardian understands that some of the alleged plotters had been
remarkably indiscreet about their plans. Rumours of a coup have been
rife in Malabo for weeks, according to several sources familiar with
the territory. So the questions remain: Why Equatorial Guinea? Why
now? And in whose interests?

The answers can be summed up in one word: oil. Until 1995 Equatorial
Guinea, a former Spanish colony, was an impoverished backwater with a
population of less than half a million. After independence in 1968, it
was ruled by Mr Obiang’s uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, who acquired
as vicious a reputation as any of the other murderous African

In 1975, over Christmas, he ordered his militia to kill 150 political
prisoners in Malabo stadium as loudspeakers played Those Were the
Days, My Friend. During his reign of terror a third of the population

Mr Obiang seized power from his uncle in 1979 and, although he
introduced a consitutional democracy, elections have been widely
regarded as fraudulent and opponents often end up in jail.

The discovery of oil in the mid-1990s transformed the country’s
finances, and provided the president and his family with funds to
acquire multimillion dollar properties in the US. With American oil
companies in the lead, production last year at 350,000 barrels a day
made Equatorial Guinea the third largest producer in sub-Saharan