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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country facts

Area: 29,800 sq km
Population: 3,077,087 (2008 World Bank), of which 65% urban and 35% rural
Capital City: Yerevan (population: 1.2 million)
Ethnic Group: Armenian 98%, Yezidi 1.2%, Russian 0.5%, other 0.3% (2001)
Languages: Eastern Armenian 98%, Yezidi 1%, Russian 1% (2001)
Religion(s): Armenian Apostolic Church 94.7%, other Christian 4%, Yezidi 1.3%
Currency: Armenian Dram
Major political parties:
Ruling coalition- Republican Party, Rule of Law, Prosperous Armenia,
Parliamentary opposition- Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaks), Heritage Party
Extra-parliamentary opposition– Armenian National Congress

Government: Presidential Republic
Head of State: President Serzh Sargsyan www.president.am
Prime Minister/Premier: Tigran Sargsyan www.gov.am
Foreign Minister: Edward Nalbandian www.armeniaforeignministry.com
Membership of international groupings/organisations:
ACCT (observer), ADB, BSEC, CE, CIS, CSTO, EAEC (observer), EAPC, EBRD, FAO, GCTU, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt (signatory), ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, MIGA, NAM (observer), OAS (observer), OIF (associate member), OPCW, OSCE, PFP, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO

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ECONOMY

Main Macroeconomic Indicators
Nominal GDP (in mln USD): 8,713.8 (2009)
Average salary 2009: USD 3370 per annum
GDP real growth 2009: –14.4
Total imports 2009: USD 3.3 bn
Total exports 2009: USD 698 million
External debt 2009: USD 3.7 bn
Inflation 2009: 3.4%: 9% (2008)
Average exchange rate 2009: (Dram/USD): 363.28
Unemployment rate 2009: 7.1%

Industries

Diamond-processing, metal-cutting machine tools, forging-pressing machines, electric motors, tyres, knitwear, hosiery, shoes, silk fabric, chemicals, trucks, instruments, microelectronics, jewellery manufacturing, software development, food processing, brandy.

Export Commodities

Diamonds, mineral products, foodstuffs, energy.

Import Commodities

Natural gas, petroleum, tobacco products, foodstuffs.

Main import partners

Russia, China, Ukraine, Turkey, Germany, US, Iran

Main export partners

Russia, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Georgia, Bulgaria, US.

At the fall of the Soviet Union Armenia experienced extensive economic collapse. The economy was already damaged due to the 1988 earthquake that hit Armenia’s second biggest city, Gyumri, and suffered badly from the breakdown of inter-Soviet and former Warsaw pact trade, and the consequences of the war over Nagorno Karabakh (NK), including the closure of borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey.Average real wages at end 1993 were at 6% of their 1991 level. The economy recovered somewhat in subsequent years, and Armenia weathered the 1998 Russian financial crisis better than other CIS states. Over the last decade Armenia benefited from annual double-digit growth, fuelled by the construction industry and high commodity prices. But, following the global financial crisis, the Armenian economy contracted by 14.4% in 2009. From late 2009 the economy showed signs of recovery, helped by recovering commodity prices and government borrowing which increased public debt to nearly 50%, and the Government is confident it will return to positive growth in 2010.

Further information regarding Armenia’s economy can be found at:

Ministry of Economy - www.mineconomy.am/en/

National Statistical Service - www.armstat.am/en/

Central Bank - www.cba.am/CBA_SITE/?__locale=en

IMF - www.imf.org/external/country/arm/rr/index.htm

EBRD - www.ebrd.com/pages/country/armenia.shtml

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HISTORY

Origins

Armenian traditions say the nation was founded by Hayk, a descendant of Noah whose Ark grounded on nearby Mt Ararat. The Armenian name for Armenia, “Hayastan” (the “land of Hayk”) reflects this legend.

Although the real origins of the Armenian people are somewhat unclear, the area now in the Republic of Armenia was settled from prehistoric times. The Kingdom of Urartu or Van flourished in the Caucasus and eastern Asia Minor from the 9th to 6th centuries BC and founded a settlement at Erebuni, now Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. After the destruction of the Seleucid Empire, the first Armenian state was founded in 190 BC. At its zenith, from 95 to 65 BC, the Armenian kingdom extended its rule over the entire Caucasus and the area that is now the Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. The kingdom became part of the Roman Empire in 64 BC.

In 301 AD, Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, establishing the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Church, independent of other Christian churches, remains an important symbol of Armenian identity.

After the fall of the Armenian kingdom in 428 AD, most of Armenia was incorporated into the Sassanid Empire. After the Sassanid period (428-636), Armenia emerged as an autonomous principality within the Persian Empire. The principality lasted till 884, when it regained its independence under the Bagratid dynasty, while remaining caught between the Byzantine and Persian Empires. In 1045, the Byzantine Empire conquered Bagratid Armenia, followed in 1071 by Seljuk Turks. From around 1100 the offshoot Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, which had ties to European Crusader states, existed in south-east Asia Minor until its destruction in 1375. In the early 1100s, Armenian princes established semi-independent Zakarid Armenia in Northern and Eastern Armenia. Then during the 1230s, the Mongol invasion conquered the territory. The Mongols were followed by other Central Asian tribes, which continued from the 1200s until the 1400s. During the 1500s, the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Persia divided Armenia among themselves. The Russian Empire later forcibly incorporated Eastern Armenia in 1813 and 1828.

Modern Day Armenia

At the outbreak of the First World War the Ottoman and Russian Empires militarily engaged in the Persian and Caucasus Campaigns. In 1915-18 between 1 and 1.5 million Armenians (one third of the Armenian population) in the Ottoman Empire systematically killed or forcibly deported, many dying during marches into the Syrian desert.. As a consequence of these events, a large Armenian diaspora lives outside Armenia, mostly in the USA, in the Middle East and in France where their communities are particularly influential. There are 10-12,000 British Armenians based particularly in London and around Manchester, where a small community of merchants existed from the early 19th century.

An independent Armenian state existed from 1918-1920. In late 1920, the Bolsheviks came to power following a Red Army invasion of Armenia, and in 1922, Armenia was subsumed into the USSR.

During the Soviet period Armenia rebuilt, creating the new capital Yerevan, though suffering in common with other peoples of the USSR under Stalin’s repression. In the late Soviet period Armenia was a centre of technological and light industry. In 1988 an earthquake hit northern Armenia, killing over 30,000 and causing widespread devastation. Under Soviet leader Gorbachev’s “glasnost” reforms new leaders emerged, coalescing around the disputed issue of Nagorno-Karabagh (NK – see below).
Armenia declared independence from the Soviet Union in August 1990. A national referendum to secede from the USSR followed in September 1991 when the disintegration of the Soviet Union was gathering pace. More than 99% of voters supported independence, reflecting national aspirations, as well as massive popular opposition both to the coup attempt in Moscow and to the perceived Soviet bias towards the Azerbaijani position in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Independence

In October 1991 Levon Ter-Petrossian, a respected academic, was elected Armenia's first President (he had previously been Chairman of the Supreme Soviet) with 83% of the vote. He faced intense opposition pressure, due to the situation in NK and economic hardships, and there were public demonstrations against him in 1992, and particularly in 1994. However, the successes of the Armenian forces in and around NK during 1993 and the improvements in the supplies of energy relieved the pressure. A landslide victory for the pro-government Respublika Bloc in the 1995 parliamentary elections made it easier for Ter-Petrossian to press ahead with economic reform.

Presidential elections were held again in 1996. Ter-Petrossian quickly claimed a first round victory but the opposition alleged widespread fraud and organised a series of demonstrations. These were at first peaceful but on 25 September the Parliament building was stormed. Parliamentary immunity was withdrawn from opposition MPs and several were beaten and arrested. Police and armed troops were put on the streets. To restore Armenia's international reputation, promote national reconciliation and speed up economic reform, Ter-Petrossian appointed as Prime Minister the respected Armenian Ambassador to the UK, Dr Armen Sarkissian. Dr Sarkissian unfortunately had to resign for health reasons in early March 1997, and Robert Kocharian, leader of the NK Armenians, was appointed in his place. Ter-Petrossian resigned in February 1998 after internal disagreements over policy towards the resolution of the NK conflict. Elections were held in March 1998 and Robert Kocharian won by a margin of nearly 20% over his nearest rival.

Parliamentary elections were held on 30 May 1999. The newly formed Unity Alliance (an alliance between the Republican Party of Defence Minister Vazgen Sarkissian and the People's Party led by former Communist leader Karen Demirchian) won 41.69% of the vote and gained the largest number of parliamentary seats (29), although short of an overall majority. The preliminary assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission was that the elections 'demonstrated an improvement over prior elections' and were 'a relevant step towards compliance with OSCE commitments'. Following the elections, Vazgen Sarkissian was appointed Prime Minister and Karen Demirchian elected as Chairman of Parliament.

On 27 October 1999 5 gunmen broke into the National Assembly building and killed Vazgen Sarkissian and Karen Demirchian plus 6 other MPs. The gunmen were led by an extreme nationalist. The authorities condemned the murders as an attack by a group of disaffected loners. Although there are many conspiracy theories, there has been no evidence to contradict the official view.

After the attack, President Kocharian appointed Aram Sarkissian, brother of the murdered PM, as Prime Minister, despite his lack of political experience. Following this, Kocharian had an uneasy relationship with the National Assembly and faced down calls for his impeachment. In May 2000 Kocharian appointed a new Prime Minister and Cabinet, having removed all his critics from office.

Presidential elections in February 2003 were won by Robert Kocharian, with 67.48% of the vote, in a second round.

These were followed by National Assembly elections in May 2003. As with the Presidential elections, the OSCE criticised the conduct of the elections, and several re-runs of constituency elections were held in June. The Republican Party, endorsed by the powerful Defence Minister Serzh Sargsyan, won the majority of votes, and formed a government coalition with the Country of Law Party and the Dashnaks. The Justice Alliance and National Unity became the opposition in the parliament. An opposition boycott of Armenia's parliament turned the National Assembly into a dull and apolitical body. The boycott started in February 2004 when the parliament's pro-government majority refused to consider opposition demands for a 'referendum of confidence' in President Kocharian.

The Prime Minster, Andranik Margaryan, died of a heart attack on 25 March 2007, at the age of 55, having been in poor health for a number of years. Margaryan was also the chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia. Defence Minister Serzh Sargsyan assumed Margaryan’s party responsibilities, and on 4 April was appointed Prime Minister. Mikayel Harutyunyan was appointed to the post of Defence Minister on 23 April 2007.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Relations with Neighbours

The UK recognised Armenia on 31 December 1991 and diplomatic relations were established soon afterwards. There is an Armenian Embassy in London. The first resident British Ambassador, David Miller OBE, arrived in Yerevan in July 1995 (the Ambassador in Moscow had previously been cross-accredited).

Cultural Relations

A Cultural Agreement between the UK and Armenia was signed in London on 9 February 1994. The British Council opened in June 2001 in Yerevan. The British Council in Armenia aim to create an enduring partnership between the UK and Armenia in the areas of arts, English language, education, information, governance and science. It also helps administer the Chevening and John Smith Fellowship scholarships. The Council enjoys a successful and high profile in Armenia.

Bilateral Visits:

Outward

Minister of State, Douglas Hogg, visited twice in 1992/93. The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, visited in January 1996. Viscount Goschen, Minister for Transport, visited Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in September/October 1996. Minister Keith Vaz attended the State Funerals of those murdered in the Parliament shooting in October 1999. The PUS, Sir John Kerr, visited in October 2000. Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester visited in November 2001 as part of the 1700th anniversary of Christianity celebrations. In November 2005, the Minister for Environment, Elliot Morley, visited for the EECCA Ministerial conference. Geoff Hoon, Minister for Europe, visited Georgia and Armenia in October 2006. In the same month, Baroness Scotland, Minister for Criminal Justice at the Home Office, attended the CoE Justice Ministers conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, visited in September 2007 and co-hosted the QBP at the Armenian Holy See of Etchmiadzin. The UK Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Sir Brian Fall, visited Armenia for bilateral talks in May 2009.

Inward

The Foreign Minister and Prime Minister visited in May 1993. President Ter-Petrossian visited London as a Guest of Government from 8-11 February 1994, returning for VE Day commemorations in May 1995. Foreign Minister Oskanian visited from 15-18 March 1999. During the visit Oskanian had calls on the Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary, Dr Kim Howells, and a DTI PUSS. Armen Martirosian, Deputy Foreign Minister visited from 13-17 March 2002. He called on Ben Bradshaw, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and spoke at LSE. Deputy Speaker Tigran Torosyan and Deputy Foreign Minister Armen Baibourtian were on sponsored visits in 2005 and 2006 respectively. The former Ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian attended a course organized by the Public Administration International. Leader of the Heritage party, Raffi Hovhannisian, has attended Wilton Park conferences. Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan visited in October 2008 and met the Foreign Secretary and Minister for Europe. Deputy Foreign Minister Karine Kazinian visited the UK from 2-3 November 2009 and met the then Minister for Europe. President Sargsyan visited 9-11 February 2010 to attend a charity event hosted by Prince Charles. Sargsyan met with the then Foreign Secretary, called on Her Majesty The Queen, and spoke at Chatham House.

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GEOGRAPHY

Armenia is a mountainous, high-altitude landlocked country. It is the smallest of the three South Caucasus states in size and population and borders Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran.

Location: Southwestern Asia, east of Turkey, South Caucasus, Lesser Caucasus Mountains
Geographic coordinates: 40 00 N, 45 00 E
Area:
total: 29,800 sq km
land: 28,400 sq km
water: 1,400 sq km
Land boundaries:
total: 1,254 km
border countries: Azerbaijan-proper 566 km, Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave 221 km, Turkey 268, Georgia 164 km, Iran 35 km.
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: highland continental, dry high-altitude, hot summers, cold winters
Terrain: Highland plateau with mountains; little forest land; fast flowing rivers; good soil in Aras River valley
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Debed River 400 m
highest point: Aragats Lerr 4,095 m
Natural resources: small deposits of gold, copper, molybdenum, zinc, alumina
Land use:
Arable land: 16.78%Permanent crops: 2.01%Other: 81.21%
Irrigated land: 2,860 sq km (2003 est.)
Natural hazards: occasionally severe earthquakes (the latest in December 1988 killed 30,000 people); droughts

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

An Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (IPPA) was signed on 22 May 1993 during a visit to the UK by Armenian Prime Minister Bagratian. An Air Services Agreement was signed during Ter-Petrossian's visit to the UK in February 1994. An Armenian-British Business Chamber was launched in 2010. More details can be found at www.abbc.am.

UK Development Assistance

DFID worked in Armenia from the mid 1990s until December 2008. Assistance focused on supporting the Government of Armenia to improve governance and its institutional environment for poverty reduction, to promote pro-poor sustainable growth, and help to strengthen the UK’s contribution to conflict resolution and peace building in the region.

In early 2006 Armenia achieved lower middle income status (LMIC), leading DFID to phase out its bilateral programme by the end of 2008. DFID and other donors assisted the Government of Armenia (GoA) in developing a medium-term Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). The Strategy focuses on consultations with the local community in setting realistic targets to enable further development and economic growth. The PRSP enables the Armenian Government to pursue its development agenda through other funding, particularly the EC European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), which has earmarked €157.3for Armenia for the period 2007 to 2013.

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POLITICS

Recent Political Developments and Elections

Parliamentary elections were held on 12 May 2007. In their preliminary findings, the International Election Observation Mission, comprising OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, concluded that the elections were conducted largely in accordance with international standards, but that there was room for improvement before Presidential elections in 2008.

The Presidential elections were held in calm atmosphere on 19 February 2008, and described by the International Election Observation Mission in its preliminary statement as 'mostly in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards' but with significant areas for improvement. The Central Election Commission released the final results on 24 February, with Serzh Sargsyan the victor, and former President Ter-Petrossian in second place. The opposition claimed there had been extensive fraud and Ter-Petrossian led demonstrations in Yerevan which lasted from 20 February until the authorities cleared protestors from Freedom Square on the morning of 1 March. The protestors regrouped in other parts of the city, and violent clashes between police and demonstrators continued into the night, resulting in 10 deaths. The government declared a 20-day State of Emergency on 1 March, imposing restrictions on public gatherings, political activity, the media, and giving law enforcement personnel additional powers, including stop and search. The State of Emergency was lifted on 21 March and Serzh Sargsyan was inaugurated as President on 9 April.

A parliamentary inquiry into the events of March 1failed to reach clear conclusions about the causes of the deaths, and there still needs to be an independent, transparent and impartial investigation into the tragic deaths as so far no one has been held responsible or convicted.

A number of opposition supporters arrested in connection with the election campaign and the events of 1-2 March were prosecuted and imprisoned. Many were released through an amnesty in June 2009 but a number, convicted of more serious offences continue to be imprisoned. An OSCE/ODIHR report on the prosecutions published in March 2010 highlighted a number of shortcomings in the handling of the trials and the judicial system.

Following the events of March 1 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) sent monitors to Armenia to assess the post-electoral situation and explore avenues to defuse tensions, and since then Armenia has been subject to four PACE Resolutions relating to the events of March 2008, the last being 1677 (2009). Further information can be found at http://assembly.coe.int/

Human Rights

Torture/ill-treatment

Reports of torture and ill-treatment in custody continue, together with complaints about brutal treatment, known as 'hazing', of army conscripts. As in previous years, there are persistent allegations that law enforcement officials subject people to torture and ill-treatment in order to obtain confessions and coerce testimony, and that in some cases the authorities appear reluctant to conduct prompt and comprehensive investigations, or to initiate proceedings against those alleged to be responsible.

Prisoners of conscience

Armenia has a law allowing an alternative to military service under the supervision of military personnel. But those refusing this alternative continue to face prison sentences for refusing military service.

The death penalty

In July 2003 the President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, commuted all outstanding death sentences and in September 2003 Armenia abolished capital punishment in peacetime by ratifying Protocol No 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Women’s rights

Armenian civil society organisations are concerned about the issues of gender equality and domestic violence in Armenia. Despite the Government taking action to address these issues, the latest MDG progress report indicates that women’s rights is still an area that needs to be fully developed in Armenia.

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Last Updated: October 2010

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