U.S. Department of State Background Note
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PEOPLE AND HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS
Ethnic groups in Armenia include Armenians (95%), Kurds, Russians, Greeks, and others. More than 90% of the population is nominally affiliated with the Armenian Apostolic Church. Languages are Armenian (96%), Russian, and others.
Armenia first emerged into history around 800 BC as part of the Kingdom of Urartu or Van, which flourished in the Caucasus and eastern Asia Minor until 600 BC. After the destruction of the Seleucid Empire, the first Armenian state was founded in 190 BC. At its zenith, from 95 to 65 BC, Armenia extended its rule over the entire Caucasus and the area that is now eastern Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. For a time, Armenia was the strongest state in the Roman East. It became part of the Roman Empire in 64 BC and adopted a Western political, philosophical, and religious orientation.
In 301 AD, Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, establishing a church that still exists independently of both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. During its later political eclipses, Armenia depended on the church to preserve and protect its unique identity. From around 1100 to 1350, the focus of Armenian nationalism moved south, as the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, which had close ties to European Crusader states, flourished in southeastern Asia Minor until conquered by Muslim states.
Between the 4th and 19th centuries, Armenia was conquered and ruled by, among others, Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, and Turks. For a brief period from 1918 to 1920, it was an independent republic. In late 1920, the communists came to power following an invasion of Armenia by the Red Army, and in 1922, Armenia became part of the Trans-Caucasian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1936, it became the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. Armenia declared its independence from the Soviet Union on September 21, 1991.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Armenians voted overwhelmingly for independence in a September 1991 referendum, followed by a presidential election in October 1991 that gave 83% of the vote to Levon Ter-Petrossian. Ter-Petrossian had been elected head of government in 1990, when the Armenian National Movement defeated the Communist Party. Ter-Petrossian was re-elected in 1996. Following public demonstrations against Ter-Petrossian's policies on Nagorno-Karabakh, the President resigned in January 1998 and was replaced by Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, who was elected President in March 1998. Following the October 27, 1999 assassination in Parliament of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchian, and six other officials, a period of political instability ensued during which an opposition headed by elements of the former Armenian National Movement government attempted unsuccessfully to force Kocharian to resign. Kocharian was successful in riding out the unrest. Kocharian was reelected in March 2003 in a contentious election that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the U.S. Government deemed to fall short of international standards.
As a result of the May 2007 parliamentary elections, 103 seats of the 131 in the National Assembly (90 elected on a proportional basis and 41 on a district-by-district majoritarian basis) are members of pro-governmental parties. The Republican Party and Prosperous Armenia formed a coalition; the ARF Dashnaksutyun Party signed a cooperation agreement with this coalition. The Heritage Party and Orinats Yerkir remain opposition parties. While in the past opposition parties, despite philosophical differences, tended to vote together on key legislative issues, there has been no agreement among the opposition parties to date to do so.
The Government of Armenia's stated aim is to build a Western-style parliamentary democracy as the basis of its form of government. However, international observers have questioned the inherent fairness of parliamentary and presidential elections during each of the previous nationwide elections (1995, 1999, and 2003) as well as during the 2005 constitutional referendum, citing polling deficiencies, lack of cooperation by the electoral commission, poor maintenance of electoral lists, and access to polling places. The 2007 parliamentary elections, however, demonstrated an improvement over previous elections. The new constitution in 2005 increased the power of the legislative branch and allows for more independence of the judiciary; the executive branch nevertheless retains more power than most European countries.
The Government's human rights record remained poor in 2006; while there were some improvements in a few areas, serious problems remained. Security forces beat pretrial detainees. Impunity remained a problem. There were reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. There were some limits on press freedom, due in part to self-censorship and denial of television broadcast licenses. The law places some restrictions on religious freedom. Societal violence against women was a problem. Trafficking of women and children was a problem, which the government took some steps to address.
Principal Government Officials
Armenia's embassy in the U.S. is at 2225 R Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20008; tel: 202-319-1976; fax: 202-319-2984.
Armenia is the second most densely populated of the former Soviet republics. It is a landlocked country between the Black and the Caspian Seas, bordered on the north by Georgia, to the east by Azerbaijan, on the south by Iran, and to the west by Turkey. Up until independence, Armenia's economy was based largely on industry--chemicals, electronic products, machinery, processed food, synthetic rubber, and textiles--and highly dependent on outside resources. Agriculture accounted for only 20% of net material product and 10% of employment before the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Armenian mines produce copper, zinc, gold, and lead. The vast majority of energy is produced with imported fuel, including gas and nuclear fuel (for its one nuclear power plant) from Russia; the main domestic energy source is hydroelectric. Small amounts of coal, gas, and petroleum have not yet been developed.
Like other New Independent States of the former Soviet Union, Armenia's economy suffers from the legacy of a centrally planned economy and the breakdown of former Soviet trading patterns. Soviet investment in and support of Armenian industry has virtually disappeared, so that few major enterprises are still able to function. In addition, the effects of the 1988 earthquake, which killed more than 25,000 people and made 500,000 homeless, are still being felt. Although a cease-fire has held since 1994, the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has not been resolved. The consequent closure of both the Azerbaijani and Turkish borders has devastated the economy, because of Armenia's dependence on outside supplies of energy and most raw materials. Land routes through Azerbaijan and Turkey are closed; routes through Georgia and Iran are inadequate or unreliable. In 1992-93, GDP fell nearly 60% from its 1989 level. The national currency, the dram, suffered hyperinflation for the first few years after its introduction in 1993.
Nevertheless, the Government of Armenia, helped by the cease-fire that has been in effect in Nagorno-Karabakh since 1994, has been able to carry out wide-ranging economic reforms that paid off in dramatically lower inflation and steady growth. Armenia has registered strong economic growth since 1995, building on the turnaround that began the previous year, and inflation has been negligible for the past several years. New sectors, such as precious stone processing and jewelry making, information and communication technology, and even tourism are beginning to supplement more traditional sectors such as agriculture in the economy.
This steady economic progress has earned Armenia increasing support from international institutions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), as well as other international financial institutions (IFIs) and foreign countries are extending considerable grants and loans. Total loans extended to Armenia since 1993 exceed $1.1 billion. These loans are targeted at reducing the budget deficit, stabilizing the local currency; developing private businesses; energy; the agriculture, food processing, transportation, and health and education sectors; and ongoing rehabilitation work in the earthquake zone.
Continued progress will depend on the ability of the government to strengthen its macroeconomic management, including increasing revenue collection, improving the investment climate, and making strides against corruption. A liberal foreign investment law was approved in June 1994, and a Law on Privatization was adopted in 1997, as well as a program on state property privatization. The government joined the World Trade Organization on February 5, 2003.
DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES
Armenia established a Ministry of Defense in 1992. Border guards subject to the National Security Service patrol Armenia's borders with Georgia and Azerbaijan, while Russian Border Guards continue to monitor its borders with Iran and Turkey.
The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty was ratified by the Armenian parliament in July 1992. The treaty establishes comprehensive limits on key categories of military equipment, such as tanks, artillery, armored combat vehicles, combat aircraft, and combat helicopters, and provides for the destruction of weaponry in excess of those limits. Armenian officials have consistently expressed determination to comply with its provisions. Armenia has provided data on armaments as required under the CFE Treaty. There are indications that Armenia is trying to establish mechanisms to ensure fulfillment of its arms control obligations. Armenia is not a significant exporter of conventional weapons, but it has provided substantial support, including materiel, to separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh.
In March 1993, Armenia signed the multilateral Chemical Weapons Convention, which calls for the eventual elimination of chemical weapons. Armenia acceded to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state in July 1993. The U.S. and other Western governments have discussed efforts to establish effective nuclear export control systems with Armenia.
Armenia is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Commonwealth of Independent States, NATO's Partnership for Peace, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the World Trade Organization.
Peace talks in early 1993 were disrupted by the seizure of Azerbaijan's Kelbajar district by Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian forces and the forced evacuation of thousands of ethnic Azeris. Turkey in protest then followed with an embargo of its own against Armenia. A cease-fire was declared between Azeri and Armenian/Nagorno-Karabakh forces in 1994 and has been maintained by both sides since then in spite of occasional shooting along the line of contact. All Armenian governments have thus far resisted domestic pressure to recognize the self-proclaimed independence of the "Nagorno-Karabakh Republic," while at the same time announcing they would not accept any peace accords that returned the enclave to Azerbaijani rule. Approximately 526,000 of the estimated 800,000 ethnic Azeris who fled during the Karabakhi offensives still live as internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan, while roughly 235,000 of 360,000 ethnic Armenians who fled Azerbaijan since 1988 remain refugees.
Negotiations to peacefully resolve the conflict have been ongoing since 1992 under the aegis of the Minsk Group of the OSCE. The Minsk Group is currently co-chaired by the U.S., France, and Russia. Negotiations have intensified since 2004.
According to Armenia's Office of the Geographer, Karabakhi Armenians, supported by the Republic of Armenia, now hold about 11% of Azerbaijan and have refused to withdraw from occupied territories until an agreement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh is reached. Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to observe the cease-fire that has been in effect since May 1994, and in late 1995 both also agreed to OSCE field representatives being based in Tbilisi, Georgia, to monitor the cease-fire and facilitate the peace process.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 brought an end to the Cold War and created the opportunity to build bilateral relations with the New Independent States (NIS) as they began a political and economic transformation. The U.S. recognized the independence of Armenia on December 25, 1991, and opened an Embassy in Yerevan in February 1992.
The United States has made a concerted effort to help Armenia and the other NIS during their difficult transition from totalitarianism and a command economy to democracy and open markets. The cornerstone of this continuing partnership has been the Freedom for Russia and Emerging Eurasian Democracies and Open Markets (FREEDOM) Support Act, enacted in October 1992. Under this and other programs, the U.S. to date has provided nearly $1.5 billion in humanitarian and technical assistance for Armenia. U.S. assistance programs in Armenia are described in depth on the website at: http://www.usaid.am/main/en/129/.
On March 27, 2006 Armenia signed a Millennium Challenge Compact with the United States; the agreement entered into force on September 29, 2006. The agreement will provide $235 million to Armenia over five years to reduce rural poverty through the improvement of rural roads and irrigation networks.
U.S.-Armenian Economic Relations
Approximately 70 U.S.-owned firms currently do business in Armenia, including such multinationals as Procter & Gamble, M&M-Mars, Xerox, Dell, Microsoft, and IBM. Recent major U.S. investment projects include the Hotel Armenia; the Hotel Ani Plaza; Tufenkian Holdings (carpet and furnishing production, hotels, and construction); several subsidiaries of U.S.-based information technology firms, including Viasphere Technopark, an IT incubator; a Greek-owned Coca-Cola bottling plant; petroleum exploration by the American-Armenian Exploration Company; jewelry and textile production facilities; a large perlite mining and processing plant; and Jermuk Mother Plant, which produces one of the more popular brands of mineral water in Armenia.
U.S. Support To Build A Market Economy
Specific USAID programs focus on the development of a private sector and small and medium-size enterprises, including microcredit programs; energy sector reform, focusing on efficient management of Armenia's physical resources; democracy and good governance programs, including the promotion of a well-informed and active civil society; social sector reform, including benefits administration for vulnerable populations and targeted vocational training; health sector reform, including improvement of management and delivery of primary healthcare services with an emphasis on preventive medicine; and earthquake zone assistance, which provides housing and economic reactivation for victims of the 1988 earthquake. Under this program, more than 4,000 families who lost their homes have participated in a housing certificate program allowing them to secure permanent and adequate housing.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Caucasus Agricultural Development Initiative provides targeted and sustained technical, financial and marketing assistance to small and medium-sized agribusinesses and farmer-marketing associations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cochran Fellowship Program provides training to Armenian agriculturists. USDA and USAID also have launched efforts to revive production and export of Armenian vegetables, fruits, and other agricultural products.
U.S. Humanitarian Assistance
As conditions in Armenia have improved, with the stabilization of the economy and increased energy production--including the restarting of the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant at Metsamor--U.S. assistance programs have moved away from humanitarian goals to longer-term development ones.
U.S. Support To Achieve Democracy
State Department and USAID educational exchange programs play an important role in supporting democratic and free-market reforms. Assistance in the translation and publication of printed information also has been provided. Exchange programs in the U.S. for Armenian lawyers, judges, political party members, business people, government officials, NGO activists, journalists, and other public figures focus on a range of topics, including the American judicial and political system, privatization, specific business sectors, the media, and civil society. The State Department has funded an ongoing project to provide Internet connectivity to schools at various levels throughout the country; these centers provide both educational and community-building opportunities.
USAID has funded international and domestic groups to monitor national elections. USAID also has funded programs to educate voters and to strengthen the role of an array of civic organizations in the democratic process.
[Also see fact sheet on FY 2006 U.S. Assistance to Armenia.]
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia is at 1 American Avenue; tel: 374-10-46-47-00; fax: 374-10-46-47-42.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jun. 2007