Which country do Armenians regard as Armenia’s “main friend”?: Attempting to interpret changes in Armenian Perspectives on Foreign Nations
By Sean Eriksen
International Volunteer
While Armenia’s 2018 revolution cleared the way for a new government that has promised a vast transformation of Armenian politics, in the field of foreign relations the new Prime Minister Pashinyan has been remarkably similar to his predecessor. As compared to, for example, Georgia or Ukraine, Armenia has long fallen into the category of post-Soviet state that observes friendly relations with Russia at practically all levels of society. Indeed, although Pashinyan has been careful to rhetorically distance himself from strict alignment to either Russia or the West (i.e., the USA and the EU), in practice, he has inherited a respective closeness and distance which could never be anything but rhetorical: Armenia is a member of both the Russian-led CSTO and EEU, as opposed to NATO and the EU. And parallel attitudes are reflected in the wider population in the sense that, according to the 2017 CRRC Caucasus Barometer, 64% of Armenians regard Russia as their country’s main friend, followed by France at 17%, with the USA coming in sixth place at 2%. But however high the number might still be, the identification of Russia as Armenia’s main friend fell by 20% from 2013-2017. Unfortunately, there is little explicit information on the reasons why Armenians gave these answers, which have been reflected in other surveys, and an exploration of this topic necessarily relies on careful speculation. However, through cautious reflection on the causes of this current situation it is possible to identify several reasons to expect Armenia to move closer towards the West.

While it did not ask respondents to give reasons for why they identified a particular country as Armenia’s main friend, the 2017 Caucasus Barometer gives insight into the factors that shape Armenian views on international relations by showing that Armenians unequivocally prioritise economic development. Indeed, more than half of respondents chose either unemployment or poverty as the most important issue facing the country; whereas only 12% selected either ‘lack of peace’ or ‘unresolved territorial conflicts’, despite the nation’s ongoing war with Azerbaijan. Notably, Armenia is a landlocked country that has been embargoed by both Turkey and Azerbaijan, forcing it to conduct trade only through air cargo, Georgia, and Iran, which has itself almost always been isolated by international sanctions. According to the World Bank, the result is that, using the passage through Georgia, Russia is by far Armenia’s largest trading partner, buying more than a quarter of its exports, dwarfing US or even EU engagement and allowing economic factors to partially explain the relationship. 
However, an economic relationship of great depth is not necessarily one that is mutually beneficial. As highlighted by an analyst from RWR Advisory Group, a consultancy firm specialising in the surreptitious economic influence of Russian and Chinese companies, Russia exerts control over various Armenian economic sectors—especially mining, energy, and transportation. In 2015, major protests against the then-president, Serzh Sarksian, erupted over his agreement to an electricity price hike initiated by a Russian-owned company that held a monopoly on distribution, indicating that acquiescence to Russian economic interests is harmful to an Armenian politician’s domestic political standing. That such Russian leverage over Armenian policy can be mitigated by diversifying economic ties is in itself motivation to pursue a deeper relationship with the West. 
The 2017 Caucasus Barometer revealed that Armenians are secondly most concerned with national security, as expressed by 12% of respondents selecting either lack of peace or unresolved territorial conflicts as the most important issue facing the country. This is unsurprising in a small nation that has been denied statehood for most of modern history, while being a victim of frequent ethnic cleansing and one infamous genocide, and which is otherwise still at war with Azerbaijan. It is reasonable to conclude that these factors also affect their relations with other countries. It is therefore notable that Russia has often been regarded as the chief foreign defender against the Turkish state. As far back as 1829, Alexander Pushkin detailed in his ‘Road to Arzrum’ how the Russian army was cheered by Armenians in the streets of captured towns during one of the Russo-Ottoman Wars. Of course, contradictory events stand out: most notably, the 1920 Soviet invasion of Armenia, which brought an end to the first independent Armenian state since the fall of the Kingdom of Cilicia in 1375, and the prompt cession of much of the traditional Armenian homeland to Turkey in the Treaty of Kars, including the spiritually important Mt Ararat. But in these circumstances the United States still positioned itself badly, from the Armenian perspective, by allowing the accession of Turkey to NATO soon after Stalin demanded an annulment of the Treaty of Kars, and consequently becoming a major contributor of military aid to Turkey. In this fashion they inadvertently appointed themselves the defenders of a status quo in which traditionally Armenian territory remained abroad.
Yet the extent to which Armenians perceive the United States as a friend to Turkey may diminish as a result of the real breakdown in the US-Turkish relationship. Largely since the rise of President Recep Erdoğan, according to official US government figures, military aid to Turkey has been slowing rapidly and, in 2017, ceased altogether. In 2018, the countries even briefly targeted sanctions at each other’s top officials over a dispute about the detention of an American pastor in Turkey. While this has been occurring, the Turkish relationship with Russia has been improving dramatically, marked by frequent visits and, in 2018, the sale of a Russian missile system to Turkey. Certainly such warmness between Russia and Turkey has caused frustration on the part of the Americans, and cannot be pleasing to Armenians either. 
This also raises the associated matter of Armenia’s ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is the final major factor affecting Armenian feelings towards foreign nations. As such, one would expect Armenian security ties to Russia, most importantly through membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), to cement the relationship. However, Armenia’s inclusion in the CSTO has ostensibly no bearing on the conflict against Azerbaijan, even as a deterrent, as was made evident by the 2016 Four-Day War, where Russia was impartial even in rhetoric. Moreover, while Russia does sell arms on credit to Armenia, Azerbaijan in recent years has purchased about 65% of its weapons from the Russian Federation, which likely has some effect on the perception of Russia as Armenia’s main friend. In comparison, due to an OSCE embargo, many Western countries have agreed to prohibit arms sales to both belligerents. 
Although it is impossible to be sure of why Armenians identified certain countries as their main friend, reflection on likely reasons gives cause to expect major change. This conclusion may be drawn from the weakening of factors that historically have tied Armenia to Russia, as well as those that have caused tension between Armenia and the West. It is sensible to reiterate that this change in attitude has already begun to manifest in the way that identification of Russia as Armenia’s main friend fell 20% from 2013 to 2017. As such, although the Velvet Revolution did not have a foreign policy element in the fashion of, for example, Euromaidan in Ukraine, there are nevertheless many reasons why the new and future governments will change the country’s international course.
The views of the author of the article do not necessarily coincide with those of CRRC-Armenia.
Low Turnout on Armenian Parliamentary Elections?

by Anna Ryzhova
CRRC-Armenia International Fellow

In political science, there are
two classical reasons, that underpin a concern about electoral turnout. The first concern is connected with legitimacy and governability – low turnout can erode the legitimacy of a regime. The second concern is related to representation – low levels of electoral participation can result in an unrepresentative outcome. In Armenia, according to the last opinion poll before the Parliamentary Snap Elections which took place on the 9th of December 2018, 75,7% of respondents confirmed that they were going to vote on the upcoming elections. These numbers were also backed by general enthusiasm about the new government and elections – 82% of respondents of the pre-election poll conducted by IRI expressed a positive attitude towards the recent change of government in Armenia. And still, according to the chairman of Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission, the final voter turnout on the 9th of December reached 48,63%, which is considered as the lowest turnout in any countrywide elections of Armenia since 1991 Independence Referendum. In regard to that, this article aims to answer the following questions: what are the reasons that underpin the voters’ turnout on recent snap parliamentary elections in Armenia and can it be considered low due to these reasons?

If we refer to the reasons for the final turnout, given by the officials, the Chairman of Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission saw bad weather as a reason for morning passive participation, while the acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan pointed at the lack of intrigue of these elections, as well as the absence of the so-called dead or absent voters.

While these reasons most likely had their influence on the final turnout, according to Hrant Mikaelian, an independent researcher, the real voters’ turnout was in fact considerably higher and it can be estimated up to 65,2%. According to his calculations, the official number of inhabitants in Armenia (2969000) is approximately 200000 higher than the real number of inhabitants (according to him, the real number comprises 2793000 persons, approximately 28000 of whose are not Armenian citizens) due to high rates of emigration from Armenia. Since the number of voters in Armenia makes approximately 74,5% of the population, according to his estimations the number of voters was close to 2018000. Moreover, according to him, diminished voter’s turnout can serve as a proof that the so-called “administrative resource” was almost not mobilized, as well electoral bribing of voters most likely did not take place, confirming that the elections were fair. As for the discrepancy between the results of the pre-election poll and the real number of voters, Mr Mikaelian claims that this is a usual situation when people overestimate their electoral activity, which results in surveys giving much more optimistic prognoses than the actual outcomes.

It is still highly contested even among political scientists, whether a low turnout is a serious threat to democracy or whether a low turnout does manifest it and not actually have a significant effect on it. I would argue that it heavily depends on the context. In Armenian context, when international observers e.g. OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the CIS Observation mission, as well as independent observers e.g. European Platform For Democratic Elections (EPDE) state that the elections were transparent and open, it doesn’t seem relevant to question whether the elections were democratic based only on the voters’ turnout that is considered low. Moreover, the question of whether turnout was really low remains open in light of the calculations on the real number of voters present in Armenia.

In 20 years, Armenia can reach the level of Emerging Europe

by Anna Ryzhova
CRRC-Armenia International Fellow

On the 20th of November, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative for Armenia Yulia Ustyugova gave a presentation of the recent “Caucasus and Central Asia Regional Economic Outlook” in Yerevan. This presentation was dedicated to both global and local challenges and opportunities that the current economic situation brings. The presentation has started with a brief overview of the economic situation in the world.

The global economic environment undergoes through certain changes, and these changes are not always positive. This is due to the number of factors, that include trade tensions (e.g. the tariffs that the United States put on China), financial tensions and other factors such as geopolitical tensions (e.g. sanctions against Russia, Iran). As a result, according to the IMF, the global growth for 2018 is predicted to be 3,7%, which is relatively good but still 0,2% lower than it was previously expected. In general, it can serve as a sign that global growth prospects have a tendency to weaken.

Chart 2

According to the IMF, GDP growth has decelerated in Armenia as well. On Chart 1, it is visible that investment and consumption have experienced a major decrease in the second and the third quarter of 2018. Chart 2 shows this tendency in terms of composition – likewise, in the third quarter, the agriculture had been on the downside, while trade and services remain strong and served as a pillar of economic growth in the third quarter of 2018.

Still, Armenia’s GDP growth is estimated 6% for this year. Even though Ms Ustyugova noted that this prognosis is a bit on the upside as earlier the growth of Armenian economy was estimated 3,4%, the speaker reassured that achieving 6% GDP growth for Armenia is possible this year.

Chart 3
Like in the other oil-importing countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia region (Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan), investment ratios to GDP in Armenia have declined since the global economic crisis (International Monetary Fund 2018, 55). In Armenia, the level of foreign direct investment (FDI) remains low (see Chart 3 below). Why FDI is important for Armenian economy? As the speaker explained, medium-term growth will depend on what are the drivers of this growth, and this should rather be an investment than consumption. 
Still, as the IMF representative pointed out if you look at Chart 4 then it is visible that accumulatively the rates of FDI have increased. This tendency might be promising, but when it comes to the future developments of FDI in Armenia there’s not much certainty at the moment. As the speaker underlined, Armenia has a great potential to make progress, and it can do at least 5 times better.
Chart 4
In conclusion, the speaker noted that the tone of the presentation could seem rather dark as lower growth prospects and tighter economic conditions are predicted to occur globally. But this is also an indicator that it is time to take action now as these factors might in future limit the possible policy maneuver for the region in general and for Armenia in particular. It is estimated, that it will take 20 years for Armenia to reach the level of Emerging Europe as the economic change requires time. During this period of time, it is crucial for Armenia to conduct structural reforms that would boost private investment.
Even though some of the questions asked after the presentation reflected worries and doubt about the pace and scope of economic change in Armenia, the IMF representative reassured that Armenia has already made significant progress – e.g. this year its classification was changed from the country of lower-middle income to the country of upper-middle income. The IMF works closely with the government on the coming reforms that are meant to further boost the Armenian economy.    

Lessons in Measuring SES for Syrian refugees in Armenia

By Elize Manoukian,
CRRC-Armenia Volunteer

As a result of a concerted effort by the Armenian government, humanitarian aid organizations, and resilient individuals and families, successful economic integration has been a reality for many of the 22,000 Syrian Armenians who initially sought refuge in Armenia since the outset of the brutal and unending Syrian Civil War (GIZ, 2016). The unexpected arrival of migrants has completely changed the fabric of Armenian urban life, infusing visible energy and human potential into the nation’s densely-packed capital, Yerevan.

The experiences of Syrian-Armenian immigrants residing in Armenia’s outer regions, however, appeared within a blindspot. This group is smaller and more isolated–current estimates suggest as few as 2% of asylum seekers live in Armenia’s regions–subsequently, much less is known about their economic and social needs, and how to facilitate their opportunity. Following CRRC-Armenia’s previous GIZ-funded research on the economic needs of Syrian Armenians in the capital, a project is currently underway to learn more about the economic and social integration process as it is experienced outside of Yerevan. Through data collection on the lived experience for the 400 Syrian Armenians who have settled in rural areas, future interventions can be developed that better target individuals and families who have fallen outside the current reach of aid and assistance.

One critical part of this research is a survey of the socio-economic status (SES) of Syrian Armenians living in the regions. This begs the question as to which measurement scale should be used by researchers to conceptualize SES for a refugee population. Furthermore, what if this community is striving to integrate within the economic context of a developing nation, and has varying and uneven experiences of integration?

To develop a survey, CRRC looks to the expanding field of study of SES research methodologies and approaches from international research. These conceptual approaches deconstruct the gold standard for measuring SES-occupation, education, and income–to better reflect the particularities of the refugee experience. For example, a gradient approach to SES, one that observes socioeconomic status as related to worsening employment, would more accurately reflect better account for how a refugee fleeing a country for political reasons might accept work that is not commensurate with the level of education attained in their home country.

The case study of Syrian Armenians refugees offers a myriad of examples in which a multi-fold dynamic of SES indicators–such as gender and economic opportunity available within the host country (or lack thereof)–come into play. In Syria, for example, many families could sustain themselves with one male, “breadwinner” per household. In Armenia, which still retains the Soviet model of a two-breadwinner household, being a two-earner family is frequently not a choice but a necessity; in the post-Soviet space, to opt out of this model risks poverty. This presents the challenge of overcoming the economic exclusion of Syrian Armenian women, some who face serious difficulties adjusting to the realities of a two-earner model economy.

In conclusion, we found that there is no one measure that can concretely determine SES; Instead, researchers must rely on thorough, and specifically defined survey questions that assess the unique needs of the population, and carefully adjust the theoretical dimensions of the study to capture and describe stark differences that can exist within the same “community” at the same or different times. Collecting this information can greatly improve our understanding of the context in which refugee SES operates, allowing us to more accurately reflect the trauma of poverty, gendered and income inequalities, integration challenges for youth, women, and the elderly, as well as other barriers to the economic and social success of Syrian Armenians who have sought refuge in Armenia. Shining a light on these blind spots will not only lend nuance to the discussion of integration of Syrian Armenian refugees, but will directly guide efforts to build safer and stronger communities for the world’s most vulnerable.


  2. “Measuring Socioeconomic Status and Subjective Social Status.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association,
  3. Uzelac, Ana, and Jos Meester. “The Effects of Syrian Armenian Economic Integration in Armenia.” Clingendael–Netherlands Institute for Human Relations, International Center for Human Development (ICHD) Armenia, Feb. 2018,
“Women belong in the Revolution?!” | A study on gender equality in Armenian politics

By Hannah Brandt
CRRC-Armenia Intern

The Armenian ‘Velvet Revolution’ saw Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s Prime Minister and head of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), who was clinging onto power beyond his tenure as the country’s president from 2008-2018, effectively ousted. Protestors called for Sargsyan’s resignation, more transparency in politics, as well as the end of corruption, nepotism and economic inequality created under the Republican Party’s entrenched rule. The protest movement united Armenian citizens, and also women took the streets of whom many were seen carrying signs stating: “Women belong in the kitchen revolution”. And indeed, women, as the new Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan acknowledged during an interview with the French radio station Radio France Inter (RFI), were, together with the youth, the main motors of the revolution. He praised the immense and unprecedented participation of women during the ‘Velvet Revolution’. Nonetheless, when asked about the retention of the status quo in what concerns gender equality in Armenian politics, he remarked that “things have evolved too quickly for this balance of power to be reflected in the composition of the government. Civil activism has not yet turned into political activism”. In a press statement Pashinyan voiced that the new government will work to advance women’s rights in Armenia and work to engage more women ingovernment.

There is a lot of work ahead of the new government on this issue. In fact, since 2010 there have never been more than three women ministers in the government structure and no women governors (marzpet). Most of the women ministers filled rather gender stereotypical positions, such as in the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Diaspora. Furthermore, out of 6,164 local council members (avagani) in Armenia, only 534 are women (8.6%), according to 2011 figures from the Central Election Commission. The share of women in the National Assembly is close to 11% despite a quota prescribed in the Electoral Code of 2016 requiring 20% of candidates on every party’s election list (=before the election) to be female.

This political constellation is reflected in The GlobalGender Gap Report 2017 which ranks the Republic of Armenia within the last 25 percent of the world countries in what concerns political empowerment (111th), women in parliament (93rd), women in ministerial positions (106th) and years with female head of state (69th). The Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) published annually by the World Economic Forum, ranks countries on a scale from zero to one, based on the female-to-male ratio, in terms of women’s economic participation, educational attainment, health and political empowerment in international comparison. Armenia, ranking 97th (out of 144 countries) in 2017, with a 0.677 score, is just one place ahead of Azerbaijan (0,676) and 3 places behind of Georgia (0,679). A somber reflection of gender equality in the South Caucasus with these states ranking close to countries such as Tajikistan (95th), Cambodia (99th), China (100th) and Malawi (101st) [Figure 1].

Bearing this in mind, obstacles contributing to Armenia’s gender inequality in the political sphere (111 out of 144) are gender stereotypes, gender roles, women’s lack of economic independence and the overall political culture. What outlook can we give on their rigidity after the ‘Velvet Revolution’ and following its aftermath?

In an interviewwith Aghasi Tadevosyan, the researcher at the National Academy’s Institute for History, Archeology and Ethnography points out that “in our country [Armenia] not only the clear differences between men and women have been preserved, but also the stereotype that the employment of women is humiliating. Furthermore, a man who works in many social situations can be ridiculed, disrespected or even insulted.”
This analysis of gender roles may appear poignant, but around 10 percent of Armenian men discourage their wives from working. What’s more, gender stereotypes are imminent in the Armenian culture and may be retrieved in public speeches given by Armenian politicians. In fact, speeches delivered between 2013 and 2015 on the national holidays dedicated to women – March 8, Women’s Day, and April 7, Motherhood and Beauty Day, stressed the importance of “beauty” (mentioned 75 times*), “happiness” (49), “warmth” (45), “care” (18), “kindness” (26) and “to glorify” (16). In contrast, political references such as “rights” (5), “struggle” (5) and “citizen” (1) were barely mentioned.

Women’s participation in politics is supposedly also held back by their lack of economic independence. In fact, the 2016 report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that among post-Soviet countries Armenia has the highest unemployment rate of women. According to the data 17.5 percent of Armenian women among those over 25 years old are unemployed. Based on a model of the ILO, the World Bank estimates that female unemployment will be augmenting over the course of the next years. Tajikistan which ranks just before Armenia in this report, for comparison has only 10.5 percent of women who face unemployment. For further comparison in the South Caucasus, Georgia has 8.9 percent, while in Azerbaijan it is 6 percent. But when analyzing the 2017’s GGGR CountryScorecard [Figure 2] one can tell that Armenia ranks above average in the sectors of “educational attainment” (42 out of 144) and “economic participation and opportunity” (71 out of 144).

50 different speeches addressing the March 8 and April 7 holidays in Armenia were analyzed. In total 6,093 distinctive words were articulated. From these 6,093 words, the total amount of the noun “beauty” being uttered amounted to 75. Further details may be found at:

Figure 2: The Global Gender Gap Report Country Scorecard of Armenia. 
In this graphic the Armenian scores in the sectors of Economy, Education, Health and Politics are compared with the 2017 average score of all evaluated countries. 

The economic situation can thus be considered as minor obstacle to women’s participation in politics, a part from the electoral deposit prescribed in the Armenian Electoral Code. Furthermore, female politicians need to undergo a long process of proving their right to a prominent spot in public life. This reflects the general political culture in Armenia. The World ValuesSurvey, wave 2010-2014, indicates that more than 3 out of 5 Armenians believe that men make better politicians than women*. 

There is a tendency though, showing that the better the education the stronger the opposition to this statement. When cross tabulating the statement by the different educational categories, one perceives that from the divisions of “no formal education”, “primary school”, “secondary (university preparatory)” to “university degree” the overall percentage negation of the statement raises from 0, through 18 and 27 percent to 30 percent. [Figure 3] Remarkable though is that this comes from women only. When including the variable “respondent’s sex” in a regression model, one observes that men’s approval rests at a stable 70 percent, whilst women’s approval diminishes from the same percentage, to 43% for women with a university degree. [Figure 4]

The complete statement read “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do”. Possible answers were “ strongly agree”, “agree”, “disagree”, “strongly disagree”, “no answer” and “don’t know”. They were regrouped into three categories: “agree”, “disagree” and “don’t know”. A total of 1,100 individuals were interviewed.

Figure 3: World Values Survey Wave 6 (2010-2014) Cross Tabulation of the statement “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” by highest educational level attained

Figure 4: World Values Survey Wave 6 (2010-2014)
Cross Tabulation of the statement “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” by respondent’s gender.

Current tendencies

As data from the Caucasus Barometer shows that younger people are statistically more educated [Figure 5] than their older counterparts, one may infer further involvement from women to fight gender bias in politics. A predominant example for this has been the involvement of Anna Hakobyan, in the political rallies of her husband, Nikol Pashinyan. By giving political speeches by his side and partly taking over the organisation of the protests, she stands as role model for future female leaders in the political sphere. And also Lena Nazaryan, a member of the “Way Out” faction, could always be seen at the rallies as a civic activist.

Furthermore, political scientist Arthur Atanesyan noted about the Armenian ‘Velvet Revolution’ that a “sexual revolution” took place. “People who were accustomed to hiding their emotions for social and cultural reasons were kissing freely on the streets”. This gives hopes to a further dissolving of rigid gender roles in the future.

Albeit there being female deputy ministers and female heads of municipalities, solely two women, Mane Tandilyan – the vice chair of the Bright Armenia Party (Yelk alliance) – and Lilit Makunts –an Associate Professor at the Russian-Armenian University in Yerevan-, have been appointed to the higher positions of Minister of Labor and Social Affairs and Minister of Culture respectively, of the new cabinet.

Supposing that Pashinyan’s promise of engaging more women in the new government (he is keeping the same ration up as before the revolution) appears neglected, one must bear in mind, that it takes time to build a wider pool or women politicians to engage on the national political landscape.

The next parliamentary elections, which should be held within a year of the revolution, will show how and to what extent the female ‘Velvet Revolution’ has taken place and has transformed female civic activism into political activism.

Figure 5: Caucasus Barometer 2017 Armenia
Cross Tabulation of the question “Highest level of education you have achieved” by age group.
Armenian Security and Geopolitical Challenges Unchanged in the new Pashinyan Era

By Anthony Branch,
CRRC-Armenia International Fellow
While the recent installment of Nikol Pashinyan as Prime Minister is perhaps the most significant governmental change since the independence of Armenia, the security challenges and geopolitical realities remain the same. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict continues in stagnation, Turkey’s aggressive rhetoric and partnership with Azerbaijan is unchanged, and the energy geopolitical partnership between Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey is increasing. Though much remains the same, it is important to analyze and consider specific challenges the new Armenian government may face.

According to data from the Caucasus Research Resource Center – Armenia Foundation, Armenians still view Azerbaijan as the main enemy of the country. Azerbaijan has recently been reported moving troops and military equipment near the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Aliyev regime recently threatened to strike the Armenian nuclear energy facility. With low crude oil prices 2015-2017, and after a demonstration of improved military aptitude in April 2016, Azerbaijan has purchased more arms from Russia. On June 20th 2018, the Azeri government published a video claiming to have conducted a “military operation” in Nakhchivan.  In addition, Azerbaijan has been known to conduct joint-military exercises with Turkey in the Nakhchivan exclave.

While it is unlikely that Azerbaijan will outright attack the territory of the Republic of Armenia considering its CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) agreement with Russia, it is less predictable to determine when, or if, Azerbaijan will launch an offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh (as Nagorno-Karabakh is not covered in the CSTO). It is worth considering global oil prices when thinking about a possible Azeri offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan relies on its oil and natural gas as its primary source of income. During the April 2016 war, crude oil prices were the lowest in over ten years, crippling the Azerbaijani economy. As seen in the Iraq-Iran war, and countless other examples, authoritarian leaders tend to seek out foreign adventures when there is domestic political or economic strife. OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) recently held a meeting pushing to increase production, which will drive crude oil prices back down. Amidst the OPEC decision and the recent activity on the line of contact and in Nakhchivan, it is reasonable to speculate an impending offensive.

For Armenia, it is difficult to change the geopolitical balance of the region. A landlocked and dependent country with two of its borders closed, it’s been under a modern siege from the east and west for decades. In a successful effort to increase mutual state income and tighten that siege against Armenia, Baku and Ankara have several energy cooperatives that include Georgia; most notably, the Trans-Anadolu Pipeline (TANAP). For Turkey and Azerbaijan, the geopolitical balance in the region is frozen due to mutual and collective defense pacts, thus the most effective way to shift the balance is to utilize Azeri controlled Caspian Sea oil and natural gas to enrich Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey financially and diplomatically. By including Georgia as an integral beneficiary of energy projects, it allows for the shifting of Georgia’s alignment to Turkey and Azerbaijan, compromising the critical position of Georgia’s neutrality in the regional geopolitical balance.

How can Armenia rebalance this Turkish-Azerbaijani energy-geopolitical dynamic? A new energy initiative involving Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Iran can offset some of the shift. The North-South Energy Corridor project would bring energy from Russia down to Iran through Georgia and Armenia, like a Caucasus Tic-Tac-Toe board, rebalancing Georgia’s posture, while filling Armenia’s coffers. In addition, Armenia should capitalize on the euphoria of its recent revolution to advance diplomatic relations with the Georgian government and its citizens.

While Mr. Pashinyan has focused his efforts on reformation of Armenian domestic policy, he should reassess the 2007 Armenian national security doctrine to define and promote Armenia’s national security interests. In revising the doctrine, Pashinyan and his security council should outline Armenia’s energy security strategy. Pashinyan’s selection of Armen Grigoryan for National Security Council Chief, a notable thought leader and scholar of Armenian national security, should be effective in leading the Council to author a timely and comprehensive doctrine.

The South Caucasus geopolitical balance will continue to be a constant security challenge for Armenia. At the moment, it appears that Azerbaijan and Turkey are shifting the balance through military advancements, and a plurality of benefits from multi-national energy projects. Regardless, Armenia may have the opportunity to rebalance the dynamic through the North-South Energy Corridor and through effective diplomacy between Armenia and Georgia. While the geopolitical dynamic in the South Caucasus has remained largely the same, the subtle nuances in marginal shifts are important to consider.
What might have caused Armenians to take action? Underlying currents from the Caucasus Barometer data
By Okan Doğan*
Hrant Dink Foundation Fellow at CRRC-Armenia
Okan Dogan is doing his fellowship at CRRC-Armenia within the Turkey-Armenia Fellowship Scheme which in 2017-2019 is implemented by the Hrant Dink Foundation in partnership with Gyumri Youth Initiative Centre, with the support of the UK Government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund.

On April 23rd 2018, Armenia’s Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned in response to the days-long protests against his continued rule of the country beyond his tenure as the country’s president (2008-2018). At the point of resignation, Sargsyan had very recently completed a seemingly smooth transformation in the country from semi-presidential system to parliamentary system of government (through a constitutional referendum in 2015), and had himself elected as prime minister in the parliament dominated by his Republican Party of Armenia (RPA). However, the protest movement against his rule led by a member of parliament from the opposition “Way Out” alliance, Nikol Pashinyan, effectively ousted him from power. After Sargsyan’s resignation, the opposition movement turned its attention to preventing the RPA from holding on to power and forming a new government, the program offered instead being the formation of an interim government (to be led by Pashinyan), reforming the electoral law, and calling early elections. The events of Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution” are still unfolding, and the conclusions are yet to be seen. In this blog post, I wish to take a step back, and through the data produced in Caucasus Barometer (CB) surveys, demonstrate the underlying trends of political opinion that might have contributed to the widespread support Pashinyan has been able to accumulate for his movement.

However, the distrust towards the current political institutions is not accompanied by a more general apathy towards politics. According to the CB data, the percentage of the respondents who consider it important for a good citizen to vote in elections has turned out 80% or more until 2017, when it fell to 72%. Those who have reported to have actually voted in the most recent national elections also fluctuates around 80%. These scores are particularly remarkable given that the elections in Armenia have been reported to take place under systematic and widespread violations that have “
an essential impact on the exercise and the protection of the right to free and fair elections”[2]. Other responses that could similarly be interpreted as markers of political engagement, such as the willingness to participate if national elections were to be held the following weekend, also point to a body politic that is politically active in principle, but very unhappy about or distrustful of the actually existing political institutions.     
Coming against this backdrop, the ruling party’s 2015 constitutional referendum failed to create much support or enthusiasm. The 2015 CB included a question about respondents’ support for the 2015 constitutional referendum. Excluding those who refused to answer or said that they did not know, the total share of the respondents who reported their partial or full support for the reforms is 19%, only 7% in this sum being “full support”. It might also be interesting to see how the responses given to this question relate to the ones given to a few other questions that could be interpreted as markers of political attitude and behavior, namely the ones measuring the opinion about the direction in which the country’s politics is moving, and opinion about citizens’ right to protest.
The opinion about the direction of the country’s politics in 2015 CB tilted heavily towards the negative side. Excluding “Don’t know” and “Refuse to answer” responses, only 1% qualified the direction as definitely right and 7% as somehow right; as opposed to 34% for “definitely wrong” and 20% for “somehow wrong” (the most frequent response overall was “no change” in the direction of Armenian politics, given by 38% of the respondents). The supporters of the constitutional referendum in 2015 were largely among the very small minority (8%) which considered the country to be heading in the right direction: 50% of those who chose the response “Politics is going mainly in the right direction” and 55% of those who went for “Politics is definitely going in the right direction” [Figure 2][3]. What is specifically remarkable in the interaction of the two questions is that even of the mere 1% who indicated that Armenian politics is definitely heading in the right direction, about one third expressed their opposition to the constitutional reforms.

Figure 2

NoteThe data excludes “Don’t know” and “Refuse to answer” responses. The cluster “Support” combines the responses “Rather support” and “Fully support”, and the cluster “Don’t support” combines the responses “Don’t support at all” and “Rather not support”. Some lines may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

A similar picture emerges from the question about participating in the protests against the government. In this question, the respondents are asked to choose between the following statements:

  1. People should participate in protest actions against the government, as this shows the government that the people are in charge.
  2. People should not participate in protest actions against the government, as it threatens stability in our country.
Over the years, the percentage of those supporting the second statement has recorded a steady decrease. Excluding “don’t know” and “refuse to answer” responses, the support for the second statement decreased from 37% in 2008 CB, to 19% in 2017 CB. The percentage of those supporting the first statement, on the other hand, has turned out greater than 65% in 6 of the 8 rounds of the CB, and 81% in the last two. When it comes to how the support for protests relate to the support for/opposition to the constitutional referendum, the picture that emerges from the 2015 CB is roughly as expected. Those supporting protest actions featured intensely among those opposing the constitutional referendum, and constituted a sizeable portion of those who expressed their partial or full support for the referendum: 35% of those who expressed their partial support (which constituted 12% of the CB population excluding “don’t know” and “refuse to answer” responses) and 44% of those who expressed their full support (which constituted 7% of the CB population excluding “don’t know” and “refuse to answer” responses) for the constitutional referendum expressed their support for protest actions.
Before the current “Velvet Revolution” the Armenians’ attitude towards protest actions was actually tested by another incident during recent years. In July 2016, a group of armed men calling themselves “The Daredevils of Sasoun” seized a police station in Yerevan and took nine people hostage, demanding the resignation of Sargsyan government and release of political prisoners. The action of the group lasted two weeks and ended with the death of three police officers. The hostage crisis was also accompanied and followed by demonstrations and protests in the capital city. The 2017 CB includes a question about the respondents’ opinion about this episode of radical armed action. The percentages of those who condemn and strongly condemn the actions of The Daredevils of Sasoun were 11% and 5% respectively; whereas those who support and fully support the group amount to 17% and 21% respectively. In this politically sensitive question, 47% of the survey population did not indicate any clear preference between condemning or supporting. This sum includes those who remained neutral (28%), who said they did not know (13%), who said they have not heard about the incident (5%), and who refused to answer (1%). If we look at how the responses to this question relate to the responses given to the question about the direction of the country’s politics, it is interesting to note that the support for The Daredevils of Sasoun featured in sizeable numbers even among those who see the country’s direction as mainly right, or definitely right (30% and 39% respectively) [Figure 3][4]. While there is no organic connection between the 2016 Hostage Crisis and the current “Velvet Revolution”, the CB data suggests that the support for radical political action is quite significant in the Armenian society, even when it turns into armed action against the government.
NoteThe data excludes “Don’t know” and “Refuse to answer” responses. The cluster “Condemn” combines the responses “Strongly condemn” and “Rather condemn”, and the cluster “Support” combines the responses “Rather support” and “Fully support”. Some lines may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

On 22 April 2018, a day before his resignation, Serzh Sargsyan met with Nikol Pashinyan in a hotel in order to discuss the ongoing political situation. The conversation, which was broadcasted live, lasted a few minutes until Sargsyan left. During their talk, Sargsyan accused Pashinyan of blackmailing the state and legitimate authorities, and tried to de-legitimize the opposition movement by referring to the percentage of votes received by Pashinyan’s party in 2017 elections, which was 7%[5]. However, the CB data presented above suggest that engaging in a discussion of legitimacy is not the wisest strategy for Sargsyan, since the Armenian people’s opinions of the actually existing political institutions, just like that of the fairness of government actions, is quite low. On top of this, the Armenian people are politically active, and it could be claimed that they deem protest actions against the government to be legitimate and worthy of support. Even among those who indicate their support for the government’s actions (for example, in the form of support to the referendum curated by the ruling party), the dissatisfaction with the direction of the country’s politics, and the credit given to protest movements are very significant. These may have contributed to the support that Pashinyan and his movement was able to garner from the people.

  1. Europe in Law Association in the Framework of the Citizen Observer Initiative. (2018) “Observation Mission Report: Parliamentary Elections of the Republic of Armenia Held on 2 April 2017”. Retrieved from on 04/05/2018.
  2. The Caucasus Research Resource Centers. (2008-2017) “Caucasus Barometer”. Retrieved through ODA – on 02/05/2018.

[1] The actual question text was as follows: “Under the present system of government in Armenia, do you completely agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or completely disagree that people like yourself are treated fairly by the government?” The responses were then coded from a 4-point scale into a 2-point scale of agreement and disagreement. See

[2] Europe in Law, “Observation Mission Report”, 8.

[3] The actual question texts used in the survey were as follows: “Please tell me to what extent do you support or not the constitutional reform to be implemented in Armenia?”; and “There are different opinions regarding the direction in which Armenia’s domestic politics are going. Which of the following would you personally agree with?” The frequencies in the referendum question were calculated without the option “I have not heard about this reform”. See 

[4] The actual question texts used in the survey were as follows: “In July 2016, a group of people calling themselves Sasna Tsrer seized the building of the Patrol-Guard Service Regiment of Armenia. People reacted differently to this action, some strongly condemning and others fully supporting it. Using this CARD, please tell me whether you condemn or support Sasna Tsrer‘s actions?”; and “There are different opinions regarding the direction in which Armenia’s domestic politics are going. Which of the following would you personally agree with?”

The content of this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC-Armenia. 

Corruption problem or perception problem?

By Jan Bednorz,
CRRC-Armenia Intern
To follow up on my previous post that covered the Armenian institutional framework in general, herein I elaborate specifically on the problem of corruption in Armenia and attempt to explain disparities between different measures of corruption. I once again use the results of the Life in Transition Survey (LiTS) and complement it with the Caucasus Barometer data and some empirical studies on this topic.

Even though adverse effects of corruption are widely recognized and unquestionable, the nature and high complexity of the phenomenon make the absolute levels of corruption difficult to measure. Discrepancies between the two popular approaches: perception and experience of corruption are especially appealing. It may seem as a cause-effect relationship, but in fact, it is not the case in many countries, Armenia being one of the most striking examples.

Although this topic is not yet well-researched, some studies indeed point out that corruption experience is a weak predictor of corruption perception (Bohn 2013; Donchev and Ujhelyi 2014).  Instead, what appears to shape people’s corruption perception is their assessment of country’s economic development and key democratic institutions. So, if they perceive the country to be prosperous and the government inclusive and efficient, they also assume that public administration is fair and transparent.

I also believe that part of the explanation might be the nature of the questions asked in surveys that do not account for complexity of corruption. A question “Have you paid a bribe to a public official?” is pretty straightforward and measures specifically, so-called, petty corruption (bribery at the low end of politics when the public official meets the citizen). However, “Are bribes necessary across public services?” makes one think about the problem more broadly and consider a bigger picture of corrupted system and hence, might unintentionally involve other types of corruption: grand (at the top end of politics where the rules are formulated) and political (abuse of power, election rigging, etc.).

These assumptions hold true for the LiTS data – the correlation between perception and experience of corruption across countries is weak (r=0.41). Therefore, to check what might shape corruption perceptions, I tested the difference between levels of experienced and perceived corruption against some other indicators from LiTS database. I came to a conclusion that the disparity is best explained by the level of trust in the government (r=0.72; see Figure 1). Hence, the higher trust in the government, the more likely people are to underestimate the levels of corruption. Accordingly, if people do not trust the government, they tend to overestimate its extent.

What one might find also interesting about this figure, is the number of observations above the 0 line – the corruption experience is on average by 4.3 percentage points higher than perception, which means that in most countries people are excessively optimistic about the levels of corruption (perception). However, two striking examples of excessive pessimists can be noticed as well, one being Moldova and the other – Armenia (see red circle in Figure 1).

According to LiTS, 35% of Armenians say that unofficial payments or gifts are usually or always necessary in public services but only around 10% report having actually made any (the disparity is -25% points, see Figure 1). Similar discrepancies are observed in other datasets – according to Caucasus Barometer 2017, only 3% admits to have paid a bribe but in the same time, corruption is seen as one of the most important issues facing the country.

As argued above, this situation can be explained by very high levels of distrust and dissatisfaction with public institutions in Armenia (see my previous post) that result in inflated perceptions of corruption. Moreover, going back to my second assumption, even though the experience of (petty) corruption might be relatively low, Transparency International ranks Armenia very low in the Corruption Perception Index (107th place out of 180 countries assessed). They precisely call attention to strong patronage networks and the overlap between political and business elites (grand corruption) as well as a history of flawed electoral processes, including fraud and vote-buying (political corruption) (Transparency International 2013). If respondents indeed take these issues into account when asked about perceived corruption but not experienced corruption, the gap is understandable.

Worryingly, corruption is considered to behave as a self-fulfilling prophecy – if people believe corruption is widespread and thus, necessary in dealing with public administration, they are more likely to engage in bribery themselves (see, for example: Inter-American Development Bank 2015). This self-perpetuating vicious cycle goes beyond that though; governance deficiencies (including corruption) fuel and at the same time are fuelled by citizens’ dissatisfaction, political apathy and disbelief in any system change (also in fight against corruption). All these symptoms are clearly visible in Armenia. Since, without a strong bottom-up pressure, political actors have very little interest in improving state institutions or eradicating corruption, breaking out of this vicious cycle would require a vibrant civil society, independent and active media and, ideally, a fresh political class in a shape of effective and strong opposition.

  1. Bohn, S. R. (2013). Corruption in Latin America: understanding the perception–exposure gap. Journal of Politics in Latin America, 4(3), 67-95.
  2. CRRC (2017). Caucasus Barometer. Available at:
  3. Donchev, D., & Ujhelyi, G. (2014). What do corruption indices measure?. Economics & Politics, 26(2), 309-331.
  4. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (2017). Life in Transition Survey. Available at:
  5. Inter-American Development Bank (2015). Corruption as a self-fulfilling prophecy: evidence from a survey experiment in Costa Rica. IDB Working Paper Series No. IDB-WP-546.
  6. Transparency International (2013). Overview of corruption and anti-corruption in Armenia. Available at:

The content of this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC-Armenia. 

Giving Up On Europe? How The European Union Can Re-Engage With Armenians

By Julien Trehet

The European Union’s (EU) engagement with Armenia has always been a thorny issue in the minds of many bureaucrats in Brussels and Yerevan. Bilateral relations between the EU and Armenia have been consistently framed as part of a sensitive geopolitical environment in which the main regional power, Russia, perceives EU neighbourhood policies as being part of a grand strategy to assert authority in a region that is traditionally considered as a part of its sphere of influence, or ‘Near Abroad’ as it is commonly referred to (Rak, 2017). Besides, being embroiled in a bloody war with its neighbour Azerbaijan, Armenian officials do not want to risk to upset the military balance by deepening political relations with the EU, as they receive heavy militarily backing by Russia.

It took some years for Brussels to re-launch negotiations with Yerevan about reinforcing bilateral relations. The so-called Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) signed on 24 November 2017 is a sign of renewed engagement with the EU (EEAS, 2017). Now that Armenia is part of the Eurasian Economic Union, Moscow arguably perceives engagement with Europe in a less aggressive way, thus opening up the way for improved relations with European partners. Nevertheless, many obstacles remain for a deeper and more comprehensive engagement.

One such hurdle to further cooperation is the relative distance between ordinary citizens and European Union policies. Indeed, according to the 2017 census of the Caucasus Barometer (CRRC, 2017), 47% of respondents mentioned that ordinary citizens would not benefit from the CEPA and a further 20% acknowledged never hearing about the agreement. Moreover, and more alarmingly, trust in the European Union has been gradually declining over the years (Figure 1). Indeed, whereas 45% of respondents trusted the EU in 2008, this number faltered to 29% in 2017, almost as much as the respondents expressing distrust towards the EU (28%). Many factors can be attributable to this fall in trust, such as perceived imposition of EU rules and lack of ownership in values by ordinary citizens, as well as Russian-led disinformation campaigns in Armenia (Poghosyan, 2018).

Aware of the first criticism, policymakers in Brussels have tried to ensure that the new agreement would be tailored to address Armenia’s specific development needs. However, various people remain sceptical as to the value of its implementation. With regard to implementation of democratisation standards, the understanding of the status of EU-Armenia relations both in Brussels and in Yerevan is detrimental to the pursuit of needed reforms. Indeed, if assistance is equated with imposition, or if advice means obligation, this (mis)interpretation will affect policy the implementation of the agreement. Reflecting this lack of ownership in negotiations with the EU is the relative misunderstanding of the European Union by the public at large in Armenia. Among those opposing EU membership, the main reasons used to justify their position was the fear that it will not benefit Armenia (49%), that it will restrain Armenia’s independence (12%) and harm Armenia’s culture and traditions (12%) (Figure 2).

In the light of these findings, it is easy to see why the implementation of the set of political conditionalities advocated by the EU, such as democratic reforms, remains somehow problematic as their implementation not only depends on the political will of the government in place but also runs the risk of being perceived as the imposition of foreign values by ordinary citizens (Freire & Simão, 2013). In this perspective, in order to maximise the effectiveness of the implementation of the agreement, the ‘step-by-step’ approach advocated by Bulgaria with regards to its Balkan neighbours can prove to be a better model for a deeper engagement with Armenia (Ministry of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council, 2018).

Figure 2. Main reasons for not supporting Armenia’s membership in the EU

This approach would see the implementation of less controversial areas of cooperation, such as improving the connectivity between the EU and Armenia. For instance, working towards the reduction and elimination of roaming charges in Armenia would help improve digital connectivity. Similarly, liberalising the airspace by allowing cheaper flight tickets to Armenia would not only help the development of the tourism industry in Armenia, one of the current priorities of the government (Ministry of Economic Development and Investment, 2017), but would also foster people’s connections from both sides. Finally, a visa liberalisation regime, as the one implemented in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, would contribute to dissipate the administrative border existing between Europe and Armenia thus allowing a rapprochement between the two sides. Moreover, a more calibrated communication campaign about the benefits of enhanced trade with the EU would foster an understanding about the benefits of trade to ordinary citizens.

In the light of the presented evidence, it is clear that the EU should focus on reaching out to ordinary citizens if it is to engage meaningfully with Armenia. Important steps have been taken to address the ‘one-size-fit-all’ stigma associated with the European neighbourhood policy, through, for example, emphasising links in the business area, civil society and cross-cultural spheres. Continued engagement in these spheres whilst developing an effective communication campaign which would highlight the advantages of cooperation for ordinary citizens will allow for a more meaningful relations between Brussels and Armenian citizens.


EUROPEAN EXTERNAL ACTION SERVICE (2017, November). ‘Comprehensive & Enhanced Partnership Agreement between the European Union & Armenia (CEPA)’. Retrieved from:
FREIRE, M. R., AND SIMAO, L. (2013). ‘“From Words to Deeds”: European Union Democracy Promotion in Armenia’. East European Politics, 29(2): 175-189.
MINISTRY OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND INDUSTRY OF ARMENIA (2017). Tourism Development of the RA: Vision, Strategy, Action Plan 2017. Retrieved from:
POGHOSYAN, B. (2018). ‘Tailor-made cooperation? Armenia’s new partnership agreement with the EU’. European Policy Centre, Policy Brief, 15 February 2018. Retrieved from:
RAK, J. (2017). ‘Russia, ‘Near Abroad’, and the West: Struggling with the Research Field of Geopolitical Cultures’. Geopolitics, 22(4): 984-990.

The content of this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC-Armenia.