Gender-based violence against Syrian refugees in Lebanon (By Yeghia Tashjian)

28 May Malala Yousafzai celebrated her birthday and the opening of a new school with with Syrian refugees in Beqa, Lebanon

Gender-based violence against Syrian refugees in Lebanon  

International Rescue Committee identified three main challenges facing Syrian female refugees; first, sexual exploitation and harassment; second, the increase in domestic violence which makes them feel that their homes are not safe; and third, early and forced marriage. Although, local and international NGOs are doing their best to overcome on these crises but still more is needed to be done.

Syrian refugee women are sexually harassed wherever they go on a daily basis. They are harassed while going out to buy bread, walking the streets, going to school, and even while going to the bathrooms inside the camps. Some argue that overcrowding and the lack of privacy for women (don’t have access to separate toilets or showers) are another reason for sexual harassment for the Syrian women refugees.

Malala Yousafzai celebrated her birthday and the opening of a new school with with Syrian refugees in Beqa, Lebanon

Malala Yousafzai celebrated her birthday and the opening of a new school with with Syrian refugees in Beqa, Lebanon

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US response to Armenian Genocide: from Humanitarianism to “Realpolitik” (By Yeghia Tashjian)

25 May Armenians being deported towards the Syrian deserts, known as the "death march"

US response to Armenian Genocide: from Humanitarianism to “Realpolitik”  

Armenians being deported towards the Syrian deserts, known as the "death march"

Armenians being deported towards the Syrian deserts, known as the “death march”

 

 “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim!” 

Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel

Although some Armenians around the world were hoping that US President Barack Obama would keep his promise and recognize the Armenian Genocide, his statement was not surprising for many. President Obama like usual used the term “Medz Yeghern” in Armenian which means the “Great Crime”. In his statement  the President said “Today we solemnly reflect on the first mass atrocity of the 20th century—the Armenian Meds Yeghern—when one and a half million Armenian people were deported, massacred, and marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire”. President Obama once again avoided using the word Genocide. This breaks a campaign promise he made in 2008, when he said “As a president, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide”. Over 40 US states recognize the genocide, including California, whose Governor Jerry Brown declared 24 April a state-wide “Day of Remembrance of Armenian Genocide“.

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Nagorno-Karabakh; No More a Frozen Conflict (By Yeghia Tashjian)

25 May Karabakh-Artsakh-Symbol

Nagorno-Karabakh; No More a Frozen Conflict


map-karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh; No More a Frozen Conflict

“Thus, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is not a territorial argument between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It was raised not by Armenia but by the people of Nagorno-Karabakh”

 

The history of the conflict

Wars and tragedies recognize neither borders nor nationalities. The Caucasus region with its multiethnic identity, rich mineral resources and important geostrategic position has always been an arena of clash of interests between colonial powers. The Armenian-Tatar (later called Azeri) conflict goes back to 1905-1907, where the Russian empire in order to shift the peasant uprising in the Caucasus inflamed an ethnic hatred between the two people leading to first Armenian-Tatar clashes. With the dissolution of the Russian empire in 1917, borders were redrawn in the region between different ethnicities. These borders were not redrawn by peaceful means. Wars broke up between the three main Caucasian nations; Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Georgians. One of the bloodiest battles was fought on Nagorno Karabakh region.

In 1921, Russians were back to the Caucasus, this time under the Red flag. By 1921, according to Soviet statistics, Armenians constituted 95% (130,000) of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh and only 5% (6,500) Tatars (Azeris). But Soviets didn’t take into consideration the demography, instead the Central Committee of Communist Party annexed Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan “taking into consideration the importance of ethnic peace between the Muslims and Armenian and the economic ties between NK and Azerbaijan”.

Starting 1988, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh demanded reunification with Armenia. For the first time in Soviet history a mass national movement began challenging the Soviet system. The decision of Nagorno-Karabakh Regional Council to unite with Armenia outraged Azerbaijani authorities. In February 21, 1988 the Karabakh parliament voted in favor of unification with Armenia (110 in favor and 30 rejected) later in 1992 NK declared its independence from Azerbaijan. This move triggered a war that lasted until a Russia-brokered ceasefire was signed in 1994.

From frozen to erupted conflict

Former President Heidar Aliev, the father of the current Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev had spent the last few years of his life negotiating with his Armenian counterpart to find a peaceful solution based on recognizing the self-determination of Karabakh Armenians, in return for the Azerbaijani provinces captured by the Armenian forces. But his son, whom in 2012, was declared as the most corrupt leader in the world,  ignored his father’s diplomacy and repeated that in case Armenians do not surrender Karabakh, then Azerbaijan would use military force. Aliev also went further by claiming that Armenia itself was part ancient Azerbaijan.

During the last 10 years where there was a boom in the oil prices, Azerbaijan increased its military budget and modernized its army. Something which has pushed President Aliev to think that he can solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through military means. Yet, oil production started prematurely decreasing few years ago. Worst, the international oil prices collapsed in 2014, falling from $110 a barrel in mid-2014 to just $33 in early April. The state income, heavily dependent on oil exports, was cut four to five times. With the devaluation of Azerbaijani currency protests broke out in Baku, Azerbaijani capital and lead to social unrest. Many observers expected a military escalation to divert the public attention from the domestic problems. For some military analysts the latest Azerbaijani Blitzkrieg proved something else: Ilham Aliev intended to bring significant change by occupying land under Karabakh control to boost his legitimacy already shaken by the collapse of his extractive economy.

On the April 1, Azerbaijan launched a full-scale war lasted till April 6. Following five days of clashes that led to fatal casualties on both sides, a Russian-sponsored ceasefire was implemented. Aliev who was hoping to capture some territories failed to do so, while the Armenian side in Nagorno Karabakh defended its land but with heavy cost. Moreover, Human Rights organizations worldwide were alarmed to see Azerbaijani soldiers have beheaded anArmenian-Yezidi soldier and massacred a civilian family in Talish village.

As the Russian-brokered truce entered into force, U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ) Minsk Group had traveled to Baku and Yerevan to calm the situation. Analysts may argue that the current truce will not longer and soon may explode due to lack of interests from regional and international actors and the continues militarization of both sides of the conflict.

Regional and international interests

There is a risk that Karabakh may turn into an arena where regional and international actors can turn it into a proxy war. Russia is a direct actor in the conflict.  Putin is playing “carrot and stick” with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Even though, Russia is Armenia’s political and military ally, (the former maintains a military base in Armenia), but Moscow is also providing heavy arms to Azerbaijan. Under the pretext to “keep the balance in the region” and prevent other countries to supply heavy weapons to the warring sides, as Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev stated. This issue has sparked renewed and stronger criticism from Armenia following last week’s outbreak of heavy fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian official circles even pushed Armenian President Serje Sarkissian to publicly criticize Russia’s arms sale to Azerbaijan. With this action, Russia is doing its best to distance Azerbaijan from Turkey and the West and keep it under her sphere of influence. Often this is happening on the expense of Armenia, where Russia is treating Armenia as a colony not a sovereign state. But the latest anti-Moscow protests in Yerevan made Putin’s administration to think twice, if they wanted to avoid another colorful revolution then they must support their only ally in the region.

U.S. is worried that Moscow may now argue that if the ceasefire is collapsed then Russia may propose a deployment of Russian peacekeepers. Both European Union and US want to weaken Russia’s influence in Southern Caucasus. The memory of Georgian war in 2008 is still fresh; therefore, they can’t confront Russia in the region. EU’s primary concern is the gas; that is, to secure Azerbaijan’s gas reaching its continent by bypassing Russia. EU wants to decrease its dependency on Russian gas. In 2002, together with Turkey and Azerbaijan they had initiated the plan to build Nabucco pipeline, but this was unsuccessful too, the project faced both economic and political challenges and eventually aborted. First, Turkey was not able to secure the flow of gas due to PKK attacks. Second, EU started to fund the building of the pipeline without securing the source of the gas.

Iran is also concerned in this conflict for many reasons. Many political analysts were surprised from Iran’s position regarding the crisis, and raised the question; “How could Iran (a majority Shia country) support (Christian) Armenia against the (Shia) Azerbaijan?” Iran’s strategic depth in this conflict is beyond religion. Northern Iran is mainly populated by Azeris. In the beginning of 1990s, Azerbaijani leaders didn’t hide their true intentions about their unity attempts with “Iranian Azerbaijan” and the plan to establish a “Greater Azerbaijan”. This plan brought Armenia and Iran closer. Furthermore, Iran is also worried of Israeli infiltration in Azerbaijan, where the former is providing heavy weapons and training the Azeri army. Here, the Israeli interest should not be ignored; recently the right wing Israeli newspapers launched a campaign in support of Azerbaijan. While, Avigdor Lieberman, the former Israeli Foreign minister, where his party is accused of taking Azerbaijani financial support, has justified the Azeri aggression.

Turkey, who considers itself the guardian of Turkish speaking states, its PM claimed “Turkey would support Azerbaijan to the end”. Turkey instead of condemning Azerbaijani aggression encouraged Ilham Aliev to continue the war and capture territories. Many political analysts were worried that Armenia, in order internationalize the conflict may engage in skirmishes with the Azeri forces in Nakhichevan exclave bordering with Turkey. This action would have forced Turkey to interfere and thus would give a green light for Russian military intervention. This scenario was discussed in Armenian media. Finally, let us not forget that the Commander-in-Chief of the United Armed Forces of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), in 1993, Marshal Shaposhnikov, during the Karabakh war, warned that the intervention of a third party (Turkey) in the conflict would lead to the outbreak of the Third World War.

Is there a diplomatic solution?

Can diplomacy solve the problem? Actually, diplomacy is the only means to reach to a compromise solution but only if Nagorno-Karabakh is part in the negotiation process.

The OSCE from 1994 onwards has given its backing to a mediation process as part of the “Minsk Group” led by Russia, United States and France as co-chairmen.

Many formulas were rejected by both Armenian and Azerbaijani sides. Armenia supports the principle of self-determination as the only solution for Nagorno-Karabakh. That is the current citizens of the region decide if they will remain independent or unite with Armenia. While Azerbaijan rejects this proposal. It defends its territorial integrity and suggests giving a special administrative autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh but within its borders. Something rejected both by Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

For the Armenians the Karabakh war was an issue of national liberation, they were forced to be part of it, and there was no other choice. They had to either leave their homes or flee or to fight. They were either going to kill or be killed. It is important to know that it was Nagorno-Karabakh who imposed its will on Armenia and not the other way. Thus, the NK issue is not a territorial argument between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It was raised not by Armenia but by the people of NK. Hence, it should be looked at only as an issue of the self-determination of nation. The only feasible solution should be a compromise by both sides. It’s clear that the status quo is in favor of Armenia; already NK outside Azerbaijani control and its army has captured Azeri territories. Thus, Azerbaijan is in no position to put conditions. The latest “failed invasion” proved that a quick victory on Karabakh is impossible. Therefore, negotiations must start based on the idea “Give me security, take your land”. First, the self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh must be respected. Whether, its people want a unity with Armenia or total independence.   Second, a safe corridor must be guaranteed between Armenia and NK. Third, Armenia withdraws its troops from the captured territories outside NK administrative areas. Heavy weapons must be withdrawn from both sides of the zones, and peacekeeping forces (composed of neutral states) should be sent to monitor this process. Forth, refugees from both sides must be returned to these areas, if not then compensated by the rival governments. Finally, it should be the role of NGOs and civil societies to build dialogue, trust and bridges between the two nations and produce a new generation far from hatred and enmity.

Yeghia Tashjian has graduated from Haigazian University in political science. He is a Lebanese-Armenian political activist, researcher and blogger. He has founded the New Eastern Politics forum/blog in 2010. Currently, he is the regional officer of Women in War gender-based think tank, and research assistant at Armenian Diaspora Research Center at Haigazian University. He is also contributor to many local and regional newspapers and blogs.

The article was originally published in Civilnet 

The Armenian Genocide: Solidarity vs. Denial (Yeghia Tashjian)

29 Apr

The Armenian Genocide: Solidarity vs. Denial

While Lebanese-Armenians continue to commemorate the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the Lebanese are still debating the tragic event on social media.

Armenian Genocide memorial, Dzidzernagapert in Yerevan, Armenia Armenian Genocide memorial, Dzidzernagapert in Yerevan, Armenia

The Racism and sectarianism that is flourishing on daily basis in the region is also reflected in Lebanon. While some look at tragic events from a humanitarian angle, others view them through a sectarian lens. Worse, some crimes are even being justified.

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The Gulf countries wave goodbye to a large number of expats and scream “Timber” as the future of the price of oil will continue to fall down before a final agreement is reached (By Christiane Waked)

19 Feb An oil pump works at sunset in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain (source: gdb.voanews.com)

The Gulf countries wave goodbye to a large number of expats and scream “Timber” as the future of the price of oil will continue to fall down before a final agreement is reached 

 

An oil pump works at sunset in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain (source: gdb.voanews.com)

An oil pump works at sunset in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain (source: gdb.voanews.com)

While talks about initiative to freeze production levels in case of consensus by the members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and Russia to help balancing supply and demand, seem to reassure more or less the Gulf countries, the truth is some of these countries are using this alibi to remodel their “economic system” and ease their oversupply of expats in their countries.

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Turkey’s Attempts to Kill Two Birds with One Stone (Liana Hovhannisyan)

29 Jul

(Armedia.am) Last week, radical changes took placein Turkey’s foreign policy in the Middle East . If by that time Turkey was conducting the so-called moderate foreign policy and did not directly interfere in the chaos in neighboring countries, last week after telephone conversation between the presidents of Turkey and the United States, Erdogan agreed to open air bases in Incirlik and Diyarbakir, which would allow the NATO partners to conduct air strikes in the direction of IS militants in Syria.

LiveLeak-dot-com-df6_1413360260-Turkey-Kobane_1413360506.jpg.resized

At the same time Turkey organized two direct military actions  on two fronts – air strikes in the direction of Syria against the “Islamic State”, as well as in the direction of Northern Iraq against PKK fighters.

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Contradictions on the rise in Turkey as western “democracy” support attacks on Kurds (By Hamid Alizadeh)

29 Jul

(IndefenceofMarxism): While NATO throws its weight behind the reactionary Erdogan government, he continues his onslaught against Kurdish and left forces. Erdogan however, is acting from a position of weakness and he could provoke a mass movement against himself.

“The Kurds were born to be betrayed. Almost every would-be Middle East statelet was promised freedom after the First World War, and the Kurds even sent a delegation to Versailles to ask for a nation and safe borders.” – Robert Fisk

26-nisan

Turkish auto workers on strike in 2015

Yet again, today, the major western imperialist powers gathered to under-sign yet another betrayal of this tested people, whose fate has been traded between every major power of the region for a hundred years, as if it were just another item on their shopping list. Following the emergency meeting of NATO – a very rare event – General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg expressed “strong solidarity” with Turkey in its war on “terrorism”. The joint declaration by the NATO members stated that, “The security of the alliance is indivisible,” and condemned the recent terror attacks in Turkey, describing terrorism as “a global threat that knows no border, nationality, or religion — a challenge that the international community must fight and tackle together.”

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Yezidis in Iraq: “This country is our grave”

21 Jul

Yezidis in Iraq: “This country is our grave”

EzidischeFlüchtlingskinderEsiya


Translated by Thora Brudal from ÊzîdîPress German

Dohuk – “Up to this point,” says Hewas and shows with his right, outer edge of the hand on his left forearm. “Up to this point, to the bone. It’s enough, we are at the end,” he continues. The 26-year-old Yezidi stands in the refugee camp Esiya near the Kurdish city of Duhok, where approximately 18,000 Yezidis from Shingal have found refuge. He is surrounded by children with worn clothes, worn shoes, some of them barefoot.

Since the genocide by the terrorist militia “Islamic State” (IS) in August last year, which continues with the imprisonment of thousands of women and children, the Yezidi people is in a state of emergency. The terrorist militia hit in the midst of the heart of the Yezidi soul – Shingal, the main settlement area of the minority in northern Iraq. Defenseless civilians were overrun, massacred and kidnapped by the henchmen of the terrorist militia. The 8,000 Peshmergas in Shingal and another 3,000 stationed in the region fled even before the civilian population suspected that a genocide awaited them. When they woke up early in the morning, the Peshmerga had since long run away, and the black flag of the terrorists was approaching from three sides. Hundreds of thousands flee, tens of thousands looking for protection in the mountains, where they are eventually besieged for days and die of hunger and thirst. Everyone here speaks in whispers of treachery – even staunch supporters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (Kurd. PDK) which is blamed for the disaster because they could have prevented it.

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From Soviet Rule to Present Days: Struggle of Artsakh People for the Right of Peaceful Existence in Their Homeland (By Liana Hovhannisyan)

10 Jul

From Soviet Rule to Present Days: Struggle of Artsakh People for the Right of Peaceful Existence in Their Homeland

The Armenians, one of the ancient nations in the world, throughout the years of their existence were and continue   struggling for their right of peaceful existence in their historical homeland. The fact that in the 21st century Armenians managed not only to survive but have two independent republics, the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh (otherwise known as Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) is a vivid proof of the success of the centuries long struggle that the Armenians were forced to fight to preserve their religion, culture and language.

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Dissent Is Building at the Barricades in Yerevan (By Raffi Elliott)

2 Jul

Dissent Is Building at the Barricades in Yerevan

Hrant Khachatryan / PAN Photo / Reuters

On Saturday, after seven consecutive nights of round-the-clock protests, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and the leaders of the so-called “Electric Yerevan” movement finally agreed to meet. An hour later, it was announced that the president had agreed to freeze the controversial electricity price hike which had unleashed a wave of popular dissent, and had called for an independent audit to determine whether or not the increased costs were justified.

Despite this apparent concession, the protesters announced that they were rejecting the deal and refused to vacate Baghramyan Street — one of Yerevan’s main thoroughfares — where the presidential palace, Constitutional Court, National Assembly, and a number of foreign embassies are located. For many observers who felt that the situation had been successfully resolved, this announcement proved to be rather perplexing.

This confusion lies in a fundamental misunderstanding of the grievances behind this protest movement as well as the motivation of the authorities.

First, what appeared to many observers as a concession by the president was anything but. Despite reported discussions on energy supply and prices between Armenian and Russian officials, the Armenian government has stood firm on its intentions to raise the electricity tariffs by 22 percent, citing “objective reasons” without, of course, disclosing what these were.

The deal proposed by the president was not, as many media incorrectly reported, a freeze on electricity price hikes. Rather, he suggested that the government would subsidize the hike so as not to affect citizens.

In other words, not only is the price hike still valid, it is now going to be paid for directly out of the state budget; the same state budget that is funded by citizens’ taxes.

The fact that the president was willing to use state coffers to cover the price hike raised eyebrows for two reasons. First, the government has often cited a lack of state funds as an explanation for its inability to fulfill commitments to its citizens. The fact that cash was suddenly available for this meant that there either was an abundance of government money that citizens had been deprived of until now, or, that this money would be borrowed, adding to the country’s already difficult financial burden.

Second, the fact that the government was more willing to borrow money rather than simply cancel the price hike, to the point of disguising it as a concession to the protesters, says a lot about the pressure the state is under and only adds to the cynicism felt by the protesters.

Furthermore, announcements by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan that underprivileged families would receive 2,000 Armenian dram ($4) to help mitigate the effects, coupled with the president’s willingness to pay for the hike from the budget, showed just how out of touch the ruling elite is with the protesters on Baghramyan Street.

Anyone visiting the site of the protest would notice right away that the bulk of the protesters — most of whom are aged between 19 and 30 — are representatives of Armenia’s emerging middle class. The IT professionals, marketing professionals, students, entrepreneurs and NGO activists all receive salaries which can more than cover the price hike. Their motivations are not financial. The protest is about deciding how the country is run.

The main accusation made by activists is that corruption and graft are the main reasons for the price hike, for which citizens are now forced to foot the bill. The Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) is owned by the Russian state company Inter RAO, which was part of a larger takeover of Armenian energy and transport infrastructure by Russian state-owned firms. The Russian-owned companies operating in Armenia are not profitable businesses and allow for gross mismanagement and runaway corruption.

These claims have been further substantiated by reports that the company budget had been used to pay for lavish apartments, dinners and luxury cars for Russian and Armenian executives, despite the fact that the company teetered on bankruptcy.

According to the protesters, none of these issues have been tackled by the government. The announcement that an independent audit would be conducted (without saying by whom or when) only served to further infuriate the crowd.

For many, this also brought into question a number of other extremely controversial concessions to Russia, such as the Iran-Armenia pipeline, natural gas distribution and so on. It gave unique insight into how decisions are really made in Armenia.

To make matters worse, after waking up to images of young protesters being blown away by the powerful water cannons of a regime increasingly alienating itself from its citizens — many of whom have favorable views toward Russia — many in Armenia were incensed to learn that the Russian media was labeling their protest over energy as a Western-funded fifth column bent on recreating “Maidan” in Russia’s backyard.

The protest itself, which has grown exponentially since the water cannon incident, enjoys popular support. It has since spread to most of Armenia’s major cities, including Gyumri, Vanadzor, Martuni, Spitak, Ashtarak, as well as neighboring Georgia, and other cities with Armenian communities.

Clubs, bars, cafes and stores have been shutting off their lights every day in solidarity with the protests, while various storefronts display signs of support. Major streets are paralyzed by the ongoing protest — now attended by government employees, as well as active-duty soldiers, unravelling the myth of government invulnerability.

The protesters, meanwhile, have turned their protest site into a microcosm of the society they would like to build. Baghramyan Street now features a makeshift emergency clinic, a little “store” (known as “Paul’s” after the man who runs it) giving away free water and candies. The street at times resembles an open air summer festival with rock bands playing to jubilant crowds.

They form part of a new generation of young Armenians who are born free of the physical and emotional bonds of the Soviet Union, engaged in an attempt to reclaim the pride and identity of the Armenian nation, from the sense of inferiority and impotence of what Armenian-American poet William Saroyan once called a “small tribe of unimportant people.”

Rallying around the cry “We are the masters of our country,” they are making their demands clear. They call for transparency, accountability and responsibility from the government. Sadly, it seems that the government is not listening.

Original source: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/opinion/article/dissent-is-building-at-the-barricades-in-yerevan/524735.html

Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian entrepreneur and activist based in Yerevan, Armenia. He frequently covers socio-economic issues in Armenia and the Caucasus.

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