Principal ethnic groups
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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: 269
New parliamentary elections and constitutional referendum
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 and justified tradition, though not necessarily there by force. The referendum was held on a range of constitutional reforms, proposed by the presidential staff. This produced an endorsement, to nobody's surprise.
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 marred by a fatal shooting at a polling station on election day, violence again being no stranger to this adolescent democracy.
Hard-line policy prevails
President Kocharian was formerly president and 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, but it keeps the existing government in power, which is their overwhelming priority.
US grants Armenia money for space research
The US Trade and Development Agency has granted US$275,980 to Armenia's Garni Centre for space research. The director of the centre, Vage Gyurzadyan, and the US ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Armenia, John Ordway, signed an agreement in the presence of journalists on 13th May, Arminfo News Agency has reported.
The money is to be spent on building an above-ground station for space research and a telescope. The Garni Centre for space research will choose a US firm in a tender to carry out space research.
The project has both scientific and commercial value. Within the framework of the project, the Armenian side is planning to boost cooperation with the US space agency NASA.
US agency helps promote investments in Armenian regions
The Shirak Development Centre has been opened in Gyumri. The main task of the centre, which was established with the assistance of USAID [US Agency for international Development], is to attract investments, Public Television of Armenia reported.
The centre will provide organizations willing to make investments with information about goods and services, natural resources, the labour and business environment, housing conditions and the development opportunities offered by domestic and international
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Kharazi makes effort to improve Iranian-Armenian ties
Iranian Foreign Minister, Amal Kharazi, intends to go over ways to revitalise bilateral relations with the Armenian leadership, Interfax News Agency reported. In a statement upon his arrival in Yerevan, he state: "Guaranteed regional security is an issue common for all the South Caucasus countries." Security in the Caucasus will be preserved by the regional states themselves.
Summing up the results of his trips to Azerbaijan and Georgia, the minister said that while in Baku and Tbilisi, he discussed "the prospects for closer regional ties."
Armenia abolishes capital punishment
On April 18th, the Armenian parliament passed a code banning capital punishment. President Robert Kocharian, signed a new Criminal Code outlawing capital punishment, Interfax News Agency reported.
A life sentence will replace execution. Although the president signed the law introducing the Criminal Code, the death penalty may be applied to punish crimes before the adoption of the new code. Facing the death penalty are criminals found guilty of terrorism, raping juveniles or murder under exceptional circumstances. Criminals who were put on death row for other circumstances will receive a life sentence instead. The law is a compromise between the Council of Europe and the Armenian public, which insists on executing the people who staged the October 27th, 1999, terrorist act in parliament. The prime minister, the parliamentary speaker and several state officials were murdered in that attack. Court hearings related to the case are underway. Armenia imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in 1990. Since then, more than 30 people have been sentenced to death.
MINERALS & METALS
Karabakh mine produces first consignment of ore
The Drmbon copper and gold mine in Mardakert [Agdara] in Nagornyy Karabakh has produced its first consignment of ore. The Armenian base metals company is engaged in the mining, Mediamax News Agency reported.
At first, the ore will be delivered to Armenia for processing. Once the concentration plant, which is being built there starts operating at full capacity, the entire production cycle will be conducted locally.
Work is under way to construct aboveground and underground facilities at the mine, including five units at the concentration plant.
Armenia becomes full member of European transport body
Armenia has become a full member of the European Conference of Ministers of Transport [ECMT], Mediamax News Agency reported.
A decision on Armenia's entry to the ECMT was taken at the 87th session of the ECMT in Brussels on 22nd-24th April, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said. Accession to the ECMT will give Armenian transport companies the opportunity to operate throughout Europe, the Ministry has reported.
"This will significantly promote the development of the local market and growth of export volume," the Armenian Foreign Ministry informed the agency.
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