National, International, Armenia, and Community News and Opinion

National, International, Armenia, and Community News and Opinion

The Armenian Reporter | February 28, 2009


An Armenian imprisoned in Iranian crackdown

Silva Harotonian’s

family blames “tragic


by Emil Sanamyan

Silva Harotonian.

WASHINGTON – An Iranian-Armenian

employee of the U.S. government–funded

International Research

& Exchanges Board (IREX)

has been detained in Iran for more

than seven months and was recently

sentenced to a three-year prison

term, her employer and family said

in statements last week.

Silva Harotonian, 34, an Iranian

citizen, was arrested on June 26,

2008, while on a business trip to

Tehran for IREX’s Maternal and

Child Health Education and Exchange

Program (MCHEEP). Ms.

Harotonian was an administrative

officer for the program, launched

in 2007, and the only IREX staff

member on the ground in Iran at

the time.

According to a statement by IREX

president Robert Pearson, her

“role as a program administrator

involved explaining logistics for

the two-week exchange program,

translating documents between Armenian

and English into Farsi, and

answering telephone inquiries.”

On January 19, Ms. Harotonian

was sentenced to three years

in prison on what IREX described

as “erroneous” charges of plotting

against the Iranian government;

she is currently appealing the ruling.

Keith Mellnick, a spokesperson

for IREX in Washington, told the

Armenian Reporter that his organization

was “working with the family

to open channels to the Iranian

government to free Silva Harotonian”

and were seeking public support

for the same.

Forced confession

The Iranian-Armenian’s arrest was

first revealed on January 21 by the

International Campaign for Human

Rights in Iran (ICHRI); she was then

identified as Sylvia Hartounian.

Citing its sources inside Tehran’s

Evin prison, the group reported

that following ten days of solitary

confinement, Ms. Harotonian was

forced under duress to claim she

was part of a “plot” against the

Islamic Republic. That report was

picked up by the Los Angeles Times.

In a report on January 19, Press

TV, Iran’s English-language television

station, cited an unnamed

Iranian intelligence official as

saying that four individuals were

sentenced on charges of “organizing

anti-government public rallies

and creating ethnic division in the


The channel further cited Tehran’s

Islamic Revolution Court as

concluding in its verdict that the

four Iranian citizens “confessed

to trying to distance the people of

Iran from the government and introduce

the United States as their

sole savior.”

Hadi Ghaemi, a New York–based

spokesperson for ICHRI, said Ms.

Harotonian was likely to be one of

the four individuals being referred

to by Press TV. The other two are

brothers Arash and Kamiar Alaei,

both Iranian medical doctors who

focus on HIV/AIDS; the fourth is so

far unnamed, but is believed to be

an Iranian documentary filmmaker,

although it is unclear whether their

cases are connected.

It is normal practice in Iran for

the government and judiciary not

to reveal to the public the names

of those detained, Mr. Ghaemi told

the Armenian Reporter. The families

in turn tend not to publicize the

names of the detained, hoping to

quietly win government leniency.

IREX and Ms. Harotonian’s family

went public about the arrest

only after initial reports by human

rights activists.

Family appeal, a website launched

on behalf of Ms. Harotonian’s

family in Los Angeles on February

20, seeks to gather public support

“in respectfully urging the leaders

of the Islamic Republic of Iran to

grant the release of our loved one.”

“Our family has always appreciated

the Iranian government’s efforts

to ensure the safety, religious freedom

and prosperity of its Armenian

community,” the family said in

a statement. “We believe releasing

Silva would further demonstrate

Iran’s solidarity with its Armenian

population and generosity toward

our loyal Christian minority.”

After studying Armenian literature

at the Azad University in

Tehran, Ms. Harotonian taught at

an Armenian school and held several

administrative jobs, including

at the Armenian Prelacy in Tehran.

Her family described her as a

“patriot” of Iran and a loyal citizen,

pointing to the formal recognition

she received for her role in celebrations

marking the Islamic Revolution

anniversary in 2004.

Lead sponsors of Armenian Genocide resolution urge

colleagues to join as original co-sponsors

Ms. Harotonian recently moved

to Yerevan, where she began working

for the IREX program that supports

health practitioners in Iran.

On the website, the family described

Ms. Harotonian’s arrest

and imprisonment as a “tragic

misunderstanding.” They argued

instead that “granting her a release

after serving time in prison

would recognize both the need

for law-abiding behavior and the

value of forgiveness of innocent


Caught in a stand-off

Although United States entities

are not legally allowed to operate

in Iran, U.S. government-funded

organizations like IREX and others

have worked with Iran’s nongovernmental


At the same time, the Bush administration

publicly sought to

undermine Iran’s government, and

there were credible reports of U.S.-

funded covert operations underway.

As a result, all U.S.–funded

projects in Iran – even those dealing

with science, education, and

healthcare – have come under official

suspicion, with a number of

individuals – mostly Iranian citizens

–held and imprisoned by the


Mr. Ghaemi estimated about 400

individuals are currently being held

in Iran on politically motivated

charges. In a recent case, a scholar

of Iranian descent and U.S. citizen,

Haleh Esfandiari, was released

after months of detention in 2007.

While President Barack Obama

has called for an open dialogue

with Iran and for its leaders to

“unclench their fists,” no progress

toward normalization of relations

has occurred so far.


Rep. Adam

Schiff during

the introduction

of the House

resolution on

the Armenian

Genocide in Jan.

2007 with Rep.

Frank Pallone

behind him.

Photo: Armenian


Seeks to mitigate

impact of global

economic crisis

by Armen Hakobyan

YEREVAN – The World Bank on

February 24 approved a package

of four operations, for a total

amount of $85 million, to help Armenia

mitigate the impact of the

global economic crisis. This package

is the first installment on a

four-year $525 million World Bank

commitment made in January.

Aristomene Varoudakis, the

World Bank’s country manager for

Armenia, discussed the details at

a press conference on February 25.

The International Bank for Reconstruction

and Development, which

is part of the World Bank, will

make its first-ever loan to Armenia.

It will finance a $50 million “Access

to Finance for Small and Medium

Enterprises Project” to support local


The loan will provide financing

to domestic banks for on-lending

to the small and medium enterprise

sector, in order to support investment,

create jobs, and improve

the resiliency of Armenia’s private

and financial sectors in the face of

the global economic crisis.

The credit line will support small

and medium enterprise development

through a difficult period,


Schiff (D.-Calif.), George Radanovich

(R.-Calif.), Frank Pallone

(D.-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.)

are urging fellow members of

Congress “to re-affirm the U.S.

record on the Armenian Genocide

by cosponsoring a bipartisan

resolution” on the subject, as reported


Mr. Schiff, Mr. Radanovich, Mr.

Pallone, and Mr. Kirk are seeking

co-sponsors for the resolution

prior to its formal introduction. In

January 2007, when a similar resolution

was introduced, it had 160

original co-sponsors.

The administration of President

Barack Obama has not yet taken

a formal position on the issue.

While they were members of the

Senate and throughout the presidential

campaign, Mr. Obama,

Vice-President Joe Biden, and

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham

Clinton strongly supported


The president’s chief of staff and

defense secretary have in the past

opposed affirmation. Defense Secretary

Robert Gates has argued

that Turkey might undermine the

safety of U.S. troops in Iraq. But

Mr. Obama has rejected “as false

World Bank approves $85 million loan to Armenia

when these businesses are facing

increasing challenges in raising finance

through the banking system

or through remittances. Under

the terms of the loan, the Central

Bank of Armenia will enter into

subsidiary loan agreements with

eligible banks for on-lending to

enterprises at market rates. The

initial ceiling on individual subloans

is set at $150,000.

The IBRD loan is provided with a

maturity of 26.5 years, including a

five-year grace period.

Mr. Varoudakis said the IBRD loan

is made possible by the change in

Armenia’s status from a low-income

country to a lower-middle-income

country after several years of rapid

economic growth; it is also made

possible by “Armenia’s strong foundation

of implementation capacity

and policy reform momentum.”

the choice between our safety and

our ideals.” He has also made genocide

prevention a priority for his


Several other members of the

president’s cabinet also have a

strong track record of supporting

acknowledgement of the U.S.

record on the Armenian Genocide.

The Armenian National Committee

of America, through its

website, makes it

easy for members of the community

to contact their representatives

in Congress and urge them to cosponsor

the resolution. f

Other programs

A second project is the “Lifeline

Roads Improvement Project,”

which will receive $25 million. This

project supports the rehabilitation

of some 100 km of rural roads,

connecting local communities to

the main arteries. The construction

project is expected to generate

about 800 jobs (or 200,000 jobdays)

for Armenian workers. That

is in addition to the benefits of

the roads, once rehabilitated.

The third project is $8 million

in financing for the Social Investment

Fund, which will support

small-scale investments in 55 of

the poorest communities of Armenia.

It is also expected to create

short-term employment.

The fourth and final project is

the Rural Enterprise and Small

Scale Commercial Agriculture Development

Project, which will receive

$2 million in financing. The

project will complete 35 community-focused

economic development

projects and extend support to

five to seven new communities.

The last three projects are provided

through the International

Development Association, with a

maturity of 20 years, including a

grace period of 10 years.

Mr. Varoudakis took the opportunity

to predict that the economic

slowdown may not cause a recession

in Armenia, but further growth of

the economy in 2009 is unlikely. f

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