Books on Armenia
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 291 - (29/03/05)
Armenia is in a predicament, a cleft stick, that few would
want to be in. It is nearly surrounded by hostile neighbours, Azerbaijan and
Turkey, who operate a trade embargo against it, a fact that obliges it to cleave
to Russia, with whom it has 'a special relationship. Its only land outlets are
the largely mountainous border with Georgia, with no good bi-lateral roads; and
a narrow corridor in bleak desert and mountainous country with Iran, which is
subject to closure in winter snow.
Armenia is bound to pursue a very subtle foreign policy, playing off everyone
against everyone else.
Armenia banks on NATO
For instance, as part of its expansion into the South Caucasus, the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is taking a more active interest in the long
time Russian ally in the region, Armenia. A visit by NATO Secretary General
envoy Robert Simmons in February marked the high point for Armenia's ties with
the Western defence alliance, and Yerevan seems eager to maintain the momentum.
Simmons' February 23rd-24th visit at times appeared a careful balancing act. In
statements with Armenian Defence Minister Serge Sarkisian, the NATO
representative took care to emphasize that stronger relations with NATO should
not be cause for concern in Moscow about the country's participation in the
Collective Security Treaty Organization, the post-Soviet defence alliance made
up of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Russia.
"We do not compete in the region, but are building a constructive
partnership, including also [with] Russia, which is an active player in CSTO
[the Collective Security Treaty Organization]," Simmons told reporters.
"Armenia's participation in CSTO does not affect in any way the degree of
its relationship with NATO."
To reinforce that line, emphasis was placed on collective initiatives that have
included Russian participation or an international focus - in particular, the
deployment of Armenian peacekeepers to Kosovo and Iraq as well as contributions
made by Yerevan to the US-backed campaign against international terrorism. A
group of NATO consultants is scheduled to travel to Armenia to advise the
Armenian defence ministry on various defence programs, but details of this
assistance have not been released.
Nonetheless, NATO has not been reticent about carving out its own niche in the
region. In March 1 testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, NATO
Supreme Allied Commander General James Jones stated that the Caucasus has become
a strategically important region for the alliance.
"The Caucasus is increasingly important to our interests. Its air corridor
has become a crucial lifeline between coalition forces in Afghanistan and our
bases in Europe", said Jones. "In addition to maintaining our
traditional lines of communication and access, we seek access to new facilities
and routine freedom of transit to the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Levant, and
Africa in order to advance US national interests."
As part of that initiative, NATO signed a transit agreement with Georgia on
March 2 that would allow the alliance to ferry supplies for its International
Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan via Georgian air space, roads and
Over the past year, Armenia has been actively developing its own cooperation
with the collective, too. In November 2004, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop
Scheffer paid an official visit to Yerevan in which he described NATO's
relationship with Armenia as "developing very well, indeed." The
government has turned a deaf ear to public protests about the deployment of
peacekeeping troops to Iraq, and is currently at work on an Individual
Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), reportedly scheduled for release soon, that
would form a crucial first step toward eventual NATO membership. In September
2004 President Robert Kocharian appointed veteran diplomat Samvel Mkrtchian to
act as the country's representative to NATO headquarters in Brussels, a position
previously filled by Armenia's Belgian ambassador.
But more than a desire to stay on the right side of the West - a rising
influence in the Caucasus -- could drive Armenia's NATO interest. A December
2004 poll by the Armenian Centre for National and International Studies showed
that most Armenians favour membership in both NATO and the expanding European
Union. One opposition bloc - made up of the Liberal Progressive Party, the
Republic Party and former Foreign Affairs Minister Raffi Hovannisian - has
already been formed with the express intention of securing Armenia's exit from
the CTSO in favour of NATO and strengthening Armenia's focus on the West.
Commenting on the results of Simmons' visit, Armenian Defence Minister Serge
Sarkisian emphasized that further cooperation with the defence collective is in
the works. "I'd like to once again state that we are going to keep up the
adopted direction and develop our ties," he stressed.
That cooperation, however, has not been without its stumbling blocks. In June
2004, President Robert Kocharian declined to attend a NATO summit meeting in
Istanbul, citing strained relations with Turkey, a NATO member state with which
Armenia's dealings have long been acrimonious. Nor have ties with fellow
Partnership for Peace member Azerbaijan proven particularly collegial. Much
attention continues to focus on an Azerbaijani military officer's brutal axe
murder of an Armenian counterpart at a February 2004 Partnership for Peace
training session in Budapest. Fearing for their security, two Armenian
parliamentarians did not attend a November 2004 NATO seminar in Baku.
Armenia's dispute with Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh
perhaps poses one of the largest obstacles to further NATO cooperation,
government officials say. "If we didn't have an unsettled conflict, we
would have more opportunities to participate in such programs," the defence
ministry's press service quoted Sarkisian as saying.
If meant as a diplomatic hint for NATO assistance with Nagorno-Karabakh,
however, the statement failed to secure a desirable response. Simmons
categorically rejected the notion that NATO might dispatch peacekeeping troops
to Nagorno-Karabakh in a bid to end that conflict. "NATO does not directly
participate in conflict resolution and doesn't discuss the issue of locating its
peacekeeping forces in the region."
The new dispensation from closer ties between Moscow and Ankara
Of course, powers closer to the top really call the shots, over Karabakh or
anything else. Improving Russian-Turkish ties, for instance, could benefit
Armenia, as many experts and officials believe that Moscow will place additional
pressure on Ankara to lift the trade embargo and normalize relations with
Yerevan. The Russian-Turkish rapprochement comes amid a growing US presence in
the Caucasus, a region where both Russia and Turkey are considered regional
superpowers and where both are eager to maintain their diplomatic and economic
A visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Turkey in December 2004 - the
first ever by a Russian chief-of-state - intensified the diplomatic dialogue
between the two states, which for decades had been sparring partners. Turkish
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reciprocated the visit with an official trip
to Moscow on January 10th-12th, of intense interest to Yerevan.
A sizeable increase in trade and business ties provided the backdrop for these
summits - Erdogan has forecast that bilateral annual trade is expected to more
than double by 2007 to $25 billion -- but the Turkish press has argued that the
true significance of these meetings is political. "Turkish-Russian ties
gain a political dimension", The Turkish Daily News wrote recently. During
Erdogan's trip to Moscow, Putin spoke out in favour of developing economic ties
with Turkish Cypriots, a sensitive foreign policy point for Ankara, and promised
to act as a mediator to resolve disputes between Turkey and Armenia.
"We both agree that it is necessary to strive towards establishing friendly
relations between neighbours," the Russian news agency Interfax quoted
Putin as saying on January 11th. "[Russia] will do everything possible to
settle conflicts in the post-Soviet space . . . acting exclusively as a mediator
and guarantor of future accords."
Watching from the sidelines, analysts in Yerevan see the improved ties with
Moscow as a sign that Turkey wants to cut its own path in foreign affairs,
independent of the views of Washington, a fellow member of the NATO and
long-time military partner. Turkey's relations with both the United States and
Israel, a key American ally, have been strained of late. Turkish leaders are
concerned about the presence of US forces in Iraq, and, last year, expressed
dissatisfaction with Tel Aviv's treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
"We know that our responsibilities are not just internal anymore but in the
Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus and throughout the world,"
Erdogan said in his 2005 New Year's speech, the Turkish daily Zaman reported.
"Being conscious of this responsibility, we will carry Turkey to a more
Ruben Safrastian, head of the Turkey department at the Armenian National Academy
of Science's Institute of Oriental Studies, argues that this "active
point" means regaining influence over countries that were once part of the
Ottoman Empire. That motivation parallels attempts by Russia to maintain its
sway in countries, including Armenia, that were once part of the Soviet Union,
he said. "Moscow is trying to use the privileges gained from high oil
prices not only in the economic sphere, but also strategically. Thus, the two
[regional] superpowers, dissatisfied with their role in the world, are trying to
find a new place, a new niche," Safrastian said in a recent interview with
the Regnum.ru Russian news agency. Among the potential results of such an
alliance: a Turkish partnership with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,
(which includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and
Uzbekistan) and joint Turkish-Russian reconstruction projects in post-war Iraq.
It is in the Caucasus that both countries will put their partnership to the
test, observers believe. An Armenian diplomat commented that US-Turkish
relations started to worsen after Washington began training Georgian troops in
2002. Turkey, formerly Washington's partner for advancing Western interests in
the region, is becoming a competitor with Washington for influence, the diplomat
said. Although Turkey continues to train Georgian military officers, and handed
over $2 million worth of military equipment in 2004, its programmes pale in
comparison with US training initiatives. Washington has set aside $15 million in
2005 alone for its ongoing Georgian military training program, and Georgia has
responded in kind with a contribution of over 800 troops to the US Iraqi
Turkey is now looking to engage Russia diplomatically in order to check the
growing US influence in the region, the diplomat said. Safrastian echoed this
view, telling Regnum.ru that "the Caucasus is no longer a source of discord
for Russia and Turkey." According to this scenario, Russia's increased
involvement in the economies of the south Caucasus countries would be reinforced
by expanded trade with Turkey.
While Armenian media and political parties have paid relatively little attention
to these events, the government has been watching closely. Although no
Russia-facilitated breakthrough is in the works for Armenian-Turkish relations,
the topic's presence on the Putin-Erdogan summit agendas was nevertheless
considered by Armenian officials as unprecedented.
Accordingly, optimism in Yerevan for a breakthrough is on the increase. The
Armenian diplomat said that the government sees the frequent meetings in 2004
between Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Turkish counterpart
Abdullah Gul as the basis for an Armenian-Turkish thaw. "They had very
thorough discussions and discovered that the two countries can cooperate well in
many areas," he said. "We believe that Turkey may initiate some steps
to overcome the current deadlock."
Nonetheless, Yerevan is treading carefully. In a January 25th interview with the
Turkish national daily, Zaman, Oskanian said that he does not believe Russia's
mediation will be decisive in resolving long-standing disputes between Turkey
and Armenia. In this interview, apparently meant as a message to Turkey's
political leadership following the Putin-Erdogan summits, Oskanian again
dismissed the reasons usually cited for Ankara's unwillingness to normalize ties
with Yerevan. The Armenian government, he said, does not insist that Turkey
recognize the slaying of over a million Armenians in 1915 as genocide, nor is it
considering claiming any territories or financial compensation from Turkey for
lands lost after the border between the Soviet Union and Turkey was finalized in
1921. Oskanian's stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the primary reason for
Turkey's decision to close its border with Armenia in 1993, was more prickly,
The conflict, Oskanian said, is not a relevant problem for Turkey. "Turkey
cannot mediate because it is partial. Russia, for instance, has no preconditions
and is neutral. Turkey frequently offers its help as a mediator, and we hold
bilateral meetings. We are not against meetings, but don't accept [Turkey's]
Rather, the key to reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, the foreign
minister said, would be a decision by Ankara to reopen Turkey's border with
Armenia. "No one can insist that there can be normal relations between two
countries if the border between them is closed. . . [W]e can't wait 10-15 years
or longer, for Turkey to be accepted into the EU, for there to be some positive
movement. We hope that very soon Turkey will open the border."
The 'special relationship' with Russia looking less 'special'
Despite Moscow's strong interest in Armenia's energy sector, officials in
Yerevan worry that the Kremlin is considering a policy realignment that would
enhance Azerbaijan's stature at the expense of the Russian-Armenian special
The main source of Yerevan's concern is a planned railway project that would
connect Iran to Russia via Azerbaijan. Armenian officials fear that the railway,
if built according to current plans, would deepen Armenia's regional economic
isolation. The proposed Kazvin (Iran) - Astara (Azerbaijan) line would skirt
Armenian territory, denying Armenia an opportunity to expand trade with Russia.
Given the existing economic blockade maintained by Turkey and Azerbaijan,
Armenia can ill afford to be left on the sidelines of such a project, officials
in Yerevan say. Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, Armenia has maintained a close
strategic relationship with Russia, in part to offset the geopolitical
disadvantage of having hostile neighbours on its eastern and western flanks. In
recent years, the special relationship has shown signs of fraying.
Russia-Azerbaijani relations have thawed, while Yerevan has expanded contacts
with both Iran and the United States.
Armenian officials took note of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's
February 2 trip to Azerbaijan. Lavrov's comment in Baku that "there are no
unresolved problems" between the Russian and Azerbaijani governments
heightened concerned in Yerevan about Moscow's potentially shifting loyalties in
the South Caucasus.
Lavrov's February 16-17 visit to Armenia did little to assuage Yerevan's
concerns. During talks with Lavrov, Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian
voiced concern about the railway project, according to official sources. In
response, Lavrov merely indicated he would relay the Armenian government's views
to Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin and Russian Railways President
Markarian and Lavrov also reportedly discussed the possibility of reopening the
Abkhaz section of Georgia's railway system, a link that would re-establish
Armenia's railway ties with Russia. Officials provided no details on the
substance of those discussions.
Problems between Yerevan and Moscow are not limited to rail-related topics. For
the past two years, five Armenian companies, handed over to Russia as
compensation for $100 million in unpaid Armenian debt to Moscow, have stood
idle. In his meeting with Markarian, Lavrov assured the prime minister that
Russia is doing everything possible to reopen the companies, but neither Moscow
nor Yerevan has announced a concrete plan for getting the firms up and running
again. Golos Armenii (Voice of Armenia), a Yerevan-based Russian-language
newspaper, has described the fate of these companies as the most sensitive issue
in relations between Russia and Armenia.
Armenian media outlets also looked askance at Lavrov's actions on his recent
visit to Azerbaijan, when the foreign minister visited Baku's Martyr's Avenue, a
memorial to the 130 people killed during the Soviet Army's 1990 crackdown on
anti-Armenian pogroms in the Azerbaijani capital. Meanwhile, as Armenia
commemorates 2005 as a Year of Russia, Russia has declared 2005 a Year of
Moscow's recent behaviour has left some Armenian political leaders feeling
confused. "Honestly speaking, Armenia sometimes does not understand some of
Russia's steps, especially those concerning relations with Azerbaijan and
Turkey," Giro Manoyan, international secretary of the Armenian
Revolutionary Federation, a member of Armenia's ruling coalition, said in a
recent interview with the Caucasus Journalists Network.
Amid the uncertainty surrounding the Armenian-Russian special relationship,
Armenia's energy sector is one strategic area in which Russia, sensitive to
growing Western influence in the South Caucasus, maintains a strong interest.
Accordingly, Lavrov probed economic cooperation possibilities with Markarian.
The Russian energy company United Energy Systems (UES) is reportedly considering
the purchase of Armenia's electricity distribution network, according to the
Armenian news agency ARKA. UES already holds three power stations in Armenia -
Sevan-Hrazdan hydropower plant, the Hrazdan thermal power station and the
Armenian Nuclear Electric Plant - facilities that generate some 75-80 percent of
the country's electricity. With the purchase of UK holding company Midland
Resources' 80 percent stake in the distribution network, UES would hold control
over almost the entire Armenian electrical power grid.
Russian energy giant Gazprom, has been similarly active. The Iranian-Armenian
gas pipeline, scheduled to be operational before 2007, could provide stiff
competition for gas in European markets from Gazprom's own Blue Stream gas
pipeline project with Turkey, according to Gazprom Deputy Chief Executive
Officer Alexander Ryazanov. "If we do not take part in the construction of
[the] Iran - Armenia gas pipeline, no one knows where that gas will go,"
the news site PanArmenian Network reported Ryazanov as saying at a recent
session of the Federation Council, the Russian parliament's upper chamber.
During his trip to Armenia, Lavrov confirmed Russia's interest in joining a
pipeline construction consortium. "We received an offer, inviting our
corresponding structures to take part in this project," Lavrov said,
repeating past assurances that the pipeline meets with Russia's approval.
"This offer is presently under consideration and I am convinced we will be
able to give an answer in the nearest future."
Playing the Iranian card - when there isn't much else!
Seeking to ease its economic isolation, Armenia is expanding trade contacts
with Iran. Work on a variety of infrastructure projects, including an
Armenian-Iranian pipeline, is proceeding amid uncertainty. Armenian officials'
main worry is that mounting US-Iranian tension over Tehran's nuclear program
will disrupt the projects.
Armenian President Robert Kocharian issued guidelines in late February for the
construction of a new highway designed to foster a rapid expansion of trade
between Armenia and Iran. The launch of the highway project came amid continuing
construction of the pipeline, as well as of yet another power transmission line.
Work on the highway, which will run through Armenia's mountainous southeastern
Syunik province bordering Iran, is scheduled to start in April and finish in
late 2006. The estimated $20 million cost makes the highway the largest single
infrastructure project undertaken by the government since the country regained
its independence in 1991.
The sole existing road link between Armenia and Iran meanders through a
high-altitude mountain pass in Syunik that is often closed in winter. Transport
and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian says the new highway will always
be passable and will be able to accommodate heavier trucks.
The road should go into service by the time the Armenian side completes work on
its section of the 120-kilometer gas pipeline. Work on the pipeline began last
November following a high-profile official ceremony led by Armenian Prime
Minister Andranik Markarian and Iranian Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf. The
two men also inaugurated a second high-voltage transmission line connecting
their countries' power grids. Two days later, Bitaraf and his Armenian
counterpart, Armen Movsisian, signed an agreement in Yerevan on building a third
such line, which they said would have twice the carrying capacity as the
Armenia is financing both the pipeline and electricity projects with Iranian
loans totalling about $64 million. Yerevan will repay them with electricity
supplies. In addition, the two sides have agreed to look into the possibility of
building an Armenian-Iranian railway.
Economic ties with Iran are deemed vital for land-locked Armenia, as they
mitigate the effects of economic blockades maintained by Azerbaijan and Turkey,
as a result of the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Many Azerbaijanis view Iran's refusal to join those blockades as a sign that
Tehran favours Yerevan. Visiting Iran in January, Azerbaijani President Ilham
Aliyev publicly urged the Iranians to show solidarity with fellow Shi'a Muslims
and exert "economic pressure" on Armenia.
The Iranian government does not seem inclined to heed Aliyev's appeal, however.
Analysts in Yerevan have long suggested that Tehran's main motive for
maintaining close links with its sole Christian neighbour is to limit the spread
of Turkish influence in the region.
"The relationship between the Armenian and Iranian peoples can serve as the
best example for all those who want to live side by side and respect each
other's sovereignty," Iranian President Mohammad Khatami declared during an
official visit to Yerevan last September. A substantial element of the Armenian
diaspora, both since ancient times and more recently since the economic decline
of the 1990s, is based in Iran, with a whole quarter of Tehran city being
Keeping Armenian-Iranian relations on track may prove difficult for Kocharian's
government in the light of the recent upsurge in US-Iranian tension. "We
very much hope that problems in American-Iranian relations will be settled by
peaceful means," Armenia's influential Defence Minister Serge Sarkisian
said after a recent visit to Tehran where he met with virtually every Iranian
leader. Sarkisian was at pains to stress that the talks focused on economic
issues and that "we have no military cooperation with Iran."
Tevan Poghosian, director of the International Centre for Human Development, a
Yerevan-based think-tank, believes that the Armenian leadership does have cause
for concern. "We will have serious problems if the Americans fail to find
diplomatic solutions [to the nuclear dispute]," he says. "If they
don't, the Armenian-Iranian projects will simply be frozen indefinitely."
Other observers believe the importance of trade ties with Iran should not be
overestimated in Armenia. "They are certainly not a miracle cure to resolve
the Azerbaijani and Turkish blockades," a senior member of the Western
donor community in Yerevan told EurasiaNet. "The Iranian economy itself
isn't exactly healthy."
Indeed, Iran was a leading trading partner of Armenia in the 1990s, but Tehran's
share of Yerevan's overall foreign trade activity has declined dramatically in
recent years, standing at a modest 5 percent in 2004. The volume of bilateral
trade totalled almost $100 million. That figure is roughly the same as the trade
volume between Armenia and Turkey, according to unofficial estimates. Virtually
all Armenian-Turkish trade is conducted via third countries, especially Georgia,
as Yerevan and Ankara have not normalized diplomatic relations, and Turkey keeps
its frontier with Armenia closed.
Growth in Armenian-Iranian trade is hampered by the poor quality of Iranian
consumer goods, as well as prohibitive import tariffs that hinder Armenian
manufacturers from entering Iran's huge market. Still, according to Poghosian,
Yerevan is keenly interested in the success of the pipeline project with Iran,
hoping that it will reduce Armenia's energy and power dependence on Russia.
Moscow currently controls about 80 percent of Armenia's power-generating
facilities and is its sole supplier of natural gas. "Armenia is looking for
an alternative way of meeting its energy needs," Poghosian said. "I
don't think the Russians are happy with this policy."
There is a solution
The world would say that it's really all very simple. That Armenia should
take the initiative in resolving the long dispute over Nagorno Karabakh, which
is more to do with Armenia's military occupation of the land corridor connecting
them to the enclave. That territory, unquestionably Azeri, represents 20% of
their total land area and it seems likely that deals could be done about the
Armenian enclave itself, if returning this Azeri land were initially to be the
subject of negotiation.
Yerevan, Tehran aim for energy cooperation expansion
Iranian and Armenian ministers of energy met in Tehran recently to negotiate
ways to expand of bilateral ties in the energy sector, Interfax News Agency
During the meeting, the Iranian minister asked that they jointly carry out an
expert-level study in order to clarify the details of the contract before
arriving at a final decision.
Iran had earlier agreed to import power from Armenia and export gas to that
country after a 160km gas pipeline is constructed between the two countries.
Armenia has stored 600m kilowatt hours power this year and is keen to export it
Both ministers agreed to establish a wind power plant with a capacity of 90m
watts; a third power transmission line; two circuit lines with a capacity of
220/230 KV to boost transmission capacity from Harazdan to Agarak power plants;
the Aras dam and its power plant; and development of the fifth 130m watt unit of
Garazdan power plant which needs 90-100m Euro in investment.
The Iranian minister asked the Armenian side to calculate how much power is
supposed to be exported to Iran via the first, second, and third transmission
lines and to determine the price of the power too. The Iranian minister said
that Iran needs a couple of months to sign the agreement.
World Bank okays US$20m loan for Yerevan
The World Bank's board recently approved an International Development
Association (IDA) credit of US$20m for the Yerevan Water and Wastewater Project
(YWWP), Interfax News Agency has reported.
This is the third IDA-financed water and wastewater project in Armenia. The
credit would assist the Armenian government in its efforts to improve Yerevan's
water and wastewater system by continuing and expanding accomplishments achieved
under a previous IDA-financed Municipal Development Project (MDP). The credit
would be made to Armenia on standard IDA terms, including 40 years maturity and
a 10 year grace period. Under the YWWP, Yerevan would have access to safe,
continuous water supply while reducing environmental pollution. The World Bank
also financed the initial Municipal Development project to support Yerevan's
Water and Sanitation Company (YWSC) and a more recent (FY04) Municipal Water and
Wastewater Project for Armenia's small- and medium-sized cities. The project
benefits directly from Yerevan's successful experience with a management
contractor recruited under the MDP. For YWWP, the government will increase
private sector involvement and recruit an operator for YWSC under a lease
contract. The project will finance investments in YWSC during the first five
years of the lease.
MINERALS & METALS
Diamond industry shrinks in Armenia
Armenia's diamond cutting industry fell 20 per cent in 2004 but the government
claims a turnaround is on the cards for this year, Interfax News Agency
The diamond production value for 2004 reached 280m Euro but dropped 20 per cent
against local currency which pulled down the industry further. Russia also
failed to deliver the anticipated rough diamonds; this complicated future plans.
At the end of 2003 Armenia embarked on a programme to double its annual
cut-diamond production to 500m Euro and create 10,000 new jobs within a period
of three years. Diamond-driven exports are quite beneficial for the country's
exports earnings (39 per cent overall) and Armenia currently has 50 cutting