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Azerbaijani 1st Family Big on Banking

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12:36, June 11, 2015

BY OCCRP

From a distance, Azerbaijan may look like any other oil-rich country.

Its capital Baku shines at night, thanks to the multicolored lights from newly-constructed futuristic buildings that evoke the architectural playgrounds of the United Arab Emirates. The government is happily spending billions on marquee events to show off the country such as this year’s 2015 European Games, expected to cost US$ 8 billion.

But while outwardly the country is rich, that wealth is not trickling down to the 9.6 million citizens of Azerbaijan who increasingly are going into debt to survive.

As of Feb. 1, there were 2.3 million people who had bank loans, a sharp increase of 17.7 percent in one year, as many struggle to cover sharply rising living expenses.

Azerbaijan: Government Silences Human Rights Defenders Ahead of Baku Games

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13:55, June 11, 2015

Azerbaijani authorities have barred Amnesty International (AI) from entering the country to give a briefing ahead of the European Games.

AI was due to present its publication Azerbaijan: the Repression Games in Baku on Wednesday. Buton Tuesday afternoon the Azerbaijani Embassy in London told the campaigning organization that the briefing would be postponed until after the Games, AI reports.

AI’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, Denis Krivosheev, said the development was ”deeply ironic” since the briefing would have focused on how the government has arrested and silenced human rights activists, journalists and opposition members throughout the past year.

On the same day AI announced its barring from Azerbaijan, authorities at the airport in Azerbaijani capital Baku detained and red-listed Emma Hughes, a British activist from the London-based human rights organization Platform.

Syrian-Armenian Simon Hamamdjian: ‘There were always problems about the way I dressed and talked’

June 11, 2015 Armenia, Arts, Business No Comments
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15:14, June 10, 2015

Gayaneh Sargsyan

I met Syrian-Armenian Simon Hamamdjian and his wife Datevik in their rented apartment in Vanadzor, a town in northern Armenia.

Datevik and her two children relocated from Syria three years ago. She says that the family was on the last flight out of Aleppo.

Datevik is a native of Armenia who married Simon in 2006 and moved to Aleppo with him.

“Syria TV was like Soviet broadcasts. They kept saying that the problem would pass and there was no need for alarm,” Datevik says.

Her husband Simon and his brother’s family were able to come to Armenia a year later.

Albania: Owner of London Football Club Wanted Over ‘Hydro Power Plant Scam’

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18:17, June 10, 2015

Prosecutors in the Albanian capital Tirana have issued arrest warrants for the Italian entrepreneur Francesco Becchetti – majority owner of London’s Leyton Orient football club – along with his mother Liliana Condomitti.

Authorities also put out warrants for Becchetti’s right-hand man in Albania, Mauro De Renzis, and Albanian accountant Erjona Troplini.

Together, they are accused of document forgery and money laundering linked to a 1997 concession agreement Becchetti made with the Albanian government to build a hydropower plant that never materialized.

Authorities have frozen Becchetti’s assets in the Balkan state, including bank accounts along with companies called Energji, Cable System, 400 KV and Fuqi, and Becchetti’s 60 percent shares in AgonSet, a TV station based in Tirana,

Chechen Corruption Documentary Receives More Than A Million YouTube Views

June 10, 2015 Armenia, Asia, Business, Film No Comments
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10:59, June 10, 2015

A film documenting alleged widespread corruption and human rights abuses in the Russian republic of Chechnya has received more than a million views despite being temporarily blocked by YouTube.

According to the Caucasian Knot newspaper, the Russian-language version of the film, which wasproduced by the Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia Foundation,was removed from YouTube on June 3 following a complaint about copyright violation.

The documentary was subsequently unblocked that evening and has now been viewed more than 1,170,000 times.

The film, called The Family, alleges that the leader of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, extracts an unofficial tax from all Chechen citizens to finance the Akhmad Kadyrov Regional Public Fund.

PM Meets Protesting Workers, Vows To Pay Back Wages

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Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian assured hundreds of employees of Armenia’s largest chemical plant on Tuesday that they will finally receive their back wages next month.

Abrahamian met representatives of the workers as they again demonstrated outside his office to demand more than one year’s worth of back pay and the reactivation of the troubled Nairit giant. He said President Serzh Sarkisian has told the Armenian government to “find financial means” to eliminate the wage arrears by July 15. Energy and Natural Resources Minister Yervand Zakharian will set up a special commission for that purpose, added Abrahamian.

The workers’ representatives communicated this pledge to the angry crowd standing outside the government building. “They have found a positive solution to our problem,” one of them said.

RootsForRefugees Campaign Kicks Off on Indiegogo.com

June 9, 2015 Armenia, Business No Comments
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14:02, June 9, 2015

Los Angeles, CA, June 8, 2015 — The Armenian Redwood Project (ARP), a non-profit social enterprise alliance that intends to improve the lives and well-being of the thousands of Syrian refugees impacted by the ravaging war in Syria, is excited to announce the launch of the #RootsForRefugees crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo.com.

“The war in Syria is now approaching its 5th year,” said Raffy Ardhaldjian, chief action officer of ARP. “According to various agencies, this war is considered the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, leaving millions of innocent citizens homeless and vulnerable. With more than 15,000 Syrians, primarily of Armenian descent, finding refuge in Armenia, the time is now to act – it’s a global imperative.”

Armenian PM’s Son Elected Town Mayor

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A 29-year-old son of Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian has become the new mayor of an Armenian town widely regarded as their family’s de facto fiefdom, winning an election in which he was the only candidate.

The weekend vote marked by a low turnout became a mere formality last month after Argam Abrahamian’s two challengers dropped out of the mayoral race. The incumbent mayor of the town located about 30 kilometers south of Yerevan also chose not to run for reelection.

Abrahamian Jr. insisted on Sunday that neither he nor his father forced them not to enter the fray. “We didn’t intervene in any way to make sure that I am left alone in the race,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) shortly after casting his ballot in a local polling station.

Romania: Austrian Firm at Center of Illegal Logging Scandal

June 8, 2015 Armenia, Business No Comments
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18:54, June 8, 2015

An investigation by RISE Project, an OCCRP partner, has revealed how an Austrian-based company bought huge volumes of timber from controversial local logging firms over the past two years.

Schweighofer, a company controlled by one of the wealthiest families in Austria, is the main buyer of Romanian wood.

RISE Project found that some of the local firms that sold the logs to processing plants owned by the Austrian corporation are connected to former Schweighofer directors, local politicians, or businessmen with long criminal records.

According to documents obtained by RISE reporters, some of the logging firms received loans from Schweighofer in order to expand their activities.

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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.

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.