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Landlocked among the Caucasus mountains, Armenia is on the historic Great Silk Road that linked Asia and Europe. The country regained its independence after the collapse of the USSR, but its post-independence history has been marred by conflict with Azerbaijan over ownership of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Armenia has taken steps to address human rights concerns over its human rights record, but a number of serious violations of children’s rights continue in the country, including with regards to the justice system and the abuse of children in child care centres and orphanages.
Armenia is a mountainous and landlocked country in the Caucasus, and shares borders with Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran. The capital city is Yerevan.
Population and Language
The country is home to around 3.1 million people, a figure that fell in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but has been relatively stable over the past ten years. This population is relatively ethnically homogenous, indeed the 2001 census data indicated that 98 per cent of the population were ethnically Armenian, and that Yezeds and Russians accounted for much of the remaining population.
The vast majority of the population speak Armenian, which is the State's official language, but significant minorities also speak Yezidi and Russian.
History and Politics
Armenia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990 and officially left the USSR in September 1991, following a national referendum. President Ter-Petrossian led the country through its initial years of independence and during the war with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. President Ter-Petrossian resigned in 1998 following a dispute over governmental policy over that region and was replaced by Robert Kocharian, who led the country until 2008. Kocharian's two-term presidency was a period of political instability in Armenia, however, and in 1999, the Prime Minister and Chairman of the National Assembly were murdered in the National Assembly building. Protests and political boycotts were also a prominent feature of the period.
The current President, Serzh Sargsyan, won in the second round of elections against former President Ter-Petrossian. OSCE observers found the elections to be “mostly in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards”, but opposition alleged corruption, and protests began in the capital. When the police tried to end the protests, violence broke out and 10 people were killed. The government declared a state of emergency and re-established order, but international observers have been critical of the trials of political opponents that occurred during this period.
In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Armenian economy suffered a concomitant economic collapse as inter-Soviet trade almost ceased. The effects of the 1988 earthquake, that killed around 25,000 people and displaced 500,000, are still being felt. Tensions with Azerbaijan and Turkey, as regional neighbours, regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute have also had a negative economic impact, as Armenia is reliant on external sources for much of its energy and food. Nevertheless, by 2000, the country was achieving annual growth in excess of 10 per cent. Armenia's exports are resource dependent and reliant on products such as diamonds and iron, however, which leaves the country particularly vulnerable to falls in commodity prices. This phenomenon is exemplified by the impact of the 2009 global economic crisis, which caused GDP to shrink by 14 per cent in a single year.
Media and Civil Society
The 2008 presidential elections caused political tensions which led to severe restrictions on press, including widespread restrictions on what information could be published and accessed, and gave rise to reports of police harassment of journalists. Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has reported that the situation for media in Armenia has stabilised somewhat since 2008, however, and has noted a shift from violence and intimidation to harassment of the press through judicial means. The organisation has particularly highlighted the phenomenon of politicians bringing civil suits for large sums of money against the press with the intention of protecting their image. A notable advance has been the creation in May 2011 of the Council for Arbitrating in Disputes Involving News and Information, which is empowered to issue expert opinions on complaints about media reporting.
RWB rated Armenia 101 out of 178 countries in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, a ranking that indicates “a difficult situation” for press operating in the country.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
Aside from concerns regarding media freedom, human rights organisations have raised a variety of human rights issues in relation to Armenia. Human Rights Watch has highlighted several reports of torture and ill-treatment involving law enforcement official among the most pressing concerns in its 2011 World Report, while Amnesty has specifically raised the issue of domestic violence in the country, specifically against women and girls. As of the end of 2010, 73 men were also serving prison sentences for refusing to do military service on the grounds of conscience. Progress has been made on a number of human rights issues, however, including in the abolition of the death penalty in 2003, and the liberalisation of legal limits on freedom of expression.
- Armenian Census 2001
- Constitution of Armenia, Article 12
- For more information, see BBC, "Regions and territories: Nagorno-Karabakh"
- New York Times, "Prime Minister and others slain in Armenian siege" 28 October 1999
- Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, "Republic of Armenia, Presidential Elections 19 February 2008, OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Report"
- Reporters Without Borders, "With news media paralysed and websites inaccessible, government is urged to lift state of emergency" 5 March 2008
- Reporters Without Borders, "Armenian newspapers threatened by libel suits with sky-high damages awards" 1 May 2010
- Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2011", pp. 392-397
- Amnesty International, "Report 2011: The State of the World's Human Rights", pp. 66 and 67
- OHCHR, Armenia Homepage
- Hauser Global Law School Programme, Sergey Arakelyan and Anna Margaryan, "UPDATE: A Legal Research Guide to Armenia"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Country Profile: Armenia
- World Bank, Armenia Homepage
- World Bank, Data: Armenia
- Reporters Without Borders, Armenia Brief. Also see footnotes.