Saturday, June 18, 2005

Ishkan is Dead

Today, a fifty one year old man was buried. Sick with Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (TB), he had been in and out of the Abovian TB Dispensary since god knows when. Although the law says that TB is treated free of charge, nothing is ever that simple in Armenia. At most hospitals, including in the capital, even if you shouldn't have to pay, most of the time you generally do -- for syringes, medication, informal payments to doctors and nurses, for any kind of treatment -- you name it.

Ishkan, Nor Kharberd, Ararat Region, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian

In the case of MDR TB you would have thought that the priority would be to treat the patient rather than making it all dependent on whether you have money or not, especially as those with the disease or the poorest in the country and the disease spreads if treatment is not completed. Hardly surprising, therefore, that Ishkan died but not before his nephew was also diagnozed with TB.

In 2004, I took Edik Baghdasarian of Hetq Online to meet Ishkan. The investigative journalist wrote an article but as Ishkan was frightened of what would happen if anyone found out, Edik changed his name and I made sure that his face was obscured by shadow in the photograph above. That didn't work, however, and before we knew it, Ishkan had apparently been forced to write a "confession" by someone in the health authorities.

He hd been told to write that Edik and I promised to take him to Germany for treatment if he criticized the system in place for treating TB in Armenia and accused them of corruption.
“But if there is no drugs, why is it so good? They signed out the drugs in my name, but I didn't get them—I bought most of them. It cost me 180,000 drams. How am I supposed to pay? I have been sick for twelve years and haven't worked in all those years."
Well, it probably doesn't matter. Like another TB victim in Yerevan who was also unable to receive proper treatment in Abovian (although the reasons for this are still uncertain), Ishkan died two days ago even though the government has signed an agreement with MSF-France to start a massive multi-million dollar programme to tackle MDR-TB in Armenia. However, the agreement should have been signed towards the end of last year but for some reason was delayed by the MoH until a month or so ago. Nice one.

In the meantime, despite what the law says about the government's responsibility towards its citizens, my wife is currently collecting money from friends and relatives to pay for the cost of treatment for Ishkan's nephew that should be free but isn't because the state budget can't meet the needs of the country. Tax the oligarchs and maybe even prosecute officials for corruption and perhaps one day it could. Unfortunately, however, there is no political will at the highest levels of the government to do so.

South Caucasus Parliamentary Assembly

ArmenPress reports that Nino Burjanadze, Speaker of Georgian parliament, Deputy Armenian National Assembly Speaker Tigran Torosian and Siyavush Novruzov, a parliament member from Azerbaijan's ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party, have signed a tripartite memorandum to establish a regional Parliamentary Assembly.
Speaking to journalists afterwards, Nino Burjanadze said that despite the existing problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan, politicians of these countries sat side by side to discuss their differences in various issues. She also stressed the importance of this initiative saying it would promote regional stability and solution of a range of complicated problems.
Interesting to note that while Burjandze signed the memorandum on behalf of Georgia, the Speakers of the Armenian and Azerbaijani Parliaments instead sent along their deputies or even MPs. Neverthess, A1 Plus reports that the South Caucasus Parliamentary Assembly will start functioning from January 2007.

In related news, A1 Plus also says that the Armenian Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanian, met with his Azerbaijani counterpart,
Elmar Mamedyarov, in Paris on 17 June within the framework of ongoing negotiations to resolve the conflict over the mainly Armenian-inhabited territory of Nagorno Karabagh. Interestingly, no details are known.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Last chance for the forests of Armenia, the leading portal for human rights and sustainable development issues, has just published my story on the battle to save Shikahogh and the public meeting held earlier today.

The World Wildlife Fund surveys the route of the proposed new highway, Mtnadzor, Siunik Region, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian

Incidentally, just in case there's any confusion, there is no direct connection between Oneworld Multimedia and apart from the fact that in 1997, they published my photo essay on the Kurds and Human Rights in Turkey. That said, since the beginning of 2005, I have been's volunteer editor for Armenia.
Government-connected businessmen and state officials engaged in the illegal export of timber from Armenia are mostly to blame for the former Soviet republic’s dwindling number of forests. Whereas 11 per cent of the republic was covered by forests in 1991, the figure stands at below 8 per cent today. Environmentalists warn that unless current trends are reversed, Armenia will be forestless by 2024.

In recent weeks, such concerns have have been reinforced by plans to build a highway through the Shikahogh Nature Reserve situated in the southern-most Siunik region of the republic. Tens of thousands of trees in the reserve will be felled in government plans to build a second, 90-kilometer road leading to the Iranian border. Shikahogh is habitat for over 1000 species of plants and fauna such as leopards.

Environmental activists and NGOs in Armenia are up in arms against this latest threat especially as work on the $16 million project has already begun.
The story can be read online here.

Shikahogh Update

Garo over at Blogrel has just come back from the public hearing on plans to build a road through the Shikahogh Nature Reserve and Mtnadzor Forest. Ironically, after reminding people that this meeting was due to take place today, I didn't manage to make it. Was up working until the early hours again and overslept for the first time in many months.

Bulldozer, Siunik Region, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian

Still, we know that for the government, attending this meeting was simply a matter of formality. Anyway, this is what Garo has to say on what was said.
According to the minister of transport and communication Andranik Manukyan, 30,000 trees would be cut from the reserve. Minister Ministry of Environmental Protection Vardan Ayvazyan naturally downplayed the extent of damage to the reserve and its surroundings. All of the proposals that were received were rejected as being economically unfeasible, since they called for the road to be stretched an additional 20 kilometers or more to avoid cutting the reserve, thereby costing millions more to construct.
Garo goes on to say that the Ministry of Transport of Communications says that it is unable to take an alternate route because of the extra cost involved. However, this seems absurd given that firstly, there should be no excuse at all for destroying a centuries old forest and cutting through a Nature Reserve, thus opening it up to illegal logging, poaching, hunting and other commercial activities.

Secondly, one thing that the government is very good at is begging from the Diaspora to get money to build roads and when large organizations such as the Armenian Assembly of America have offered to help make alternate routes viable, why hasn't the government tried to secure the additional funding necessary? And what about Lincy or the World Bank? Hell, even the Georgians put in a road building and infrastructure rehabilitation project to the MCA.

Anway, as we all know, the government had no intention of looking at alternate routes. We know that because while they promised to suspend construction for 15 days, when we went down to Shikahogh last week, construction was still continuing.

Garo's blog can be read online here.

Shikahogh Last Reminder

The Environmental Public Alliance of Armenian NGOs has organized a Public Forum to discuss possible alternatives to the construction of a highway through the Shikahogh nature reserve and Mtnadzor forest.

Carolyn Mugar, founder of the Armenian Tree Project and Executive Director of Farm Aid, sitting alongside the current Agarak-Kapan Highway, Siunik Region, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian.

The Public Forum will take place on Friday, June 17, 2005 from 10:00-13:00 at the American University of Armenia, 5th Floor Conference Hall, 40 Baghramyan Street, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia.

For background information and a presentation in Macromedia Flash format please click here.

Congrats Uncle Robert

While looking through my emails, I found one from my mum sent last week which I should have read more carefully when it arrived. Unfortunately, however, things are just too hectic at the moment.

In the email, mum says that her younger brother will be receiving his CBE on 22 June 2005 from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in recognition of his role in the largest re-equipment (or something) of the British Army in recent times.

This will go nicely with the OBE he received as the British Colonel responsible for UNPROFOR logistics operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina during 1993. Anyway, congrats Uncle Robert. Not that you probably read this blog...

Nations in Transit?

The US-based Freedom House has released a new study on "Challenges and Opportunities for Democracy in Former Soviet Countries." The short report says that "revolutions" in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan offer a new hope for the democraticization of the former Soviet space. Armenia, however, didn't do so well.
Widespread corruption and weak governance remained defining features of Armenia's political system in 2004. Little progress was made in reducing the powers of the presidency, despite international pressure. The opposition continued to press for a referendum vote of confidence in President Robert Kocharian, but its weak parliamentary position and the general public's disillusionment with the political class prevented success. A disturbing rise in the number of assaults on journalists results in a deterioration of Armenia’s Nations in Transit rating for independent media. The use of so-called administrative arrests, torture within the police system, and a new Law on Demonstrations in 2004 results in a lower rating in the category of judicial framework & independence.
On a scale of 1 to 7, with a lower number representing a greater level of democracy, Armenia scored 5.18 whereas Azerbaijan and Georgia scored 5.86 and 4.96 respectively. This doesn't surprise me because I've always believed that Armenia will always be somewhere between its two neighbors in terms of democratic development. Even so, there's a long way to go for all three republics in the South Caucasus.

The press release for Freedom House's report can be read here and another longer report on Armenia can be found in the new Nations In Transit 2005 report.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


The Environmental Public Alliance of Armenian NGOs has organized a Public Forum to discuss possible alternatives to the construction of a highway through the Shikahogh nature reserve and Mtnadzor forest.

Mtnadzor, Siunik Region, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian

The Public Forum will take place on Friday, June 17, 2005 from 10:00-13:00 at the American University of Armenia, 5th Floor Conference Hall, 40 Baghramyan Street, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia. Time is of the essence because it is reported that the authorities plan to set the dangerous precedent of changing Shikahogh's status to that of a National Park in order to "legitimize" construction on the reserve.

For background information and a presentation in Macromedia Flash format, please click here.

Youth Activism in Azerbaijan

Eurasianet reports that youth groups are starting to become more active in the neighboring Republic of Azerbaijan as the November parliamentary elections approach. In fact, says Khadija Ismayilova and Shain Abbasov, pro-opposition youth activists are already being arrested.
The parliamentary election, scheduled for November, is already attracting international attention, as some political analysts believe the vote could potentially produce the same type of revolutionary pressure in Azerbaijan that ended up remaking the political orders in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. For example, the Council of Europe recently issued a statement that said the November ballot could be an event in which "we may become witnesses either to fair-and-free elections, or a bloody confrontation between thousands." In both Georgia’s Rose Revolution and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, student activists played a pivotal role in bringing about political change.
Other than arrest pro-opposition youth, however, the Azerbaijani government is also following the example set by the authorities in Armenia. Instead of trying to fight young people, why not try to control them instead by establishing pro-government youth seminars, conferences and organizations not too disimilar to anything done by the Komsomol movement during the Soviet era.

In the meantime, youth in Armenia remain largely cynical and apathetic -- a point Katy recently made over at Blogrel. Then again, Armenia has hardly entered into its own run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for 2007, so I assume that things will be different by then.

The full article can be read online here.

Najarians Appeal to US Courts

Hetq Online, who I work for from time to time, reports that George and Carolann Najarian are to appeal to the US Courts in their long running battle with the General Prosecutor’s Office in Armenia.
Last week Armenian-American businessmen and philanthropists Carolann and George Najarian were in Yerevan. They discovered that regarding their court case no progress has been made. They sent a letter to General Prosecutor Aghvan Hovsepyan expressing their surprise that nothing had changed regarding their case.
You would have thought that the Armenian government might have made sure that the rule of law functioned in such a high profile case but not so. Instead, it is believed that the relative of one senior official is behind the reluctance of the General Prosecutor's Office to do its job -- even if that means scaring off other potential investors from the Diaspora.
The practice of protecting the criminal, keeping our property expropriated, violating the law and Armenia ’s international treaty obligations and intimidating witnesses and lawyers thus destroying Armenia ’s reputation by your subordinates must stop immediately. We demand the lawful and public hearing of this case. The continued denial of this, our lawful right, is forcing us to submit this case for resolution to international courts, a process which we have, up to now, patiently sought to avoid.
The full article with a link to other articles detailing the background to the case can be found online here.

Dissidents & Expectations

Tim over at Democracy Guy recounts his time working in Armenia for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and his various encounters with the prominent Soviet dissident, Paryur Hayrikian.

Paryur Hayrikian spent 17 years in the gulag. I met him when I worked with NDI in Armenia. At first, I was just in awe. Here I was, some American kid in a suit sitting across from a goateed, eloquent, genuine hero for his country. His political party at the time, the Self-Determination Union (SDU), was one of our close training partners. They were a middle to small sized party, gaining around 10-15% of the vote as a rule.


But it got worse. On election night, while I observed a notorious vote count featuring, among other things, 354 stuffed ballots in one precinct, Hayrikian signed his name to a letter from the opposition candidates condemning the result of the first round. Two days later, he issued a statement removing his name from the letter. It was a stunning reversal, particularly for a man who’d spent his entire life building the credibility that his name brought to such a letter. He’d been bought off by Kocharian with a meaningless job that would put him in a new suit, a Volga with a driver, and an office, at the cost of shutting his mouth, and the integrity he earned suffering in a gulag.

I interviewed Hairikian in June 1998 when I was visiting Armenia for the London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) to research the Yezidi minority in the republic. Despite his position as presidential advisor on human rights, Hairikian seemed more interested in evading my specific questions and talking about constitutional reform and pushing his own book of poetry.

I also remember that people in Yerevan didn't have much respect for what they said was his silence when LTP sent the tanks out onto the streets in 1996.

Anyway, Tim's full account can be read online here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Constitutional Ammendments Criticized

RFE/RL reports on the ongoing criticism of the Armenian government's reluctance to implement changes to the constitution that would bring it into line with Council of Europe requirements. Now a former adviser to the previous President, Levon Ter Petrosian, has entered the arena.
Speaking at a seminar in Yerevan on June 15 to discuss the advisability of constitutional amendments, Khachatrian said: "Even in these conditions [President] Robert Kocharian does not want to yield in the face of huge pressure. The authorities do not want to retreat in any way, realizing well that any nationwide event, be it a referendum or elections, creates an additional problem for them as they will have to develop a rigging mechanism and [select] those in charge of these riggings."
According to the opposition in Armenia, the first draft of the proposed changes will be used by the incumbent President, Robert Kocharian, to either run for a third term in office or increase the powers of his office. The Council of Europe has already critcized the government's seeming reluctance to deal with three main issues.
Their statement criticized the Armenian authorities for failing to embrace key Venice Commission recommendations that would give more powers to the Armenian parliament, limit Kocharian's authority to appoint judges, and make the mayor of Yerevan an elected official. The statement warned that failure to accept those recommendations would seriously hamper Yerevan's efforts at European integration.
The full article can be read online here.


When I was offered the opportunity to blog from Armenia for Transitions Online I was against the idea. However, after eventually contributing to one of Armenia's Premier Blogs, I have since decided to go solo. Updated on a regular basis, this blog will contain articles written and photographs taken on Armenian and related themes as well as snippets of news and information relevant to Armenia and the region.

Any opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any publication or organization that he may be working for now, in the past or in the future.