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Armenian Parliament Approves 2015 Budget

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The National Assembly has adopted Armenia’s government-drafted state budget for next year which calls for relatively modest increases in public spending and tax revenue.

The bill, which was passed by 71 votes to 46 late last week, commits the Armenian government to increasing its expenditures by over 5 percent almost 1.31 trillion drams ($2.9 billion) in 2015. Projected at 1.19 trillion drams, state revenue is to rise at virtually the same rate. The resulting budget deficit would be equivalent to less than 3 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

The government based these projections on the assumption that the Armenian economy will grow by 4.1 percent.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves Obama Nominee as Next Ambassador to Armenia

December 8, 2014 Armenia, Azerbaijan, Business No Comments
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10:08, December 8, 2014

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) this week approved Richard M. Mills, Jras President Obama’s nominee to serve as ambassador to Armenia.

If confirmed by the full Senate, Mills will replace outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern.

The Committee also approved Robert F. Cekuta, Obama’s nominee as the next U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan.

A career diplomat, Richard M. Mills, Jr., has held numerous diplomatic positions. Currently, he is the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.

He also has diplomatic experience with Armenia. Early in his career, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, he was the desk officer at the State Department for the newly independent Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Sarkisian Wants More Government Action On Economy

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The Armenian authorities should do more to minimize the fallout from Russia’s deepening economic troubles as well as sluggish growth in the European Union, President Serzh Sarkisian said on Friday.

Sarkisian also insisted that Armenia will reap major economic benefits from its membership in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) even now that the Russian economy is plunging into recession.

“It is evident that Armenia cannot buck the current trend and that what is happening in the global economy should also reflect on our country and our economic indicators. Nevertheless, Armenia’s government and Central Bank should step up their efforts to mitigate negative influences on our economy coming from the outside world and to smoothly carry out necessary adjustments,” he said in a speech at an annual conference of the country’s largest business association.

Central Bank Urged To Curb ‘Currency Speculation’

December 5, 2014 Armenia, Business, Top News No Comments
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Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian appealed to the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) on Friday to crack down on “speculative” currency trading in the local market on Friday as the Armenian dram depreciated further against the U.S. dollar.

The Armenian currency was down by around 1 percent, trading at 448 drams per dollar in the evening, according to the CBA. Armenian commercial banks set different exchange rates, however, averaging 453 drams per dollar.

Abrahamian exposed the Armenian government’s serious concern over the latest rate fluctuations with an extraordinary statement sent to News.am later in the day. “Given the existing tensions in the financial market, it is extremely important that all market players follow the set norms and rules,” he said. “I do not exclude that in this situation there will be attempts to fish in troubled waters.”

Opposition Parties Defend Support For Eurasian Union

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Two leading Armenian opposition parties defended on Friday their endorsement of Armenia’s accession to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union against criticism voiced by other, pro-Western forces and figures critical of President Serzh Sarkisian.

Dozens of deputies from the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and the Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Thursday joined the pro-government majority in the National Assembly in voting for the ratification of an accession treaty with the EEU signed by Sarkisian. The treaty was also backed by lawmakers representing the opposition Orinats Yerkir and Dashnaktsutyun parties.

Stepan Markarian, a senior BHK deputy, said the party led by business Gagik Tsarukian did so “for the sake of the country’s security,” clearly alluding to Armenia’s military alliance with Russia.

Armenian Exchange Rates ‘Under Control’

December 4, 2014 Armenia, Business, Top News No Comments

The Armenian authorities will stabilize the exchange rate of the national currency, the dram, and prevent a surge in consumer prices, Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian said on Wednesday, echoing statements by the Central Bank.

Abrahamian blamed the worsening economic situation in Russia on recent weeks’ sizable depreciation of the Armenian dram. “There is no problem. The Central Bank keeps the situation under control and I think that things will be sorted out in the next few days,” he told reporters.

The dram has weakened by more than 6 percent against the U.S. dollar since mid-November amid falling cash inflows from Armenians working in Russia. The Russian ruble has depreciated even more sharply in the same period, owing to a steady decrease in international oil prices and the impact of Western economic sanctions.

Croatia: Zadar’s “King Fish” Questioned Over Graft

December 3, 2014 Armenia, Business, Film No Comments
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20:30, December 3, 2014

One of Zadar’s most powerful businessmen, dubbed the “king fish of the Adriatic”, was detained Tuesday morning on suspicion of corruption.

Reno Sinovcic, president of local football club NK Zadar and owner of Croatian TV agency Vox, was arrested along with others – five of whom were reported in the media to be tax officials. He was detained overnight and questioned.

A statement released by USKOK, Croatia’s anti-corruption agency, confirmed a probe into eight Croatian citizens and one company on suspicion of abuse of office, business fraud, and causing bankruptcy. The release refers to the non-payment of overdue taxes, a scheme involving the use of non-existent loans, and evidence of “unlawful material gain” linked to NK Zadar.

Corruption In Armenia ‘Unchanged In 2014’

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The extent of government corruption in Armenia has practically not changed and remained quite high over the past year, according to an annual global survey released by Transparency International on Wednesday. 

Armenia ranked, along with four African states, 94th of 174 countries and territories evaluated in the Berlin-based watchdog’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). It occupied the same position in last year’s CPI which covered 177 nations.

The nations surveyed were again rated on a 100 point scale measuring the degree of good governance as perceived by businesspeople and experts. Armenia received a CPI score of 37, slightly up from 36 in 2013 and 34 in 2012.

UK Firms Probed Over Multi-Billion Dollar Money Laundering Scam

December 3, 2014 Armenia, Business No Comments
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20:38, December 1, 2014

Police investigators in the UK have launched an inquiry into the involvement of 19 British shell companies in a US$20 billion money-laundering operation.

The investigation comes after OCCRP and the Independentnewspaper exposed the multi-billion dollar scam involving the creation of front companies to carry out fake business deals between themselves and thus make dirty money appear “clean”. The aim was to channel the proceeds of organized crime in Russia into the EU banking system, using courts in Moldova to legitimize the funds.

The Independent reports that officers from the British National Crime Agency returned last week from Moldova, where they have been working with police on the complex investigation. They will assist in identifying the path of money through the money laundering system and probe British companies believed to have unwittingly received payments from the firms involved in the scam.

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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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Commentary

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.