Books on Armenia
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 289 - (27/01/05)
Armenians, traditionally oriented toward Russia, are
increasingly losing faith in the benefits of a special relationship with Moscow
and are becoming more pro-Western in their outlook, according to recent opinion
Polls show pro-Western sympathies emerging in the wake of Ukraine's Orange
Events in Ukraine, coming after those in Georgia a year earlier, are having wide
repercussions in the former Soviet republics west of the Urals. Robert Kocharian,
the president of Armenia, must be somewhat worried. The knell of the region's
dictators has sounded.
Analysts in Yerevan say the pro-American shift in public perceptions over the
past year is connected with a host of factors, not the least of them being the
resounding success of Western-backed popular revolts in Georgia and Ukraine.
Popular views have also been greatly affected by the discourse of large sections
of the country's post-Soviet intellectual and political elites that regard the
United States and the European Union as the ultimate guarantors of their
country's independence and prosperity.
The change is particularly visible among Armenia's opposition political
activists, who are buoyed by the success of opposition movements in Georgia and
Ukraine, while continuing to seethe over Russia's ongoing support for President
Robert Kocharian's administration. Some of them are now openly calling for an
end to Armenia's military alliance with Russia and its accession to NATO and the
"In the past, no political forces would openly call for Armenia's
membership in NATO, safe in the knowledge that they would not only fail to get
public support but also face harsh criticism. The situation is markedly
different now," says Stepan Safarian, an analyst at the Armenian Center for
National and International Studies (ACNIS), a private think-tank. "It is
the opposition that enjoys the greatest popular support in Armenia. So
naturally, its mood is being passed on to the general public," he adds.
This assertion seems to have been born out by a nationwide opinion poll
conducted by the ACNIS in December. Nearly two thirds of 2,000 respondents said
they want their country to eventually join the EU and only 12 percent were
against. A similar survey conducted by the Vox Populi polling organization in
October found that 72 percent of Yerevan residents preferred the expanding union
to the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States.
Support for Armenia's entry into the EU was practically unanimous among 100
political and public policy experts separately questioned by ACNIS. They were
also overwhelmingly in favour of NATO membership.
The figures are remarkable for a small Christian nation that has for centuries
viewed Russia as its main protector against hostile Muslim neighbours, notably
Turkey and Azerbaijan. This sense of insecurity has been key to Armenia's heavy
reliance on Moscow for defence and security since the Soviet collapse. The
conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh only reinforced it.
"I think that over the past two or three years our society has become much
more realistic and is beginning to understand the external challenges facing our
state," said Suren Sureniants, a senior member of Armenia's most radical
opposition party, Hanrapetutiun (Republic). Hanrapetutiun is currently in talks
with two other opposition groups over the formation of a new alliance that would
not only strive to force Kocharian from power, but also offer Armenians a
pro-Western alternative to policies pursued by incumbent authorities. Failure to
come up with such "ideological alternative," in Sureniants's words,
was the main reason for the opposition's inability to topple Kocharian with a
campaign of street protests last spring.
Unlike its counterparts in Georgia and Ukraine, the Armenian opposition found
little support from Western governments, which appeared to be wary of the
Armenian opposition's vague agenda and past Russian connections. The
oppositionists appear to have studied the lessons of the "Orange
Revolution" in Kyiv, and are now changing tack. One of the most popular of
them, Artashes Geghamian, was calling for Armenia's accession the Russia-Belarus
economic union as recently as two years ago. Geghamian now is an opponent of the
idea. His National Unity Party voted for the dispatch of Armenian non-combat
troops to Iraq during parliamentary debates in late December.
The opposition leaders' "vehement desire to demonstrate their pro-Western
stance" was denounced by a leading pro-Kocharian daily, Hayots Ashkhar. The
paper voiced confidence that the pending Armenian troop deployment in Iraq
should boost Kocharian's pro-American credentials in Washington.
US President George W. Bush recently signed a proclamation authorizing the
immediate implementation of "normal trade relations" with Armenia. The
presidential action is the reflection of a steady improvement in US-Armenian
ties in recent months. The proclamation, signed January 7, said that normal
trade ties were made possible by the fact that Armenia had "made
considerable progress in enacting market reforms" and had
"demonstrated a strong desire to build a friendly and cooperative
relationship with the United States."
Other Kocharian loyalists are less sanguine. Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the
Armenian Revolutionary Federation, a traditionally pro-Russian party represented
in government, warned of a potential "dangerous" export of
Western-backed revolutions to Armenia. "I don't think that Armenian voters
are today prepared to trust extreme anti-Russian forces," Hovannisian said
at a recent news conference. "Having said that, it is evident that
anti-Russian sentiment in Armenian society is growing and there are objective
reasons for that."
According to Safarian, the analyst, Russia's hasty endorsement of a rigged
presidential ballot in Ukraine and its ensuing humiliation is one of those
reasons. "There is a growing number of events testifying to Russia's
weakness, and the Armenian public does not fail to notice them," he says.
Safarian believes that Moscow's unequivocal acceptance of Kocharian's disputed
re-election nearly two years ago, its hard bargain on Armenia's debts and the
closure last fall of Russia's borders with Georgia also alienated many
Armenians. Indeed, the two-month transport blockade, ostensibly aimed at
preventing cross-border attacks by Chechen militants, hit landlocked Armenia
hard by cutting off one of its main supply lines. The Russians faced an
unprecedented barrage of criticism from Armenian politicians and media at the
"The Russian factor is now one of the key challenges that threaten the
sovereignty, security and democratization of our country," Sureniants
charged. He claimed that a key element in the Kremlin's strategy of maintaining
Russian foothold in the South Caucasus and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union
is to prop up illegitimate regimes and thwart the resolution of ethnic disputes.
The changing popular mood means that such views are not considered extreme and
marginal in Armenia any more.
The Turkish issue
The Armenians cannot help wondering why Turkey won't show mercy and open its
borders, ending the blockade that has been in place for more than a decade, as
has one by Azerbaijan. Together they are holding back the Armenian economy
mightily. Nor can they understand why Turkey won't accept and take
responsibility for the 1915 genocide.
Armenia believes it will join NATO to integrate with the US and to consolidate
its security. The irony is that what America means for an Iraqi today is the
same as what Turkey meant for an Armenian. Members of Tashnak Party, which
demands the return of Armenia's historical territory and maintain the
allegations of genocide as if it happened yesterday, are convinced that Turks
make pilgrimages to Talat Pasha's grave, the Turk they hold responsible.
Actually, Turks don't even know where his grave is, and put this
misunderstanding down to the lack of knowledge about the other between Armenia
and Turkey. They went on to say that if Turkey recognized the genocide, it would
be a sign that political problems no longer needed to be solved through the use
The Chief Patriarch of the Armenian Diaspora, Karekin II, favours the
development of relations between Armenia and Turkey. The Patriarch owns the
locked case holding the golden letters of the Armenian alphabet, which hold
religious significance and a special place in the Armenian identity. 2005 will
be celebrated as the 1600th year of the Armenian alphabet and an exhibition
regarding this is planned to be held at the Louvre in Paris. This is further
evidence of the strength of the Armenian diaspora, with seven million living
abroad, twice the number of those in Armenia. The diaspora is very important for
Armenia as the country's economy stands on the financial flow of $600 million
from abroad. The only industry in the country is a cognac factory.
Turkish EU ambitions favour Armenia
The European Union's decision to pursue membership talks with Turkey could
have far-reaching political and economic ramifications for the Caucasus, and in
particular for Armenia. The accession process can stimulate democratisation in
The EU decided December 17 to open what promises to be a lengthy accession
process with Turkey. Some political observers in Turkey say the decision
immediately increased pressure on Ankara to normalize relations with Armenia. In
recent months, Ankara and Yerevan have probed a rapprochement, but they have yet
to make substantive progress in overcoming long-standing mutual hostility.
"If Turkey starts accession talks," adds Professor Gareth Winrow of
Istanbul's Bilgi University, "it will have to normalize relations with all
its neighbours as a condition of future EU membership. Number one, this means
opening all its borders."
Turkey's has kept its frontier with Armenia closed since 1993. The closure is
connected with a Turkish embargo designed to encourage Armenia's withdrawal from
Azerbaijani territory captured during the Nagorno-Karabkah conflict. Turkish
political leaders in mid-2004 mulled re-opening the border, but the idea met
fierce resistance, both in Turkey and in Azerbaijan, and officials backed off
Turkish observers say the government will have a difficult time finessing the
border issue, adding that despite the EU pressure, the status quo may not change
in the near future. "If Turkey just opened the border because of EU
pressure, there might easily be a backlash," warned Mustafa Sahin of the
Ankara-based Eurasian think tank, AVSAM. "Azerbaijan is a very popular
cause in Turkey. Also, Armenia still has territorial claims on Turkey that would
have to be solved."
Turkish territorial concerns stem from Armenia's refusal to recognize the Kars
Treaty of 1921, which set the frontiers between the two states. Armenia claims
there is no need for such recognition, as acceptance of the existing borders was
implicit when both countries joined the Organization of Security and Cooperation
in Europe (OSCE). Turkey, however, continues to seek a specific guarantee of
Armenian recognition for the existing border.
Armenian President Robert Kocharian in late 2004 appealed to the EU to place the
opening of the frontier among the pre-conditions for Turkey's EU membership.
"It is unacceptable for a country that is to have membership talks with the
EU to keep its border closed with another country that is already in the
neighbourhood policy of Europe," Kocharian said.
The Armenian leader was referring to the EU Neighbourhood Policy (EUNP), which
was formulated to provide a framework for states bordering on the EU, such as
Moldova and Ukraine. "The EUNP is designed to give support and dialogue to
those countries that have no prospect of joining for now," adds Winrow.
"At first, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were excluded from the EUNP, but
after the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the EU changed its mind and allowed them
If Turkey and Armenia can eventually settle their differences, some observers
believe pressure could increase on Baku and Yerevan to reach a Karabakh
settlement. Others, however, are guarded about the possibilities.
"Accession talks won't have any direct effect on the Armenian issue,"
suggested Ferai Tinc, a political analyst for the Hurriyet daily. "We've
seen many times before these moves to sort out the border."
Nevertheless, Tinc and others say Turkey's move towards EU membership cannot but
have a positive impact on the Caucasus. "It will send a message to the
region that will be good for the democratisation process," says Tinc.
"Turkey's relations with the Caucasian states will be within a different
framework - not as a big brother, but as a member of a community."
Sahin, the AVSAM think-tank expert, said that even though Armenia views Turkey
with suspicion, a significant number of Armenians want to see Ankara's accession
effort succeed. "Armenia is a little split on the issue," Sahin said.
"But even there, many argue that Turkey's accession process will give
Armenia greater leverage for change."
Meanwhile, others see Turkey's European path as helping to widen EU influence
with another regional big power, Russia. "Turkey can play a very important
role here," says Winrow. "As can an organization such as the Black Sea
Economic Cooperation (BSEC). Turkey can show its strategic importance to Europe
and get better and closer regional relations through this."
Surveys about Armenia's future have found 50 percent see the future as
'unclear'. Armenian Research Center surveys have found that around the same
amount have no hopes for economic improvement in the short term and are
concerned about security issues. The desire to join NATO rises in line with
tension with Azerbaijan. A very small number of people, meanwhile, think that
going further to the West will detach the country from Russia and this will give
"rather negative results". Russia plays the role of a hysterical
father who loves but also beats his children.
The Armenian National and International Research Centre finds that except for a
small minority who prefer Russia due to geographical proximity, the majority of
the people find the US more rational and acceptable than Russia, but each
negative development stimulates people in panic to get closer to Russia.
Turkey's attitudes and approaches are also included in these developments.
Is it possible that Armenians could move on? In fact, there is some development
in this direction. Garen Bekaryan, at the European Union (EU) Integration Centre,
says: "In fact, Armenians might have to bury this genocide issue into
history, but Turkey's massing of troops at the border during the Karabakh
incident revived past fears." She is not wrong on this point. Russia sent
Armenia 50,000 soldiers after Turgut Ozal's remark "What happens if a bomb
falls on Armenia?" Some of these soldiers still remain in Armenia,
ostensibly to protect it, but are damaging the country's attempts at
democratisation in the meantime.
European bank invests in Armenian private construction company
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has allocated
850,000 euros to buy 28 per cent of shares of the Armenian closed joint-stock
construction concern Shen Concern, the deputy director of the concern, Ara
Asratyan, said, Arminfo reported.
He said that it was the first time the EBRD had invested in a private production
enterprise in Armenia. He pointed out that the bank's investment had been
channelled into the production of concrete products and other construction
materials, which are chiefly sold in the republic. Asratyan added that the
European bank had been monitoring the operations of the company for the last two
years and made a decision to establish long-term cooperation with the
The contract has been concluded with the EBRD for five years and envisages more
investment in the production of construction materials in Armenia. It is
expected that after making fresh investment in April 2005, the European bank
will own over 36 per cent of Shen Concern shares. The deputy director pointed
out that Shen Concern's revenue amounted to 1.5bn drams (US$3m) in 2004.
The current investment portfolio of the European bank in Armenia totals 60m
euros. Armenia became a member of the EBRD in 1992.
Armenia and Iran begin building gas pipeline
After more than 10 years of negotiations and agreements, Armenia and Iran have
begun work on a 141km gas pipeline linking the two countries, Russian newspaper
Promishlenie Vedomosti reported.
The preliminary cost of the project totals US$210-220m. Starting from 2007,
Armenia would receive 36bn cubic metres of Iranian "blue fuel" over
the following 20 years, and in return for this they will pay for it with their
energy. According to experts, the Armenian-Iranian gas deal satisfies both
Armenia will have an alternative source of energy in two years and this would
boost its energy security. Having its own fuel and energy resources, Armenia
receives gas only from Russia, but, according to analysts, the gas pipeline
through Georgia is in a very bad technical condition and needs serious repair
and modernisation. Iran has better political and economic relations with Armenia
than with other Caucasus countries and hopes that the pipeline will be continued
to Georgia. This would also give it the possibility of transporting gas via the
pipeline to the Black Sea and Ukraine and from there to Europe, allowing it to
become an important player in the European energy market.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Russia, Armenia to ink deal
The Armenian government has given consent for the Armenian Urban Planning
Ministry and the Russian Federal Agency for Construction, Housing and Utilities
to sign an agreement on cooperation in reconstruction work in Armenia's Shirak
region, RIA Novosti quoted the Armenian governmental PR service as saying
recently. In 2005-2006 Russia will assign about €4m for Armenia to reconstruct
the heating systems of a number of facilities of the country's second largest
city, Gyumri (formerly Leninakan), the centre of the Shirak region, Minister of
Urban Planning Aram Arutyunyan stated earlier. According to the official, Russia
and Armenia have reached a preliminary agreement and the issue has been placed
on the agenda of the Russian-Armenian interstate commission for economic
cooperation. Among the facilities included in the programme the minister
mentioned the Gyumri State Pedagogical Institute, a hospital, a physical culture
school, four churches and blocks of flats. Gyumri is one of the cities most
damaged by the devastating earthquake, which occurred in December 1988 in
Armenia, Russia talk about better bilateral ties
Armenian President, Robert Kocharian and Russian State Duma speaker, Boris
Gryzlov, discussed in Yerevan recently the prospects of developing
Armenian-Russian relations, reports New Europe.
Kocharian expressed his satisfaction with the improvement of the structure of
bilateral trade turnover last year, the Armenian president's press service said.
Gryzlov stressed that the high level of Armenian-Russian relations will lead to
further progress in future. The parties also considered the possibilities to
develop transport communications between Armenia and Russia. At issue were
railway communications and the Kavkaz ferry complex on the Russian bank of the
Kerch Strait, which separates the Crimean peninsula and the Russian Krasnodar