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: 270
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
The elections for parliament on May 25th produced a controversial result. The outcome was a victory for the pro-government party on a low turn-out. There were accusations by the opposition of a foul.
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, not necessarily thereby false. The referendum was held on a range of constitutional reforms, proposed by the presidential staff. This produced an endorsement.
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. 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 in Armenia and elsewhere. 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 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 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.
Two Russian gas majors to supply gas to Armenia
The government of Armenia and the Russian company, Gazprom, have signed an agreement on gas supplies to Armenia at a fixed price for five years, Armenian Energy Ministe,r Armen Movsisyan, said in Yerevan on 13th June, Mediamax News Agency has reported.
The minister said that the Russian company Itera had previously provided Armenia with gas. Movsisyan believes that after the signing of the new agreement, Gazprom and Itera will supply equal amounts of gas to Armenia.
Armenian minister sees no obstacles to Iran-Armenia gas pipeline
Armenian Energy Minister, Armen Movsisyan, said in Yerevan on 13th June that the political situation in the region would not have a negative impact on the construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline, Mediamax News Agency has reported.
A delegation from the Iranian Energy Ministry has visited Armenia to discuss organizational issues of implementing the project, the minister said.
"I do not see any obstacles to the full implementation of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline project," Movsisyan said.
Russian nuclear fuel to top stocks for Armenia
An Armenian nuclear power station might receive Russian nuclear fuel to top off its stocks, Armenian Prime Minister, Andranik Margaryan stated, Interfax News Agency reported. Margaryan said that Unified Energy Systems of Russia (UES), which manages the station's financial flows, has already forwarded the money needed to buy the fuel. The power station has been engaged in scheduled maintenance and repairs since April, work that will continue until summer.
According to earlier reports, the decision to put the station's finances under UES management was made at a meeting in Yerevan involving the Russian-Armenian inter-governmental commission for economic cooperation on February 5th, 2003. The power station's debts for Russian nuclear fuel now stand at around US$40m.
A two-party agreement stipulated that this debt will go to UES subsidiary RAO Nordic. Of that amount, US$25m will be paid off by Armenergo by transferring to RAO Nordic property at the Sevano-Razdansky hydroelectric station cascade. The remaining US$15m should be paid off over the coming two years with revenues from domestic market electricity sales.
The Armenian nuclear power station, which produces 40 per cent of the country's electric power, turned out 2.27bn kilowatt/hours of energy last year.
Karabakh announces privatisation of 11 plants
The government of Nagornyy Karabakh Republic has issued the annual report on the results of implementing a programme of privatisation of state property during 2002-03. The report said that 11 out of 86 plants on the privatisation list had now been privatised, Arminfo News Agency has reported.
The estimated cost of the 11 privatised plants is 440.7m drams. The buyers pledged to invest 427.9m drams and create 171 new jobs.
Over the accounting period 525.5m drams have in fact been invested and 244 new jobs have been created. The report said that the pace of privatisation had increased by a factor of four compared to 1998-01 (during 1998-2001 only 10 plants were
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