December 15, 2015

Civic Engagement in Local Governance Survey in Armenia

By Caucasus Research Resource Center-Armenia 

On December 11, the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC)-Armenia presented the results of the public opinion survey on civic engagement in local governance.

The survey revealed that the public at large was not well informed on local government related issues. Conducted within the framework of the USAID-funded Civic Engagement in Local Governance (CELoG) project, the survey showed that 87 percent of the respondents were not familiar with the decisions made by their local government bodies, and 91 percent did not know the size of their municipal budget. 73 percent of the respondents knew the head of their community, while 48 percent did not know the members of their local council.

In terms of public attitudes towards and knowledge of the Government of Armenia’s community consolidation and decentralization reforms, the survey revealed that 59 percent of the respondents did not know anything about them, and 47 percent expected that the consolidation would negatively impact their community. Only 24 percent believed that the community consolidation reform would have a positive impact.

Regarding municipal services, only 12 percent of the respondents were satisfied, with 47 percent somewhat satisfied and 36 percent not satisfied with the performance of their local governments. The survey also revealed lack of trust towards and low transparency in local government operations, noting that community members often resort to using personal connections, social status, and at times bribery to resolve their issues.

The nation-wide household survey among 1,500 randomly selected adult respondents examined public awareness of Armenia’s local government system, satisfaction of services provided by the local governments, engagement of citizens in community-related decision-making, as well as public attitudes toward the ongoing community consolidation reform. The study served to establish a baseline for these areas, which will be used to measure future knowledge and behavior change achieved through the CELoG project.  

The survey results are a snapshot of the level of awareness of local governance and citizens’ perceptions about their local governments’ efficiency and accountability vis-à-vis their expectations at the outset of the CELoG project. The results are also of interest for policy makers, experts, local government officials, and international donor organizations.

July 8, 2015

Outlining the perceptions of social assistance programs in Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan

(Data analysis is based on “Caucasus Barometer 2013”)

By Arpy Manusyan,
CRRC-Armenia Junior Fellow

After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, followed by a severe social and economy crisis, various social assistance programs were introduced to address the rapidly growing poverty. Social assistance was meant to protect the vulnerable groups unable to integrate into the society and country’s economic system due to some problems (Falkingham J, Vlachantoni A., 2010Maltseva E., 2012). It became evident that social assistance should not only solve short-term problems, reduce poverty threshold, but also act as groundwork for social state. It should be targeted and flexible in responding to various needs of the vulnerable groups. 

Social assistance has many definitions that may vary depending on the scope and purpose of the study. Generally it can be defined as the range of policies and benefits aimed to guarantee the social and economic rights of people based on need and resources (Lunt N., Coyle D.,1996). There are three major approaches toward social assistance: need-based, merit-based, and need and merit-based social assistance . According to the school of need-based social assistance, response to needs is unconditional and is regarded as a social imperative. Merit-based social assistance promotes the idea that assisting the poor on the basis of need may make them dependent and deepen their poverty. The school of need and merit-based social assistance tries to address the weaknesses of one school by the strengths of the other school of thought (Hiruy M., 2009).

Still the need-based social assistance is the dominant model especially in post-Soviet countries. Aimed at supporting the minimum material needs of vulnerable groups, it is not able to respond flexibly to changing situations. Introduced as urgent measures, some of these policies have managed to reduce the poverty, while some other programs have generated and sustained the syndrome of dependency (The Chronic Poverty Report 2008-2009Hanlon, J etal., 2010European Commission’s report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion in Ukraine, 2009). 

Here I would like to comparatively explore the perceptions of social assistance programs in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia based on two interrelated questions that indicate public attitudes towards TSA programs aimed at poor societal layers (“Missing” command is applied to the questions in order to get answers that show levels of agreement):
  1. Do you agree that social assistance should be covering fewer poor families than it does today, and the savings should be used on other public services or lowering taxes? / Do you agree that social assistance should be covering more poor families than it does today, even if this results in having fewer public services or higher taxes.
  2. To what extent do you agree or disagree to extend the number of poor families included in Targeted Social Assistance Program in exchange of requiring some of these actions from recipients? 

Chart 1. Attitude towards number of families covered, CB 2013

According to CB 2013, there is a noticeable difference in answers to this question between respondents from Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as between respondents from Armenia and Georgia (Chart 1).  While 50% of Azerbaijani respondents think that social assistance should cover more poor families, only 28% of Armenian respondents agree with this statement. The difference between perceptions of social assistance programs in Armenia and Georgia is also significant: 49% of Georgian respondents acknowledge that the state should assist more poor families with social programs. 

Chart 2. Attitude towards extension of  the number of poor families covered, CB 2013

According to Chart 2, while 73% of Georgian respondents agree that social assistance in the country should be given to a larger share of the poor (in exchange, recipients are required do certain actions like searching for work, etc.), 45% of Armenian respondents and 62% of Azerbaijani respondents agree with the statement. In general, the most positive attitude toward expanding social assistance programs for a larger number of poor people has Georgian public. 

Public spending on social protection programs in the Southern Caucasus is exceptionally low (“Social Protection and Social Inclusion in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia”). The social protection and social assistance policies during the last 24 years mainly aimed to ensure basic protection against poverty; however various studies show that they are not efficient for fighting the progressively growing inequality after the collapse of Soviet-Union (SlayB., 2009).

June 8, 2015

“Policy Challenges for Armenia in the Context of Regional and Global Economic Shocks”: Public Lecture

By Esther Bartl, CRRC-Armenia International Fellow

Esther Bartl
On Tuesday, June 02, 2015, the Caucasus Research Resource Center – Armenia invited Teresa Daban Sanchez, IMF resident representative to Armenia, to deliver a presentation on the economic and political implications of regional and global economic shocks for Armenia. To make the dimension of economic shocks - unexpected and large changes within an economy, despite occurring outside of it - for countries understandable to the audience, Ms. Sanchez focused on the global, regional and national level in her speech. 

The drop of global oil prices by almost 50 percent marked the starting point of a severe economic turmoil in many countries throughout the world.  The reduction of oil prices has impacted consumers globally, as the price of a great number of commodities such as food and metals have also declined subsequently.  Consequently, due to the drop of oil prices, the global economy has been below its potential.  As the price of oil has been extremely volatile in recent years, Ms. Sanchez underlined the difficulty to predict its evolvement in the future.

The steep and unpredicted reduction of global oil prices has had a severe impact on the economies of the Caucasus and the Central Asian region. The economies of the oil exporting countries of the region, i.e. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, being highly dependent on revenues from their oil production, have faced strong negative effects.  Also in the oil importing economies of the region, i.e. Georgia, Armenia, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, lower oil prices resulted in reduced gains.   The high economic dependence on Russia’s real economy and its oil prices had especially indirect effects on the oil importing economies through so-called transmission channels. Ms. Sanchez showed a number of such transmission channels that link the Russian economy with the respective economies in the Caucasus and Central Asia such as strong banking system linkages between Russia and the region, remittances from and exports to Russia and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).  

Teresa Sanches & Anna Sarkisyan, CRRC-Armenia

Armenia’s oil importing economy has stayed below its potential in 2014 due to its close ties to Russia’s troubled economy. The strong presence of Russian banks in Armenia constitutes a channel through which Russia’s economic crisis can negatively impact the financial system of the Caucasian country.  Moreover, remittances from Russia, which have constituted 15 percent of Armenia’s GDP, and exports to Russia, three percent of the country’s GDP in recent years, have been reduced due to current problems of the Russian economy.  At the same time, nonperforming loans have increased for Armenia from 2013 to 2014. Although banks in Armenia still hold 15 % capital, which could mitigate the economic turmoil so far, high interest rates have hindered economic stimulation.

Towards the end of her speech, Ms. Sanchez presented approaches to support those economies that have been hit due to the drop of global oil prices. Macroeconomic stability needs to be maintained, combined with structural reforms that should raise potential growth in the economies. In the case of Armenia, short-term policies should maintain economic and financial stability and boost economic growth.  In the medium-term, exchange rate flexibility and structural reforms will be of upmost importance to bring the Armenian economy closer again to its actual economic potential. 

April 27, 2015

One Small Step towards Normalization, One Large Step for Armenia’s Future

By Talar Kakilian, CRRC-Armenia International Volunteer

Over 40 leaders from both local and international organizations joined CRRC-Armenia at the Best Western Congress Hotel in Yerevan to participate in the presentation of the key findings of “Towards a Shared Vision of Normalization of Armenian-Turkish Relations” survey results conducted within the framework of the program Support to the Armenia-Turkey Normalisation Process funded by the European Union.

In partnership with the European Union Commission, CRRC-Armenia has worked endlessly to understand, interpret, and utilize the information pertaining to the Armenian-Turkish relationship from the 1200 households they have surveyed. Though reactions were mixed, the survey results reflected that many Armenian citizens, be it for economic, cultural, or political reasons, truly hope that the relationship between Armenia and Turkey can be rebuilt and solidified. Citizens were also very aware that such a relationship cannot exist when preconditions are set by either nation. Nevertheless, the respondents acknowledge the importance of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide when establishing diplomatic relations with Turkey, making it the most important demand from the neighboring nation.

Following the opening remarks by Heghine Manasyan (CRRC-Armenia), Andrej Didenko (European Union), Vazgen Karapetyan (Eurasia PartnershipFoundation), Richard Giragossian (Regional Studies Center), Hrachia Kazhoyan (CRRC-Armenia), and Aleksandr Grigoryan (American University of Armenia) presented their findings and opinions regarding the future of Armenian-Turkish normalization.

Such a survey and study prove to be one of the first steps towards creating a self-sufficient relationship between the two neighboring nations. Moreover, the presentation shed light on the 11 Turkish and Armenian researchers that are currently trying to research and work towards normalization. As Richard Giragossian said, such an effort from CRRC-Armenia allows the Armenian citizens and the nation to move beyond the concept of victimization and allow for validation, by aiming towards normalization, as well as vindication, by pushing for a relationship without preconditions. The opening of the border allows for the opening of the somewhat unrealized knowledge, potential, and opportunities. Andrej Didenko and the European Union hope that CRRC-Armenia presents their finding in Turkey in the hopes that a similar survey will take place there as well.

March 9, 2015

“Missing Women in South Caucasus”: Presentation on Research Results

By Talar Kakilian, CRRC-Armenia International Volunteer

Talar Kakilian
About 60 leaders from local and international research organizations joined CRRC-Armenia at Yerevan State University to participate in the “Missing Girls in the South Caucasus” presentation on research results. 

The concept of “Missing Girls/Women” refers to the number of women who would have been born if their birth had not been interrupted by deliberate actions, specifically in terms of sex-selective abortions. Findings show that, in Armenia, there are currently 114 boys born for every 100 girls, leading the nation to have the third highest boy to girl ratio disparity in the world (behind China and Azerbaijan). Enabled through the World Bank funding, researchers from CRRC-Armenia and Yerevan State University partnered together to collectqualitative data on the expanding issue.

The opening remarks by Heghine Manasyan (CRRC-Armenia) were followed by the findings, presented by Laura Bailey (World Bank), Nistha Sinna (World Bank), Giorgia Demarchi (World Bank), Yuliana Melkumyan (Yerevan State University, Faculty of Sociology), and Anna Sarkisyan (CRRC-Armenia). The discussion covered various issues revolving around sex-selective abortions, including the economic, social, cultural, and health-related consequences the nation may face. 

From left to to right: Heghine Manasyan,  Laura Bailey, Nistha Sinna, Giorgia Demarchi 
Using focus groups, the researchers interviewed over 215 men and women from 4 different communities throughout Armenia (including Yerevan). Moreover, 25 experts, including doctors, lawyers, community leaders, researchers, and others of the like, were interviewed about their perceptions pertaining to the current rise of sex-selective abortions. The results showed that son preference, fertility decline, transitional periods and societal shocks (including the collapse of the USSR), and sex-detection technology are the top reasons as to why this has become such a large issue. Economic disruptions and future monetary security are among the top reasons that have affected the fertility choices of Armenian families. Importantly, the panel discussed how, at its core, the “Missing Girls” phenomena was highly influenced by patriarchal social and gender norms within Armenia, including the nation’s devaluation of women throughout the social sector, including the political realm.

Anna Sarkisyan (left), Yuliana Melkumyan
The panel concluded that the best policy option to begin rectifying the Missing Girls phenomena is to begin addressing the fundamentals of gender equality in Armenia. They believe that, through media and education campaigns, as well as an increase women’s economic independence and protection and support of women who suffer from domestic violence, Armenia will be able to raise the status of women and thus begin to decrease the high rate of sex-selective abortions. As an interviewee (a young woman from Yerevan) said, “ [Actions] should not be concretely focused on having/not having a child. Whatever is done, wherever it commences, the core should be the same: increasing the importance of womens role. 

(Photo credit: CRRC-Armenia)

February 20, 2015

The New Inhabitants of CRRC-Armenia Planet

By Talar Kakilian, CRRC-Armenia International Volunteer

For the first time in, well, ever, CRRC-Armenia has become a full house. Hailing from all over Armenia and the globe, the office has become a bustling hub of diverse experience, ideals, and goals. Seven Junior Fellows, International Fellows, and International Volunteers have joined the CRRC-Armenia family in the hopes of being able to research, learn, and integrate their ideas in a professional setting.  With intense social, political, cultural, and economic changes and developments taking place in Armenia right now, these young and bright individuals could not have come at a better time.

The use of social media has played an important role in CRRC-Armenia’s development, as many of the current fellows learned about the fellowship programs through CRRC-Armenia’s Facebook page. The CRRC-Armenia website was also useful for Anna Gradlyan, who would always use the CRRC Caucasus Barometer data while she was pursuing her Master’s degree in Political Science and International Affairs from the American University of Armenia.

Nevertheless, it was another important Armenian institutional figure that guided Nataliya Secretareva from Moscow,  a graduate from the Lomonosov Moscow State University faculty of law, to come to Armenia. Natalya was assigned to read Mkhitar Gosh’s code of laws. Written in the 12th century, Mkhitar Gosh’s code of laws pertains to civil code and Canon law and was used in Greater Armenia and Cilicia. Intrigued by the importance of these laws, Natalya became fascinated by the place that hardly anyone “…can point out on a map and whose people’s first names exist to torment, but also teach those with average linguistic abilities.”

On the other hand, Dr. Emine Onaran Incirlioglu, professor of anthropology at Maltepe University in Istanbul, has joined CRRC-Armenia through the Turkey-Armenia Fellowship sponsored by the Hrant Dink Foundation. Emine hopes to use her socio-cultural anthropological background into her research so as to find a balance between academia and activism. She believes that, through Armenia’s and Turkey’s history and cross-cultural overlap, she can aid in finding a common language that can help mend the current issues.

As for our International Fellow,  Daria Vorobyeva’s, a PhD candidate at St. Andrews University in Scotland, has come to Armenia to complete her dissertation. Focusing on the change of identities of Christians who escaped the modern Syrian conflict, Daria wants to understand better the current state of the Syrian-Armenians upon their arrival to the country, as well as the future plans and the shift in the identity of these individuals.  

For many of the fellows, CRRC-Armenia is their first opportunity to get hands-on research experience in a professional setting. This is the time in which they can explore their passions while gaining valuable knowledge. David, who has a Master’s degree in International Relations from Yerevan State University, is excited about all of the sources he will be able to access through this fellowship Lilit Javadyan, who is working on her Master’s degree in Political Science from the American University of Armenia and wants to attain a career in the realm of public policy, is certain that the fellowship will prepare and train her with the adequate skills to find and analyze both quantitative and qualitative data.

The Fellows also believe that being able to meet and learn from professionals and fellow students is a very important factor as to why they chose this fellowship.  Samvel Hovhannisyan, who is currently working on his PhD at the Armenian State University of Economics, believes that CRRC will refine his skills as an individual. More importantly however, Samvel was excited about CRRC-Armenia because of the people he would be able to meet and network with. He understands that learning and developing research skills comes not only from individual research, but also from working with others, whether it be with fellows that are his own age or employees at CRRC. 

Nevertheless, each of these fellows are incredibly excited about this new path and cannot wait to see what the program has in store for them. Throughout the fellowship, the fellows are expected to complete their own research projects: David is hoping to conduct research and present a quantitative analysis of China’s military rise and the East Asian Security system; Lilit hopes to work on a project concerning Nagorno-Karabakh’s war veterans; Samvel wants to work on pension fund management issues in Armenia; Natalya is working on a project regarding the many interrelations of public policies, migration, and development; and Anna is working on local government development. These research projects are expected to develop the fellows’ skills so that they will not only learn how to research, but also analyze information that interests them.

For many, these research projects are not just a means to an end, but rather the first stepping stone in their future careers and postgraduate education.  Each with their own hopes, CRRC-Armenia is giving these 8 individuals the opportunity to get one step closer to their future goals.

CRRC-Armenia is also aiding me, Talar, an international volunteer, realize what my aspirations are for the future.  My position here is a bit different from everyone else’s, as I was placed at CRRC-Armenia through Birthright Armenia, a program created to help Diasporan Armenians volunteer, work, and get integrated within the homeland. As someone who studied history and public policy for my undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley, I am excited to have the opportunity to work at a fact tank like CRRC as it is a perfect stepping stone to my future career in public administration and policy analysis.

Throughout the last few weeks, CRRC-Armenia has become a newly budding family. Getting to know one another, we are all very excited for the opportunities that are about to come our way. The fellows and I all agree that CRRC-Armenia is one of the few organizations that enable young people to take a chance in the world and truly discover what it is like to work in a multifaceted field.  The organization has created a support-system for us, contributing to the development of high-level human capital in Armenia. As David believes, “[the] CRRC’s work is unparalleled in raising the quality of social research in the South Caucasus and particularly in Armenia,” and believes that such an environment will only provide benefits for all of the fellows and volunteers. We are all excited to see what the future holds for us at CRRC-Armenia.