Thursday, November 30, 2006

Haypost Trust Management - who are they?

Azg has a news item about the Armenian Postal Service management being handed over to a private entity from Holland. According to Azg, 'Haypost Trust Management' is a subsidiary of a company called 'PostFinance'. The deal is for a period of 5 years during which the Europeans promise to make capital investments and improve the services while not cutting down the number of the branches around Armenia. There are 900 postal branches in Armenia.

It would make little sense for a foreign company to make such promises - after all, Armenia only has some 2.5 million people, and serving these peoples' postal needs is not a very lucrative business. Another surprising detail was that the chief of the Central Bank of Armenia, Tigran Sargsian, was among the people signing the deal.

Well, it turns out that there is a plan to open a 'HayPostBank' as well. There is not much mentioned in the article about this but here is what I think the deal is all about.

PostFinance is a Swiss money transfer company. It is not a big secret that the reason that the Armenian economy stays afloat is the relatively large amount of money being wired to Armenia by the Armenian citizens working abroad. The estimated amount ranges from 4 to 6 billion USD annually. Right now there a a few ways of transferring this money - banks using SWIFT, small Armenian businesses accepting deposits abroad and delivering the money to the recipient in Armenia, and individuals visiting Armenia.

It seems like a lucrative business that PostFinance should be in. It would be difficult for it to enter this market without a local representation. So they have decided to take over HayPost. HayPost's finances are not made public but since it's a state operated business, it is bound to have quite a lot of inefficiences. Throughout the world, state owned enterprises are full of incompetent people. Armenia is not an exception - the whole governance structure is based on nepotism, not skill.

My guess is that PostFinance will trim a lot of the fat if they have received a 'license to kill' from the Armenian government. They will probably break even, or even make a little profit. But the real goal is to get a piece of the money transfer market which they will and that's where they'll make their return on investment.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Justify your existence.

CNN reports that the US government is working on a 'luxury' items embargo
on North Korea with the UN. The said 'luxury' items are things that the Dear Leader, North Korean 'president' Kim Jong Il, loves and cherishes such as French cognac, Segway scooters, iPods or plasma television sets.

These items may not seem to be luxury items in the West but believe me, in communist countries these things are unheard of. I've grown up in the USSR and a Wrigley's chewing gum was a luxurious item.

All is fine and dandy until you realize that such a ban is practically unenforceable. The Soviet Union was a closed system, and yet the Western items somehow managed to get through. And that was for the ordinary citizens against the wishes of the tight control by the authorities. Kim Jong Il is the authority in this case. He is going to buy these things from the private markets - there is not much of a difficulty to buy these things in China and then transport them in a boat across the river to North Korea.

So why now?

It all boils down to not having anything else to do. We are stuck in the corner because of our policies during the last few years, and any major initiative is doomed to failure as we lack credibility on the international scene. So we are reduced to coming up with silly things like this.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Human trafficking operation busted in Denver, Colorado.

Blogian reports that a prostitution ring specializing in trafficking women from South Korea has been busted in Denver, Colorado. Unfortunately, the authorities are far more concerned about the prostitution aspect of it rather than the trafficking of these women.

The sole purpose of trafficking people is to exploit them - the males are put to work in near slavery conditions in sweatshops or farms, and women are usually put to work as prostitutes. Usually, the victims are lured by promises of high paying jobs abroad working in bars as waiters/waitresses, nannies, baby sitters, etc. They may pay a small sum to the trafficker for the 'visa, passport and other document' expenses. That way they will be less inclined to back off the deal.

Once the victim is taken out of their country, his/her passport is taken away. Women are sold into prostitution, and men are sold to do hard labor. The flow of people is from the poorer countries to the richer ones. You can come across the victims in Europe, the oil rich Arab states, and the US (see the State Department report). There was a '60 Minutes' report a year or so ago that researched the issue. It was disturbing to see the market in a Northern Mexican town where women were traded.

There was a US policy to fight trafficking internationally when Colin Powell was the State Secretary. I don't know how effective it was at the time because all we seemed to do was to accuse other countries. Our own misdeeds were not brought to light. I don't know whether it's a standard approach by the US to accuse other nations while doing the same things ourselves. It certainly seems like that.

The only solution I see is to not rely on governments to do anything about it and raise the people's awareness about it. It may seem strange, but the majority of the trafficked women do not know about the end result of the promised employment abroad.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Photo for November 27, 2006.

Reflections, originally uploaded by nazarian.

Reflections on the surface of a flooded river during a tranquil afternoon.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Police are trained to kill, not protect.

A year ago I was sitting outside a McDonald's and having a quick lunch. There are a lot of office buildings nearby and only one fast food restaurant (this McDonald's) in the nearby area. There is a lot of traffic - the restaurant does a brisk business. And in order to make things more manageable, they hire off-duty police officers to direct the traffic.

So while I was trying to enjoy my burger, I was also watching how the police officer was directing the cars. I have to admit, he was doing a better job than the Armenian cops in Yerevan who sit in their car and yell orders at the drivers making things worse.

Those who haven't been in the US may not know that the American drivers are not used to having cops direct traffic. I don't think learning standard gestures is part of the driver's education. So I think the cops improvise.

At one point there was a driver in a Civic that did not understand the directions and continued to drive after the cop gestured for the cars to stop. Immediately, the cop drew his gun. I was in shock - drawing a gun while directing traffic is not supposed to be your instinctive reaction.

Well, last night there was a shooting in New York where the police fired 50 rounds into a car full of unarmed people killing a guy and injuring 2 passengers outside a strip club after the dead guy's bachelor's party. The police were dressed as civilians. One of the cops emptied two magazines firing 31 times. Obviously, he was having fun.

A few days ago there was another shooting when three policemen dressed in civilian clothing burst into a 92 year old woman's house looking for drugs. The old lady greeted them with gun fire and the three shot her dead.

So what does this have to do with what I saw in McDonald's? To me, the morale of the story is that try not to cross paths with the police especially if you are black (both the dead groom and the 92 year old lady were black). Things become tricky when you encounter cops in civilian clothing because usually they are not much different than common redneck or ghetto thugs except that they are always armed and can kill you and the state, and the majority of people, will justify the kiling.

Is Azerbaijan becoming as authoritarian as Armenia?

It looks like Mr. Ilham Aliev, the president of Azerbaijan, is emulating what Mr. Robert Kocharian, the president of Armenia, has been doing for years.

BBC reports that the Azeri authorities have closed an independent TV station because it didn't renew its license, and have evicted a political party and a newspaper because they haven't paid their rent. Apparently, they do not have laws protecting the rights of the tenants :)

Well, the surprise for me in this report was that there actually are independent TV stations, newspapers and political parties in Azerbaijan. All the news we get out of that country is that the elections get falsified, and people opposing the current regime get beaten up and thrown in jail. Apparently, things are not as bad as that - well, maybe things were not as bad until this weekend.

Armenia, on the other hand, pretends to be a democratic country. And yet, there hasn't been an independent TV station there since Mr. Kocharian closed the A1+ TV a few years ago. Opposition political parties have been harassed a number of times in the past. Take the Jarangutyun party which got evicted for, I think, not paying rent a year or so ago. The Hanrapetutyun party's offices were raided and ransacked without warrant right after the police beat the opposition protesters after the crooked presidential elections in 2003.

Looks like Armenia is not any better than Azerbaijan.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Online shopping rant.

More than a week ago I purchased a USB TV tuner from I chose the 3 day delivery expecting since I was not in a hurry.

Well, they shipped it with UPS (I am sure most of us know that UPS sucks). They have the lousiest delivery service in the US. My package is still sitting in Ohio since November 21. That's 4 days already.

I'm also waiting for an MP3 player I got from a week ago. They shipped it from Illinois. Well, the geniuses at UPS took it to Ohio - the destination of the package is Indiana. To take the package from Illinois to Ohio, they had to drive through Indiana. That one is still sitting in Ohio - it's been 3 days already. packages shipped through FedEx arrive the next day - apparently, FedEx delivery routes are not designed by idiots like UPS.

Hopefully I'll get them by the end of next week.

Friday, November 24, 2006

And I thought this was a joke.

I came across this ridiculous "Why Mommy is a Democrat" page and thought it was a joke. It promotes a children's book about a squirrel family that's nicely illustrated and has pro-Democratic slogans such as "Democrats make sure we all share our toys, just like Mommy does".

My first reaction was to see if it was a satirical page like "The Onion". The endorsements cracked me up but I think they are serious.

Judge yourselves.

Ex-KGB spy Litvinenko has died.

BBC reports that Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-KGB spy in exile in the UK, has passed away. It is alleged that his death is a result of a poisoning by the FSB (Russian Federal Security Bureau).

Although there is no proof yet, I can understand why is the Russian government being accused. The FSB has a long history of assassinating political figures in exile. And there certainly is a motivation to do so - Litvinenko is rumored to have been investigating the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist critical of the Russian government's actions in the Caucasus and its abuses in general.

I first heard of him when he accused the Russian secret services of the terrorist act in the Armenian Parliament in 1999. A group of armed dashnaks (a pro-Russian socialist party in Armenia and diaspora) stormed the parliament in session and killed the prime minister, the speaker of the parliament and a few other ministers and parliamentarians. No ties to these services have been brought to life during the trial of the terrorists and their subsequent imprisonment. Suspiciously, one of them, an electrician by trade, was electrocuted in his cell while trying to make a cup of coffee on an electric stove.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Republic Square big screen may be removed.

One chilly day in November during the early 90-s I was sitting in the Republic Square and looking at the empty platform where a year or so ago Lenin's statue was. The space was empty. So I thought it would be a great spot to have a large banner that would scroll advertisements.

A decade later, a large screen TV was installed at that spot that ran advertisements. (The image courtesy of

There has been some controversy about it as people felt it was inappropriate. I never felt like it. If that spot could generate money and did no harm, why not? It was not an eye sore, and if the volume could be turned off after dark not to disturb the peace, I would not have a problem with it.

Well, the good times are over. The ads have stopped generating enough revenue to justify the costs of upkeep (or so they say). There is a contest to install another statue in that location.

I disagree with that. We have already had a statue of an idol there. We do not need to do that again. Just leave the space empty. Have a green law, or another fountain with benches around it so that the people can sit and relax.

We all know that there are not many places left in Yerevan where one can sit and relax.

Signed up for Google AdSense.

I have read stories about the funny links that AdSense displays based the keywords in logs. I am curious to see what kind of links are going to be on this blog. My guess is that they will be generic since there is very little text and instead, the majority of the posts are just pictures. There may be a few Armenia related links, but I am sure there will be some that are for Turkey, Russia or Iran.

It's gonna be an interesting research project.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Photo for November 21, 2006.

TheAngrySky, originally uploaded by nazarian.

The sky got angrier and angrier.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Photo for November 20, 2006.

TreesAndRiver, originally uploaded by nazarian.

Almost clear skies. The air was cold and might have affected the sensors in the camera.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Armenia has dispatched another group of peace keepers to Kosovo.

 Image from
I have finally resolved the issues I have been having with posting non-flickr blogs so I will start posting individual blogs as well as photo blogs here.

Yesterday I came across an article that discussing the Armenian peace keeping force dispatched in Iraq to help out the Americans. On November 11, they suffered their first casualty. And Armenian officer was injured in a road-side bomb attack on their convoy. His leg was severed by the bomb, and he is now in Germany for treatment. Fortunately, he is alive and is expected to recover, albeit he will need prosthetics now.

And today I read that another group of Armenian peace keepers has been sent to Kosovo to replace the ones who have completed their tour of duty there. So far they have not suffered any casualties there which is good. Link to RFERL article.

I am still unsure about our soldiers putting their lives in danger for other peoples' wars. We still remember when some American petro-businessmen hired some 1,200 Afghanis to fight against us in the early 90-s. And now we have sent our boys to protect the business interests of these same Texan oilmen in Iraq.

But then I look at the bright side - the American empire is here to stay, and Armenia is too small to isolate itself. It's better to be with the US rather than against it. It cannot stay neutral - we are surrounded by wolves and the moment Turkey or Azerbaijan think they can get away with eliminating Armenia, they'll do what they did in 1915 in a much grander scale. So we have to be friends with the big boys while being self sufficient as well.

The other positive that I see with the Armenian involvement in these peace keeping initiatives is the opportunity to learn from the modern armies in the world. While a lot depends on more effective technologies of war for a victory, the structure of the Western armies has proven to be superior to others.

The more the Armenian army learns from them, the better.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Photo for November 9, 2006.

HalfAssSign, originally uploaded by nazarian.

It's a sign next to a trail in a park. It's got a set of rules (the bureaucrats love to post rules in public places) but fortunately nobody can understand what they are. Obviously, even the authorities don't care.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Photo for November 8, 2006.

TheSunPeekingThru, originally uploaded by nazarian.

As I was walking in the woods, the sun was about to set.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Photo for November 6, 2006.

impractical_pencils, originally uploaded by nazarian.

I came across these pencils at the mail room at work. At first I thought it was a manufacturing mishap before realizing that these were supposed to be cross shaped pencils.

It's a bizarre idea but I guess it makes sense to religious folk. or maybe not since they have ended up in the mail room.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Photo for October 31, 2006.

JackOLanterns, originally uploaded by nazarian.

I came across these pumpkins while walking in the park this weekend.