ARMENIANOW.COM April 8, 2005
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By Vahan Ishkhanyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

A Canadian enterprise wants to build a gold factory near its
Gegharkunik mine in Sotk. The factory would be near Lake Sevan and
could pose a danger to the lake.

Ararat Gold Extraction Enterprise (AGEE), a branch of the Canadian
Sterlite Gold Limited Company presented its project for public
discussion on Tuesday (April 5). In addition to the Sotk mine,
the parent company also operates in Meghradzor. It has had mines in
Armenia since 1997.

If realized, the gold factory would process gold from ore, using,
among other chemicals, cyanide.

According to Armenian legislation, it is unlawful to build a mining
factory within a radius of 50 kilometers of Lake Sevan. The proposed
factory would be within 30.

Even before the start of the discussion, Chairman of the Union
of the Greens of Armenia Hakob Sanasaryan declared that, due to
the proposed factory's nearness to the lake, the discussion itself
anti-constitutional and therefore should not be held. Discussion began,
however, after Deputy Minister of Trade and Economic Development
Gagik Vardanyan intervened.

According to AGEE, the high-percentage gold ore of Sotk will
be exhausted in two years. And it is not expedient to transport
lower-percentage ore to Ararat (where the company's other processing
plant is located), and if a factory is built in Sotk then the mine
will be operated for 10 or even more years and an estimated 40 tons
of gold would be produced within 9 years.

The mine in Sotk was discovered in the '60s and two options of
constructing an extracting factory were discussed - one on the spot
and the other in Ararat. Eventually, for environmental reasons the
option of building a factory on the spot was rejected.

Discussion was dominated by those who are in favor of building the
mine. Opponents were allowed to speak at the end of the meeting.

Proponents of the factory claimed that the factory would help create
1,000 jobs and ensure annual budget revenues of 100 million drams
(about $220,000). Franz Schlosser of the enterprise's administration
promised to repair the schools of Vardenis (nearby Sotk) and help
develop the local football team.

Environmental experts invited by the enterprise were trying to
convince those present that the factory poses no threat. The main
hazards from such a factory are the cyanide used in gold processing,
and the deposits of shavings, where one million tons of waste will
be accumulated annually. British SKM company expert Larraine Wilde
gave assurances that in both cases no harm would be done to the
environment. According to her, the contents of the deposits will
have an insignificant penetration into the underground waters and
will cause no damage as it will be covered with a clay floor.

Wilde's claims were challenged by geochemist academician Sergey
Grigoryan: "In nine years' time they will leave 9 million tons of
poison, which will stay there for centuries and every hour will
poison Lake Sevan," he says. "Under the weight the clay will crack
in the course of years and there will be 40 percent filtration. All
these poisons will be poured into Sevan. And if a small earthquake
measuring 3-4 points occurs, then the clay will collapse."

Grigoryan and environmentalists say the underground waters near the
factory in Ararat have been poisoned by the same process.

The Sevan Expert Commission of the Academy gave a very negative
conclusion to the project.

"Sevan is a matter of the existence of Armenians and you can't buy
its significance with anything and one should turn down any initiative
containing even one percent of risk," All-Armenian Ecological Company
Chairman Boris Mehrabyan said in his speech. "The whole environmental
community will oppose this project."

He said that it is wrong to build Armenia's economy on resources,
especially when public health is endangered: "The project will not
solve any economic problems, and you can't compensate for disasters
with anything."

Nevertheless, specialists are concerned that the authorities may give
the go-ahead to the construction project yielding to the temptation
of huge profits. "Everything comes from the government. With the
assistance of bureaucrats they have launched a mass psychological
attack on all of us," says Grigoryan.


By Zhanna Alexanyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

On March 17 the Sargsyan family of Avan village was called to
Ashtarak Military Commission Headquarters and told that their son,
junior commander Hayk Sargsyan had been killed by border fighting.

However on the day of their son's funeral Lieutenant Colonel Edik
Melkumyan told Hayk's father Ishkhan Sargsyan that his son "was killed
by a scum", meaning someone from within his unit.

The father says he asked Melkumyan if his son was killed by Azeri
gunfire and was told no. He then asked if Hayk had committed
suicide. Again he was told no.

A few days after the funeral the Military Prosecutor's Office of
Gugark said Hayk committed suicide. That was the reason why Hayk's
relatives "forgot the mourning" and tried to meet journalists "to
save our son's reputation".

"I wish they didn't ascribe this suicide to my child. My Hayk did not
deserve it. Thousands like him do not deserve it," says his mother
Nino Sargsyan, 45. "Whomever they speak about, they say he has hanged
himself, he has killed himself, what kind of army is this? He loved
his family so much; he wouldn't ever commit suicide."

Hayk Sargsyan, 22, was born in the village of Avan in Ashtarak
region. He graduated with excellence form his village secondary school
and entered the Department of Architecture at Yerevan State University
for Architecture and Construction. He was conscripted on June 21 2004,
immediately after graduating from the university.

On the day of the conscription Hayk called in to the "Zinuzh"
(Military Force) television program and spoke about Armenian men
taking part in the cause of defending the Homeland, saying military
service is a must to become a man.

"I buried him not as an uncle but as a commander telling others not
to cry, we should hand him over to the earth with glory," says Sargis
Sargsyan, his uncle.

After six months in the Armavir military training unit, Hayk was moved
on November 9 to the town of Berd, in the Shamshadin region. In Armavir
he was known as an honest and disciplined soldier, was honored with
a certificate of appreciation and undertook the responsibilities of
junior commander before moving to Shamshadin. He has never complained
of the military service, but wrote in his last letter:

"Having seen the service in Armavir I can't get used to this
place. There was a haven, here there are service regulations, law
and order, but you can't understand who wants what, who demands what."

The Sargsyan family are of Western Armenian descent from the city
of Sasun and says the people of Sasun raise their children to be

"He wanted to continue his education but we said: 'Boy, who is going
to defend the homeland?' I was proud my son served for the homeland,"
says the father. "My boy was proud he had Sasun heritage, was proud
he served the homeland."

Sargis Sargsyan, 45, is a former military man with higher education
and, like his brothers, is a veteran of the Karabakh war. He has held
various military positions including that of the Division Commander.

"We entered the battlefield with 120 soldiers and went out without
any loss," says Sargis. "I don't understand when soldiers are killed
in peacetime, when they say there is no one to supervise the unit."

The reason for death of soldiers in peaceful times, according to
Sargis, is uneducated officers.

"We didn't send our boy to army to commit suicide. He could have
committed suicide here as well. We sent him to defend the homeland,"
says Nino, the mother, whom Hayk calls by name in one of his letters:

"...when at night I put my head on the pillow I remember you I think
a bit and then sleep. Nino jan, I devote these verses to you:

Mother's love will never die,

Even if it is one hundred years,

It will do everything for the son

So that the son has no bad days in his life.

The mother is joyous when the son is joyous,

The mother is sad when the son is sad,

The mother is happy just like her son is,

The mother is a traveler, when her son is,

Each minute, each second,

The mother's soul watches,

Whether at home or not,

Everywhere the mother watches.

Nino and Ishkhan Sargsyan's elder son Hakob served in the Kelbajar
unit in 2000-2002. Nine days after conscription he was beaten so
heavily that he had to spend 4 months in hospital. The consequences
of the beating are still felt.

"We brought Hakob home half alive. They had beaten him badly. Till
today my child is in poor health. He served, suffering, and came
back," says the mother. "How could they take the second and not bring
him back? How could they bring my young boy and put him before me
this way?"

Artak Harutyunyan, head of the Investigative Department at the Military
Prosecutor's Office told ArmeniaNow a criminal case had been opened
in the Gugark Military Prosecutor's Office for murder with aggravating
circumstances, prior to the parents being told the death was suicide.

The case is now being heard by the Military Prosecutor of the Republic
of Armenia, based on the parents' appeal to the regional office.

By Arpi Harutyunyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

On April 2, a crowd of more than 300 that included journalists,
average citizens and Members of Parliament met in a protest march
in Yerevan to mark the cancellation of the third anniversary of
independent television company A1+.

The popular television company was shut down three years ago, in an
action that some said announced the beginning of the 2003 presidential
election. Critics of the current governmental administration said the
station was denied a broadcast license because some of its programming
had been critical of President Robert Kocharyan.

In the intervening years, A1+ has repeatedly re-applied for a license
(eight times), but in each case has been denied by the State Television
and Radio Commission, a body appointed by the President.

"This is a freedom of speech advocacy action," said the president of
the Helsinki Association of Armenia Mikael Danielyan, who attended last
Saturday's rally. "A1+ gave people independent information. By closing
this channel the narrow ring of free TV speech in Armenia closed."

The president of the National Academy for Sciences (NAS) Fadei
Sargsyan has recently appealed to the Economic Court demanding that
the TV staff vacate the offices it rents in the NAS building, saying
the space is needed for academy use.

The president of A1+ sees this action as further persecution of
his company.

"If the officers of the court come and put our staff outside, it is
not for A1+ to be ashamed but the Prime Minister and the President
that will show off the attitude they have towards media," said Mesrop

Saturday's demonstrators marched from A1+ offices to a park neighboring
the Conservatory, some carrying posters saying "Free speech is the
people's achievement" and similar comments.

"We have gathered to defend free speech and should defend our rights in
order to have a state rule of law on democratic grounds. This action
should be continued. Without freedom of speech and media providing
the free speech, all the rest of our rights will be violated," stated
Vardan Poghosyan, the leader of "Zhoghovrdavarutyun" ("Democracy") NGO.

Participants to the demonstration began their comments with "Viva A1+".

"I have missed A1+ myself," said Anahit Bakhshyan, the widow of Yuri
Bakhshyan, an MP among those assassinated on October 27, 1999. "I
can recall after the October 27th events when all of us, the victims,
were in hard conditions we felt a necessity to be heard and only A1+
gave us the opportunity. Things that A1+ did, no media does now."

The TV Company staff put bulletins with articles about the closure
of A1+ in the park.

By the end of the demonstration signatures were collected for reopening
of the TV company. The collection of signatures will last till April
12th. And a civic forum will be held on that day as a conclusion. More
than 700 people have signed so far, including former opposition
presidential candidate Stepan Demirchyan.

"Naturally we support free media," Demirchyan said. "And A1+
was the one, that's why it was closed. The authorities want only
controllable media. I am confident, sooner or later A1+ will return
to broadcast. The opposition will always be by the side of A1+."

By Aris Ghazinyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

Recent hearings on Nagorno Karabakh held in the National Assembly of
Armenia (March 29-30), became, predictably, a major political event
of Armenian life last week.

Particularly noted were statements by Armenia's Minister of Defense
Serzh Sargsyan that for the first time during recent years, the limit
of possible concessions of Yerevan in the context of the Karabakh
settlement was officially voiced. Sargsyan also raised the possibility
of deployment of an international peacekeeping contingent (in exchange
for guaranteed security) on the line of contact currently being
controlled by Armenian forces. Such a possibility would necessarily
signal changes within the structure of ensuring the security of
Armenia and NKR.

"These statements to a certain degree may imply a turn in the
existing ideology of ensuring Armenia's security," military analyst
David Harutyunov told ArmeniaNow. "In fact, it was for the first
time that Armenia's Defense Minister voiced a thought that it is the
international community and not the national armed forces that may act
as a guarantor of our security. Remarkably, this statement coincided
with the visit of Deputy Commander of NATO Ground Forces in Europe
Chuck Wold to Armenia. The main goal of his visit was exactly the
boosting of American-Armenian military cooperation."

Still, what concrete goal is the United States pursuing in this
sphere? What is it exactly that Armenia has to offer the Pentagon?

"One of the three fundamental documents determining the long-term
strategy of the development of America's armed forces was recently
published in the US. It was clearly stated in that document that the
frontline of American defense in the 21st century will lie far beyond
the US borders," the analyst emphasized. "Practically, the US armed
forces must be ready to project their military possibilities on any
spot on the globe. In these conditions, taking into consideration the
Iraqi experience, post-conflict stabilization operations acquire
a great significance. The main objective of such operations is
expected to be assigned to US allies throughout the world. In fact,
Washington assumes the role of a guarantor of military security in
the world, and a supporting role is likely to be assigned to allied
armed forces. This may concern Armenia as well."

The analyst also says contemporary debate about international security
may influence the Armenian military.

"Armenia's Defense Minister, speaking through different mass media,
stated that in case of a reduced external threat, Armenia will not need
such large armed forces. The priority of passing on to the contract
principle of army enlistment in the long term was also mentioned. It
will mean a drastic change in the image of the armed forces, their
place and role in society."

Harutyunov said a transition to a professional army is not immediately
foreseen, but, for the first time in the republic's history is being
talked about.

"(Discussion) is on the level of information preparation of public
opinion," the analyst says. "The first step here is the formation of
a peacekeeping battalion and the coverage of its activities in the
media. In fact, the participation of the units of Armenian peacekeepers
in the operations in Iraq and Kosovo is presented as a phenomenon which
is not less important than the immediate defense of the homeland on its
borders. In conditions of the modern-day consumer society in Armenia
the image of a peacekeeper appears to be much more attractive than
that of a mere soldier defending the borders of Armenia and NKR on
the line of contact who, on top of everything else, does not receive
his salary in dollars."

By Julia Hakobyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

Three weeks after being released from custody an ultranationalistic
Armenian politician announced that his arrest was nothing but a
trumped-up charge and said he would continue his fight against
"anti-Armenian" ideologists.

Armen Avetisyan, leader of the Armenian Aryan Order was arrested two
months ago for anti-Semitic propaganda and went on trial "for inciting
ethnic, racial and religious hatred". In a series of interviews
Avetisyan blamed the country's current hardship on Judaic-Masonic
forces and made appeals to cleanse the country from Jews. (Masons is
believed by some to be a powerful international net which influence
the global political processes.)

Avetisyan, a marginally-influential though controversial public
figure, has been placed on probation and given a suspended three-year
sentence. The court said it considered that he has no past criminal
record, that he is a veteran of the Karabakh war and that he has
three underage children, in allowing his release.

Neither the brief incarceration, nor the suspended sentence seem to
have tempered Avetisyan's radical positions.

"The trial was a farce and the arrest was just an attempt to put
pressure on me and to make me shut up," said Avetisyan to journalists
on Wednesday. "The arrest was reminiscent of Stalin's repression of
1937, when disgraceful people were taken into custody. It was not
an act of justice and Jewish people had nothing to do with that. I
never expressed hatred toward the entire Jeshish community in Armenia."

Avetisyan believes that the true reason for his arrest was his activity
against officials whom he claims are homosexual. Last fall Avetisyan
made scandalous announcements that he had videos and photographs of
Armenian politicians engaged in homosexual acts. Avetisyan promised to
publish the list if those politicians would not resign. (No official
resigned as a result, nor were any videos released.)

Avetisyan said that for now he decided not to publish the list of
homosexual officials. As for his anti-Jewish announcements Avetisyan
said that accusation was based on complaints not of the whole Jewish
community, but one Jewish Non-Governmental Organization "Jewish
Temporal Community of Armenia." Avetisyan claims that false statements
made by the organization's leader, Rimma Vazhapetyan, caused Armenia
to be criticized in an international report on ethnic tolerance.

When Avetisyan was in custody Etel Markova, a Jew who attends synagogue
in Armenia appeared on "ALM" TV talk show with accusations against
Varshapetyan. Markova said that Jews in Armenia were never oppressed
neither by authorities nor by people and that the accusation against
Avetisyan did not correspond to reality. She said she regrets that
Armenia appeared in the report and stated that Varzhapetyan makes such
announcements to attract more donations from Jewish communities abroad.

Gersh Meir Burshtein, a Chief Rabbi of Armenia shares Markova's
opinion that there is no oppression of Jews in Armenia. The rabbi
however accused Avetisyan for anti-Jewish publications, adding that
the opinion of one politician is not worth accusing Armenian people of
anti-Semitism. Burshtein however refused to comment on Varzhapetyan's

"The only Jewish organization, which has official status and has
a right to officially represent the Jewish community in Armenia is
the synagogue. As a Chief Rabbi I can say Jews enjoy tolerance in
Armenia and are in better conditions than the communities in Georgia
or Russia," Burshtein told ArmeniaNow.

The Rabbi said that Avetisyan's anti-Jeshish announcement was a "debut"
in Armenia which had no precedents, adding however that they never
applied to police. He refused to comment on whether the arrest was
an appropriate punishment saying that it is not in his jurisdiction
to make comments over the activity of Armenian courts.

Burshtein instead accused Armenia mass-media for publishing and
therefore supporting Avetisyan's position without including comments of
Armenian officials who in fact represent the position of the country.

Meanwhile Avetisyan said he does not mind to meet and discuss with
Jewish organizations the issues related to his announcements and

"I never incite hatred and will not to any ethnic groups in
Armenia. Armenia is home for all those who care for its prosperity. My
fight is against Armenia's enemies and the arrest could not make me
quit my activity," Avetisyan said.

By Julia Hakobyan

ArmeniaNow Reporter

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) reaffirmed
its increased interest in the Armenian market by appointing a first
ever resident for its Yerevan office.

At a press conference on Tuesday EBRD officials said the decision of
having a representative in Armenia is a part of the bank's strategy to
help Armenian entrepreneurs gain fuller access to the global market. It
also signals the bank's intention to find the most positive ways to
engage with a country rich in human capacity and potential.

The EBRD was founded in 1991 to promote transition counties conversion
to a market oriented economy. Armenia along with twelve counties of
the former USSR joined EBRD in 1992. As of December 2004 the ERBD
had signed seven investments in Armenia totaling 88 million euros.

"Armenia is now much more important to EBRD than ever before," said
Michael Weinstein, the newly appointed EBRD representative. "It is a
very good time being in Armenia now because Armenia is very much in
the spotlight for the bank."

Weinstein said that EBRD is interested in the development of the
private sector in Armenia, Information Technology and tourism sectors
and is looking at projects in agribusiness and mining. The EBRD is also
going to cooperate with local banks as it is interested to be involved
in the development of mortgage crediting in the republic. Weinstein
said that the first condition for the successful mortgage crediting
is legal reforms, an issue the bank is going to discuss with Armenian

The volume of investments of the bank in Armenia will total 15 million
euros in 2005, against 8 million last year.

Among ERBD projects in Armenia were a $20 million loan for refurbishing
Yerevan Brandy factory's facilities, a 17 million euros investment into
construction of a cargo terminal in the Yerevan Zvartnots airport,
a 45 million euros investment for the contraction and privatization
of power generating unit at the Hrazdan thermal power plant.

Among recent deals signed by the EBRD in Armenia is the first direct
investment facility agreement under the ETC program with Shen Concern,
which will allow the construction-material manufacturer to upgrade
its plant. EBRD has recently signed a direct loan facility agreement
with textile producer Maralik.

In 2002 the bank invested 2 million euros in Armenian Copper Programme,
for the improvement of copper smelters production capacity.

Armenia is a key part of the EBRD's "Early Transition Countries"
(ETC) initiative. Launched in 2004 the initiative aims to stimulate
market activity in the Bank's seven poorest countries.

By Marianna Grigoryan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

A newspaper editor in the province of Syunik is accusing the region's
governor of torching the editor's car in the early hours of last

The governor, however, claims the car was burned because of an incident
between the editor's son and some soldiers.

Whatever the truth, the incident has raised tensions between editor
Samvel Alexanyan and governor Surik Khachatryan, who have been engaged
in a long-standing dispute.

Alexanyan's Niva was destroyed by fire at about 3:30 a.m. Alexanyan
says it is retaliation for articles he has published in "Syunyats
Yerkir" (The Country of Syunik), an occasional publication, that have
been critical of the governor.

Alexayan heard voices and went out to find his car ablaze outside
his house in Goris.

"The Goris people are very peaceful people and could not do such a
thing," Alexanyan told Armenianow. "It is obvious also that in Goris
such a thing cannot happen without the governor's guarantees."

Alexanyan says his accusations are based on recent warnings he has
received by telephone, saying he should not publicize comments critical
of Khachatryan.

According to the editor the conflict between him and the governor
deepened especially after an interview Alexanyan gave to "Novoye
Vremya" (New Times) newspaper in Yerevan. In the interview Alexanyan
was critical of Khachatryan and alleged that the Constitution is not
observed in the Syunik province.

"Whatever happened is a disgrace, in Syunik marz (province) there has
never been registered any such violence against journalists during any
of the local heads' times," says Alexanyan. "As a result of telling
the truth my family and I have found ourselves in repressions. The
thing is that criticizing anything in Syunik also is adopted as a
personal insult by the marzpet (governor)."

Alexanyan has addressed a letter to President Robert Kocharyan,
the media, and to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe to explain the situation.

The editor-in-chief also charges that the governor has forbidden
businessmen under his persuasion from subscribing to Alexanyan's

Journalists in Syunik say tensions have grown between the two men
since last Septemberk, when Alexanyan was fired as the province's
press secretary and his newspaper was ordered to leave the local
administration building.

Alexanyan insists his firing has nothing to do with the case and that
it is all related to what he has published.

Alexanyan claims that two days before his car was burned, an
acquaintance of the governor visited the newspaper office and warned
the editor that the governor has powerful sponsors and supporters.

Khachatryan told Armenianow that Alexanyan's claims are groundless.

"The things that man said are nonsense," the governor said. "It's
useless to respond to someone whose psychological state is are

The governor also said that two hours before Alexanyan's car was
torched, Alexanyan's son had a fight with soldiers in a military unit
in Goris.

"Let them look for answers (to the car incident) there and not go
into insulations," Khachatryan said.

Alexanyan would not respond to questions about his son's quarrel.

In his turn, Khachatryan has disseminated a statement through the
media explaining Alexanyan's anxiety with his loss of work and condemns
the latter with two long lasting points.

"I have already applied to the court to find a solution to the issue,"
says Khacahtryan. "I hope in the court people will see who's right,
and who's wrong."

By Gayane Lazarian

ArmeniaNow Reporter

During the last 10-11 years Armenia has made great achievements in
the field of earthquake-proof construction, chairman of the Armenian
Association of Seismic Construction, Professor Mikael Melkonyan told
reporters this week.

"The goal of earthquake-proof construction is to fortify buildings and
structures with the use of the latest technologies. This technology
is called seismic insulation. We have won a great appraisal from
world experts in this field," says Melkumyan.

Seismic insulation is a form of construction that creates space between
a building and its foundation, to allow absorption of movement in
the event of earthquake.

Melkumyan says that seismic insulators are layered rubber-metal
elements with a diameter of 20-60 centimeters which are capable of
developing large shifts horizontally and absorb seismic energy. Their
size, quantity and form of installation depend on the size of the
building and the number of stories.

International experts have recognized Armenian specialists as leaders
in the field because they install seismic insulators without the need
to shut down a building.

"It is an unprecedented phenomenon," Melkumyan says. "No such thing
has been done in the world yet. Work was done on empty buildings,
but we do it where people live or work."

Two buildings have been fortified in Armenia in that manner - one
residential building and one school in Vanadzor. As many as 14
buildings have been built with seismic insulators in the Spitak
disaster zone and one hospital in Stepanakert, Karabakh. Three
such buildings are being constructed in Yerevan by Elite Group
Company. Another four buildings are planned to be built. The
installation of seismic insulators reduces costs of laying the
foundation by 35- 40 percent and are guaranteed for 50 years.

While several years ago seismic insulators were imported from European
countries, today they are produced in Armenia, and the quality of
Armenian products corresponds to international standards. Orders for
the insulators have been taken from the United States, Romania, Italy,
Turkey, Iran and Russia.

The Association's Chairman says that their goal is to get seismically
safe buildings. Nature has already proved the usefulness of seismic
insulators. During a recent earthquake in Kobe, Japan, two buildings
with seismic insulation didn't have even a slight crack, and other
parts of the city was ruined like in Spitak.

Seismic insulators in ordinary conditions, when there is no earthquake,
work as ordinary columns, bearing the weight of the building, and
during an earthquake develop large horizontal shifts. A building
constructed on seismic insulators vibrates in a direction parallel
to itself, but should not collapse.

"The new technologies ensure great reliability and, most importantly,
make it possible to fortify buildings without interfering with its
architectural composition. The old technologies by all means required
additional construction, which certainly affected the building's
design, frescos and other valuable features," says Melkumyan.

By Suren Deheryan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

The Unison organization, made up of 150 disabled in Armenia has a
mission to educate society on the acceptance of "invalids" as rightful
members of the community.

Over the past three years the organization has held various actions
aimed at helping integrate the physically challenged into mainstream

On Wednesday, a day before the annual "Day of Women and Beauty",
Unison held its second beauty pageant.

A full hall turned out at the Narekatsi Art Union to see 17-year old
Svetlana Grigoryan crowned "Miss Beauty Photo- Contest 2005".

Two months ago Svetlana had an operation on her leg. But it didn't
stop her from submitting her photos, along with 39 others, who sent
theirs in during February and March. Contestants ages ranged from
16-40 and were from several different areas of the republic.

The contest, mostly for women with spinal injuries, had a single
purpose: to show that beauty is not always diminished by disability.

"This is a chance to make disabled women happy, so that they feel
like women rather than disabled people and that they know they can
win prizes with their beauty," said Armen Alaverdyan, the organizer
of the contest and Executive Director of Unison (

Svetlana received a certificate and a range of prizes, but the biggest
victory for her was moral satisfaction, when on the stage the girl,
who has been disabled since childhood, felt herself a full member
of society.

"I am really happy, and it is a good present for me on this
celebration," said Svetlana.

Besides the first and second prizes there were also categories of
Miss Charm and Miss Smile, as well as six consolation prizes set
by Unison. The competition was judged by composer Ervand Erznkyan,
singer Forsh and photojournalist Ruben Mangasaryan.

Shushan Nahapetyan, 28, won the inaugural competition last year.

"I feel more confident after such a victory, last year, looking more
optimistically and strongly at life," Shushan said. "It is so pleasant
that after the contest even the treatment towards me was changed,
everyone seeing me says, here is our pretty girl. Such contests are
very important for us."

This year parallel to photo-contest Unison conducted also disabled
artists' contests for the first time in the fields of embroidery,
painting, engraving, etc. Nearly 80 handcrafts by 47 disabled were
presented during this contest, for which winners were also named
on Wednesday.

Today there are about 118,000 invalids in Armenia, about 1,200 of
them with spinal injuries.

"Any disabled is a separate destiny and a destiny of a family, as
the disabled has a family, which means that at least three people
experience that destiny, thus three of them have a problem," says
Alaverdyan. "Our society should understand that disabled people are
full members of society and like other people we shouldn't be paid a
special attention. If the disabled needs help, then one may approach
and help him."

By Suren
Musayelyan ArmenianNow Reporter

A small crowd gathered in Yerevan's Italy Street on Thursday morning
to watch a driving competition among women - an appreciably increasing
share on the male-dominated roads of Armenia.

Women are generally believed (by men, and especially in Armenia) to
be worse drivers than men and some extreme opinions even call them a
"danger" to other drivers, pedestrians and themselves.

A well-known joke that ridicules female drivers goes like this:
"Women at the wheel are like stars in the sky - everybody sees them
but they see no one."

But the 20 female participants of the 6th Figure Driving Championships
of Armenia proved this sexist opinion wrong.

The competition was organized by the Club of Female Drivers and the
Automobile Federation of Armenia for the sixth year running and was
timed to the Motherhood and Day of Beauty marked in Armenia on April 7.

Women drivers, with their own cars - ranging from a Toyota SUV, BMWs,
Mercedes, Volkswagens, Ladas to an old Soviet Moskvich - competed in
figure driving - two sets of drills with five elements each.

The drill elements included: the ring (when the drivers moved around
a post with a ring on it, took it and then put it back having made a
360-degree turn), a serpentine (a slalom between posts), parking in
reverse gear (called "tyoscha" in Russian, meaning "mother-in-law"),
dimensional drill (called "gabarit" - driving through a narrow space)
and finally the so-called "penyok" in Russian, or stump, (an exercise
for the precision of wheels, passing through pegs on the ground).

The referees also assessed the skills on the finish line and time of
passing the distance.

All the drivers had three training sessions before participating in
the event.

Forty-five-year-old anesthesiologist from Yerevan Narine Movsisyan
drives her VAZ 2106 for three years and it is the third time she took
part in the competition.

"I didn't come here to win, especially that my car technically yields
to others'," she said. "But trainings before such competitions and
the competition itself help me improve my driving skills."

Another driver, 58-year-old teacher from Yerevan Lena Aristakesyan
claims to be one of the first female drivers in Armenia, with 34 years'
experience at the wheel.

Aristakesyan many times participated in similar competitions before
and has only one complaint. "The authorities might have provided us
with a larger street on the occasion of our festival," she says.

The experienced driver has a lot of advice for women-beginners, but
says the most important is to be careful, especially in conditions
of poorly regulated traffic and bad roads of Armenia.

"Be careful and try not to invite the attention of male drivers on
the road, because it is fraught with accidents," says Aristakesyan,
who, though, admits that when she was younger she used to give out
air kisses to male drivers while on the road.

Ararat Barseghyan, a driving instructor with 20 years' experience,
says that he has had quite a lot of women customers lately. He dispels
the myth that women are difficult to teach to become good drivers.

"Women do not yield to men in driving skills. Just like men in
individual cases some women find it difficult as beginners, but later
they drive even more carefully than men," he says.

Barseghyan believes that driving is a skill accessible to all. "It's a
matter of time. Some become good drivers sooner than others. But there
is certainly no difference between male and female drivers," he says.

The winner of this year's competition was Stella Telalyan in her VAZ
2107 (she also won last year's competition), the runner-up was Anahit
Goletsyan in her BMW, and the third place was occupied by Hripsime
Boyajyan in her VAZ 2106.

The event's general sponsor Sheriff Taxi Service awarded the top
three participants with prizes. And, perhaps proving that the more
women behind the wheel phenomenon hasn't changed traditional views,
the prizes were: an electric food slicer, a juice extractor and an
electric iron.

By Victoria Mirzoyan ArmeniaNow intern

Hasmik or Khuchuchik (Curly), as the Vardenis Psychiatric Institution
staff calls the woman, has her hair cut short. But she dreams to have
it grow. Her fondness for long hair is reflected in her dolls. She
makes dolls from whatever is at hand. And they all must have long hair.

Hasmik,35 is one of the 336 patients of the Vardenis Psychiatric
institution. She found herself at the hospital ten years ago and like
all patients have their hair cut short for hygienic reasons. Hasmik
suffers from Down's syndrome, but her face lights in childish happiness
when a guest to the clinic gives her a doll.

Last month several international organizations arranged a visit to
Vardenis Psychiatric institution to distribute gifts, clothes and
food to people like Khuchuchik.

The Future Leaders' Exchange Program (FLEX) of the American Councils
in Armenia was the principal initiator of the event. Alumni of
the Councils gathered clothes for the hospital patients. Other
organizations contributed 1,100 kilos of food and 70 crates of
juice. "Coca Cola", "Atenk", "Daroink", "Kilikia" and "Ashtarak Kat"
companies donated their products.

Liana Tadevosyan, American Councils Alumni Coordinator, says that when
collecting donations for a charitable purpose, you never know which
companies you can count on. "We never asked for money, just for the
products that they produce, and most surprising thing is that the ones
which responded were not the biggest companies. Some of the companies,
which agreed to help, were sorry that they could not do more."

Like many hospitals in Armenia, Vardenis Psychiatric Institution
struggles financially. It gets annually about $28,000 from the state
budget. The amount can hardly cover all the expenses of the clinic
and constant shortages of essential items such as food are common.

"Sometimes we get support from the Diaspora and foreign companies,
but very rarely from Armenian organizations," says Samvel Khachatryan,
the Director of the Psychiatric Hospital. "Even the Armenian Apostolic
church does nothing to help these people,"

The institution was established in the 1980s in the town, some 200
km north of Yerevan. It consists of two buildings and it has 318
permanent patients and 18 short-term ones. These are people mostly
having mental issues or with Down's syndrome. The patients' age ranges
from 18 to 80 and there are more staff (360) than patients.

It is a residence for men and women who, due to various circumstances,
were forced to make their new home here. Thanks to a new type of
therapy that puts residents to work, the patients have a lot to do
during the day. The patients take care of the animals; help with the
cleaning, laundry and gardening. They even make their own clothes.

Vardenis Psychiatric Institution is under jurisdiction of the Ministry
of Labor and Social Issues, while nine others similar institutions
throughout Armenia belong to the Ministry of Health Care.

There are few happy histories here and few expect happy
futures. According to staff, visits from relatives are rare.

The hospital building was last repaired eight years ago with the
help of the Belgian Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) organization. In
2004, The American "Today's Saints" organization helped to repair
the kitchens.

Still, many problems exist. There is not enough space for all the
patients. There are cases when seven or eight patients have to share
the same room.

Inna Ter-Abrahamyan, Administrative Assistant of Public Affairs
Office at the US Embassy in Armenia says that measures are being
taken to give better assistance to such institutions; it is one of
the extracurricular activities that both the American Embassy and
the American Councils pay attention to.

The staff of the Vardenis Psychiatric Institution hopes that more
organizations and individuals would respond to their problems.

"It does not matter if you are Christian, Jewish or Buddhist, it
is all a part of being a believer and being true to your religious
responsibilities as a human being," says Elizabeth Winship, American
Councils Country director.

(Editor's note: Victoria Mirozyan is one of two students from the State
Linguistics Institute (Brusov University) participating in a journalism
internship program sponsored by ArmeniaNow. This is her first report.)

By Gayane Abrahamyan

ArmeniaNow Reporter

The members of the Ararat Diocese Youth Union organized a discussion
called "Serials, or a Public Evil?"

Some 50 young people gathered in praise or blame of soap operas -
most representing the latter opinion.

"Reading books, going to museums, watching films and performances have
been replaced with television and computers long ago," says sociologist
Artashes Manukyan, 24. "The foreign serials lasting for years gradually
fog and blunt the brains of our young people and children."

When those young people were even younger people, the "evil" of
television serials would have seemed even more bizarre than this
meeting devoted to a debate on the topic.

Then, when thanks to the heroes of the "Slave Isaura" and "Santa
Barbara" TV serials easily entered into the Armenian culture, no one
could imagine they would become an indispensable part of life.

While previously mostly three serials were being shown, their number
has grown like mushrooms during the last several years: the 15 Armenian
TV channels and the 3 Russian channels broadcasting in Armenia show
32 serials daily. Considering that all the serials are repeated,
then on average they make up 64 hours of the TV time.

During the years of energy crisis, people whose power disruption
did not coincide with the time of the serials were considered lucky,
and those who have accumulators and small TV sets were called rich;
their apartments resembled small cinemas on that time.

"The enthusiasm for the serials in cold, lightless years was natural,
for there was nothing else to do, we couldn't read books under the
candlelight, and the rich, beautiful life in the shows was the only
consolation for our people," general producer of the Public Television
of Armenia Hrach Keshishyan.

Keshishyan remembered the joke well-known about TV those years:
"One of our directors Anatoli Mokatsyan, who was duplicating one of
the serials, used to say that he could buy bread without standing in
queue if he told the people in it the content of the next series."

Today there is neither queues for bread, nor energy crisis; there
are various programs and limitless opportunities of leisure, but soap
operas continue to have hypnotic attraction.

(Among the most popular in Armenia is "Revenge", from Brazil. At first,
Armenia received such American serials as "Dallas". Now, however,
most come from Latin America and are overdubbed into Armenian.)

Contrary to Manukyan, who would criticize the existence of serials
which, he believes, not only take too much time from Armenian women,
but also decrease their conscious and taste, psychologist Ruben
Aghuzumtsyan has a different opinion.

"The serials are so different, that one cannot give an unambiguous
answer; similarly there are bad books. Our life today is very
practical, emotionally humbled, our emotions are suppressed, in this
situation an individual needs to satisfy its emotional sphere," says
Aghuzumtsyan. "Serials take a very big compensational function, people
discuss, express themselves, are exposed to emotions.. " Not true,
says senior priest Tachat Davidyan: "If people's desires are to be
compensated with serials, does it mean all of our Armenian ladies
want to lead a dissolute life, as almost all the female heroes of
the serials do, or maybe the serials present a normal life? If that's
the normal life I will repudiate humanity."

Naira Israelyan, head of the psychological service at the St. Gregory
the Illuminator neurological hospital says she does not like watching
serials, but her last work experience has shown she has to know
them well.

"Recently a 16-year-old girl was brought to us with a very strong
psychological deviation. After long surveys we found out that the main
result of the psychological deviation is the serial. In the serial
called "Revenge" shown several months ago there is an episode when
the soul of a dead person enters into a relative of it. Under the
influence of the film the child had convinced itself the soul of her
dead grandma has entered her. It seems funny, but it took very long
to restore the child's health," tells Israelyan.

However Israelyan mentions also that serials have some positive
influence: "Here people learnt that going to a psychologist is not a
shameful thing. They already know that they should take their child,
not to a healer to measure his attitude, but to a psychologist."

Cinema critic Siranush Galustyan explains why people are still so
enthusiastic about serials. Simply: every one wishes to live the life
of his or her neighbor, being aware of the routine of other people,
and the serial plots are counted on those very feelings.

Galstyan believes serials are just the part of the general picture:
"Today the whole cultural field has the tendency for simplification,
the system of values are being replaced with low quality values that
do not promise anything good."

Hrach Keshishyan ties the hope for putting an end to the much
reiterated topic on the damages of TV serials with Fellini's words:
"Each TV viewer is the master of his TV set. After all the remote
control set is in our hands and we are to choose what to watch and
what not," the television producer says.