November 19, 2014

IMF, World Bank, USAID Representatives in Armenia on Achievements, Challenges, and Growth

By Adrineh Der-Boghossian, Julya Sahakyan, Syuzanna Smbatyan, and Vanuhi Matevosyan, CRRC-Armenia Junior Fellows

A three-part series

CRRC-Armenia Junior Fellows Julya Sahakyan, Syuzanna Smbatyan, and Vanuhi Matevosyan on September 29 and October 3 met with the heads of three major institutions in Armenia: International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative to Armenia Teresa Daban Sanchez, USAID Armenia Mission Director Karen R. Hilliard, and World Bank Country Manager Laura Bailey to ask them about their institutions’ priorities and achievements in Armenia, challenges that were particular to their experience in the country, and what they liked the most and the least in Armenia.

Part 3. Being a high-level women official in Armenia.

Asked “What are some challenges that are particular to your experience in Armenia, a country where the majority of state and other prominent institutions are headed by men?”, all three interviewees said their experience of being a woman in charge of a major institution in an environment where many of the public officials are men is not unique to Armenia.

“I find that if there are any gender issues or if the men that I deal with have any particular attitudes about dealing with a woman, the polite nature of Armenian culture would prevent them from ever expressing it. And so, I discern no difficulty, challenges, or obstacles in my interaction with either men or women leaders in Armenia,” said the USAID representative, Hilliard, mentioning that her relationships with counterparts in all the countries in which she’s worked have been “very fluid, very easy, and based on mutual respect.”

The IMF representative Teresa Daban Sanchez was impressed by the high level of professionalism of the Armenian authorities. “When everybody behaves in a professional way, a gender doesn't matter, [if] you are a woman or a man,” she said, adding that she has a good working relationship with all her counterparts.

Ms. Sanchez, however, said it would be better if there was some diversity among decision-makers in Armenia in both the public and private sectors. As she noted, her impression was that Armenia is still in the process of empowering women.” Though, Armenia might be lagging behind other countries, Daban Sanchez opined, it’s only a matter of time until it catches up.

What the World Bank representative, Bailey, preferred to stress, however, were not the differences but the similarities between Armenia and other countries. These are some of her remarks on the issue:

“I think that when you are in a position of leadership you take very seriously the fact that you are representing not just your institution […], but also all the people who work with you.

When I go to a meeting with the government, when I sit in a meeting with ministers, I am representing not just the World Bank, this institution, I am representing every Armenian man and woman who works here in my office.

It’s my responsibility to represent them with integrity, to be very clear and honest in my communication, and to bring all of the best technical knowledge that we have and offer it, whether it’s in a discussion with the Minister for Energy or a discussion with an environmental civil society organization.

No matter who it is from the Armenian side, if I bring a great degree of technical value, if I bring a great deal of integrity, then my experience is people will listen. They will not perhaps worry too much about whether I am a man or a woman. What they are looking for is the value that I bring.”

CRRC-Armenia Junior Fellows: Adrineh, Syuzanna, Julya, Vanuhi

November 11, 2014

IMF, World Bank, USAID Representatives in Armenia on Achievements, Challenges, and Growth

By Adrineh Der-Boghossian, Julya Sahakyan, Syuzanna Smbatyan, and Vanuhi Matevosyan, CRRC-Armenia Junior Fellows

A three-part series

Part 1 

Part 3

CRRC-Armenia Junior Fellows Julya Sahakyan, Syuzanna Smbatyan, and Vanuhi Matevosyan on September 29 and October 3 met with the heads of three major institutions in Armenia: International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative to Armenia Teresa Daban Sanchez, USAID Armenia Mission Director Karen R. Hilliard, and World Bank Country Manager Laura Bailey to ask them about their institutions’ priorities and achievements in Armenia, challenges that were particular to their experience in the country, and what they liked the most and the least in Armenia.

Part 2. Armenia: Pros and Cons

Interestingly, all three interviewees cited the warmth of Armenian people as one of the things they enjoyed most about living and working in Armenia.

“This is a very warm and welcoming country. When I walk into a shop, people smile, they say hello — it’s just very friendly. That’s a very nice thing. As a newcomer, you feel very warmly welcomed,” Laura Bailey said, adding that the second thing she liked most about the country was its beautiful scenery.

World Bank Country Manager Laura Bailey with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan (left) at the opening ceremony of the Gyumri Technology Center. Sept. 13, 2014. Photo: The World Bank.

The USAID Mission Director Karen Hilliard mentioned Armenia’s incredibly rich history and culture, a fascinating language, and the strength of Armenian family as positive disclosure, adding that "Armenians are such survivors". "It's a pleasure to work here", she confessed.

Dr.  Hilliard  speaks at the official launch of the USAID-funded Pension Reform Implementation Program, Sept. 11, 2013.
Photo: A.Karabekian, USAID/Armenia

While the IMF representative Tereza Daban Sanchez remarked that the quality of life was relatively good, there were certain situations reminding her Armenia still being a country in transition. She pointed to the lack of social cohesion and difficulties for communities to get together, and poor efforts and resources to increase the nation’s welfare collectively. As an example, she mentioned people’s reluctance to follow traffic rules, as drivers do not consider the impact their behavior has on the community’s safety. 

Moreover, Bailey also pointed out the traffic, saying that one thing she would change in Armenia was the “crazy drivers in Yerevan”!

IMF Resident Representative to Armenia Teresa Daban Sanchez (left) and IMF mission chief for Armenia Mark Horton (center). Press conference. Sept. 30, 2014. Photo: IMF Office to Armenia.

Furthermore, Ms. Hilliard  expressed a concern with regard to high level of corruption. “Armenia faces a lot of external obstacles, which have an impact on economic developments,  but the level of corruption is self-inflicted, it is something that holds Armenia back. What is the thing that I would change? - it will be that”, she said.

November 6, 2014

IMF, World Bank, USAID Representatives in Armenia on Achievements, Challenges, and Growth.

By Adrineh Der-Boghossian, Julya Sahakyan, Syuzanna Smbatyan, and Vanuhi Matevosyan, CRRC-Armenia Junior Fellows

A three-part series. 

CRRC-Armenia Junior Fellows Julya Sahakyan, Syuzanna Smbatyan, and Vanuhi Matevosyan on September 29 and October 3 met with the heads of three major institutions in Armenia: International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative to Armenia Teresa Daban Sanchez, USAID Armenia Mission Director Karen R. Hilliard, and World Bank Country Manager Laura Bailey to ask them about their institutions’ priorities and achievements in Armenia, challenges that were particular to their experience in the country, and what they liked the most and the least in Armenia.

Part 1. Priorities, Achievements, and Assistance to Armenia

The World Bank and USAID's priorities in Armenia are manifold: for the World Bank, these include fostering an investment climate and working not only on economic policy, but also in such sectors as education, health, social protection, and regional development, among others. USAID Armenia, in turn, identified priorities in the areas of private sector competitiveness, improvement of the business environment, financial services for small and medium enterprises, improved primary health care and social services, rural development (particularly in remote corners of Armenia), tourism, civil society development, and local governance. Past USAID activities include cross-border business promotion, civil society and cultural exchanges, but recently, Hilliard said, USAID has decided to focus on the business aspect, leaving the cultural and political aspects to the Public Affairs Section of the US State Department.

Dr. Karen Hilliard, USAID/Armenia Mission Director, presents to the public the USAID assistance strategy for Armenia for the years 2013-2017 at an official event on December 11, 2013. Photo: M.Khachatryan

Hilliard also highlighted the USAID’s endeavors in the energy sector; specifically, helping Armenia link its energy grid more closely with that of Georgia, so that Armenia is not dependent on one source of electricity and the two countries can actually help each other when they have shortages. She mentioned Armenia’s relationship in the energy sector with Iran, but said USAID is not involved “for geopolitical reasons.” However, she added, USAID believes that by forging business and cultural ties to increase tourism, it is preparing for the day when Armenia will no longer be blockaded.

Bailey, in turn, mentioned some of the more tangible areas of the World Bank’s work in Armenia, identifying the reintroduction of preschools and improved access to health (by rehabilitating 10 regional medical centers). “But it’s also important the things that are invisible: like changing the tax law. Sounds very abstract but it turns out that having a good modern tax code is incredibly important to getting businesses to grow,” she added.

The issue of energy dependence was also mentioned by IMF Resident Representative to Armenia Teresa Daban Sanchez, who identified it as a key priority of the IMF’s agenda with the Armenian authorities. Under the IMF-supported program, the authorities are encouraged to develop a strategy to improve the sustainability and efficiency of the energy sector. Preserving macroeconomic stability and working with the authorities on structural reforms were the other priorities of the IMF in Armenia that Daban Sanchez identified.More specifically, she cited economic growth, job creation, and tax reform as areas in which the IMF focuses and works with the Armenian authorities.

(left to right): Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, IMF mission chief for Armenia Mark Horton, and IMF Resident Representative to Armenia Teresa Daban Sanchez. Sept. 30, 2014. Photo: IMF Office to Armenia.

Asked in which areas their institution made the greatest strides, Bailey, the World Bank representative, identified competitiveness, while Hilliard, the USAID representative, mentioned disaster relief (following the 1988 earthquake) and growth of civil society, in addition to significant structural reforms such as the modernization of the energy sector, management of natural resources (particularly water), “transitioning from a Soviet-style health system to a more modern primary healthcare system,” and strengthening the pension system.

Ms. Sanchez also mentioned Armenia’s transition from the Soviet period, saying the IMF supported Armenia’s efforts to overcome the challenges of transitioning to a market-based economy and more recently Armenia’s recovery from the global economic crisis. However, despite these achievements,  she said, significant challenges remain. “Growth and inflation remain volatile. Real interest rates are high. Financial markets are under-developed and highly-dollarized. Business climate remains challenging. Poverty and migration continue to be high. Therefore, the IMF is determined to continue to support Armenia with a new three-year arrangement approved in March 2014, which includes policies to ensure macroeconomic stability and structural reforms,” she said.

Regarding the World Bank’s assistance, Bailey mentioned helping Armenia “change the way the economy is structured by reforming the government regulations and providing the incentives for businesses to create jobs.” Though this work is invisible, what is visible, she said, is addressing vulnerability, as the results are more immediate. The World Bank, she said, works with the government on social protection schemes such as the family benefit scheme. In addition, as a result of projects supported by the World Bank, pensioners receive their pensions in a timely manner, and 1 out of every 4 people throughout the country benefitted from temporary employment, many of whom later transferred to a permanent job.

(left to right): World Bank Country Manager Laura Bailey, World Bank Regional Director for South Caucasus Henry Kerali, and RA Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan. Sept. 11, 2014. Photo: The World Bank.

The World Bank’s assistance to Armenia has been growing; however, there was a “brief dip” from 2013 to this year. Bailey said the reason for this was technical. There are two “buckets” of funding that the World Bank provides: one to middle income countries; the other, to lower income countries. Until last year, Armenia was eligible for assistance from both funds; however, this year, it is no longer eligible for funding provided to lower income countries. The World Bank believes this is a sign of maturity and evidence of Armenia’s growing economy. It has compensated for a little bit of the loss of funding by offering other resources specific to countries interested in investing in renewable energy resources.

The overall support USAID provides to Armenia also decreased; however, Hilliard said this “reflects the natural evolution of things.” The USAID’s assistance to Armenia in the early years of independence was greater simply because the country’s needs were greater. Over time, Armenia has progressed, and “it’s now about to graduate from lower middle income country to middle income country status. So it’s only natural that foreign assistance would decrease proportionally,” she said.

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 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 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.