Saturday, June 25, 2005

Children from Vanadzor Children's Home visit Waterworld

Brian Kearney, Chief of Party for the USAID Armenian Social Transition Program (ASTP) - PADCO, asked me to accompany the children from the Vanadzor Children's Home to Waterworld inYerevan today and I was glad to do so.

WaterWorld, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / ASTP-PADCO

I've photographed at the Children's Home in Armenia's third largest city before but in black and white as part of a larger project on social vulnerability and children in residential care in Armenia. However, this was the first time I've shot in color.

Anyway, it will take me a while to sort out the images but I'll probably post more tomorrow. Until then, however, one of the pics I shot today. If you'd like to know more about previous outings to Waterworld arranged by PADCO in the past then you can check out this page and this one also. I didn't take the pics on those pages but they offer some background info.

If you're interested, there's also some information on the PADCO site regarding the ratification by the Armenian government on the Minimum Social Standards for the Care and Upbringing of Children in Orphanages.

Although the majority of children in Children's Homes and Boarding Schools in Armenia are not orphans, nevertheless as representative of some of the most vulnerable children in the republic they stand an even tougher time than most in adjusting to life "on the outside" when they "graduate."

Anyway, I'll post some more later today but probably tomorrow. The main thing, however, is that a splendid day out was had by all.

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Vazgen Manoukian Calls for "Revolutionary Change" in Armenia

Everybody seems to be talking of revolution in the post-Soviet space and today, in Armenia, a politician and former official who RFE/RL calls "a prominent voice of moderation within the Armenian opposition" has apparently launched what the radio station's web site calls "a blistering attack against the authorities. According to the report, Vazgen Manoukian is calling for “public mobilization” for regime change."

Vazgen Manoukian, Opposition Rally, April 2004, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia

Anyway, here's some of what Manoukian had to say:
He described the ruling establishment as a clique of “plunderers” who are “at war” with the rest of the country’s population. “Unless there is a mobilization of our type [of people] who will fight for the future of the country, the country will not change,” he said. “And as the AZhM leader, I set the task of mobilization before the AZhM.”

Asked by one of the delegates whether that means he supports a popular uprising against President Robert Kocharian, Manukian replied: “It depends not only on ourselves. It also depends on the extent of the opposite side’s resistance. If we consolidate, the opposite side will have two options: either to provoke a revolution or retreat. God willing, we will have revolutionary change without a revolution.”
RFE/RL notes that members of pro-government and other opposition parties were in attendance at the NDU Congress and apparently earned the praise of two members of the government coalition, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and Orinats Yerkir.
Interestingly, Manukian drew praise from senior representatives of two coalition parties, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and Orinats Yerkir, who were present at the AZhM gathering. They both wishes the AZhM success in their speeches. It was not clear if they agreed with Manukian’s assessment of the situation in the country.

Also in attendance were other senior opposition figures, notably Aram Sarkisian of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic). Sarkisian, who leads the most radical opposition group, appeared to agree with Manukian, saying that opposition parties need the backing of other sections of Armenian society in order to succeed.
Also in attendance was the former Karabagh military commander, Samuel Babayan, who RFE/RL says is sympathetic to Manoukian. Incidentally, it's worth pointing out to those readers that don't know that Vazgen Manoukian contested the 1996 Presidential Elections but "lost" in what is considered a falsified vote to then President Levon Ter Petrosian. Since 2003 he has certainly been one of the most interesting of voices in the Armenian opposition.

The full news item can be read online here.

Incidentally, also touched upon in today's is continued progress in the current round of negotiations over Nagorno Karabagh and news that the Armenian government has finally given in to pressure from the Council of Europe and the Armenian opposition to include three key items in proposed constitutional reform scheduled for later this year.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Finally, Another Mobile Phone Operator in Armenia

RFE/RL also reports that Armenia will finally be getting a second mobile phone operator. The Lebanese owned K-Telecom that is already operating in the self-declared Republic of Nagorno Karabagh will launch their new service on 1 July. Finally, ArmenTel -- the much hated Greek owned telecommunications monopoly -- will have some competition in Armenia although already, the damage has been done.
The ArmenTel monopoly is widely blamed for the fact that Armenia has lagged behind neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia in the development of mobile telephony. The high cost and poor quality of the service led the Armenian government last year to renegotiate one of the key terms of ArmenTel’s 1998 sale to OTE which resulted in the partial liberalization of the market.
In April 2005, there were approximately 200,000 mobile phone subscribers in Armenia. In comparison, the neighboring republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan had over 1 million and 1.5 million subscribers respectively -- and both with more than one company operating in the market. Most regions of these countries are covered by their mobile phone network while coverage in Armenia is small and mainly confined to the capital where reception is attrocious.

The full article can be read online here.

PACE ‘Deeply Concerned’ About Armenian Constitutional Reform

While we talk about building a democracy in Armenia and whether the US should intervene, we generally forget more important questions relating to the same issue. That is, Armenia’s international obligations as a voluntary signatory to various treaties and conventions as well as membership of various international organizations. With this in mind, the Council of Europe have passed the resolution on constitutional ammendments that I blogged about yesterday.

“The Assembly is deeply concerned that the delay in agreeing and adopting the constitutional amendments is holding back Armenia’s progress towards European democratic norms and standards in key areas of political life,” reads the resolution.

PACE specifically urged Kocharian and his ruling coalition to comply with the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission that would give more powers to the Armenian parliament, strengthen judicial independence and make the mayor of Yerevan an elected official.

Interestingly, the same concerns that the CE has expressed with regards to the draft constitutional ammendments drawn up by the government are shared by the opposition. Indeed, the CE noted such a fact , something that raises serious questions about the government’s refusal to consider these three issues when the opposition said it would become part of the process if they did.

Finally, we have a serious matter through which we can assess the democratic credentials of the government and its willingness to meet its international obligations let alone its duty to its own citizens. I think this will determine future attitudes towards the process of reform in Armenia and whether, when push comes to shove, the government is truly democratic or whether it is simply playing games.

The full report by RFE/RL can be read online here.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Democracy is a Process...

On the subject of democratic development in Armenia, Democracy Guy reacts angrily — although some would say justifiably so — to talk of building a democracy being a process. This is especially so when those that say such things are allegedly on the payroll of Armenian lobbying groups in the United States.

Republican Senators Chuck Hagel and Norm Coleman visited Armenia recently, and in between shopping for rugs and drinking Armenian cognac, apparently mistook the place for a democracy.


Coleman’s remarks seemed at odds with the strong US criticism of the last Armenian presidential election in 2003. The State Department said at the time that Armenian authorities “missed an important opportunity to advance democratization.”

Before you think Coleman and Hagel were either drunk or asleep the entire trip, it’s important to note that the trip was sponsored by the Armenian Assembly of America, the powerhouse lobbying group of diasporan Armenians.


For this purpose, the “democracy is a process not an event” horseshit suits them just fine. And American politicians are just petty enough to let a campaign contribution and a trip to buy some nice rugs and trinkets in Armenia pull the wool over their eyes. Democracy may be a process, but it can only begin with one thing…free elections. Period.

According to Democracy Guy — and few would disagree with him — there has been not yet been any precedent of democratic elections in Armenia — well, perhaps with the exception of the first ever presidential elections that brought LTP to power (although someone correct me if I’m wrong). Since then, however, it’s all been down hill. Anyway, his full blog can be read online here.

Revolution or Democratic Change?

EurasiaNet has an interesting article on the US position re. democratization in Armenia in the wake of "revolutions" in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and President George Bush's recent visit to Tbilisi.

Opposition demonstration protesting the outcome of the 2003 Presidential Elections, Matenadaran, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia. A full gallery of images can be viewed online here

However, whereas many opposition activists saw Bush's calls for democracy to sweep through the region as a call to revolution, the US in fact favors peaceful democratic change through elections or at most, through citizens protecting their constitutional right to determine their own government in cases where the vote is obviously rigged.
The senior administration official indicated that recent statements made by President Bush should not be interpreted as a call for street protests, or other anti-government action that undermines stability in the region. "The [Armenian] opposition should not launch a dangerous revolution or seek to humiliate the [Kocharian] regime," the senior administration official said, adding that Washington now favors an "evolutionary process" of democratization.
Basically, the opposition had its chance in Armenia during 2003 but blew it. Now the issue is promoting real internal political and democratic development in time for the next elections scheduled for 2007 at the latest. The article can be read online here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

ARF-D demands resignation of top NK Military Commanders

RFE/RL reports that after a prominent Dashnak activist was allegedly beaten, the ARF-D have demanded that top military commanders in the self-declared Republic of Nagorno Karabagh resign or be dismissed.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) demanded on Wednesday the resignation of Nagorno-Karabakh’s top military commanders who are alleged to have severely beaten up a local activist of the influential party opposed to the unrecognized republic’s government.

Pavel Manukian, a prominent participant of the war with Azerbaijan who is affiliated with Dashnaktsutyun, was taken to a military hospital in Stepanakert on Tuesday with what his friends and relatives described as life-threatening injuries sustained during a visit to the Defense Ministry of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR).

According to the Dashnaktsutyun leadership in Karabakh, Manukian said after regaining consciousness that he was assaulted in the office of the NKR defense minister, General Seyran Ohanian. A Dashnaktsutyun statement quoted him as saying that Ohanian himself started the beating before being joined by other senior military commanders present in the room.

ArmInfo reports that Pavel Manukian was a candidate in parliamentary elections held Sunday in the disputed territory which the ARF-D — part of the ruling coalition government in Armenia but opposition in Karabagh — claim were undemocratic. Nevertheless, most observers gave the elections a clean bill of health, unlike those held in Armenia during 2003.

Regardless, the Karabagh President, Arkhady Ghukasian has promised an immediate investigation and that those found guilty will be prosecuted.

Actually, this is an interesting case study. In countries such as those in the CIS, nobody is expecting that elections and their aftermath be as clean as those in the West for now at least. However, what people do expect is that any violations of the electoral code or violence etc is punished under the law. In Armenia, it isn’t but let’s see how Karabagh deals with this one.

It’s a real test for democracy, especially when NK is still under martial law and those accused are significant figures in the military. Anyway, the RFE/RL report can be read online here.

Desert Nights: Trafficking of Women & Children from Armenia

Ara Manoogian over at Martuni or Bust reports on the press conference that he and investigative journalist, Edik Baghdasarian, held to mark Yerkir Media TV’s showing of their documentary, Desert Nights. The film represents over a year’s work looking into the trafficking of women and children from Armenia to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and implicates the government in failing to curb the problem and in some cases, actually being part of it.

Anyway, all the updates on this unprecedented investigation can be found on Ara’s blog. There’s also an interview I held with Ara on this investigation here.

Georgia Bids to Host 2014 Winter Olympics reports that the neighboring Republic of Georgia is bidding to hold the 2014 Olympic Games at resorts in Borjomi and Bakuriani. Seems unlikely but who knows? Would require a lot of investment in order to meet international sporting standards.

Still, if it happened it would reconfirm the republic's status as center of the South Caucasus. The full item can be read here.

Possible Sanctions against Armenia if Constitutional Ammendments Fail

At long last, after missing the boat in challenging the removal of A1 Plus from the TV screens, the Council of Europe is showing its teeth. To be honest, it’s about time and to be welcomed.
The Committee on Legal Affairs has made two decisions. First: in case of failing the Constitutional reforms for the second time in Armenia the PACE has the right to raise the issue of stopping the authorizations of the delegation of Armenia, and second: after the realization of the Constitutional Referendum it must be put into execution as soon as possible.
Failure to enact a proper constitution in line with European standards, even if it still requires that society and the courts ensure it functions, will mark the end of democratic development in Armenia.

The full item from A1 Plus can be read here.

PACE Resolution on RA Draft Constitution

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has worded a resolution on the imminent constitutional amendments. Interestingly, it supports most of the criticisms made by the opposition in Armenia but thankfully, it looks as though pressure from the CE might yet force the government to bring the constitution in line with European standards.

In particular, strengthening the power of parliament, promoting the independence of the judiciary and making the Mayor of Yerevan an elected official are the three main points that both the opposition and the CE want addressed. Simply, anyone living in Armenia can understand why these three points are vital for the democratic development of Armenia.

7. This is a situation that can no longer be tolerated. Armenia simply cannot afford another failure of the constitutional referendum. The preservation of the status quo and the present Constitution (as we explain in detail in Chapter 3) might serve certain narrow political interests, but would have devastating consequences for the democratic development of the country. This is why we believe that this report is timely and necessary. Our Armenian friends, with whom cooperation has always been excellent, should take it as a sign of support for the so-much needed and so badly overdue democratic reforms.

The full text can be read online here.

BTW: If the government fails to incorporate the recommendations of the CE and the opposition into the amendments, the latter will be urging people to vote against the changes. In fact, the plan is to turn it into a referendum of confidence in the Armenian President and National Assembly. With only those people interested in seeing authoritarian presidential power reign in Armenia, who can blame them?

ARF-D Candidate Beaten in NKR

Arminfo reports that a candidate for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in Sunday's parliamentary elections was beaten up yesterday. He was hospitalized in Stepanakert with concussion and facial injuries.
Chief physician of the hospital Gevorgyan says that health state of Manukyan is stable, and there is not necessity of surgical operation. His life is no longer in danger. The physician refused from specifying the reason of Manukyan's injuries. Manukyan's wife is sure that her husband was subjected to bodily injuries. She says at 13:00 on June 21 Manukyan was called somewhere on phone and the information on his hospitalization was received in an hour. Representative of the opposition bloc of Gegham Baghdasaryan thinks it was the work of the authorities, Radio Freedom reports.
It's worth remembering that the ARF-D are part of the ruling coalition in Armenia but are in opposition in Karabagh. Ironically, while rationalizing the 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia, the ARF-D are screaming foul with regards to the elections in Karabagh. That said, almost everybody -- including western observers -- say that the elections were free, fair and transparent. Even so, the beating and elections are probably connected somehow.

Oneworld Multimedia Produces New Book

Finally, the artwork for the second book I've written, photographed and designed is virtually ready. Probably it will go to print next week. The first, Armenia: Poverty, Transition & Democracy, was published by the Gomidas Institute at the beginning of the year and consists of articles and photographs on poverty in Armenia and related themes such as children in institutions, psychiatric health and conflict. This book, however, is for UNICEF and consists of overviews and articles on UNICEF activities in Armenia accompanied by photographs.

After this, things will be a lot quieter although I've still a series of photos to take and posters to design for UNICEF as well as write more articles. I'm also doing some editing work for PADCO and last week photographed two pilot Integrated Social Service Centers (ISSCs) in Massis and Vanadzor. After that, I'll be looking to engage in some personal and new projects. After four years of photographing poverty in Armenia when other photographers didn't, now that money is available for photo projects on poverty everybody seems to want to get in on the act.

ISSC, Vanadzor, Republic of Armenia © Onnik Krikorian ASTP - PADCO

So, you can expect more of the very same photographers who ignored the subject matter for so long to come out of the woodwork and declare their "social conscience" through putting in funding proposals for exhibitions and photo projects for the duration of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). Now it's no longer politically sensitive to touch the issue so somehow, it's time for me to find other subject matters these guys won't touch until the next batch of money comes along.

After Shikahogh, maybe the environment sounds interesting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Armenian - Azeri Presidents to meet in August

A1 Plus and report that the Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents will probably meet on the sidelines of a CIS summit in August. This will mark a continuation of the current new round of negotiations to find a solution to the frozen conflict between the two countries over the mainly Armenian inhabited territory of Nagorno Karabagh.

In related news, also reports that that the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister says that the issue of restoring and sharing road and communications networks was touched upon.
In his words, Baku suggests road shared use and hopes Yerevan will accept the proposal, as the parties are interested in reliable communications. Azimov reported that the common road route is planned to pass next to Aghdam, Stepanakert, Shushi, then Goris region of Armenia, Sisyan with further outlet to Nakhichevan. [...] It was also known that to make progress in the Karabakh conflict settlement a donor conference will be convened and international peacekeeping forces will secure the communication, reported Regnum news agency.
Actually, this is very interesting news with regards to Shikahogh. Although the proposed new road through the reserve is believed to be no better than that which already exists from the Iranian border to the Armenian city of Kapan, an alternate route does exist -- via Zangelan in Armenian-controlled Azerbaijan. For now, however, the fact that there is no peace deal -- phased or otherwise -- makes such a route sensitive to say the least.

However, within the framework of a peace deal, it is ideal. The route is less mountainous and long stretches of the road are flat and straight.

Desert Nights: Trafficking from Armenia

Ara Manoogian, the US-Armenian now living in Nagorno Karabagh, blogs over at Martuni or Bust about the presentation of the film that he and Edik Baghdasarian of Hetq Online worked on re. the trafficking of women and children from Armenia to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
On June 22nd, 2005 at 2 p.m., we will be having a press conference where we will present our documentary “Desert Nights." We are expecting representation from government and all the NGOs that deal with trafficking issues. That evening our documentary will be aired the television station Yerkir Media TV at 9 p.m. For those interested in attending the press conference, please e-mail me and I’ll send you an invitation.
This has got to be worth attending if you're in town. Before then, check out the recent interview I held with Ara here.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Karabagh: Elections & Negotiations

RFE/RL also covers the outcome of the parliamentary elections held yesterday in the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabagh. In those elections, two pro-presidential parties won 22 out of 33 seats. The opposition alliance consisting of the ARF-D and the Movement-88 bloc won only three seats. The ARF-D, itself part of the ruling coalition government in Armenia, have screamed foul. However, despite that, the ARF-D have said that they will not follow down the "path of upheavals."

In part, this might also be because the consensus of opinion from international observers -- including those from opposition parties in Armenia -- have given the elections a clean bill of health, especially when compared to the elections here in 2003. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that Karabagh is still under martial law and also, the stakes as an unrecognized and partly beseiged territory are very high.

Talking of which, RFE/RL also reports that the Armenian Foreign Minsiter, Vartan Oskanian, says that significant progress is being made in a new round of peace negotiations amined at settling the frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the fate of ethnic Armenians living in Karabagh. Oskanian met with his Azeri counterpart in Paris on Friday. It is believed that a new peace deal will be a combination of a phased and package deal.

Key for the Armenian government, however, is the status of Karabagh and international security guarantees.

Both RFE/RL stories can be read online here.

The First Negative Opinion

A1 Plus has just posted a new story saying that the first negative opinion about the fairness of the parliamentary elections in Nagorno Karabagh has been made by an observer from the Czech Republic.
The lawyer, who has also been in the OSCE Observers Mission to Azerbaijan and Belarus, substantiated his opinion with the following facts, “Before throwing the ballots into the boxes, the electors in Askeran showed whom they had votes for. The empowered person of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation wanted to complain, but the Committee head refused to admit it saying that nothing of the kind had happened."

Milan Stefanec also mentioned other violations, "In an electoral area in Martakert the validity or invalidity of the documents was decided not by the Committee head, but by the Military Commander." He added that the members of the Electoral Committee had no idea of the Electoral Code, "When we asked them who forms the Electoral Committee, they could not answer. They did not know who had appointed them. These things are menace for democratic elections."
It will be interesting to hear what the ARF-D says later. Anyway, the full item can be read online here.


Karabagh Elections

A1 Plus reports that parliamentary elections in the unrecognized and breakaway territory of Nagorno Karabagh were held yesterday. According to the Central Elections Commission (CEC) of the self-declared republic situated within Azerbaijan, 73.6 per cent of eligible voters took part. However, results will not be known until later today or even tomorrow.
The course of the elections was relatively quiet. There were no written complaints from the candidates or from the electors.
Still too early to say but it would appear that once again, for reasons which are too long to list here, the elections were considerably more democratic than parliamentary elections that took place in Armenia during 2003. As long as this remains the case, Karabagh can present to the outside world the idea that it has the ability to establish a democratic state in the region.

Of course, the international community might not recognize these elections or even monitor them that closely but given that parliamentary elections are scheduled for November in Azerbaijan proper, it is vital that democratic conditions, in regional terms, remain intact. That said, preliminary reports from ArmInfo indicate that the Armenian Revolutionary Federation - Dashnaktsutyun (ARF-D) did badly.

As part of the official opposition in Karabagh, I wonder whether they will concede defeat or instead claim that the vote was rigged. It's hard to say as there is no OSCE observation mission in the territory for the elections. Incidentally the BBC also covered the elections. Anyway, the A1 Plus report can be read online here.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Serzh Sarkisyan for President

The Armenian News Network-Groong has posted what it calls an "unattributed report by the Armenian newspaper Iravunk." The article suggests, as many people have speculated, that the Defense Minister, Serzh Sarkisyan, might well have his sights on the presidency. Interestingly, according to the head of one major international organization, the former Armenian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Armen Sarkisyan (no relation), is already actively campaigning on his behalf in western circles. However, there has been no other reports of this and certainly, no confirmation.
According to a source close to Armenian Defence Minister Serzh Sarkisyan, he is going to form a new party on the basis of the People's Deputy parliamentary faction with the aim of using the party as a means of political support.

The source said that in doing so, Sarkisyan intends to secure massive representation in the parliament during the parliamentary elections of 2007. He hopes that the party will win a great number of seats in first-past-the-post constituencies and become the biggest faction in the National Assembly. In turn, the faction will back Sarkisyan's candidacy in the presidential elections of 2008.
Interestingly, many analysts suspect that if the Armenian President, Robert Kocharian, doesn't try to wangle an unconstitutional third term in office, his most obvious choice for successor is Sarkisyan -- sorry, please forget the idea that elections are decided by the popular vote (for now at least). After Artur Baghdasarian sat on the fence last year during the spring 2004 opposition protests, the powerful Defense Minister is perhaps the only man he can trust in Armenia today.

The same would be true for the oligarchs fearful of any anti-corruption drive that resulted in wave after wave of arrests in neighboring Georgia after the November 2003 "Rose Revolution."

The one uncertainty, of course, is how the population would take such an eventuality. Assuming that the next elections are going to be falsified, the general consensus is that most people would not stand for Sarkisyan as President. Indeed, if this scenerio looks more and more likely, one guesses that first, the Council of Europe and the US must really insist on democratic elections in Armenia and secondly, that such news is more likely to mobilize the opposition and strengthen their standing in the eyes of the people.

Personally, I think that the West can't allow the next elections to be anything other than democratic but we'll get a clearer idea of that when we see what happens in the November Parliamentary Elections in neighboring Azerbaijan.

Time to Switch: Linux in Armenia

When I first started to live in Armenia from October 1998 onwards, one of the first things I missed was my Apple Macintosh Power PC that I had to leave in England. However, when I returned to the UK for a short break last year, I dusted it off and started it running again. Man, how I missed it. Still has a nicer OS than XP. Unfortunately, however, Apple Macs are in very short supply in Armenia, and certainly software is lacking, although there is an official distributor in Georgia.

Anyway, not much you can really do about it here. All the CD shops in Yerevan sell pirated copies of Windows and the latest applications in Russian and English versions for just 1,500 drams ($3) while every computer shop stocks the latest Pentium PCs although generally put together in kit form. Which is fine but because most of the software is pirated and often comes pre-installed, it's no wonder that computers crash from time to time, and when they do, they often take with them a lot of important information. Keeps on happening to me and I've had enough of it, to be honest.

But as, Jon, a friend in England, says constantly, there is another option -- Linux. In fact, even over there it is his preferred OS of choice. The Windows box running Win 2000 is only kept around for music software. So, today, after having my fill of XP, I went out and bought a copy of Redhat Linux. It's installed on a separate partition and albeit slowly, I will try migrating over. Personally, I think it's a great option for countries like Armenia because unlike Windows, you are allowed to distribute and install it freely.

Secondly, there are more and more applications for most computer user's needs available -- also free of charge -- and let's face it. It is unlikely that incomes and the economy in Armenia will grow enough for most computer users and even small to medium sized businesses to purchase legitimate western-produced software from the likes of Microsoft, Adobe or Macromedia.

Instead, because it is not hacked or require a crack, open source software is likely to be more stable (famous last words!). Of course, the mainstay of my computer use are not available under Linux -- Quark Xpress, Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Flash. Even so, I can at least keep a Windows XP partition for when I need to run those packages if Linux Windows APIs run too slow or not at all. My Nikon Coolscan will at least work as there's a Linux version of the excellent Vuescan.

However, there are other reasons why Linux is a good choice for countries like Armenia. Sooner or later, the World Trade Organization and anti-copyright watchdogs are going to come down hard on Armenia for the huge market in pirated software. Secondly, because this software is generally hacked, the idea that government will be running unstable software is really quite worrying. Moreover, rather than running Armenian versions of software, people have to run English or Russian.

That situation might change, however. Already there is an organization, Open Source Armenia, that has produced a localized Armenian version of Open Office, Linux's equivalent of Microsoft Office. According to their web site, they are now in the process of localizing Armenian versions of Thunderbird and Firefox, an email client and web browser I am running anyway under XP because IE6 is so full of security holes and underpowered anyway.

There's even a joint Children's Internet Gateway Project by Open Source Armenia, Yerevan State University and SpiTux, a Linux project based in Spitak close to the epicenter of the tragic 1988 earthquake. Personally, I think this is the way to go and it was interesting to see that countries like Iraq are already orientating themselves in this direction.

One problem, however. Because of all these damn winmodems in Armenia, it is nearly impossible to find a driver to run under Linux. The best I've managed to find so far is a cut down shareware driver for the conexant chip set but which only crawls around at 14.4K. Still, perhaps Open Source Armenia have a solution or can recommend a different modem. Best email them, I think so that this transition happens sooner rather than later.

Incidentally, there's an interview by ArmInfo with the Director of Open Source Armenia here.

Another Opposition Rally in Baku

AP reports that the opposition in Azerbaijan have staged another rally in Baku, the capital. According this report, the rally was huge at aproximately 20,000 people and organized by three opposition parties getting ready to contest the November Parliamentary Elections. Interestingly, following the example of Ukraine, the demonstrators all wore orange.
The opposition bloc has chosen orange as its campaign color - the color that was also used by the Ukrainian opposition during mass protests dubbed "Orange Revolution'' that helped pave way for the victory of a Western-backed candidate over a Russia-backed rival.

Many participants in Saturday's rally wore orange T-shirts and baseball caps and carried orange flags.
Well, it's not a revolution but rather the opposition demanding that in the wake of Georgia and Ukraine, the elections are free, fair and transparent. There were again some minor skirmishes when protestors tried to disperse riot police (now that's a turn up) in Liberty Square but so far at least, no reports of the kind of tactics we saw during the 2003 Presidential Elections in Armenia or when the opposition took to the streets here last Spring.

Obviously, after a wave of "revolutions" and George Bush's high profile visit to the Republic of Georgia last month, it will be interesting to see what develops. Can Azerbaijan hold better elections than it has and if it doesn't, will interests in its oil result in the US, in particular, looking away. So far at least, the US Embassy in Baku has shown itself to be on the ball.

The full article can be read online here.

Incidentally, The BBC also covers the story and talks of a "sea of orange flags and T-shirts" in Baku. In the photo accompanying the piece, however, I can see just two orange balloons and one orange flag so I either the photo is out of their archive or they need to hire a new photo editor.

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.