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Vladimir Putin Wins OCCRP’s Person Of Year For 2014

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19:01, January 1, 2015

Vladimir Putin has been named the 2014 Person of the Year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an award given annually to the person who does the most to enable and promote organized criminal activity.

Putin was recognized for his work in turning Russia into a major money-laundering center; for enabling organized crime in Crimea and in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine; for his unblemished record of failing to prosecute criminal activity; and for advancing a government policy of working with and using crime groups as a component of state policy.

Armenian IT Industry Keeps Up Rapid Growth

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Information technology (IT) companies remain the fastest-growing sector of Armenia’s economy that has expanded by 25 percent in 2014, according to official statistics.

Preliminary data from the Armenian Ministry of Economy shows the combined output of the nearly 400 IT firms operating in the country reaching almost $475 million. The figure is equivalent to about 5 percent of Gross Domestic Product and almost one-third of Armenian exports in 2013.

The Armenian IT industry, which is dominated by local subsidiaries of U.S. software giants, generated only 1.7 percent of GDP in 2010. The total number of skilled personnel working there has since more than doubled to around 11,600, the ministry figures show.

Robust Growth Reported In Karabakh

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Economic growth in Nagorno-Karabakh has averaged about 10 percent annually in the past several years and will continue unabated in 2015, according to the authorities in Stepanakert.

Ara Harutiunian, the Karabakh prime minister, made upbeat macroeconomic forecasts on Thursday as his cabinet pushed through the unrecognized republic’s parliament its budget for next year envisaging a sizable increase in public spending.

The spending target of 88.1 billion drams ($192 million) is based on a projection that the Karabakh economy will expand by 9 percent in 2015.

“A real GDP increase of 9 percent in 2015 and rapid growth in following years are expected to result from the development of energy, agriculture, light industry, food processing, mining, information technology and other sectors,” Harutiunian told lawmakers, according to the Artsakhpress.am news agency.

New Armenian Mining Giant Inaugurated

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Overcoming fierce resistance from environmentalists, a private mining company has officially launched production operations at Armenia’s second largest copper deposit that will significantly increase output in the main export-oriented sector of the Armenian economy. 

Vallex Group inaugurated at the weekend an ore-processing plant which it has built at the Teghut forest in the northern Lori province as part of a $380 million project to mine copper and molybdenum there.

President Serzh Sarkisian underlined the Armenian government’s strong support for the controversial project with his presence at the opening ceremony. It took place just three weeks after the government gave the final green light to a British company planning to develop untapped gold reserves of Armenia.

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Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind

December 3, 2014 Armenia, Technology No Comments
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Prof Stephen Hawking, one of Britain’s pre-eminent scientists, has said that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence, the BBC reports.He told the BBC:”The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”His warning came in response to a question about a revamp of the technology he uses to communicate, which involves a basic form of AI.But others are less gloomy about AI’s prospects.The theoretical physicist, who has the motor neurone disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is using a new system developed by Intel to speak.Machine learning experts from the British company Swiftkey were also involved in its creation. Their technology, already employed as a smartphone keyboard app, learns how the professor thinks and suggests the words he might want to use next.Prof Hawking says the primitive forms of artificial intelligence developed so far have already proved very useful, but he fears the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans.”It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he said.”Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”But others are less pessimistic.”I believe we will remain in charge of the technology for a decently long time and the potential of it to solve many of the world problems will be realized,” said Rollo Carpenter, creator of Cleverbot.Cleverbot’s software learns from its past conversations, and has gained high scores in the Turing test, fooling a high proportion of people into believing they are talking to a human.Mr Carpenter says we are a long way from having the computing power or developing the algorithms needed to achieve full artificial intelligence, but believes it will come in the next few decades.”We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can’t know if we’ll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it,” he says.But he is betting that AI is going to be a positive force.Prof Hawking is not alone in fearing for the future.In the short term, there are concerns that clever machines capable of undertaking tasks done by humans until now will swiftly destroy millions of jobs.In the longer term, the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk has warned that AI is “our biggest existential threat”.In his BBC interview, Prof Hawking also talks of the benefits and dangers of the internet.He quotes the director of GCHQ’s warning about the net becoming the command centre for terrorists: “More must be done by the internet companies to counter the threat, but the difficulty is to do this without sacrificing freedom and privacy.”He has, however, been an enthusiastic early adopter of all kinds of communication technologies and is looking forward to being able to write much faster with his new system.But one aspect of his own tech – his computer generated voice – has not changed in the latest update.Prof Hawking concedes that it’s slightly robotic, but insists he didn’t want a more natural voice.”It has become my trademark, and I wouldn’t change it for a more natural voice with a British accent,” he said.”I’m told that children who need a computer voice, want one like mine.” 

Downing Street presses ISPs over anti-terror measures

November 15, 2014 Armenia, Australia, Technology No Comments
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The UK’s major internet service providers (ISPs) are to introduce new measures to tackle online extremism, the BBC reports quoting Downing Street as saying.
The ISPs had “committed” to strengthening their filters and adding a “public reporting button” to flag terrorism-related material.
But the ISPs told the BBC that no specific agreement had been made.
Campaigners called for transparency over what would be blocked.
Prime Minster David Cameron said technology companies had a “social responsibility” to deal with jihadists.
Mr Cameron told the Australian Parliament in Canberra that he was putting technology companies under pressure to deal with jihadist material.
“In the UK we are pushing them to do more, including strengthening filters, improving reporting mechanisms and being more proactive in taking down this harmful material,” he said.
“We are making progress but there is further to go. This is their social responsibility – and we expect them to live up to it.”
The proposed measures are believed to have stemmed from a meeting held last month to discuss ways in which technology firms could help tackle online extremism.
In a briefing note, No 10 said the ISPs had subsequently committed to filtering out extremist and terrorist material, and hosting a button that members of the public could use to report content.
It would work in a similar fashion to the reporting button that allows the public to flag instances of child sexual exploitation on the internet.

Nigol Bezjian’s Ceaseless Search for Truth and Discovery — An Interview

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17:52, November 14, 2014

By Christian Garbis

Filmmaker Nigol Bezjian is a master storyteller who conveys pathos and lust for life, introspection and emotional extremes of joy and sorrow in one sweep.

Born in Aleppo, Syria in 1955, Bezjian immigrated with his family to Boston in 1974. He earned a BFA in Cinema Studies at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and then further pursued his passion for filmmaking at the UCLA School of Film, Theatre and Television where he graduated with a MFA in Film Producing, Writing and Directing. 

Prime Minister Claims Annual 25% Growth in Armenia’s IT Sector

November 13, 2014 Armenia, Business, Technology No Comments
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15:20, November 12, 2014

Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan today received Mario Mazzola, the Cisco Systems President for Business Development and Laureate of the 2014 Global IT Award of the President of the Republic of Armenia.

The prime minister congratulated Mazzola and stated that it was an honor for the Armenian government to recognize the achievements of one of the world’s most outstanding representatives of the IT (information technology) sector.

Abrahamyan revealed that strengthening the IT industry is one of the government’s top priorities in order to increase Armenia’s global competitiveness in the field. IT is the fastest growing sector in Armenia with a recorded annual growth of 20-25 percent and has the potential for additional gains.

Ireland insists it can still be hi-tech hub despite axing ‘double Irish’ loophole

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As 22,000 tech entrepreneurs, inventors and investors converged on Dublin for the city’s Web Summit last week, one big question threatened to bring the whole digital bonanza down to earth, The Guardian reports.After the Ireland moved last month to close a lucrative tax loophole, former Apple chief executive John Sculley told the summit that the country risked losing the “edge” that has helped it become the European headquarters of US technology giants including Apple and Facebook. “There is a lot of talent in Ireland so I don’t think it will be an insurmountable problem but it will take the edge off, if tax advantages do go away,” he said.The “double Irish” scheme has allowed corporations to save billions by legally moving huge profits at their Irish bases to countries regarded as tax havens. It will be phased out following the 2015 budget – although Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed last week that firms already benefiting from the scheme could continue to operate it until 2020.At the summit – where speakers included Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, Dropbox founder Drew Houston and actor and angel investor Eva Longoria – bosses of the latest wave of hi-tech companies to come to Ireland were keen to play down the significance of Dublin’s move to end the scheme. Eight software, telecoms and digital media firms announced that they would create 400 new jobs in the republic.The boss of one of them, New Zealander Dr Jock Percy, whose Perseus Telecom provides fibre optics to connect major banks with stock exchanges, said he was encouraged that the Dublin government had decided to maintain its 12.5% corporate tax rate and planned new tax breaks for inventions and innovations minted in Ireland, like the UK’s “patent box” scheme.“Low corporation tax in Ireland is attractive but the double Irish was not even considered or planned for. Instead we were more interested in the fact that there are multilingual skilled workers in Ireland and a pro-business government,” said Percy, whose company’s main base is in Galway.“For us the introduction of a patent-box is much more valuable because our intellectual property, designs and software programs all belong here in Ireland. So getting tax relief for that is fantastic and we are looking forward to that coming in,” he said.Kenny told an audience at the summit that the country had “nothing to fear” from the end of the double Irish scheme. “The end of it will make our country even more attractive for foreign direct investment in the future and there is that transition period for companies already here up to 2020.”Richard Bruton, minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation also dismissed the concerns of Sculley, although he acknowledged the flak Ireland has taken over tax schemes in Brussels and Washington. “Clearly we understand that countries compete on a number of fronts and Ireland has always offered a competitive tax environment,” he said. “We know companies expect that and we will continue to compete very strongly but on a fair basis. There has to be a worldwide consensus to make taxation policy fair across the board.”The 12.5% corporate tax rate, Kenny and Bruton said, would be protected as a cornerstone of Irish fiscal policy.As Kenny and Bruton were speaking, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers signalled that the UK Treasury would decide within weeks if Northern Ireland could set its own corporation tax rate. She promised in a speech to Co-operation Ireland in Belfast that the administration would know soon whether London would hand over control.Political leaders in Stormont have looked on jealously as their southern neighbors continue to use low corporate taxes to attract foreign direct investment and want their own rate set at a level close to the republic’s.Villiers said London was taking the calls to devolve tax powers “very seriously”. It could be a move the republic’s Industrial Development Agency will have to take very seriously too. 

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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.