October 22, 2014

Modern Problems of Socio-Economic Development in Armenia

(review of a Doctoral thesis by Amalya Saribekyan)

By CRRC-Armenia International Volunteer Varak Ketsemanian

Varak Ketsemanian
The problem of Armenia’s social and economic development has been on the political agenda of the Armenian ruling elite and the Diaspora, since the country has regained its independence in 1991. Given the unfavorable well-known geographical, geopolitical and historical developments of the Armenian Republic during the past years of independence, the economic and social progress of the country currently remains a lingering problem for the Armenian reality.  Thus, the local scientists quite often try to analyze the public policy to suggest models that will support further development.

One of such works is the Doctorate thesis, written by Amalya Saribekyan. She argues that the effective usage of the social potential of the country would account to a new qualitative progress that will enhance the social and economic structure of Armenia. The study reveals the peculiarities of economic growth and pre-crisis (2008) developments while analyzing the trends of economic development in transition countries, including Armenia.

Apart from providing a theoretical basis for her work and reviewing development theories by W. Rostow, the author relies on empirical data, arguing for a necessity in the structural change in Armenian economics, and societal management and dynamics. Moreover, this study is an attempt to bring into the scene the importance of society when it comes to modernization and economic development. It provides some new insights concerning the role of society in a post-crisis Armenia, and calls for the necessity to find new ways for the further development of the country leading to economic modernization and progressive development, based on new resources, new approaches and principles.

Considering the specifics of the newborn Armenian Republic and the harsh realities of the transitional period it found itself after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the research underlines the necessity for revamping the social-economic structure of the country. In this respect, it tends to merge different scientific and social approaches urging for the development of new social and political mechanisms and principles that would shape and enhance the economic structure of Armenia.  Justifying the importance of modernizing the national ideology under the modern theories of social economic developments, this work discusses a necessity of transition to mobilized economics as a safeguard for the maximal realization of the national investment potential.

With the introduction of this idea, Saribekyan highlights the necessity for a multilateral evaluation of the constituent parts of socio-economic potential, and defines their role in the formation of national investment potential. In other words, discussing the necessity for harnessing the national investment potential, the author marks the development of human potential (culture, ideology, and knowledge), as a priority and necessary condition for the economic growth. Thus, considering the development of social apparatus as a condition for economic development, the marking of conceptual characteristics of long-term national development assumes great importance in Saribekyan’s work, particularly the priority of individual interest over social interest, consent, and effective cooperation of political and economic systems on the basis of the principles of democracy, legitimacy and transparency. 
Finally, this work argues for the necessity of structural changes along the following lines:

    - The creation of a subsystem of cultural and spiritual development, aimed at shaping national ideology as well as at acknowledging the role of Armenian nation in human civilization;

        - The establishment of a subsystem of provision of social understanding and society – state cooperation, aimed at promoting communal involvement in the decision making process and increasing the effectiveness of these processes; finally, the necessity of revamping the subsystem of social economic strategic development, aimed at differentiating between strategic and administrative levels.

Hereby, throughout this brief introduction to Saribekyan’s work, we would like to invite economists, sociologists, social scientists and all those concerned with Armenia’s social-economic development to, not only freely exchange their ideas, opinions and comments regarding the problems raised in this work, but also to suggest new ways, methods, mechanisms and principles bringing some new insights in efforts to address the problems mentioned above.

October 21, 2014

Armenia ranks the lowest in South Caucasus: Some Observations from the Global Competitiveness Index 2014/2015

By Syuzanna Smbatyan and Julya Sahakyan, CRRC-Armenia Junior Fellows

Main message

According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015, Armenia’s competitiveness is ranked 85th out of 144 economies, which means that it lacks behind its two neighboring countries: Georgia and Azerbaijan (69th and 38th correspondingly). Meanwhile, according to the previous report of the year 2013-2014, Armenia was the 79th, which means that it recorded a decrease by 6 point compared to 2014-2015, making its regression even concerning. Let’s see how the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) is measured and which sectors affected significantly the index for Armenia and its neighbors.

It is an annual comprehensive assessment based on competitiveness performance of the set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country. It involves static and dynamic components (12 in total). In order to measure components, the report uses statistical data such as government debt, enrollment rates, budget deficit and life expectancy. Data are acquired from international agencies. 

Armenia’s GCI’s Recent Trends Compared to Neighbors

The table below shows how both the overall competitiveness indices  and the ones for each of the 12 pillars of competitiveness vary in three South Caucasian countries (note that (+) means upward change and (-) means downward change). It is apparent, that in case of the most of 12 pillars Georgia and Azerbaijan are doing better than Armenia in the recent two years.  Only in Business Sophistication and Innovation Armenia’s rank is better than Georgia’s. Armenia compared to Azerbaijan has higher grade in Health and Primary Education, where the latter was ranked the least in the South Caucasus region.

Overall Competitiveness Indices

Compared to 2013, Armenia had the highest downfall in Macroeconomic environment, Health and primary education, Labor market efficiency and Financial market development (-13,-14, -24 and -21 respectively). While Georgia recorded significant improvement in institutions (+16) and macroeconomic environment (+13). Azerbaijan mostly was affected negatively by business sophistication which was improved only in Georgia (+7).
It is also noteworthy to mention that according to this report Armenia is in the backyard by export’s share in the GDP, which is one of the important indicators for economic growth of countries.  

On the other hand, it is the first out of 144 countries having the lowest percentage of HIV prevalence (0.2%). The report indicates that there are some sectors such as infrastructure, protection of the investors and documentation days of starting new business in which, Armenia recorded improvement compared to 2013.

October 17, 2014

Determining the Internet Penetration Rate in Armenia

By Adrineh Der-Boghossian, CRRC-Armenia Junior Fellow

An article recently published on Media.am revealed that the internet penetration rate in Armenia in 2013, according to the country’s Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC), was 45%. How does this compare with data from the Caucasus Barometer?

According to the 2013 Caucasus Barometer, 59% of respondents said their household had internet access. The official government figure is different from not only the CB data, but also the rate provided by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN agency responsible for ICTs. According to the ITU, 46% of individuals used the internet in Armenia in 2013.

The ITU gets its data from “administrative sources” — mainly telecommunications operators and internet service providers collected by national regulatory authorities and ministries. As per the ITU’s Handbook for the collection of administrative data on telecommunications/ICT: “In most countries, the national telecommunication regulatory authority (NRA) is responsible for collecting, compiling and disseminating statistics covering the telecommunication/ICT services sector.” In Armenia, the ITU has traditionally relied on data provided by the National Statistical Service, the Ministry of Transport and Communication, and the PSRC, government bodies that technology scholars and experts are not inclined to trust as data collection processes have been neither transparent nor objective.

Furthermore, “some governments have reason to inflate penetration rates and there are few checks on this by the ITU,” writes Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Washington and South Caucasus technology media expert Katy Pearce in this article from 2012.

There is, however, other data apart from household internet access that might help to provide a more comprehensive picture of internet access in Armenia. For instance, according to the 2013 Caucasus Barometer, 62% of households have a personal computer and 28% access the internet from a cell phone. Though having a computer at home doesn’t mean it’s connected to the internet, there’s a good chance that at least some of those computers are connected to the internet. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that internet penetration increased in Armenia primarily due to mobile internet access. Many Armenian internet users, in fact, access the internet only via mobile device (Pearce and Rice, 2013). All things we need to keep in mind when trying to determine the level of internet access in Armenia.

Another, perhaps more useful indicator is frequency of internet use.

Additional data can be found by looking at the findings of another nationwide household survey conducted by CRRC-Armenia in 2013, the Alternative Resources in Media survey. Here too, respondents were asked about device ownership, and internet use and frequency. Specifically, 47% of respondents said they used the internet in the last 12 months, with 48% of them reporting they used it daily. Asked about device ownership, 24% of respondents said they had a notebook, 6% had a netbook, 42% had a desktop computer, and 4% had a tablet.

The Alternative Resources in Media survey also asked about frequency of internet use (with slight variation in the response options):

No matter how you look at it, the claim that 45% of Armenia’s population are internet users is simplistic and not wholly accurate. Besides, internet penetration rates on their own mean nothing if we also don’t look at internet frequency and online activities. Device ownership is also helpful but not the best measure of individuals using the internet.

Why aren’t devices a good way to measure internet use? Well, for one thing, individuals have multiple devices, and for another, they sometimes share devices (say, a household computer that several people use). LIRNEasia, an ICT policy and regulation think tank covering the Asia Pacific, proposes a new model that estimates the proportion of individuals using the internet based on income and education level data, particularly in cases where there is no survey data. LIRNEasia refers to previous research that found the main factors driving internet penetration are income and education. This paper points to the problems of relying on ITU data and number of internet subscriptions.

A good measure of internet use is the activities people do online. The 2013 Caucasus Barometer asked respondents which activities they do most frequently when they’re browsing the internet. To find the answer to this question and compare results from Armenia with those of the rest of the South Caucasus, go to http://caucasusbarometer.org/en/ and use the CRRC’s easy-to-use Online Data Analysis tool.

October 14, 2014

Can Researchers Find New Ways to Approach Ethnic Conflict?

By Kendra Dias, CRRC-Armenia International Fellow

“Mercy on the old master building a bridge,
The passer-by may lay a stone to his foundation.
I have sacrificed my soul, worn out my life, for the nation.
A brother may arrange a rock upon my grave.”
-Sayat Nova

In the first days of 2012 I took my first fieldwork trip in the Caucasus; two weeks from Tbilisi, across Yerevan, through Karabakh (Artsakh), and back. I had not yet applied for an M.A. in Nationalism Studies. I had not yet read Smith’s Ethno-Symbolism, Brubaker’s Ethnicity without Cognition, or Tajfel’s Social Identity and Intergroup Relations. I had no formal knowledge of the constructivists or de Saussure’s work on Language and Symbolic Power. In fact, I knew very little about Armenia or the conflict over Karabakh (Artsakh) which is exactly what I intended to remedy with my earnest boots-on-the-ground approach. 

What I found on that trip were gracious and generous people, many who were very personally affected by the war over Karabakh (Artsakh); some resigned to it, some either not able to forget, or not wanting to remember. I heard stories from the battlefield, diatribes on ethnography and genealogy, and hope for the future. There is no doubt that many of these accounts may be considered less than accurate, fallible as memory is, subjective as historical injustice can be framed. When it comes to conflict however, it is important to consider the voices of those who are affected by the conflict - even if only symbolically so. Indeed, there is much dubious ethnographic research throughout the history of the Caucasus; both of Soviet invention and into the present day. From the manipulation of census data to folk tales of the chosen nation, it seems no one is unbiased. 

What is interesting in the so called ‘frozen’ conflicts of the Caucasus, from Abkhazia to Karabakh (Artsakh), is the lack of agency granted those who actually live on the land. From an international standpoint there is a strong reason to forge on feining diplomatic means to resolution and soft-power tactics in more salient cases. Since Kosovo, and admittedly prior, to be decisive about ending conflicts where national sovereignty may be disrupted is to open a pandora’s box of minority claims for territorial shift. On the other hand, it is remiss, particularly for researchers, to continue on writing about the implications of this political arrangement or that without accounting directly for the needs and aspirations of those native to the land. 

There is no question, the policies of the Soviet Union have had lasting and destructive effects on former Soviet nations. One of the most explosive and painful results of this legacy has been the nationalization of territory which is now inhabited by myriad ethnic groups. With such a diverse and complex arrangement of ethnic and linguistic groups, each with their own historical legacy and interests in justice, how can we hope to make sense of these conflicts? In the case of Abkhazia, it is no secret that diplomacy has rarely included representatives of the Abkhaz people or their express interests, although they are clearly recognized as a distinct ethnic group. Instead they watch as Georgia- largely backed by the west- and Russia volley for serve over their homeland. Can we find this trend in the case of the Karabakh conflict? Who are Karabakhians and are their interests represented? 

One way researchers can broach this issue is through a study of folk-linguistics; that is to say, to study the way non-specialists think about and use language. The link between language and identity is irrefutable. This type of study can tell us not only a lot about the population of Karabakh but also about how they - and other closely involved parties - feel about the current state of affairs and the direction approaches to resolution may take to yield more sustainable results. By taking the focus off the question of territory and its entrenched symbolic meanings, we can seek to understand more about where Karabakh is situated on a sociolinguistic map of the region. Looking to complexities such as the massive population transfers resulting from the war, we may also identify potential minority rights issues irrespective of resolution. 

I am excited to begin my work with CRRC Armenia and look forward to building close relations with communities interested in the unique sociolinguistic profiles throughout the Caucasus. Although solutions to long-standing conflicts won’t be found in the simplicity of a single study, I believe it is the responsibility of sociological researchers to set the trends by reminding tendentious actors of who they are meant to serve. 

As a researcher, I have had the privilege of traveling across the North and South Caucasus conducting interviews on issues surrounding nationalism and sociolinguistics. I have been able to use the knowledge gained through these experiences to write for publications such as Georgian Times, take part in anthropological conferences in Europe, contribute to an introductory textbook on Caucasian Studies, and complete my Master’s thesis on multilingualism and identity in contemporary Dagestan. With the skills I will develop working as a member of the CRRC Armenia team, I hope to continue on with doctoral research involving similar themes next fall. 

October 6, 2014

Former CRRC-Armenia Fellow Publishes Groundbreaking Study on Armenian Female Sex Workers

CRRC–Armenia is very happy to announce that one of its senior fellows, Karine Markosyan, recently published her article titled "Correlates of Inconsistent Refusal of Unprotected Sex among Armenian Female Sex Workers" in Volume 2014 of the AIDS Research and Treatment academic journal. Ms. Markosyan's research at CRRC-Armenia in 2012 also explored refusal of unprotected sex by Armenian female sex workers (FSWs). The data she used for her research at CRRC-Armenia was from a study done in 2010 that interviewed 120 sex workers over the age of 18. 

For the study published in AIDS Research and Treatment, 118 female sex workers in Yerevan, aged 20–52, completed a questionnaire that assessed their demographic, psychosocial, and behavioral characteristics, in order to analyze the differences between those that consistently and those that inconsistently refused unprotected sex (52.5% of the sample).

As stated in the discussion part of the paper: "Findings of the current study suggest that FSWs, who inconsistently refuse unprotected sex, can be characterized as those who have experienced more types of abuse, have more impediments to condom use, and charge lower fees for service." 

We congratulate Ms. Markosyan, as well as CRRC-Armenia, for the support it provided to Ms. Markosyan to conduct this very important research, one of the first studies of its kind investigating important HIV-risk behavior.

Full article is available here

August 23, 2014

Decoding Russia’s Food Ban and Its Impacts on Armenia

Diego Benning Wang

The somewhat unanticipated ban on the import of agricultural products from EU and NATO countries announced by the Russian Government in a tit-for-tat retaliation to sanctions placed on Russia by EU and NATO countries is hailed by many countries in Russia’s immediate surroundings. Shortly after the embargo came into effect, the Russian government started seeking alternative sources of import of grocery product that was previously supplied by EU countries. A number of Latin American and Middle Eastern Countries have responded to Russia’s trading interests with enthusiasm. China has started constructing a duty-free trading hub on its border with Russia. On Aug 11, the head of Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture announced that the prospective countries to supply fruits and vegetables to Russia would include Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. In response to such announcement, Azerbaijan’s Minister of the Committee for Economic Policy Ali Masimli remarked: “The conflict between Russia and the West has opened a huge market for Azerbaijan’s fruit and vegetable market. Azerbaijan needs to achieve the maximum from this situation”.

However, Armenia may not be in a position to let such optimism prevail. In the fiscal year of 2012, Armenian export to the country’s largest trading partner Russia grossed 314 million USD, which accounted for one fifth of Armenia’s total export; whereas import from Russia toppled slightly short of 1 billion USD (907 million USD), making up nearly one quarter of Armenia’s import, and suggests that Armenia’s trading deficit against Russia is almost 300%.

There are several reasons why Armenia might not yet be set to substitute the import gap of Russia’s grocery market:

1. Lack of substitutability: Some of the banned EU-manufactured agricultural products that are most in demand in Russia include dairy products, meat products, apples, mushrooms, seafood, etc. Armenia is yet to have the capacity to supply any such products on a significant scale to the much larger Russian market. As in the time of writing, Kazakhstan, a member of the Customs Union, has by far backed off from complying with request of implementing the embargo by fellow members Russia and Belarus, which adds to the speculation that the trading embargo might fail to hurt the economy of some EU states due to the eventual acquisition of their products by the Russian market. Even if this scenario is prevented from taking place, the high cost of transportation will set obstacles for Armenia to assume the role of such transit zone tacitly vied by Kazakhstan, particularly prior to Armenia’s official entry into the Russian-led Customs Union predicted to be brokered this fall.
 2. Lack of competitiveness. The main EU food imports to Russia prior to the sanction can be placed into two categories based on their utility: high-quality luxury grocery products catered to Russia’s upper-class consumers, and cheap agricultural products with a significant edge over their Russian-made counterparts in terms of both price and quality. Despite the potential abolition of tariffs on Armenian imports to Russia that is to ensue following Armenia’s official entry to the Customs Union, the relatively high price levels of Armenian-made foodstuffs would still deter the Russian market. The cost of transportation would also add to the disadvantage of imports from Armenia—a landlocked country that neither shares borders with Russia nor has indirect trading links by land to Russia due to the blockade by Azerbaijan and the standoff between Russia and Georgia. As of the time of writing, the only land corridor connecting Armenia and Russia—the Georgian Military Highway—is closed due to a landslide in the Daryal Valley near the Russian-Georgian border. The export of Armenian fruits to Russia that had very recently been augmented was brought to a sudden halt due to the road closure. Such unforeseeable externalities also pose potential threats to the Russia-bound outflow of Armenian export.
3. The Russian customers’ anticipation of the lift of the ban. Unlike the previous Russian bans on the import of Georgian and Moldovan wine, Ukrainian chocolates, Georgian mineral water, and Moldovan fruits that were issued under the pretense of health concerns, the ban on food imports from the EU, US, Canada, Australia, and Norway is unpretentiously politically motivated. With the Russian leader Putin enjoying unprecedentedly high approval ratings over much the first half of the year, patriotism is pumped high in Russia’s anti-Western standoff over the crisis in Ukraine. In other words, the ban is likely to be supported by Russian consumers despite a price hike in foodstuffs that is soon to follow suit. The ban on food import is also likely to further contribute to the competitiveness of Russian-made food products, and give an impetus to Russia’s long-deserved intensification of import substitution industrialization in the food sector. According to the official announcement by the Russian government, the ban is set to be effective for one year. Nevertheless, some high-level Russian officials including Putin himself have projected that the ban’s shelf life would not exceed a handful of months. It is likely, therefore, that the import of foodstuffs from alternative countries including Armenia will be kept at a low or moderate scale based on such projection.
4. Possible repercussions on expatriate remittances. With a sizable number of Armenian emigrants working in Russia, Armenia is still somewhat vulnerable to impacts on remittances from Russia. In other words, any potential downturn in the Russian economy resulted from the food ban could deal a blow to the Armenian economy.
5. Warnings from the West. Shortly after the expression of euphemism by some major Armenian companies regarding the prospect of trading with Russia, the US Embassy in Armenia published a list of companies whose commercial ties with the US and the EU might be alienated should they forge closer links to the Russian economy. Although state-level sanctions are not likely to be levered on Armenia by the EU, the country’s economy is doomed to be marred by the West’s retaliation to the Armenian government and businesses’ pro-Kremlin orientation.

Many European food products currently sold in the Armenian market are imported indirectly via Russia. The severing of the transit route through Russia will possibly result in notable price hikes on EU-made foodstuffs in the Armenian market. Besides, Yerevan’s gourmet-savvy upper class might also encounter similar difficulty as their Russian counterpart in obtaining EU-made luxury grocery items. Should new trade routes not be put in place in time, Armenia’s upper-class consumers might also be deprived of access to some of these products. Moreover, an outflow of Armenian food products to Russia will undoubtedly give rise to an increase in foodstuffs in Armenia, which will subsequently inflict financial difficulties upon the average Armenian consumer.

Overall speaking, Russia’s food ban is yet another sounding of alarming calls on Yerevan’s economic reliance on Moscow. As the dependency theory suggests, unless Armenia achieves a balanced trading sheet with both Russia and the EU, the country’s economy is prone to suffer from Russia’s unpredictable political weather.

July 30, 2014

CRRC-Armenia Summer School: The First Time Does Count!

By Valeria Sargsyan

Recognizing the need and demand in Armenia for high quality social science research applying quantitative methodology, CRRC-Armenia organized its first ever Summer School on Research Design and Methodology on July 21-25, in Tsaghkadzor. Timed to the Yerevan State University (YSU) 95-th anniversary, the Summer School covered variety of topics including survey design, sampling, questionnaire development, fieldwork implementation, and data analysis. Aimed at developing participants’ theoretical knowledge and practical skills on different stages of quantitative cycle from hypothesis development to quantitative analysis, it was purposely tailored for YSU post-graduate students, junior researchers and faculty specializing in quantitative research methodology.

The Summer School was warmly hosted by the YSU recreation site stretched on the foot of Tsaghkunyants mount and surrounded by ancient mountains and green hills that make one admire and just enjoy the view. The event brought together a group of interested social science researchers and professionals, so that they could not only obtain knowledge and skills, but also have an opportunity to gain new research connections, to have interesting conversations and discussions, which  would ultimately bring about higher quality research. The participants enjoyed the excellent residential, dining, academic, and social facilities of the hotel. All aspects of the program provided opportunity for knowledge development and research experience through peer support, creative problem-solving and practice.

CRRC-Armenia CEO Heghine Manasyan mentioned in her opening speech that it was both an honor and a privilege to stand before the Summer School participants that day and welcomed them to that challenging initiative she hoped would be successful and continuous. “Probably, you are sitting there feeling different emotions and asking yourself whether you did the right choice and whether this worth the sacrifices you have made to get there. Don’t doubt that, it is. In fact, I can assure each and every one of you that you passed through the strong selection process and you are here because you deserve to be and because you can bring something fresh and innovating to the Armenian research and academic community”, she said. Later on, CRRC-Armenia Research Director Artak Ayunts, in his turn, warmly greeted the participants and continued with the lecture on Introduction to the Research Design, enriched and elaborated further by Dr. Manasyan on Developing Research Methodology.

The week-long summer school integrated separate sessions focusing on the theoretical, empirical and case-based solutions. During the succeeding week, the participants were lectured by the group of experienced and acknowledged academicians and professionals, such as Dr. Artur Mkrtchyan, YSU Sociology Faculty Dean, who talked about Hypothesis Development, Gayane Ghukasyan, and Dr. Maria Zasvavskaya – both YSU professors (Sampling Design/Database Quality Control). Later on, independent expert Arpine Porsughyan presented main theoretical and practical propositions of survey questionnaire design, while а sociology coryphaeus, director of the “Sociometer” sociological center Aharon Adibekyan concentrated on organizational moments of survey fieldwork. Finally, last day was wholly dedicated to data analysis with SPSS program, including cluster and factor analysis brilliantly elaborated by CRRC-Armenia’s devoted friend and bright professional Dr. Vahe Mosvisyan.

Based on the feedback of attendees, the whole course  was valuable and informative on its every stage. The participants admitted that “…this summer school provided a week to remember for everyone” (Gayane), and “… the program was so intense we were not able to walk around, and we didn't know whether to complain or to be glad about that” (Arpine); however, they were very excited and “… looking forward to implement the invaluable knowledge and skills received during the summer school” (Sona).

All in all, this Summer School tried to spread on approaches that better reflect the research practice, using a combination of theory and case study analysis, to clarify issues regarding applied research, and to explore strengths and limitations of current research methods, making sure that the outcomes are relevant in and for practice. With hope for continuation, it combined an interest in describing and explaining and practicing using knowledge as a means, working with practitioners and researchers to expand and promote traditional and new ways of social science research.

July 9, 2014

Extending the borders: CRRC-Armenia junior fellow presenting at the International Conference on “Religious Diversification Worldwide and in Central and Eastern Europe”

By Marianna Fidanyan, CRRC Junior Fellow
CRRC-Armenia 2013 Junior Fellow Marianna Fidanyan participated in the conference with the paper about the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC). She gave her speech during the session on diversification of church and state relations, and talked about the historical role of the AAC, the current situation, and perceptions of the church in the Republic of Armenia (RА) and in Diaspora. Marianna’s participation was kindly supported by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs of the Republic of Armenia.
The Conference was organized by the International Study of Religion in Eastern and Central Europe Association (ISORECEA) in cooperation with Vytautas Magnus University and Lithuanian Society for theStudy of Religions. It took place on 24-27 April in Kaunas, Lithuania, and gathered over 90 participants.
The main purpose of the conference was to reveal the patterns of religious diversification within the Central and Eastern European (CEE) societies, with the focus on differences in approaches, adaption processes and attitudes of the states towards the changing situation. The conference had an objective of bringing together scholars from different disciplines in order to share experience and knowledge on the most foreground issues concerning the religious freedom vis-à-vis the emerging diversification processes in the region. The conference program also included the issues of religious tolerance, church and state relations, religious minorities, human rights, etc. During 18 parallel sessions, about 80 papers were presented by the scholars from 26 countries of the world.

Irena Borowik, professor of religious studies at the Jagiellonian University and co-founder of the ISORECEA, gave the first plenary speech. She mainly talked about processes transforming religious field in CEE during the last decades with focus on the changes taking place inside the religious systems and around them. The session was followed by the speech of Eileen Barker, professor emeritus of the sociology of religion at London School of Economics, devoted to the diversification among New Religious Movements, paying attention to the special characteristics that different generations of those movements have. The last plenary session mainly covered the issues of interaction between the religion, state and society in the Baltic States and was represented by Ringo Ringvee, the adviser at the religious affairs department at the Estonian Ministry of theInterior.

Ms. Fidanyan’s paper comprised of social research in addition to the extensive review of scientific literature. The most of the findings were based on 15 in-depth interviews with historians and theologians and other experts on issues in question, as well as AAC priests and representatives of minority religious organizations. Moreover, two focus group discussions with local and diaspora parish members were held in order to find out how the Diasporan Armenians perceive the AAC as compared to those from the RA. The comments made during the discussion panel, helped to further develop the paper and submit it to the Edited Collection of Essays on “Religion and Migration in the Black Sea Region”.

Furthermore, along with coauthor Arman Gasparyan, she represented the most recent findings of the study entitled “The Armenian Apostolic Church - Historical Role, Current Perceptions and Function among the Armenian Diaspora” during the presentation at CRRC-Armenia on July 2, 2014.

May 13, 2014

Public Presentation on Armenian Tax Perception Survey

By Diana Hovakimyan

On May 7th, 2014, the USAID-funded Tax Reform Project (TRP) team held a public presentation on Armenian Tax Perception Survey 2013, which was designed and conducted by Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC)-Armenia in November-December 2013. More than 1,440 households and 400 business entities and individual entrepreneurs, selected through multi-stage clusterized sampling, were interviewed in all regions of the Republic of Armenia via face-to-face interviews with standardized questionnaire.

The main goals of survey were to identify attitudes of general public and business community toward the tax authorities, facilitate an improved public-private discourse, help develop effective and efficient tax policies and tax administration, and raise awareness of tax policy and tax administration related issues in the Republic of Armenia. Public presentation of the CRRC-Armenia implemented survey results was an opportunity for the Government of Armenia, private sector organizations, advocacy groups, business associations, as well as tax professionals and other interested stakeholders to get information on public perceptions about tax related issues, and discuss the main findings of the survey. 

In his opening remarks Mr. Janusz Szyrmer, Chief of Party of the USAID Tax Reform Project, emphasized the significance of such initiative. Mr. Gagik Khachatryan, Minister of Finance of the Republic of Armenia, mentioned that the survey results could serve as an important guide in developing the tax code. Director of USAID/Armenia Karen Hilliard noted that there was a need to conduct the survey annually in order to benchmark the progress of the Armenian tax system over time. According to Dr. Hilliard, the implemented survey will play a key role in promoting dialogue between the state and private sector. In addition, Mr. Jean-Michel Happi, the World Bank Country Manager for Armenia recognized the importance of the survey in improving the tax system in Armenia. 

Afterwards, CRRC-Armenia Program Coordinator Lusine Zakaryan presented the main findings of the survey. According to the findings, 67% of household respondents receive information about taxes from the TV and radio, whereas 48% of businesses receive the same information from tax bodies.

Fifty percent of households and 52% of businesses agreed that if paying taxes were easy and less-time consuming, people would be more willing to pay them. 

Other findings indicated that one of the main reasons for avoiding or evading tax payments for the majority of households (58%) and businesses (56%) were high tax rates. 

Interestingly, 44% of all surveyed businesses think that businesses pay bribes to tax/customs authorities, and one of the reasons (36%) for this is to pay less taxes.


At the end, Mr. Armen Alaverdyan, Deputy Head of the State Revenue Committee mentioned that there was a need to make a comparative study with other transition countries to have more complex and consolidated approach in the long run.

Other information on TRP can be accessed through CRRC-Armenia website.

May 4, 2014

Caucasus Barometer 2013: Hopes for the Better Future

By Valeria Sargsyan

On April 18, at Ani Plaza Hotel, recently released results of the Caucasus Barometer 2013, an annual cross-border survey in the South Caucasus region, were presented to the public. Over 80 participants of the presentation were welcomed by the Yerevan State University vice-rector Dr. Ruben Markosyan, World Bank (WB) External Affairs Officer Vigen Sargsyan, and CRRC-Armenia Research Director Artak Ayunts. 

Dr. Markosyan emphasized the need for such high-quality research in the region, as the one CRRC-Armenia provides, and expressed deep satisfaction with a possibility for researchers, analysts, and all interested people to compare data on different issues across the countries in the region. Mr. Sargsyan, in his turn, underlined the importance of CRRC-Armenia research and expressed regret on not fully using that invaluable data. He also expressed gratification to the CRRC culture to openly share the primary datasets, which goes on line with the WB open-access approach.

CRRC-Armenia CEO Heghine Manasyan began her presentation with extending gratitude over EPF-Armenia, Yerevan State University, National Statistical Service of Armenia, Carnegie Corporation, and CRRC-Armenia staff for many years of fruitful, productive and efficient cooperation. She presented findings based on new questions regarding awareness of regional conflicts, Armenia's joining the Eurasian Customs Union, and human rights and social media usage questions, as well as traditionally covered population's attitudes on economic, social, political and other vital issues in the South Caucasus.

As in previous years, unemployment and poverty are issues worrying people most in Armenia (45% and 16%) and in Georgia (54% and 10%), while Azerbaijanis tend to mention regional conflicts (38%) followed by unemployment (25%) as the most important issues being faced by their country.

Attitudes towards country's membership in the Eurasian Economic Community-Customs Union (EEC-CU) and European Union (EU) across countries were diverse as well: 65% of Georgians support the country’s membership in EU, while only about 41% of Armenians and 34% of Azerbaijanis do so. Instead, 55% of respondents in Armenia support its membership in the (EEC-CU), against 32% of Georgians. Not surprising then 83% of Armenians considering Russia as the main friend of the country.

It is worth mentioning that 34% of Armenian thinks that the country is not a democracy, as opposed to 18% of Azerbaijanis and 11% of Georgians thinking the same way. Moreover, this figure has been growing during past 3 years in Armenia (28 and 27% in 2012 and in 2011 years respectively). Nevertheless, majority of people in all three countries think they have the right to openly say what they think:

As observed, people in South Caucasus countries are not well aware of the regional conflicts in their neighboring countries: around half of the Armenians and Azerbaijanis haven’t even heard about Georgian-Abkhaz conflict; however, 62% of Georgians said they have heard about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Moreover, the very fact that 35% of Azerbaijani people believe that this conflict could be solved by peaceful negotiation raises hopes for better future.

As part of the social capital and values fragment of the presentation,  Dr. Manasyan noted that 35% of Azerbaijanis tend to think that education is the most important factor for getting a good job (as opposed to 19% in Armenia and 28% in Georgia) and for well-being of the children: 41% against 28% both in Armenia and Georgia.

Still, people’s attitude towards economic future in Armenia leaves much to be desired yet: only 30% hope that financial situation of their children will be better off when they reach their age, with average score of 5.2 from 10 on perceived household economic rung.

As in previous years, Armenia shows higher figures for interest in emigration, either temporary (60%) or permanent (31%). And finally, Georgia brings up the rear with the traditionally highest level of happiness in the region: 7.0 from 10 against 6.6/6.7 in Armenia/Georgia.

The presentation, followed by question and answer session, was mainly attended by researchers, NGO and government representatives, policy analysts and other interested parties.

All the Caucasus Barometer related materials and documents are available on the CRRC-Armenia webpage.