Books on Armenia
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: 280 - (29/04/04)
The Armenians are well aware of what has happened in Georgia next door. There has been a revolution, based on disgust at a rigged election. They had one of their own in May last year, in which their president was re-elected.
Ballot stuffing and intimidation marred Armenia's second round of presidential elections, the runoff on 5 March. The heavily disputed poll gave a new five-year term in office to incumbent Robert Kocharian. Supporters of defeated opposition challenger Stepan Demirchian plan major demonstrations to denounce the outcome of the poll.
International observers reported widespread ballot-box stuffing. According to Aravot and Haykakan Zhamanak, two mainstream newspapers, pre-stamped ballot papers, marked in favor of Kocharian, were in circulation prior to the vote. Demirchian's campaigners obtained such ballots and showed them to numerous international observers.
Human Rights Watch received eyewitness testimony about ballot stuffing by election officials or by groups of young men, who entered polling stations, bringing sheaves of ballot papers with them. Some opposition officials were assaulted. "The government had its credibility riding on this election, but has failed the test," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division.
Opposition leaders have vowed to continue massive protests designed to force the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. The Rose revolution is going to have its repercussions.
The opposition alliance is organising itself. It comprises the Justice bloc and the National Unity Party. At least 200 supporters of these brave protagonists of liberty have been arrested since April 1st. The government has rebuffed efforts by the leaders of the opposition to obtain an explanation for the mass detentions. The opposition maintains that the government has no just cause to make the arrests.
Opposition giants emerge
At last the country has some major figures in opposition. On April 5th the two main opposition leaders - the Justice bloc's Stepan Demirchian and the National Unity Party's Artashes Geghamian - held a rare news conference, during which they confirmed their intention to mount mass protests to oust Kocharian. Opposition leaders maintain their view that Kocharian stole the presidential and parliamentary elections held in 2003.
The one consolation prize for the Armenians right now is that they seem to have a booming economy. GDP grew by 12.9% in 2002 and by 7.3% in 2003, led by industry, whose output rose by 14.9% in 2003. Foreign trade grew by 30% last year, with exports (34.2%) outstripping imports (28.6%).
But this may be just a bit too good to be true. The use of decimal points is a trifle suspect. Even in the West the statistical figures come with an admitted large margin of error. Moreover, it is all from a very low base.
Armenian president, Russian banker discuss cooperation
The takeover of Armsberbank's [Armenian Savings Bank] controlling block of shares by Vneshtorgbank - Russia's biggest bank - is the first official involvement of Russian banking capital in Armenia's banking system, Armenian President, Robert Kocharian said, commenting on the deal at a meeting with the chairman of Vneshtorgbank's board, Andrey Kostin.
In turn, Kostin said that although Vneshtorgbank has a network of banks in European countries, it is the first deal of this kind in the post-Soviet countries. He added that the rapid growth in the Armenian economy and the increasing demand for credit resources was the reason for this, Arminfo News Agency reported.
Kostin expressed his readiness to make efforts to develop the bank's activities, stimulate investment programmes and deepen Armenian-Russian economic ties. Kostin hoped that Vneshtorgbank's appearance on the Armenian market would also help to increase the Armenian people's confidence in the banking system. According to Kostin, Armsberbank will continue to develop retail services for the Armenian population while Vneshtorgbank will prioritise improvements in the quality of the services offered to citizens.
Saakashvili in Yerevan reinforces ties
Presidents Mickhail Saakashvili and Robert Kocharian mutually praised the high level of bilateral relation between Georgia and Armenia during their recent meeting in Yerevan, New Europe reported.
During their first meeting - after Saakashvili's appointment as Georgia's president - they vowed to strengthen bilateral ties, promote regional cooperation and continue to seek integration into European structures. In a joint declaration, they again disavowed recent calls for self-rule in Georgia's Armenian-populated areas.
Saakashvili described Armenia as an "ideal partner," saying that his country has a lot to learn from its neighbour's nation-building experience. He was also very generous in paying compliments to Kocharian. "The president of Armenia left an extremely positive impression on me," Saakashvili said at a joint news conference after the talks.
"I remember telling my ministers that there are many things they can learn from Armenia," the 36-year-old leader said. "We are going to develop, get stronger and promote peace and stability. In this sense, we have an excellent, ideal partner in Yerevan," Saakashvili underlined.
Kocharian was more reserved in his comments, but noted that Armenian-Georgian summits will now be more frequent than in the past.
Kocharian also noted an "amazing convergence" of the two governments' positions on the situation in Javakheti, the restive Armenian-majority region in southern Georgia which is home to a Russian military base. He said they both believe that the only way to ease simmering tensions in the impoverished region is to address its socioeconomic problems and promote its residents' "deep integration" into Georgian society, AL reported.
The joint declaration implies that Armenia will not seek a status of autonomy for Javakheti which was demanded recently by a junior member of its governing coalition, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
"The parties reiterated once again their commitment to the principle of non-interference with each other's internal affairs, mutual respect for self-rule, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders," it reads.
Touching upon the uneasy Russian-Georgian relationship, Saakashvili suggested that Yerevan, which maintains close ties with Moscow, might "greatly assist" in their improvement. Tbilisi, for its part, is ready to help defuse tensions between Armenia and its regional arch-foes: Azerbaijan and Turkey, he said.
European Union launches high-tech project in Armenia
The implementation of a European Union project to develop information technology has begun in Armenia, it was said at the presentation ceremony, Arminfo reported.
The project, which will end in 2005, will cost 1.2m euros in total. The project consists of two parts - the provision of training and the creation of relevant legal acts.
Foreign investment ensures Karabakh's economic growth
Economic growth in the Nagornyy Karabakh Republic [NKR] in 2003 accounted for 43.8 per cent, the deputy minister of infrastructure development and town building, Arnold Abramyan, said, Arminfo News Agency reported.
He said that a tendency towards economic growth in the country was also registered in the first quarter of 2004. The NKR's economic growth is ensured both by foreign and local investment. In particular, Abramyan said, Karabakh Telecom has invested US$125,000 in the republic's economy, the Artsakhbank closed-type joint-stock company - US$26,000, Mika Limited - US$29,000, the Artsakh Alko company - US$15,000 and so on.
Apart from this, roads are being built with the support of the Ayastan All-Armenia Foundation, while the US Agency for International Development is implementing projects on the construction of schools and water supply systems, and programmes on improving people's social conditions. Arnold Abramyan said that although the NKR's state budget was quite small - about 15bn drams, or US$30m - some 2.8bn drams were allocated for town building projects. The Ayastan All-Armenia Foundation has allocated 1bn [drams] and foreign investors 8bn [drams] for the same projects, the deputy minister said.
UCS ready to invest in ArmenTel's big rival
A newly created company recently moved to take advantage of the government's efforts to break the ArmenTel operator's controversial monopoly on mobile phone communication in Armenia, promising to pour considerable amounts into the underdeveloped sector, New Europe reported recently.
According to Armenian Liberty, Unified Communications Systems (UCS) has asked President Robert Kocharian to allow it to enter the business, its executive director told RFE/RL. Eduard Hakobian said the telecom start-up is ready to make €60m worth of investments, in conjunction with a Russian firm, for creating an attractive alternative to ArmenTel's expensive and limited wireless services. "We envisage the use of state-of-the-art technology and equipment designed by Alcatel," he said. "That company has drawn up a business plan according to which our network would cover 95% of Armenia's territory," Hakobian was quoted as saying.
According to Hakobian, the new operator would need 9 months to put the plan in to practice and would charge subscribers considerably less than ArmenTel does.
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