Artur Papyan works as an internet journalist for RFE/RL’s Armenian service. He also freelances as a media and technology consultant and trainer. In the past, Artur has worked as the Armenian country coordinator for the London based Media Diversity Institute.
January 25, 2013
Reporting from Armenia: Artur Papyan
Lack of time is the main reason. I feel I’ve got too much to do at work and I keep adding on responsibilities and taking volunteer tasks, so I’m usually quite overwhelmed. I’m determined to change this from now on.
Building my own house is another reason. After nearly 10 years of living in rented apartments, I finally moved to my half-built house in one of the remote suburbs of Yerevan and started building it. This consumed the few remains of my free time and all my financial resources since August and I’m not even half through the construction. In fact, I only have a proper bathroom. That’s about it. The rest of the house is a mess and I feel shy even when friends say they want to visit. What am I going to show them? And what are they going to think about me for living in such conditions…
Huge disappointment about the political developments in Armenia is the third reason. Looking at the Armenian opposition as well as the civil society I see no hope, that anything can ever improve in this broken country. And this feeling often makes me wonder, are my efforts at work worth it and does it make sense for me to complete the construction of my house, or should I just pack and leave.
However, as the new year comes into force and the incumbent president Serzh Sarkissian continues to force his way through a second term, I feel that I have a responsibility to keep blogging, primarily for myself – to try to reflect on what’s happening and also for those few remaining readers that I may still have despite my long absence. I guess I have to do it, because otherwise all the rest of the stuff I’m doing – work, building a house and even walking the dog, will become completely pointless. Because why would I need to work, or build a house for if I see no future and no reason. Nope, I’m not going to give up, even though common sense prompts me, that its the only logical course of action…
Posted from http://ditord.com/
Armenia — Environmental activist Mariam Sukhudian holds up the torn head of a bezoar goat, Khosrov reserve, 18Sep2012
Environmental activists Mariam Sukhudian and Yeghia Nersissian are blowing the whistle They have visited the “Kaqavaberd” area of Khosrov Forest State Preserve and discovered remnants of endangered animals around what seems to be festive bonfires of a group of hunters.
The activists have invited a press-conference and warned about the crime that has taken place. They have also provided this video to the media, hoping to attract attention to this issue.
Needless to say, that hunting and burning fires is illegal in Khosrov Forest. Poaching of endangered species, like the Bezoar Goat and Caucasian Bear, which we can see in the video below, are criminal offences too.
Interestingly, the Armenian Ministry of Nature Preservation has reacted to activists’ warnings by saying they (the activists) didn’t have the right to enter the Preserve’s area without official permission from the Ministry. They have also said they will look into the matter, blah, blah, blah…
PS: Adding insult to injury, Armenian online news website Lragir.am has published a story about a Ibex, a Moscow-based hunting club, which advertises hunting “in the best hunting grounds” of Armenia’s Urtsasar area (adjacent to Khosrov Forest) and promises license to kill Bezoar goat, Armenian mouflon, Caucasian bear (all endangered species)
September 12, 2012
Residents of Yerevan approached by RFE/RL’s Armenian Service and asked to share their thoughts on the recent extradition by Hungary of Ramil Safarov, a convicted axe-killer of Armenian army officer Gurgen Margarian, and his subsequent pardon in Azerbaijan by President Ilham Aliyev, spoke angrily about the development, calling it wrong that the confessed murderer is being glorified and promoted as a hero in the neighboring republic.
Posted from: Armenians Say Safarov Extradition, Pardon and Glorification ‘Wrong’, ‘Immoral’.
August 29, 2012
USAID Estimates Less Than 20% of Armenian NGO’s Active
US Ambassador John Heffern mentinoed in a recent videoblog, that according to a USAID survey, the Civil Society in Armenia is “the second strongest anywhere among the republics of the former Soviet Union.”
I asked the Ambassador for details on Twitter and was kindly provided with a link to a very interesting document entitled: “The 2011 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia,” covering about 30 countries, including Armenia.
NOTE: The more commonly used term NGO (Non-Governmental Organizations) is basically exchanged with slightly broader term CSO (Civil Society Organizations) in the report.
“CSOs in Armenia faced pressure on numerous fronts in 2011. The state increased pressure on CSOs in response to a variety of active advocacy campaigns. At the same time, a number of publications and TV programs presented human rights and watchdog CSOs as donor-driven organizations that misuse grants,” the Armenian section of the report says. “International donor support to CSOs increased in 2011. However, most of the funding targets specific activities and projects, thereby leaving CSOs with very few resources to cover their administrative or overhead costs. The lack of sustainable long-term funding exacerbates CSOs’ problems with staff retention and reduces CSOs’ institutional capacities. Despite these challenges, CSOs organized more successful public discussions and advocacy initiatives through social networks in 2011,” it goes on to say.
One of the more interesting findings in the report for me was this: “According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 3,749 public organizations, 750 foundations, and 301 legal entity unions registered in Armenia in 2011. However, only about 15 to 20 percent of these institutions are estimated to be active.”
Another interesting discovery was finding out, that the Armenian state bodies are among the largest financial donors for CSO’s. “In total, the state provided approximately $8 million of support to CSOs in 2011. The majority of this support is granted to sports federations and state-funded or state-operated organizations on a non-competitive basis. Certain CSOs, particularly those providing social services to the elderly and disabled, also receive regular government funding through ministries. Presidential Funds provide approximately $250,000 a year for anti-smoking campaigns, and the Ministry of Culture awards $25,000 to ethnic minority CSOs.”
As for the Ambassador’s remarks, which got me interested in the first place, the report indeed shows Armenia has second highest scores after Ukraine in post-Soviet area (not including the Baltic states). Surprisingly, the Armenian CSO’s are even ahead of Georgia, which seems to beat us in every other democracy-related area in various international reports. The Azerbaijan section of the report is also worth reading.
PS: The Organizational capacity and Public image sections of the Armenian report were especially interesting to read.
Posted from: http://ditord.com
August 16, 2012
Tsarukian Signals Commitment to Putin’s Eurasian Union Plan
One of Armenia’s wealthiest businessman and leader of “Bargavach Hayastan” (Prosperous Armenia) party Gagik Tsarukian has backed the initiative of his party’s youth wing to hold the First Eurasian Youth Conference in the Armenian resort town of Tsakhadzor on August 22-27.
According to the official press-release disseminated by the Prosperous Armenia party, the conference will host delegations from 14 countries to discuss the idea of establishing a Eurasian Union. A special declaration will be signed at the end of the conference.
The Eurasian Union (EAU) is a proposed economic and political union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and other Eurasian countries, in particular the post-Soviet states.
The idea, based on the European Union’s integration, was brought to attention in October 2011 by the Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin. On 18 November 2011, the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia signed an agreement, setting a target of establishing the Eurasian Union by 2015. The agreement included the roadmap for the future integration and established the Eurasian Commission (modeled on the European Commission) and the Eurasian Economic Space, which started work on 1 January 2012.
Armenia’s official position on the EAU has been cautious so far. As RFE/RL puts it: “The absence of common borders has been the main declared reason for Armenia’s refusal so far to join the customs arrangement which Putin hopes would form the backbone of a future Russian-led “Eurasian Union” of former Soviet republics. Top Russian officials have actively promoted the would-be union during recent visits to Yerevan, fueling speculation that the Sarkisian government is under growing pressure to embrace the idea.”
Gagik Tsarukian’s “Prosperous Armenia” party has said in the past, that it supports, in principle, Armenia’s accession to Eurasian Union. “Prosperous Armenia” is the second most influential party in the Armenian parliament which is posing as a competitor to the ruling Republican party. With increasingly frank pro-EAU declarations (read pro-Russian, pro-Putin), Tsarukian might be looking at Russia’s support strengthening its foothold in the Armenian politics and even directly challenging incumbent president, Republican party leader Serzh Sargsian in the upcoming elections due February 2013.
PS: For the record – I kind of hate the idea of going back to the USSR, which the Eurasian Union is sure to become if Putin is to have his ways with Russia throwing around petrodollars and the gas-stick. No, thank you very much! I’d rather stay independent, even if shaky and dependent on Russia as it is now.
June 25, 2012
Armenia – 2013 Presidential Elections: An Opportunity for Statesmanship
Unless Armenia’s next presidential election is fair and gives its winner a strong political mandate, the government will lack the legitimacy needed to implement comprehensive reforms, tackle corruption and negotiate a peaceful end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Armenia: An Opportunity for Statesmanship, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the challenges before a pivotal presidential vote early next year that will determine whether the country has shed its more than a decade and a half of fraud-tainted electoral history. Whoever is elected must accelerate implementation of much-needed governance and economic reforms and help restore momentum to diplomatic efforts to tackle the long-running territorial conflict with Azerbaijan that poses a danger to regional stability.
“Another election perceived as seriously flawed would further distract from peace talks and severe economic problems”, says Lawrence Sheets, Crisis Group’s Caucasus Project Director. “The likely consequences would then be even more citizens opting out of democratic politics, as well as increased emigration”.
May’s competitive parliamentary elections produced positive signs, with more balanced media coverage and widely respected rights of free assembly, expression and movement. They also exposed longstanding issues. Widespread abuse of administrative resources; inflated voters lists; vote-buying; lack of sufficient redress for election violations; and reports of multiple voting have damaged trust in government bodies and institutions. It is crucial that the February 2013 vote, in which President Serzh Sargsyan will likely seek a second term, becomes “the cleanest elections in Armenian history”, as he had already promised the 2012 polls would be.
Though the president initially took bold steps, most noteworthy among them an attempt to normalise relations with Turkey, broader change has been slow. Political courage is needed to overhaul a deeply entrenched system in which big business and politics are intertwined, and transparency is lacking.
The economy remains unhealthily reliant on financial remittances from Armenians abroad. Rates of emigration and seasonal migration out of the country are alarmingly high. There have been few serious efforts to combat high-level corruption. The executive branch still enjoys overwhelming, virtually unchecked, powers. The judicial system is perceived as neither independent nor competent, and mechanisms to hold authorities accountable are largely ineffective. Media freedom is inadequate, with a glaring lack of diversity in television, from which most Armenians get their news.
To address these shortcomings and establish the basis for a free and fair election, the president should take the lead in encouraging authorities to pass a new criminal code, hold officials involved in corruption and elections abuses to account and increase civilian control of the police and independence of the judiciary. International partners should provide technical and financial assistance and hold the government accountable for any backsliding in reform.
“President Sargsyan has a window of opportunity, in advance of the 2013 elections, to demonstrate statesmanship and make Armenia a better place to live”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “A failure to embrace both immediate and long-term structural reforms would neither capitalise on Armenia’s strengths nor make for a good presidential campaign strategy”.
Posted from: http://ditord.com/
May 24, 2012
Armenia Seems Content With Its Elections
Looks like Armenia is more or less content with the outcome of the parliamentary elections that took place on May 6.
Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican party won a decisive victory and strengthened their hold on the National Assembly. The Republican faction had 62 mandates in the 131 seat parliament elected in 2007. Now they can easily claim 71 seats after gaining 44% of the proportional vote and winning 29 seats in the constituency based majoritarian voting system.
There are two political forces, whose opinion matters most of all in terms of making these elections legit. Both of those forces have by now issued statements, which basically mean that they’ll accept the results of the elections and go to parliament.
The Republican party’s most significant political opponent is of course its junior partner in the ruling coalition – the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). This party was the only force which had enough political weight and resources to challenge the Republicans. At some point during the pre-election campaign it even seemed that they can come out as winners of the elections. The preliminary vote counts showed, however, that although BHK has expanded its presence in the new parliament, it is not even close to threatening the power of the Republicans. BHK will be able to claim 34 seats which is an increase compared to their presence in the outgoing parliament with 26 mandates. The leader of the party Gagik Tsarukian issued a statement yesterday, saying he will hold true to his campaign promises and help “overcome the challenges faced by our people and our state.” He also called unprecedented the large number of people who voted for his party (450,000), which signals that BHK is basically happy with the elections. Even though this is a confusing message, I take it as an acceptance of defeat.
The ruling Republican party’s arch-rival, the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Tuesday rejected official vote results as fraudulent but saidit will take up seats in the new National Assembly and fight against President Serzh Sarkisian “on all fronts.” Going to parliament means they accept the outcome of the elections and won’t stir up another riot akin to the one that led to violent clashes on the streets of Yerevan and 10 deaths back in March 1, 2008.
One of the biggest losers of the elections is the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), which held 16 seats in the outgoing parliament and will be able to claim only 6 in the new one. They challenged the legitimacy of Sunday’s parliamentary elections on Tuesday, saying that their outcome was essentially decided by “unprecedented” vote buying.
However, the experience has shown, that Dashnaktsutyun has always been more reasonable in stirring internal political matters in the face of an external foe (Azerbaijan and Turkey), so as ceasefire violations by Azerbaijan in Armenia’s bordering Tavush region continue to intensify, Dashnakstutyun will most probably tone down their revolutionary rhetoric and avoid complicating matters not to give additional stimuli to Azerbaijan to press on with more attacks.
A junior member of the ruling coalition Orinats Yerkir (Rule of Law Party) and opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party will each be getting 6 seats. Orinats Yerkir had 8 deputies, while Zharangutyun had 7 in the outgoing parliament, so they both have reasons to be dissatisfied. However, none of these forces are likely to do anything radical, go out on the streets protesting, etc.
PS: I had two big concerns throughout the election campaign. One was that the post-election period might once again turn into a blood-bath as in 2008. Luckily, we avoided this. A second concern was that a further strengthening of BHK will lead to the return of former president Robert Kocharian, who is rumored to be behind the political moves of the party led by Gagik Tsarukian, a close allyof Armenia’s second president. Kocharian, of course, is the man who locked down A1plus TV, choked media freedom in Armenia and was running the country during the Parliament shootings of October 27, 1999 and killings of protesters on March 1, 2008. So yes – personally I’m also fine with the outcome of these electiona like almost everyone.
April 17, 2012
Poll: Parliamentary Elections in Armenia
View Poll Results Here
Since this is coming from Armnews TV, which is known to be linked with Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan, we can almost be sure, that his Republican party is pretty much content with getting 34 percent of the parliament seats, which will give them a clear majority in parliament if they also win most of the sits via majoritarian system, where in most cases Republican-backed oligarchs are contesting elections.
The 9 percent for Armenian National Congress adds an interesting touch to the survey too.
PS: Unzipped blog raised some doubts about the validity of Gallup polls in Armenia, but from what I checked on Gallup website, this seems to be genuine.
Posted from: http://ditord.com
March 28, 2012
YouTube: Internet Download Speed Doubles in Armenia
Internet speed in Armenia continues to grow at a mind-blowing pace. A direct indicator of this comes from the statistics provided by YouTube, according to which average download speed of videos from Armenia has reached about 3.2 mbps in March 2012.
The average YouTube download speed last year was about 1.4 mbps, while in 2010 it was less than 0.8 mbps. Since YouTube is one of the top online destinations in Armenia (2nd only to Facebook by popularity according toAlexa), the data above is pretty much representative of general internet trends in Armenia. This means that internet speeds have been doubling every year since 2010.
Global internet speeds have been growing at a slower rate. According to YouTube data again, global average download speed grew by about 1 mbps to reach 5 mbps over the past 12 months. The average figure stood at 4 mbps in April 2011 and 3 mbps in February 2010. If the current dynamics persists, Armenia will catch up with the global average within the next year.
Meanwhile, the cost of internet has declined more than 120 times, while the broadband internet userbase has jumped from 20,000 in 2007 to 380,000 in 2011. This has created a completely new internet environment, which has already started to manifest itself as Armenia heads into Parliamentary elections slated for May 6th. Back in 2007 (also a year of Parliamentary elections), while there was an active online community on LiveJournal blogging platform, it had only a fraction of the influence that Facebook and YouTube users have these days.
It is certainly going to be very interesting to observe how the new internet reality is going to influence the political discourse in the country especially in the pre-election and post-election periods.
Meanwhile, my organization – Media Diversity Institute – Armenia, along with partners, such as Transparency International, has deployed an Ushahidi based platform for the monitoring of the upcoming elections already live at http://iditord.org address. More on that in later blog posts.
Post from: http://ditord.com/
March 25, 2012
In Armenia women are worse off than in Georgia, better off than in Azerbaijan
The Economist Intelligence Unit has published the “Women’s Economic Opportunity Index 2012” along with a report, which attempt to measure progress in the economic advancement of women around the world.
The result is a comprehensive assessment of the enabling environment for women’s economic participation in 128 countries. The Index aims to look beyond gender disparities to the underlying factors affecting women’s access to economic opportunity. It draws on data from a wide range of international organisations, including the UN, the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and many others. The result is a comprehensive assessment of the enabling environment for women’s economic participation in 128 countries.
Here’s the main chart, where Armenia is ranked 64th among 128 countries, Georgia is 59th, Azerbaijan is 90th. Other countries of interest include Russia (66th), Turkey (65th), Iran (117).
Sweden, Norway and Finland lead the way for women’s economic opportunities, while Yemen, Chad and Sudan are the worst.
Posted from: http://ditord.com/
—————————————————————————————————————————————————-March 5, 2012
Putin Gets 89% Votes of Armenia’s Russian Citizens
More than 10 thousand voters took part in Russia’s presidential polls in Armenia on Sunday, Caucasus Knot reports.
Russian citizens living in Armenia, including the soldiers of the Russian military base and border guard voted in 10 polling stations operating in the territory of Armenia.
Russia’s twice former president, now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who claimed victory in Sunday’s presidential election, got absolute majority – 89% of the votes, followed by Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who came in second with 3,68%. Billionaire tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov followed closely with 3,5%, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky polled 3.1% and socialist Sergei Mironov had 0.63%.
(Blog originally posted on “The Armenian Observer Blog” – http://ditord.com/)
Video (IN RUSSIAN)