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December 30, 2006

1. Defense minister calls for normal relations with Turkey

2. Squeezed by Russia, Armenia and other energy importers ponder
alternatives (News analysis by Emil Sanamyan)

3. Politics brief
* President Bush signs rail financing ban into law; Azerbaijan vows to
proceed anyway

4. Armenia news briefs
* Tremor on the Armenian-Iranian border
* Armenia has an anthem again
* Appeals court upholds Sefilyan detention

5. Armenia economy Briefs
* Armenia sees 20-25 percent growth in foreign investments in 2006
* New wind-power stations planned for Armenia
* Iran and Armenia to build hydropower plant on the Araks
* European Bank invests $2 million in Armenia's mortgage market

6. Armenian stars glitter at the Kodak (by Paul Chaderjian)

7. The original "Armenian Music Awards" set a high standard (by Paul Chaderjian)

8. Armenians kick up Thai tradition; kickboxing champion Bastrmajyan
promotes the sport--and its Armenian fighters (by Tamar Kevonian)

9. [Living in Armenia] Armenia's less familiar face: Careworn, but
hopeful (Essay by Maria Titizian)

10. Editorial: Some New Year's resolutions

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1. Defense minister calls for normal relations with Turkey

In "Wall Street Journal," Serge Sarkisian calls for more EU help in
improving Turkey-Armenia relations

In an essay published in the editorial pages of the "Wall Street
Journal" on December 22, Armenia's defense minister Serge Sarkisian
called on the European Union to become "increasingly involved in
finding a way to a breakthrough for relations between Turkey and
Armenia." The essay appeared under the title, "In spite of the
Genocide, Armenia seeks diplomatic relations with Turkey."

Noting Armenia's longstanding position that it seeks relations with
Turkey "without preconditions," Mr. Sarkisian decried Turkey's
unwillingness to establish diplomatic relations, and complained about
its continued efforts to isolate Armenia.

Armenia, for its part, considers remembering the Armenian Genocide
important, Mr. Sarkisian wrote. But Armenia does not tie "the
establishment of diplomatic relations to recognition of the genocide."

The defense minister put Turkey's efforts to become a member of the
European Union in a positive light. He wrote, "In negotiating for
membership--and perhaps as a future EU member state--Turkey will
contribute to an economically stronger and more stable neighborhood.
This is in the interest of both Turkey and Armenia. EU membership
would also make Turkey much more predictable. It is always easier to
deal with a predictable neighbor."

In the meantime, however, Armenia and Turkey have no bilateral
relations, Mr. Sarkisian noted. Despite international condemnation,
Turkey keeps its border with Armenia closed and "throws every effort
into isolating landlocked Armenia from international and regional
transportation projects." Moreover, its plays an unhelpful role in the
Karabakh negotiations, he wrote.

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, in an interview with Yerkir Media
television on December 25, confirmed that Armenia "has offered its
hand to Turkey but there is still no progress in the matter mostly
because of Turkey." The foreign minister said "the key obstacle is the
Karabakh problem. The Turks say themselves that the key to
Armenian-Turkish rapprochement is in Baku. In fact, Turkey has yielded
to Azerbaijan's blackmail."

Mr. Sarkisian wrote that "Armenia is committed to doing everything it
can to find a way to develop bilateral relations" with Turkey. "I do
not say that Armenia should resolve its relations with Ankara at any
price. What I do say is that it is ready to regulate its relations
with Turkey without any preconditions."

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2 . Squeezed by Russia, Armenia and other energy importers ponder alternatives

News analysis by Emil Sanamyan (special to the "Armenian Reporter")

WASHINGTON--An avalanche on December 18 damaged the Georgian section
of the Russia-Georgia-Armenia pipeline, cutting natural gas supplies
to Armenia to a trickle in the subsequent five days. There were no
interruptions in gas supplies to consumers due to reserves at
Armenia's underground natural gas reservoir. But had supplies not been
resumed on December 22, Armenia's gas reserves would have run out in a
matter of weeks.

In addition to being the main source of winter heating, Russian
natural gas accounts for about 40 percent of Armenia's annual
electricity generation. The nuclear power plant (supplied by Russian
nuclear fuel) accounts for another 40 percent, with most of the rest
of electricity produced by hydropower plants and a much smaller
fraction by windmills.

This most recent interruption in gas supplies was just another example
of how Armenia's basic energy security depends on circumstances beyond
its control. Since independence, Armenia's ability to provide its
citizens with electricity and winter heating has depended almost
solely on the goodwill of Russia, and also of Georgia, as the transit

Armenia is not the only country finding itself in such a predicament.
The Baltic states of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania get all
of their natural gas from Russia. Between 62 and 91 percent of gas
needs of Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and
Turkey are also met by Russia. Overall, nearly half of Europe's gas
imports come from Russia and this dependence has long raised alarms.
(See table at

Speaking at a recent event at the Jamestown Foundation, Harvard
University Professor Marshall Goldman argued that while growing oil
production has given Russia increased revenue, gas supplies give it
true political influence. And, according to Goldman, the current state
of affairs makes Russia more powerful than it ever was either in
Czarist or Soviet days. Russia's state-run GazProm monopoly is now the
third-largest company in the world in terms of capitalized income,
behind only ExxonMobil and General Electric.

The past year saw Russia repeatedly exercise what has been called its
"energy diplomacy." Unhappy with the post-Soviet republics'
pro-Western drift, Russia moved to end what amounted to subsidies on
gas supplies to these states. Goldman recalled that Russia's president
Vladimir Putin warned months before the price increases that his
country had no intention of continuing the subsidies unless the
recipients pursued pro-Russia policies.

Not surprisingly, the energy-needy countries have looked to
alternatives other than Russia. Gas pipelines from Iran now extend to
Turkey and Azerbaijan and a pipeline to Armenia is expected to be
completed in 2007. Also next year, Azerbaijan plans to begin
production off a major offshore gas field that is expected to satisfy
its own consumption and part of Georgia's. Larger reserves in Central
Asia, particularly in Turkmenistan, are so far locked in by Russia and

The recent passing of Turkmenistan's longtime dictator Saparmurad
Niyazov may provide the U.S. and Europeans with another window of
opportunity to bring the Turkmen gas to Europe via the Caspian and
Caucasus. While these supplies may satisfy some of Europe's needs,
long-term reliance on Russia can only be broken if gas supplies also
come from Iran.

But long-discussed plans to bring Iranian gas to Europe are hampered
by the continued standoff over Iran's nuclear energy program. While
the United States remains sensitive to major gas deals between
Europeans and Iran, it appears to have closed its eyes on smaller
scale supplies that should theoretically also trigger the U.S.
sanctions law directed against Iran.

This will be the second winter in the row that Georgia and Azerbaijan
import natural gas from Iran. When asked by this author if the U.S.
had raised any concerns relative to energy deals with Iran, Georgia's
Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli appeared to dismiss such a possibility,
suggesting that Georgia could not be left freezing in winter and U.S.
leaders realize this.

The apparently measured U.S. attitude is a welcome sign for Armenia,
which plans to begin gas imports from Iran next year. Foreign Minister
Vartan Oskanian was in Tehran on December 17, where he met with senior
Iranian officials to discuss the plans to make the Iran-Armenia gas
pipeline operational next March.

Armenia plans to import about 1.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas
from Iran. At current projected consumption rates this would amount to
only about half of Armenia's gas needs. The rest would still have to
come from Russia. While Russia agreed to maintain the current price of
$110 per thousand cubic meters of gas for Armenia through 2008, this
deal appears to have come at the cost of giving Russia control over
the new Iran-Armenia pipeline.

But Russia's desire to dominate gas markets of Europe and Eurasia by
trying to exclude alternative suppliers and pressuring consumers has
already resulted in growing determination from both to find ways to
diversify, either through alternative supply networks or by moving
away from gas-fired power plants.

Both the United States and Europe are now more interested in building
new nuclear power plants. Earlier this year, Armenia's leaders
announced long-term plans for construction of a new nuclear power
plant that could provide most if not all of the electricity that
Armenia needs after the existing 30-year-old Russia-run plant at
Metsamor is decommissioned. Not surprisingly Armenia turned to the
United States rather than to Russia for support for this major
strategic undertaking.

* * *

For photos and table, go to

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3. Politics Brief

* President Bush signs rail financing ban into law; Azerbaijan vows to
proceed anyway

WASHINGTON--President Bush signed a law that prohibits U.S. funding
for a railroad linking Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia while bypassing
Armenia. The bill was part of a comprehensive measure known as the
Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act of 2006.

"The bill adopted in the USA on banning [U.S.] financing [of] the
construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku railway will not
affect implementation of the project," Azerbaijan's deputy transport
minister Musa Panakhov is quoted as saying by Azeri-Press Agency,
Regnum reports. "Niether Azerbaijan, nor Georgia [nor] Turkey appealed
[to] US banks for loans."

In addition to the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress, the
European Union has expressed opposition to the rail project.

Azerbaijan and Turkey are capable of financing the project at their
own expense, Mr. Panakhov is quoted as saying. "Azerbaijan will
allocate $150 million for construction of the railway line in the
Georgian territory. The money will be given to Georgia in a form of a
long-term loan for 20-25 years," Panakhov said, noting that
preparations for implementing the project would finish in January.

*************************************** ************************************

4. Armenia News Briefs

* Tremor on the Armenian-Iranian border

YEREVAN--The Armenian National Service of Seismic Protection told the
ArmInfo news agency that an earthquake of preliminary magnitude 5 was
registered on the Armenian-Iranian border, 33 kilometers (20 miles)
southwest of the city of Meghri, at 2:44 P.M. local time, on December
25. Earthquakes of that magnitude can cause considerable damage. No
information about damage or victims was immediately available.

* Armenia has an anthem again

YEREVAN--"Mer Hairenik" is Armenia's national anthem again. The anthem
of the first Armenian republic (1918-20), it was reinstated when
Armenia became independent again in 1991. Under a constitutional
amendment adopted just over a year ago, however, the National Assembly
had one year to "define by law the national anthem of the Republic of

The constitutional amendment was part of an effort to replace "Mer
Hairenik"--most likely with the Soviet-era Armenian anthem. The effort
stalled, however, in the face of strong opposition. By the time the
year ended, the assembly had not selected an anthem--and Armenia was
left without one. On December 25, the National Assembly adopted a bill
reinstating "Mer Hairenik" until further notice.

"Mer Hairenik" (Our fatherland) was written by Mikael Nalbandian
(1829-66); the music is by Parsegh Ganachian.

* Appeals court upholds Sefilyan detention

YEREVAN--Armenia's Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the court
of first instance to keep Zhirair Sefilyan in pretrial custody,
Sefilyan's attorney, Vahe Grigoryan, announced on December 27, ArmInfo
reports. Sefilyan, a Lebanese citizen who distinguished himself as a
commander during the Karabakh war, was arrested on December 10 on
sedition charges. Grigoryan announced that the defendant would appeal
the decision to the Court of Cassation.

************************************** *************************************

5. Armenia Economy Briefs

* Armenia sees 20-25 percent growth in foreign investments in 2006

YEREVAN--The volume of foreign investments in Armenia's economy in
2006 has grown by 20-25 percent over 2005, Minister of Trade and
Economic Development Karen Chshmarityan said on 26 December, ArmInfo
reports. The volume in 2005 was $504.5 million.

The biggest investments in 2006 were in Yerevan's Zvartnots airport,
which is being expanded; in telecommunications; in the mining industry
and metallurgy; and in information technology and electronics. The
minister expected further investments in these areas as well as new
investments in the Nairit rubber plant, which was sold this week.

* New wind-power stations planned for Armenia

YEREVAN--Gierret srl, an Italian company, plans to invest about $130
million in the construction of a cascade of wind-power stations in
Armenia, Energy Minister Armen Movsisyan announced on December 22,
ArmInfo reports. The total capacity of the stations is expected to be
90 megawatts. (This capacity is likely to translate into 250 million
kilowatt-hours per year; for comparison, Armenia's 400-megawatt
nuclear power plant generates about 2.5 billion kilowatt-hours

According to Movsisyan, the wind-power stations will be located in the
north of Armenia. The location was selected after monitoring studies
were conducted. The minister expects construction to begin in the

The first wind-power station in Armenia was built with a $3.5 million
grant from the Iranian government and was placed into operation in
December 2005. Its capacity is 2.6 megawatts (planned volume 5 million
kilowatt-hours per year).

A 20-megawatt project (assessed volume 50 million kilowatt-hours per
year) is under development by SolarEn Corp. (USA). (SolarEn is
financed by the Cafesjian Family Foundation, which also owns this
newspaper.) According to SolarEn's director of marketing, Arthur
Lalayan, the assessed total wind energy potential for grid-connected
wind power plants in Armenia is about 450 megawatts. (An installed
capacity of 400 megawatts could generate 1 billion kilowatt-hours a

* Iran and Armenia to build hydropower plant on the Araks

YEREVAN--Armenia and Iran plan to build a hydropower plant on the
Araks river, which separates the two countries. The plant is expected
to have a 130-140 megawatt capacity and generate about 850 million
kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, Armenpress reports.

Energy Minister Armen Movsisyan announced last week that a feasibility
study had been completed and construction was set to start early in
2007. The minister noted that a favorable legal framework and tariff
policy has made small hydropower plants a very attractive business
proposition. Armenia now has 50 small hydropower plants and another 50
are being constructed.

The minister said also that the Armenian power grid will be used for a
swap of electricity between Georgia and Iran. To that end a third
Iran-Armenia power transmission line is being built.

* European Bank invests $2 million in Armenia's mortgage market

YEREVAN--The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
on December 26 signed an agreement with Armeconombank under which it
will provide $2 million in credit for Armenia's mortgage market over
the next 5 years.

Under the agreement, Armeconombank will extend loans of up to $50
thousand with a repayment period of up to 10 years and annual interest
in the 12 to 14 percent range. Borrowers will be required to put down
no less than 25 percent of the cost of the property.

The first tranche is expected in the first half on 2007, Davit
Sukiasyan, chairperson of Armeconombank's executive board announced.
He added that the bank's mortgage portfolio has tripled in 2006 to $6

The EBRD owns a quarter of Armeconombank's shares.

Earlier in December, the EBRD agreed to provide another bank,
Inecobank a $5 million loan to facilitate lending to local micro and
small enterprises. EBRD is also providing technical assistance to
Cascade Bank to build a microlending capability. (Cascade Bank belongs
to the Cafesjian Family Foundation, which also owns this newspaper.)

************************************* **************************************

6. Armenian stars glitter at the Kodak

by Paul Chaderjian (special to the "Armenian Reporter")

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.--Tickets to the sold-out Christmas weekend "M Club
Annual Music Video Awards" show at the Kodak Theatre here were
apparently so hot that they were being auctioned at five times their
face value on eBay, the Internet auction site.

>From hard-to-score tickets to a star-studded program with performers
featured in the hottest Armenian music videos of the year, the second
annual "M Club" awards show was media hype in hyper drive.

Everyone came with an agenda. Some wanted to be entertained by stars
like Andre, Sirusho, Andy, and Armenchik; others had driven for hours
to experience the Armenian version of the Oscars, Grammies, and
People's Choice Awards.

The broadcasters wanted sponsors' dollars, the producers of the show
wanted an entrée on a new network, the Internet techies wanted to
prove their talent, the talent wanted to sell records, and the
socialites simply wanted to be seen.

In addition, a dozen stars braved the 24-hour travel schedule to fly
from Yerevan to Los Angeles for the night. Fans without seats had to
try to scalp tickets at the door or resort to watching the show on the
air and on satellite through Armenia TV, on the web through Yerevan
Nights, or on Southern California's Horizon cable channel. (Armenia TV
is an affiliate of this newspaper's.)

"For Armenia TV, providing our audiences in Armenia and the diaspora
high-quality entertainment programming is a top priority," says
Armenia TV president Bagrat Sargsyan. "We used our cameras and
state-of-the-art technology to bring the front-row experience right
into people's living rooms."

Instead of Hollywood honoring its own in the venue that hosts the
Oscars, Armenian expatriates were honoring their own. Steps above the
Hollywood Walk of Fame, Andre was chosen as "Best Male Singer of the
Year." The late Varduhi Vardanyan, who was killed in a car crash in
October, was honored posthumously as "Best Female Singer of the Year."

Armenchik and Christine Pepelyan were honored for their duet "Inchoo,"
and lifetime achievement awards were bestowed upon four musicians who
have made a great impact on Armenian music. One of those honorees was
the king of "rabiz," Aram Asatryan, who died of a heart attack in

"Aram is one of our legendary musicians," says Armenchik, who
performed one of Asatryan's songs at the award show. "He played an
important role in my life and in music. He wrote hundreds of songs and
touched thousands of lives, and he will live with us through his

Another of the biggest stars of Armenian music, internationally
popular and talented singer Shushan Petrosyan, arrived in Los Angeles
just an hour before the live broadcast.

Surprising many with her new, thinner body, Petrosyan co-hosted for
audiences watching in real time back home in Yerevan and for a live
audience, mostly made up of well-to-do Armenian ex-pats dressed by
Dolce & Gabbana and Brioni, decorated with bling-bling and armed with
Prada and Coach.

Americana--as defined by MTV, HBO, and CNN--had left the 4,300-seat
Kodak building on Friday, December 22, giving its highly coveted seats
to the singers, musicians, producers, and music-video directors--the
stars--who entertained Armenians around the world with their art and
media products on radio, television, iPods, and via web sites.

Welcome to 21st-century Armenian pop culture. Borderless. Boundless.
Uninhibited. Unchecked. It knows no genre. It follows no rules. It's
part of no schools, and it adheres to no criticism. It's Afro-American
rap, Sayat Nova, disco, Turkic rabiz, salsa, classical, and Euro-trash
all neatly wrapped in one collectors box (or computer).

"In one hour, you have requests for Aram Asatryan and jazz from
Tatevik Hovhannisyan," says attendee Tatevik Ekezian, the host of a
popular radio show out of Fresno State heard around the world on the
Internet. "One minute we have Zulal with a traditional folk song, the
next minute we are playing Armenian rap, followed by Harout and

Call it an identity crisis on speed, the modern Armenian pop scene
being honored by the producers of the "M Club" television show resides
nowhere, but also somewhere between Yerevan and Los Angeles.

Like its multinational refugee and immigrant fans, Armenian pop has
found a home where American commercialism and consumerism intersect
with Armenian ingenuity and tech-savvy "hye" merchants of pop. On this
night, that home happens to be at the corner of Hollywood and
Highland, broadcasting via the Internet to global audiences.

"Shows like this are important, because they provide an opportunity
for new voices to be heard," says most-popular album nominee Ara
Martirosyan. The singer, who was an unknown himself until his music
video for the song "Momehr" lit up Armenian music video channels
throughout 2005, knows firsthand how powerful a music video can be in
Armenian pop. Some Armenian music videos are released months in
advance of an album being recorded or distributed.

Martirosyan cites the newly formed rap group Hayq as proof of how
shows like M Club can help establish unknowns. Hayq's first release
"Kami Pchi" blew from the Araratian fields via the Internet,
downloaded and uploaded to all corners of the world this past summer.
It remained on M Club's top ten for weeks and can still be heard
blasting through the speakers of black Beamers on Glendale's Brand

In the age of the Internet, the boundless access for garage bands to
the masses via YouTube, where "Kami Pchi" still plays, and Mp3-sharing
sites is limitless. Tapping into the tech-savvy young Armenian
population, M Club uses the Internet to gauge the popularity of the
artists and hence determine what goes on the air and who is awarded at
year's end.

Andre and the late Varduhi Vardanyan may have won the top awards, but
the big winner of the night was the promotion promoting the promoters
of Armenian music, Armenian CDs, Armenian videos, Armenian TV shows,
and Armenian cable channels, dot-AM music web sites, and the corporate
and media sponsors of the check-listed media products.

The biggest promotion of the night, perhaps, was the fact that singers
from Armenia were being awarded statues in the glitzy and glamorous,
high-profile venue that is home to the Oscars and a stage that has
been graced by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Sting, Cher, the Dixie
Chicks, Prince, Jethro Tull, and Armenchik.

Yes, Nune Yesayan was the first Armenian to perform here, and yes,
Kirk Kerkorian sat in a private balcony to watch her. But an awards
show featuring not just one star but dozens was a coming-out party for
ex-pats whose families had endured 70 years of Soviet oppression and
more than a decade of hardship as immigrants.

The 5-year-old Kodak did have top billing from the producers of the
show, infecting the ethnic, nonnative media consumer with the media
virus of Andy Warhol's idea that everyone would have his 15 minutes of
fame, that he or she could also be one with mainstream show business.

"It's not often Armenian concerts take place at the Kodak," says jazz
singer Arthur Ispirian, whose new album celebrates the city of Yerevan
with songs from the 50s and 60s. "I want to thank Armenia TV," says
the singer, "because my parents and friends in Yerevan can watch what
is happening inside the Kodak Theatre."

The producer of this extravaganza at the Kodak, Meridian Production's
"M Club" is a weekly television show broadcast on cable in Los
Angeles. Viewers tune in to host Ara Kazaryan on Tuesdays to see which
new Armenian music videos received the highest votes on the Armenian
Music Center dot-AM web site. In 2006, Kazaryan played 68 different
top-ten videos, and the 20 most popular videos of the year ended up on
the annual music awards show.

"Fans choose the top ten in each category," says Kazaryan," and each
of the nominees receives a special award." In addition to honoring the
top ten, Meridian Production company employees determine which of the
music videos deserve honors like best director, best composer, and
best camerawork.

With three big projection screens above the stage showing tight
close-ups of the performers and clips of their songs, and even a
waterfall acting as a projection screen (imagine that!), with
provocative teen dancers, gold-painted divas, pink-jacketed cherubs,
someone donning a cowboy hat, another gang-banger wannabe in a hooded
sweatshirt, with live connections with Armenia, dazzling lights,
golden statuettes, Madonna-esque microphone-headsets, and glass
podiums, even a snafu or two dozen couldn't take a thing away from the
entertaining spectacle.

"It was gratifying to see the glitterati of the Armenian pop world
live in Los Angeles," says attendee Tamar Kevonian, former publisher
of "Mosaix" magazine. "The Kodak is famous for the Oscars, and it was
nice to see that same kind of energy and glamour directed at our own

At the Hollywood intersection where grain, bananas, and pineapples
grew until 1887, before it became ground zero for the radio and movie
business, a nameless corporate multinational was charging the sons and
daughters of the ancient Armenians the highest rental price in history
to allow them to sing their songs. This place hadn't even been
discovered by Caucasians when Armenian culture thrived centuries

"I could have never imagined that I would be on a stage like this,"
says rapper and hip-hop artist Mikael Abrahamyan. His group Hay Tghek
and their hit song "Amareh" have been popular with audiences in the
homeland and diaspora. Abrahamyan says that he wasn't surprised by the
success of Armenian rap, because he believes Armenians don't have
borders, boundaries, or limitations.

The big drama for some critics wasn't which singer from Armenia would
be named best singer and which would win a lifetime-achievement award;
the drama was around the question of whether Armenian pop culture was
moving out of Armenia and into Little Armenia, the neighborhood east
of the Kodak.

"To me it makes sense to hold the award show here," says Kevonian.
"There is a large Hayastansi community here and Hollywood is a
better-known location globally. There are also better resources to put
on a high-quality event like this in the U.S."

As the show ended and the after party began on the balcony of the
Trastevere Ristorante Italiano above Hollywood Boulevard, one of the
singers was heard asking whether their night at the Kodak was a sign
that Armenians could also take front seats in global media product
production. Holocaust survivors had done that shortly after Hollywood
had been transformed from farmland to the center of the entertainment

Whether Armenians can or will history will determine. For now, those
who missed the show can watch the rebroadcast of the M Club Music
Video Awards show on Armenia TV on New Year's Day.

* * *

For photos, go to

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7. The original "Armenian Music Awards" set a high standard

by Paul Chaderjian (special to the "Armenian Reporter")

GLENDALE, Calif.--Commercials about the "Armenian Music Video Awards"
in Hollywood created some confusion in the Armenian community over the
past few months. After all, the 8th annual Armenian Music Awards had
just taken place in Hollywood in May. Legal measures, which the
producers of neither the original music awards nor the new music-video
awards would discuss, resulted in a change in the name of the
music-video awards to the M Club Annual Music Video Awards.

"We had the 8th one back in May at the Hollywood Palladium," says
Peter Bahlawanian, who created the Armenian Music Awards in 1997. "I
could say the Armenian Music Awards single-handedly redefined the
music industry, within the community and out. We've had major
superstars like Stewart Copland , John Densmore, and Serj Tankian and
major world labels like Real World, Sony, BMG participate in the

Bahlawanian says he created the show to acknowledge the achievements
of Armenian artists and to showcase their work to mainstream America.
The show, which has drawn international media attention and is
broadcast globally on satellite television, hands out awards in 20 to
30 categories and features a number of live performances.

"The idea came to me in Montreal after meeting with Arthur Meschjian
about a box-CD set we wanted to release," says Bahlawanian. "It had
dawned on me that the wedding singers were more popular than the

Bahlawanian's formula for an awards show so was simple. Any Armenian
artist can participate by entering an album released the previous
year. Even non-Armenians are allowed to enter if their work is
considered Armenian or Armenian-themed. Judging the entries is a
changing group of musicians, composers, artists, critics, and
recording-industry executives.

"The coolest thing for me was to hand our first Lifetime Achievement
Award to Aznavour," says Bahlawanian. "I never thought, living back in
Montreal, that would happen. Or meeting Jim Morrison's brother,
sister, and parents. The awards have been quite the experience."

The Armenian Music Awards have been broadcast live for the past three
years. A Who's Who from the world of Armenian music have performed
over the years, and awards have ranged from best retro to best
traditional, from best fusion to best compilation.

"But concerning the award show at the Kodak," says Bahlawanian, "my
feelings have always been that if it helps promote our artists,
culture, and our industry, I'm always ready to help. Concerning
copyright, we did have an issue that was addressed with legal counsel.
We hope that it will not repeat itself."

The 8th annual Armenian Music Awards were the last that Bahlawanian
says he would produce. However the shows will continue. "I decided to
pass the torch, so there would be new ideas and new blood," he says.

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8. Armenians kick up Thai tradition; Kickboxing champion Bastrmajyan
promotes the sport--and its Armenian fighters

by Tamar Kevonian (special to the "Armenian Reporter")

LOS ANGELES--The scene is the Extreme Muay Thai Challenge at the
Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood, California. The extravaganza is
produced by Kevork "George" Bastrmajyan and his Lights Out Promotion
company. Bastrmajyan is a former United World Muay Thai Association
lightweight champion and the only one certified by the World Boxing
Council to promote Muay Thai in the United States. He loves the Thai
tradition and wants to see more fighters out there. Armed with the
vision to put on great fights in more modern surroundings, Bastrmajyan
organized the match at a very hip setting, where fans could watch the
sport with more lights, music, action and, of course, more Armenians.

Muay Thai is a martial art from Thailand that is growing in popularity
in the United States under its more popular moniker: kickboxing. There
is a lot of punching and kicking and very few rules. The Hollywood
Park event is a professional fight, where the fighters are allowed to
use all eight of their weapons: hands, elbows, knees and feet.

"Armenians are fighters," proclaims Bastrmayan, "and Muay Thai is the
most dangerous ring sport in the world. It's a proven fact. And
Armenians are good at boxing." It seems like a natural fit and proof
is the five Armenian fighters in this challenge: Antranik Janoyan,
Artak Karapetyan, Shant Yacoubian, Edmond "The Diamond" Tarverdyan,
and Tina Zakarian. It's expected that there will be a few familiar
faces in the crowd, ones who will be different from the sea of
Caucasian and Asian faces usually seen at these events.

The energy is palpable. Tents are set up across the way on the outdoor
balcony overlooking the racetrack. Winter has arrived in Los Angeles,
it had rained the day before, and there isn't a heater in sight. It
doesn't seem to matter to this mass of 1,700 people.

The crowd is mostly made up of twenty-somethings in various outfits.
The main uniform for the men seems to be very low riding, oversized
jeans, ski jackets over t-shirts with various martial arts' school
names emblazoned on the back, and tattoos, lots and lots of tattoos.
Any one of these men seen on a city street might cause one to head in
the opposite direction, but here they are with their friends and
girlfriends chattering away with a jovial sense of camaraderie. The
women are dressed with a bit more variety, some in jeans and fluffy
jackets, some in "Daisy Duke" super short shorts, fishnet stockings,
high heels, and lots and lots of makeup.

A cursory glance across the crowd looking for the faces that can
remind one of family members: thick eyebrows, square foreheads, dark
eyes rimmed by heavy lashes. Immediately you can pick out a few of
them. There is a sense of satisfaction that there are members of the
"secret family" in this room.

Very soon Shant Yacoubian's name is announced for the next fight and a
loud roar ripples through the crowd. Scanning the room for his fans,
there is the realization that there are many familiar faces: waves and
waves of familiar faces. Snippets of conversation float through the
frigid air, peppered with "akhper," and the distinct sound of the
accented English spoken by Armenians.

Overhead the ring is decorated by several flags: the American, the
Thai, and the Armenian. An Armenian flag? Only five out of the eleven
bouts involve Armenians and yet the crowd is predominantly Armenian.
The tricolor is hanging at a non-Armenian event for a Thai sport. It
feels like the ultimate paradox.

It's time for Edmond "The Diamond" Tarverdyan, who is here to defend
his XMTC welterweight title against Aaron Castallbi from Canada.
Usually each fighter approaches the ring with a personal theme song
blaring through the speakers at a deafening volume and a small
entourage led by the coach. This definitely was not a "usual"
scenario. What happens next is beyond reality.

"And in the red corner is--" the crowd roars and the beginning strains
of a recognizable Armenian song blast through the sound system. "The
Diamond" is led by six men in traditional velvet burgundy Armenian
costumes. The men climb into the ring and line up with their
interlocked arms and burst into dance.

The crowd stands and begins their rhythmic clapping as the dancers
pounce around the ring. The energy of pure testosterone is passed from
the dancers to the crowd, who volley it back to the dancers. As the
song ends and they come to a halt, two more men in costumes climb into
the ring with the Armenian tricolor stretched between them. That is
when Tarvedyan enters the ring strutting across the canvas.

It isn't clear if Castallbi has any fans cheering for him, since their
voices and cheers cannot be heard. The bell rings and these two
diminutive titans, neither weighing more than 150 pounds explode from
their corners with legs flying and arms jabbing. The entire bout lasts
two minutes and nineteen seconds, enough time for Tarvedyan to knock
out his opponent. The crowd surges to its feet in cheer as the referee
raises Tarvedyan's arm in victory.

Surrounded by a sea of Armenians, one could almost be fooled into
believing that the entire event was taking place in Armenia. It seems
only a few non-Armenian tourists have wandered into the tent with the
natives. Could this really be happening in a major U.S. city?

Bastrmajyan agrees with the original Thai rules that do not allow
women into the ring. However, he makes an exception for his student
Rita Zakarian, saying, "She really likes to fight, and I don't want to
crush her dreams." The bout with Zakarian, a two-time champion, is
saved for last. She goes the full three rounds, draws blood from her
opponent, and in the end is declared the winner.

Bastrmajyan wants to make Muay Thai a headlining event at major boxing
fights, watched on HBO and Showtime, and to "put Armenian fighters
right on top of the world." Satisfied and proud, the crowd exits the
arena excitedly, speaking in the language that is uniquely their own.

* * *

For photos, go to

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9. [Living in Armenia] Armenia's less familiar face: Careworn, but hopeful

Essay by Maria Titizian (special to the "Armenian Reporter")

It had been a particularly harsh winter. Not only for the snow. Days
and then weeks had gone by and there had been no work. All the
firewood that they had collected and stored was finished. Anything
that could be thrown into the woodstove had already burned and turned
to a heap of useless grey ash. A light bulb, hanging from the ceiling
flickered as a fugitive ray of sunlight seeped in through the broken
window pane. The sun, weary of providing a few hours of light and
warmth finally disappeared behind the horizon. Gayane sat and stared
absently at the crack in the wall and could feel the dampness of the
house in her bones. Mariam, her 4 year old daughter was trying to
preoccupy her older brother, Armen who was severely disabled. Her
large green eyes occasionally sought out for her mother's attention.

Gayane's husband, Hmayag, had been despondent for weeks. He knew his
family was slowly starving. But today as he walked through the fields,
his step was lighter for he had finally managed to find work in a
neighboring village digging canals. When he walked in through the
door, he picked Armen up and kissed his forehead and then his eyes
that were slowly going blind. He placed his hand on Gayane and
whispered that he had found work. Weary from the cold and hungry,
Gayane simply nodded. But early the next morning conjuring up the last
of her energy she put a pot of water on the woodstove and brewed
coffee, thick and strong. There was nothing left, not even a piece of
stale bread for breakfast. When she searched Hmayag's face he simply
held her and said that was sustenance enough to last him a lifetime.
After a week of back breaking work in the cold with little protection
from the late winter air, Hmayag brought home his pay. It wasn't
much, but enough to carry them for the next month, barely.

With their new found wealth stored carefully in an empty cigarette
pack, Gayane and Hmayag went out into their tiny plot of land to clear
the weeds for spring planting. Hmayag's earnings, however meager,
provided them with the motivation they needed so desperately to keep
going. By mid-morning Gayane's back had begun to ache. She
straightened up and was surveying their slow progress when she felt a
strange silence from the house. Earlier in the morning she had
instructed Mariam to occupy Armen and not let him wander out into the
fields. Something told her to run. Breathless, her heart beating
wildly she ran toward the house and threw the door open.

Inside, Mariam and Armen were sitting huddled together in the corner
preoccupied by their game. Gayane stood frozen, a searing pain shot
down her back and she collapsed to the floor. The money, their only
hope against hunger for the next month lay in hundreds of tiny shreds
around their feet. The children had found Hmayag's pay and thinking
the bills were pieces of colorful paper had shredded every single one
into hundreds of pieces. Seeing their mother on the floor, speechless
and in physical pain they stopped their game and looked down at their
tiny hands as an unfamiliar feeling crept about them. Seeing his wife
run toward the house Hmayag had come to see what had caused her sudden
sprint. At first the realization of their tragedy didn't strike him.
As he looked down at his own cut and bruised hands his face turned the
color of the ash at the bottom of their crude wooden stove. He turned
around and walked outside and sat on the thawing soil by the walnut
tree his father had given him as a wedding present. And he wept. He
wept for his disabled son, for his daughter whose actions would weigh
so heavily upon her young soul that she would never escape it, for the
unborn child his wife was carrying. He wept for the loss of his

Nine years have passed yet Hmayag still remembers that day vividly.
It is anchored in his heart. And when he recounts the story one can
see it anchored in his daughter's eyes also. She carries it like a
perverse talisman, the symbol of the pain and loss she unknowingly
caused. She atones for her sin by taking care of her disabled
brother, her younger sister and brother, by cooking, cleaning,
chopping firewood, carrying water from the well. Mariam's childhood
ended that day almost a decade ago, and she too joined the ranks of
innumerable children who had to grow up too fast.

A slow smile spreads across Hmayag's face as he looks at Mariam. He
holds her to him as if to will her to let go of the anchor, but it's
stuck, just as she is stuck in the circumstances she was born into.

This is only one of the countless untold stories within the borders of
this small country. While Yerevan is booming with endless
construction, fancy cafes and expensive boutiques, the people in the
villages are living hand to mouth. The story of Gayane and Hmayag is a
reflection of the harsh reality of a country in transition. Although
the family now has steady work, their living conditions continue to be
abhorrent. Ironically, in their tiny ramshackle dwelling with the
missing window panes and the cracks in the walls, there is hope and
aspirations and dreams waiting to be realized. This is a kind of
poverty that most of us cannot begin to comprehend and sometimes want
to pretend doesn't exist. Yet it is one of the many faces in this
land of extremes. And we must learn to embrace them all.

* * *

Maria Titizian lives in Yerevan. Her column will appear monthly in the
"Armenian Reporter."

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10. Editorial: Some New Year's Resolutions

The newspaper you are reading is the work of a team spread out all
over the United States and beyond, with editors working from our
offices in Paramus, NJ, Washington, Los Angeles, and Yerevan.

The print edition was pasted up in Paramus. But at the same time, our
new art director and layout assistant in Yerevan are preparing a
parallel version, fine-tuning a brand-new design. We'll let it speak
for itself when it debuts in the upcoming weeks. For now, we want our
loyal readers to know that, behind the "Reporter"'s new look in the
upcoming year, we will continue to pursue our goals of more in-depth
coverage, a broader scope of reporting, and outreach to an expanded

In this exciting time for the "Armenian Reporter," we have some New
Year's resolutions to share with you.

SET A HIGH STANDARD. With its own worldwide team of professionals, and
with the opportunity to draw on the resources of CS Media, Armenia's
premier media group, the "Armenian Reporter" resolves to bring readers
a first-class newspaper every week.

Already, the establishment of our Washington bureau has presented a
fresh perspective on political reporting in the Armenian community. In
recent weeks, we have been able to bring our readers new kinds of
stories: reports on think-tank lectures, an inquiry into the
Washington visit of Azerbaijan's first lady, and this week, an
analysis of Russian energy policy.

Meanwhile, we are increasing the breadth of our community news. We
have more stories reported by our own correspondents--from the
scholarly meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in
Massachusetts a few weeks ago, to this week's story on kickboxing in

We are starting to expand the pool of talent on which we draw for our
commentary pages. This week we introduce one new columnist, Maria
Titizian--and there are more to come.

There's also more to come in the realm of arts, culture,
entertainment, and lifestyles, which we are beginning to cover in
greater depth.

HAVE HIGH EXPECTATIONS. The Armenian-American community in the early
21st century has the human and the material resources to excel at
whatever it chooses to do. We resolve to set our sights high, and to
hold our community to high standards.

This week we report on an impressive Armenian music-video awards
ceremony held at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, home of the Oscars. The
event is one of two competing Armenian music-awards programs. The
organizer of the more-established awards program--itself quite
impressive over the years--said graciously of the newer program: "If
it helps promote our artists, culture, and our industry, I'm always
ready to help." The urge to excel is in full view here. A similar
dynamic is at play in Washington, with the newly formed U.S.-Armenia
Public Affairs Committee.

BE CONSTRUCTIVE. Looking at Armenia and the diaspora, it is difficult
not to see problems and crises. Anyone can write a scathing critique.
We too will report problems, of course, and we will continue to hold
officials and organizations in all realms of Armenian life, in the
homeland as well as the diaspora, accountable. But an important part
of our job is also to look for challenges and opportunities. We
resolve to track down the officials, the groups, the citizens who are
finding solutions, overcoming obstacles, seizing opportunities, and to
write about them.

APPRECIATE GOOD WORK. Across the United States and beyond, Armenian
groups--small and large, long established and newly formed--as well as
individuals are implementing great projects. We resolve to be on the
lookout for them, and to give them their due in these pages. From the
author of a little cookbook to the winner of literary prizes, from the
relatively new Children of Armenia Fund to the Armenian General
Benevolent Union, which turned 100 this year, all who do good work
deserve coverage in the "Armenian Reporter."

REACH OUT. With so many wonderful people in our communities, producing
a newspaper can be a most enjoyable challenge. We resolve to organize
our work so we can be away from the office and in the community as
much as possible.

DON'T FORGET TO WRITE! Finally, we have a New Year's resolution for
YOU, our readers: Write to the editors of the "Armenian Reporter"--via
e-mail or by post to P.O. Box 129, Paramus, NJ, 07652. Let us know
what you think about the issues we cover, the issues we ought to
cover, the way we cover them, and anything else on your mind. Let us
know some of your resolutions.

And have a very happy 2007!

--The Editors

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Direct your inquiries to [email protected]
(c) 2006 CS Media Enterprises LLC. All Rights Reserved