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Bulgaria’s Largest Telecoms Firm Shares Bought by Group Linked to Sanctioned Oligarch

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17:21, March 24, 2015

A majority stake in the largest telecoms company in Bulgaria has been bought by a group linked to an oligarch close to Putin, according to a probe by the investigative journalism outlet Bivol.

The Louvrier Investment Company (LIC33) announced on March 19 that it had bought shares in the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company, known as Vivacom AD, from previous owner Tsvetan Vassilev.

LIC33’s chairman is Belgian-Russian businessman Pierre Louvrier, and its website lists a company address in Paris which Bivol, an OCCRP partner, discovered is a rented mailbox. According to Bivol, no company with the name LIC33 legally exists in France and it is unclear where the group is registered.

Javakhk ‘Deserters’ Call on the Youth to Return and Enrich the Region

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09:01, March 16, 2015

Students enrolled in Armenian private schools in Los Angeles have been dropping 20cents every day into little collection boxes.

The coins, collected on a weekly basis, are then sent to a Javakhk assistance committee launched by the Armenian Relief Society. The student donations are finally forwarded to Javakhk.

Ashot Melkonyan, Director of the Institute of History of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, recently visited Los Angeles and spoke to students and faculty at twelve Los Angeles Armenian schools. He saw what was taking place regarding Javakhk.

Melkonyan was overjoyed to hear that 6th-12th grade students were learning about Javakhk and especially about those villages that, over the ages, have produced prominent Armenian thinkers and activists.  

OCCRP Launches Secure Whistleblowing Platform

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14:20, March 10, 2015

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project is proud to launch its new, secure whistleblowing platform OCCRP Leaks today.

Developed in partnership with theHermes Center For Transparency and Digital Human RightsandHivos International, OCCRP Leaks provides a way for anybody in possession of public-interest information to pass it to OCCRP anonymously, helping to shine a light on wrongdoing and end corrupt practices from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.

Keeping whistle-blowers safe from the powers they seek to expose has historically been a challenge for media. OCCRP Leaks offers one of the most secure systems available online. The platform uses secure HTTPS encryption with the option of enhanced protection using the Tor browser, which can be downloaded fromthe OCCRPLeaks website.

Amulsar: even "responsible" mining is destructive – Dr. Anahid Shirinian-Orlando

February 17, 2015 Armenia, Diaspora, Technology No Comments
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17:31, February 17, 2015

Lydian International Limited company, registered in an offshore zone, presented a document entitled “Amulsar Project, November 2014″ to Armenians in the Diaspora. This document is superficial, misleading and incomplete. This is what thinks Anahit Shirinian-Orlando, an environmental scientist-engineer living in Los Angeles, who says No to mining at Amulsar.

There is a complete absence of any hydrological study. For example, there is no assessment of how the mining operation will affect the quantity and quality of the water of Vorotan River, of Arpa River, all the small streams on the slopes, as well as the Spandarian Reservoir.

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.” 

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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.