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Department of State’s religious freedom report not unbiased – opinions

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The US Department of State’s 2013 Religious Freedom Report on Armenia is estimated as biased and untrue by religious circles and national minority representatives.
What particularly raises controversies is the allegation that minority religious groups face discriminations against the backdrop of wide privileges granted to the Armenian Apostolic Church.
“Religious organizations are obliged to preserve and protect their own belief instead of engaging themselves in soul hunting. Nobody prevents them from pursuing their own belief. Such a statement could have been made only by individuals, circles and groups that are interested in destabilizing of Armenia and contributing to the Armenian nation’s internal splitting. What is mentioned there is absolutely untrue,” Archimandrite Komitas Hovnanyan told Tert.am, expressing his strong disagreement with the findings.
He said he is more than convinced that increased privileges to religious organizations are a major national security threat. “There are, so to say, religious minorities whose propaganda is based on plans to split the state institution. The youth, for instance, are called upon to avoid serving in the military, using weapons or protecting their country,” he noted.
Commenting on what the report described as privileges to the Armenian Apostolic Church, Mr Hovnanyan said, “The Armenian Apostolic Church does not actually have any privileges at all. It just follows that the publications on the Armenian Church contain no wrong records. The history of Armenian church is taught in schools by secular [teachers] not priests,” he added.
Hovnanyan said he believes that countries publishing such reports pursue specific interests, adding that Armenian state in turn is obliged to protect its own interests in such circumstances. “We must not let anyone speculate the concepts of freedom of conscience or speech by distorting their meaning. Freedom of conscience implies freedom of individual, not violence and coercion into adopting a belief of which the nation is not a follower,” he added.
Alexander Amaryan, the president of the Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Destructive Sects, agreed that granting wide privileges to the non-traditional religious groups is a threat to national security.
“All the data the Department of State publishes in the report are provided by local rights institutions which submit biased reports in an effort to extort grants. No other country is as tolerant as Armenia, as the laws here never place restrictions on religious organizations,” he added.
Amaryan said he thinks that restrictions exist in Europe not in Armenia, adding that the national churches in all countries enjoy certain privileges. “They all have begun assisting religious organizations and later complain about intolerance. That’s a bluff,” he said, describing the findings as an attempt to exert pressure on the Armenian authorities.
Aziz Tamoyan, the president of Armenia’s Yezidi community, also disagreed with the allegation that ethnic and religious minorities experience discrimination in the country. “We are free; nobody prevents us from preserving our national holidays and traditions. On the contrary, we here have our own schools, and it is thanks to Armenia that our culture develops around the world,” he said, adding that the Armenian Apostolic Church demonstrates respect for the Yezidis’ traditions.
“Why doesn’t [the United States of] America care about the disappearing Yezidi and Asyrian populations in the north of Iraq? Let them think of measures to prevent their Yezidis from changing their religion, as they are physically exterminated by Muslims,” Tamoyan noted.
The Jewish community’s president, Rima Varzhapetyan, also denied the reports about restrictions or violations against minority groups in Armenia.
Asked whether the community is concerned about the privileges granted to the national church, Varzhapetyan replied, “The Armenian Apostolic Church has always proven that it is very tolerant and progressive.”
According to Avetik Iskhanyan, Chairperson of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, the report is based on objective evaluations.
“Religious tolerance is really quite a serious issue in Armenia, as the media all the time conduct a one-sided propaganda. In secondary schools, the history of Armenian church is taught in an effort to conduct an anti-propaganda against other religious organizations. The children who receive such kind of education develop intolerance to other religious organizations,” he noted.
Asked whether it isn’t normal that the Armenian Apostolic Church has privileges as opposed to other religious groups, Ishkhanyan said, “International standards allow for granting privileges to a church, but that should not amount to a discriminatory attitude to other religious organizations. Our laws give the Apostolic Church monopolistic rights,” he added.
Asked whether higher privileges for other religious organizations would not be a national security threat, Ishkhanyan said he thinks just the other way about. “Religious intolerance is a real threat to Armenia’s security, as it splits up the nation on religious grounds,” he noted.
“Representatives of other religious organizations are oppressed in Armenia, because they never see themselves as full-fledged citizens. This is really a national security threat, because identifying an Armenian with the Armenian Apostolic Church really splits up the nation.” 

Russian Banks In Armenia Downplay Western Sanctions

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The Armenian subsidiaries of two leading Russian commercial banks sanctioned by the European Union and the United States in connection with the Ukraine crisis ruled out on Wednesday any serious impact on their operations.

EU member states on Tuesday imposed new sanctions on Russia because of its continuing assistance to pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine widely blamed for the July 17 downing of a Malaysian airliner. In particular, they decided to cut off Russian state-owned banks from European capital markets. Europeans will now not be allowed to buy debt, equity or other financial instruments with a maturity higher than 90 days in Russian state-owned banks or their subsidiaries. 

U.S. Ambassador Designate to Turkey: Ankara Taking Positive Steps to Expand Dialog with Armenians

July 30, 2014 Armenia, Europe, Turkey No Comments
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17:18, July 30, 2014

Excerpts of testimony of John R. Bass, U.S. Ambassador-Designate to the Republic of Turkey (July 15, 2014, Senate Foreign Relations Committee)

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Johnson and all the Members of the Committee. I am honored to come before you to be considered for the position of Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, and I am grateful for the confidence President Obama and Secretary Kerry have shown in me. If confirmed, I pledge to work with all of you to protect and advance our interests by promoting security, prosperity, democracy and human rights – both in Turkey and in the many places beyond its borders where we work together.

Ukraine officials: Rebels plant mines near MH17 site

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International investigators’ quest to carry out their duties at the crash site of the downed Malaysian airliner hit another roadblock Wednesday: land mines, the CNN reports quoting Ukrainian officials as saying.
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council claims that “terrorists” — the term it uses to describe rebels — have set up firing positions and laid mines on the access road to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
This makes the work of international experts “impossible,” the agency said.
Dutch investigators in Ukraine did not cite mines specifically but announced Wednesday that unsafe conditions kept their contingent from visiting the crash site for the fourth straight day.
The decision by the Dutch to stay away from the site is independent of the choices that other international observers, including from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, might make.
But for the three previous days, the OSCE has joined the 50-strong team of Dutch and Australian investigators in declaring the region too dangerous to work in.
Dutch investigators have yet to lay eyes on the wreckage or the human remains believed still to be strewn across the huge debris field near the town of Torez.
U.S. and Ukrainian officials have said that a Russian-made missile system was used to shoot down MH17 from rebel territory on July 17. Russia and the rebels have disputed the allegations and blamed Ukraine for the crash.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte asked Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in a phone call Tuesday morning to halt the fighting around the crash site so that investigators can access it, Rutte spokesman Jean Fransman said.

BP sees profits rise but warns of Russia sanctions risk

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BP has warned that further sanctions against Russia could affect its business as it posted a rise in second quarter profits, the BBC reports.BP said that sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis have not affected the oil giant so far, but could do so in the future.The warning came as European ministers were due to meet to discuss bolstered measures against Russia.Sanctions “could adversely impact our business”, BP said.BP has around a 20% stake in Russian energy giant Rosneft.”Any future erosion of our relationship with Rosneft, or the impact of further economic sanctions, could adversely impact our business and strategic objectives in Russia, the level of our income, production and reserves, our investment in Rosneft and our reputation,” BP said.The company’s second quarter replacement cost profits, which strip out volatility in oil prices, were $3.2bn (£1.9bn), up from $2.4bn in the same period last year.”I think in the short term they’ll be looking in particular at the effect [sanctions are] going to have on technology transfer to Russia,” said Russian oil economy expert John Lough.”But I think, more broadly, this is of course a cloud on the horizon for BP, because the crisis in Ukraine seems to be escalating rather than de-escalating,” he told the BBC. 

Italy’s Festival delle Nazioni to Honor Armenia’s Musical Heritage

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09:58, July 29, 2014

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the Festival delle Nazioni will pay homage to Armenia with a musical program running from August 27 to September 6 in Citt di Castello, a town of some 40,000 inhabitants in the province of Perugia in Umbria, Italy.

The 47th edition of the Festival will feature Armenian symphonic and chamber music, folk and classic, sacred and profane, choral and curative, medieval hymns and premiere compositions.

“With the choice of Armenia, we go out of the European boundaries ,” says Festival President Giuliano Giubilei, the President, “but in a country which has had in its tormented history and strong relations with our continent.”

Former Georgian President Saakashvili Charged with Violent Dispersal of 2007 Protests

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21:38, July 28, 2014

The Office of the Chief Prosecutor of Georgia reports that it has filed criminal charges against the former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili.

The criminal case pertains to the violent dispersal of anti-governmental mass protests on November 7, 2007, raiding the TV Company IMEDI by a riot police, and the illegal take-over of the property of Arkadi Patarkatsishvili.

Charges were also filed against Ivane Merabishvili, the former minister of the interior, Zurab Adeishvili, the former prosecutor general, Davit Kezerashvili, the former minister of defense and Giorgi Ugulava, the former mayor of Tbilisi.

TV IMEDI Ltd. has been intensively broadcasting internal developments of Georgia of a highly sensitive nature, thus raising public concerns.

Excise taxes on drugs may cause surge in market, says importers’ union chief

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Tert.am has talked to Samvel Zakaryan, the president of Medicine Producers and Importers’ Union, over the impact of a government decision to impose excise taxes on the purchase of drugs.
Do you think the government measures in the pharmaceutical industry are justified given that this is a priority sector?
They are justified; we would simply expect more active measures. In terms of the strategy timing, our sector is the best. and it is one of the first in terms of the activities accomplished. We are very actively working with the Ministry of Economy and the Industrial Development Foundation. The result was that the pharmaceutical sector had the highest records, with 29.8 percent production growth and 25.8 percent export growth.
Do you observe changes in the new government or do they pursue the predecessors’ [policies]?
No, it is an absolutely different work style. What particularly surprised us was that the reforms are implemented without any discussions with us, with our opinion remaining overlooked. For instance, the document on approving simultaneous import procedures was put forward to the private sector all of a sudden.
What will you say about the new reforms that call for imposing excise taxes on medicines?
That’s the other problem we face; the [amended] law “On Trade and Services” envisages excise taxes also for medicines, apart from soap, make-up products and other items. That’s a non-professional approach, because drugs, as a specific form of product, should [be imported] based on specific procedures. As a result, drugs too appeared on that list on grounds of combating the shadow economy. Over one million drug packages, with different sizes and quality, are imported to Armenia, so it is important to excise all that, as we deal with considerable expenses. If the package includes 60 pills while the patient wishes five, for example, that would violate the excising procedures. Our patients will not buy all 60; they will take 5 [pills] and throw away all the rest. The excise tax costs may cause a surge in the prices of medicines.
It is argued to be a method of combating the shadow.
The excision will offer no benefits at all; it doesn’t make any sense in the case of medicines. There are special surveillance procedures for pharmaceutical products, as it is, with every single vial being registered during the import. So shadow activities are practically ruled out. If drugs used to be smuggled from Georgia, then it is necessary to take action against that; official importers cannot carry out a shadow import. Excise offers wide opportunities to smugglers; they may tear the label from a drug sold for 10 Drams and stick it to a 10,000 Drams worth drug imported without registration. Official importers work in a coordinated manner, so they cannot act in the shadow. It is necessary to fight smugglers instead of dismantling the accomplished market through experiments. There are no procedures of the kind in European countries.

Diaspora Tycoon Slams Armenian ‘Monopolies’

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A prominent Armenian-American businessman sounded alarm bells on Monday over what he sees as a lack of competition in Armenia, saying that it could spell serious trouble for the country’s economy.

Vahak Hovnanian singled out the monopolization of lucrative imports of goods by “a handful of people” close to the government. He declined to name any of them, though.

“That could have deadly consequences for the economy,” Hovnanian warned in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I maybe going to extremes but I want people to take note.”

“The monopolies must be broken up,” he said. “Competition is what drives countries forward. There is no competition here. We can’t move forward in this way.”

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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

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.

Want to Write for Hetq?

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10:24, March 14, 2014

I’m looking for freelancers who can broaden the scope of Hetq’s English edition

Arts & Culture, Commentary, Politics, Civil Society, Interviews…

Anything interesting happening in your local community you’d like to share?

Write to me with your ideas and story suggestions.

Hrant at hg.hetq@gmail.com

Source: HetqOriginial Article

For Better or For Worse: Nature Protection Ministry Proposes Amendments to Water Use Laws

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16:44, February 14, 2014

With the goal of providing a systematic solution to issues of effective use of water resources in Ararat valley, the Ministry of Nature Protection of the Republic of Armenia (RA) is proposing amendments and additions to the RA Water Code, and the RA laws on the Republic of Armenia’s National Water Program, on Licensing, and on State Tax.

The proposed legislative package has been sent to the relevant state agencies for their input.

Head of the Ministry of Nature Protection’s Water Resources Management Agency Volodya Narimanyan told Hetq, said that with this amendment package his ministry is attempting to clarify the ideas and the ambiguous commentary, as well as introduce new requirements. For example, one of the main points of the proposed amendments is if water use permit conditions are not met, the water use permit might be annulled.

2013 in Civil Society: Protests and more protests

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The struggle of civil movements this year has been comprehensive and diverse with limited success in certain fields due to unified efforts and active involvement of the civil society.

Despite the rather passive start of the year in terms of civil movements, the second half of 2013 turned out to be tense with active developments.

Some analysts believe that especially after the February 18 presidential ballot, when current president Serzh Sargsyan won a decisive victory over his opponents and was re-elected for a second term, despite the widespread poverty and atmosphere of injustice in the country, people became even more aware of the fact that is it impossible to achieve changes via elections and started practicing their constitutional rights to civil protest and disobedience more frequently.