ArmComedy takes on Television

April 7, 2010 at 12:55 am (Armenia, media) (, , )

Super best friends Narek and Sergey over at ArmComedy have taken their humor to the boob tube.  Congrats on their politically racy premier!


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დოჰ! The Simpsons go Caucasian

January 22, 2010 at 4:55 pm (Georgia, media) (, , )

Cheeky computer animation has a way of breaking down our defenses and making harsh social criticisms oddly palatable.  Being hailed as the Georgian version of The SimpsonsThe Samsonadzes is doing just that. 

Many thanks to James for bringing this to my attention.

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Pomexpress Review: Akhtamar

January 4, 2010 at 10:27 pm (media, nationalism) (, , , , , , , , )


After eagerly anticipating a gem of corporate nationalist propaganda, I was thoroughly disappointed on multiple fronts by the Ararat Bandy production, Akhtamar – a short film by the Shammasian brothers.  The Armenianness of the “legend retold” is reduced to hackneyed national images: Mt. Ararat, Garni, Republic Square.  The taxi driver character eats a pomegranate and drinks coffee for a full five minutes.  In the grand tradition of Armenian cinema, Akhtamar was super boring.

All of the language choices in the film were odd.   The Armenian language is practically

Tamar Credit: Addis Zaryan

absent and, while I knew from the start that the young actors were not Armenian (he is Russian and she Uzbek), I was unprepared for the award-winning old Armenian guy to speak only Russian.   Furthermore, the compulsory subtitles are only available in English.  These decisions were clearly motivated brandy marketing: the Russian market drinks up 85% of the Yerevan Brandy Company’s exports.  The Russian language makes the film accessible to much of the former Soviet Union while English subtitles cater to a broader brandy-drinking audience.  That leaves only Armenian speakers with the short end of the bottle.

Akhtamar is billed as the “first in a series of legends retold;” however, the most egregious offense is the absence of a ‘retelling’ of the fable itself.  A retelling is defined as a new version of a story.  In Akhtamar, the legend is simply told, and poorly, by the taxi driver.  There is no adaptation of the plot to suit modern Armenia and it is questionable whether the uninitiated would even understand the original tale.  The film contains a love and love interest, but several major elements of the tale are missing: there is no torch or swimming, or rough waters, or death.  In short, the short is not a retelling of the legend of Akhtamar.

Ararat brandy’s Akhtamar is an Akhtamar-lite film with unremarkable performances by CIS eye-candy and a problematic, one-note plot.  With some visual and narrative inconsistencies thrown into the mix, Akhtamar leaves viewers craving an authentic retelling served up with a snifter of brandy.

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Charlie Rose Drama Alert

December 10, 2009 at 10:36 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations, media) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Barely had my disappointment faded after the Armenia-lite Erdoğan talk when Charlie Rose stirred up some dark, rich diplomatic drama on December 8th – from an armchair, no less. 

Charlie Rose

The spicy soujuk of the interview is this bit:

CHARLIE ROSE:  …There is now an agreement between Turkey and Armenia.     What is necessary in order to — what more evidence does history need with respect to the genocide? 

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN:  Let me first of all say that you say of
genocide, speak of genocide.  I would be sorry to hear you say that.  I can
say very clearly that we do not accept genocide.  This is completely a lie. 

I invite people to prove it.  I wrote a letter in 2005, and I said
that this is not up to politicians.  It is up to historians to look into
this.  We have opened our archives.  We have all the documents there.  And
in our archives more than one million documents were already looked at. 
Today it’s even more than that.  And we have opened the archives of the

And I asked the Armenian side to open their archives and let third
countries have documents.  We made a call for that too so that people could
look into all of these documents and we could all decide and see what’s
going on.

But it’s — this is not about lobbying and going to politicians and
asking them to take certain decisions.  This is not really the way to go. 
Something like this is really not possible, and there is no truth to it. 

CHARLIE ROSE:  Did President Obama bring it up with you?  Has he
discussed it with you? 

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN:  I have spoken with him, yes.  Of course, this
most recent normalization process between Turkey and Armenia was important. 
This was the context in which we discussed these issues.

And let me say to the normalization process.  It was Turkey that
initiated the normalization process.  It was Turkey that took upon itself
the risk. 

We believe in ourselves.  What we would like to see is for this
normalization process to go forward.  And in that it’s important that we go
into that and the Karavak (sic) issue between Azerbaijan and Armenia be resolved. 
There is an occupation.  We have to solve that problem.

There are three countries involved — United States, the Russian
Federation, and France.  The Minsk (ph) group, why hasn’t it solved the
problem in the last 20 years?  The problem has to be solved.

And once that problem is solved then that region will be a region of
peace.  Why?  Because once the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia is
solved, that hatred is going to dissipate.  There is the decision of the
United Nations Security Council which will be implemented.  And the
problems between Turkey and Armenia will definitely be resolved.  I believe
in it. 

But at the moment, you have the U.S. Congress here, and the U.S.
Congress doesn’t have direct relations with our region.  We are there in
that region.  We have direct relations.  We have direct issues.  And it’s
the Turkish parliament who has to make a decision on this agreement between
Turkey and Armenia.  They have to approve it. 

And of course, the Turkish parliament too is very sensitive about this
issue.  And if the positive developments that we would like to see do not
come about, then I do not believe that our parliament will have a positive
result as a result of its deliberations.  We will have a secret ballot, but
I don’t believe that without any other positive developments there will be
a positive outcome.  (Entire transcript here.)

BAM – Turkey inserts NK as an official precondition – in English – on prime time TV.  I didn’t know that Sargsyan watched Charlie, but he surely caught wind of Erdoğan’s flaunting their agreement, and issued the following statement on Thursday, December 10th:

Serzh Sargsyan

I am stating again that the Republic of Armenia is prepared to properly honor its international commitments.  Namely, to ratify the Turkish-Armenian protocols.  But you will recall that I have also stated before that if Turkey drags out the ratification of the protocols, then Armenia will immediately make use of possibilities stemming from international law

And so I am declaring now that I have instructed relevant state bodies to prepare amendments to those of our laws that pertain to the signing, ratification and abrogation of international agreements.

Turkey’s objective is to link Turkish-Armenian relations with the Nagorno-Karabakh problem.  I must once again repeat that those attempts are a priori doomed to failure.

Obviously, the deadline for ratifying these protocols is approaching.  While there is some leeway (the protocols need to be ratified in a “timely manner”) the window of opportunity to normalize that has eluded Turkey and Armenia for nearly twenty years may slowly be closing.

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Armenian Customer Service and the “Obizhnik”

December 5, 2009 at 6:35 pm (Armenia, media) (, , , , , , , , , )

My friends over at ruffled some serious, post-Soviet corporate feathers with a recent mock-news post about Armenia’s ArmenTel/Beeline mobile phone and internet service provider.  ArmenTel was Armenia’s first and only telecommunications provider until 2004 and was notorious for poor quality services at high prices.   ArmenTel was re-branded as Beeline in 2006 after being sold to Russia’s largest telecommunications provider.

ArmComedy specializes in satirical news stories (a-la Onion) that poke fun at politicians, corporations, political correctness, and Armenian society.   Recent posts include: Ukraine sends Winter Boots to European Subscribers of Russian GASPROM; Armenian Ministry of Education to Remove Phrase “Turkish Assholes” from School Manuals; Council of Europe Pushes Minorities into Armenian Parliament.  While ArmComedy takes some substantial risks by referring to politicians, oligarchs, and local celebrities by name, the premise of critiquing the society in which they live through satire is long over due.  Comedy is often at the front lines of breaking down social taboos and getting people acclimated to discussing real issues.  It this respect, ArmComedy has been very successful.

Case in point: their recent post entitled Armentel Director Commits Suicide Amid Orange Mobile Success attracted the attention of a Beeline employee.  The heated exchange that takes place in the post’s comments section gives readers insight into the still bellicose nature of Armenian customer service today.  From the Beeline rep we see some attempts at civility interspersed with low blows regarding IQ levels and consumer responsibility.  My favorite quote:

Your fault that you didn’t tell (our) company that you had interent (sic) only 15 days . of course . automated bill generation doesn’t have spiritual ability to understand your mental and in house problems.

Indeed.  Now, I am going to need some help from my Armenian/Russian friends to fully grasp the meaning of the word “obizhnik” but, from what I can gather from the ArmComedy-Beeline exchange, this is a term used for rude, apathetic customers who haven’t fully thrown off their Soviet mentality to embrace 21st century capitalism.  It also appears that labeling consumers “obizhnik” allows corporations to write off their more demanding customers as post-Soviet hicks and avoid fully satisfying their demands – or treating them with respect.

I am not sure that the ArmComedy team fits this label, but the duo have been invited to tour Beeline HQ and are planning to report on their experience.

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Georgian Sighting: Project Runway

December 1, 2009 at 3:07 am (Georgia, media) (, , , , , , , )

The sixth season of Project Runway, the reality show for fashion designers, is now over.  Until she was eliminated, I was rooting for Shirin Askari.

Shirin Askari Credit:

Not only was Askari’s work a cut above the rest, but I was convinced that she was Armenian.  Even after it came out on the show that she is Persian – I was and am still convinced that the girl is Armenian.  Look at those eyes – Hye aghcik e.

So it was a huge surprise for me (and perhaps only for me) to find out during the season finale that the true Caucasian was, in fact, Irina Shabayeva, born in the Republic of Georgia.

Irina Shabayeva Credit:

While her parents still have a post-Soviet chic look to them, Shabayeva was inspired by NYC, not Tbilisi, for her final collection.  To each her own.  Shabayeva’s aesthetic clearly served her well – she was, after all, the winner of season six.

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Armenian Sighting: Rear Window

December 1, 2009 at 3:07 am (diaspora, media, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, starring Jimmy Stewert, a half-dozen times, but only this weekend did I realize that it also stars…an Armenian.

Photo still from Rear Window Credit: Alfred Hitchcock

You might remember the piano-playing composer with the slanted floor to ceiling windows?  Turns out that this actor is Ross Bagdasarian in Rear Window  Credit: Alfred Hitchcocknot only a Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter, but he is also Armenian.  Rostom Sipan “Ross” Bagdasarian was born in 1919 in Fresno, California and is the cousin of that other Armenian Fresno native, William Saroyan.

The cousin connection launched Bagdasarian into the limelight – first with a role in Saroyan’s broadway debut, The Time of Your Life, and later with a cowritten song, Come on-a My House. Throughout the 1950s, Bagdasarian released songs and played minor roles on the silver screen before landing a number one hit with Witch Doctor in 1958.

Bagdasarian solidified his success with The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) which spun off into the animated, anthropomorphic musical group, Alvin and the Chipmunks.  Since Bagdasarian recorded all of the chipmunk’s voices, it is not too much of a stretch to claim Alvin, Simon, and Theodore as Armenians themselves – nationalism knows no bounds.

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Score for Democracy?

November 2, 2009 at 6:08 pm (media) (, , , , )

The BBC’s hilarious, yet adept, headline today heralds the end of Afghanistan’s two month-long election debate: Karzai Declared Elected President.


Photo Credit: Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images

Of course, it helps when your sole competition drops out.  However, this also makes it harder to call it an election in the first place.


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All-Armenia Tour ’09!!!

October 6, 2009 at 12:14 am (Armenian-Turkish relations, Diaspora-homeland relations, media, nationalism) (, , , , , , , , , )

I like the idea of an pan-Armenia tour. I would like to do one someday – hit up Manchester, Buenos Aires, Cairo…

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is wrapping up his week-long all-Armenia tour in Rostov-on-Don/Rostov-na-Donu after stops in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Beirut. His purpose: to rep the protocols to the protocol-bashers, namely, diasporans around the world.

You might have heard about his reception. In Paris, protesters scuffled with the police. In NYC, young activists fought to have their voices heard. In Los Angeles, thousands picketed Sargsyan, shouting votch! (no!) outside of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

dont betray UHaul parked across from the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles.  Credit:

"don't betray" UHaul parked across from the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles. Credit:

The protests were not limited to Sargsyan’s tour, either – protests have sprung up in Montreal, Toronto, and Argentina. Glendale and Los Angeles – if we can separate the two – have been particularly active both before and after Sargsyan’s visit.

Like good activists, diasporan organizers have done an excellent job gathering protesters and publicizing their events. Conflicts between picketers and riot police – caught on camera and video – nicely convey the passion these diasporans feel about the protocols. To the media, it sure looks like the diaspora is unified in their opposition Indeed – as discussed previously – the diasporan political parties are mostly united – and more groups join in every day – the Zoryan Institute, AGBU, various schools and churches. The combination of self-promotion paired with the sudden burst of diasporan activism ensures that the protests will make the news.

This worries me. While I do no oppose the protocols, I do not fully support them either. You are not going to find me on a street corner with a witty poster because I am not a blind nationalist – of the Republic or of the nation. I see benefits and dangers in the protocols, but I am willing to let them play out. They will not fix everything – and they will not ruin everything. However, I am not inspired by Armenian youths in California forming a human chain to prevent Sargsyan from visiting their local genocide memorial. In fact, I see some really detrimental behavior shaping up in the form of these protests:

1. Like with section 907 of the Freedom of Support Act – the diaspora is once again actively interfering with Armenia’s foreign policy. The opposition claims that Armenia is not on equal negotiating grounds with Turkey – but have they considered their role in tipping the power scales against Armenia?

2. Diasporan media outlets are owned by diasporan political parties and those parties are part of the anti-protocol coalition. They promote and report on the opposition – and that becomes the de facto truth. Like I said, I am not out there repping my ambivalence towards the protocols – and that wouldn’t be nearly as sexy as straight-up opposition anyways. When there is only one voice speaking for the diaspora – that will become the only voice.

NYC protest  Credit: Asbarez

NYC protest Credit: Asbarez

3. Diasporan youth are being indoctrinated into an Armenian identity that is primarily based on the Armenian cause. This is not new. However, the urgency of the situation is new. Youths tend to take these revolutionary things pretty seriously, and hatred will form. Hatred without proper means of reconciliation gets desperate, and that leads to extremism.

My inner pessimist is already anticipating the day when the protocols will fail and a roar of victory will rise up from the diaspora: “we did it! now we can get back to advocating for Turkey’s admission of the genocide.” I love the activism, I love the passion – I just think it is misguided. If the diaspora’s goal is to achieve recognition for the genocide from Turkey (I will leave NK out of this for now) the diaspora needs to start becoming the change they want to see. It isn’t going to happen by force, guilt, or political pressure – it will happen through knowledge and understanding.

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Donkeys of Azerbaijan Unite

September 2, 2009 at 5:39 pm (Azerbaijan, media) (, , )

More ridiculous arrests in Azerbaijan.  Thanks to James for bringing this to my attention.

Two bloggers from Azerbaijan are facing up to five years in jail after posting a video of a donkey giving a news conference on YouTube.

Shortly after the video was released, Andnan Hajizade and Emin Milli were held on hooliganism charges following a scuffle in a restaurant.

Their lawyer says the arrests were politically motivated.

But authorities insist they are investigating a simple criminal case.

In the video, the donkey extols the benefits of living in Azerbaijan and praises the government for its positive attitude towards donkeys.

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