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OCCRP Launches 1st Documentary: Feud Between Kremlin Connected Businessmen

April 17, 2015 Armenia, Business, Film No Comments
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17:35, April 17, 2015

Today OCCRP launches “Killers Inc.,” its first independently produced investigative documentary. The film is the result of a two-year, multi-country investigation examining a violent feud between businessmen connected to the Kremlin, and the criminal groups and assassins-for-hire tasked with settling their scores.

On the evening of March 20, 2012, Gherman Gorbuntsov, a controversial Russian banker living in self-exile in England, entered his apartment in East London. As the door closed behind him, an assassin shot the banker multiple times. Gorbuntsov lived, barely, but the question of who ultimately sent the assassin pointed to Gorbuntsov’s Russian past, and the Kremlin-connected businessmen he once considered his partners.

Loose Lobbying Laws Leave EU Governments Prone to Corruption, Says Report

April 17, 2015 Armenia, Business, Europe No Comments
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17:45, April 17, 2015

Unfair and opaque lobbying practices have left governments in the European Union (EU) prone to corruption, according to a report released by watchdog Transparency International (TI).

In the report, released April 15, TI called for urgent regulation reform, warning that the lack of dedicated lobbying laws in 12 of the 19 countries they studied allows for “nearly unfettered influence of business interests” on the daily lives of Europeans. In the seven countries that did have legislation targeted at lobbying, TI found it was frequently ineffective.

Elena Panfilova, vice-chair of TI, said the results of their research were particularly concerning at a time when European leaders were making big economic decisions with far-reaching implications for citizens.

Uzbekistan: More Than A Million Forced to Harvest Cotton in 2014, says NGO

April 16, 2015 Armenia, Asia, Business No Comments
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More than a million people were forced to work on cotton fields in Uzbekistan during last year’s harvest season under harsh conditions in which 17 people died, according to a damning report by a rights group.

The report, released by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) on Monday, describes the large-scale mobilization of people into the forced labor program that props up the state’s cotton industry, which pours nearly US$ 1 billion per year into government coffers.

Cotton is a major export for the double-landlocked central Asian country, with the government using popular slogans such as, “Cotton is the people’s riches!”

UGF reports that working conditions included workers being forced to put in 10-hour days before returning to overcrowded living quarters that often lacked clean water.

Bottoms Up! Yerevan Municipality Spends $62K on Brandy and $3,180 on Fancy Glasses

April 16, 2015 Armenia, Business No Comments
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15:46, April 16, 2015

One June 3, 2014, the Yerevan Municipality signed a deal with the Yerevan Cognac Factory to buy 28.8 million AMD (US$62,000) of the Armenian produced brandy.

While we do not know how bottles of brandy this amount translates into, we do know that the factory sold the municipality nine different types of brandy.

One brand sold, called Jubilee which is aged for ten years, was supplied to the municipality for the Yerevan 2796 celebrations.

Other brands obtained by the municipality included Erebuni (aged 25 years), Dvin (10 years), Nayri (20 years), Tonakan (15 years), Akhtamar (10 years) and Untir (7 years).

PEN to Give Press Freedom Award to Jailed Journalist Khadija Ismayilova

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18:34, April 16, 2015

The investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who was jailed in Azerbaijan in December, will be awarded the PEN American Center’s prestigious Freedom to Write Award.

The accolade, created in 1987, is given annually to writers who have been persecuted or imprisoned for their work. 39 of the writers who have been honored were imprisoned at the time, and 35 of them have since been released.

Ismayilova’s award-winning investigative work for OCCRP and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) exposed the business connections of Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev and his family, and alleged corruption in his inner circle.

United Kingdom: Criminal Gang Jailed for £10 million Fake Viagra Scheme

April 15, 2015 Armenia, Business No Comments
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19:05, April 15, 2015

Members of an organized criminal group that made at least 10 million (US$ 14.7million) from selling fake Viagra have been jailed.

The gang sold counterfeit pills for erectile dysfunction, along with other fake medications, through front companies claiming to be cosmetic, jewelry and fishing tackle mail-order businesses. The day-to-day operations took place in the counties of Sussex and Lincolnshire between 2004 and 2011.

The scam netted as much as 60,000 (US$ 80,000) per week for the group in 2011, according tothe Guardian. The illicit earnings were then laundered through more than 100 bank accounts throughout the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

IMF Expects Recession In Armenia


The Armenian economy will likely contract by 1 percent this year due to spillover effects of Russia’s economic troubles, the International Monetary Fund has said in a sharp downward revision of its growth projections for Armenia.

“Armenia and Belarus are projected to enter into recession in 2015, and Georgia’s growth will slow. In all three economies, the downward turns reflect spillovers from Russia,” the IMF said in its latest World Economic Outlook released late on Tuesday.

Mark Horton, the head of an IMF mission visiting Yerevan likewise predicted last week that economic growth in Armenia will be “close to zero” in 2015. He too cited the fallout from the recession in Russia, the South Caucasus state’s leading trading partner and the main source of multimillion-dollar remittances.

A Story with Numbers: Data Journalism Enters the Newsroom

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20:13, April 14, 2015

Pierre Romera, from France, is a web developer and journalist. He’s one the cofounders of Journalism ++, a data journalism website established four years ago. He then worked as a programmer at owni.fr, the first media outlet in France to employ date journalism. He now teaches data journalism and travels the world to conduct training classes on the subject. Pierre was in Armenia last week.

How did you learn web developing and journalism; working with data?

More Funding Secured For Armenian Highway Upgrades


A development bank founded by Russia and Kazakhstan provided the Armenian government on Tuesday with a $150 million loan that will finance the ongoing reconstruction of Armenia’s main highways stretching more than 550 kilometers to neighboring Georgia and Iran. 

The chairman of the Almaty-based Eurasian Development Bank (EDB), Dmitry Pankin, signed a corresponding agreement in Yerevan with Armenian Transport and Communication Minister Gagik Beglarian after talks held with Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian.

In a statement issued after the signing ceremony, the EDB said the loan repayable in 20 years will finance work on a 20-kilometer highway section encompassing Armenia’s highest mountain pass close to the Iranian border.

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Featured Books

Book Reviews

John Balian’s “Novel Approach” Brings the Armenian Saga to the Masses – An interview with John Balian by Lucine Kasbarian

Gray Wolves and White Doves cover art

Armenians often wish for a tale about the Armenian Genocide and its aftermath that would make a blockbuster film and draw attention to their cause. John Balian’s new book, Gray Wolves and White Doves (CreateSpace/Amazon.com), may be that tale.

 Largely autobiographical, this atmospheric novel is presented through the eyes of an innocent young boy trying to make sense of the world as he grows up amid repressive conditions in Western Armenia/Eastern Turkey during the 1960s and 70s.

 This fast-paced, multi-layered narrative takes readers from Hanna Ibelin’s (a.k.a. Jonah Ibelinian’s) close-knit family life in the perilous Asia Minor region of Palu to terror and tragedy while en route to Syria’s Kamishli, to a bleak existence on the mean streets of Istanbul.

New Children’s Picture Book From Armenian Folklore

Teaneck, N.J. and Belmont, Mass. –  An Armenian folktale retold by Armenian-American writer Lucine Kasbarian and illustrated by Moscow-based artist Maria Zaikina debuts with Marshall Cavendish Children’s Publishers in April 2011.

The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale is from the ancient Armenian oral tradition and culture, which was nearly obliterated during the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks in 1915. The author learned the tale from her father, editor and columnist C.K. Garabed, who would recite it to her at bedtime. He had learned it from his own grandmother, a celebrated storyteller from the Old Country.  The tale was first put to paper by Armenian poet Hovhannes Toumanian at the turn of the 20th century.

“We Need To Lift The Armenian Taboo”

Turkish writer and publicist Ahmet Insel labels the initiative of the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party to pray namaz on the ruins of Ani as provocation.

In an interview with “A1+,” the publicist said the initiative was supported only by a small percentage of Turks.

“They offered namaz in Ani in protest against Christian rites carried out in Trabzon and Akhtamar. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahceli said if Christians are allowed to pray inside museums, similarly he can pray namaz in Armenian churches,” said Ahmet Insel.

The Turkish writer arrived in Armenia to participate in a book festival. Presentation of Armenian version of Dialogue sur le tabou arménien (Dialogue about the Armenian Tabou) co-authored by Ahmet Insel and Michel Marian was held during the festival.

US Media Discusses The Armenian Genocide

BURBANK, CALIFORNIA –  KFI 640, a popular news/talk radio station hosted by Bill Handel on September 23 aired a live interview with Michael Bobelian, the writer of a new book titled  Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justice

The book chronicles the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and recounts a people’s struggle for justice in the face of a century of silence and denial.

During the interview, which was aired during the prime morning time slot, Bill Handel addressed both the efforts within the United States to ensure that the US government appropriately acknowledges the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s ongoing denial.

Handel, a well known and nationally syndicated radio talk show host, has discussed the Armenian Genocide during past shows.

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Capitalism Run Amok Is Just Plain Capitalism

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16:37, January 17, 2015

By Markar Melkonian

The source of Armenia’s misery and humiliation, we often hear, is not capitalism per se, but rather “gangster capitalism,” “a broken system,” “capitalism run amok.”

The goal for the future, then, is to “fix the system,” to reform capitalism, to make it more like regular, pure, genuine Free Enterprise, the kind of capitalism that works. But what if Armenia’s actually existing capitalism already is genuine capitalism?

An economist once observed that the only existential meaning of “enterprise” in the term free enterprise is “whatever capitalists happen to be doing at the time”–and “free” is the accompanying demand that they be allowed to do it.

Ukraine: Cops Go After Casinos, Suggest Yanukovych Connection

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21:45, December 15, 2014

Ukraine’s ministry of internal affairs has launched a campaign against illegal casinos amid fears that a large network of underground gambling dens could be providing an income source for the son of the country’s disgraced former president Viktor Yanukovych.

The new crackdown on unlawful casinos – an ongoing scourge for law enforcement agencies in Ukraine since regulation was made stiffer with a 2009 law – was launched on Dec. 8 after an announcement on Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov’s official Facebook page.

Avakov, who keeps a lively and occasionally angry Facebook commentary on current affairs, pledged to put a complete stop to the establishments within ten days; first in the capital of Kyiv, then the rest of the nation.

Yerevan Calling: A Weekly Roundup of Random Musings from Armenia

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13:05, October 3, 2014

Here it is dear readers, the debut of a weekly column I hope to maintain on a regular basis.

It’s sort of a catch-all of news snippets, irreverent commentary, and personal observations on what’s happened during the week here in Yerevan, and throughout Armenia.. Hopefully, you’ll find it interesting, if not slightly diverting.

Your comments and suggestions are welcomed.

Regards – Hrant

Oct. 2 – Protests Throughout Armenia: A Game of Numbers & Solidarity

Three separate protest rallies took place in Armenia today.

As Hetq reported earlier, business owners in the town of Sevan kept their stores and factories shut to protest changes to the so-called volume (sales) tax. Local residents flocked to the bread factory to wait on line for a loaf or two.

China: President Takes Action Against High Ranking Corrupt Officials

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21:31, July 30, 2014

Zhou Yongkang, one of China’s most powerful former leaders, is under investigation in the highest-level corruption inquiry since the Communist Party came into power in 1949.

Under current president Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is investigating Zhou for “serious disciplinary violations,” as the officialXinhua news agency reports. Media has not yet, however, specified the allegations against him.

The probe is an attempt to show the length to which Xi and the party will go in order to combat abuse of power reportsThe Wall Street Journal. 

A commentary published in the officialPeoples Daily makes the point that regardless of  an official’s rank or supporters, punishment will result for violating laws or the party’s discipline. 

Armenian Gangs: Caught between an Archetype and a Cliché

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19:15, July 12, 2014

By Marineh Khachadour

“The whole thing started with a scene straight out of a mobster movie. It was around 6 p.m. when more than a dozen men from two organized crime groups opened fire on each other in a North Hollywood parking lot. Witnesses say nearly everyone was armed, and the shootout quickly went mobile. The men took off in cars, exchanging fire as they weaved through the Whitsett Avenue traffic.”

Stories such as this are not unique to Armenians in the American press, but this investigative report recently published in the LA Weekly is about Armenian Power, the Los Angeles based Armenian gang that operates in the heavily Armenian populated communities of Glendale, Burbank, and North Hollywood.