Books on Armenia
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 300 - (01/01/06)
The Armenian question is one of the thorniest on the table for Europe and the
European Union (EU). The Turks have a grind with the Armenians, as the Armenians
do with them. The Turks deny that they massacred one million or more Armenians
in 1915, which they did. A trial is going on in Turkey right now of their great
writer, Orhan Pamuk, who has referred to this fact of genocide publicly, an act
of treason for the military and other guardians of secular Turkish statehood,
for whom no such blemish is tolerable.
Armenia also has its differences with Azerbaijan. Indeed, the two Turkic
countries together operate a trade embargo against their neighbour, Armenia,
which is naturally particularly damaging to it. But there is a potential saviour
at hand - the European Union (EU).
President Robert Kocharian in December was on a two-day visit to Brussels to
press them for a quicker rapprochement with the south Caucasus countries,
despite recent problems between the EU and Baku.
A spanner in the works
Azerbaijan has angered EU member state, Cyprus, by allowing commercial flights
to the internationally unrecognised Northern Cyprus. The tussle has thrown a
spanner into EU preparations to extend neighbourhood policy "action
plans" to the region.
The problems between Azerbaijan and EU-member Cyprus come as a very unwelcome
development for Armenia.
The EU is in the habit of preferring to deal with entire regions, not single
countries at a time. As a result, both Armenia and Georgia have discovered that
their EU neighbourhood "action plans" -- paving the way for closer
political cooperation and greater economic aid -- are held hostage to the spat
between Baku and Nicosia.
Initial hopes that the "action plans" could be negotiated and signed
by the end of the year have begun to recede. "It would be strange if the
start of the planned talks between the [European] Commission and Armenia on the
draft action plan remained blocked by the dispute between Cyprus and Azerbaijan
over flights to Northern Cyprus, since that dispute does not concern
The unhappiness in the reactions of Armenian diplomats has been palpable in
recent weeks. The country's president, Robert Kocharian, is making sure that
unhappiness is being felt by his hosts.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana offered solace, but no guarantees of a
quick breakthrough. "I hope very much that the neighbourhood policy that we
have established in the European Union will be a constructive and positive help
for Armenia in their relations with the European Union," he said. "As
you know we have not fully started the negotiations, but we hope very much that
will be done in the foreseeable future."
EU member states retain full sovereignty in the area of external relations and a
single country can theoretically block any decision. The Greek government of
Cyprus held out for a long time before giving its consent to EU membership talks
with Turkey. Nicosia is likely to face far lesser pressure in the EU in its
dealings with Turkey's more remote ally, Azerbaijan.
Josep Borrell, the president of the European Parliament, has this to say:
"It would be strange if the start of the planned talks between the
[European] Commission and Armenia on the draft action plan remained blocked by
the dispute between Cyprus and Azerbaijan over flights to Northern Cyprus, since
that dispute does not concern Armenia. We have been talking about that with the
president and I told him of my strong commitment that these talks should be
starting at the planned time."
However, Borrell's support is of little practical value to Kocharian, as the
parliament has no say in EU foreign policy decisions.
Nevertheless, the parliament has a role to play in shaping the political climate
in the EU and thus indirectly helps shape longer term decisions. Borrell pointed
to earlier efforts by the parliament that helped secure the southern Caucasus an
EU special representative, and forced the EU to include the three countries in
the neighbourhood policy.
The European Parliament has also been vocal in calling on Turkey to open its
border with Armenia and recognize the Armenian genocide. Borrell recalled that
the parliament had adopted a resolution calling for the steps before EU entry
talks were launched with Turkey.
"The parliament has already set out a declaration on the opening of
negotiations with Turkey," Borrell said. "We have already said
whatever we think we should have said. And the opening of the border and the
recognition of the Armenian genocide was [mentioned] in that resolution, that
the parliament strongly requires these as a condition. But this is the point of
view of the parliament, we will have to see."
The US is on side - but there is a warning
There is one unswerving supporter of Armenia, the United States (US), where
there are more Armenians in the Diaspora than in Armenia itself. Every ethnic
Armenian vote counts.
It, nevertheless, lays down conditions for its support.
The US has approved US$235.65 million in additional economic assistance to
Armenia but made its release conditional on "corrective steps" that
would improve Yerevan's human rights and democracy records.
A US government agency that administers the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA),
a multimillion-dollar scheme designed to reward economic and political reforms
in the developing world, expressed concern about the Armenian government's
handling of the recent constitutional referendum. In a statement released in
Washington, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) called into question the
government's commitment to democracy and good governance, citing serious
irregularities reported during the November 27th vote.
"MCC is concerned about the government's lack of transparency and
commitment to open and fair elections in the recent referendum," its chief
executive, John Danilovich, was quoted as saying.
Danilovich conveyed those concerns to President Robert Kocharian recently in a
letter that was made public by MCC along with its statement. He told Kocharian
that the MCC board, which comprises US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice,
delayed its decision on Armenia's MCA application in November as a result of
"allegations of fraud, electoral mismanagement, mistreatment of individuals
from opposition political parties and uneven access to the media."
"We believe that corrective steps should be taken to demonstrate the
Armenian government's commitment to the fundamental principles underpinning
Armenia's eligibility for MCA assistance," Danilovich wrote. "The MCC
Board is engaged on this issue and we will seek their assessment of any actions
The MCC chief said the Kocharian administration should respect Armenian
citizens' constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly and "access to
information from independent media and other sources." He also called on
the authorities to investigate the latest allegations of electoral fraud and
"improve the fairness and transparency of the political and electoral
process in Armenia in advance of the 2007-2008 parliamentary and presidential
"A failure to take such concrete actions could result in a suspension or
termination of the Compact pursuant to MCC policy," warned a separate MCC
However, US officials would not say what specifically the authorities should do
in the coming weeks to kick-start the implementation of the five-year aid
package aimed at reducing rural poverty in Armenia. They indicated only that the
MCC board will await Yerevan's response to Danilovich's letter before meeting to
decide how to proceed.
"Keeping the MCC process on track with Armenia will require the Armenian
government to invigorate its commitment to bolstering democratic
institutions," the US charge d'affaires in Yerevan, Anthony Godfrey, told
RFE/RL. "We hope and we expect that there will be a positive response and
we will be able to move forward and implement these projects."
According to the MCC director for Eastern Europe and Asia, Stephen Groff, such a
response would pave the way for the formal launch of the hefty aid scheme at the
beginning of next year. "If all of these things happen expeditiously, we
could be signing the [MCA] compact with the government of Armenia early next
year," he told RFE/RL in Washington. "But at this point, it's in the
hands of the government of Armenia as to how expeditiously that will
The assistance programme, worth nearly one third of Armenia's 2005 state budget,
is based on the Armenian government's proposals submitted to MCC last spring.
The government initially asked for US$175 million from the corporation. The sum
was considerably increased during subsequent US-Armenian negotiations.
Most of the MCA funds, US$146 million, would be spent on rebuilding and
expanding the country's battered irrigation networks. Officials say improved
water supply would significantly benefit as many as 250,000 farm households. The
government would also like to receive US$67 million for refurbishing about 1,000
kilometres of rural roads that have fallen into disrepair since the Soviet
collapse. The project is meant to improve farmers' access to markets and
services. The remainder of the sum approved by the U.S. aid agency, US$23
million, would be used for program administration and evaluation.
The proposed use of extra American aid has been repeatedly praised by US
officials. "They have developed an integrated, results-oriented programme
that will provide rural residents better access to jobs, social services, and
markets and increase the productivity of farmers," said Danilovich.
One of the authors of that programme, Deputy Finance Minister, Tigran
Khachatrian, held a news conference in connection with the decision announced by
the corporation. "It is expected that as a result of the implementation of
this programme the rural poverty rate will fall from 41 per cent to 35 per cent
within five years," he said.
In Godfrey's words, the assistance projects will also cement growing ties
between Armenia and the United States. "The MCC announcement is an
important milestone, and it demonstrates a big step forward in our
relationship," he said.
Armenia has already been one of the world's leading per-capita recipients of US
economic assistance which has totalled over US$1.5 billion since 1992. It is due
to receive at least US$75 million in regular US aid allocated by Congress this
year. The effectiveness of its Washington lobbyists is generally held to be
second only to those of Israel.
Armenia is among 16 low-income countries of the world that have been eligible
for MCA funding ever since the scheme was unveiled by the administration of
President George W. Bush in 2004. The Bush administration has already allocated
more than US$900 million to five of those nations, including Georgia.
Armenia's first nuclear power plant resumes
Armenia's only nuclear power plant resumed after a six-week shutdown for
maintenance and refuelling, the plant's General Director, Gagik Markosyan,
announced on November 17th, Interfax News Agency reported.
Markosyan said the plant's sole working reactor started on November 16th without
difficulties after being refuelled with US$14.5 million in nuclear fuel supplied
by Russia. Immediately after startup, Armenian security forces conducted an
exercise at the plant to train against a hypothetical terrorist threat, he said.
Armenia was under international pressure from the European Union to shut the
plant down due to safety concerns, but officials resisted the call as the plant
supplies nearly 40 per cent of the nation's electricity. President Robert
Kocharian said recently that the country intended to build a new nuclear plant.
Yerevan, Moscow to boost scientific cooperation
A scientific practical conference titled "Armenia-Russia - Sight to the
Future - Cooperation Technology" opened on November 29th in Yerevan,
Interfax News Agency reported.
At the inauguration ceremony, Russian ambassador to Armenia, Nikolay Pavlaov,
said that the conference, which was organised as part of the Year of Russia in
Armenia, is unusual for its idea to increase cooperation between Armenian and
Russian NGOs. The event was organised by the Russian Centre for International
Scientific and Cultural Cooperation affiliated to the Russian Foreign Ministry
in association with the Armenian Society for Cultural Cooperation with Foreign
Countries and European Forum. Pavlov said the participants had plenty to discuss
regarding the situation in South Caucasus, ways in which to solve problems and
about their perception of the part NGOs play in these processes.
Iranians, Armenians meet on trade in Yerevan
Mazandarani businessmen from the private sector recently held a seminar with
their Armenian counterparts and officials in Yerevan on the sidelines of an
exclusive Mazandaran exhibition, Interfax News Agency reported.
Officials from both countries' chambers of commerce as well as businessmen and
participants in the exhibition surveyed grounds for cooperation and
establishment and development of trade and economic ties. The one-week
exhibition was held in seven specialised groups like tourism and handicrafts,
food industries, machinery, home appliances, animal husbandry and construction
Alcatel to open centre in Armenia
A summit on the future of the Internet opened in Tunisia with a welcome speech
by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, president of Tunisia, where the UN-organised World
Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) brought together government delegations
from around 170 countries. At the summit, Armenia was represented by a
delegation led by Prime Minister, Andranik Margarian. On the sidelines of the
summit, Alcatel, the world's leading telecom equipment supplier under ethnic
Armenian Serge Tchuruk, announced theopening of a regional centre in Armenia.
Alcatel and the Armenian Enterprise Incubator Foundation (EIF) recently signed a
memorandum to this effect in Tunis. Tchuruk and Armenian Deputy Trade and
Economic Development Minister, Tigran Davtian, signed the memorandum. Tchuruk,
who has managed the French group for the past decade, met with President Robert
Kocharian and Margarian in Yerevan. He was quoted by official sources as saying
that he was ready to help launch "certain programmes on the research and
introduction of innovative technologies" in Armenia, New Europe reported.