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Asbarez.com news room -08-01-2000

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Posted 01 August 2000 - 06:28 AM

1. Pilgrimage to St. Thaddeus Monastary Begins

DASHT-E-CHALRAN, Iran (Associated Press)--Thousands of Armenians from around the world
prayed at an ancient church near this remote hamlet in northwestern Iran Saturday in an annual
pilgrimage honoring one of Jesus Christ's twelve apostles.

About 10,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, most from Iran but many from as far away as the US
and Britain, participated in a prayer ceremony led by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy
See of Cilicia.

The prayers were the climax of a pilgrimage made by thousands every year to Qareh Kelisa, or
Black Church in the local Azeri language, a small stone church believed to date back to the late 6th
or early 7th century AD.

Worshippers began arriving for the ceremony days ago, transforming this quiet, distant plateau into a
virtual town of some 1,500 tents. Many of the pilgrims have spent their time praying at the church,
whose pointed, conical towers are distinctly visible from a distance.

This is the first year the Iranian government has granted facilities such as electricity and relaxed its
own Islamic rules to accommodate the worshippers.

Muslims weren't allowed inside a huge area around the church cordoned off with ropes. Inside,
women mingled freely with men, something not normally allowed in Iran. The women also weren't
required to cover themselves from head to toe with the hijab, the Islamic dress worn in public by
Iranian women.

"I am very happy to be here and impressed by Iran's hospitality," said Hagop Chakalian, who came
to Iran from the US with a group of 20 other Americans, including his wife.

"Just the fact that we, a group of Americans, are in Iran means that things are changing in this
country," said Chakalian, who is from San Francisco.

Iran's social rules and two decades of strained relations with the U.S. have been easing since the
1997 election of the moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

The Qareh Kelisa, 373 miles northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran, was originally built of black
and white stone in honor of St. Thaddaeus, also known in the New Testament as St. Jude.

Legend says St. Thaddaeus and another apostle, Simon the Zealot, were martyred in this part of
present-day Iran.

The church was extensively damaged in the 13th century, and nearly all of it was rebuilt in the 17th

The Catholicos said on Monday that the Islamic Republic of Iran has never believed in discrimination
against different religions, reported the IRNA news agency.

The Armenian leader who was visiting a painting exhibition said the exaltation of culture and art in
Islamic Iran is the common wish of the followers of all divine religions.

He said Iranian Muslims and Armenians are treated equally and the existing laws govern all citizens
on an equal footing.

Catholicos Aram I, who is currently visiting Iran said Iranian Armenians have always tried to
promote the name of Iran and share the achievements of the country.

Elsewhere, the Armenian leader said there is a deep relationship between religion and art and added
the combination of the two, especially in Islam and Christianity, is best visible.

2. Re-Election in 2 Artsax Districts Held

YEREVAN (Mediamax)--Re-elections were held in the fourth and seventh electoral districts of
Stepanakert Sunday, after the constitutional branch of the Nagorno-Artsax Republic Supreme
Court declared invalid the results of the elections in those districts.

The Central Electoral Commission reported, based on preliminary restults, that Aghajanian
nominated by Democratic Union of Artsakh, won the election, and the former winner, Seyran
Hayrapetian was deprived of his deputy mandate.

In the seventh district Maxim Mirzoyan, representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation upheld
his deputy mandate. Mirzoyan, one of the candidates to the post of the speaker of the parliament had
declared before that he was deprived of his deputy mandate by "political persecutions of the

3. Energy Privatization Bill Passed In Final Reading

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)--The Armenian parliament adopted late Friday a government bill on the
privatization of the country's electricity distribution companies in the final, second reading after the
cabinet agreed to minor amendments in the document.

The bill, which will be signed into law by President Robert Kocharian, effectively gives the
government a free hand to complete the last stage of the year-long bidding for the networks.

Winners of the international tender, supervised by the World Bank, are expected to be announced in
October. They will be chosen from a among four shortlisted Western companies.

Despite a deepening discord in the governing Unity bloc Prime Minister Andranik Markarian
succeeded in mustering support for pushing the bill through the National Assembly by a comfortable
majority of votes. Political analysts believe that its defeat would have put Markarian's continued
premiership at risk.

Joining the Unity in voting for the bill were the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Stability
factions in the parliament.

Opposition groups hostile to the sell-off say many ostensibly independent deputies were pressurized
into voting for what amounted to a formal go-ahead to the energy privatization.

Last-minute opposition attempts to bloc the privatization effort proved fruitless. The number of
deputies who voted for the bill in the first and second readings was almost the same.

4. Artsax Prosecutors 'Still Working' On Babayan Indictment

STEPANAKERT (RFE/RL)--The criminal case against the former commander of the
Nagorno-Artsax army, General Samvel Babayan, was not formally submitted to court on
Monday despite an earlier official announcement to that effect, officials said. A spokesman for the
prosecutor's office in Stepanakert told RFE/RL that Artsax prosecutors "are still working on the
text of the indictment" and that it is "not clear" when it will be ready.

The spokesman also said that the trial of Babayan and 15 other persons on charges of masterminding
and carrying out the March 22 armed assault on the president of the unrecognized
Nagorno-Artsax Republic, Arkady Ghukasian, will likely start "ten to twelve days" after the case
is received by a Stepanakert court. Babayan and his supporters deny the charges, saying that they
are part of the Artsax authorities' efforts to suppress dissent after the ex-commander's ouster
from government late last year. The general has claimed that he has been mistreated in pre-trial
detention, while his lawyers have complained about serious hurdles to their work. The authorities
have consistently denied the allegations, and have pledged that the most high-profile trial in
Artsax's history will be open and fair. Meanwhile, leaders of the nationalist Right and Accord
bloc, Babayan's main support base in Armenia, discussed with lawyers on Monday their defense
strategy at the upcoming court proceedings. The meeting was held behind the closed doors.

In a related development, the Artsax authorities postponed by two months the implementation of
last week's court ruling ordering the sister of once the most powerful man of the enclave to vacate
her Stepanakert apartment. The court ruled that Anush Babayan purchased the apartment ten years
ago by illegal means. Babayan's sister has in response solicited political asylum from Western
embassies in Yerevan, protesting what she sees as continuing "political repression" against her family.

5. Turkey,Georgia to take measures for Baku-Ceyhan security

ANKARA (Turkish Daily News)--Turkey and Georgia have agreed to establish measures to
provide security for the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which has been a concern for the host countries.
Both sides have agreed to develop a communications network along the pipeline that will enable
authorities to intervene rapidly in the event of technical problems and keep the oil flowing through the
pipeline. Sources say the communications system would be similar to the one used for the
Kerkuk-Yumurtalik pipeline.

The decision was made during a meeting in Trabzon on Tuesday between Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ismail Cem and his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Menagarashvili. The two ministers discussed a wide
range of topics pertaining to both regional and bilateral issues.

Another major topic the ministers discussed was the Tbilisi-Kars railway project. A
60-70-kilometer-long railway must be constructed for this project, which will connect Turkey to the
Central Asian republics and Azerbaijan. Stressing that an amount of $1,200 billion is needed for the
project to be completed, sources say it is possible that the Chinese government will be asked to join
the project as the Tbilisi-Kars railway will also connect China to the Western world. Sources say
China considers the project to be very important.

Turkey and Georgia have also agreed to institutionalize the political consultations. Both sides have
agreed to participate in two political consultations per year in order to strengthen the bilateral

The Georgian side has asked Turkey to support the dismantling of Russian bases in Georgia, of
which there are currently four. Although Russia had previously agreed to dismantle two of the bases,
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been asking to convert two of the Russian bases into bases for
peacekeeping forces.

Two ministers have also touched on the issue of a Caucasus stability pact which former President
Suleyman Demirel proposed in January during his visit to Georgia. Foreign diplomats have criticized
Turkey for not moving ahead with the initiative since its announcement. Cem and Menagarashvili
talked about the pact and agreed that the problems of Abkhazia and Nagorno-Artsax should first
be resolved before a lasting stability pact in the region can be established.

Turkey has attached great importance to the stability in Georgia and forged a close cooperation with
Tbilisi during former President Demirel's tenure in office.

6. Two Armenian POWs Return Home

YEREVAN (Armenpress)—Two Armenian POW Misha Manukian and Tiko Tikoyan, set free by
Azerbaijan, returned home July 28 with the assistance of the International Red Cross Committee.

Tiko Tikoyan, upon his arrival at the Yerevan airport, told reporters that he had been forced by
Azerbaijani authorities to stay in the country and not return to Armenia. "I was supposed to be sent
to Moscow or stay in Baku," he said. He also added that during his captivity he had been subjected
to physical abuse.

The other POW Misha Manukian also said that he wasn't allowed to return to Armenia. He said he
had been in captivity for 5 months in Kubatli and heard about three Armenian POW kept there. He
also mentioned that later, one of the three POWs died.

Tikoyan and Manukian were taken as prisoners in January and May 2000, but the officials in Baku
had been saying in June that they had no Armenian POW in their territory.

Though the two POW noted their health condition was normal, one could easily see it was not true,
judging by their appearance.

Unlike Azeri POW sent back in brand new clothes by Armenian authorities, the Armenian POW
were in shabby ones. Both POW were taken to hospital to undergo medical examination.

According to some sources, there are still 3 Armenian POW in Azerbaijan and about 900 missing
persons. In a good will gesture Armenia have returned 12 Azerbaijani POW this year, Azerbaijan so
far has only returned 3 POW.

7. Armenian-Russian Relations Develop In The Military Domain

YEREVAN (Armenpress)—As reported from the presidential press office, President Robert
Kocharian met with General-mayor Alexei Tretyakov, Deputy Chief of the Russian Military Troops'
Headquarters in the Transcaucasus region on July 28.

Alexei Tretyakov was awarded a Second Class Military Cross by the July 28 Decree of the

During the meeting, the high ranking military man said it isn't easy for him to leave Armenia after so
many years of service spent in the country. He expressed his gratitude to the Armenian authorities for
the support and good will demonstrated during his tenure.

The parties mentioned that the Armenian-Russian military relations are successfully developing within
the framework of strategic cooperation between the two states.

Robert Kocharian bid success to General Tretyakov in his future activities.

8. Nairi Hunanian Renounces His Lawyer

YEREVAN (Armenpress)—Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the gang that rushed into parliament
chamber last October 27 and killed eight key Armenian officials, recently announced that he wanted
to renounce his counselor Ara Zakarian.

"During the meeting held on July 25 Hunanian insisted that he did not want to have me as his
counselor in the presence of the members of the investigative body. Hunanian claimed he doesn't
need any counselor after getting acquainted with the materials of the case and said he himself would
defend his own interests," said Ara Zakarian.

Ara Zakarian was the second lawyer appointed by the state to defend Hunanian's interests and also
the second renounced by him.

9. Instability Plagues Stability Faction

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—A key member of Armenia's governing coalition which has the
second-largest faction in parliament denied on Monday reports that it is on the brink of a split.
Leaders of the Stability group said none of its members has been expelled for challenging their

The Yerevan daily "Hayots Ashkhar" claimed on Saturday that the parliamentary group uniting two
dozen non-partisan deputies decided the previous day to expel its former head, Hovannes
Hovannisian, and a rank-and-file member, Vrezh Shahgeldian, from its ranks. Both men firmly
denied the report.

Hovannisian, who heads the parliament's committee on foreign affairs, was reportedly behind last
month's revolt against Satability's present chairman, Vartan Ayvazian. On Monday he again denied
the existence of serious frictions inside the group, admitting only minor "objective difficulties" resulting
from the lack of political experience.

"I think it is time for those rumors to disappear, he told RFE/RL. "I don't see anything serious," he
added later in the interview.

Other sources, however, said that Stability deputies will meet later this week to discuss the
simmering tensions. Ayvazian refused to comment on the information though.

Stability's continued support is vital for Prime Minister Andranik Markarian who relies on it to push
government bills through the National Assembly. The group's backing proved decisive for the
parliament's approval last week of government plans to privatize Armenia's energy distribution

Stability, which controls two ministerial portfolios, decided earlier this year to transform itself into a
political party with a "social-democratic" platform. But it is still unclear when the new organization
will apply for registration.

10. Preparations For 1700th Anniversary Celebration Discussed

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)—On July 28, President Robert Kocharian met with Deputy Head of
the State Commission overseeing preparations for the celebration of the 1700th anniversary of the
proclamation of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia, to discuss preparations for the jubilee
marking events.

Khosrov Haroutiunian, who is coordinating the work of the Commission, briefed the President on the
main trends of the Commission's activities.

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