A Message from 1878

As the Armenian town of Kessab in Syria is under siege, its Armenian population has been completely evacuated, with many Armenians hiding in churches. CivilNet reports that the church is sending a delegation to Latakia to see what help the escapees need.

Raffi (Hakob Melik Hakobian)

Given the circumstances, I thought the passage below was appropriate. It was written in 1878 by Raffi (Hakob Melik Hakobian) in his book, Jalaleddin. 1878. Sixteen years before the Hamidian massacres and 27 years before the Armenian Genocide.

“O fathers! O forefathers! I drink this cup, but not to you. If instead of all these monasteries that you filled our homeland with you had built fortresses; if instead of exhausting our wealth on the purchase of holy crosses and sacred vessels you had bought weapons; if instead of filling our churches with clouds of sweet smelling incense you had burned gunpowder, our homeland would already be free and the Kurds wouldn’t be here raiding our villages, killing our children, ravaging our women…Our country’s destruction began here in these monasteries, for it was in them that our courage and daring were extinguished. Since the moment Drtad exchanged his sword and crown for the cross and disappeared into Maniah cave to practice asceticism, these monasteries committed us to slavery…O ancient gods of the Armenians! O Anahit! O Vahakn and Haik! It’s to your sacred memory that I drink from this cup. You, come and save us!”

Also relevant is Khrimyan Hayrig’s Iron Ladle speech the same year.

Updated: Armenia Admits More Syrian Refugees Than France, Italy, the UK, Spain, and Germany Combined

refugee-solidaritc3a4tsdemo_-_refugees_are_human_beings.jpg

UPDATED: 13 December 2013, 21:30

According to numbers in a report by Amnesty International and an article in The Economist magazine, Armenia has taken in nearly as many Syrian refugees as the European Union and more than France, Italy, the UK, Spain, and Germany combined.

The scathing Amnesty International report takes Europe to task for utterly failing to help during the worst refugee crisis “since Rwanda” and calling their response “pitiful.” The European Union (area: 4.38 million km²), according to the report, has admitted about 12,000 refugees from Syria. The bulk of them, 10,000, have gone to Germany.

The report cites the following figures:

  • Only 10 EU member states offered resettlement or humanitarian admission places to refugees from Syria.
  • Germany is by far the most generous – pledging to take 10,000 refugees or 80 per cent of total EU pledges.
  • Excluding Germany, the remaining 27 EU member states have offered to take a mere 2,340 refugees from Syria.
  • France offered just 500 places or 0.02 per cent of the total number of people who have fled Syria.
  • Spain agreed to take just 30 or 0.001 per cent of refugees from Syria.
  • Eighteen EU member states – including the UK and Italy – offered no places at all.

Armenia (area: 41,000 km²) has taken in approximately 11,000 refugees from Syria according to an Economist article.

The burning question: could it be that Armenia has more money to deal with this humanitarian crisis than the European Union? The staggering results surprised us and they might surprise you.

Armenia GDP: $19.649 billion

EU GDP: $16.214 trillion

Europe not only has a higher GDP; its GDP is higher by approximately 16.02 trillion dollars. That comes out to the EU grossing twice as much domestic product than Armenia every doggone day. 

So, Armenia, which has 0.93% of the EU’s landmass, 0.12% of Europe’s GDP, has taken in more Syrian refugees than Germany and almost as many as the entire European Union.

I'm shocked - Fry

I can’t believe that Europe, the giver of democracy, civilization, and Christianity to places like the whole world outside  of Western Europe could suddenly turn its back on a problem that it probably had a big hand in creating. That’s never happened before.

Europe, you’re a loser.

Armenia, you rock.

By: William Bairamian

Note: In the original post, I wrote that there were 10,000 Syrian refugees in Armenia according to The Economist article. In fact, according to the article, there are 11,000 refugees from Syria who have found safe haven in Armenia. The number of refugees admitted by the European Union according to Amnesty International, 12,000, was recorded correctly here. Thanks for the correction, buddy. 

Two Things I Love

The Armenia Tree Project and Sose and Allen’s Legacy Foundation have teamed up to plant a forest in memory of Sose and Allen in Armenia.

Each “Like” on the Armenia Tree Project’s Facebook page plants 5 trees. It really doesn’t get easier than that. If you have already “Liked” it, please repost so that others may do so, as well.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnkkKJ-nGKc&w=560&h=315]

Sose and Allen were exemplary individuals and I encourage you to read their story.

Build a forest. Keep their memory alive. Do good.

Sose and Allen Forest ATP

LINKS

Armenia Tree Project

Facebook

Twitter

Website

Sose and Allen’s Legacy Foundation

Facebook

Twitter

Website

Hetq Editor Calls Diasporans “Rascals with Fat Bellies”

Hrant Gadarigian, the English-language editor for Hetq, posted a note on Facebook earlier today that read, “The Armenian communities of the Diaspora are dominated by shopkeepers, pseudo-intellectuals, and clergymen. A miscellaneous crew of rascals with fat bellies and swollen egos.”

The full text is in the image below.

Hrant Gadarigian - Diasporans shopkeepers

The post was subsequently deleted.

Hetq About Us Page - HG highlight crop
Hetq.am About Us page

Hey, good non-pseudo-intellectual take on Diasporan Armenians!

I forgot to mention that Gadarigian himself is an ex-Diasporan. But, like many who have moved to Armenia, is all too ready to disparage the Diaspora when the opportunity arises.

If an editor at Hetq is writing something like this publicly, might it be safe to assume that there are others who feel similarly but who aren’t as brash as Gadarigian? Might we assume that Gadarigian’s mentality has influenced his work or those who have come in contact with it?

Hetq logo.
Hetq logo.

Fortunately, Gadarigian seems to represents the remnants of a fading need – nagging urge even – to blindly undercut fellow Armenians. Unfortunately, he has a soapbox in Hetq where he is able to publish content skewed by his vision. Indeed, his mentality is echoed by some much younger than him who are anxious to continue such libelous rhetoric instead of being builders and leaders. Then there are those – and I like to believe they are more numerous – who reject the poisonous and corrosive mentality put on display by him.

Thus, Armenian youth, behold this example set for you by a member of a generation past. Know that you must be better and know that when you are, so too is your nation.

By: William Bairamian

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

Anti-Putin Protests: What’s The Point?

Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, visited Armenia on December 2, 2013. His visit inspired a rancorous response in some circles.

Below is a translation (mine) of a status posted on Facebook by Sedrak Mkrtchyan in response to a photograph of a nightgown hanging from a highway overpass. The nightgown symbolized the outrage over Russian treatment of Artsakh war veteran Hrachya Harutyunyan who was dressed in a woman’s nightgown to appear in court after being involved in a vehicular accident where several people died in Russia.

The succinct text below by Mkrtchyan lends a perspective to the protests that seems to be absent from the discourse about Armenia’s closeness to Russia. It might be surmised but I’ll state clearly that I agree with the ideas presented here.

Whatever is found in brackets are either my notes or my elucidations of something implied in the Armenian-language text from which this is translated. 

Mkrtchyan is a journalist from Armenia.

Credit: emedia.am
Credit: emedia.am

By: Sedrak Mkrtchyan

[twitter-follow screen_name=’517design’]

What’s the objective? What’s the point? I don’t understand…

Taking into consideration those who do not want Armenia to associate with Russia, let me propose the following scenario:

1) Russia announces that it is against Armenia’s membership in the Customs Union and the path toward association with the European Union is open,

2) Russia removes its armed forces from Armenia,

3) Armenia is forced to defend its borders with Turkey and Iran with solely its own armed forces, necessitating an increase in the size of the military by at least 30%, which is impossible for Armenia to do because of a lack of resources,

4) The price of natural gas rises,

5) The price of purchasing guns and artillery from Russia rises,

6) In the case of war started by Azerbaijan, there is no help from Russia nor from the Collective Treaty Security Organization (CSTO). The number of people and amount of land lost in Artsakh and Armenia in the ensuing meat grinder is anyone’s guess,

7) A potential Turkish military expansion, the extent of which is impossible to predict.

How might the European Union help with all of this [if Armenia “chose” Europe at the expense of Russia]?

1) Military assistance by the EU is excluded. They have one little problem with Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus and they are unable to do anything about getting it back for an official member of the European Union [Cyprus],

2) Any member country of NATO is excluded [from helping Armenia] so long as Turkey, Europe’s largest and strongest armed forces, has shared interests with Azerbaijan [note: Turkey indeed has the largest military in Europe but the strongest is likely the United Kingdom]; they could swallow Armenia up and not pay it a second thought,

3) Exports to the EU increase, some business grow, some businesses are enriched. Armenia’s long-term economic situation is improved.

It’s being curiously presented these days that if Armenia signs the EU Association Agreement, people in Armenia will become beautiful, tall, and their hair color will get a little lighter; fashionistas from the pages of monthly magazines will be walking on Armenia’s streets, red double-decker buses will be making the rounds, and the names of all cities and villages might see the addition of the word “New” before them.

I cannot stand Russians – and the more I immerse myself in the study of history, the more that is the case. But before hanging a nightgown [in protest], it’s imperative to look at the issue a bit more [deeply], beyond the most basic level.

[end text by Mkrtchyan]

We might benefit from Mr. Mkrtchyan’s advice to think more deeply about this issue. Other issues even. Who knows, it might even help with freeing Armenia from Russia’s yoke.

Sanctions Proposed Against Armenia

That’s right. Sanctions – remedial punishment for perceived wrongdoing – against Armenia. Except it’s not another country proposing them: it’s Armenians. There is a not-so-impromptu effort to get people to stop donating to the All-Armenian Fund during its annual Thanksgiving Day Telethon, money from which will go to development projects in Armenia

As with most sanctions, they will affect not the governors that are ostensibly the source of contempt but regular people.

Behold a pernicious effort to divide a unifying force among Armenians that’s unfolding in our midst. At first it looks disjointed but it’s more coordinated than it seems.

Deftly timed to be released ahead of the All-Armenian Fund (called Armenia Fund in the U.S.) Annual Telethon which raises money for different projects throughout Armenia, the Policy Forum of Armenia released a report about its views on corruption in Armenia.

Ara Manoogian, a member of PFA and the creator of The Truth Must Be Told, has had a personal crusade, now at least a few years old, to assail the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund and has urged people to not donate to the organization that completes humanitarian and strategic projects in Armenia.

Ara Manoogian - Fellow at the Policy Forum of Armenia
Ara Manoogian – Fellow at the Policy Forum of Armenia

It just so happens that the PFA promotes Manoogian on its facebook page and Manoogian uses the PFA report to dissuade people from donating. 

PFA facebook page
PFA facebook page
Manoogian on his local TV show (video below)
Manoogian on his local TV show (video below)

First, I’d like to note for the record that I’m not a big proponent of blindly donating money to Armenia. I think there are lots of other ways Armenians can and should help the homeland.

That said, I certainly recognize the immensely large impact the All-Armenian Fund has had on Armenia but, more than any other, its linking of the Republic of Armenia to the Republic of Artsakh and the development of the North-South Highway.

Second, I love criticism and critique. They are the exercises that allow our minds to expand, that require us to prove to ourselves the truths in which we believe, or change those beliefs altogether. That’s why I take such a dim view of what I’m going to discuss (and have before in this blog): poor, unsubstantiated criticism is not only worthless, it gives criticism a bad name.

If you’re going to tell me the “truth” because it “must be told,” you damn well better be able to prove it. 

Here are the most common arguments I’ve seen for not donating to the All-Armenian Fund:

1) Don’t Donate Because Armenia’s Government Is Corrupt.

PFA Armenia Fund 1-redacted

So, forget that the PFA doesn’t bother explaining how the government embezzles “more in a year than your combined donations,” they’re telling you to not donate to the All-Armenian Fund because of it.

That is, “government embezzles money -> don’t donate to the All-Armenian Fund.” Wait, what? Is that a logical leap or am I living in a different universe?

Oh, and if you want to know to whom you should donate, according to the last comment made by the PFA there, figure it out for yourself. This is called un-constructive criticism. Mostly because you’re not constructing anything to replace the destruction you’re attempting to wreak. 

2) Don’t Donate Because All-Armenian Fund Is Corrupt, Too.

Ohhhhhhhhh.

PFA Armenia Fund 3-redacted

So it’s not just the Armenian government, Diaspora individuals, Diaspora organizations, but the All-Armenian Fund is also corrupt. Got it. So, I’m guessing the only non-corrupt thing in the Armenian world is the Policy Forum of Armenia…and Ara Manoogian.

Protesting election of Serzh Sargsyan in front of US Rep. Adam Schiff's office. Ya, I don't know either.
Incorruptly protesting election of Serzh Sargsyan in front of US Rep. Adam Schiff’s office in Burbank, CA. Ya, I don’t know either.

And since the evidence for all this corruption is in plain sight, I guess they’re right. Except, no.

Well, there is this video where expert opinions are presented as evidence:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUA5XFXkC1A&w=560&h=315]

I didn’t know there were so many well-informed people ready to comment on Armenia’s economic situation at the Americana in Glendale, whose motto has recently been changed to, “Where you can shop till you drop and interview scholars on Armenia all in the same afternoon!”

I’ve also tried visiting TheTruthMustBeTold.com which is the website where the To Donate or Not To Donate? white paper by Ara Manoogian is contained. Unfortunately my computer won’t let me visit the site because my anti-virus detects a virus deemed a severe threat. Nevertheless, I found the white paper that Manoogian publicizes every chance he gets.

If anyone can extract something from that that actually proves endemic corruption in the All-Armenian Fund, please let it be known.

I’m open to being wrong and if someone can show me that there is proof of corruption in this video which is being circulated, tell me.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4KGbMbHwec&w=560&h=315]

3) Don’t Donate to All-Armenian Fund Because…Well, Just Because! Ufffff.

“And don’t ask me why because I’m so annoyed!”

Lara Aharonian, the founder of the Women’s Resource Center in Armenia, is also not a fan of donating to the All-Armenian Fund.

i.e. "It's so bad, I'm not going to bother proving it to you."
i.e. “It’s so bad, I’m not going to bother proving it to you.”

The WRC has an office in Shushi and I’m not sure how they would drive there from Yerevan if it wasn’t for the road built by the All-Armenian Fund (see below).

It also receives money from Counterpart International, an organization which receives funding from the U.S. government. But it’s really unclear what the WRC is using their money on. Actually, there is no publicly available report of how the funds at the WRC are spent. Is it unreasonable for taxpaying Armenian-Americans to ask how their money is being spent? 

More Ara Manoogian. Start, if you can bear it, at 33:18 and observe what “truth must be told.” If you want to skip ahead, take a look at 49:37.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/_AAH_-eND-U?t=33m18s]

If the All-Armenian Fund provides an annual report and audits of its work by an internationally reputed accounting organization because it wants to show that the money of donors is being spent for the uses for which it is intended, let’s require the same of Armenian organizations that are receiving money from the U.S. government.

In case you’re interested:

2012 All-Armenian Fund Annual Report

All-Armenian Fund Physical Audit Report performed by Grant Thornton

It’s rather audacious, and arrogant, for one to expect the assumption of good intentions about themselves while suspecting others of wrongdoing.

glass house - architecturaldigest.com

If the argument is that there is graft and that’s why people shouldn’t donate, could the same logic be applied to not paying taxes because there is terrific waste in government spending? Or perhaps we shouldn’t donate when natural disasters happen, as they so often do, because all the money doesn’t get to where it’s intended. Or maybe we shouldn’t donate at all. Is it really possible to be totally sure your money isn’t being used for something other than what you intended?

Actually, it almost certainly is. But that’s why you’re donating and not running the organization to which you’re donating in the first place. You entrust the people who are in charge to complete the task they’ve said they’re going to complete. You’re not supposed to manage

And you know what? Even part of the money being donated to the All-Armenian Fund is disappearing (of which there is no hard evidence, mind you – pesky thing that evidence), so be it. You know why? This is why:

Built by the All-Armenian Fund.
Built by the All-Armenian Fund
Built by the All-Armenian Fund
Built by the All-Armenian Fund

In my trade, highways are called “supply routes.” That is, if you need to get supplies, for example, to soldiers, that’s what you use. Without them, all the weapons that you have stored in various facilities throughout the land are worth squat.

Put more simply:

When this happens

explosion - flickr.com

And you have this

no road - flickr

Your

Armenia tank - 1280px-T-72B_-TankBiathlon2013-30 -

Might end up like

NoRoad0 - sperone.free.fr

Ջոկի՞ք:

Now, it’s one thing that to be annoyed at moronic attempts to get people to not donate to an organization that’s verifiably doing work, and good work at that. It’s quite another when someone suggests that that organization (the All-Armenian Fund) is doing wrong or shouldn’t be doing the work at all when that work is protecting Armenians from very real enemies.

If you don’t want to donate, don’t donate. But don’t lie to people when you can’t come up with a good reason for them to support you.

I’m going to donate $50, a paltry amount about which I am ashamed. If you’re able to donate more to make up for the boycott this year, you can follow the link here. If not, at least do Armenia this solid and don’t go around trying to convince others not to help.

I bid you a very Happy Thanksgiving and I’ll leave you with a final thought by the estimable Armenian hero, Garegin Njdeh, posted on the very cool blog People of Ar:

flyer 1.FH11

Corruption in Armenia: Not What You Think

The Policy Forum of Armenia has released its third “State of the Nation” report, this one entitled “Corruption in Armenia.” It is described on the PFA website thus: “New Report Deconstructs Corruption in Armenia and Sounds the Alarm for Political Reform.”

PFA Corruption Report

Sound an alarm it does. In line with its previous reports, the first on Diaspora-Armenia relations and the second on Armenia’s environment, it goes on to list the litany of issues while predicting dire consequences for Armenia if the country does not heed its words.

If the PFA’s goal were to establish that corruption exists in Armenia, as it does pretty much everywhere, it didn’t need to write a whole report on it. But it tries to do much more than that: it attempts to show that corruption is so widespread that it is severely hindering the development of Armenia.

Except it doesn’t bother with some major details and seems to care more for showing that it can put together a finely designed report with lots of references to economic jargon and carefully chosen information.

The problem with this report can be summed up succinctly: if you’re going to make a case for something, particularly an academic one, be honest.

Below are a few points about why I think the PFA is being dishonest in its “Corruption in Armenia.”

1) Laziness or Irresponsibility?

Although it’s second-nature for most people to assume that Armenia is drowning in a sea of corruption, that should not excuse the PFA from establishing, with evidence, the issue that they are addressing. They don’t.

Activists concerned with climate change can’t just take climate change as a foregone conclusion before they start pressuring governments to place restrictions on pollution; anybody calling attention to an issue they believe is a concern in Armenia should be required to assume the same burden of proof.

The PFA, conversely, tries to establish corruption as a fact in referencing studies that are not its own and by saying that it doesn’t want to “duplicate” those by doing its own analysis. I discuss why this is a problem in forthcoming points.

They excuse themselves from the task by saying that “without the political will to investigate cases and judicial systems to prosecute them, it is even more difficult to provide concrete quantifiable examples and clear evidence…” As in, it’s not their fault they can’t sufficiently prove corruption exists through their own study.

That’s all fine and good but you can’t address a problem by prefacing it with, “there is this problem which we can’t prove really prove exists and it’s not our fault that we can’t. But we’re going to use other sources – which is another reason why we’re not doing much analysis – that prove that it exists because these sources were apparently not precluded from conducting the studies we wouldn’t be able to do sufficiently.”

So, which is it? That corruption couldn’t be measured sufficiently or that the PFA just didn’t want to measure it because others supposedly had?

2) Perception vs. Reality

If you’re walking all by your lonesome in the desert, you might perceive that there is an oasis where you will be able to replenish yourself. The reality might be that there is no oasis and that your perception was just a mirage. We know the human mind plays tricks like this. Indeed, among the youth, this has been popularized by the meme “Scumbag Brain”:

scumbag brain

So it’s important to know that oftentimes when you hear about “corruption” in a country, like when Transparency International reports about it, it’s not actual recorded corruption but a perception of corruption.

This is significant because public perception can be affected by many factors, for example, a report on corruption that doesn’t provide much evidence of corruption. So is it conceivable that if you keep telling people there is a problem with something that they might start believing that there is a serious problem with something?

To elucidate the point, I’ll refer to the 2010 Armenia Corruption Survey of Households (sponsored by USAID) which is used in the PFA report, where the following is written:

“According to a majority (82%) of survey respondents in 2010, corruption is a serious problem in the country.”

That might be what you call perception. The following is what you might call reality:

Although the healthcare system is perceived to be the most corrupt institution, only 22% of those respondents who had a contact with the healthcare system said that they were asked for a bribe…People were rarely asked to pay bribes during contact with public utilities and communications institutions; only 1% of those who dealt with them mentioned that they made some unofficial payments. Only 10% of those who had contacts with the education and social security systems were asked for a bribe over the past year.

The respondents were asked also to describe the main scenarios of corruption cases in the public sector based on their personal experiences. In 2010, 22% of the respondents stated that in all cases, officials mostly do not directly demand a bribe. Rather, they show that they have expectations of money, some gift or favors. Another 14% say that in all cases, officials directly demand money, a gift or a favor. About 9% mentioned that in all cases they used their own contacts to get privileged treatment. Nevertheless, the majority of respondents mentioned that they rarely or never experienced bribe giving with public officials.

(The cat’s words not mine.)

So one of the same reports that the PFA uses to prove that there is corruption in Armenia actually says people haven’t really experienced corruption in Armenia? Then how do you write a whole report on it?

3) Straw Man

After doing a rotten job of establishing that there is rampant corruption, the PFA expounds on the effects of such corruption later in the report. This is called a straw man argument: attacking an issue which isn’t an issue but which was created solely to be attacked.

I know the people in the PFA are really smart but it would be great if they didn’t insult the intelligence of us common folk.

Look at how feeble this straw man looks.

In releasing the report, the PFA said:

The report is intended to spur a debate on the issue of high-level corruption in Armenia and serve as a warning for corrupt officials that civil society organizations are ready to help identify and recover stolen assets—irrespective of their location—and return them to their rightful owners.

It would have been a great help if the space in the report or the effort expended to produce it were directed toward elucidating the assets stolen and high-level corruption that are so prevalent that they necessitated a report discussing their impact and resolution.

4) Old and Selectively-Used Data

So say we don’t have to prove corruption is rampant in Armenia because, well, why would you have to do that if everyone believes it, right?

"Why couldn't people just take my word for it?"
“Why couldn’t people just take my word for it?”

Even with that, I’m going to make the extreme proposition that the most current information available and the progression of that information over several years be used to give an accurate picture of the issue we’re considering.

As mentioned above, the PFA Report doesn’t use its own studies to establish that there is a corruption problem in Armenia; rather, it uses other reports. Unfortunately, from these reports, it uses both outdated information and it does so selectively, at that.

None of the reports the PFA uses in its 2013 “Corruption in Armenia” was conducted after 2011, making the newest one at least two years old. This despite there being more current information available.

If the argument goes that Armenia should have done much more in 20 years since its independence, an extremely short time in history, then we can also grant that two years is a significant length of time during which changes may take place. So would it not have been the responsible thing to do to use the most current reports? Reports that might show an improvement? I’m sure PFA would agree that every year counts.

Here is a sampling of information selectively used or omitted by the PFA report:

Global Integrity Index

The Global Integrity Index, which the PFA cites, notes that Armenia was one of the most improved countries, second only to Liberia, in addressing corruption from 2009 to 2011 (a two year difference). The PFA does not note this in its report.

If you want to see how the Global Integrity Index measures corruption, you can read further here https://www.globalintegrity.org/global/report-2011/armenia/.

World Bank 

In the most recent rankings available, the 2012 World Bank aggregator of corruption perception around the world, Armenia is ranked in the same percentile range of the following pitiful countries with destitute economies: India, China, Argentina, Mexico.

Excluding the Baltic states, Armenia (37th percentile), Belarus (37th), and Moldova (33rd) come in only behind Georgia (64th) among former Soviet countries according to the World Bank rankings – all the others are ranked in the 0-25th percentile.

World Economic Forum

Along with the World Bank, the World Economic Forum noted a 10 percentile improvement in Armenia’s corruption perception between 2010 to 2012.

The WEF also indicates, in its Global Competitiveness Survey, indicated that between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, Armenia gained 10 places in being globally competitive for business. In the 2013-2014 report, it showed that Armenia gained another three places (read: improvement).

Remember that in 2010, in the USAID-sponsored report cited above and also used in the PFA report: “Nevertheless, the majority of respondents mentioned that they rarely or never experienced bribe giving with public officials.”

Two years later, major international institutions noted marked improvements in Armenia’s corruption perception.

I can’t speak to the motivation of the PFA and why it was so irresponsible in writing this report, although it’s not the first time. But besides feeding the despondence which is prevalent in the same reports that it uses to prove its case, the PFA report seems to have little else use.

But I’ll give credit where credit is due: the graphic designer should be commended for making a really beautiful looking report. It’s just that that thing about judging books and whatever by their covers is one of the few things that stuck with me from elementary school.

I’d like to note, in the likely event that I’m accused, that I do indeed believe there is corruption in Armenia. What’s more, I  believe that corruption should be vehemently quashed. Nevertheless, I want to have an honest discussion about it, with facts. Not selective and anecdotal cases presented as fact and then generalized.

Armenia should be the least corrupt country in the world and given some of the information discussed here, it seems that it can be. But I’m not willing to accept discussions of perceived corruption in Armenia based on false premises that are having a real effect on the psychological well-being of people in the country. If you’re not willing to be responsible in the information that you disseminate, and I’m looking at you PFA, just stop. You’re not doing anyone any favors, least of all Armenia.

If you believe in critical thinking, do it.

Links:

Aggregate information compiled by the World Bank and used in the PFA report

PFA Report: Corruption in Armenia

By: William Bairamian

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

Who Is Shant Harutiunian?

Last week, most of my stories had to do with The Great Armenian Revolution of 2013.

Today, Gegham Vardanyan (@reporterarm), a journalist in Armenia, posted this picture taken in Yerevan of graffiti that’s appeared depicting Harutiunian.

[tweet https://twitter.com/reporterarm/status/399817408392593408 align=’center’]

Other famous individuals that have gained the distinction of appearing in Yerevan street art are Garegin NjdehSoghomon TehlirianWilliam SaroyanVahan Deryan, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and others. That’s the company Harutiunian now enjoys.

There are clearly people who do not think this man is enough of a lunatic to disavow his actions as dangerous and unacceptable, as I have argued they should. There are people marching so that he, a “political prisoner”, be set free – never mind the blatantly illegal actions he committed. There are people making him out to be a hero and enshrining him among actual heroes of the Armenian nation.

So, I figured something’s awry: either I misjudged this man and he deserves better treatment than what I’ve offered or I was right in assessing peoples’ reticence to resoundingly reject his antics because of a starvation for something more meaningful.

As I don’t take anything for granted – not even my own opinions and ideas – I decided to do a little research to see if there is something I missed between him becoming a public figure and when I got to know him, which was mostly last week.

I spent hours watching videos of him available on You Tube, of which there are many, trying to get to know the man (kind of) behind the (Guy Fawkes) mask.

Here are my observations:

1) PASSION, CONVICTION, KNOWLEDGE

He’s obviously passionate about what he believes. He also looks like he’s read some philosophy and history. Although from the videos it’s hard to tell whether he read the Cliff’s Notes version of everything or if he spent time studying the various texts of the people he references (e.g. Njdeh, Nietzsche, Marx).

There is definitely something in the noggin, it’s just not clear where it comes from and where it’s going. And I’m not sure it actually directs his actions the way he would have us believe.

2) NO DIRECTION

He speaks generally about starting a revolution but gives no reason why. Some of the things he has said he wants were “cultural revolution”, “revolution”, and Armenian philosophy or philosophers.

Much of the time he’s lamenting the lack of philosophical thought among Armenians and, rightly, the inability to have a substantive movement without that. But, contradicting his own statements on the matter, he ends up starting a half-ass “revolution” upon no clear premise.

3) WORST. DEBATER. EVER.

When he’s talking to an interviewer by himself, he seems reasonable, even amiable. But golly gee, brace yourselves if he’s in a room with another debater, particularly one who doesn’t fully agree with him: he is plainly incapable of having a civil discussion, a loose cannon.

Even after he’s made his point, when someone tries to say something in response, he continuously interrupts them and not to add anything in particular but to expound on points he’s already made or to repeat what he’s already said.

Even if you don’t understand Armenian, you can watch his interaction with others in the following interviews.

(Warning: there is a risk to your ears’ ability to continue functioning properly after watching)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiR2Maz6bg0&w=560&h=315]

At 7:20

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_ZbzD_3FA4&w=420&h=315]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isUcjIOpFzc&w=560&h=315]

When he has to interact with others, he’s unable to control himself, choosing yelling to discussion. His comments are often laced with insults. It’s almost a sight to see if it weren’t so excruciating to watch. He seems more interested in his own voice than in anything that anyone else has to say.

4) ANTI-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY THEORIST

He makes no bones about his disdain for Russia’s overbearing hold on Armenia – which is understandable –  and its meddling in Armenia’s affairs but the man is convinced that Russia controls every aspect of the Armenian government: Serzh Sargsyan’s presidency, Seyran Ohanian’s ministerial duties as defense minister, the whole national state security apparatus. What makes it a conspiracy theory, of course, is that he offers no evidence whatsoever besides saying that he has evidence that he can show. Absolutely nothing.

He actually seems obsessed with Russia and not very concerned with the Armenian authorities.

In reality, he pays so little attention to discussing the actual Armenian authorities and why he might not like them to the point that he’d want to start a revolution that I feel he would have been better served starting his revolution against Russia and not Armenia. After all, it’s not clear what the point of starting a revolution in Armenia is if, like Harutiunian apparently believes, Armenia is under Russia’s total control.

5) IRONY

I’m not sure if he’s being ironic or he just doesn’t see it as a big deal but as he’s roundly tearing Russia and its influence in Armenia to shreds, his speech is concurrently sprinkled with Russian words: “logika”, “dochni”, “proste”, “luboy”, “dubinkek”, “vopshum”, “militsek”,

6) PHILOSOPHER-CUM-REVOLUTIONARY

Harutiunian seems to fashion himself a philosopher-cum-revolutionary. He laments the lack of philosophy and philosophers among Armenians and sees them as a precondition, not only for Armenians but everywhere, to a proper revolution. So I can only imagine that if he’s complaining about a lack of philosophers but thinks they’re necessary for a proper revolution, he either believes himself to be the philosopher necessary for the revolution or he’s not interested in a proper revolution.

In any case, when I think of those two words – “philosopher”, “revolutionary” – I think these guys:

General Andranik, revolutionary
General Andranik, revolutionary
General Garegin Njdeh: revolutionary, philosopher
General Garegin Njdeh: revolutionary, philosopher
Raffi: revolutionary, philosopher
Raffi: revolutionary, philosopher
Plato: some would say philosopher but I ask, proto-Shant Harutiunian?
Plato: some would say philosopher but I ask, proto-Shant Harutiunian?

Not this guy:

Harutiunian (Credit: Photolur)
Harutiunian (Credit: Photolur)

He makes himself out to be a martyr before being martyred.

7) THE VULGAR PHILOSOPHER

His colorful language, sometimes during interviews, is a potpourri of Turkish, Russian, and Armenian vulgarity.

“TUFTA” (Russian obscenity)

“SRIKA” (Turkish obscenity)

“BOZ/POZ” (Armenian obscenity)

See him channel Khrimian Hayrig, Krikor Zohrab, and Monte Melkonian:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AVQvb1RxTo&w=420&h=315]

Just imagine, as you’re watching that video, Khrimian Hayrig, Zohrab, Monte, or perhaps Njdeh, one of Harutiunian’s inspirations, standing behind that megaphone saying the things Harutiunian is saying. Ya, no.

8) REVOLUTION FOR WHAT?

He talks about revolution but nowhere does he explain WHY. He just says he’s going to do it, that’s it.

Because he didn’t answer my question, I offer to any readers: what does he want revolution for?

And I don’t mean what YOU want revolution for; I want to know why Shant Harutiunian wants revolution. Because, as yet, I have no idea.

BECAUSE IF YOU’RE GOING TO OPENLY TALK ABOUT SETTING FIRE TO THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE or occupying the state intelligence service or carrying two cans of benzene (presumably to use in revolutionary activities)…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7NluSttecI&w=560&h=315]

… I feel like you should have a good reason for it.

FINAL CONCLUSION

Awkwardly, I didn’t find myself disagreeing with everything that he said, little of which centered on him conducting a revolution. But that doesn’t excuse his actions or his behavior. My final conclusion is that Shant Harutiunian is batshit crazy.

There isn’t a single video I’ve watched where he’s interacting with an interlocutor where he doesn’t go berserk, arms flailing, yelling at the top of his lungs, interrupting the host or other guest/s – even grabbing them. He seems to always be on the cusp of a massive emotional meltdown.

I stand by my original assessment that he’s a lunatic. I won’t lower my standards of the expectations of our fellow men and women because the man reached his wit’s end – his wit may have been shorter than normal. I also won’t accept him soiling the sanctity of true heroes of the Armenian nation, those who didn’t resort to pettiness and vulgarity in their effort to make a point. It’s inexcusable.

Anyone trying to justify Harutiunian’s actions is just feeding the depravity that not only created him but allowed him to feel that he would not be absolutely rejected by society for his actions.

I’ll take philosophers-cum-revolutionaries. Real ones.

By: William Bairamian

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British Navy, Indonesian Special Forces in Armenia

Since the Great Armenian Revolution of 2013, there have been a flurry of news reports. Who did what, who hit whom, who was at fault and, my favorite, which country’s special forces and police were present.

In the daily CivilNet English-language digest yesterday, it was reported that some were alleging that Russian special forces were present at the protest because of Russian-language clothing on officers (at 2:22 below).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hb1ujnAVes&w=560&h=315]

Aravot Daily, which makes a sport of creatively presenting news headlines and exaggerating anything that has the potential to make the government look bad, published an article, entitled (quotes theirs), “In addition to Russian special mission units, there were also the U.S. service special agents at the Mashtots Avenue”.

That was distilled from a response to:

“[…] the question of why they brought detachments of the Russian special mission units to the Mashtots Avenue […]”

So: Russian on police clothing = possibility of Russian special forces in Armenia. Gotcha.

So: cops with the light blue stripes across their backs that have “POLICE” imprinted on them (below), in English = American/British/Australian/Canadian(<-lol) police in Armenia. Right?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtIbJG_z7jw&w=560&h=315]

So: why isn’t anyone asking about the obvious American/British/Australian/Canadian(<-lol) police presence in Yerevan?!

The video that accompanied the Aravot article:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f23vRjv5Hmg&w=560&h=315]

It is admittedly proved that there was Russian written on police clothing, but there are a few more pieces of evidence that seem to skip the reporter’s mind who was asking the question:

:10, there is an Armenian flag on officer’s (#1) sleeve

:13, there is an Armenian coat of arms on officer’s (#2) hat

:24, there is an Armenian flag on officer’s (#3) sleeve

Unless, of course, this was a ploy to take Armenian-looking Russians and dress them up in police clothing with Russian on it but with Armenian symbols to utterly confuse the living hell out of anybody who looked at them.

In which case, the reporter asking the question is wholly justified.

By the way, the answer to the question above that was posed by the reporter?

“Not only Russian special mission units, but also Mossad and British Navy, the U.S. Central Bureau of Investigation servicemen were there, late at the end, our partners from Indonesia arrived.”

Courtesy of Ashot Aharonyan, head of the Police’s Public Relations and Information Department.

Indonesians: always late to the party. But they can do whatever they want because they have this guy:

Credit: Al Jazeera
Credit: Al Jazeera

Who looks a lot like a guy who actually can do pretty much whatever he wants.

Except get Republicans to like him. But I digress (like whoa).

In other news, in an interesting article by Hetq, Aravot is one source (out of two) cited about media professionalism and ethical reporting in Armenia.

Full Aravot article here.

Another Election Boycott

It seems like in Armenia “boycotting the elections” has become code for “we have no good candidates but want to look like we’re doing something.”

In Syunik, home of the infamous and royally evil Suren Khachatryan, the province’s ex-governor, the ARF has decided it will boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections being held to replace Khachatryan’s successor, Vahe Hakobyan. Hakobyan was a member of parliament when he was appointed to succeed Khachatryan (a.k.a. Liska) after a shootout at the latter’s compound that left one Artsakh war hero dead and his war hero brother wounded.

Apparently the reasoning behind the decision is that nothing will change although no explanation was given whether boycotting the election will, conversely, change anything.

For a succinct evaluation of political parties in Armenia and their absence from any substantive change in the country (i.e. 150 drams debacle, environmental movements, etc.), see Khatchig Mouradian’s “The Sultans of Swindling“.

Over-promising and under-delivering has become a staple of politics-as-usual in Armenia. Unfortunately, this also includes much of the opposition, which has thus far failed to muster the strength and ingenuity to tackle the profound economic and social challenges the Armenian citizen faces.

Better to do nothing between elections or better to do nothing during elections? Time will tell.

By: William Bairamian

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