Once again Obama avoids calling 1915 Armenian killings “genocide”

President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to fulfill a campaign promise and use the politically fraught term on the 100th anniversary of the killings this week. Officials decided against it after opposition from some at the State Department and the Pentagon…

As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama did describe the killings of Armenians as “genocide” and said the U.S. government had a responsibility to recognize them as such. As a candidate in January 2008, Obama pledged to recognize the genocide and at least one of his campaign surrogates — the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power — recorded a nearly five-minute video at the time imploring Armenian-Americans to vote for Obama precisely because he would keep his word on the issue.

But Obama has never used that description since taking office, mainly out of deference to Turkey, a key U.S. partner and NATO ally, which is fiercely opposed to the “genocide” label.

Meanwhile, our stalwart ally continues to be governed by an opportunist hypocrite – doing his best to undermine Turkey’s secular constitution while he courts fundamentalist Islamist voters and activists to stay in power.

Tuesday’s announcement, accompanied by word that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will attend a ceremony in Armenia on Friday to mark the anniversary, was made shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry met with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington.

In brief comments to reporters at the State Department, neither Kerry nor Cavusoglu mentioned Armenia or the upcoming April 24 anniversary…

Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks, an event widely viewed by scholars as genocide. Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide and says the death toll has been inflated.

Too bad Armenia isn’t as important an imperial ally as Israel. Such denial wouldn’t be tolerated.

Armenia invests in compulsory chess for all school children

Armenia, one of the world players in chess, has made it mandatory in school for ages seven to nine.

Chess is a national obsession in the country of three million.

The passion was fostered in modern times by the exploits of chess champion Tigran Petrosian, who won the world championship in 1963 and then successfully defended his title three years later…

Armenian authorities say teaching chess in school is about building character, not breeding chess champs.

The education minister says taking the pastime into classrooms will help nurture a sense of responsibility and organization among schoolchildren, as well as serving as an example to the rest of the world.

We hope that the Armenian teaching model might become among the best in the world,” Armen Ashotyan told The Associated Press.

Half a million dollars were allocated to the national chess academy to draw up a course, create textbooks, train instructors and buy equipment. Another $1 million went toward buying furniture for chess classrooms.

Two characteristics educators hope to encourage are quoted in the article – by the father of an 8-year-old whiz at chess. He hopes that continued involvement with and study of chess will encourage logical thinking and the ability to improvise.

Not bad attributes for your life’s culture.

Armenia makes chess study compulsory

Armenia’s GM Levon Aronian, sporting an academic look

Every child aged six or over in Armenia is now destined to learn chess. The authorities there believe compulsory lessons will “foster schoolchildren’s intellectual development” and improve critical thinking skills.

The country has plenty of reasons to believe in chess. It treats grandmasters like sports stars, championships are displayed on giant boards in cities and victories celebrated with the kind of frenzy most countries reserve for football…

A two-year study conducted in the US by Dr Stuart Marguilies found that learning chess improved reading test scores and reading performance in elementary schools.

Another study by Professor Peter Dauvergne, who is also a chess master, concluded playing chess could raise IQ scores, strengthen problem solving skills, enhance memory and foster creative thinking.

Malcolm Pein, chief executive of Chess in Schools and Communities, a programme that puts chess into UK schools, says there are lots of reasons why chess has a positive impact on primary school children.

“Not only does it give children good thinking skills and improve concentration, memory and calculation, but it teaches children to take responsibility for their actions.”

Of course, the most important consideration isn’t even discussed at all. Is chess something worthy of study in its own right? The answer is yes, whether you view chess as art, science, or sport, or whether you want to study the history of chess, which in itself will teach you a lot about how theories are created, applied, revised, built upon, discarded. Continue reading

Little old lady cuts off web access to whole country of Armenia

An elderly Georgian woman was scavenging for copper to sell as scrap when she accidentally sliced through an underground cable and cut off internet services to all of neighbouring Armenia…

The woman, 75, had been digging for the metal not far from the capital Tbilisi when her spade damaged the fibre-optic cable on 28 March.

As Georgia provides 90% of Armenia’s internet, the woman’s unwitting sabotage had catastrophic consequences. Web users in the nation of 3.2 million people were left twiddling their thumbs for up to five hours as the country’s main internet providers – ArmenTel, FiberNet Communication and GNC-Alfa – were prevented from supplying their normal service. Television pictures showed reporters at a news agency in the capital Yerevan staring glumly at blank screens.

Large parts of Georgia and some areas of Azerbaijan were also affected…

Dubbed “the spade-hacker” by local media, the woman – who has not been named – is being investigated on suspicion of damaging property. She faces up to three years in prison if charged and convicted.

A spokesman for Georgia’s interior ministry said the woman was temporarily released “on account of her old age” but could face more questioning…

Pulling up unused copper cables for scrap is a common means of making money in the former Soviet Union. Some entrepreneurs have even used tractors to wrench out hundreds of metres of cable from the former nuclear testing ground at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.

Yup. Let’s wander around a nuclear-testing site trying to find something worth scrounging.

Then, complain to the government a week later about glowing in the dark.

Armenian Mafia busted for $100+ million Medicare fraud

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Dozens of people alleged to be members of an Armenian-American crime group were charged in federal court today with what prosecutors said was the country’s largest single Medicare fraud, involving at least $100 million in false medical claims.

Authorities charged 44 people in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Miami in what prosecutors described as a scheme that created 118 bogus medical clinics in 25 states and billed Medicare for imaginary treatments using identities stolen from doctors and patients.

Three of the suspects remained at large, authorities said.

Medicare, the federal health insurance plan for the elderly and disabled, identified and shut down the phony clinics within several months. But authorities said more than $35 million had already been paid out to the crime group known as the Mirzoyan-Terdjanian Organization and transferred overseas.

When it comes to making money illegally, this Armenian-American group puts the traditional Mafia to shame,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. With “a phantom doctor, a phantom office and phantom patients, the conspirators could bill Medicare with abandon.”

Mafia-style organizations are something I grew up with. Criminality and criminals are part of the definitions of anti-social behavior.

What stands out in my mind is how easy it seems to have become to commit large-scale crimes. I wonder if the criminals have gotten smarter, the hardware and software enabling such crimes is just plain better than it ever was and that’s the reason why – or, dare I ask, is it that law enforcement just hasn’t kept up.

I know a fair number of coppers who are “on the force” for a reliable paycheck and good benefits. I wonder if they outnumber the seriously talented and dedicated fraction on most police forces.

World’s oldest leather shoe found

The world’s oldest known leather shoe…struck one of the world’s best known shoe designers as shockingly au courant. “It is astonishing,” Blahnik said via email, “how much this shoe resembles a modern shoe!”

Stuffed with grass, perhaps as an insulator or an early shoe tree, the 5,500-year-old moccasin-like shoe was found exceptionally well preserved—thanks to a surfeit of sheep dung—during a recent dig in an Armenian cave.

About as big as a current women’s size seven (U.S.), the shoe was likely tailor-made for the right foot of its owner, who could have been a man or a woman—not enough is known about Armenian feet of the era to say for sure…

“The hide had been cut into two layers and tanned, which was probably quite a new technology,” explained Ron Pinhasi, co-director of the dig, from University College Cork in Ireland.

Yvette Worrall, a shoemaker for the Conker handmade-shoe company in the U.K., added, “I’d imagine the leather was wetted first and then cut and fitted around the foot, using the foot as a last [mold] to stitch it up there and then.”

The end result looks surprisingly familiar for something so ancient—and not just to Blahnik…

Footwear of this age is incredibly rare, because leather and plant materials normally degrade very quickly.

But in this case the contents of a pit in the cave, dubbed Areni-1, had been sealed in by several layers of sheep dung, which accumulated in the cave after its Copper Age human inhabitants had gone.

Of course, the pecorino poop requires studying, as well.

Hillary earns her stripes – Turkey and Armenia establish relations

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Turkey and Armenia signed a historic agreement to establish normal diplomatic relations and reopen their borders on Saturday, after a last-minute dispute over wording sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other diplomats into frantic efforts to salvage the deal.

For Mrs. Clinton, nine months into her job, it was a bracing taste of down-to-the-wire, limousine diplomacy.

The arduous negotiations between the countries had been actively encouraged by the Obama administration, and with an agreement in sight, Mrs. Clinton flew to Switzerland to witness the signing as a show of American support. Instead, she found herself performing triage.

Sitting in a parked, black BMW sedan at a hilltop hotel here, with aides thrusting papers at her, Mrs. Clinton worked two cellphones at once as she tried to resolve differences between the Armenian foreign minister, Eduard Nalbandian, and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Mrs. Clinton continued her efforts inside with Mr. Nalbandian and then gave him a ride to the University of Zurich, where the ceremony was to be held. By her own account, she did most of the talking on the brief trip — appealing to him not to let months of talks go up in smoke.

“There were several times I said to all the parties involved, ‘This is too important, this has to be seen through, we have come too far,’ ” she recalled. Mrs. Clinton declined to describe the differences between the two sides.


Can you imagine this sort of traditional hard work being accomplished by the Cold Warrior morons we just shoved out of office? We all know what diplomacy on a global scale had become under the Halliburton Brothers.

After the boss called and congratulated her, she said, “It’s what you sign up for.”

Right on!

Turkey and Armenia move towards establishing national ties

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Turkey and its neighbour Armenia have moved closer to establishing diplomatic ties after decades of bitter mistrust on both sides.

They are to hold six weeks of domestic consultations on the move after which their parliaments will vote on it, their foreign ministries announced…

Turkey has resisted widespread calls for it to recognise the mass killing of Armenians during World War I as an act of genocide.

A roadmap for the normalisation of the relationship between the two countries was agreed in April…

The foreign ministries said the two countries had agreed to start internal discussions on two protocols: one establishing diplomatic relations and the other developing bilateral ties.

According to Reuters news agency, the Turkish-Armenian border – closed by Turkey in 1993 – will re-open within two months of the protocols coming into force.

The border was closed when Armenia exited the Soviet Union and assumed an independent political life. It’s been a spell; but, it looks like sensible relations can begin to pass between the two nations.

Turkey and Armenia have agreed to normalize ties between the nations

Turkey and Armenia have agreed on a framework to normalize ties after nearly a century of hostility, a move that could stabilize the volatile, oil-rich Caucasus but may affect European energy security plans.

The announcement, which was welcomed by Washington, came on the eve of the April 24 commemoration of mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915. The two countries have been engaged since last year in high-level talks to restore ties, which could include reopening a border closed in 1993…

The stand-off has isolated impoverished Armenia and obstructed Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union

Turkey and Armenia did not say how they would tackle the genocide dispute, which has traumatized ties. Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks but denies that up to 1.5 million died as a result of genocide.

Turkish officials would not discuss the issue further.

Americans generally are quick to demand that other nations “learn how to forget the past”. I’m as guilty of that as anyone else – especially over the impenetrable wall of hate that winds through the Balkans. I smirk over the same people who switch their brains off regarding the genocide our nation committed against Native Americans. Or what the real history of the Monroe Doctrine did to the fabric of life and death throughout Latin America.

Yet, the history of the Ottoman Empire in the eastern reaches of Europe and Asia is still part of the process of politics from Serbia to Afghanistan – perhaps more so than Colonial England’s imperialism, though, that may be a stretch.

It’s always easiest for the oppressor to “forgive and forget”.