Command-and-staff exercises begin in Armenia

March 23 2004

Command-and-staff exercises begin in Armenia

YEREVAN, March 23 (Itar-Tass) – Command-and-staff exercises of
Armenia’s Armed Forces are to be held throughout the republic from
March 23 to 27, Colonel Seiran Shakhsuvaryan, the Defence Minister’s
press secretary, has told Itar-Tass.

Shakhsuvaryan said the exercises are held under the supervision of
Colonel-General Mikhail Arutyunyan, chief of the Main Headquarters of
the Armed Forces and First Deputy Minister of Defence, under this
year’s programme for the combat training of the army. Technical,
logistical and medical units will be involved in the exercises, he
pointed out.

In accordance with the plan of the exercises, mobilisation reserves
will be called up on the first day for the purpose of personnel
replacement. This is one of matters that will be drilled during the
first phase of the exercises, the Defence Ministry’s press secretary

Martirosyan returns home a local hero

Los Angeles Times , CA
March 23 2004

Martirosyan returns home a local hero

Boxing: Glendale resident honored by Homenetmen Glendale Ararat
Chapter after qualifying for 2004 Summer Olympics.

By Charles Rich, News-Press

LOS ANGELES – Outside the boxing ring, he’s shy.

Flashbulbs popped inside the Baghdararian-Shahinian Hall of the
Homenetmen Glendale Ararat Chapter on Monday night to catch a glimpse
of Vanes Martirosyan, who was flanked by family members, city
councilmen and former international boxers in honor of him earning a
spot on the 2004 United States Olympic boxing team.

The 17-year-old Martirosyan, a Glendale resident, won the gold medal
in the welterweight division when he beat Haiti’s Andre Berto, 25-21,
in a four-round decision in Tijuana. The 6-foot, 152-pounder
qualified for the Olympics – which will be held in Athens – on
Thursday after he beat Adam Trumpish of Canada in a semifinal bout.

“I’m shy, but I’m going for the gold medal,” said Martirosyan, a
senior at Verdugo Hills High. “It hasn’t hit me yet that I’ll be
competing in the Olympics, and I feel like I’m living a dream.

“I’m so happy to be back home. To come back to Glendale after being
in other countries, you feel the love.”

Martirosyan, who sported a small welt under his right eye, had
several trophies and victory belts displayed on a small circular
table. He was given a plaque by the Homenetmen Chapter, commemorating
his accomplishments.

Martirosyan received plenty of advice, including some from Glendale
City Councilman Bob Yousefian.

“You’ve achieved such a high goal,” Yousefian said. “You can achieve
what you dream in this country.

“We are proud that you are Armenian, American and from Glendale.”

The support didn’t stop there.

Burbank resident Vazek Gazarian, who spent nine years on the Iran
National Team, said Martirosyan could win the gold medal.

“I’m so glad for him,” said Gazarian, who fought in the 1960 Summer
Olympics in Rome after he won a silver medal at the 1958 Asian Games
in Tokyo. “I hope he’s got a good chance.

“In any fight, you’ve got to have good luck.”

Martirosyan’s father, Norik, introduced him to boxing in 1994.
Martirosyan said he’ll be flanked by his family – in the United
States and Greece – when the Olympic boxing competition begins in

Until then, there will be many practices to prepare Martirosyan for

“You can’t be shy in the ring,” said Martirosyan, who was one of
seven U.S. boxers to qualify for the Summer Olympics. “I’m already
getting advice on using my jabs more.”

Lessons of Medi-Cal’s Diaper Debacle

Los Angeles Times , CA
March 23 2004

Lessons of Medi-Cal’s Diaper Debacle

Slow-moving agency took years to close a loophole to fraud. And still
problems persisted.

By Tim Reiterman, Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO – Fraud drains billions of dollars from California’s
$29-billion health program for the poor, experts say, but few of the
thousands of products provided by Medi-Cal have been abused as much
or for as long as adult diapers.

In the late 1980s, Medi-Cal suffered a $200-million scandal known as

In response, the Legislature ordered state health officials to adopt
strict monthly limits on the amount Medi-Cal would pay retailers to
supply diapers and other products to elderly and disabled
beneficiaries with incontinence.

But records show that Medi-Cal took more than nine years to fully put
those controls in place and to close a widely known loophole in its
computerized billing system that invited fraud.

The state’s spending on diapers for adults spiked again in the late
1990s as dishonest providers called “diaper bandits” stole tens of
millions of dollars more from the program. In some cases, Medi-Cal
was billed as much as $2,000 a month for a single patient.

The 1990s episode, state auditors found in December, amounted to a
clear failure by Medi-Cal officials to promptly correct a costly and
well-known fraud problem.

And as the state grapples with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit,
the recurring saga of out-of-control spending for an item as simple
as diapers for adults helps to illustrate why controlling spending
for healthcare remains such a challenge.

State health officials say they have worked long and hard over the
years to stamp out the fraud without unduly restricting access to
incontinence products that give patients comfort, security and skin
protection – or unduly hurting honest providers.

Medi-Cal tightened the screening of providers, imposed its first
usage limits and negotiated wholesale price levels with

Officials say they are steadily bringing down spending on
incontinence products.

But they still can’t be certain, after two major outbreaks, that they
have stemmed the thievery.

Stan Rosenstein, who oversees Medi-Cal as the state health
department’s deputy director for medical care services, said the
trouble with fraud is that dishonest providers “are always testing

“They use their computers to test our computer system,” he said.

Growing Demand

The demand for incontinence supplies has grown as the number of aged
and disabled beneficiaries has increased. Medi-Cal has paid more than
$1.4 billion for such products since mid-1986.

Even so, officials saw two dramatic rises in spending for
incontinence supplies that they attributed largely to fraud and
misuse, not to caseload growth.

Figures compiled for The Times by Medi-Cal show that reimbursements
were $13 million in 1987 and roughly tripled in each of the next two
years, exceeding $130 million in 1989.

During a crackdown on providers, spending plunged to $58 million by
1991, but then began a steady climb that accelerated to more than
$107 million in 1997 and peaked at $143 million in 1999. The Medi-Cal
system relies, to a large degree, on the honesty of healthcare
providers who submit bills for products prescribed by doctors and
supplied to patients.

To file a claim, a retailer must first obtain a billing number from
Medi-Cal. And in the late 1980s, that was easy to get. People with no
experience in the healthcare industry, and no special license, set up
shop. There was no limit on how many diapers they could bill to
Medi-Cal, as long as they appeared to have doctors’ prescriptions.
And many took advantage.

As pharmacy investigations chief for Medi-Cal, Carlo Michelotti was
one of the first to begin chasing the “diaper bandits.”

“We identified $200 million in questionable payments,” said
Michelotti, now chief executive officer of the California Pharmacists
Assn. “So I put a band of merry men together.”

>From San Diego to the San Francisco Bay Area, Michelotti’s staff
helped track down unscrupulous diaper purveyors operating out of mail
drops, a liquor store, even a used tire shop with a junkyard dog out

The first Diapergate investigations by federal and state authorities
yielded dozens of criminal convictions.

Spurred by lawmakers and the scandal, Medi-Cal in the early 1990s
established a $165 monthly limit on the cost of incontinence products
for each Medi-Cal patient, which industry sources say covers several
diapers a day plus pads or liners.

However, it was an open secret among providers that the Medi-Cal
computer system had a gaping flaw.

The computer would stop a retailer from billing over the limit, but
it would not prevent other retailers from collecting similar amounts
for the same patient.

“We complained to Medi-Cal for years about it,” said Bob Achermann,
executive director of the California Assn. of Medical Product
Suppliers. “The response was that it was a systems issue.”

Medi-Cal had identified a fix, but officials say they decided it
would put honest retailers at too much financial risk. Store
operators would have no way of knowing whether another supplier had
already used up a Medi-Cal patient’s monthly allotment and could get
stuck for the price of the diapers.

Medi-Cal did nothing to close the loophole. And by the mid-1990s, the
word was out in Los Angeles County, where experts say fraud is most
prevalent and where a disproportionate number of diapers has been

In 1997-98, there were more medical supply dealers “than 7-Elevens
and gas stations put together,” recalled Roubik Assatourian,
president of a medical products wholesaler, who agreed to cooperate
with the government and who has testified in numerous federal
prosecutions and before Congress. “It was one dealer opening and
telling his sister and cousin….

“The economy was good,” Assatourian said in an interview, “and there
was a surplus in the state budget, and the state was not really
paying attention.”

Some retailers plied beneficiaries with free groceries or gifts to
get their business. Some were swapping patient identification
information so they could bill Medi-Cal. Some had so many surplus
diapers, purchased at taxpayers’ expense, that they were unloading
them at swap meets.

The smartest operators realized that Medi-Cal had begun to inspect
invoices to see whether stores had purchased enough stock to support
their Medi-Cal billings. And that’s where Assatourian came in.

As president of Apical Corp., he provided bogus invoices to dozens of
retailers, making it appear that they had received the diapers that
they claimed to have provided to patients.

One of his customers was Khahik Simonyan, owner of Eagle Pharmacy and
a well-known member of the local Armenian community who helped
sponsor youth programs and shipped containers of diapers to aid
earthquake victims in Armenia.

Medi-Cal had paid Eagle about $1.45 million in 1997 through mid-1998,
most of it for incontinence supplies supposedly provided to about 700

Assatourian conceded that some of his invoices had inflated the
number of diapers delivered to Eagle. Other invoices falsely stated
that Eagle had received adult diapers when they instead had gotten
baby diapers, which are much in demand but are ineligible for
Medi-Cal repayment.

“Baby diapers were delivered, but adult diapers were billed,”
Assatourian testified after Simonyan was indicted in 2000 on federal
charges of stealing $627,000 from Medi-Cal.

Assatourian said he had supplied falsified invoices so he could
survive in a corrupt marketplace. “People … were opening up medical
supply stores with the full intent of committing fraud,” he said.
“These people were putting legitimate medical supply businesses out
of business.”

Simonyan was convicted, but authorities say he fled the country
before his sentencing in August 2002.

Within the ranks of Medi-Cal, internal reviews in 1999 and 2000 found
that spending on incontinence supplies was spiking by $5 million a
month, and that sometimes more than 10 different stores were billing
for diapers for the same beneficiary. Medi-Cal had a
$60-million-a-year problem on its hands.

“After I picked myself off the floor, we got together a group the
next day and started a multifaceted attack,” Rosenstein said. “It was
all bad news, and we took it on aggressively.”

Providers Eliminated

Hundreds of providers were eliminated or dropped when Medi-Cal
ordered them to reapply for eligibility. There was a moratorium on
new medical equipment providers, which continues today. Dozens of
bogus providers were prosecuted by federal and state authorities. And
Medi-Cal billings receded.

The solution to the computer loophole was described in a 2000 staff
analysis as a “simple change” costing $10,000. It essentially allowed
Medi-Cal to track the dollar amount of incontinence supplies that all
beneficiaries received, no matter how many stores they had used.

But before it was put in place, Medi-Cal officials spent three years
debating whether to try more complicated and costly options, such as
a “reservation system,” which would have allowed providers to find
out whether a beneficiary was entitled to more diapers or not.

The computer change was not completed until February 2003, a few
months after a Bureau of State Audits examination highlighted the

However, that computer change created the very difficulty that state
officials had tried to avoid.

“If I am a good provider and come in after someone over-billed, then
I would be excluded” from collecting, said Achermann, of the medical
suppliers association.

Rosenstein acknowledged the problem. “We do put providers at risk now
… to prevent fraud,” he said. “We decided that honest providers could
come back and get it approved after a denial.”

Medi-Cal officials contend that their adult diaper cost-cutting has
been highly effective. But people in the industry say businesses
still are circumventing the limits by billing the program for other
items when they reach the maximum for incontinence supplies.

They also say that some manufacturers and wholesalers are taking
shortcuts with diapers – using less of the substances that absorb
moisture – because Medi-Cal’s reimbursement rates have not changed
for years.

“The problem is that they made so many cuts that the person in
business has to look for the loopholes,” said Susan Patillo, owner of
We Care Corp. in Carpinteria, which makes skin care products and
sells diapers. “If they keep closing the loopholes, providers will
not be able to supply Medi-Cal patients.”

Medi-Cal officials say they have not received complaints from
beneficiaries about the availability of products, but that they
sometimes have encountered quality problems.

Sue Hodges, an Oakland activist who uses a wheelchair, said many
disabled people fear that providers would stop participating in the
program because they are not being paid enough.

“Take my example,” she said, “I have partial incontinence, and I use
disposable panty liners – big things … and I have a disposable pad on
my wheelchair.” Without them, she said, “I can’t leave home.”

Newsletter from, date: 15-03-2004 to 23-03-2004

[19-03-2004 ‘1915 Issues’]
————————————————- ———————
Source : `Echo’ newspaper (Azerbaijan)

Opposing the Statement by UK Ambassador Thorda Abbot-Watt

Yesterday Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia sent a diplomatic
note to UK government in view of the statement by the ambassador of
this country in Armenia, Thorda Abbot-Watt on the issue of the
so-called `Armenian Genocide’. `Novosti’ RIA reports it with reference
to MFA of Armenia press service. “Great Britain accepts that the
events of 1915 were mass killings the responsible for which are the
Turks. But, I do not think that recognizing the events as genocide
would be of much use’, Abbot-Watt declared. The statement by the
British Ambassador raised diplomatic scandal. The representatives of
Armenian public and Armenian Diaspora in USA, Great Britain, France
and other countries officially condemned the statement by
Abbot-Watt. Thus, according to Armenian Assembly of Europe, the
International Group on Recognition and Prevention of Genocides called
upon the UK Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jack Straw to reconsider
appropriateness of Thorda Abbot-Watt’s further activity as the
ambassador of this country in Armenia.

According to the authors of the letter, by denying the Armenian
Genocide the British ambassador aggravates the wound of the Armenian
people and discourages all those who have experience with the
consequences of Genocide denial. “As an international NGO we urge you
to consider the issue whether Abbot-Watt may continue its diplomatic
mission in Armenia, where half of the population are descendants of
Genocide survivors. Moreover, the fact is that she is not familiar
with the historical realities and international relations and
constantly makes incompetent and insulting statements’, the text
runs. Yerevan pro-government press also started a campaign aimed at
British ambassador’s recall from Armenia.

“Some countries recognized the Armenian Genocide, others didn’t. Each
government sticks to its own position on this issue. However, the
ambassadors of all countries on the Armenian land should approach this
emotional issue with all due care and tact”, MFA press secretary,
Hamlet Gasparian noted.

In the opinion of former foreign affairs minister of Azerbaijan, Tofik
Zulfugarov, it is one more propaganda scandal of Armenians. According
to the latter, the position stated by the British ambassador reflects
the official position of Great Britain on the given issue. The
Azerbaijani diplomat thinks it highly questionable that UK authorities
may take the initiative of recalling the ambassador. The reason is
that the International Group on Recognition and Prevention of
Genocides is an NGO, whereas the policy of official authorities runs
contrary to the view by an NGO. `In my opinion, all of this occurs in
the world because of a certain influence of stereotypes on public
opinion formation in Armenia’.

In his turn, political scientist Vafa Guluzade holds that demanding
the recall of the British ambassador, Armenia demonstrates its poor
political culture. “An ambassador is entitled to express his/her
opinion on historical events. What Armenians are speaking about is a
matter of ancient history. The world has not recognized the Armenian
Genocide’, he added.

At the same time the political scientist holds that this scandal will
in no way impact British-Armenian relations since they are factually
non-existent. “Britain and other states are not interested in
Armenia. This country lacks any national resources. It is not
Azerbaijan which is a strategically significant country located in the
Caspian region and rich in oil and gas resources’, Guluzade states.

Besides, as Guluzade notes, Armenia is not an independent state since
it is actually a part of Russia. Armenian industry and all Armenian
energy system is Russia’s property. In his opinion, the diplomatic
scandal will eventually end by the Armenians’ quieting down all the

It is not the first campaign against the ambassadors on the issue of
`Genocide’. In 2002 during his press conference Israeli ambassador to
Armenia and Georgia, Rivko Koen came forward with a protest against
identification of the Armenian `Genocide’ with Jewish Holocaust. In
response, the representatives of the Armenian Diaspora pressed the
Armenian officials to immediately expel the ambassador from the
country. Israeli authorities, ignoring the official notes of the
Armenian government, supported the position taken by their diplomat.

[18-03-2004 ‘Region’]
Source : Yerevan Press Club Weekly Newsletter
Author: Elina Poghosbekian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[16-03-2004 ‘1915 Issues’]
Source : “Hurriyet” newspaper (Turkey)

600 milliard Turkish liras will be spent for restoration of the
Mausoleum of Turkish Genocide executed by the Armenians.

`The Genocide Mausoleum’ was founded by the first mayor Igdir
Shemseddin Uzun and is the symbol of the city. The Mausoleum was
opened in 1996 by the ninth President of Turkey Suleyman Demirel and
former President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliev. The granite flags of the
Mausoleum, where a museum is located, started to crumble. Therefore
the municipality issued a decision on the start of restoration
works. 600 milliard Turkish liras will be spent for the restoration.

Yerevan Press Club of Armenia, ‘Yeni Nesil’ Journalists’ Union of
Azerbaijan and Association of Diplomacy Correspondents of Turkey
present ‘Armenia-Azerbaijan-Turkey: Journalist Initiative-2002’
Project. As a part of the project web site has
been designed, featuring the most interesting publications from the
press of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey on issues of mutual
concern. The latest updates on the site are weekly delivered to the

BAKU: EU envoy calls on Azerbaijan, Armenia to step up NK effort

EU envoy calls on Azerbaijan, Armenia to step up Karabakh settlement effort

ANS TV, Baku
22 Mar 04

The EU envoy to the South Caucasus, Heikki Talvitie, has called on
Azerbaijan and Armenia to step up efforts to resolve the Nagornyy
Karabakh conflict. In an interview with Azerbaijani ANS TV’s “Point of
View” programme, Talvitie described as “a real achievement” the
cease-fire of the past 10 years and said that the parties to the
conflict should do more. “There has been no fighting for 10 years, why
cannot we do better,” he said. The following is an excerpt from the
report by Azerbaijani TV station ANS on 22 March; subheadings inserted

[Presenter] Good evening. This is “Point of View”. Our guest today is
the EU envoy to the South Caucasus, Mr Heikki Talvitie.

[Passage omitted: Talvitie on meetings with Azerbaijani officials,
visits in Azerbaijan]

EU assists Karabakh mediators

Mr Talvitie, when you were appointed envoy to the South Caucasus, you
said that the settlement of the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict would be
the major direction in your activities. What are the main principles
of a settlement of the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict accepted by the EU?

[Heikki Talvitie, in English] I was a cochairman of the [OSCE] Minsk
Group in 1995-96. So, I know the problem. To be quite frank with you
and your people, it is between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and nobody can
impose a resolution on you. You have to settle this problem. The
international community can only help and facilitate, and that is
basically what the Minsk Group has been doing. The EU supports your
presidents and the cochairmen of the Minsk Group in their
endeavours. I have a special mandate to facilitate these processes and
to assist them and that is what I am doing.

[Passage omitted: Talvitie on Ajaria crisis]

[Presenter] Is the EU putting forward any specific proposals? In
general, what is a mechanism for building confidence? Does this imply
putting forward proposals or just talking?

[Talvitie] Well, it is the Minsk Group and not the EU which is
responsible for the negotiations. There is actually France, which is
one of the cochairmen of the Minsk Group, but also belongs to the
EU. We are aware of the importance of regional cooperation once it
starts in earnest in the South Caucasus. So, be sure that it is in the
EU’s interests to try to help this as much as possible. It very
important to the South Caucasus that the [conflicts] in South Ossetia,
Abkhazia and Ajaria are solved in a peaceful manner. The whole region
will benefit from the resolution of the Nagornyy Karabakh issue.

[Passage omitted: Talvitie may visit Karabakh]

[Presenter] Does the EU believe that Armenia has occupied Azerbaijani
lands? How do you, in general, call the area controlled by the
Armenian army?

[Talvitie] There is such definition – occupied territories – and you
know that, Nagornyy Karabakh and occupied territories.

[Passage omitted: package and step-by-step settlements for Karabakh]

Karabakh conflict not frozen

[Presenter] As a former cochairman of the Minsk Group, you are the
best expert. There is an idea that the Minsk Group was put in charge
of the settlement in order to simply freeze the process.

[Talvitie, laughs] You know, this is a very simplified answer. Because
we speak about frozen conflicts. And Nagornyy Karabakh is one of such
frozen conflicts. But it has nothing to do with the Minsk
Group. Basically, when a cease-fire was achieved, that was a real
achievement. When both parties could actually agree on a cease-fire,
why cannot they go any further? Now it seems that the cease-fire has
frozen the whole situation, and we cannot really solve the
problem. There has been no fighting for 10 years, why cannot we do

But the international community has every interest in solving this
problem. There is no reason to doubt this.

[Passage omitted: on EU-US relations]

EU guarantees religious freedom

[Presenter] The EU is often said to be a Christian club. How important
is the religious factor in the EU’s policies and could the religious
factor affect the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict settlement? Incidentally,
Armenia has always been trying to stress the religious factor in its
pro-European policy.

[Talvitie] Well, the European Union is not a religious institution.
Relations between the EU and Azerbaijan are not based on religious
beliefs. They are based on mutual political, social and cultural

[Presenter] How democratic is the decision by an EU country to ban
Muslim women from covering their heads? Is this a sign of Islamophobia
in Europe?

[Talvitie] Well, after the 11 September events, there has been a
tendency towards curbing terrorism in a way that you label different
groups. But this is not what the EU is doing. I mean, we certainly do
not want to label any religious or any other group. Terrorists are
terrorists, and that is that. Religion has nothing to do with that.

[Passage omitted: Talvitie reiterates the point and presenter’s
concluding remarks]

From The Three Armenian Church Dioceses of North America

Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada
Contact; Deacon Hagop Arslanian, Assistant to the Primate
615 Stuart Avenue, Outremont-Quebec H2V 3H2
Tel: 514-276-9479
Fax: 514-276-9960
Email: [email protected]


On behalf of the three Diocesan Councils governing our respective
Armenian Church dioceses of North America, we were deeply disappointed
by the news that the Catholicate of the Great House of Cilicia had
confirmed the election of a “prelate,” who will preside over a
hypothetical jurisdiction in Canada.

Such a jurisdiction is of course subject to the same objections as the
Cilician See’s other, non-canonical jurisdictions, located elsewhere
in North America. Indeed, we recall that the establishment of a
Cilician “prelacy” in Canada two years ago was lamented in many

This latest development has destroyed all our hopes that, through
cooperation and reasoned persuasion, a mutually satisfactory
resolution might be found for both sides. We feel disappointed and
full of sorrow.

The present historical epoch presents numerous, long-awaited
opportunities for the Armenian people, our church, and our nation.
Seizing these opportunities to advance the general welfare of all
Armenians demands from us an unselfish commitment to solidarity and

The Armenian Church, under the benevolent leadership of the
Catholicate of All Armenians at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin,
has played a pivotal role in earlier ages of national renewal.
Historically, the church has been able to call on Armenians of good
will, from all walks of life, to join together in pursuit of loftier
objectives. The key to such calls-the factor which lent them
credibility-was the spiritual integrity of the church itself,
embodiedin its institutional unity.

We regret to say that the cause of church unity has been jeopardized
by the recent action of the Cilician See-and this is truly a reason
for sorrow, on the part of the Armenian people generally.

Turkmenistan – “Shall we trust the president?” religious groups ask


The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief


Tuesday 23 March 2004

Doubts have been expressed about the genuineness of this month’s surprise
presidential lifting of harsh restrictions on registering religious
communities. But five groups – the Church of Christ, the Adventists, the
New Apostolic Church, the Catholic Church and the Baha’i faith – have since
the decree sought information about how to apply for registration, Forum 18
News Service has learnt. Other religious communities remain wary. At
present only Russian Orthodox and some Muslim communities have
registration, and these communities must now reregister. Unregistered
religious activity is – contrary to international law – a criminal offence.
The presidential decree will not affect the unregistered Baptists, who are
persecuted for refusing on principal to seek state registration. Meanwhile
the former chief mufti remains on a 22 years jail sentence, apparently for
opposing tight presidential control of the Muslim community, at least six
Jehovah’s Witnesses are in jail for refusing military service on grounds of
religious conscience.


By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Despite the hesitations of some religious communities about how genuine the
government is about the abolition of the harsh restrictions on registering
religious communities, five groups – the Church of Christ, the Adventists,
the New Apostolic Church, the Catholic Church and the Baha’i faith – have
already sought information from the authorities about how to apply for
registration, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Shirin Akhmedova, the head
of the department that registers religious communities at the Adalat
(Justice) Ministry told Forum 18 that parliament is amending the religion
law to take account of President Saparmurat Niyazov’s decree abolishing the
requirement that religious groups need 500 adult citizen members to
register (see F18News 12 March
). Many religious
communities remain wary, though.

The currently registered Russian Orthodox and Muslim communities will have
to apply again for registration. This is under new registration guidelines
brought in following the harsh new 2003 religion law, which – contrary to
international law – criminalises all unregistered religious activity (see
F18News 5 February 2004

Akhmedova reported that the Church of Christ, the Adventists, the Baha’is
and the New Apostolic Church had come to her department since the decree
was issued on 11 March for “consultations” about the registration process.
“We gave them information about what documents they need to present to
apply for registration,” she told Forum 18 from the capital Ashgabad on 23
March. She said Ashgabad’s Lutheran community had come to the ministry
earlier in the year to enquire about registration, before the president’s

Fr Andrzej Madej, head of the Catholic mission in Turkmenistan who is based
in the Vatican nunciature in Ashgabad, told Forum 18 from the city on 23
March that he had requested a meeting via the Foreign Ministry with
Yagshymyrat Atamyradov, the head of the government’s Gengeshi (Council) for
Religious Affairs, to discuss how to register a parish in Ashgabad. At
present the Catholics can only hold Masses on Vatican diplomatic territory.
Their priests also enjoy diplomatic status.

Akhmedova explained to Forum 18 that the same registration system still
operates as before the decree, except that the membership threshold has
been lifted. “It is now much simpler,” she insisted. “Registration does not
depend on numbers.” But she declined to speculate how many religious
communities she expects to register in the wake of the change. “We have no
plan on numbers. Whatever applications are lodged will be considered and
registration will be given.”

She declined to speculate on which of the faiths that are now illegal –
including the Armenian Apostolic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Adventist,
Lutheran, Hare Krishna, Jehovah’s Witness, Baha’i, Jewish or Catholic
faiths – would be likely to apply for and gain registration.

Akhmedova reported that 152 religious communities currently have
registration, 140 of them Muslim and 12 Russian Orthodox. She claimed that
“the majority” of the Muslim communities are Sunni, insisting that some are
Shia although she said she had “no information” on exact numbers of
registered Shia Muslim communities. Other sources claim that no Shia Muslim
communities (which are generally made up of the Azeri and Iranian
minorities) are registered.

The 140 registered Muslim communities are far below the estimated number of
nearly 400 Muslim communities in the country. It is possible that with the
lifting of the registration threshold, many more Muslim and Russian
Orthodox communities will apply for registration. Forum 18 was unable
immediately to reach leaders of either community to find out.

Akhmedova freely admitted that many more religious communities had
registration before 1997, when under the provisions of the harsh 1996
amendments to the religion law the majority of the country’s religious
communities lost registration. “This was because the threshold of 500
members was brought in then.”

In the late 1990s, members of a number of Christian churches tried to
register a Bible Society to promote the distribution of the Christian
scriptures within the country. Asked whether a Bible Society should apply
for registration as a social or a religious organisation she responded: “It
must apply as a religious organisation, as its activity is connected to

Akhmedova said parliament is considering the amendments to the religion law
to bring it into line with the presidential decree. “The changes for the
better have already been sent to parliament.” She said there are two
changes: the requirement for 500 members is being abolished, and a new
category of “religious group” – covering communities of less than 50
members – is being introduced in addition to the current category of
“religious organisation”, which will have a membership of over 50. “There
will be no differences between the two except the name,” she told Forum 18.
“Religious groups will have no fewer rights than religious

She was unable to say if unregistered religious activity – criminalised
when the previous amended religion law came into force last November – will
remain a criminal offence. “But there won’t be limits on registration, so
the issue won’t arise,” she declared.

Asked what would happen to groups such as the Baptists of the Council of
Churches – who refuse to register on principle in any of the former Soviet
republics where they operate – she said she did not know. Unregistered
Baptists are persecuted for their refusal to register (see F18News 26
February ), and other
Adalat Ministry officials have insisted to Forum 18 that unregistered
religious activity remains illegal (see F18News 12 March 2004

The Baha’i community appears optimistic. “Our community could not function
since 1997 as we could not gather the required number of signatures,” an
unnamed representative of the faith told Reuters on 12 March. “Now we are
thankful to the president for guaranteeing our religious freedom.”

Asked by Forum 18 if he is optimistic that the Catholics will get
registration Fr Madej responded: “Yes, I am, as this comes from a decree
from the president.” He added that he is waiting for news on changes to the
religion law. “They haven’t informed the public yet.”

However, other religious leaders did not share this optimism. One
Protestant leader who asked that his identity and location not been
published told Forum 18 that his community is waiting until the amendments
to the religion law are published before deciding whether to apply for
registration. “Only God knows if we would be successful,” he declared,
although he is inclined to be wary after years of persecution. “Everyone is
waiting for the change in the law.”

“I know that the Baptists of the Council of Churches in the town of
Nebit-Dag have suffered fines and a ban on their meetings as they insist on
always meeting in the same place,” he added. He said his communities tried
to avoid punishment by constantly changing the places where they meet for

Another Christian leader stressed to Forum 18 that caution was required
about the changes to the registration requirement, insisting that only when
religious communities have already registered and can function freely will
it be safe to believe that the government has changed its policy. “We
should not count chickens before they are hatched.”

Also sceptical of the government’s goodwill is the Turkmenistan Helsinki
Initiative, a human rights group now based in exile. “We do not believe in
the seriousness of the intentions of the Turkmen authorities to achieve
religious freedom in the country,” it declared on 21 March. “Still in force
is the far-from-democratic law on freedom of conscience and religious
organisations, which has been criticised by many international human rights
organisations.” It believes that until the law is changed, no religious
community will risk applying for registration.

It cited the harassment of the Hare Krishna community in the 1990s, as well
as the difficulties faced this year by Jehovah’s Witnesses. On 9 March, two
women from Yolatan in Mary region had been leaving Ashgabad airport to fly
to Kiev for a Jehovah’s Witness congress when they were stopped by border
guards, who told them – after consulting the black list of citizens who
cannot leave the country – that they could not join the flight. They were
told to apply to the Border Directorate of the city of Ashgabad if they
wanted further explanation.

One of the women told the Turkmenistan Helsinki Initiative that earlier
when they had applied for exit visas from the foreign ministry with
official Jehovah’s Witness invitations, they had been refused more than
once, attributing this to their faith.

The group also reported that police raided a Jehovah’s Witness meeting in a
private home in Ashgabad on 13 March, “literally the day after the
president’s decree came into force”. Police accused those present of
conducting an illegal meeting for which they could be punished and more
than 20 were forcibly taken to the local police station. There they were
interrogated by two men in civilian clothes who showed them identification
as National Security Ministry officers. Ordering them to halt such “illegal
meetings”, the officers warned them that if they meet in future they will
be charged under the criminal code for “inciting inter-religious and
inter-ethnic hatred”. They were then freed after their personal details
were recorded. The Turkmenistan Helsinki Committee reported that most of
those detained were women and children.

It remains unclear why President Niyazov – who rules Turkmenistan
autocratically, allowing little scope for dissent – made the concession
over registration of religious organisations. His decree came at the same
time as a decree easing exit procedures and as 78-year-old writer Rahim
Esenov was among a number of people released from prison, although charges
remain. Niyazov has been under great pressure to improve the human rights
situation, especially with the current United Nations Human Rights
Commission in Geneva paying great attention to the abuses in the country.

In his most recent report (E/CN.4/2004/63), the United Nations Special
Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Professor Abdelfattah Amor,
noted that his request to visit Turkmenistan in June 2003 to assess the
situation on the ground did not even bring a response from the Turkmen
government. (Requests by other UN rapporteurs to visit equally evinced no
response.) Amor’s numerous enquiries for further information about reports
of violations of the rights of religious believers likewise went

Esenov was detained by the National Security Ministry earlier this year
partly for collaborating with Radio Free Europe and partly in retaliation
for publishing in Moscow his novel “The Crowned Wanderer”, about the
historic figure Bayram Khan. Niyazov had publicly criticised the novel in
February 1997 for “historic errors” he alleged it contains. Another exiled
human rights group, the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, reported on 27
February that during interrogation, national security officers repeatedly
asked Esenov why he had made the hero of his novel a Shia rather than a
Sunni Muslim as the president had required. He still faces charges of
inciting social, religious and ethnic hatred under Article 177 of the
criminal code.

Forum 18 has been unable to reach Esenov by telephone since his release on
9 or 10 March. An automatic response says his number cannot be reached at
the moment.

Meanwhile, the former chief mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah remains in prison
after being sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment on 2 March (see F18News 8
March 2004 ). This jail
term is apparently for his opposition to tight presidential control over
the Muslim community and reportedly obstructing the use in mosques of the
president’s book of his moral code, the Ruhnama (Book of the Soul). Imams
are forced to display this book prominently in mosques and quote
approvingly from it in sermons, as are Russian Orthodox priests in their

Also, at least six young Jehovah’s Witness men are serving prison
sentences, mostly for refusing military service on grounds of religious
conscience (see F18News 9 February 2004
). The Turkmenistan
Helsinki Initiative reported on 16 February that the city court in the
northern city of Dashoguz sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Rinat Babadjanov to a
term of several years in prison for refusing military service.
“Babadjanov’s relatives were not even informed where he would be detained,”
the group noted.

It also reported on a court case in one major town (which it did not
identify) against the local Jehovah’s Witness leader brought at the
instigation of the general procuracy. “Since the woman cannot be charged
with serious offences, she is accused of bringing up her children in a
spirit of worshipping Jehovah God,” the group declared.

For more background see Forum 18’s report on the new religion law at

and Forum 18’s latest religious freedom survey at

A printer-friendly map of Turkmenistan is available at

© Forum 18 News Service. All rights reserved.

You may reproduce or quote this article provided that credit is given to

Past and current Forum 18 information can be found at

If you need to contact F18News, please email us at:
[email protected]

Forum 18
Postboks 6663
N-0502 Oslo

EU envoy arrives in Armenia

EU envoy arrives in Armenia

Public Television of Armenia, Yerevan
23 Mar 04

The special representative of the EU for the South Caucasus, Heikki
Talvitie, arrived in Armenia from Baku today. He announced in the
Azerbaijani capital that the negotiations on the settlement of the
Karabakh problem reached the decisive stage and the EU could help the
mediators in that.

The Finnish MP said that the negotiations should be stepped and an
atmosphere of mutual trust should be created. Talvitie said also that
he does not intend to visit to Nagornyy Karabakh now.

EU envoy meets Armenian foreign minister

EU envoy meets Armenian foreign minister

Public Television of Armenia, Yerevan
23 Mar 04

The special representative of the EU for the South Caucasus, Heikki
Talvitie is holding negotiations with the Armenian leadership. The
Finnish envoy met Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan two hours
ago. According to official sources, they discussed the current
situation and prospects for the settlement of the Karabakh
problem. The EU has recently stepped up its activities aimed at
solving the conflict.

The organization is trying to help the OSCE Minsk Group mediators
speed up the settlement process.

The sides also discussed the “Wide Europe: New neighbours” programme.

EU envoy, Armenian MPs discuss constitutional reforms, ties

EU envoy, Armenian MPs discuss constitutional reforms, ties

Mediamax news agency
23 Mar 04


The special representative of the EU for the South Caucasus, Heikki
Talvitie, held meetings in the Armenian National Assembly today.

Talvitie said that the meetings in parliament paid special attention
to constitutional reforms and changes to several key laws, Mediamax
news agency’s parliamentary correspondent has reported.

In addition, Talvitie discussed with Armenian MPs the prospects for
engaging the South Caucasus countries in the programme “Expanded
Europe: New Neighbours”. Talvitie said that the European commission
will take its final decision in this regard in May-June 2004.