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.
Facng the disintegration of his family, Hanna is promised salvation abroad. Guardians enroll him in the Armenian seminary of Jerusalem, where he takes his Armenian name Jonah Ibelinian, and practices Armenian customs in comfort and safety. But as Jonah begins to adjust to this new life, he encounters inter-ethnic strife, clerical corruption, deception, and banishment for alleged insurrection against the Turkish state.
While on the lam in Europe, Jonah searches for lost kin as he stays just one step ahead of his pursuers. As he hides from the Turkish secret police, fugitive Jonah is coaxed by a former rival to conduct a secret mission in exchange for acceptance. Jonah also searches the depths of his own conscience as he is told that his mission is to be carried out at the Turkish Airlines counter at Orly Airport on the outskirts of Paris.
As the story crescendos into a dynamic climax, buried secrets, and hidden identities and motives are revealed – leading the gripping saga to a fulfilling conclusion.
Gray Wolves and White Doves’ storyline is laced with intrigues and betrayals, ancient traditions, comic relief and accurate historical depictions – fused together by the protagonist’s indomitable will to live in freedom and dignity. This literary achievement is already being put on par with Billy Hayes’ autobiographical thriller and award-winning film, Midnight Express. While Gray Wolves and White Doves stands on its own merits as a spellbinding story, author John Benjamin Sciarra aptly points out that Balian’s treatment further elevates it because “…by setting [the novel] in the shadow of the attempted annihilation of Armenians by Turks, the historical background becomes as meaningful as the story itself.”
Protagonist Ibelinian possesses many fine qualities often attributed to the Armenian people: Christian values, love of family, drive, talent, and a strong work ethic. The grace and humility with which Jonah faces down impossible odds offers readers a model to emulate and an opportunity to place their own personal challenges into perspective. And by presenting his story as a cross between Raffi’s epic Khentè and a John Grisham novel, Balian captures the interest of general readers while introducing them to the Armenians – a people whose history has been hijacked, culture appropriated, and appeals for justice disregarded.
Following is an interview conducted with the author. To learn more and to purchase the book, visit http://johndbalian.com.
Lucine Kasbarian: How have your life experiences and literary interests equipped you to write Gray Wolves and White Doves, and what do you hope this book will accomplish?
John Balian: It is said that the best fiction usually involves strong elements of true-life experiences, and this book is no different. The premise of the book is based on my life experiences. It is also said that everyone has a book hidden inside. Gray Wolves and White Doves is clearly the one I needed to release from within me.
While Gray Wolves and White Doves is an suspenseful thriller, it is based on a real-life story that weaves a timeless tale of a man’s perseverance, the endurance of hope, and the winning ways of the human spirit no matter how bleak the circumstances.
My hope for the book is to leave a legacy to generations to come and to shed light on an often-ignored and definitely under-explored topic of great importance – the issue of genocide, an event that has contributed so dramatically to the factional rivalries and the current quagmire of the Middle East. My intent here was to bring attention to this matter while entertaining and rousing a non-Armenian audience without preaching to them.
The readership is looking for a motion picture based on this story. Also, to translate the book, first into Armenian and Turkish and then into other languages would be a very desired outcome.
LK: You are to be congratulated for self-publishing this work. Because of the subject matter and your treatment of it, I wonder if a mainstream book publisher would have produced it. Tell us how this book came to be.
JB: There is no stigma anymore in the self-publishing realm. I understand that established authors are choosing this route more often. I did attempt to get an agent for representation by sending a query to about a dozen of them, but it became apparent that to succeed in the traditional publishing approach, it would take a very long time with no apparent benefits while running the risk of losing the literary and educational value of this book.
I chose the Amazon publishing services called BookSurge Publishing and CreateSpace. They offered easy access to the Amazon distribution channels as well as editing services that were quite impressive and very helpful.
LK: A disclaimer in the book states that while the story is based on actual events, any similarity to real persons is coincidental. How much of your book is historical and how much is autobiographical? Where does fact end and fiction begin?
JB: The events and historical aspects of the book are all factual. The fictional aspects come from taking poetic license with the creation and portrayal of characters and plots, and the timing of events and scenes.
LK: This story, which has been enthusiastically reviewed by scores of non-Armenian readers, appeals to more than one demographic. You add special touches to the story that will resonate with Armenian readers in particular, such as your decision to name the villains Sevantz and Aghvesian, or to create characters with evocative Turkish names such as Soluk Kurt, Inonu, Turgut and Erdogan. Please talk about this.
JB: To date, more than 95 percent of the readership has been non-Armenian. There is unanimity on the quality of work and an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the writing, the story and its literary value. Some samples of the feedback and sentiments can be seen in the reviews placed on Amazon, with a total of 50 reviews thus far with a top rating of five stars.
In addition to the pace of the book, I want the readers (on a second or third reading) to delve into the meaning and intricacies of scenes, names and references to religious, historical, and biblical issues, and to personalities past and present that continue to influence peoples’ and nations’ lives.
LK: While telling your tale, life in Jerusalem comes alive, as does the issue with which many lay communities struggle: corrupt authority figures and clergy. What purpose do you think your treatment of this taboo topic could serve?
JB: My hope is that it leads to awareness and more importantly to the protection of our national treasures and heritage.
LK: Two powerful aspects of this book were your ability to communicate how goodness and humility can inspire hostility and envy in others, and the resulting trauma that persists within the Armenians. The central character is scapegoated by transgressors who project sins onto him. Please talk about the importance these concepts hold for you, for the Armenian nation and for humanity.
JB: Unfortunately this mindset is not limited to one period of time, one region of the world, one country, or one people. Humanity grapples with these issues daily and never seems to have the collective courage to overcome these destructive attitudes. Armenians have been victims of inhumane treatment with devastating results for far too long. How to break this cycle is the real challenge.
LK: Do you think the Republic of Turkey has the same mindset today that it did during the years the action in this book takes place? Is your story just an artifact, or could it also be a cautionary tale?
JB: I believe my story is not an artifact. The mindset today is no different than during the years the action in this book takes place.
However, I think we are at a watershed time. A segment of the Turkish public is clamoring for the truth while the radicals are struggling to maintain the denialist policies of their government and forefathers. I believe this book will help our cause and the struggles of all victims of persecution, genocide, and those whose human spirits are under constant threat of being obliterated.
So far, I know one person of Turkish heritage has read Gray Wolves and White Doves. He recently sent me a note as follows: “…I just finished it, and I am still shaking.” He acknowledged that “…while the book is very, very good, I do have very mixed emotions.”
LK: What void do you think exists in literature on Armenian subjects?
JB: I would hope that we as a community add to our armamentarium books such as Gray Wolves and White Doves and other tools of “entertainment/education” and place these books on the required reading lists for students and transform the books into feature films to ensure they become yet another piece of the fabric and tapestry that we need to weave to tell the world the full story and tell it in a manner that is not offensive or overbearing. You can see from the reviews, and many other readers have told me in person, that this book has taught them about the Middle East, Armenia, the Armenians, and the Genocide. In fact, reading the novel has inspired many to research these issues on their own.
LK: How do you keep up with current Armenian events?
JB: I am an avid reader of all Armenian newspapers and journals. I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Armenian Center at Columbia University.
LK: Will readers learn what happens to Jonah and the abducted child held by the Turkish couple? Where can readers hear you speak about your book?
JB: The readers are asking me the same questions. All I can say for now is that I will focus on ensuring the widest possible audience for this book and that it becomes a film.
I have had visits with book clubs in NY, NJ, CT, and MA and attended special events held for the book in the Northeast. On Wednesday evening, Sep. 28th, at 7:00pm, the St. Gregory Men’s Club will sponsor my presentation and book signing at the St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian Church’s Atrium, 1131 North St, White Plains, NY, 10605, http://stgregoryarmenianchurch.org . Interested individuals must RSVP in advance to Chris Bonfiglio at (914) 707-2152, or email@example.com. Admission is $10 and light refreshments will be served.
Interviewer Lucine Kasbarian is a book publicist on leave, and the author of The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale, www.lucinekasbarian.com
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.
The Greedy Sparrow is the first time this tale has been presented in the English language as a children’s picture book. The story begins in old Armenia with a sparrow who catches a thorn in his foot. As he asks for help, he sets off an intriguing cycle of action that transports him through the Armenian countryside, encountering people engaged in traditional folkways. The Greedy Sparrow ends with a surprising twist and conveys moral messages about greed, selfishness and using one’s judgment. To address the ethical and human components of the tale, a discussion and activity guide will be available on the author’s website, www.lucinekasbarian.com.
Though intended for readers ages 4 through 8, noted Sesame Street host and storyteller Bob McGrath says that “The Greedy Sparrow is actually for everyone. It’s clever and humorous, and the wonderful illustrations not only add color but also truly interpret the story line.” The fable is lavishly illustrated with authentic depictions of Armenian folk traditions by Moscow-based animator and illustrator, Maria Zaikina, who was selected to illustrate The Greedy Sparrow after the author and publisher viewed her Armenian folk animations on YouTube
Author Kasbarian is a syndicated journalist and Director-on-Leave from Progressive Book Publicity. A graduate of the NYU Journalism program, she is the former Director of Publicity for Red Wheel, Weiser and Conari Press, and previously was Publicity and Marketing Manager at Hearst Books. Kasbarian is also the author of Armenia: A Rugged Land, an Enduring People (Dillon Press/Simon & Schuster, 1998) and was a contributing editor for Cobblestone magazine’s special issue, the Armenian Americans (Carus Publishing, 2000). The granddaughter of Armenian genocide survivors, Kasbarian has held leadership positions in the Armenian Youth Federation and the Land & Culture Organization. Among other organizations, she belongs to the National Writer’s Union, the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and the Women’s National Book Association.
The author and her husband, journalist David Boyajian, live in Belmont, Massachusetts and Teaneck, New Jersey. For the production of The Greedy Sparrow, the author served as the model for the illustrator’s rendering of the bride’s features. The bride’s wedding costume in the book bears a strong resemblance to that of the author’s own folkloric bridal gown.
The Greedy Sparrow is a 32-page illustrated hardcover book, available by mid-March, 2011 through Amazon and other brick-and-mortar and online booksellers, as well as through the publisher for $17.99 US; $20.95 CANADA. To order through the publisher, contact: Janet Kelly, Order Department, Marshall Cavendish Corp., 99 White Plains Rd., Tarrytown, NY 10591; Phone: (800) 821-9881 x 325; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.marshallcavendish.us/kids.
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.
The book was published in 2008 and is devoted to Hrant Dink.
The book is a conversation between two men, one Turk, one Armenian, about the past, present, and future. Through their personal and family itineraries, the great events that marked the history of these two peoples are evoked with, as its culminating point, the 1915 genocide and the question of its recognition.
About 230 Turkish intellectuals asks Armenians for forgiveness for the Armenian Genocide.
“We did not aim to raise the issue of the genocide, but to remove the taboo placed on the theme. Most Turks are unaware of the 1915 events as it was forbidden to speak about the Armenian genocide in Turkey. Those who knew the real facts proffered to keep silent,” said Ahmet Insel.
Born in 1955 in Istanbul, Ahmet Insel did his university studies in Paris and directed the Economics Department of the University of Paris I from 1990 to 1994. Since 2004, he teaches in and directs the Economics Department of Galatasaray University in Istanbul. Ahmet Insel is the author of numerous books on Turkey.
He thinks that the dialogue between the two nations will bring them closer.
“Part of the Turkish public believes that the facts should be revealed whereas others [Kemalists] do not want changes saying the recognition of the Armenian genocide will bring radical changes in Turkey,” said Michel Marian.
Michel Marian has published numerous articles on Armenian question. Part of his family was killed in the 1915 genocide; another part was able to flee, finding refuge in Armenia as well as in France.
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.
The book already won many praises
“In this meticulously researched and moving work, Michael Bobelian reveals why the children of Armenia haven’t received justice for the genocide of their ancestors and the unconscionable efforts of Turkish leaders to rewrite their country’s history by denying its shameful past. This powerful and gripping account of a people’s century-long struggle for justice is long overdue.”
– George Deukmejian, thirty-fifth governor of California
“A powerful and provocative work, Children of Armenia is a poignant and disciplined chronicle of the difficult quest for recognition of the Genocide and the efforts within the Armenian community, the American government, and international community for acknowledgement. Without such acknowledgement, there can be no redress and no way of building toward the future. One reads these pages with sadness and with anguish but also with the understanding of the perniciousness of genocide denial, which provides to the victims — and the perpetrators — no way to go forward.”
– Michael Berenbaum, former project director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justiceis published by Simon & Schuster in a hardcover format with 320 pages, it is available at Amazon.com
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.
The writer describes the members of the group as “gun-toting defendants” driving flashy cars “and connected to elaborate schemes in bank fraud, identity theft and other highly sophisticated white-collar crimes.”
Armenian Power originated in the 1980s by young Armenians, mainly from Soviet Armenia, to protect themselves from Mexican gangs in Los Angeles high schools. In time the organization developed working relations with the latter and shifted focus from fighting for territory to fighting for money and power.
My initial reaction to the report, like to all things Armenian, is visceral. Besides the fact that the horrific nature of the group’s actions turns my stomach, I feel angry. There are many positive contributions Armenians make to the communities they live in, so why point out the negative?
I think and catch myself in doing something very typically Armenian: reacting defensively when a non-Armenian criticizes my people. I immediately want to blame someone, mainly the person who is pointing a finger in my direction. This is a natural reaction for those of us who take pride in belonging to a lineage older than Noah’s Ark.
Ancient is the Armenian archetype – our intuitive behavior that has proven to withstand the test of time. We’ve been around so long, we consider ourselves to be wise and flawless. It is in our ethnic genome to revere the old and be doubtful of the new, to respect the elder as authority and dismiss the young as naive and inexperienced, to move in time and space, but not leave the past and the home we left behind. Any divergence from what has history and is the norm, we perceive as deficient, abnormal, lacking.
Young Armenians in American public schools faced with anything but the norm, as they know it, are caught by surprise like objects uprooted by cyclonic winds.
When life throws us into the realm of the unexpected or takes us out of our element, when it forces us to question our truths and face our shortcomings that make us seem not so perfect, we feel ashamed and become unforgiving. This quickly leads us on to the path of self-loathing. Our genesis, the very thing that is the source of our pride and the reason for our being, becomes our handicap in the youth-crazed, ever changing culture of the new world. We feel betrayed.
Additionally, we have been conditioned to put on our best face in public, regardless of what is going on inside. This archetype was reinforced during the Soviet era. We do not air our dirty laundry in public, but proudly display our clean, shiny load in front of our balconies and windows literally and figuratively. We even pride ourselves in the way we pin the pieces next to each other on the clothesline!
So, regardless of our circumstances, we find ways to put on a front like the well choreographed parades of the Soviet government. For God’s sake, we were the first people to adopt Christianity as our state religion! Never mind that our church is void of spirituality and our God cares more about the dead than the living.
Then we boast, and when others dare to not appreciate our genius with expected enthusiasm, we resort to demeaning, deprecating commentary and are not shy about projecting our negative feelings. No one is good enough, smart enough, deserving enough as Armenians. We’re the oldest and the wisest, and therefore most deserving of respect and appreciation.
More than once I have had to counsel a distraught Armenian parent complaining about how people make fun of their perfect child because he/she does not look or act like them.
When our expectations are not met, we are wounded and insulted. This is when the daredevil gene kicks in, and we don’t hesitate to give our perceived enemy a piece of our mind, or show off a flexed muscle.
We call this taseeb (honor): a sentiment that forces an Armenian to pick up a rifle and defend his physical and psychological turf. It is the same sentiment that drives a young Armenian to defend himself from insults and aggression, real or perceived, from a person of a different ethnicity in an American high school.
These archetypes are some of the underlying factors that lead Armenian youth into conflicting situations outside their circles.
In a new and changing world, old archetypes no longer serve the needs of the people, while the new ones are constantly elusive. Coupled with the desire to belong and to fit in, this drives people to adopt clichés that are readily available in a world congested with material, ideas and attitudes. Thus, to be accepted by the out-groups, to measure up and to be competitive, they quickly adopt what is more accessible to them for putting on the “perfect face.”
Designer clothing and accessories, Mercedes, BMW, Porches, attitudes and gestures we don’t quite grasp but admire, just about anything that we perceive as distinguishing and defining the out-group we are so eager to be a part of and be appreciated by, we collect. Clichés are easy to launder, polish, and pin on one’s life’s “clothes line”. Life in the new world becomes a long string of clichés.
In the absence of archetypes, reality is re-imagined, improvised like life on a theater stage, Marshall McLuhan explains. On this stage, young people are the characters of their own show, and there is nothing in the world more important than that until new archetypes take form.
The mafia or its modern day version – gangs that are a common occurrence in societies constantly in flux – is the stage where young people play out their roles. There have been Irish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Mexican gangs in America prior to the Armenians.
Every wave of new arrivals, every wave of change, brings with it a new set of expectations and challenges. While families try to decipher the laws, rules, and traditions of their new environment, the young tend to gravitate towards groups that fill the need for belonging and provide a security network.
Some, more than others, in every group are willing to break rules often to their own detriment while caught between archetypes of the old world and the clichés of the new.
Marineh Khachadour is an educator, writer, researcher working in a public school in Pasadena, California. She lived in Armenia from 1992-1998. During that time she provided educational services and resources for Armenian women and children including refugees and served as Gender in Development Expert with UNDP, Armenia from 1995-1998.
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 email@example.com
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.
“In the past, if water use conditions weren’t met, we couldn’t void the permit, but now we’re making that clear. If the state gives you a water use permit with this condition, be kind and meet this condition; otherwise, we will make the permit null and void,” he explained.
A new requirement in the proposed package concerning the execution of drilling operations stipulates that a drilling company or individual must obtain a license so that the state can supervise its activities. “Those companies that execute drilling must have a license for drilling. That is, we are proposing to license activities,” he added.
After the relevant state bodies discuss and submit their opinions regarding the amendments, Narimanyan says, the package will be sent to the RA Ministry of Justice, the government, then finally to parliament.
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.
Karabakh war veterans’ civil standoff has been unprecedented. Although, every now and then on different occasions they had complained of their social conditions and of being neglected by the state , however never before had they come out to hold systematic rallies and sitting strikes. Retired army colonel Volodya Avetisyan initiated the civil standoff in May and in October found himself behind the bars, with charges of “swindling …in large amounts”. Avetisyan’s and his comrades-in-arms claim that by bringing charges the authorities are trying to silence him. The war vets demanding increase of their pensions and various privileges have now focused their struggle on various acts of protest in Avetisyan’s support. There is another group of Karabakh war veterans presenting political demands to the government. Every Thursday they hold small rallies in Liberty Square and demand that the government resign.
Yerevan mayor Taron Margaryan’s decision to raise public bus fare by 50 percent made the hot Yerevan summer even hotter.
The decision was immediately followed by a civil movement when numerous young activists held a variety of acts of protest during five consecutive days relentlessly struggling, rebelling against the bus fare increase and made the municipal government in the Armenian capital heed the people’s voice, forcing them to understand they would not pay more for using the overloaded, worn-out and hardly functioning minibuses.
The unified effort yielded results and on July 26 the mayor suspended the application of his decision temporarily, meaning that the buses and minibuses continued operating for the same 100 dram fare (around 24 cents). The mayor, however, stated that if residents of Yerevan wanted to have decent public transport services, they have to be ready to pay more. Municipal officials and transport companies running the routes have repeatedly stated after the summer civil standoff that the rise of bus fare is unavoidable, grounding it by the fact that everything else has become more expensive except for public transport services, hence their expenses have grown and they are operating at a loss.
The departing year has turned out to be rather active also in terms of public protests against controversial construction projects. In August, residents of 10 and 12 Sayat-Nova Avenue and 5 Komitas streets, in Yerevan, rebelled against construction in their neighborhoods. These people claim that the construction licenses in densely populated zones of the city are illegal, violate the seismic resistance norms, and block their light. Despite the variety of measures the residents have resorted to, even lying down in front of construction machines to block their way, no tangible results have been achieved; their struggle is ongoing (h).
Despite a drawn-out battle to preserve unchanged Yerevan’s Pak Shuka (“Covered Market”), on the list of historical-cultural heritage and belonging to businessman MP Samvel Alexanyan, opened its doors after two years of repairs, but now as a fashionable supermarket, rather than the produce market it used to be. Although ruling Republican MP Alexanyan kept the fa
2013 became a milestone year for Armenia not only in its foreign, but also domestic politics. After nearly four years of negotiations with the European Union over the signing of an association agreement on September 3 Armenia unexpectedly announced its intention to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
This decision has had its influence not only on Armenia proper, but also on the processes elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Inspired by Armenia’s decision, Russia stepped up its pressure on Ukraine, which suspended the process of signing of the Association Agreement with the EU one week before the Vilnius summit of Eastern Partnership. As a result, on November 29 such agreements were initialed only by Moldova and Georgia.
During the year there has been an ongoing debate in Armenia and other post-Soviet countries about whether it is expedient “to revive a new Soviet empire” under the name of a Eurasian Union. But at the end of the year plans to create such a union remain relevant – in May 2014 Armenia is going to be one of the six founders of the Eurasian Union (along with Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan).
Before September 3, Armenia was actively engaged with Europe, stating about shared values and ‘civilizational’ approaches. Armenia even dared reproach Russia for selling offensive weapons to Azerbaijan.
After September 3, however, Armenia suddenly remembered its centuries-old friendship with Russia as well as Russia’s ‘salutary’ role. Pro-Russian rhetoric increased and some even stated the readiness to return to the Russian Empire. In particular, publicist Zori Balayan wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, mentioning the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813, according to which, as a result of the Russian-Persian war, Persia renounced claims to Karabakh that went under Russia’s control.
The Russia-West struggle for post-Soviet countries, including for Armenia, in 2013 came out of its passive phase and acquired the character of an open confrontation. In the course of this battle all methods were employed – from economic blackmail to high-level visits. In particular, the visit by Putin to Armenia on December 2, as some analysts say, marked Armenia’s losing another portion of its sovereignty and security to Russia.
There have been some new developments in the Karabakh settlement process as well. In particular, on November 19, in Vienna, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev, met for the first time in almost two years. During the meeting some new proposals were apparently discussed. The talks were confidential, but on the basis of available information experts assume that Russia and Turkey are promoting the project of opening the Turkish-Armenian border at the expense of Armenia’s concessions on two districts around Karabakh. The U.S. and Europe appear to insist on settlement and opening of communications while maintaining the current status quo in Karabakh.
Partially this version was confirmed on the eve of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s visit to Yerevan on December 12 (he was attending a regional organization’s forum in the Armenian capital). The Turkish press openly reported the offer from Turkey, but President Sargsyan did not receive Davutoglu, while Minister Edward Nalbandian stated that preconditions are unacceptable in Armenian-Turkish normalization.
The sudden change in the policy of Armenia, according to analysts, could lead to some adjustments in the positions of Armenia on relations with Turkey. At the beginning of 2013 Yerevan set up a commission to study possible legal claims to Turkey. The body was headed by the then Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepyan. It was followed by assumptions that in 2015, when the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide will be marked, Armenia, with the support of the West, intends to advance serious claims to Turkey. However, the commission has not yet taken any public steps, and after September 3 decisions on claims to Turkey may already be made through Moscow.
Turkey has made no secret of its concern, especially in connection with the probability of combined Kurdish and Armenian claims. In this regard, Turkey has launched a wide-ranging process of reconciliation with the Kurds. 2013 became auspicious also for the Kurdish movement as the prospect of establishing Kurdistan became even closer.
The agreement on the conflict in Syria became an important event of the year also for Armenia in view of the sizable ethnic Armenian community in this Middle Eastern country. In accordance with this agreement, the world power centers decided not to support any side in the Syrian conflict, to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and lead the country to democratic elections in 2014.
An even more significant agreement was reached by the end of the year on Iran’s nuclear program, which immediately led to the lifting of a number of sanctions that had been imposed on the Islamic Republic by the West and its activation in regional politics. In particular, Iran immediately tried to offer natural gas to Armenia that would apparently be less expensive than Russia’s. Projects in energy and communication sectors have also become more relevant in view of the recent developments and Armenia may play an important role in them.