Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Big dreams, small hopes

Dr. Mohammed Dajani from Al Quds University is in town-- in Yerevan that is. And he has made a few presentations while he has been here.

I had the privilege of being invited to and participating in the conference held at AUA Business Center on May 27th and it was entitled, "Big dreamz, small hopes" and thought I would provide a bit of insight regarding his presentation and the discussion which took place afterwards.

A professor of Palestinian ethnicity, he teaches American Studies at Al Quds University. Frankly, he is quite well known in the peacebuilding and conflict resolution field throughout the world. He has given lectures in so many different places to so many different people and in regions with different conflicts. This time, he brought the ‘Big Dreamz Small Hopes’ to the Caucasus.

His powerpoint presentation was “Big dreamz, small hopes” and he presented the issues regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yet many lessons were to be learnt from this presentation that Armenians should take into consideration when discussing the Nagorno Karabakh issue.

* image vs. reality
Image and perceptions shape our view of who the enemy is – and it may not necessarily be the reality.

In many conflict situations, the two parties involved are enemies with another and maintain a certain image of their enemy. One side tends to view the other side in a sort of “mirror image” – that is, they see their enemy the way their enemy views them. For example, as Armenians call the Azeris aggressive, not trustworthy and so on and so forth, Armenians tend to see Armenians as the same.

just an example -- I remember there were recently cross border shootings going on between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Armenian media reported that Azeri soldiers fired at Armenian soldiers in Ichevan.
February 22nd
March 8th
And a most recent case, on May 30th

While in the Azeri media, they reported that Armenians broke the ceasefire.
March 11th
March 16th

* The result = “Us vs. them”
And as long as we continue to view the situation as “us vs. them”, the conflict will not be resolved.

“Is peace possible?” Dan Smith asked at his lecture presentation at the IWPR office in Yerevan held on May 24, 2006. A pertinent question in which he rhetorically responded, “Yes… when one party is able to view the other side as their partner.”

Thus, when those parties involved in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict are able to envision themselves as “partners”, then all parties involved will begin to see some progress in the resolution of the conflict.

* How are these images and perceptions formed?
Through the media.
Through stereotypes.

The “enemy” image of one another is maintained. The more myths we have and maintain of one another, the more difficult it is to get over them. Stereotypes and propaganda continue. And so on and so forth.

* There is no such thing as a “monopoly of truth”
There is no such thing that only one side is “right”.

And it is all a matter of your perception.
He showed images of how the Palestinian press showed the “enemy” and vice versa.
In both cases it became obvious—when there were Palestinians killed, they had a face and a story in the Palestinian press. When an Israeli was killed, this person was merely a number…

Armenian soldiers killed in NK war
Picture from website: http://www.bhhrg.org/CountryReport.asp?ChapterID=770&CountryID=2&ReportID=249&keyword=

Azeri Memorial to those killed in Nagorno Karabakh war
Picture from website: http://www.galenfrysinger.com/azerbaijan.htm

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lessons for Armenia which should be learned from Eurovisian contest

In a recent article written by Hakob Badalyan at Lragir.am, he pointed out some excellent points. For this reason, I have included entire article and here is the link where it can be found.

Hakob Badalyan

22 May 06

On May 20 almost the entire Armenia watched the final of Eurovision Song Contest 2006, where Armenia was participating for the first time, and Armenia was represented by Andre. The Greeks had really organized a great show, pleasant to watch. I am sure that besides being enjoyable and arousing joy and pride in Armenians for Andre's performance and points, Eurovision also taught lessons to many Armenians; for instance, many people learned names of new European countries which they might not have known before.

Generally, even the most delightful moments of life carry cognitive elements along with pleasure, which are surely more important than pleasure. Pleasure is transient, whereas a lesson is for all our life and may even prove useful before and maybe also during other moments of joy. In this sense, Eurovision 2006 is the first lesson to Armenia. The point is not just participation. However, in this sense we also have
much to learn. The song that won would not be competitive even on ALM TV. It is surprising that quite good songs, potential hits, took lower positions, and many did not even appear in the first ten, maybe because they do not have a Diaspora. But the victory of the Finnish song also teaches much to those nations which are too sensitive on their origin and tend to believe in archaeological sentiments on a
thousands of years old civilization more than the others. The Finnish song was not exactly rock, and the band was not exactly a rock band, it was imitation and irony rather.

And by voting for this song, the European youth displayed that songs and the contest are simply entertainment. The victory of Finns is the victory of the European youth rather than theirs, who voted for lightness (though the title of the song is "Hard Rock"). The other countries, which presented undoubtedly better songs, may say that
the Europeans are tasteless, and the victory of the Finnish band was the defeat of taste. This argument may have an element of truth but not more. The point is that musical taste is a relative notion, and it cannot be put out for a contest, and whenever it is put out for a contest, only for maximum enjoyment. The European youth decided to entertain themselves at full this time, and in this case musical imitation does not matter much.

Indeed it was high time that a country or a song win on Eurovision, which is not going to become a tool for propaganda of patriotism; it was high time that a country speak up which would not make its victory a tool for internal and external goals.

There has been a lot of consideration that the winners of Eurovision are determined by the current geopolitical situation or economic and political tendencies. In fact, such a large-scale event cannot be free from influence. However, it should not be denied either that the voting youth simply decided to increase their influence, and
Eurovision 2006 could even be considered as the continuation of riots of French young people protesting against political decisions, which ignore public opinion. In this context, the public debates on Andre's song in Armenia were simply ingenuous and funny. Only the president and the patriarch did not express their opinion on the song. Whereas they should take it easy and not make a national matter out of a song,
although it is represented under the Armenian flag.

After all, the Lithuanian flag did not suffer when the band representing this country sang a humorous song and received more votes than Andre.

Yet the song contest in Athens taught another important lesson to Armenia. Many in Armenia have probably noticed that the former Yugoslavian countries, which had been slaughtering one another several years ago, gave their votes to one another. It was interesting that the Russian singer got the highest points from the Baltic States,
which have an extremely negative attitude to this country. And Turkey gave a surprise to the Armenians in Armenia and all over the world, giving 12 points to Armenia. Even in many countries with large Armenian communities Andre did not get such high points. This can be considered as the victory of the Turkish youth.

They simply let everyone know that they can be members of the friendly and tolerant European family. Though outwardly, they showed that they can use human values in treating people, notwithstanding historical and political problems. Moreover, it should be noted that the Turks did the same during Eurovision 2005 when they gave 12 points to the Greek singer despite the historical and political problems between
Turkey and Greece, like between Turkey and Armenia.

One may say that there is politics behind all this, and the voting results are simply coined to preach friendliness, to instill tolerance in societies. Everything can be said, and everything can be explained somehow. After all nothing else is left to do, when the Turks give 10 points to our singer, and the Turkish singer does not get a single point in Armenia. Maybe we are fairer and we have a better taste.

In the fact, the problem is really political, and addresses the outlook of countries and governments. In Turkey they surely dislike Armenians like the Armenians dislike Turks. However, our neighbors seek to teach their youth to live without hatred. Moreover, their motive is purely national rather than moral or universal. They teach
that it is possible to achieve much more through love and diplomacy, for such is the system of values of the 21st century, when love is a political necessity rather than a compulsion. Probably, however, it is pointless to go in for formalities, and perhaps it is more reasonable to go to an international tribunal, as the president of
the Union of Armenians of Russia proposed. Especially that besides the recognition of the Genocide we can claim to recognition of Formality, accusing the Turks of a Formal vote for the Armenian singer.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Where in the world is Vahagn?

He is certainly the Armenian version of Where's Waldo?

For the past few months, Vahagn has been in the country – and then well, out of the country. I had the chance to ask him a few questions while he was still “in country”.

Vahagn traveled from Amsterdam to Athens by land and by sea and attended several other meetings between April 18th through May 12th. He was to attend the European Youth For Action NGO meetings as a board member and secondly, to prepare for the Art and Activism Caravan which will be held this summer.

Upon returning from his travels, he talked about some of these concepts within Artivism and the blue flag that he carried which sought everyone’s attention. He also explained in the interview, “..my feeling is that we should think “out of the box” and should try to first understand what do we want and what we can do in our country.”

He’s heading back out pretty soon for more interesting trips such as Ecotopia camp and other activities as he explains below.


Interview with Vahagn Vardumyan conducted on May 16, 2006
President of BEM Progressive Action Center Youth NGO

What is this Art and Activism caravan?
Art and Activism caravan is a road show which will be passing through Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Hungary and will end in Slovakia on August 6th when the Ecotopia annual gathering begins. Ecotopia will end on August 20th and we will have Art and Activism as the theme of this year, to resume the carvan which will start on June 3 in Athens and will last for 2 months on the road.

Tell me about how you physically got to Athens?
As a group of environmentalists, we decided to travel by train and ferry from Amsterdam to Athens and we passed through Germany, Austria, Italy and having a lot of fun on the way, enjoying the trip and knowing each other better.

The visit to Athens had two main aims, the first board meeting of EYFA (the one I mentioned already) before the start of the fourth European Social Forum. We were supposed to give presentations at official and not official venues of the social forum in order to target as manyt groups as possible and to advertise the Art and Activism carvavan. The Social Forum started on May 7, officially. And it had more than 10,000 participants from all over the world.

Were you the only participant from the Caucasus?
No, at the official Social Forum there were other Armenians representing Armenian Diaspora in Greece and some Armenian based NGOs.

What sort of activities were you planning? What more can you tell about what you did during the trip?
We were trying to not leave any detail and to understand what can be our challenges on this two month tour because the Balkans are one of the most sensitive regions of the planet and our aim is to make some kind of synthesis of Art and Activism in order to give as many tools to the public as possible, to strengthen the local communities. Yeah. So when we leave, they will be able to continue the “Artivism” as we call it, the way they want to using the most environmental friendly ways of making decorations, costumes, drums, cloning tools, etc.

What is this concept “Artivism”?
Artivisim is the combination of creativity and active public work but organized in a more fun and accessible-to-more-people way. As a way of thinking and living, this is something new but it has a big potential and grows very quickly.

What is your overall feeling about your experiences traveling only through land and water from Amsterdam to Athens?
That’s something great. It’s much better than flying.

The purpose was to show that it’s possible to travel from Amsterdam to Athens?
Sure, it’s safer... and it took us four days but we enjoyed that. And also having the feeling that we are not damaging the planet, yea I did something important...

I would give an example, if you are flying once from one destination to another- it’s three times more damaging to the planet than going once by car only alone along the same route. Also, we decided to pay 40-80 euros more for plane tickets every time we fly because there are companies which plant trees using this amount of money - where you want. And that compensates somehow the amount of damage that flying does to the environment.

Was this the only of your trip?
And the Social Forum. For the Social Forum, I had several goals: To unite different activist networks of the world around social and political, environmental and other issues. Also, to show that these networks are collaborating and they are strong. No matter what the global corporations think and do. So, the 7th of may there was a huge demonstration organized in Athens with about 100,000 participants. And because of some of the preventional aggression from the Athens police- using tear gas at the beginning of the demonstration with no purpose- the demonstration became noisier than we expected and there were fights that erupted between the activists and the police. Well, this was at some point scarey.

Did you get involved? How?
…Well, just being as solidary with these activists, it was also an experience. And other things because I was also angry on the fact that there was so much tear gas used against the demonstrators.

Coming back to Armenia from such an experience, what are some of the thoughts you have?
One of the fist things that I felt, upon entering Armenia already in the airport was the mess which is something regular not only in the airport but in general in Armenia. The lack of organization on many different levels of our society is something more dangerous than throwing stones and being arrested during demonstrations. And my feeling is that we should think “out of the box” and should try to first understand what do we want and what we can do in our country. Usually when I think about this, I am surprised how easy things can be only if we will manage to unite our ideas, our spirits, and our power.

Also, I missed Armenia very much.

Why? And what specifically?
I love my country and indeed I even like the way it is so disorganized. But this is a joke halfway. I travel so much that this is why I like being in Armenia. …I can see it from the outside. For most of the people that don’t see what are the values we have and others don’t, that makes people to be depressed and not to want to do anything

Are you saying one must leave Armenia in order to understand what it’s like?
Also, yea but not only.

[ at the demonstrations in Athens, he explains ]

I had one of the most interesting flags ever as most of the people thought. It was a blue flag with the earth picture on it without any word or any message. That demonstrated my approach to activism as an “Artivist”. People would ask so what party are you from? And I would say I am from the Earth party and if they wanted to join they were more than welcome. This sounds too pacifist maybe but I think it was a tiny drop of netural positivity which is one of the main basic concepts of Artivism.

Do you plan on bringing this concept of Artivism into Armenia and particularly to use among the youth? If so, how do you think it will be accepted? Or not accepted?
Yes, I want to bring this concept here. Although I feel that it exists already, though I can help to awaken it.

Well, I put messages on myself when I walk on the streets. I talk to people very openly . I don’t put barriers between myself and people from my own society but from different levels. I mean the ideological level- no matter if one is “rabiz” or not, I just don’t put barriers. Trying to understand every single human being and help if I can.

How do people see you, in your opinon, when you are walking around with all of these statements on you and other messages on your clothes for example?
Not only that. People mostly like it. I have the feeling that they would do the same but because nobody does it, it is often seen as an “anti-social something” which never bothers me. Moreover it stimulates me in a way.
I feel shame. That most of the possibilities given to me to travel and see all these youth activism and fun stuff going on around Europe are given by European funds and there is no single example of an Armenian businessman or network which supports the concerns and active youth to take part in important international events. But I hope that our trials to make it possible will succeed and I really dream about groups of Armenians going to these annual gatherings together and having important roles in them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Tchambarak and Ichevan: women proposing peace

Over the past few days, I organized two forum discussions for the Resource Center Resource Center on the topic of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. One was held on May 12th in Tchambarak and another on May 15th in Ichevan. Both of the forums were run by Anahit Bayandur, co-president of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly Armenian Committee and really a fascinating and intelligent woman. I will not go too much into detail about Anahit because it will undoubtedly remain insufficient of her vast experience and capabilities, but she is truly one of the most progressive and liberal minded Armenian women I have ever met.

I specifically wanted to target this issue of women and peace because of the observations I made from the past two forums I organized. For those who are familiar with development work, I think in general it is ever so important to note the role of women and how important they are particularly in the underdeveloped regions. In Armenia, as we have been going out to the Tavush and Gegharkunik districts, the vast majority of participants in the forums and events have been women. This is primarily because most of the men are away or serving in the army. Understood. Yet, nobody can deny the importance of the role of these Armenian women in the daily lives of these regions.

When Anahit led the forums, she posed questions to the audience and wanted to get their feedback about the current situation regarding the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. In Tchambarak, the response was unanimous. They all kept repeating and explaining, “no, we don’t war, that is for sure…” Tchambarak has felt the effect of war on their own city and they explain they do not want to suffer anymore.

I would like to take a moment and briefly discuss some of the observations from the discussion forum held in Tchambarak. As mentioned before, most of the participants were women yet there were two men present as well. When discussing what actions need to be taken in order to improve their situation, the women were proposing ideas such as cultural events, meetings for the youth and other forums and discussions to hold so that the people of Tchambarak can become involved and active in their future. The two men were proposing other ideas. One of them mentioned that it is important to strengthen Armenia’s army, this will ensure their protection and safety and the enemy will be afraid to attack. While the other was also proposing that no compromises can be made revolving the NK region.

And the women kept expressing other concerns. They explained how neither Azeris nor Armenians want to continue to feel the affects of the war. Neither Azeris or Armenians want to lose their sons and/or husbands. This is what they kept reminding themselves throughout discussion.

Is there a tendency for women to be more concerned with peace and diplomatic ways of resolving conflicts while men tend to resort to the use of force and violent means?

Then there was the forum held in Ichevan. Once again, the majority of the participants were women and also two men. There were even more interesting observations there as well.

Here are some of the quotes from the forum held in Ichevan and some of the comments that the women expressed (which I translated into English ):

“…the treaty [ referring to a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan ] is just a paper, it’s not going to change anything.”

“Education is not developing, which is why were are not going forward.”

“In U.S., there can be 100’s of ethnic groups living together and their rights protected- but here we have one more group and that’s it.”

While the men were pointing out the following:

“…if Nagorno Karabakh and the war is left to Azerbaijan, it could have led to genocide.”

“…if you have the forces to keep yourself armed and protected, than you’re all set.”

I am particularly convinced that in a conflict situation, women can truly play an important role in bringing about a peaceful resolution. The only question is, to what extent are they given the opportunity to do so?

[ Forum held in Ichevan ]

Friday, May 05, 2006

More problems with Armenian planes

As the media and television stations are consistently airing updates and news regarding the Armavia A-320 crash in Sochi, there is yet another news that they are just beginning to report--

2 Armavia planes were burnt in Belgium airport

in Armenian...

in English

According to PanArmenian news, four planes were burnt early morning on May 5th and 2 of them were A320 planes which were Armenian.

Two Armenian A-320 Burnt in Belgian Airport
05.05.2006 20:49 GMT+04:00
/PanARMENIAN.Net/ May 5 night fire broke out in the airbase of Sabena-Technique Belgian company. As result 4 A-320 planes including two Armenian ones burnt. One plane belonged to Armavia national carrier, the other – to entrepreneur Versand Hakobyan. The Armenian planes were undergoing servicing in Belgium, reported IA Regnum.

Mourning Continues for Relatives and Friends Armavia Plane Crash in Sochi

In a country so small and with the communities and neighbors so familiar with one another, it is hard for everyone not to be mourning and in grief over such a tragic accident which occurred early morning on May 3rd.

My deepest sympathies to all those families and friends who have been affected…

Besides the many different news stories featuring this tragic event, the Armenian blogs are adding a different element to the news sources. There is that element of human reaction and emotion within many of the blogs.

See Global Voices Online for a roundup of the blogs regarding the Armavia plane crash.

Besides the blogs which were quoted on Global Voices Online, others have also followed up with their sympathies and reactions. Here are some of them...



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