Principal ethnic groups
An Orthodox Christian country, Armenia was incorporated into Russia in 1828 and the USSR in 1920. Armenian leaders remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Azerbaijan over
Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated exclave, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the exclave in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper. The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution.
Update No: 271
No surprise at the polls
The ruling Republica Party took a firm lead in counting after the May 25th parliamentary elections, the count rather than the actual vote being the critical event. This was no surprise, any more than the re-election earlier in the spring of President Robert Kocharian. One quarter of the votes went to the party of the premier, Andranik Markaryan, totally loyal to the president.
In second place with 14% of the vote was the opposition party, Justice, led by Stepan Demirchyan, who had lost the March 5th run-off with Kocharian for the presidency.
International observers from the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were none too happy with the electoral procedures, as in March. They noted violations in 30% of cases. But the government is not likely to be in the least deflected from office by this, quite to the contrary. "We could win if the elections were conducted in a halfway fair manner," said Demirchyan, candidly, but no doubt rightly.
New political result
So, the elections for parliament on May 25th produced a controversial result. The outcome was a victory for the pro-government party was on a low turn-out. There were well founded accusations by the opposition of a foul, that predictability will not get them justice.
A similar line of opposition criticism was directed at earlier presidential elections which were won by the incumbent, Robert Kocharian in the second round, by 68% to 32%.
The political process in Armenia is opaque and opposition allegations of electoral fraud are a long-standing tradition, based on long experience. The referendum was held on a range of constitutional reforms, proposed by the presidential staff. This produced an endorsement, surprising nobody.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says elections show an improvement over the presidential voting but fail to meet international standards in several key areas. It may surprise some that they even trouble to attend. The election was further marred by a fatal shooting at a polling station on election day.
The Iraq crisis might help Armenia
The Armenians are in a stand-off with their deadliest enemies, the Turks, and the Azeris. Curiously, the order of their adversaries is exactly that. They may have been at war with the Azeris only recently, 1989-92, but the real enemy is Turkey, perpetrator of the appalling genocide of Armenians in 1915-16, never since acknowledged.
The Turks refused to allow the US to use Turkish territory for their assault on Iraq, as the war is widely seen. The gap building up between the US and Turkey is an opportunity for the Armenians. Armenia can be seen as a sturdier ally against terrorism. The Turks are after all governed now by Islamicists, at any rate in name; the Armenians would never be.
Actually, Armenia, closely allied to Russia, officially totally disapproved of the US intervention in Iraq, unlike Azerbaijan and Georgia. But the high-ups in Washington, understood in the context that Armenia is not to be considered an adversarial state, such as France or Germany. It is appreciated that the Armenians are obliged to doctor their policies to Moscow prescriptions, as many a Latin American country is to Washington's.
Hard-line policy prevails
President Kocharian was formerly president (the Warlord), of Norgorno Karabakh, the Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. He is a firm hard-liner on the issue of retaining 20% of Azeri territory, including the Lachin corridor between the enclave and Armenia proper. It is vital for the regime in Yerevan to maintain the existing parliamentary and presidential power, giving opposition forces no opportunity to influence policy. Armenia consequently will continue to suffer from a blockade of its trade with Azerbaijan and Turkey. This is having a crippling effect on its economy.
Armenia and Azerbaijan cooperating in civil aviation, Armenian air official
A seminar of the International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO] came to an end in Armenia on 26th June. Only an Azerbaijani delegation did not take part in the seminar, Public Television of Armenia has reported. Civil aviation is a field where Armenian-Azerbaijani cooperation has never been terminated. World-wide, civil aviation flights are one of those spheres which are not politicized
The Director of the Armenian Air Navigation Company, Eduard Musoyan, said: "We cooperate with Azerbaijan. Armenian flights to Central Asia are carried out via Azerbaijan's air space. Azerbaijan also uses Armenia's air space to fly to Turkey and Naxcivan."
The TV correspondent explained: "An agreement was reached between the Armenian and Azerbaijani civil aviation agencies early this year. But the Azerbaijani side is continuing to accuse Armenia of Naxcivan's blockade in international organizations. Azerbaijani MP Rafael Huseynov noted at the summer session of the Council of Europe that it is 10 years since Armenia imposed a blockade on the Naxcivani Autonomous Republic.
USA set to give US$70m to Armenia and US$5m to Karabakh in 2004
Reports received from the Washington offices of the Armenian National Committee of America and the Ay Dat [Armenian cause] said that the House Appropriations Subcommittee voted on 10th July to allocate US$70m for assisting Armenia and US$5m for assisting Karabakh in 2004, Azg web site has reported.
Both offices confirmed that this was US$20m higher than the sum proposed by the State Department (US$45.9m). At the same time, it is US$20m less than the sum allocated by the Congress in 2003.
Moreover, the House of Representatives is considering the allocation of US$2.5m to Armenia for military assistance and US$900,000 for training the Armenian army. Both bodies expressed regret about the amount of the allocated sum.
Armenia gets US$17.5m for renovation of cultural facilities
The possibility of financing new programmes by the Lincy Foundation next year depends on the scale and schedule of the construction which is currently being carried out, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan said on 9th July during his visit to a number of cultural facilities in Yerevan which are being restored, Arminfo News Agency has reported.
He said that permanent control had been established over the quality of the construction and that if the work was incomplete or got an unsatisfactory assessment, the contractor would not get the money agreed in the contract and moreover had to correct eliminated shortcomings at its own expense
Talking about the reduction of green zones in the city, Robert Kocharyan noted that the issue would be discussed at the closed session of the Yerevan Mayor's Office. "The building of Yerevan is on track and after the construction of the city centre has been completed, the work will continue in suburbs," the president said.
The director of the programme of restoration of cultural facilities of the Lincy Foundation, Gagik Mkrtumyan, has told journalists that US$11m out of US$17.5m allocated for the programme have already been spent and that nine facilities have been commissioned. "The renovation of another eight to nine facilities will be completed by the end of July. The programme, which envisages the repair and construction of 34 cultural facilities, will be implemented by November 2003," Mkrtumyan said.
During his working visit, President Kocharyan visited the Kaplanyan Theatre, Children's Theatre, the Stanislavskiy Russian Theatre, the Sundukyan Academic Theatre, the Children's Picture Gallery and the Puppet Theatre which were being renovated, and the new building for the city administration on Myasnikov Square which would be completed in May 2004. The construction of this building is being carried out by the International Business Centre company. For the implementation of this project, which is costing about US$3m, the contractor will acquire the present building of the Yerevan Mayor's Office and the old building of the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture.
The president also visited the public garden near the Sundukyan Academic Theatre where the chief architect of Yerevan, Narek Sarkisyan, briefed the president on the reconstruction plan of the public garden and the surrounding area.
British government assists Armenian regions
The British government is assisting Tavush Region and Gegargunik Region with their development, the Public Television Service of Armenia has reported.
The UK Department for International Development is implementing a development programme to the tune of £4.5m in the regions. It is looking into the current situation in the regions.
The British ambassador to Armenia, Thorda Abbott-Watt, said: "The British government decided to assist Tavush Region and Gegarkunik Region because the regions fall behind all the other regions and are not covered by such programmes. Such programmes will be implemented provided the views of residents of Tavush and Gegargunik are taken into account."
It is up to the community to decide where the British government should channel its money. The £4.5m worth development programme by the UK Department for International Development will be implemented in line with the Armenian government's poverty reduction
MINERALS & METALS
Armenia produces, exports diamonds worth US$114.5m in 2003
Armenia's diamond-cutting enterprises produced and exported diamonds worth 66.905bn drams (US$114.5m) in the first six months of 2003, which is 61.7 per cent higher than the indicator for the same period last year, Gagik Mkrtchyan, head of the precious stones and jewellery department of the Armenian Ministry of Trade and Economic Development, has told the Arminfo News Agency correspondent.
He said that this rise was registered in all the diamond-cutting enterprises of the republic. Diamonds worth 12.591bn drams (US$21.5m) were produced in June 2003, which is 77 per cent higher than last June's indicator. The largest producers are the closed-type joint-stock company Shogakn, the firms Lori, Andranik, DCA and Dimo Tech. According to the volume of production, Armenia is on the list of the six largest diamond producers in the world. Processed diamonds are exported mainly to Israel, Belgium, Russia, Europe and the USA, Mkrtchyan said. Armenia joined the Kimberley Process in December last year in order to prevent the illegal turnover of "conflict" diamonds.
Armenia produced and exported diamonds worth US$180m in 2002, which accounted for 35.5 per cent in the general structure of the county's export. Thirty-five diamond enterprises are functioning in the country, where more than 4,000 diamond cutters with an average monthly salary of US$180 are working.
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