Armenia’s Democratic Reforms Bolstered by US Support: Simonyan Meets NDI Delegation

Feb 28 2024

On February 28, in a significant meeting held in Yerevan, Alen Simonyan, the President of the Armenian National Assembly, engaged with a delegation spearheaded by Eva Busza, the Regional Director for Eurasia at the National Democratic Institute (NDI). This assembly underscored the pivotal role of US assistance in nurturing Armenia's political and economic spheres, particularly emphasizing the enhancement of democracy, the rule of law, and anti-corruption measures.

During the discussion, Simonyan expressed profound gratitude towards the United States for its substantial contributions to Armenia's development journey. The conversation revolved around the critical support the US has provided in advancing Armenia's democratic reforms. These reforms aim at boosting the transparency and accountability of state institutions, thereby fortifying the foundation of democracy and the rule of law in Armenia. The successful re-establishment of the NDI office in Armenia and the effective implementation of joint programs were highlighted as key achievements in the longstanding cooperation between Armenia and the NDI.

Eva Busza, representing the NDI, acknowledged Simonyan's essential support in executing the institute's programs in Armenia. She lauded the democratic strides Armenia has made, reflecting positively on the nation's commitment to reformative processes. The meeting served as a platform to discuss the fruitful outcomes of collaboration between Armenia and the NDI and to explore potential avenues for further enhancing democratic practices within the country.

The dialogue concluded with a forward-looking perspective, contemplating the expansion of cooperative efforts to foster democratic reforms in Armenia. Both parties expressed optimism about the future of Armenia's democratic journey and discussed strategies to deepen the impact of their collaborative initiatives. The discussions underscored the importance of continued support and partnership in achieving the shared goal of a more transparent, accountable, and democratic Armenia.

As Armenia continues on its path of democratic reforms, the support from international partners like the United States and NDI remains crucial. This meeting between Alen Simonyan and Eva Busza not only reaffirms the strength of Armenia's international partnerships but also sets the stage for future collaborations aimed at furthering democratic governance and the rule of law in Armenia.

Full Belly Files | My Beginning and Nagorno-Karabakh’s End

feb 28 2024

This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on February 23, 2022. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at

Last fall, I was struck by feelings of both anger and remorse as I witnessed scenes of refugees from the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh fleeing their generations-old homes toward an unknown future in neighboring Armenia. They were victims of the latest, and seemingly final, war over the breakaway Karabakh republic, which ethnic Armenians established in 1994 by prevailing over Azerbaijan at the end of a three-year war.  

Only Armenia ever granted Karabakh status as an independent state, and Azerbaijan’s threats to reclaim the territory finally came true in September, when a brief skirmish forced the remaining Armenians to leave. The republic was wiped off the international map entirely on January 1, 2024.

The videos and photographs of the refugee convoys snaking through the Lachin Corridor brought me directly back to my own memories of that same mountainous route, which weaves past towering monasteries, ancient cave complexes, and brilliantly green peaks. I was on that road 20 years ago, headed into my own unknown future as a twentysomething journalist from Santa Barbara.  

I first moved in the opposite direction of the refugees, away from the relative safety of Armenia and into the war-ravaged, officially unrecognized land of Artsakh, which is what Armenian ancestors first called this land more than 2,000 years ago. Traveling with war photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie — who already had experience in breakaway republics of the Caucasus region and would many years later be kidnapped in Syria — I was young and eager to make a name for myself, and saw trips to obscure and/or risky regions as a possible ticket to editorial success and financial stability.

I was right, as that trip and other international gambles before and after led to connections with international publications like TIME Magazine and the New York Times that helped establish my career. But back in 2004, I never would have guessed that my writings two decades later would be more concerned with wine than war, an outcome directly connected to the three weeks I spent getting to know the people and places of Nagorno-Karabakh.

I first met Jonathan Alpeyrie in 2003 when he submitted some photos to the Independent, and we struck up a working friendship. I’d already done reporting trips to Belize, Bolivia, and Costa Rica by then, and was always on the lookout for somewhere new. He’d send me ideas that seemed either too dangerous or too expensive to pull off, but then mentioned a connection to a Fresno-based nonprofit called the Armenian Technology Group that worked in this breakaway republic.

Like most Americans, I’d never heard of Nagorno-Karabakh, despite the three-year long brutal war between Azeris, who are Muslim, and Armenians, who are Christian, that consumed the region when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. Under Soviet rule, the region was included in the state of Azerbaijan, even though most of the residents were Armenian. That fostered the sort of distracting internal tension preferred by Joseph Stalin way back when the USSR was created.

The first Nagorno-Karabakh war killed more than 30,000 people in a region where only 200,000 lived, and ended in 1994 with ethnic Armenians victorious. That meant our 2004 visit would be during the republic’s 10-year anniversary celebration, which promised to be newsworthy. Plus, though in the middle of nowhere and still in partial rubble, Karabakh appeared to be relatively safe — the frontline skirmishes were brief and rare — inexpensive, and uncovered by most media, all good signs for a profitable project.   

It took us about a week of paperwork-pushing in the Armenian capital of Yerevan to get our visit to Karabakh in order. Our primary goal was covering the geopolitics of the situation, meeting with the military, and visiting the front lines. But that would take even more time to arrange once we were in Karabakh, so I suggested that we also do some reporting on the region’s reemergent wine industry, which dates back many thousands of years. Indeed, the greater Caucasus Mountains region is considered the birthplace of wine as we know it.

I’d already been writing a little bit about wine for the Independent, and used some of that background to avoid sounding like a total fool while speaking through translators to the region’s winemakers and distillers. We visited wineries whose walls were riddled with bullet holes, vineyards whose rows were loaded with land mines, and even a cooperage in a former tank factory, where the employees focused on barrels rather than battles.

After those first couple days of wine reporting, the rest of our trip rolled out rather well. We got to know the top politicians and generals, often sipping brandy and shooting guns with them. We explored the well-stocked markets and sparse restaurants, learning about their herb-packed breads and salty cheeses. We befriended a number of our fixers and drivers, joining them on trips to grill up pork kebabs in the forest, checking out their illicit marijuana plants on apartment balconies, and driving fast on empty roads toward crumbling cathedrals, past raging rivers, and across stunningly beautiful landscapes.

Of course, we stuck out like sore thumbs, as the only non-Armenians we really ever saw there, save for one other couple that we dined with over cream-covered Georgian dumplings in a dark restaurant. There was a very shadowy vibe to the whole situation — a people and place existing in limbo, ever on the verge of the next war, as scars of the past war haunt the present. Despair was the dominant emotion, despite occasional flares of frivolity and fun.  

When I came back to Santa Barbara a month later, I worked on a cover story for the Independent, which we ran soon after. Seeking to expand my bylines, I reached out to a TIME Magazine editor I’d met in Belize in 2001, and he suggested calling a man named Howard Chua-Eoan.

When he answered the phone, I could hear the buzz of a Manhattan newsroom in the background, and Howard, who turned out to be the magazine’s news director, encouraged me to send him some stories. He was intrigued by the Kafkaesque nature of the unrecognized republic, so I tried a few pieces that pulled at those themes.

None of those ever ran — I really didn’t even know what kind of stories that magazine was running at that point — but Howard liked my work. For the next decade, I contributed regularly to TIME as a stringer, covering everything from trans-fat bans and offshore oil rigs to sea otters, the Michael Jackson trial, and podcasting, which I wrote about in 2004 when only a handful of podcasts existed. I was known around the TIME newsroom, I later learned, as the guy who broke podcasting.

Wondering what to do with my wine reporting, I wandered into the old Borders Bookstore on State Street, which was a couple of blocks from my Santa Barbara Street house. I went to the wine magazine aisle and saw Wine Spectator was the largest title there. I reached out with a cold-call pitch about my trip to Nagorno-Karabakh, where I’d also made sure that Jonathan took ample wine photos, as he was mostly interested in the military.

To my gleeful surprise, the magazine had never heard of the place either, and they were quite interested. They took me up on the pitch, offering $1 per word for a more than 3,000-word piece, which was a great rate then. (As a testament to the struggles of the media industry, that’s still a decent rate today, unfortunately.)

In addition to publishing “In the Mountains of Karabakh” in June 2005, Wine Spectator immediately asked for more stories, realizing I was a trained journalist with basic wine knowledge on the Central Coast, where their coverage was lacking. I contributed a handful of articles each year for about a decade, including pieces on fracking in Monterey County, turmoil over the Wine Cask ownership, the wine-paintings of Christina LoCascio (now Larner), and what I think was the first feature ever about Native American–made wines.

In 2014, thanks in large part to those bylines, Wine Enthusiast tracked me down. Though I wasn’t really interested in being a critic, they offered me that steady role and put me in charge of covering the Central Coast and Southern California. That’s become a primary source of my income, elevating wine writing from just one of the journalistic tricks I had up my sleeve to my main event.

Who knows if any of that would have happened without this crazy trip 20 years ago?

I’d been thinking about returning to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2024, which would mark the 20-year anniversary of my original visit. I watched with much concern when real war broke out there again in 2020, as Azerbaijan sought to reclaim the land for good. I didn’t entertain a return trip at that time myself — COVID was raging, for one, and my desire to report on dangerous places dwindled considerably when I became a father 14 years ago. But Jonathan was there, one of the few journalists brave enough to report from the front lines. When the smoke cleared, Azerbaijan had taken over a few critical parts of Karabakh.  

Things had cooled a bit by 2023, and I was beginning to research what a visit this year would look like when Azerbaijan attacked again in September. The blows were quick and strategic, and it became clear very quickly that — with war in Ukraine already raging, among other global disasters — no one was coming to the defense of the ethnic Armenians. Within a few days, their refugee convoys were on my computer screen, and my dream of returning to Nagorno-Karabakh was kaput.

Right around that time, though, I learned that Jason Wise, the director of the Somm documentaries and founder of SOMM TV, was preparing to release his opus, Cup of Salvation. I’d been in touch with Jason during its production, even putting him in touch with Jonathan Alpeyrie. But until I watched the film, I had no idea how much Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh were central to the Cup of Salvation story. Jonathan himself wound up offering critical on-screen insight.  

The documentary, which plays out like a thriller at times while frequently pulling on the heartstrings as well, follows Armenian winemaker Vahe Keushguerian as he decides to head into Iran, where alcohol is forbidden, and smuggle out grapes to make wine. I wrote this separate feature about how the film came to be, so check it out if you want to know how Karabakh connects to that Iranian mission. And if you want to watch it, it starts to stream today, February 23, via SOMM TV. Click here.

Meanwhile, I may return to Armenia after all in 2024. I recently spoke with a marketing firm that promotes culture and tourism in the country, and am considering a visit this fall. I’m pretty certain that I won’t be able to enter what was formerly Nagorno-Karabakh, but I’d hope to at least catch a glimpse from across the border. It would be rewarding to once again see that road where my own career gathered momentum.

An Azerbaijani soldier has gone missing, reportedly ‘crossed contact line into Armenia’

CGTN, China
Feb 28 2024


The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan reported that a serviceman had gone missing on Wednesday morning due to "bad weather."

In the meantime, the Armenian National Security Service said an armed soldier of the Azerbaijani armed forces crossed the Armenian-Azerbaijani contact line in the Tegh community of Syunik province on Wednesday morning.

According to the Azerbaijani official statement, the search for the lost soldier continues.–1rz4Yf2i3pS/p.html

“Harmony And Transparency: Building A Solid Future For The Armenian Church”

feb 28 2024

Audience with the Members of the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Cilicia of the Armenians

This morning, the Holy Father Francis received in audience the members of the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Cilicia of the Armenians.

The Pope to the bishops “In this Synod, we find ourselves faced with one of the most important responsibilities: electing the bishops who will guide our Church into the future. It is a crucial task that requires deep reflection and discernment.”

We publish below the speech of the Holy Father which was read by Monsignor Filippo Ciampanelli:

Your Beatitude,
Dear Brother Bishops

Welcome! It is a joy to welcome you to Rome and the tomb of the Apostles Peter and Paul on the feast of Saint Gregory of Narek, Doctor of the Church.

As Bishops, Successors of the Apostles, we have the responsibility of accompanying the holy People of God towards Jesus, the Lord and Friend of Mankind, our Good Shepherd. For this reason, on the day of our episcopal ordination, we committed ourselves to preserving the faith, strengthening hope and spreading the charity of Christ.

Dear Brothers, one of the great responsibilities of the Synod is precisely to give your Church the Bishops of tomorrow. I urge you to choose them carefully, so that they will be devoted to the flock, faithful to pastoral care, and not driven by personal ambition. They should not be selected on the basis of our own ideas or preferences, and great caution should be used with regard to those with “a nose for business” or those “always with a suitcase in hand”, leaving their people orphaned. A Bishop who sees his Eparchy as a stepping-stone to another more “prestigious” position forgets that he is married to the Church and risks, if I may be allowed to use the _expression_, committing “pastoral adultery”. The same thing happens when one wastes time scheming to get new jobs or promotions. Bishops are not bought in the marketplace; it is Christ who chooses them as Successors of his Apostles and Shepherds of his flock.

In a world so full of isolation and loneliness, we must ensure that those entrusted to our care feel the closeness of the Good Shepherd, our own paternal concern, the beauty of fraternity and the mercy of God. The children of your dear people need the closeness of their Bishops. I know that they are in diaspora throughout the world in great numbers and sometimes in vast territories, where it is difficult for them to be visited. Yet the Church is a loving Mother and she cannot fail to seek every possible means of reaching them and offering them God’s love in their own ecclesial tradition. It is not so much a question of structures, which are only a means of assisting the spread of the Gospel, but above all one of pastoral charity, of seeking and promoting the good with an evangelical outlook and an open spirit: here I think also of the importance of even closer cooperation with the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Dear Brothers, in this holy season of Lent we are called to contemplate the cross and to build on Christ, who heals our wounds with forgiveness and love. We are called to intercede for all, in breadth of mind and spirit. Like Saint Gregory of Narek, who prayed: Lord, “remember… those in the human race who are our enemies, but for their sakes give them forgiveness and mercy”. With remarkable prophetic foresight, he added: “Do not exterminate those who snap their jaws at me, but transform them! Banish vicious earthly conduct and plant goodness in me and in them” (Book of Lamentations, LXXXIII).

Brothers, together with the priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and all the faithful of your Church, you have a great responsibility. Saint Gregory the Illuminator brought the light of Christ to the Armenian people, who were the first, as such, to welcome that light into their history. Consequently, you are witnesses and, as it were, the “first-born” of that light, a dawn called to shine the rays of Christian prophecy in a world that often prefers the darkness of hatred, division, violence and revenge. You may well remind me that your Church is not large in numbers. Yet let us remember that God loves to work wonders with those who are small. In this sense, please do not fail to care for the little ones and the poor, by exemplifying an evangelical life far removed from the pomp of riches and the arrogance of power, by welcoming refugees and by supporting those in the diaspora as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.

I would like to share with you another thing that I see as a priority: to pray much, not least to preserve the interior perspective that enables you to work in harmony as you discern the priorities of the Gospel, those dear to the Lord. In the words of the ancient Latin adage: ‘Preserve order and order will preserve you’. Take care that your Synods are well prepared; the issues carefully studied and wisely evaluated; and that decisions, always and only aimed at the good of souls, are applied and tested with prudence, consistency and competence, ensuring, above all, full transparency, also where finances are concerned. Laws must be known and applied not out of a spirit of legalism but because they are instruments of an ecclesiology that allows even those without power to appeal to the Church with full and clearly codified rights, and not find themselves at the whim of the powerful.

A further thought I would like to confide and entrust to you has to do with the pastoral care of vocations. In our secularized world, seminarians and those being formed in the religious life need, today more than ever, to be solidly grounded in an authentic Christian life, far from any “princely pretensions”. So too, priests, especially young priests, need to feel close to their Bishops, who will foster their fraternal communion, so that they will not grow discouraged by hardships but rather grow daily in docility to the creativity of the Holy Spirit, serving the people of God with the joy born of charity, not with the unbending and insensitive attitude of bureaucrats. In all things, let us foster hope: even though the harvest is always great and the labourers few, let us count on the Lord, who works wonders in those who trust in him.

Your Beatitude, dear Brothers, how can we not finally turn our thoughts to Armenia, not only in words but above all in our prayers, particularly for all those fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh and for the many displaced families seeking refuge. So many wars, and so much suffering! The First World War was supposed to be the last; it led to the formation of the League of Nations, the “precursor” of the United Nations, in the belief that this would be sufficient to preserve the gift of peace. Yet since then, how many conflicts and massacres have we witnessed, always tragic and always pointless. So often have I pleaded: “Enough!” Let us all take up the cry for peace, so that it may touch hearts, even hearts untouched by the sufferings of the poor and lowly. And above all, let us pray. I pray for you and for Armenia; and I ask you, please, to pray for me!

I thank you for your presence and for your ministry. Before imparting my blessing, I would like to recite a prayer of Saint Nerses the Gracious. I ask you to pray it with me, in anticipation of the day when, God willing, we will be able to celebrate him at the same altar with our brothers and sisters of the Armenian Apostolic Church:

“All-merciful Lord,
have mercy on all those who believe in you;
on my beloved ones, and on those who are strangers to me;
on all those I know, and on those unknown to me;
on the living and on the dead;
even forgive my enemies, and those who hate me,
forgive the trespasses they have committed against me;
and relieve them from the malice they bear towards me,
so that they become worthy of your mercy.
Have mercy upon your creatures,
and on me, a manifold sinner” (I Confess with Faith, The 24 Prayers, XXIII).

Thank you.

Armenian Christians File Lawsuit Over ‘Fraudulent’ Land Sale in Old Jerusalem

                                                                                                             Feb 28 2024

CV NEWS FEED // The Armenian Christian community in Jerusalem is continuing the fight to regain historic land that was sold in a highly disputed sale that occurred in secret in July 2021.  

According to an AsiaNews report, Armenians in the Holy Land officially filed a lawsuit on February 18, claiming that the land in question was sold against the terms of a 400 year-old waqf fund, which established the land in trust, restricting its use for the sole benefit of the Armenian community. 

The terms of the fund prohibits sale of the land unless it benefits the Armenian community in Jerusalem and has its approval. 

The land is currently being used as a parking lot for the Wailing Wall. 

“By taking the matter to court, the Armenian community is seeking the annulment of the alleged agreement and the protection of the land, with a unity of purpose between the community, patriarchate and Diaspora Armenians,” AsiaNews stated.

The Armenian Apostolic Church is part of Oriental Orthodoxy, they broke up with the Universal church after the Council of Chalcedon (451.) There is also a small number of Armenian Catholics, who constitute one of the Catholic Eastern rites.  

As CatholicVote previously reported, the land in question concerns the Armenian Quarter in Old Jerusalem known as the “Garden of Cows.” 

The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued a statement in November, declaring that Armenians faced “existential territorial threat,” after foreign developers began construction on the historic land which was allegedly sold under its nose by its then-real estate director and former priest, Khachik Teretzian to a Jewish businessman Danny Rubenstein from Australia. 

The sale effectively leased 8 acres of land in the Armenian quarter to Rubenstein for the period of 98 years, during which Rubenstein’s company, Xana Gardens Ltd had planned to build a luxury hotel. 

“We will fight to the end to ensure that the Armenian quarter remains intact, Armenian, and for the benefit of the people,” the community said in a statement, adding: “These are precisely the principles that have united the global Armenian world—and our allies who understand the value of the unique mosaic that is the ancient city of Jerusalem—to save the Armenian Quarter.”

Mickey Mouse Funhouse to Celebrate Armenian Culture with ‘Vardavar!’ Episode

Feb 28 2024
Momen Zellmi

Mickey Mouse Funhouse, a beloved animated preschool series, is embracing cultural diversity by spotlighting Armenian traditions in its upcoming episode titled 'Vardavar!' Set to air on Disney+ on March 1, 2024, this episode represents a significant stride towards cultural representation in children's television programming, drawing inspiration from the rich traditions of Armenia's Vardavar festival.

Written by Kathleen Sarnelli Kapukchyan, the 'Vardavar!' episode seeks to introduce Armenian culture to young viewers in an engaging and educational manner. Kapukchyan, inspired by her Armenian husband and aiming to share her heritage with her son, crafts a story where Minnie Mouse faces a relatable dilemma – wearing the wrong outfit for the Vardavar celebration. This storyline not only highlights the importance of cultural awareness but also teaches valuable lessons on adaptability and inclusion.

Vardavar, a festival celebrated with water games and joyous gatherings, is at the heart of this special episode. The festival's inclusion in Mickey Mouse Funhouse is a milestone for Armenian culture's visibility in mainstream media, especially on a platform as influential as Disney+. By showcasing this vibrant tradition, the episode invites viewers to explore and appreciate the diversity of world cultures, fostering a sense of global community among its young audience.

The decision to feature Vardavar in Mickey Mouse Funhouse underscores a growing trend towards cultural inclusivity and representation in children's media. Such initiatives not only enrich the viewing experience for children from diverse backgrounds but also encourage empathy and curiosity about different cultures. As the first-ever representation of Armenian culture on Disney, this episode marks a significant step forward in the network's commitment to diversity and education through entertainment.

As we anticipate the premiere of 'Vardavar!' on Disney+, it's clear that this episode is more than just a story about Minnie Mouse's fashion dilemma. It's a celebration of cultural heritage, a bridge connecting young minds to the world's rich tapestry of traditions, and a testament to the power of storytelling in promoting understanding and inclusivity. Through such thoughtful programming, Disney continues to shape a more inclusive world for the next generation.

Berlin hosts foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan for peace talks

Feb 28 2024

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock aimed to make progress on a peace treaty between the two nations, which has stalled due to mutual distrust.

Germany aimed to advance discussions on a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan by hosting the foreign ministers of the two countries in Berlin, on Wednesday.

At a secluded government villa, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock welcomed Armenia's Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijan's Jeyhun Bayramov for what was scheduled as two days of negotiations.

The latest talks followed a meeting on Feb. 17 between German Chancellor OIaf Scholz, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. Scholz underlined Germany's willingness to help conclude peace talks, along with that of European Council President Charles Michel.

“We believe that Armenia and Azerbaijan now have an opportunity to achieve an enduring peace after years of painful conflict,” Baerbock, who visited both countries in November, said ahead of a three-way meeting. 

"What we’re seeing now are courageous steps by both countries to put the past behind and to work toward a durable peace for their people."

Armenia and Azerbaijan have a long history of land disputes. The latest clash at their border resulted in the death of at least four Armenian soldiers in mid-February.

Azerbaijan waged a lightning military campaign last year to reclaim the Karabakh region, which Armenian separatists had ruled for three decades.

The region, which was known internationally as Nagorno-Karabakh, and large swaths of surrounding territory came under full control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia at the end of a separatist war in 1994.

Azerbaijan regained parts of Karabakh and most of the surrounding territory in a six-week war in 2020 that ended with a Russian-brokered truce. In December 2022, Azerbaijan started blockading the road linking the region with Armenia, causing food and fuel shortages.

It then launched a blitz in September 2023 that routed the separatist forces in one day and forced them to lay down arms. More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled the region, leaving it nearly deserted.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have pledged to work toward signing a peace treaty, but no visible progress has been made, and tensions have continued to soar amid mutual distrust.

"Direct dialog like today and tomorrow is the best way to make further progress," Baerbock said.

The Armenians in Ethiopia(Part II)

Ethiopia Observer
Feb 28 2024

As Boris Adjemian’s narration reveals, the Arba Arba Ledjotch (Forty Children), who became the first imperial brass band, were not the first Armenian presence in the country. Armenians had already been established in the royal court for many generations preceding this period. A small Armenian community began to emerge in Ethiopia, particularly in Harar, Dire Dawa, and Addis Ababa, during the late 19th century. As subsequent passages elucidate, the initial families primarily came from the Arabkir region, now part of Turkey. Following the genocide, additional Armenian families migrated to Ethiopia from Ayntab and Cilicia, augmenting the community’s presence in the country.

One name that frequently arises is that of Sarkis Terzian (1868-1915), one of Emperor Menelik’s most renowned Armenian associates. Known as both a smuggler and a merchant, he made his fortune as an arms trader and gained fame by introducing the steamroller, aptly named ‘Sarkis babur,’ into the country. His close relationship with those in power elevated him to a revered status among the descendants of Armenian immigrants to Ethiopia, who regard him as a founding hero. Another notable figure was Dikran Ebeyan, who crafted Emperor Menilek’s crown.

Sarkis Terzian, his wife Vartouhie and their two children, Yervanet et Avedis, 1906

As Professor Richard Pankhurst detailed in his essay, “Menilek and the Utilization of Foreign Skills in Ethiopia,” Dikran, who came from Cairo, was a jeweler by trade. His interest in Ethiopia was sparked “when an Ethiopian pilgrim bound for the Holy Land had stopped in Egypt, bearing a letter from Menelik to the Armenian community, requesting them to send him a goldsmith. The Armenian is said to have made three unsuccessful attempts to reach Ethiopia by way of Massawa, but was each time stopped at the port. Eventually, however, he landed at Tajurah, and proceeded inland to Menilek’s court, where he was never short of work. He produced several crowns for the sovereign and his consort Taytu, among them the crown used in Menilek’s coronation as Emperor in 1889 and another which the Emperor presented to the cathedral of Aksum.”

In one passage of “La fanfare du néguse,” Adjemian elucidates how the Armenian figures employed at the gebbi, the imperial palace, were under the protection of the Ethiopian rulers while upholding a discreet presence. “Contemporary sources only briefly mention their existence, often portraying them solely in the context of their craft or commercial roles. But personal relationships held great significance during this period, at a time when there was not yet a formal Ethiopian government and when, in the words of historian Berhanou Abebe, the realm of “foreign affairs” was, in fact, the emperor’s interactions with foreigners. The protocol was somewhat uncodified at the court of Menelik II, allowing individuals like Dikran Ebeyan, a simple Armenian goldsmith, to mingle with the small society of European diplomats and leverage his interpersonal skills.”

(The second installment of three book description to be published over the month.)

Raisina Dialogue: Making a Case for India-Armenia Strategic Partnership

The Quint
Feb 27 2024

"Relations between India and Armenia are so close and deep, that we can be considered strategic partners," announced Narek Mkrtchyan, minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Armenia. The minister was in Delhi to attend the Raisina Dialogue – the flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics organised by the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

How this tiny country has come to occupy an important strategic space for India could be gauged by the fact that one of the first panels of this year's dialogue was devoted to India-Armenia ties.

Why should Armenia be important for India?

For one, Armenia, situated in the south Caucuses range, occupies a geopolitically strategic location, bordering Iran, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.

Gaining a foothold in the region is of long-term benefit for India. Bilateral relations would primarily be hinged on two key pillars – defence and connectivity.

Armenia-India Defence Ties

Emerging after a decades-long conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan in which it lost the contested but ethnic-Armenian populated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia is facing numerous security challenges.

The Ukraine crisis has exacerbated these concerns as Armenia's traditional defence ally Russia has been unable to fulfill some of its obligations under the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) – a Moscow-led military bloc, of which Armenia is a member (recent reports say that Armenia has suspended its membership of the CSTO).

Since at least 2020, Armenia has turned to India for its defence procurements. These include:

Four Swathi Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs) developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the indigenously manufactured Pinaka rocket launcher also developed by the DRDO.

Armenia, in a sense, has become the launchpad for India's defence exports. In fact, according to Mkrtchyan, India now accounts for 90 percent of all of Armenia's arms purchases amounting to USD 245 million.

Such export of military hardware is meant to give a boost to India's country’s defence industry and indigenous production, in keeping with the government’s 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' and 'Make in India' policies. The government has set an export target of USD 5 billion dollars of defence goods for 2025.

Defence cooperation between the two countries also envisages setting up joint manufacturing bases in Armenia, synergised by the fact that it has a large pool of specialists. At one time, it was known as the "Silicon Valley of the CIS". It can become a hub for defence exports to countries in the region and the Balkans.

Strengthening Armenian defences would also be a bulwark against the increasingly expanding military alliance of Azerbaijan-Turkey-Pakistan, all three inimical to India and the Indian position on Jammu and Kashmir.

In this regard, it behoves us to remember that Armenia has always supported India's position on Jammu and Kashmir.

Armenia's other strategic salience for India is connectivity. In earlier columns, I have dwelt on the importance of alternative routes to the Suez Canal to Europe via the Eurasian landmass. This has been further exacerbated by the Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

India has not escaped these attacks either. According to the UNCTAD, as of 26 January, the volume of trade going through the Suez Canal had fallen by 42 percent over the previous two months.

Such a trade and transport route could only pass through Armenia which has joined the Chabahar Port project and is part of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) – which connects India to the Russian Federation through Iran, Azerbaijan, and the Caspian Sea.

With Russia under increasing Western sanctions and neighbouring countries like Poland and Finland closing the border with it, the alternative for India would be to access the Black Sea ports via the INSTC connected to Armenia's North-South Transport Corridor which would run further through the territory of Georgia to access the ports of Batumi and Poti, (another geo-strategic, significant port of Anaklia is under construction).

The Armenian government has launched an ambitious project to leverage Armenia's geopolitical location tournaments into a "Crossroads of Peace".

Large tracts of the North-South Corridor running through Armenia need to be constructed and a minister pitched for Indian companies to participate in the international tenders the country would soon float.

Connectivity through Armenia to Europe would further allow India to overcome the tyranny of geography thrust on it with the 1947 partition.

There are a plethora of other avenues of cooperation with Armenia – trade, setting up manufacturing bases for Indian companies, migration corridor. Currently, Armenia hosts about 50,000 Indian workers; education, space research, science and technology, and tourism.

All this is capped by centuries-old historically cordial relations between Indians and Armenians – two of the world's most ancient people – evidence of which is scattered all across India at least. India enjoys a position in the mind-scape of the country that few other nations do. This gives India an advantage there.

Another advantage is India’s close relations with Russia, which precludes any discomfort with Indian presence there.

Given the speed with which Indo-Armenian relations have taken off after a long inertia with several high profile visits and meetings including those at the level of foreign ministers, defence ministers, and national security advisors of both countries, along with the immense potential that waits to be tapped, it would only be logical for bilateral ties to be institutionalised into a strategic partnership.

It would be immensely conducive to the balance of force in the South Caucuses and to peace in the region and beyond.

(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)


A Clash of Freedoms: Armenian Journalists Denied Access to Interview Political Prisoner Armen Ashotyan

Feb 27 2024

Imagine standing at the gates of 'Nubarashen', a name that resonates with the echoes of unresolved stories and silenced voices. Here, at this criminal-executive institution, a confrontation unfolds between the press and the pillars of justice in Armenia, a tussle not of fists but of fundamental rights. At the heart of this struggle lies Armen Ashotyan, the vice-president of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and a political prisoner, whose voice journalists sought to amplify, only to be met with denial. This is not merely a story of denied access; it's a narrative about the intricate dance of democracy, where every step and misstep counts.

On February 16, a collective of Armenian journalists found their application to interview Armen Ashotyan unceremoniously rejected. The reason provided was a puzzling one; Ashotyan had apparently exhausted his visitation rights for the month. This rationale sparked disbelief and frustration among the journalists, who argued that the law allows for at least two short visits per month, with the potential for more. This incident wasn't just about a denied request; it was perceived as a symptom of a larger malaise affecting journalistic freedom and the right to information in Armenia.

The rejection letter, steeped in bureaucratic language, cited Article 15 of the RA Law "On Keeping Arrested and Detained Persons", but failed to convince. The journalists, well-versed in the laws of their land, pointed out inconsistencies and potential biases in the decision-making process. They saw this as a direct interference from higher political echelons, including Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, aimed at stifling press freedom. This wasn't just a matter of protocol or policy; it was seen as a deliberate obstruction, a means to control the narrative and suppress dissenting voices within Armenian society.

The refusal to grant journalists access to Ashotyan raises significant questions about the balance between security, order, and the fundamental rights of freedom of _expression_ and press freedom. These events resonate beyond the walls of 'Nubarashen', touching upon the core values that underpin a democratic society. The right of prisoners to communicate with the media, unless there are compelling reasons to restrict this right, is a cornerstone of press freedom and transparency. This incident, therefore, is not an isolated grievance but a reflection of the challenges facing journalistic freedom in Armenia and possibly beyond.

In the end, the clash at 'Nubarashen' serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate equilibrium between state authority and individual freedoms. It underscores the importance of vigilance and advocacy in safeguarding the rights that enable societies to flourish. As this narrative unfolds, it serves as a testament to the enduring struggle for transparency, accountability, and the unyielding spirit of those who seek to bring light to the shadows.