Birth rate growth in Armenia: Assessments of experts and citizens

Nov 27 2023
  • Gayane Asryan
  • Yerevan

Improvement of the demographic situation

Improvement of the demographic situation in Armenia is considered a security issue. The country’s authorities, both past and current, have long talked about it and taken steps to increase the birth rate. However, birth rates have only continued to decline. Since 2019 experts have warned of a demographic crisis approaching depopulation. After that, the situation became even more complicated due to the coronavirus pandemic and the Karabakh war in 2020.

According to the results of the first half of 2023, for the first time in recent times, a birth rate increase, though small, was recorded – about 2.6%. In the first 6 months of this year 16,939 babies were born, while in the same period last year it was 16,511.

Since 2022, as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war, thousands of Russian citizens have moved to Armenia. Experts do not think they will stay here for long.

More than 100 thousand people moved to Armenia in September this year, after Azerbaijan’s military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh. But it is still unclear whether they will stay in their homeland.

In any case, experts declare that the most important factor in improving the demographic situation is to stimulate the birth rate.


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Stella lives in one of the border villages in the Tavush region. After 2020, she decided to give birth to her third and fourth child. She says that after the war there was a desire to do something useful for the country. The family expected to take advantage of state support programs.

“It is difficult for a woman to find a job in the village. If you have children, it is almost impossible. And now, in sum, I receive almost a whole salary in the form of benefits for children and I can solve some of my problems.”

She says that the payments are not delayed, and part of the amount is immediately transferred to the savings account opened in the bank in the name of the children.

“We also received a one-time allowance of two million drams ($5,000) at the birth of the third and fourth child. With this money we made cosmetic repairs to the house. It’s not a very big sum, but it helped our family to put some things in order. And, of course, there were no problems with the basic expenses for the children – diapers, milk formula, clothes.”

Armenia differs from many countries in that a large number of people periodically leave for work, and many leave for good. Foreigners do not often move in. An exception can be considered

  • labor migrants from India (only in the first 9 months of 2023 37 thousand people entered Armenia),
  • Russians who moved to Armenia as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war since 2022 (according to official data, about 140 thousand people entered the country, experts believe that only a third of those who arrived have stayed in Armenia),
  • Karabakh Armenians, who were forced to move here in 2023, as well as those who moved before and during the blockade of the Lachin corridor since December 2022 (more than 120 thousand people in total).

All these groups can leave the country at any time.

While demographers used to call stimulating birth rate growth desirable, now, especially after the 2020 war, they say it is a necessity.

As of October 2022, according to the Statistical Committee, the permanent population of Armenia was 2,928,914. This figure also includes those who usually reside here but have been absent from the country for up to one year. StatCom published a figure of how many people currently reside in the country – 2,638,917.

In order to explain why an increase in population is necessary, experts explain that, as a result of the last war, Armenia’s defense structures, for example, faced the problem of lack of human resources to defend the longer border with Azerbaijan.

They believe that in order to solve demographic problems, it is necessary to launch effective programs to stimulate birth rate growth and change the attitude of society.

Since 2020, several programs have been launched to stimulate the birth rate, as well as support young couples and families with children.

The lump-sum allowance for the birth of the first child increased from 50 thousand ($120) drams to 300 thousand ($750) drams. Earlier 150 thousand drams ($355) was paid at the birth of the second child; now this amount has doubled to 300 thousand ($750).

The monthly allowance paid to working mothers increased from 18 thousand drams ($45) to 25 500 drams ($64).

A new type of childcare allowance was introduced for rural residents. Mothers are paid an additional 25,500 drams ($64) per month until their children reach the age of two.

From January 1, 2022 a monthly allowance of 50,000 drams ($120) is paid to all families with a third child or more. These families receive social support until the child is 6 years old.

There are programs that have been launched to help solve housing problems of families with children. Financial assistance is provided to those who have received a mortgage loan to buy an apartment or build a private house.

More attractive conditions are offered to residents of the regions. They receive lump-sum financial assistance for the construction of a house. Mortgage interest rates in the regions are lower than in Yerevan, so many young families prefer to buy housing in the regions nearest to Yerevan.

There is also a program under which a family paying a mortgage loan receives a lump-sum financial support in case of childbirth.

As of October 2023, 2,649 beneficiaries have received government support and about AMD 1 billion 950 million ($4,875,000) has been paid to them. Last year within the framework of the same programs, 3,088 beneficiaries received support worth 2 billion 100 million drams ($5,250,000).

The statistical committee considers it frivolous to analyze the reasons for the growth of the birth rate in such a short period of time.

“It is only clear that in 2022, more third and fourth children were born in families. And this is a very important indicator. Approximately 33% of births are third and fourth children,” Karine Kuyumjyan, head of the Population Census and Demography Department, believes.

Demographer Ruben Yeganyan agrees with the position of the statistical commissioner. He explains that the growth dynamics should be maintained for at least two-three years to have grounds for analyzing cause-and-effect relations.

According to him, the reasons for the growth can be different, including the state policy of stimulating the birth rate. But he warns:

“In the 70s of the twentieth century, England, France, Japan and other countries spent huge amounts of money to stimulate fertility, but did not achieve results. And our country cannot pursue such a policy and invest a lot of money over the next ten years so that there would be significant results and they could be evaluated as a consequence of the state’s strategy.”

The expert says that at the global level there is now a decline in the birth rate due to socio-economic, socio-psychological and health reasons.

In addition, the world population long ago exceeded 8 billion. This means that these people need to be fed, clothed and provided with other necessities. Therefore the global trend is not to encourage population growth, but to curb it.

In Armenia, as in the rest of the world, there is an inverse relationship between fertility and living standards.

“The richer people are, the fewer children they have, and vice versa. Among the priorities for satisfying people’s needs, family and children are in secondary positions,” demographer Ruben Yeganyan says.

Analyzing the factors influencing the birth rate in Armenia at the moment, demographer Artak Markosyan focuses on the unstable situation in the region: “In order to have a child in Armenia today, citizens first of all need predictable, long-term security guarantees.

https://jam-news.net/improvement-of-demographic-situation-in-armenia/

Citibank employees called them ‘Armenian bad guys’ and canceled their accounts. Now they’re suing

Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Nov 27 2023

When Mary Smbatian started hearing rumors a few year ago that Citibank was closing the accounts of Armenian Americans in California's San Fernando Valley, she thought it impossible the giant Wall Street bank would ever shutter hers.

A residential loan broker who also runs an apartment management business, the Encino, California, resident had been a Citibank client for more than a decade, with both company and personal accounts, as well as credit cards issued through the bank.

Then, on Feb. 1 of last year, she got a letter from Citibank informing her that all of her accounts and cards were being closed — without any reason provided. What ensued was chaos, as Smbatian scrambled to get her money back, open new accounts elsewhere and save her businesses.

"This was a mess. This was horrible. This was so depressing," said Smbatian, 42, a mother of five who said she was still shaken by the events. "I was so stressed out, I literally started crying."

Smbatian and others whose accounts were closed suspected discrimination was at play — and say they were proven correct when Citibank signed a consent order Nov. 7 with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, agreeing to pay $25.9 million to cover alleged violations of fair lending laws from at least 2015 to 2021.

The agency alleged that a unit responsible for issuing store-branded credit cards from Home Depot, Best Buy and other retailers had discriminated against applicants whose surnames ended with "ian" or "yan," and particularly those who lived in and near Glendale.

The bank suspected that applicants seeking new cards or credit increases would be more likely to commit fraud and not pay their charges, with some employees referring to them as "Armenian bad guys" or the "Southern California Armenian Mafia." The applicants were subjected to higher scrutiny and many were turned down, approved credit on less favorable terms or subject to possible account freezes and closures, according to the order.

The agency also also found that the bank took "corrective action" against employees who failed to identify and deny the applications. Employees were ordered not to tell customers the real reasons for their rejections or to discuss it in writing or on recorded lines.

The bank agreed to set aside $1.4 million for victims of the discrimination, but the vast share of the penalty is going into a pool that compensates all consumers harmed by violations of federal consumer financial protection laws.

Now, Smbatian is a lead plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit filed Nov. 17 in Los Angeles federal court on behalf of victims of Citibank's discriminatory practices. The suit alleges far greater harm than is detailed in the CFPB's order.

"The fine is actually minuscule compared to the damage done, and it's very significant from what we are hearing from our clients," said attorney Tamar Arminak, whose Glendale firm filed the lawsuit. "It really wrecked them."

Los Angeles County is home to nearly 190,000 people of Armenian descent, according to the 2020 census, making it the largest diaspora community in the country.

The lawsuit seeks to compensate the plaintiffs due to losses suffered from a wide range of alleged injustices, including damage to credit scores and the financial hardship arising from account closures and the inability to access their money. It is also seeking punitive damages due to "the indignity of discrimination."

Arminak said she had heard from Smbatian, a friend, and others in the Armenian community about the closed accounts and decided to proceed with the lawsuit after the CFPB action was announced earlier this month. After advertising the class action on social media and her firm's website, she said she was deluged with responses and has signed up more than 100 clients who want to participate.

The attorney said clients have told her that they didn't just have store accounts closed but checking, savings and business accounts, with the money tied for up weeks or months. Some business people told her their SBA loan funds were frozen for years. Meanwhile, they had trouble accessing their banks records and couldn't get a straight answer about what was happening.

"People suffered far more than a Macy's account not being approved," she said. "And I don't think the fine addresses the humiliation involved."

Despite the consent order focusing on a period through 2021, Arminak said, the stories she has heard from clients indicate account closures actually accelerated last year.

Smbatian's lawsuit is the second proposed class action arising from the fallout surrounding the CFPB's order. It follows a narrower lawsuit filed Nov. 13 by a law firm on behalf of a Grenada Hills, California, woman of Armenian descent who held a Citibank Costco-branded card and alleges she was turned down for a credit line increase this year. A New York law firm announced it is looking into potential breaches of fiduciary duties by the bank's officers and directors.

Citibank did not respond directly to request for comment regarding the lawsuit but directed The Times toward a statement it previously issued about the CFPB settlement, in which it did not deny or admit the agency's findings.

"Regrettably, in trying to thwart a well-documented Armenian fraud ring operating in certain parts of California, a few employees took impermissible actions. While we prioritize protecting our bank and our customers from fraud, it is unacceptable to base credit decisions on national origin. We sincerely apologize to any applicant who was evaluated unfairly by the small number of employees who circumvented our fraud detection protocols," it said.

The alleged Citibank credit denials and account closures follow decades of increasingly tough "know your customer rules" that aim to reduce financial crimes. They were first imposed in 1970 and strengthened after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2008 financial crisis. Banks violators have been subjected to sometimes huge fines totaling in the billions of dollars domestically and abroad.

Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center, said banks have a responsibility to look out for illegal activity such as accounts being used by drug cartels and for money laundering and perpetrating fraud — but it has gone beyond that.

"What we are seeing right now is that some are overreacting or indiscriminately freezing or closing accounts based on supposed red flags, catching innocent people in the process and without giving them any clear procedure or remedy or timeline to get their money back when they, in fact, are not criminals," she said.

Among the most high-profile recent example, she noted, was that of Bank of America, which froze the debit-card accounts of Californians receiving unemployment benefits at the height of the pandemic using a crude algorithm to detect fraud — and then holding on to the money as customers fruitlessly called for weeks. The bank paid fines totaling $225 million to two federal agencies last year.

Saunders said that regulations need to be strengthened to require banks to provide a reason for shutting accounts and to have a consumer dispute process in place. "I think we need to make sure that banks aren't closing accounts for discriminatory reasons. And right now, they are not being required to give any reasons, and that can be a cover for discrimination," she said.

The consent agreement prompted Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, to call for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the bank's regulator, to revisit an "outstanding" performance rating Citibank received in 2021 for its compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act. The 1977 law encourages banks to take steps to improve access to credit and other banking services in minority communities.

The CFPB would not comment on what prompted it to investigate Citibank, but the consent order states that it discovered the alleged discrimination through a statistical analysis of credit applications in the retail services unit from 2015 to 2021. Citibank must now develop a plan to identify and compensate harmed customers, who will not have to apply for compensation.

Under federal rules governing proposed class actions, any related lawsuits would be combined and a lead counsel appointed. The cases also would have to meet certain criteria to be certified and proceed, a process that could take at least six months to a year. Successful class actions typically result in settlements.

Karl Asatryan, a real estate agent and developer, is the other named plaintiff in the case. The lawsuit alleges he received a letter from bank in May of last year stating his accounts would be closed in 30 days. No reason was given and his line of credit also was shut down.

He said he had been a Citibank client for some 20 years and had even refinanced his home mortgage with the bank.

"That's disrespect toward the customer," said Asatryan, 44, of Valley Glen, California. "And for a customer like myself, that's ridiculous."

©2023 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/ap_news/business/citibank-employees-called-them-armenian-bad-guys-and-canceled-their-accounts-now-theyre-suing/article_19675101-b4af-5909-9e61-4484415dfe1e.html

Armenia marks new era with French military purchases

Nov 28 2023

By Neil Hauer in Yerevan 

After months of speculation and waiting, Armenia’s growing defence partnership with France finally became tangible this month.

On November 12, reports emerged from Azerbaijani sources allegedly showing French-made Bastion armoured personnel carriers arriving in Georgia, at the Black Sea port town of Poti. The vehicles were reportedly destined for Armenia, as part of the first known shipment of French military hardware to the South Caucasian country in its history. Georgia’s foreign minister then confirmed that the shipment of 20-odd Bastions was indeed destined for Armenia.

For Armenia, this was a significant milestone. After its army was battered in the 2020 Second Karabakh War, and with its traditional supplier, Russia, both unable and unwilling to send arms shipments, Yerevan has been desperately seeking other procurement partners. Now, having already established a working defence procurement relationship with India, Armenia is hoping that the current French shipment is only the first step of a long partnership.

The arrival of the armoured vehicles came after long negotiations.

“It’s a result of at least year-long negotiations, if not more,” says Leonid Nersisyan, a defence analyst and research fellow at the Yerevan-based Applied Policy Research Institute. “I think the process actively started after the 2020 war. Relations between France and Armenia were always at a pretty high level, and now with better Armenia-EU and Armenia-US relations, these kinds of deals became realistic,” Nersisyan said.

The first official announcement of French arms sales to Armenia came on October 23, when the two countries’ defence ministers met in Paris. That deal included the transfer of three Thales-made Ground Master 200 air detection radars, along with a memorandum on the future sale of Mistral anti-aircraft missile systems. There have also been other reports that France has shipped, or will soon ship, 50 units of the VAB MK3 infantry combat vehicle to Armenia.

“France is the sole Western actor that has been adequately assessing the situation on the ground in the South Caucasus,” said Tigran Grigoryan, head of the Yerevan-based Regional Center and Democracy. “In Paris, there is an understanding that Azerbaijan poses a serious threat to Armenia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the only viable approach to mitigate the risk of a new escalation is to assist Armenia in restoring its military capabilities,” Grigoryan said.

The 44-day war with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 resulted in heavy losses for the Armenian side. After losing control of the skies in the war’s opening days, Armenian forces were devastated by Azerbaijan’s high-tech, precision weaponry, most notably the TB-2 Bayraktar drone. The open source blog Oryx, which tracks and confirms losses based on public imagery, counts 1,676 pieces of Armenian military equipment lost during the war, including 255 tanks, 250 towed artillery pieces, and 39 surface-to-air missile systems.

There has been little breathing room in the three years since that war’s end, too. Azerbaijan has maintained a belligerent posture, launching assaults on either Nagorno-Karabakh or Armenia proper every year since then. In May 2021, barely six months after the 2020 ceasefire, Azerbaijani troops occupied heights in two border areas inside Armenia proper, followed by an assault into southern Armenia that November.

September 2022 saw a full-scale Azerbaijani offensive into Armenia itself, capturing dozens of square kilometres of territory in fighting that saw hundreds of casualties. Finally, just two months ago, a 24-hour assault by Azerbaijan on besieged Nagorno-Karabakh resulted in the effective destruction of the enclave and the forced displacement of its 120,000 inhabitants to Armenia.

Now, there are real fears that Azerbaijan will again attack Armenia itself. In this fraught environment, bolstering the country’s military has become a matter of crucial importance.

Replacing, not to mention upgrading, these capabilities will be an enormous undertaking. Alongside French systems, Armenia has been establishing a relationship with another up-and-coming player in the arms industry: India.

Following numerous reports of contracts signed in late 2022, a number of Indian systems arrived in Armenia in summer 2023, including the Pinaka rocket artillery platform and the 155mm Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (of which 90 units have reportedly been purchased). Numerous contracts for small arms from Indian manufacturers have also been signed, while Armenia will reportedly also purchase anti-drone systems from India’s Zen Technologies.

The capabilities of hardware from each country, as well as the relative prices, dovetail in a way that makes it particularly attractive for Armenia as it addresses its many defence needs, analysts say.

“Indian equipment is important because it could be too expensive for Armenia to rearm only on French equipment,” Nersisyan said. “Armenia needs hundreds of pieces of artillery, not 20 French CAESAR [self-propelled 155mm artillery pieces] that could be the same price. But talking about domains like command and control or air defence – these are the areas where you will definitely see the advantages of top Western technologies. So both [France and India] have a role to play for Armenia,” Nersisyan said.

A major hurdle in the sale of Western military equipment to Armenia had always been the country’s close relationship with Russia. As both a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and a signatory to several bilateral defence treaties with Russia, Yerevan had traditionally relied almost exclusively on Moscow for its defence needs. 

But Armenia’s sharp turn away from Russia in the past year or two has reshaped geopolitical realities in the region, analysts say.

“Armenia's attempt to diversify its foreign policy [away from Russia] undoubtedly played a role in facilitating such transactions,” Grigoryan said.

It is meanwhile Russia’s failure to fulfill its arms contracts with Armenia that has led the latter to seek alternate suppliers. Whether due to unwillingness or inability, particularly following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia has not fulfilled an arms order from Armenia reportedly worth up to $400 million signed in 2021. Yerevan is reportedly attempting to make Moscow return the funds for the already-paid contract, which Russia has so far refused to do.

Many are now wondering if Russia’s time as an active arms supplier to Armenia is over for good.

“It’s a good question,” Nersisyan said on whether Russia may be finished as a supplier for Armenia. “With Armenia’s current foreign policy shifts, that could definitely happen. The several hundred million dollars of supplies [from 2021] have not arrived, for both political reasons and practical causes, namely Russia’s war on Ukraine. Nowadays, Russia is only supplying the countries which are politically very important for them, like India, [and Armenia] is not one of these,” Nersisyan said.

The recent French-Armenian announcements go beyond arms supplies, as well. French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu declared during the October press conference with his Armenian counterpart that France would also “help Armenia train ground defence forces and support the country's efforts to reform and modernise its military.” Paris will also be deploying a military attache to its embassy in Yerevan to aid in coordinating trainings and identifying future areas for defence purchases.

“I think that’s probably even more important than the [air defence] radars,” said Nersisyan, of the French training mission. “The French minister mentioned that [France] will help with both training [Armenian] ground forces and with doing some kind of audit of our air defence capacities, helping to understand how to modernise it. So I think that’s a very high value thing, and hopefully the Armenian side will be open to such advise and consultations and will be ready to accept the necessary [reforms],” he said.

While these are important steps, Armenia’s efforts in rebuilding and upgrading its armed forces are still in their infancy. Far more needs to be done to achieve some sort of parity, or at least credible deterrent, with their adversary, Azerbaijan. Change is happening, but its pace leaves questions.

“Changes [in the military] are happening, but slower than they should, I suppose,” said Nersisyan. “There is a serious need to speed that up, because [Armenia] is under serious pressure now and doesn’t have a lot of time. But I expect more deliveries from France in the near future, and from India as well. Procurement is historically the easy part [of upgrading a military], but reforms in command and control – those are more difficult.”

https://www.bne.eu/armenia-marks-new-era-with-french-military-purchases-303180/?source=armenia

SPECA countries transform Karabakh into a platform for economic cooperation [Azeri opinion]

euReporter
Nov 28 2023

Having paid attention to the processes that are taking place now in our renewing globe, we can see that the world's countries primarily require economic and political stability and peace. States and governments that organize these types of discussions through international platforms understand that healthy dialogue and increased cooperation are the primary mechanisms for achieving sustainable development and better, more effective organization of the emerging new political architecture.

Today, Azerbaijan continues its commitment to partnership and cooperation on all international platforms based on mutual respect and trust, successfully proving to the entire community the path to sustainable development. The multi-vector economic policies executed under President Ilham Aliyev's leadership during the previous 20 years, as well as the excellent management model used, have had a considerable impact on the development of not just the South Caucasus but also the Central Asian region.

In general, our country has created relations with Central Asian governments in multilateral forms based on mutual respect and confidence in recent years; the President of Azerbaijan attends high-level meetings of the region's heads of state as an honored guest.

Recently Azerbaijan, under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), has brought new breath into these relations. The Summit meeting of the leaders of state and government of the UN Special Program for the Economies of Central Asian Countries – SPECA took place in Baku for the first time in history.

The United Nations Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) was launched in 1998 to strengthen subregional cooperation in Central Asia and deepen its integration into the world economy. SPECA countries consist of Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

President Ilham Aliyev's speech at the Summit held on November 24, 2023, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of SPECA, as well as a series of bilateral meetings with the heads of states participating in the meeting, which determined the future directions of SPECA's activities, highlighted the importance of our country for the institution, and revealed the state's consistent work in the fields of regional integration and socio-economic development.

The presence of the Prime Ministers of Georgia and Hungary, as well as the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as guests of honor at President Ilham Aliyev's request, will open the way for a broader framework of economic cooperation.

These initiatives, of course, are a result of Azerbaijan's consistent policy, which has resulted in political stability and an autonomous economy. "Without stability, no economic growth can be achieved. Today, wars, conflicts and bloody clashes are raging in various regions across the globe, whereas, our countries enjoy peace, stability and security, with successful growth and development processes underway," President Ilham Aliyev remarked during his speech at the Summit.

Over the last two decades, the fourfold increase in Azerbaijan's GDP, the reduction of poverty from approximately 50 percent to 5.5 percent, and the fact that our foreign exchange reserves have exceeded our direct foreign debt by tenfold have all contributed to a favorable investment environment for foreign countries and companies in our country. Thus, over the last 20 years, more than 310 billion US dollars have been invested in Azerbaijan's economy, with approximately 200 billion US dollars landing in the non-energy sector.

President Ilham Aliyev also mentioned the centuries-old historical and cultural relations between Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan, as well as our ongoing collaboration in the fields of transportation and logistics, during his speech. The President stated that Azerbaijan has become a reliable partner in this field. He pointed out how useful our investments of billions of US dollars for the expansion of the capacity of the Eurasian East-West and North-South transport corridors are to strengthen the transport security of SPECA countries.

It is no surprise that the importance of SPECA to the UN has grown in recent years. This year, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution commemorating SPECA's 25th anniversary, and the SPECA Trust Fund was formed under UN auspices. Azerbaijan, for its part, will contribute 3.5 million US dollars to the Trust Fund.

I'd like to emphasize that the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), a UN sub-structure, supports SPECA activities. This year, on October 19–20, 2023, the Republic of Azerbaijan, including the Milli Majlis, was represented at a high level in the Regional Conference held in Geneva, Switzerland, under the auspices of UNECE.

As a result of improving connections, the SPECA countries are heavily involved in the restoration and reconstruction of our territories liberated from occupation. During his speech, the country's leader underlined this issue specifically, and the work of these states was lauded. President Ilham Aliyev mentioned the school and creative center being built as a gift for the people of Azerbaijan by brotherly Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and emphasized that additional steps have been taken to enhance cooperation in this area.

The involvement of Central Asian countries in the work being done to turn Karabakh into a paradise opens up new avenues of cooperation by increasing the volume of foreign investment flowing into Azerbaijan as well as creates conditions for the Great Return to accelerate.

As a result, Karabakh, in addition to being a source of pride for the Azerbaijani people, is also becoming a global center of peace, justice, and mutual collaboration.

Author:
Mazahir AfandiyevMember of the Milli Majlis of the Republic of Azerbaijan


ADB President Commits Support For Armenia’s Long-Term Development Objectives

Nov 28 2023

YEREVAN  — Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa committed to helping Armenia realize its long-term development objectives in a meeting with Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan today.

“We are enthusiastic to continue helping Armenia realize its long-term development objectives,” said Mr. Asakawa, who is on his first official visit to the Caucasus nation. “As your trusted partner, ADB will support Armenia’s pursuit of an export-oriented, knowledge-based, and inclusive economy. We stand alongside the government to help address the country’s key development challenges.”

The two leaders also attended the inauguration of a school in Yerevan that was renovated under ADB’s Seismic Safety Improvement Program, which aims to refurbish 46 schools across Armenia. Mr. Asakawa visited a second school to be reconstructed by ADB.

He is scheduled to meet with President Vahagn Khachatryan, Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan, and the Minister of Finance and ADB Governor Vahe Hovhannisyan on his 3-day trip.

Mr. Asakawa will witness the exchange of loan agreement for a second tranche of financing under the Seismic Safety Improvement program. He will also witness the signing of a $65.17 million loan to improve the urban environment, enhance the road network, and promote climate-resilient infrastructure in the capital. Under the Yerevan Urban Development Investment Project, a new 1.8 km road and bridge will help to cut congestion along a key route for commuter traffic in the city.

Tomorrow, Mr. Asakawa will join senior members of the government at an event to explore opportunities for Armenia to incorporate climate adaptation into its fiscal planning. Upstream engagement is critical to ensuring that climate risk is adequately accounted for in national budgets. As Asia and the Pacific’s climate bank, ADB is committed to supporting climate mitigation and adaptation projects in Armenia.

ADB is currently supporting six infrastructure investments in transport and urban development totaling $525 million. These initiatives are helping Armenia develop an efficient, safe, and sustainable road network that improves connectivity within the land-locked country and internationally.

Since Armenia joined ADB in 2005, the bank has provided more than $1.8 billion in support and become one of the country’s largest multilateral development partners. This includes projects in transport, energy, water, and urban infrastructure. In the private sector, ADB supports utilities and infrastructure, financial institutions, and agribusiness.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

https://indiaeducationdiary.in/adb-president-commits-support-for-armenias-long-term-development-objectives/

Turkish Press: Washington’s recent actions ‘seriously damaged’ relations with Baku: Azerbaijani president

Anadolu Agency, Turkey
Nov 28 2023
Elena Teslova  |28.11.2023 – Update : 28.11.2023

MOSCOW

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that the latest statements and actions taken by the US have “seriously damaged” relations between Washington and Baku.

According to a statement by the Azerbaijani presidency, Alivey said this during a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday night.

The Azerbaijani president said that the “remarks about our country, made by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Europe hearing on November 15, 2023, were biased, failed to reflect reality and were rejected by Azerbaijan,” the statement said.

“With the aim of normalization of relationship, Secretary Blinken has asked to allow the visit of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien in December to Azerbaijan,” the statement said, adding: “Aliyev has agreed to this proposal on the condition that after this visit the unfounded ban on the visits of Azerbaijani high-level officials to the United States will be lifted. Secretary Blinken has accepted that.”

The two sides discussed issues of bilateral relations and efforts for normalization of ties between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Aliyev emphasized that Armenia's 70-day delay in responding to Azerbaijan's peace agreement draft “demonstrates again that Armenia misuses the text of the peace treaty as a pretext for the prolongation of negotiations process.”

Aliyev and Blinken also exchanged views on another meeting of a special commission on the border delimitation, which is scheduled for Nov. 30 at the Armenian-Azerbaijani "conditional border."

Relations between the two former Soviet republics have been tense since 1991, when the Armenian military occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and seven adjacent regions.

Most of the territory was liberated by Azerbaijan during a war in the fall of 2020, which ended after a Russian-brokered peace agreement and also opened the door to normalization.

Azerbaijan established full sovereignty in Karabakh after an "anti-terrorism operation" in September, after which separatist forces in the region surrendered.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/washington-s-recent-actions-seriously-damaged-relations-with-baku-azerbaijani-president/3066943

As Russia Relations Sour, Armenians Prepare to Defend Themselves

Nov 28 2023

SYUNIK PROVINCE, Armenia — “When I go to bed at night, I don’t think: ‘Is my phone on charge or have I brushed my teeth?’ I think: Do I know where my parents are and is my bag packed to evacuate?”

These are the nightly thoughts of Mariam, a 22-year-old teacher living in southern Armenia’s Syunik province, 10 kilometers from the border with Azerbaijan. She’s standing in the Soviet-era sports hall of Goris State University and has just finished a class on emergency first aid. Next up: Kalashnikov shooting techniques. 

Mariam is undertaking a three-month program run by VOMA, a paramilitary group that has variously been described as a survival school and a civil defense organization — or, if you’re a member of the Azerbaijani government, a terrorist group.

No matter how it is characterized, VOMA’s stated aim is a serious one: to prepare Armenian civilians to defend their country. 

The attendees here seemingly hail from every corner of the community, from young mothers to university students. Along with first aid and weapons training, they’ll also take lessons in mountaineering, a crucial skill in the rugged alpine terrain that flanks the 900-kilometer border with Azerbaijan.  

Of the 22 VOMA branches spread across Armenia, “the location of this branch is significant because of the vulnerability of this border area,” says Vartan, its 42-year-old head instructor. 

VOMA has seen a significant uptick in attendees since Azerbaijan launched its lightning military offensive on the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in September, taking it under in 24 hours and sending its 100,000-strong ethnic Armenian population fleeing into Armenia proper. 

Most, crammed into cars or the back of open-top trucks, passed through this very town, which over the past fortnight morphed into an international crisis center. The Red Cross, The World Food Program and a host of national aid missions, including USAID head Samantha Power, poured in to show support. Tents went up, food packages were delivered, and the international media showed up in droves. 

But for many of the residents of this region who feel abandoned by the international community, this display was too little, too late.

“Of course I’m let down,” Vartan said. “I was waiting for something that didn’t happen. But we just have to have hope.”

READ MORE

According to many here, the bulk of the blame lies squarely at the feet of Armenia’s historic ally Russia, who, despite promises to mediate the conflict and the presence of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in the region, did little to intervene.

Russia’s inaction marks a historic shift in its regional policy. In the past, Armenia has been able to rely on Russia to moderate disputes, supply arms and play politics. Though this hasn’t always been in Armenia’s favor, they’ve generally done enough to support Yerevan. 

To this day, Russian border guards patrol Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran. In Armenia’s second city of Gyumri, a vast Russian military base houses an estimated 3,000 soldiers. The vast majority of Armenia’s gas supply comes from Russia. 

These entanglements make any future split from Russia all the more difficult for Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. 

A VOMA first aid training. Participants' faces have been concealed due to concerns about being identified by the Azerbaijani authorities.Tom J. Bennett

Experts say the reasons for Russia’s cold shoulder are complex: the Ukraine war has left Russia internationally isolated, meaning that southern partners that provide a link to global markets — such as Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran — have become much more valuable. 

But it’s also likely that Armenia’s recent overtures to the West have angered the Kremlin. At the start of September, Yerevan carried out joint training drills with the U.S. military and sent an aid package to Ukraine personally delivered by Pashinyan’s wife Anna Hakobian. 

Armenia’s parliament strained relations further when, in a rebuke to Moscow, it voted to join the International Criminal Court — meaning that if President Vladimir Putin were to step foot on Armenian soil, Yerevan would be obliged to arrest him. 

Last week, Armenia was the only member of the Moscow-led CSTO alliance to skip a meeting of alliance leaders in Minsk, and Pashinyan said that Russia had failed to deliver weapons Yerevan had already paid for and accused Russia's media of destabilizing his country's political situation.

“Armenia cannot count at all on Russia in terms of its own security, so this ICC vote is a message to the West from the Armenian government that they are really willing to go further in distancing themselves from Russia,” Stefan Meister, head of the Center for Order and Governance in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told The Moscow Times. 

“But I think it's a very dangerous bet they are doing because I don't see that the West will really support Armenia in a way that it needs. For the West, it’s a question of how you show support. Do you send soldiers? Peacekeepers? Do you build up leverage on Azerbaijan with sanctions?”

Rifles storedTom J. Bennett

According to Meister, that latter option appears unlikely. As a result of Western sanctions on Russia, many EU countries have turned to Azerbaijan as an alternate gas supplier. It’s unlikely that any country would want to sanction a key energy provider, leaving Armenia in a difficult negotiating position. 

As geopolitical moves are played out in capitals across Eurasia, the lack of a firm international response to the Nagorno-Karabakh situation has raised fears that Azerbaijan could attempt to create a land corridor to its exclave of Nakhichevan by capturing parts of southern Armenia.

“What’s worrying from the Armenian standpoint is this convergence of interests between Azerbaijan, Russia, and Turkey to open this corridor. And in the region, the only power kind of opposing it is Iran,” Karena Avedissian, a senior analyst at the Regional Center for Democracy and Security, told The Moscow Times. 

For the VOMA trainees in Syunik province, the specter of war casts a long shadow. 

“I think we will see a growing instability of Armenia, which has lost orientation and has no one who supports it really in a serious way,” says Meister. 

The names of VOMA members have been changed to protect their identities.

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2023/11/28/as-russia-relations-sour-armenians-prepare-to-defend-themselves-a82716

Armenian trucks idle in Upper Lars. Russia’s response to the CSTO boycott?

Nov 28 2023
  • JAMnews
  • Yerevan

Upper Lars

On the only land road connecting Armenia with Russia, 964 Armenian trucks are idle at the Upper Lars checkpoint. According to the official version, the road is closed due to unfavorable weather conditions. However, Armenian drivers report from the spot that other reasons have been announced. They were presented with claims concerning documents, sanitary issues.

In this regard, Armenia is now actively discussing whether there is no political context in the road closure related to the aggravation of Armenian-Russian relations.


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On November 23, Minsk hosted the regular summit of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO military bloc operating under the auspices of the Russian Federation. The Armenian Prime Minister did not participate in the meeting. He expressed hope that his CSTO partners would be sympathetic to his decision. Recently, both Pashinyan and other Armenian officials have boycotted meetings within the CSTO and with CIS partners. At the same time, they claim that “there is no intention to change the foreign policy vector.” However, at the beginning of the year official Yerevan announced that it would not host CSTO military exercises, then refused the quota of deputy secretary-general in the bloc, recalled its ambassador and did not appoint a new one.

Justifying these decisions, the Prime Minister and his team recall that in 2021 and 2022, during the advance of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces deep into Armenia’s sovereign territory, the country sought military assistance from the CSTO and Russia. However, it did not receive any assistance. Moreover, the CSTO announced that the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not delimited, which makes it impossible to understand whether there is an invasion into the territory of an ally of the bloc. According to Nikol Pashinyan, the statement that there is no border between Armenia and Azerbaijan means that there is no CSTO zone of responsibility: “And if there is no zone of responsibility, there is no organization itself.

The Russian Emergencies Ministry issued a call to use detours and avoid traveling in the direction of the Upper Lars checkpoint. It was reported that it was impossible to ensure “safe movement of vehicles”. On November 26, the traffic was restricted due to weather conditions, and from the next day the road was completely blocked.

However, Armenian vehicles could not heed the appeals of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and abandon this direction, as there is no other land route from Armenia to Russia.

In early October, 60 Armenian cars loaded with cognac stood at the same checkpoint for two weeks. At that time, the Russian side announced stricter customs control. All trucks had to wait at the checkpoint until the answers to the samples sent for laboratory testing were received.

Eventually, they were allowed to enter Russia. But the long wait increased transportation costs. By the way, about 95% of the cognac produced in Armenia is exported to Russia.

MP from the Hayastan opposition faction Artur Khachatryan believes that no matter how much Pashinyan denies the fact of strained relations with Russia, this fact is obvious. In this regard, he declares the situation in Upper Lars as “another manifestation” of the tension that has arisen in relations with Russia.

According to the deputy, this is how Moscow reacts to Armenia’s boycott of the CSTO summit:

“Russia is speaking with certain messages. Let’s recognize that it was not an accident. In response to Armenia’s policy, they are pursuing a certain counter-policy”.

Alen Simonyan, Speaker of the Armenian Parliament, told reporters that according to the information he has, “there was simply a change in the bodies carrying out service at the checkpoint”. He does not notice the overt political innuendo.

Simonyan does not think it is necessary to rush to conclusions, but does not rule out the factor of political context, as relations are “a bit tense.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Araik Harutyunyan, referring to the incident at the Russian checkpoint, said:

“Now it is extremely important that Armenians both in Armenia and those living abroad buy exclusively Armenian goods. […] Such support for business is vital for strengthening independence and sovereignty. And the closure of some checkpoint near Lars will not affect us, if Armenian business finds new markets”.

Expert circles criticized this statement, considering it as a manifestation of “lack of state thinking”. In particular, political scientist Suren Surenyants wrote on his Facebook page that the government’s task should be to immediately solve the problems that arose at the Lars checkpoint, not to make speeches with patriotic texts.

“It would be more useful if the Armenian government would consistently promote the improvement of the quality and production standards of Armenian goods so that their exports are not limited exclusively to the Russian market,” the political scientist emphasized.

https://jam-news.net/armenian-trucks-idle-at-the-upper-lars-checkpoint/

Number of passengers through Yerevan airport has increased dramatically. What is the explanation?

Nov 27 2023
  • JAMnews
  • Yerevan

Growth in the number of air passengers

The Civil Aviation Committee of Armenia reports an unprecedented increase in the number of passengers flying to Armenia and other countries through Yerevan airport, and by the end of the year a record of more than five million people is expected — the highest figure in the history of the country. The committee believes that both desire to travel and the tense situation in the world contributed to the rapid growth of passenger flow.

“Because of the Russian-Ukrainian war, there has been quite a large flow of passengers. A number of airlines have left these countries and redeployed to the south, including Armenia. In this context, we have become a natural hub,” Stepan Payaslyan, deputy chairman of the Civil Aviation Committee, says.


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For the first 10 months of 2023, they have already recorded substantial activity — 4.7 million people. Last year the number of passengers amounted to 3.7 million. And the previous year, 2021, the Civil Aviation Committee considered a “recovery” period after the coronavirus pandemic.

Stepan Payaslyan, deputy chairman of the committee, said that before the pandemic, in 2019, there were about three million passengers.

According to Payaslyan, the country is considered by passengers both as an independent destination and as a hub for traveling to other countries.

In his opinion, the growth of air transportation and passenger traffic in the last two years is due to

  • people’s desire to travel again after COVID restrictions
  • Russian-Ukrainian war.

Payaslyan believes that Armenia could become “a major hub if its own airlines managed passenger traffic.” And some Armenian airlines are already taking on that role to some extent, but are not yet able to take full ownership of the situation:

“There are many cases when, for example, citizens come to Yerevan from Russian destinations and from here fly to European countries using the services of other airlines, as these destinations are now closed to Russian airlines.”

Provision of privileges to airlines, such as air duty and various navigation services to new destinations, also contributes to the growth.

“The activity of Armenian airlines has also become an important factor. Never before have six Armenian air carriers flown from Yerevan at once. This also contributes to the formation of passenger traffic. And competitive conditions also lead to lower ticket prices,” Payaslyan explained.

The deputy chairman of the Civil Aviation Committee says that a “dynamic process” has started with new airlines appearing and after some time they may leave the market or temporarily stop their activities.

Now it is possible to fly from Yerevan to Rome, Milan, Venice, Frankfurt, Paris, Lyon and other cities, Payaslyan notes. In the fall, a Yerevan-Sri Lanka direct flight was launched.

“In spring 2024, Eurowings will launch a direct flight Berlin-Yerevan.”

According to him, Armenian airlines also make flights to various cities in Russia.

https://jam-news.net/increase-in-the-number-of-air-passengers-flying-through-armenia/ 

Strained Relations Between Azerbaijan and the West

Jamestown Foundation
Nov 27 2023

On November 16, Baku canceled a meeting between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan scheduled to take place on November 20 in Washington (Apa.az, November 16). The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry asserted that, under the current circumstances, it is not possible to proceed with US-mediated peace negotiations. The statement alluded to US Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien’s comments during “The Future of Nagorno-Karabakh” hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Europe on November 15 (YouTube, November 15). The hearing highlighted a growing break between Baku and Washington on how to proceed with the peace talks. Azerbaijan has called for “more regional solutions to regional problems,” while the United States and European Union hope to maintain influence over negotiations between Baku and Yerevan (see EDM, October 25).

O’Brien’s remarks raised eyebrows in Baku. The US official commented on the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process, bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and the United States, and regional transit projects in the South Caucasus. He stipulated that it cannot be business as usual with Azerbaijan without significant progress in the peace talks: “We’ve canceled a number of high-level visits, condemned [Baku’s] actions, and [canceled] the 907 waiver. We don’t anticipate submitting a waiver until such time as we see a real improvement in the situation” (YouTube, November 15). O’Brien was referencing Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act of 1992. The amendment, adopted on October 24, 1992, bars the United States from offering assistance to Azerbaijan unless Baku takes “demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh” (Congress.gov, October 24, 1992).

The United States has granted annual waivers for this amendment since 2002. That year, Baku permitted Washington to use its territory to supply US troops in Afghanistan. Hence, O’Brien’s statement stirred ire in Baku. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry responded, “It turns out that the US side has always considered the support of Azerbaijan as occasional, while it should be remembered that history has always repeated itself.” The government ministry also reminded Washington of Azerbaijan’s numerous contributions to US counterterrorist efforts following 9/11 (Mfa.gov.az, November 16).

The Azerbaijani government has long considered the 907 amendment a major setback in Azerbaijani-US relations. Baku has consistently criticized the measure because it was adopted when Azerbaijan, not Armenia, was under occupation. Farid Shafiyev, chairman of the Baku-based Center for Analysis of International Relations, recently posted on X (formerly Twitter), “Let’s recall that the 907 amendment was adopted on 24 October 1992—the year when the Azerbaijani city Shusha was occupied by Armenian forces” (Twitter.com/shafiyev_farid, November 16).

O’Brien’s comments on a possible trans-Iranian transit corridor suggest that the US State Department’s strong response may be connected to other regional developments in the South Caucasus (see EDM, November 3). The US official declared, “A future that is built around the access of Russia and Iran as the main participants in the security of the region, the South Caucasus, is unstable and undesirable, including for both the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia. They have the opportunity to make a different decision now” (YouTube, November 15). He further stressed that Washington prefers a land corridor passing through Armenia’s southern territory. The United States hopes to use such a passage to limit Russian and Iranian involvement in regional transit. Paradoxically, the State Department has not opposed the contract signed between Armenia and Iran on October 23 regarding the construction of a new road between the two countries. The new road is meant to “contribute to the implementation of the North-South project,” a priority for both Moscow and Tehran (Armradio.am, October 23).

Baku responded by emphasizing its focus on regional players taking the lead in peace negotiations. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry stated that “it is the sovereign right of Azerbaijan to agree with neighboring countries on how to build communication lines, which also includes an agreement with Iran. … Against this backdrop, Azerbaijan also reconfirms the priority of the ‘3+2’ format (Türkiye, Russia, and Iran “plus” Azerbaijan and Armenia) for the security of the region” (Mfa.gov.az, November 16). The Azerbaijani government has supported revitalizing the “3+3” cooperation platform (that includes Georgia)—currently proceeding in the “3+2” format due to Tbilisi’s non-participation—to deal with regional conflicts.

The format is built on the “regional solutions to regional problems” approach and attempts to ensure that the power vacuum left by declining Russian influence does not transform the South Caucasus into a battlefield for great-power competition (see EDM, October 25). This presages a new security order in the region that is not dominated by any other extra-regional actor. In this, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia would gain an opportunity to diversify their foreign policy and prevent compromising their sovereignty.

Tensions continue to mount between Azerbaijan and the United States regarding differences in their regional policies. On November 21, Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy advisor to the Azerbaijani president, issued a response to a statement from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power(Twitter.com/HikmetHajiyev, November 21). In a video posted on X, Power announced a package of $4 million in humanitarian aid for the Armenian people who, according to her, were forcibly displaced by Azerbaijan’s military operation in Karabakh (Twitter.com/PowerUSAID, November 21). Hajiyev criticized Power’s statement on multiple fronts. He highlighted her apparent indifference to the challenges faced by internally displaced persons and refugees in Azerbaijan and for supporting the Russian oligarch Ruben Vardanyan, who had served in a senior position in the separatist government in Karabakh. Hajiyev’s statement signaled that Azerbaijan may suspend USAID’s operations in the country.

The current tensions between Washington and Baku could have far-reaching implications for the South Caucasus. In this author’s opinion, it is crucial that both countries seek common ground on how to proceed in peace negotiations with Armenia and how best to handle the Armenians who left Karabakh. Additionally, the question of a transit corridor that connects Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave with the mainland—either through Iran or Armenia’s southern region—remains a key sticking point between the two sides. An inability to solve these issues along mutually beneficial terms will likely hamper any future efforts to establish peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and risks straining regional tensions that could lead to a wider conflict.

https://jamestown.org/program/strained-relations-between-azerbaijan-and-the-west/