Monthly Archives: November 2012

Crosspost on Armenian Volunteer Corps blog: Promoting Rights and the Respect for those Rights

I wrote a post for the Armenian Volunteer Corps’ blog. It tries to give a sense of what my work was like, both in terms of the content and the difficulty. I want to note for the record that I did not take that photo nor did I see it before the blog post went up. Also, wearing a suit while needing a shave is not a good look.


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Filed under Personal

More Alleged Prisoner Abuse

This report is unverified, so scale the level of doubt accordingly. Hetq is reporting on a letter written to them by prisoner Arman Davtyan, who says he will take his life if the letter is not published. In the letter, he says that prison officials broke his fingers, shocked him, and assaulted him, his wife and friends. All for the purpose of making him plead guilty. Because of the severity of these claims, the Department of Justice or the Human Rights Ombudsman must act immediately to investigate them.

To provide some context, this type of torture is becoming more and more uncommon in Armenia. In Armenia’s July 2012 review by the Human Rights Committee, in its concluding observations, it discussed issues of excessive pre-trial detention (Para. 19), overcrowding of prisons (Para. 20) and the absence of a genuine complaints mechanism if abuse occurs in detention (Para. 14), but never mentions a systemic problem of actual acts of torture. Admittedly, one issue the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office has fought against is the practice of police calling suspects into the police station and beating them until they confess.

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Filed under Human Rights

Al Jazeera video on the Syrian Armenians still in Syria

Al Jazeera made a short video about the 80,000 Syrian Armenians that have decided to stay in Syria. It’s a good video, and assuming the footage they used was from the Armenian communities in Syria, it demonstrates the havoc and destruction surrounding the community.
One of the points that was not mentioned in the video is that many of the Syrian Armenians want to leave but simply can’t afford it, especially with the increase in ticket prices from this summer. I have a friend in Yerevan who was working odd jobs and receiving a stipend from his family in Syria to survive as a student. Suddenly, his family was asking him for money, which created a huge amount of stress for him.

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Filed under Regional Politics

Taxing Gambling Winnings

Some Armenian official has said that you can’t tax gambling winnings as the gamblers won’t reveal their information and “that attempts to tax winnings failed throughout the world.” To correct the official, gambling winnings are taxed around the world, and the way the US forces gamblers to be honest is by requiring casinos to collect gambler’s social security number and report large pay outs to the IRS. If any other government officials would like me to fact-check their statements, just ask!

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Filed under Internal Politics

Cultural Destruction: The Crime Against the Past and the Future

Recently, the American Ambassador to Azerbaijan tried to visit the Julfa cemetery in Nakhchivan. Baku did not allow him to visit. Unsurprisingly, the Armenian National Committee of America is not happy.

The city of Julfa was destroyed in the early 1600s, but while the city was laid to ruins, the cemetery remained intact for hundreds of years. The ancient cemetery was filled with thousands of khachkars. Alexander de Rhodes estimated 10,000 khachkars when he visited in 1648. By the 20th century, only about 6,000 survived, with a portion visible in this photo from 1819. Those 6,000 were systematically destroyed by the Azeri government. A more extensive history of Julfa and its destruction is available in this youtube video.

In 1998, the Azeri government ordered the destruction of the cemetery, pausing only temporarily because of mounting international pressure.  UNESCO and others criticized the cemetery’s destruction, but by 2005, the cemetery was completely annihilated. Azerbaijan is known to have broken khachkars and used them as building stones in other regions. Some claim Azerbaijan did this with Julfa as well. Azerbaijan has blocked people from visiting Julfa, but AAAS confirms the cemetery’s destruction through satellite imagery comparison and UNESCO confirms the cemetery was destroyed by Azeri soldiers. All that remains now is rocks.

Frustratingly, cultural preservation has been a part of international humanitarian law for decades. The Convention for the Protection of cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict came into force in 1956 and was ratified by both Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1993. Article 4.1 states that signatories will “respect cultural property situated within their own territory … by refraining from any use of the property … for purposes which are likely to expose it to destruction or damage in the event of armed conflict; and by refraining from any act of hostility directed against such property.” First, Armenia and Azerbaijan were (and still are) at war during that time, thus one can argue that the armed conflict criterion is met. Second, the final element “refraining from any act of hostility directed against such property” seems to be clearly violated by Azerbaijan ordering its soldiers to destroy the property.

Defense of cultural preservation has gained traction recently on both a “rights” sense and an economic one. When the Ansar Dine destroyed the historical sites in Timbuktu, the ICC Prosecutor called the actions a war crime that her office would investigate. In Armenia, the President has been meeting with the World Tourism Organization to see how to promote tourism and protect the cultural heritage.

While this post has come off as heavily against Azerbaijan, Armenia and Armenians have also damaged Azeri cultural artifacts. After a google search, the desecration of the mosque in the city of Agdam appears to be the largest modern complaint. While the complaint is justified, Agdam’s mosque is not being actively destroyed; it has simply been abandoned with the rest of the city of Adgam. In comparison, the government of Nagorno Karabakh has done some work to restore the two mosques in the city Shushi, even if there is still a lot more work to do. Equality is better demonstrated in the similar fates of the small Armenian and Azeri cemeteries that were purposefully damaged as their populations shifted to be on the “right” side of the border.


Julfa Khachkars

Previously Standing Khachkars in the Julfa Cemetery

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Filed under Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Social / Culture

The final pictures: Armenian Graffiti and Out and About in Yerevan.

My final pictures post of Armenia. These are the sets that could keep growing forever except for the fact that I had to leave. The first set is a set of Armenian graffiti. Overall interesting stuff, but they have a lot to learn about the art of bombing. Maybe someone should pay to send a few Oakland graffiti artists to teach some classes in Armenia? The second set finally gives people a better sense of my day-to-day as it is filled with pictures taken around Yerevan.

The Opera House in Yerevan, Armenia

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Filed under Personal, Pictures

Second to last set of Pictures: Final trip to Tatev and Armenian Stonehenge

I am finally processing my last photos of Armenia, expect one more post after this one with my final (and some of my favorite) photos. For now, enjoy my last excursion to Tatev and Armenia’s Stonehenge.


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Filed under Personal, Pictures