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