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Ruble Collapse Hurts Brandy, Wine Production In Armenia

March 5, 2015 Armenia, Arts, Top News No Comments

After years of growth, production of Armenian brandy and wine, major export items mostly sold in Russia, has decreased considerably in recent months due to the sharp depreciation of the Russian currency, the ruble.

Data from the National Statistical Service (NSS) show that show the production volumes shrinking by just over 8 percent last year. The downward trend seems to be accelerating this year, with output in Armenia’s export-oriented brandy industry plummeting by as much as 32 percent year on year in January 2015.

Industry executives say the Russian ruble, which has depreciated by almost half over the past year, is the main factor behind the production losses. Russia has long been the main market for brandy and wine distilled in Armenia from locally grown grapes.

Armenian Constitutional Reform Back On Track

March 5, 2015 Armenia, Top News No Comments

President Serzh Sarkisian is pressing ahead with a controversial constitutional reform that would transform Armenia into a parliamentary republic, parliament speaker Galust Sahakian said on Thursday.

According to Sahakian, corresponding draft amendments to the Armenian constitution are likely to be put on a referendum by the beginning of next year.

The amendments will stem from a reform “concept” that was put forward in October by an ad hoc presidential commission. Sarkisian postponed a formal acceptance of the document at the time in the face of street protests staged by Armenia’s three leading opposition parties. The latter have strongly opposed the constitutional reform, saying that it is aimed at enabling Sarkisian to stay in power after completing his second and final term in 2018.

Tsarukian Quits ‘Active Politics’


Bowing to strong pressure from President Serzh Sarkisian, Gagik Tsarukian resigned as chairman of Armenia’s largest opposition party and announced his retirement from “active politics” on Thursday.

Tsarukian defended his decision to steer clear of a potentially violent confrontation with the Sarkisian administration as he addressed an emergency congress of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) held behind the closed doors. One of his top aides, Naira Zohrabian, was elected as the party’s new chairperson.

“I am leaving active politics,” Tsarukian said in a speech. “I am not the party chairman anymore. But I will continue to be of use to my country and my people in other areas.”

Europe’s Center-Right Urges Turkish Recognition Of Armenian Genocide


An alliance of Europe’s leading center-right parties has urged Turkey to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire and “make restitution” to descendants of its 1.5 million victims.

The European People’s Party (EPP) also called on the European Union to “officially commemorate April 24 as a day to remember and condemn the Armenian Genocide.”

“The European People’s Party reaffirms its recognition and condemnation of the Genocide and Great National Dispossession of the Armenian people on the eve of its 100th Anniversary on 24 April 2015,” reads a resolution adopted by the EPP’s governing Political Assembly on Tuesday.

“We commemorate one-and-a-half million innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and bow in gratitude to those martyred and surviving heroes who struggled for their lives and human dignity,” it says.

No Talks Yet On New Armenia-EU Accord


Armenia and the European Union have still not started official negotiations on a new agreement to deepen their relations not contradicting Yerevan’s recent accession to a Russian-led alliance, a senior Armenian official said on Wednesday.

“No negotiation process with the European Union is underway right now. There are only expert-level discussions aimed at mapping out directions of future cooperation,” First Deputy Economy Minister Garegin Melkonian’s told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

The remarks contrasted with a statement that was made by Melkonian to the official Armenpress news agency in December. He stated that Armenia and the EU could sign “in the near future” a deal that would contain not only political but also economic provisions of their ill-fated Association Agreement.

Tsarukian Set To Resign As Party Leader


The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) on Wednesday gave more indications that Gagik Tsarukian will step down as its leader this week after backing away from a decisive showdown with President Serzh Sarkisian.

Tsarukian is widely expected to make an official statement to that effect at an emergency congress of the BHK slated for Thursday.It will take place behind closed doors.

Senior BHK lawmakers claimed to be unaware of the content of Tsarukian’s speech at the gathering. But they did acknowledge that his resignation, which would most probably also mean retirement from politics, is on the cards.

Azeri, Turkish Warplanes Hold Joint Drills


The Turkish and Azerbaijani air forces began fresh joint exercises at an airfield in central Turkey on Tuesday, highlighting close military ties between Ankara and Baku.

News reports said their warplanes, including three Azerbaijani MiG-29 fighter jets and three Su-25 attack aircraft, as well as combat helicopters will practice joint operations for the next five weeks.

The Turkish news agency Anatolia said the purpose of the exercises is to “prepare common operation plans and mutual command structures.” It quoted the commander of the Azerbaijani airmen participating in the drills as calling them historic. An Azerbaijani Defense Ministry statement cited by the APA news agency said they stem from a “cooperation plan” for 2015 agreed by the Turkish and Azerbaijani militaries.

Another Lawmaker Quits Tsarukian Party


Yet another parliament deputy defected from the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) on Tuesday following a government crackdown unleashed against its leader, Gagik Tsarukian.

Rustam Gasparian’s exit reduced to 29 the number of seats held by the BHK in Armenia’s 131-member parliament. Gasparian gave no formal reasons for the move highlighting the uncertain future of Tsarukian’s party.

The party’s parliamentary faction numbered 36 members before President Serzh Sarkisian harshly condemned Tsarukian on January 12 for threatening to oust him and ordered tax audits of many businesses belonging to the BHK leader. Defections from the BHK faction began just before Tsarukian called off a major anti-government demonstration slated for February 20.

Oppositionist Aims For Pro-Western Bloc


A prominent Armenian opposition politician said on Tuesday that he will help to set up a new electoral alliance that will strive for Armenia’s withdrawal from the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and closer ties with the West.

Aram Sarkisian said that his Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party and other extraparliamentary opposition groups will join forces to win over Armenians opposing membership in the EEU and supporting an Association Agreement with the European Union. He claimed that they make up least 40 percent of the country’s population.

“I believe that in this geopolitical situation these forces will act in a joint and consolidated fashion in the [2017] parliamentary elections and, after achieving serious results, will mount a serious challenge in the [2018] presidential elections, which could result in their victory,” Sarkisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

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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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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.