Amnesty International recently concluded a series of high level talks with the Republic of Turkey–which included meetings with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan–Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul–Minister of Interior Abdulkadir Aksu–Presidents of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court–the Council of State–and a wide range of Turkish non-governmental organizations.
During meetings with government representatives–Amnesty International acknowledged that while human rights reforms were being implemented–much more needed to be done.
"Protection of human rights defenders is not just an issue of legislative reform but of changing attitudes–which needs the clear public support of political leaders," said Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan.
Discussions with Turkish non-governmental organizations centered around the fact that despite government reforms–many of the groups continue to face harassment from officials. The organizations "called for greater recognition for their legitimate role as civil society monitors of the government’s promises."
Presidents of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court–and the Council of State all acknowledged to Amnesty International the need for judicial reforms. "The judiciary is independent on paper–but measures need to be taken to make it both independent and effective in practice," explained Khan.
At the conclusion of Amnesty International’s visit–the organization highlighted several steps Turkey must take to improve the human rights situation in the country–including: carrying out a fundamental reform of state institutions–particularly the security–law enforcement–and judicial systems; introduction of further radical legislative reforms; and–protecting and ensuring full participation of civil society-including human rights defenders-in the reform process.
The ANC urges Armenia’s to Contact Cemil iek–the Minster of Justice for the Republic of Turkey–urging him to address the human rights situation in his country.
5) ANC Discusses NY Life Insurance Case with AP–Fox News–NPR
LOS ANGELES–The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region (ANCA-WR) discussed the New York Life Insurance case dealing with the return of Armenian Genocide-era assets–with major media outlets this week,when interviewed for a national wire story issued by the Associated Press–a news segment aired by Fox News–and a radio program produced by National Public Radio–among others.
"The media attention surrounding the proposed settlement of the New York Life Insurance case has provided a venue to educate the general public about the Armenian Genocide," said ANCA-WR Chairman Raffi Hamparian. "The more the general public knows about the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s genocide denial–the more likely they are to support our drive for justice," he added.
In a statement issued earlier this week–the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA)–"applauded the efforts of Martin Marootian and the plaintiffs for leading the campaign to hold New York Life accountable–even if only in small measure–for failing to meet its obligations toward the policyholders who perished in the Armenian Genocide. This case and its outcome mark a significant milestone for the Armenian nation in that the lawsuit was the first of its kind to seek the return of Genocide-era assets long thought lost–denied or forgotten."
The ANCA statement emphasized that–"to place this settlement in its proper context–it is important to note that–while the heirs and grandchildren of Genocide-era policy holders will now receive some portion of those funds–we should remember that those moneys were not available when these orphans of Genocide needed them the most. Instead–they were collecting interest in New York Life’s coffers and remained there for some 89 years until this action was taken. It is truly unfortunate that a company that Armenian policyholders trusted in 1914 was only compelled to do the right thing after special laws were enacted in California and a group of tenacious Armenia’s were able to wrestle those funds free."
The ANCA-WR will continue to monitor media coverage of the New York Life Insurance case dealing with the return of Armenian Genocide-era assets to ensure fair and accurate reporting.
6) National Geographic Highlights "Rebirth of Armenia"
In a twenty-two page feature–"Rebirth of Armenia," the March 2004 issue of National Geographic highlights Armenia’s struggles–as well as the tenacity that sustains it.
In an excerpt from the article– Frank Viviano writes: "You are looking at the great Armenian paradox," Jivan Tabibian said. We stood at the second-floor window of the Foreign Ministry building in Yerevan–watching clouds scuttle across Mount Ararat’s ice-capped 16,854-foot (5,137-meter) crown. Tabibian–a diplomat whose portfolio includes ambassadorships to four countries and two international organizations–was discussing a policy initiative when he abruptly fell silent–gazing at Ararat. It’s impossible not to be distracted by Ararat in Yerevan. Despite its enormous mass–the great peak seems to float weightlessly over the city–engaged in permanent dialogue with Little Ararat–its 12,782-foot (3,896-meter) neighbor.
The vast snowy brow of Ararat glowers–pronounces–with hallucinatory power. Its name is derived from that of a Bronze Age god–Ara–whose talismanic cult of death and rebirth mirrored the seasonal transitions of Ararat from lifeless winter to fertile spring. Little Ararat–by contrast–is an exercise in calm–rational idealism–a volcanic cone so perfectly shaped that it suggests not so much what a mountain is as what a mountain ought to be.
You can’t ponder the two Ararats for long without drifting into philosophical reflection–and the Armenia’s have been pondering them since the birth of civilization."
7) Triple Whammy Absurdity
BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
I had planned to give my readers a rest–but current events forced my hand. Three matters–one each on the international–countrywide–and statewide (California) must be addressed. We mustn’t pass up opportunities to laugh at what the rich and powerful anoint us with–in their infinite–benign–and well-meaning wisdom–of course.
I almost choked on reading that a right wing Norwegian lawmaker had nominated George W. Bush–the current p-Resident of the White House–for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is a man who invaded two countries (Afghanistan and Iraq)–threatened at least two more with invasion (Iran and North Korea)–and recently proclaimed "I am a war president." Yeah–a real peacenik this one? But why does this matter to Armenia’s? Well–if invasions are OK–then it’s only a matter of time before Turkey indulges in an easterly foray. More importantly–it’s a salient reminder of the level of banal cynicism prevalent in international relations and discourse–the same minefield both Armenia and Diaspora navigate daily in the pursuit of our national goals.
Next we have the matter of gay marriage. It has come to a head in two states of the union where Armenia’s are present in significant numbers–and will unavoidably get sucked into the debate. The simplest solution is "live and let live." Why is it anyone else’s concern what consenting adults do? And why interfere with the legal appurtenances thereto? (legalese sounding enough for ya?). But–between the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s ruling–and the City of San Francisco’s actions–and the "sky is falling" reaction to these–there’s clearly going to be a lot of political fallout. Based on our political–religious–social–ethical–traditional–etc. predilections–connections–and relationships–we will be tugged into this morass. I suggest the guiding light for any Armenian on this issue is recognition of what led to the Genocide–extreme intolerance–cum-hatred based on our being perceived as different–and more importantly less human or deviant because of our nationality and religious affiliation. Once a society starts excluding some of its segments from full rights of citizenship–it’s on a slippery slope to hell-on-earth (Vahan Tekeyan says it well in "Beedee Usenk Asdoodzo" – "We Shall Say to God").
Finally–for those of us living in California–we have the Governator’s (Arnie to his film fans–I suppose) proposed mutilation of the state budget process in the form of two ballot measure propositions from hell. Prop 57 borrows $15 billion in order to avoid raising taxes for those whose tax rates were lowered a few years ago when the state was flush with money. So–all citizens of California get to shoulder an undue burden–so the wealthiest one percent or so–has more money to spend buying politicians who will do their bidding–and so on in a vicious–destructive societal cycle.
Prop 58 amends the California state constitution to disallow doing ever again what Prop 57 does by mandating a balanced budget–thus straitjacketing future legislatures and governors. Guess where this is going to hit a large number of Armenia’s–right square in the pocketbook–mostly as a result of reduced services. This is leadership! This is a break with the "old ways!" That’s what Aaaaaahnold promised right? (Did anybody notice that he’s raising funds faster than Gray Davis at the peak of his money-grubbing ways?) Funny–what did Benjamin the donkey in George Orwell’s Animal Farm observe about the pigs’ new reign? Guess how I’ll be voting on these issues?
7) Notes from another Place
BY ALEX SARDAR
I sat at my computer screen–during a week when world news seemed too vicious to think about–and Armenia offered little inspiration. Spring has been teasing Armenia–but old man winter is not moving anywhere.
I had nothing to write.
While doing the equivalent of doodling on the computer–looking on odd websites–I started looking in old files and came across this essay that I had started during my first visit to Armenia in 1999 and finished during my second visit in 2001. I moved to Armenia’seven months after this article was completed–but it seems so far removed from what I feel about Armenia today. This will serve as my column this week. Next time I’ll give you what all this means in 2004. OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND KARABAGH
The balcony next to mine is filled with bottles of soft drinks and store-bought mineral water. Many times–as I have looked over to my neighbor’s little kids playing among the bottles–I have wondered if they–too–are growing up with the stories that I did about this city. Or is the fact that they live in a city of fairy tales and of wars–the point of departure to the east and to the west–but also the point where the east and the west collide to create wonders–just another mundane reality in their lives.
I do wonder if between collecting water in buckets at 5 AM–for use during the next 12 hours–and hanging laundry on wires streaming along buildings–and searching for the family’s next income–my neighbors–or the entire city of Yerevan ever stops to think of the burden of history–that it carries. Or is it history–that has the burden of carrying them–while they–as any other urban people–lead lives less ordinary in many respects–and extraordinary in many other respects.
Yes–Yerevan is not just the meeting point of two different hemispheres–or even two directions anymore–but it is the clashing point of the old and the new–and it has become the path that is crossed by representatives of civilizations–distinguished by their origins–but bound together by the present tense.
At every view–and at every turn–there is a reminder that Yerevan is a place where old kings have defended their names–and modern day tyrants have oppressed those less powerful. And when I look outside of my window–perhaps no other view is more perfectly representative of this reality. To the left of my chipped cement balcony–I see the monument erected on the 50th anniversary of Armenia’s membership in the Soviet Union–and just a slight turn reveals ‘Mayr Hayastan’–the enormous statue watching over the city and her children.
Indeed–Yerevan is a city of opposites united–and a city which sees the parting of similars. The old Soviet aura still lurks at many places in the Armenian capital. Buildings beat up and old–some with broken windows–and others with old Armenian rugs hanging to hide the shattered glass–and whatever else shattered behind them. But don’t get me wrong–many shattered windows also reveal a view of a large vase of flowers inside.
If you speak with residents of Yerevan–they will swear that they do not know themselves. Why–curious visitors will want to know? Their explanation is very simple: They are not the same people who survived–and saw so many not be so lucky–those winters–yes–those winters which felt like Dante’s hell on earth. They don’t know themselves–because they cannot figure out how some 30 family members shared a small living room–to warm up in the face of cold that ate away at body and soul alike. Look at photos of Yerevan from just a decade ago–and it is understandable when locals explain that they don’t know themselves; there used to be trees everywhere in Yerevan–now a fraction of that green blanket is left. But then let us not forget that peaking through such trees were also statues of Lenin and Stalin–that now lie emasculated in nearby junkyards–completely hollow.
The memories of "those years," as many refer to the harsh winters of the early 90’s are definitely at the core of how Yerevan’s residents look toward the future and how they live their lives in the present. But it is again this incredible pairing of the old and the new–that embraces visitors–making them understand what lies at the heart of being a Yerevan resident.
The city today can be mistaken for any other European metropolis. In fact–one can get lost in the myriad of clothing stores–jazz clubs–bars and cafes–lining almost every street in the city. Discotheques have become focal points in the city’s night life–and from Abovyan street in the heart of Yerevan to the Cascade stairs on the hillside–young and old flock to these social meeting points to meet and greet.
Toumanian street–where a number of jazz clubs have found their homes–is frequented by many of the non-Armenian visitors of the city–and walking down the tree- lined street–anyone can get lost in the music and crowds transcending time. Louis Armstrong’s "A Wonderful Life" flows through the air–as vendors offer much to the curious–sunflower seeds–cotton candy and assorted sweets–ice cream–and the omnipresent fruit offerings. English–French–Russian–and many other languages are mixed together to create a Babylonian scene–and at times chaos seems to descend onto the street as so many voices–and so much noise compete for air time.
It is times like this when I fear that the traditions and the history of this–the greatest of cities–is being replaced by a more accessible and pop variety–because the young in Yerevan are no different than the numerous foreigners and tourists who seek out this corner in the city to feel at home. They–too–rummage through the bars to find the best band and the best scene to take part in. English has more or less taken the place of Russian as the language of choice among young Yerevantsis–although the former is still prevalent. So–the orientation of Yerevan toward a more western cultural direction is definitely in full swing.
Across the street from Toumanian’s bar scene is a gated park–with many outdoor cafes–where families stroll around–enjoying the slight breeze as a welcomed change to the scorching heat of the day. As one walks toward the park and the cafes–a weighty structure peaks through the thick branches of the trees. Gray in color and large in size–the building is multi-sided–a pentagon or a hexagon–it seems–one can’t quite tell–with a cemented plaza at the foot of its stairs. The building is non-descriptive. There is no sign indicating what it is–at least not immediately. And people move around it unaffected.
In the open plaza–young kids use roller blades to maneuver through the crowd–and they seem not to notice the overwhelming building and the two statues standing guard in front of it. In front of this building–the children look smaller than they really are–and come to think of it–so do the adults–the trees–and everything else.
On my first excursion to the plaza–I naively asked what the building was–ignoring the billboards around the building. And I was told by my companion that it was the National Opera Building. Of course–I exclaimed–hiding my ignorance. And the plaza–he told me was renamed–Freedom Square.
Why Freedom Square–I inquired. After the movement–of course–he responded. The movement–the Karabagh Liberation Movement–he meant. And again–I was reminded of the stark contrasts of places and people here in Yerevan. After all–there are few places where I could have listened to American Jazz–and walked across the street and witnessed the birthplace of the latest manifestation of my people’s quest for justice.
Indeed–the first rallies demanding the independence of Karabagh were held at Freedom Square–named after the movement–and now more than a decade later–freedom is what we pride ourselves with. A free Armenia and a free Karabagh.
So–why do people seem so nonchalant about it here in Freedom Square–laughing and walking around. Then my companion–a Yerevantsi–said something that gave me the answer. He told me that when he looks at his neighbors and friends walking around Freedom Square–he doesn’t feel the need to think of freedom–but he can certainly see it in his compatriots’ faces.
And that is one of the answers–for which I have been looking here in Yerevan. Do my neighbor’s children understand the history of Yerevan? Do Yerevantsis understand the burden of history they carry? Why wouldn’t they? They are the living history of this city and they know full well that when they cross Toumanian into Freedom Square–they don’t need to read the name anywhere–because they each carry a letter of the name–F-R-E-E-D-O-M. Send me an email at HYPERLINK "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" email@example.com
8) Vah Berberian: Dagaveen Going Strong
BY JENNY KILJIAN
It’s five o’clock on a Monday afternoon–and the sun is setting on the San Fernando Valley. The dim light makes the driveway of Vah Berberian’s Van Nuys apartment building ever the more evocative. The trees that line the small walk-up are bare and stark white–their branches reaching toward the sky. A few potted plants sit on the stairs–some hang outside Vah’s door. I hardly knock and Vah answers. We had only spoken briefly on the phone–and we’d met only once many years ago at church–I a child and Vah a tall and mythical adult with long salt and pepper braids. But his warm embrace and customary Armenian kisses belie our unfamiliarity. He introduces me to his assistant Christina but–as is common in the Armenian society–we already know each other. She offers to make us some tea–and Vah and I make a hasty exit to his studio–the apartment directly across from his ‘home’ apartment.
He shows me around his creative space–a veritable archive of his works. There isn’t a corner–a part of the floor–or even a wall that has not been covered in one form or another by Vah’s designs. We sit across from each other at his worktable–in the middle of what would have been the living room. From this vantage point–I can see not only the human Vah but also all the aspects that his being comprises–an abstract mural on the wall; stacks and piles of canvases arranged neatly in rows; a brimming bookcase; a second table–this one messy. This confluence is Vah.
"I’ve had the roughest few days," he sighs–ruefully describing the three exhibitions he is presently staging–including the one I’ve come to learn more about–the new monologue Dagaveen. It is the third in his series–following Nayev and Yevaylen. Each is an Armenian word denoting continuation–nayev meaning "also"; yevaylen–"etcetera"; and dagaveen–"still". He has plenty of material to expound upon–as the Armenian people and their communities have a wealth of laughable idiosyncracies–according to the playwright. The main theme of Dagaveen–he says–is–in fact–laughter. "I try to be as honest as possible–and the accent is on the fun of it," explains Vah. "I do not want to intellectualize or philosophize a lot–because I really think that we do not have levity in our culture. That levity is very important."
Vah chuckles–as he recounts how he became convinced of the necessity for another of his tongue-in-cheek performances. He was scanning some online newsgroups when he found an Irish newspaper that had published a survey of the happiest–and subsequently saddest–countries throughout the world. Vah claims that Armenia and Ukraine shared the dubious honor at the bottom of the list. "We’re a self-flagellating culture," he asserts–"and we need some kind of outlet where we will laugh without holding back. Instead of flogging ourselves–let’s laugh for the fun of it."
(Indeed–we share a good laugh when Christina brings in our tea and I observe that I’ve used several heaping spoonfuls of white granules from a ceramic jar labeled–in Armenian–as salt. I ask if it’s a habit to poison inquisitive reporters.)
Vah describes himself as a cross between Spalding Grey and George Carlin–an odd cross-breed of morose and manic. This brand of irreverence and quixotism defines Vah’s repertoire and makes him appealing to a broad demographic of Armenia’s. He admits he wonders sometimes whether the nuances and subtleties will work across the board linguistically and culturally. "The biggest problem is to find a common denominator in the audience. As a monologist and comedian it’s difficult to find homogeneity in an audience where one has Iranian-Armenia’s–Iraq-Armenia’s–Beirut-Armenia’s–Armenia’s from Hayastan," he says. "To even find words that are understood by all is nearly impossible." This is particularly true on the East Coast where–Vah says–at least 15 percent of his material will not be understood because of the language barrier.
But he notes with both pride and surprise that more and more Eastern Armenia’s are attending his performances and also a greater number of teenagers. "It’s not a humble thing to say–but I want to be the bridge between the old and new generations," he declares. "To be the eye that sees things and conveys them." In a country as homogeneous as the United States–Vah says his tactic is to qualify characteristics of the young and old–and somehow reconcile the parties. "I want the sixteen-year-old to say ‘My mom! That’s my mom! That’s exactly what she’s like,’ and for the sixty year old mom to say ‘Huh. Maybe I should be more tolerant of my kid. Maybe he’s the product of a culture I’m not familiar with.’"
The humor of his monologues lies in the melding of these two disparate worlds–in a language that Vah affectionately terms "Arevelamdahyeren," a playful mix of the Eastern and Western dialects. The hardest part–Vah admits–is cutting material that would span for nearly four hours down to eighty minutes–while still keeping it coherent. "I realized early on when you use everything–by the end there’s nothing new for the next show," he says. "But every single show is a show in itself. There is no crossover between material and I don’t repeat myself."
Vah is also quick to point out that he doesn’t complain–as some of his detractors have charged–nor does he idly ridicule people. Rather–he says–he makes light of situations and certain "mentalities and realities" that exist in the community. "Laughing at people is a sign of insecurity and it’s an easy thing to do," he charges. "You have to be responsible for what you say." He hints at some of the topics he covers in Dagaveen (for my ears only)–defending his work as good-natured. "Not only are they not complaints–but they’re celebrations," he exclaims. "We don’t have enough to celebrate."
Our interview concludes–as Vah is scheduled for a meeting at eight o’clock to discuss plans for one of his exhibitions on the UCLA campus. As we get ready to return to his ‘home’ apartment–Vah gives to me several of his prints–one of which he signs with powder-blue chalk. I thank him–smiling silently at the autograph that–if I wouldn’t seal with hairspray later that evening–may have been as difficult to capture on paper as its owner.
Dagaveen runs from February 17 through May 18 at Rococo’s–located at 64 W. Union Street in Old Town Pasadena. To make reservations–call (818) 981-6725.