Energy Security in Armenia
Energy security in Armenia is a serious problem; the country experienced harshly cold and dark years in the early 1990s. It was a time when the newly independent Republic of Armenia experienced an incredibly severe energy shortage. The population only had access to electricity two hours a day, and even hospitals went without heat. The lack of internal energy sources, regional conflict in the Caucuses and the collapse of the Soviet Union contributed to the crisis. Though the country recovered, it has never forgotten the importance of energy security in Armenia.

Post-Energy Crisis Armenia

Today, Armenia depends on the external energy sources it imports from other nations. Having no known internal oil or natural gas sources of its own, these imports satisfy 75% of the country’s energy demand. In 2019, Armenia had a total natural gas energy supply of 89,423 terajoules, a nuclear energy supply of 26,967 TJ and a hydroelectric supply of 8,535 TJ.

Armenia sources its oil from Iran, Georgia, Europe and Russia. The natural gas largely comes from Russia via Georgia. The company Gazprom Armenia holds a monopoly on the imports and distribution of natural gas in Armenia. Gazprom Armenia is a subsidiary of the state-owned Russian gas giant Gazprom, the largest natural gas company in the world.

Because of its heavy dependence on imports and Gazprom Armenia’s monopoly, Armenia experiences price shocks that drive up the cost of energy for its population of nearly 3 million people. This dependence also puts Armenia in a weak position during price negotiations with Gazprom. When the government and the company cannot come to an agreement, it is the people who go without heat and power. The government-owned Metsamor nuclear power plant generates electricity within Armenia. However, Russia is also the country’s main supplier of nuclear fuel, so Armenia is still dependent on Russia.

Lighting the Way to Energy Security

Armenia is focusing on building and improving renewable energy infrastructure to achieve greater energy efficiency and energy security in Armenia. In January 2021, the government implemented the 20-year Energy Sector Development Program intended to boost energy efficiency and diversify the fossil-fuel-dominated power grid.

Additionally, in 2022, the government plans to implement amendments associated with the 2017 Law on Energy. This should liberalize the energy market, which in turn will increase competition between electrical suppliers. Ideally, it will break the monopoly held by Electric Networks of Armenia. The company currently has full control over the nation’s electrical distribution driving up prices for consumers.

With a solar energy flow of 1,720 kilowatt-hours per square meter, Armenia has a higher solar energy potential than most countries. To optimize this, the Armenian government wants to focus on the construction of new solar plants. By 2030, the goal is for solar power generation to have a minimum 15% share of the country’s capacity, at 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours. To achieve its desired level of energy security in Armenia, however, the government also recognizes the need to improve its use of geothermal energy. The country has a 150-megawatt potential regarding geothermal energy, only a fraction of which it is tapping into.

Other Players

The government is not the only one taking action to strengthen energy security in Armenia. In 2017, Shen NGO and the Geghamasar cooperative constructed a greenhouse and a biogas facility. These have been producing food and heat respectively for the community of Geghamasar during each winter since. They manufacture the biogas from manure, and when they are not heating the greenhouse, the biogas facility generates electricity. Both it and the greenhouse created jobs in Geghamasar in addition to inspiring other communities to build similar installations.

Power to the People

As of 2019, 12.3% of Armenians lived on less than $5.50 a day. Many cannot afford the current cost of energy, much less the rises in prices imposed by monopolies. Those who cannot pay go without heat and power because there is no alternative source of energy they can rely on. Energy security in Armenia is a necessity to consistently meet the needs of the people. However, thankfully, the country is working on becoming less dependent on external energy resources and diversifying its energy grid.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Armenia
As of August 2021, the World Bank found that increases in food prices account for about two-thirds of Armenia’s rise in inflation. The World Bank also pointed to rising transportation and health prices as contributors to inflation. COVID-19’s impact on Armenia has resulted in increases in unemployment, food insecurity and poverty. Accessible medicine and transportation would stimulate Armenia’s economy following its economic shutdown.

Since July 2021, Armenia’s currency has depreciated by 2%. In December 2020, the World Bank estimated that Armenia’s economic reaction to the pandemic could impoverish 70,000 Armenians and cause 720,000 people to experience a downward economic shift.

The pandemic expanded Armenia’s lower welfare group considerably. In 2019, about 26% of Armenia’s population lived below the poverty line. The 2020 economic shutdown will ultimately expand Armenia’s impoverished population. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only stressor on Armenian welfare.

Conflict and COVID-19’s Impact on Armenia

Before the pandemic, Armenia was working to recover from the first Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which lasted from 1988 to 1994. In September 2020, the dispute arose once again and ended after six weeks. Although Russia brokered a cease-fire between Azerbaijan and Armenia in November 2020, the conflict’s effects persist. The second Nagorno-Karabakh dispute exacerbated the effects of the pandemic by displacing 100,000 civilians.

In an interview with UNICEF, Dr. Naira Stepanyan, an infectious disease specialist in Yerevan, compared the sobering effects of the war to the pressures that the pandemic brought on. Together, conflict and COVID-19 place a significant burden on Armenians in need. Additionally, as of October 8, 2021, Armenia has had 269,874 confirmed cases and 5,499 deaths. Reuters estimates that only about 8.7% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Slow vaccination turnout curbs economic recovery.

International Aid

The COVAX Initiative and the Ministry of Health have spearheaded vaccination efforts in Armenia. In March 2021, the Ministry of Health received 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Additionally, UNICEF and USAID united to provide and distribute personal protective equipment and hygiene materials to Armenia.

Armenia also received aid from the World Bank’s development projects. The World Bank has provided 70 ventilators and 80 patient monitors to Armenia. The World Bank’s Country Partnership Framework established the State Health Agency and the Disease Prevention and Control Project in Armenia, creating a more secure infrastructure to address the COVID-19  pandemic. The framework’s goals include:

  • Saving lives
  • Protecting the vulnerable and impoverished
  • Encouraging economic growth
  • Reinforcing policies, institutions and investments within the country

Cohesive COVID-19 responses, economic stimulation and international partnerships are working to place Armenia back on the path to recovery.

The Path to Recovery

Although COVID-19’s impact on Armenia has been significant, the path to progress is not far. Despite the increased inflation and unemployment rate, Armenia’s macroeconomic recovery continues to develop. For instance, foreign trade continues to increase along with copper, agriculture and textile exports.

Additionally, Armenia’s government outlined a series of actions to address the pandemic’s economic impact. For instance, Armenia established a loan program aimed to support agriculture, small businesses and tech industries. Armenia’s domestic investments offer stability to citizens in need.

Aid and support significantly shifted the pandemic’s course in Armenia. The World Bank’s continued help through the Country Partnership Framework supports the economy and serves to reduce the unemployment rate. Overall, international aid, domestic investment and growing vaccination rates work to ease the pandemic’s effect on Armenia.

– Dana Gil
Photo: Flickr

Austrian Development Agency Assists South Caucasus
Poverty is an unfortunate way of life for many people living in the South Caucasus, a region that includes the countries of Armenia and Georgia. As of 2018, about 23.5% of Armenia’s population was living below the poverty line. For Georgia, the most recent statistics from 2019 show that 13.3% of its population lived below the poverty line. However, despite the hardships that poverty brings for the people living in the South Caucasus countries, there is a glimmer of hope. Beginning in 1988, the Austrian Development Agency assists countries in the South Caucasus. With this assistance, Armenians and Georgians will have the tools they need for a better life.

Objectives of the Austrian Development Agency

The Austrian Development Agency follows three core objectives: fighting against poverty, working to guarantee peace and protecting the environment. The agency funds and oversees numerous programs intended to address these three objectives. The agency has used a total of 550 million euros to help fund current projects. However, the Austrian Development Agency does not carry out its objectives alone. Often, it partners with other institutions, such as the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs.

The Austrian Development Agency’s Work in Armenia

About 68% of the Austrian Development Agency’s funding for Armenia goes to the agricultural sector alone. The reason the agency provides so much funding to Armenia’s agriculture is that over a third of Armenia’s population has employment in that sector. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the agricultural sector of Armenia began to suffer. The agency is assisting Armenia by providing funding, knowledge and machinery to promote agricultural productivity.

The Austrian Development Agency’s Work in Georgia

The Austrian Development Agency assists the South Caucasus country of Georgia as well. The agricultural sector employed more than half of all workers in Georgia. The agency helps Georgia’s agricultural sector by providing modern agro-technologies and teaching agro-management techniques. In addition, the agency is trying to promote democratization in the country, using the standards of European institutions to promote democratic values.

The Austrian Development Agency is also working to preserve the forests that cover 38% of Georgia. Forests prevent erosion, maintain the climate and store necessary amounts of water. The agency is promoting sustainable forest and watershed management through education.

Progress in South Caucasus Countries

The Austrian Development Agency assists the South Caucasus countries of Armenia and Georgia in several different ways. It aims to boost residents’ productivity in the agricultural sector, in turn boosting the countries’ economies. Furthermore, in Georgia, it aims to protect forests and to circulate democratic values throughout the country.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

The Armenia Fund
The Armenia Fund was established shortly after the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1994 following Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The conflict had left the newly independent nation in shambles and needing assistance. The NGO based out of Los Angeles sought to alleviate the lasting repercussions of the recent conflict. Its primary focus was to connect the large Armenian diaspora population to its homeland in order to further develop Armenia. With an Armenian population of roughly three million, the estimated seven million Armenians living in other countries around the world are crucial to assembling an improved Armenia. With this goal in mind, the Armenia Fund plays a vital role in extending support to Armenia.

Armenia Fund Supporters

During the recent reoccurrence of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, the Armenia Fund provided $80 million in immediate relief to the Armenian people. The imminent need for access to food, medical supplies and clean water was widespread as the war had lasting effects on the country. Many donations were influenced by the awareness raised from Kim Kardashian’s $1 million pledge to the Armenia Fund, along with the support from several other celebrities. Kim Kardashian is Armenian through her late father, Robert Kardashian. She advertised the efforts of the Armenia Fund and invited her fans to sponsor the nonprofit. Other prominent contributors consist of the Armenian Missionary Association of America, the Armenian Assembly of America, Inc. and The Manoogian Simone Foundation.

Armenia Fund Projects

Projects initiated by the Armenia Fund include rebuilding schools and churches in the nation. The NGO strives to supply resources to as many Armenians as possible while rendering aid to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. A recently completed project is the reconstruction of the Talish village. In restoring the once destroyed village, the Armenia Fund revived the historic and ancient town. Several other villages and buildings destroyed or affected by past war conflicts are primary areas the fund intends to repair.

US Assistance to Armenia

In addition to the Armenia Fund, the U.S. has long provided Armenia with support. The U.S. Embassy highlighted that the U.S. has given $2 billion in assistance funding to Armenia since 1992, aiming to develop Armenia’s democracy and sustain its economy. A 1998 foreign aid bill provided more than $45 million straight to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. At the time, the U.S. was the only country to grant such a relief package. More recent assistance includes the Valadao Amendment in 2017 and the Cox Amendment in 2019, which offered direct aid from the U.S. to the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. The legislation provided more than $1 million in direct relief. The Speier Amendment in 2019 was another notable contribution, as it allocated $40 million to democracy programs.

Armenia has had no shortage of challenges in establishing its planned democracy and strengthening itself after gaining independence from the Soviet Union. The Armenia Fund, principally supported by Armenians living outside the country, has helped shape a better Armenia. The U.S. has also been crucial, helping Armenia’s progression through foreign aid. The Armenia Fund continues to serve as a meaningful surveyor to sustain Armenia’s flourishment. The nonprofit supports Armenia by reaching the large diaspora population and continuously fighting for a more stable Armenia. Rebuilding the country physically is an investment in the Armenian people.

James Van Bramer
Photo: Flickr

Armenian Rugs SocietyBetween 1915 and 1923, thousands of Armenians were massacred in the Armenian genocide. Many Armenian communities now live around the world, with a significant presence in the United States. Committed to remembering the Armenian genocide, the Armenian Rugs Society has dedicated itself to supporting Armenians on a global scale. Through exhibitions of traditional woven arts and the implementation of social programs, the Society has been able to spread awareness of Armenian culture and educate the public on Armenian history.

The Armenian Genocide

During the 600-year reign of the Ottoman Empire, many ethnicities and religions were living within the controlled territories. The Ottoman Empire was an Islamic state and many non-Muslim minorities were subject to discrimination and persecution. Among these populations were Armenians who primarily followed Armenian Apostolic Christianity.

In the early 20th century, the Ottoman Empire, including the modern-day territory of Armenia, underwent drastic political changes. The Ottoman Empire gave way to a Turkish nationalist movement called the Young Turks. The Young Turks aimed to attain a religiously Muslim and ethnically Turkish state. On April 24, 1915, Turkish officials corralled nearly 250 Armenian scholars, intellectuals and leaders with the express intent to execute. The Armenian genocide lasted until 1923 with an estimated 1.5 million Armenians massacred. Forced conversion to Islam occurred for the few ethnic Armenians who remained.

Armenian’s Today

As of 2019, an estimated three million Armenians inhabit Armenia. About seven million Armenians live in more than 100 countries around the world. In the 1970s, the United States saw a mass migration of Armenians from Lebanon, Syria, Iran and the former Soviet Union. In 2003, roughly 1.2 million Armenians lived in the U.S. due to the conflict and discrimination they experienced elsewhere.

San Fernando Valley in California is one community Armenians have migrated to, making up 40% of the city’s total population. However, the size of the community itself does not guarantee Armenian-Americans’ economic or social welfare. The Los Angeles Times found that while some second or third-generation Armenian-Americans may be wealthy, more recent immigrants still struggle to provide for themselves and live in low-income areas.

Poverty in Armenia is also an issue. In 2019, more than a quarter of citizens in Armenia lived below the poverty line. In addition, more than 20% of the country’s population experienced unemployment in 2020. The Armenian government’s deep issues of corruption affect the poverty rates and the attitudes of citizens. Around the world, Armenians still face the material effects of the Armenian genocide as a result of forced migration. The corruption in their homeland comes with government denial of the genocide itself. Without the lack of support from their government, Armenian citizens live lives of struggle.

The Armenian Rugs Society

To overcome poverty and bring awareness to the Armenian genocide, the Washington-based Armenian Rugs Society was established in 1980 and teaches history through rug weaving. As one of Armenia’s oldest art forms, the Armenian Rugs Society highlights the thousands of years of rug weaving within Armenian culture. The tradition traces back to the brave artisans who worked through decades of hardship. To honor this history, one goal of the organization is to highlight rugs made by orphans who survived the Armenian genocide.

The Armenian Rugs Society, using member contributions, has showcased exhibitions of carefully preserved rugs. The organization has also conducted community events in highly-populated Armenian areas like Glendale, California, hosting its Weaving for Survival conference in the city in 2015. The conference focused on expressing the resilience of Armenian genocide survivors, bringing hope to refugees visiting the exhibit. The show displayed woven rugs, embroideries and lacework made in post-genocidal refugee camps throughout the Middle East. The exhibit’s message was positive, aiming to inspire “the groundwork for a better future for themselves and their children,” through the art and history displayed. The Armenian Rugs Society also teamed up with a nonprofit to teach rugmaking to more than 400 learners in nine different Armenian villages, bringing homage to Armenian culture and creating opportunities for income.

Weaving a Brighter Future

On April 24, 2021, President Biden gave U.S. recognition to the Armenian genocide on its 106-year anniversary. Activist groups and Armenians around the world welcomed this recognition. Biden stated, “Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world.” The Armenian Rugs Society continues its work to “represent, support and preserve Armenian woven arts” as a reminder of Armenian resilience.

Madeleine Youngblood
Photo: Unsplash

Healthcare in Armenia
Armenia is a mountainous nation of nearly 3 million people. It neighbors Iran, Georgia and Turkey. Over the past three decades, healthcare in Armenia has undergone a slow reform. The country is transitioning from an inefficient model of centralized healthcare to a modern system focusing on family medicine. Many Armenians feel dissatisfied regarding their healthcare system. However, organizations like the Health for Armenia Initiative and the World Bank are working with the Armenian government to improve options for Armenians.

Armenia’s Healthcare History

Healthcare in Armenia during the Soviet era was a centralized medical system. Experts state that the Soviet system was technologically underdeveloped and inefficient. The healthcare model focused on centralized care in hospitals and medical professionals were highly specialized.

Armenia declared independence in 1991, and healthcare in Armenia underwent radical changes. Local governments took over primary health care sectors while regional governments gained ownership over hospitals. Armenia’s State Health Agency is now in charge of the healthcare system. The government allocates resources to these publicly owned facilities. Since its independence, Armenia has implemented many healthcare reforms. A major piece of legislation called the “On Medical Aid and Medical Services for The Population” created a system that allows patients to help pay for healthcare services. This development plays a role in why Armenians find themselves funding most healthcare expenditures with out-of-pocket expenses.

Armenians in certain years paid up to 89% of healthcare charges in out-of-pocket expenses. This is incredibly taxing, given that Armenians earn an average per capita household income of around $1,500 USD. Their inefficient and expensive healthcare system places a heavy financial burden on impoverished peoples. Patients are slowly transitioning to primary healthcare providers with financial regulations replacing older regulations. However, a lot of work is still ongoing to improve the healthcare situation in Armenia.

How Armenians Feel About Their Healthcare

A 2018 report outlined a recent picture of healthcare in Armenia. Around 400,000 people in Armenia are poor or near-poor. Meanwhile, at least 233,000 of these people are part of a vulnerable group including the disabled, children and the elderly. In 2014, 31.8% of the poorest of Armenians reported that they were sick for more than three days, but they did not seek treatment because of financial reasons. Only 4.2% of the richest Armenians made the same decision.

A public opinion report that BMC published in 2020 outlined the current feelings the Armenian people have towards their healthcare system. The researchers polled over 500 Armenian citizens about the country’s healthcare system. Nearly half of respondents did not believe that citizens had equal access to healthcare in Armenia. Almost 70% of respondents felt that the government should have a larger responsibility towards an individual’s health which included funding healthcare services.

The Healthcare for Armenia Initiative’s Mission

Armenian natives and internationals formed the Healthcare for Armenia Initiative (HAI) in 2016. The initiative’s team focuses on bottom-up reforms to increase rural Armenians access to the constitutional right to healthcare. HAI’s projects focus on developing and maintaining healthcare professionals that can provide services in high-need areas.

HAI defines its work around six pillars, and among these pillars are education, research and leadership. It focuses on these three by holding workshops. It held a two-day workshop in partnership with the National Institute of Health of Armenia where it “[discussed] how to improve health education and healthcare in Armenia.” Organizations like HAI have helped to inform recent changes in government policy that will hopefully address the healthcare needs of the Armenian people.

Recent Changes for Healthcare in Armenia

The Armenian government in partnership with the World Bank published a guideline for the Health System Modernization Project. The main goal of the partnership is to improve access, quality, efficiency and governance for Armenian healthcare. The project focuses on adopting an efficient family medicine model. The transition to a family medicine model requires training new doctors that are not overspecialized.

A major priority of the project was to train the number of healthcare professionals necessary to run a family medicine-style healthcare system. At a final cost of nearly $6 million USD, this project component costs less than the projected $7 million. This key part of the project trained 980 family medicine doctors and nurses. The World Bank reports that these numbers should support 60% of the country’s needs.

Armenia and the World Bank cooperated on three other major components as part of this modernization project. They optimized and renovated the hospital network. The project reorganized the Armenian Ministry of Health so the agency could better function as a regulator of healthcare. These reforms gave the Ministry of Health many monitoring tools to efficiently implement and regulate the healthcare reforms the country is undergoing. Armenia’s government also established the Health Project Implementing Unit (HPIU). HPIU is a part of the Armenian Health Ministry that monitors, reports on and provides strategic planning for the overall healthcare modernization project. All of these developments cost around $30 million USD to achieve.

Where Healthcare in Armenia Stands

Healthcare in Armenia is an inequitable system in the process of reforms and transition. Armenia with the help of national and international institutions is moving to a family medicine system that meets the financial and medical needs of its people.

Jacob Richard Bergeron
Photo: Flickr

Higher Education in Armenia
After gaining independence in 1991, Armenia shifted away from Soviet control. The country’s constitution, which Armenia implemented in 1995, determined that Armenia was a democratic state. Since then, the country has placed a significant emphasis on its education system, including university and college education. Here are six facts about higher education in Armenia.

6 Facts About Higher Education in Armenia

  1. Armenia’s Constitution Mandates Free Primary and Secondary Education: Article 39 of Armenia’s constitution grants all Armenians access to education. However, access to higher education can be more challenging.
  2. The Privatizing of Armenia’s Institutions: Armenia has had 22 state and 73 private higher education institutions as of 2010. Most of the institutions reside in the Armenian capital Yerevan where around a third of the population lives. However, as the bulk of higher-level education shifted toward privatization, Armenians have become limited in their options of pursuing a quality university education.
  3. Higher Education is Becoming Less Affordable: In 2013, 11 Armenian higher-level education institutions increased tuition fees by 50%. For example, the lowest-priced university translates to $480 a year, while the Armenian minimum wage translates to $110 per month. This means that many Armenians can no longer afford higher education. However, those who can afford it lack incentive as neighboring institutions can offer higher quality schooling at a lesser price. 
  4. Armenia Has a Low Expenditure on Education: Armenia planned to expand education to cover up to 4% of the total GDP but only 2.5% went toward it in 2016. In 2018, this number dropped to as low as 2.2%. This is problematic because as the number continues to fall, Armenia could have challenges providing the proper resources to keep institutions flowing. The challenges of staffing enough professors to combat the deficiencies in educational funding could become an issue as well.
  5. Armenia Entered the Bologna Process in 2005: The Bologna Process is an intergovernmental higher education reform initiative that expands through more than 40 European countries. By joining this initiative, Armenia has sought to level itself with fellow European nations’ education. Above all, granting oversight and aid ensures that Armenia will not see a regression in the caliber of its education system. Integrating with fellow European countries could also alleviate the incentive for Armenian students to seek college or university education outside of Armenia.
  6. Armenia Adults Had a 99.6% Literacy Rate as of 2012: Armenia does not have a high population of illiterate people. Men and women share a near-identical literacy rate, and Armenia ranks among the highest percentile regarding literacy. The high rates contribute to increased enrollment in primary and secondary education. As many Armenians continue to be well-read, the goal to reach higher education remains high.

Looking Ahead

As Armenia centralized its government post-Soviet rule, it has placed greater attention on sustaining a high level of schooling and taking precautionary measures to ensure education is on the rise. While higher education remains accessible to most, Armenia has room to improve. However, Armenians can feel optimistic that higher education is becoming more accessible and that resources are continuing to improve.

– James Van Bramer
Photo: Flickr

Japan’s Emergency Grant Aid
Armenia primarily controls Nagorno-Karabakh, a portion of land in Azerbaijan. This area experienced a major war conflict. The war has plagued Armenia and Azerbaijan for the past three decades. Additionally, Armenia and Azerbaijan have struggled with humanitarian crises including food insecurity, repairs for local shelters and medical support since 1988. However, the U.S. granted $10 million to humanitarian crises to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to those the conflict heavily affected. Additionally, the European Union provided €3 million in aid for food, clothing for winter and medical supplies. In addition, Japan’s emergency grant aid has helped aid people in Azerbaijan.

According to BBC, Azerbaijan sought to suppress the separatist movement, while Armenia backed it. This led to ethnic clashes and after Armenia and Azerbaijan declared independence from Moscow, a full-scale war ensued. Nagorno-Karabakh remains part of Azerbaijan while still under Armenian control. However, a ceasefire occurred in September 2020 and Armenia and Azerbaijan received additional aid.

Aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan

A study that the country’s Statistical Committee conducted revealed that 23.5% of Armenia’s population was living below the poverty line as of 2018. While much of the population lives below the poverty line, only 1% of the population lives in extreme poverty. However, access to education, security, neglect and freedom of speech factor into what contributes to the impoverished cities in Armenia.

Aid to Armenia’s population can benefit from hospital supplies, winter clothing and food could begin the process of rebuilding Armenia and its people. As a result of the destruction caused by the conflict, many had to flee their homes. Countries provide emergency support to give Armenia humanitarian needs and basic supplies. Furthermore, it can spread awareness to help those in need in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The need for food, shelter and medical supplies is evident.

Japan’s Emergency Grant Aid

Japan implemented a $4.8 million emergency grant aid to help those in Armenia and Azerbaijan in February 2021. Armenia is receiving $3.6 million of Japan’s grant aid whereas the remaining $1.2 million is going towards Azerbaijan. This aid goes toward medical training in six hospitals and supplies medical equipment. Furthermore, there are new hand-washing stations in three elementary schools to ensure safe water access, hygiene kits, renovation repairs to evacuation centers, relief supplies for winter and educational supplies for 15 schools.

The Asian Development Bank states that 5% of Azerbaijan’s population lived under the poverty line in 2018. This country is a developing country facing many issues. Azerbaijan’s healthcare is among the top two priorities in efforts to maintain a well-rounded economy. Budgeting for healthcare has increased by 44.5% since 2019.

Japan’s emergency grant aid of $1.2 million to Azerbaijan goes toward medical equipment for one hospital, access to safe water, relief items for during their winter and food assistance for about 800 people.

– Vanessa Morales
Photo: Flickr

Artsakh War
In the mountainous region between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a conflict has caused many to endure death, injury and poverty. The tension between the two nations has escalated to war, known as the Nagorno-Karabakh War, or the Artsakh War. Many Armenians have fled their homes searching for safety, but still have little or no means to protect themselves. Therefore, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and activists are coming to help and raise awareness.

The Artsakh War

For centuries, the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh has caused tension between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Artsakh is an important place for the two countries because of religious and strategic reasons. The Soviet Union drew out the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the late 1980s, the two nations first started the war. Armenians in Artsakh voted to be a part of Armenia, but Azerbaijan refused to accept the results. After 20,000 deaths, Armenians declared victory claiming the region; it called it The Republic of Artsakh. However, the United Nations member states do not recognize the Republic of Artsakh’s sovereign status, and thus, it remains part of Azerbaijan. Nonetheless, ethnic Armenians still claim autonomy, and for the most part, the two countries have been peaceful since the end of the War in 1994.

A New Outbreak

On September 27, 2020, violence erupted again in the region. Azerbaijan began with air and ground attacks on the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact, the border that separated Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries. Consequently, thousands died, got injured or had to flee in search of safety. The Azerbaijani military made advances into Artsakh, eventually seizing Shusha, the second biggest city of Artsakh. Furthermore, the Azerbaijani control of Shusha made Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan quickly agree to a cease-fire agreement with Azerbaijan.

Fears existed that the Azerbaijan military would take over Stepanakert, Artsakh’s capital. The fighting nations drafted the agreement for a ceasefire with Russian oversight to ensure Armenia and Azerbaijan end the Artsakh War, and on November 10, 2020, it was officially over. Azerbaijan still holds full control of Artsakh, and Russia is deploying peacekeepers to ensure a non-violent zone. Many saw the resolution as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia.

Displaced Armenians

Of the more than 140,000 people that live in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, half experienced displacement because of the Artsakh War. Furthermore, women and children disproportionately had to flee for safety. Around 90% of women and children had to flee their homes and are now in dire need of assistance and help.

Mary Paronyan is an Armenian-American journalist. In an interview with The Borgen Project, she described how her community felt once they heard about the outbreak of violence in their homeland. “I do not wish to see history repeat itself; no Armenian does. The Armenian Genocide was happening all over again in front of our eyes. Seeing clips of Armenians getting beheaded, skinned to death and have their eyes pulled out affected our mental health. We all united as one big patriotic family. Not just me, but every Armenian outside of Armenia has a strong connection to our ancestral land.”

Paronyan, like many of her community, organized, protested and volunteered to raise awareness about the atrocities of the Artsakh War. Moreover, many NGOs immediately mobilized to help those in need.

3 Organizations Helping Armenians

The first NGO that stepped in to help those in need during this challenging time was OneArmenia. The organization supports many projects to elevate Armenian lives, such as employing women of the Artsakh region, helping wounded soldiers and providing nutrition to children who experienced the war. About 388 women have benefited from employment opportunities, 500 children now receive emergency food assistance and 300 veterans will soon get free quality rehabilitation care. Furthermore, OneArmenia has raised nearly $6 million to help fund projects that will positively impact Armenians.

Kooyrigs is another organization on the frontlines providing aid to those the war negatively impacted. Kooyrigs currently runs a grassroots campaign called Looys, or “light,” where it delivers food, medicine and clothing. Moreover, Kooyrigs is also partnering with YES Armenia to provide educational resources for the displaced population.

An NGO providing educational and leadership opportunities to Armenians is the Higher Road Initiative. As soon as the Artsakh War broke out, The Higher Road Initiative began to mobilize help and successfully provided aid to many families. Its Holiday Backpacks project for Artsakh provided over 4,000 backpacks to children who the war displaced. The backpacks contained school supplies, personal care items and clothing.

A Humanitarian Crisis with Hope

Since The Republic of Artsakh does not have international recognition as a nation, others cannot consider its people refugees. Thus, receiving aid and recognition from intergovernmental organizations like the U.N. is difficult. Nonetheless, it is positive that the Armenian Government has tried to make it easier for displaced Artsakh Armenians to integrate. Moreover, NGOs and civilians have taken a more active role to ensure that families are safe and receive proper assistance.

Paronyan states, “we grew during this war. We turned into one big family. Even though some of us didn’t know each other, we would cry for the loss of one another’s family member because we viewed it as our own. We can help one another by spreading kindness. That’s truly all that is needed. Kind actions will bring kindness forth to those who spread it. Life is extremely short.”

– Andy Calderon Lanza
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in ArmeniaHundreds of thousands of civilians fled in search of safety when violence broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh on Sept. 27, 2020. Following these first violent clashes, organizations stepped up to provide humanitarian assistance for displaced civilians arriving in the capital Yerevan. The extensive damage to infrastructure and disruption of daily life, coupled with a harsh winter climate and COVID-19, will require help from the international aid community for many months to come. One area that this incoming aid will go to is mental health education and support. In 2019, the World Health Organization reported that one in five people in conflict-affected areas lives with a mental health issue. The longer a person lives with acute stress, anxiety or other mental health challenges, the more difficult it is for them to successfully secure basic needs. Aid groups are addressing the issue of mental health in Armenia with various programs.

Mental Health Support for Armenia

The Armenian Red Cross Society is providing humanitarian assistance to help people with basic necessities. This includes psychosocial support for returning soldiers and civilians. As of late December 2020, it had provided around 1,000 psychological services to wounded soldiers and their families.

The International Medical Corps, another emergency aid response group, is working with the Armenian Ministry of Health to assess current needs. In October 2020, the organization expressed its plans to provide training in psychological first aid for frontline healthcare workers. The organization will also provide mental health and psychosocial assistance to people who need it.

UNICEF Addresses Child Trauma

The UNICEF Armenia team and a local arts and music school called the Nexus Center for the Arts offer art and music-based support groups. These support groups give children and teenagers a chance to express themselves without having to talk. UNICEF reported testimonials of students who upon arriving were too afraid to open up but after participating in the support groups felt ready to talk about the trauma they had experienced. The groups also give students a chance to hang out, decompress and enjoy music in a comfortable and safe environment.

To help school teachers, UNICEF partnered with several civil society organizations to teach them how to address trauma in the classroom. UNICEF offered virtual lessons on trauma-informed teaching. The lessons gave 150 school psychologists and 900 public school teachers the skills to work in high-pressure situations and strategies to provide better psychological support to their students.

UNICEF Armenia also put together a psychological first aid guide. This guide has clear and concise information on how to respond to children in a mental health crisis. It emphasizes the importance of responding to children in an age-appropriate and individualized way.

The Increased Need for Mental Health Support in Armenia

Mental health in Armenia, especially following the conflict, is an issue that requires prioritization. The conflict and displacements have left 39,000 children out of school. The trauma caused by displacement has affected children in multiple ways. Ensuring the well-being of these children is a top priority for UNICEF and other organizations addressing mental health in Armenia. The hope is that these initiatives will combat the negative impacts of traumatic experiences in conflict-ridden areas like Nagorno-Karabakh.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr