News and Views (July 2, 2012)
News & Views is a weekly summary of some of the week’s most important stories, links and material of interest to Ararat readers.
— One story that has dominated Armenia throughout the week was the beating, and now death, of Armenian military doctor, Vahe Avetyan. On June 17, Vahe Avetyan and four other military doctors were at the Harsnakar restaurant in Yerevan. The restaurant is owned by Ruben Hayrapetyan, Member of Parliament, Head of the Armenian Football Federation and alleged oligarch. According to Armenia Now, a fight broke out purportedly over the dress code and the doctors were beaten by the restaurants security personnel. After a lengthy hospitalization, Vahe Avetyan passed away.
Vahe Avetyan’s death has sparked protests in Yerevan. The Armenian Weekly reported that there was a candlelight vigil and Hetq has provided extensive photos from another protest. Armenia Now also reports that on July 1, a man entered the same restaurant with explosives and threatened to destroy it.
“On Sunday, July 1, 39-year-old lieutenant-colonel Vardan Samvelyan reportedly entered the Harsnakar restaurant complex in Yerevan armed with 600 grams of TNT, hand grenades and a knife, threatening he would blow up the restaurant. Samvelyan did not carry out his threat, but instead surrendered to the police three hours later”.
— This week, The Economist published an article about Armenia titled, rather ominously, “Armenia in the vice: Prisoner of history”. The article examines Armenia’s precarious economic situation including being labeled in 2011 as the world’s second worst performing economy by Forbes magazine.
“The economy is still recovering from the global financial crisis, which saw GDP contract by 14.2% in 2009. In the same period, the construction sector contracted by more than 40%. Remittances from the diaspora dropped by 30%. That led Forbes magazine to label Armenia the world’s second worst performing economy in 2011–much to Yerevan’s irritation. Although official statistics claim 8 percent unemployment, 48% of respondents told a recent survey they were looking for a job. Over one-third of the country lives below the poverty line. Complaints of corruption are widespread, and inflation is high”.
— With tourism being a key part of the Armenian economy, it’s not surprising that tourist numbers have risen rapidly. However some are questioning the figures provided by the Armenian government. Simon Black, of Business Insider, has written an article provocatively titled, “ARMENIA: And You Thought Your Government told Big Lies” where he paints a bleak picture of Armenia’s current economic and social situation and compared official and private data about Armenia’s tourist figures.
“The same government agency claimed that 620,000 foreign tourists visited Armenia in 2010. Private data from local hotels, however, showed only 65,000 visitors during the same period — a 90% difference. And you thought your government told big lies … ”
— As we reported last week, the Palestinian Authority has been lobbying to have the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem approved as a world heritage site. The move was opposed by the religious custodians of the site, including the Armenian Church, which some believe was the birthplace of Jesus Christ. However the BBC has reported this week that UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, has voted to include the church as a World Heritage Site causing some controversy.
— In May of this year, Ararat magazine reported on an arson attack on a gay friendly bar in Yerevan. Disturbingly, the attack appeared to receive support from government ministers with two Armenian Members of Parliament posting bail for two suspects arrested in relation to the attacks. Civilnet has followed this up with an animation about intolerance in Armenia which includes one shocking statistic that suggests “94% of Armenians would not want a homosexual neighbor.”
— In a rather inspirational story, The Armenian Weekly reporter Nanore Barsoumian has written about a new entrepreneurial project in the remote town of Berd, in Armenia’s northern Tavush province. The town, which is only nine kilometers from the border with Azerbaijan, provides very little employment opportunities for its populace, especially for women. However a small group of women have begun knitting teddy bears to provide a source of income. Timothy Straight, one of the people behind the project, foresees much future potential:
“Straight envisions a contract with an upscale toy store in the U.S., with a steady flow of orders. “This is not about sympathy, this is not about feeling sorry for these women, or feeling sorry for Armenia,” he said, adding that his purpose is to empower the Berd women. “If an upscale toy store in the U.S. were to latch on to this and make it a permanent thing, and order 1,000 bears every three months, that’s when my job is done. It’s all for the women, so that they can go and have a happy life. I would really like them to have their own customers in Australia, Europe, and the U.S.”
— Last week, we mentioned a travel series on Armenia Now by Sigrid Lupieri, a Chicago based Italian-American journalist who is spending two months in Armenia and is writing about her experiences. She has submitted another piece about the joys of attempting to purchase groceries in Yerevan, without being able to speak Armenian.
“After someone stopped me in the street and spoke Armenian to me — presumably asking for directions — I decided it was time to put my Armenian-ness to the test. If I could get through an entire grocery shopping expedition without appearing as a foreigner, I figured I could call myself reasonably well-adjusted.”
* * *
News & Views is published every week. It is a summary of the week’s most interesting, provocatiove and thought-provoking links to articles, videos, photos and commentary of interest to the readers of Ararat.