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Country Reports

Armenia Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Although Armenia (population 3 million) is generally regarded as a safe travel destination, there are a number of security-related concerns to take into account and certain areas that should be avoided. The landlocked country, located in the Caucasus region, is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, the de facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and Azerbaijan to the south. Most of the Armenian population lives in the north, with the capital Yerevan home to more than five times as many people as Gyumri, the second largest city in the country.

The Republic of Armenia became independent in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Relations with neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan remain strained and the country has recently faced domestic political tensions.

AREAS TO AVOID

Due to ongoing political tensions with Azerbaijan, most western governments advise against travel to border areas between the two countries; the border has been closed since 2012. Although a ceasefire has officially been in place since 1994, cross-border clashes occur on a relatively regular basis. Security risks are particular high along the road from Kayan to Noyemberyan due to the presence of landmines in this area.

Moreover, it is strongly advised to neither approach nor travel to the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Although the region is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, it is under the control of Armenian separatists. In 1991, it declared itself the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh and has maintained this position largely thanks to Armenian political and financial aid. It is only possible to access Nagorno-Karabakh through Armenia and any foreigner venturing within 5 km (3 mi) of the border is liable to be stopped by the police or the military. The surrounding military-occupied area should also be avoided as it presents a high-level risk of landmines.

It is advisable to exercise extra caution near the Turkish-Armenian border as tensions remain historically high. The countries are to yet to share diplomatic relations and the border between the two countries is officially closed.

SECURITY

The landlocked region of Nagorno-Karabakh is home to one of post-Soviet Europe's "frozen conflicts." Although the province declared itself an independent and autonomous republic in 1994, it is not recognized as such by any other UN member. Originally, the conflict stems from the Soviet Union's decision to establish the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, inhabited by an ethnic Armenian majority, within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan in the early 1920s. Tension between the Armenian and Azeri ethnic groups devolved into chaos and violence as Soviet power began to erode in the late 1980s, killing between 20,000 and 30,000 people and forcing 25 percent of the Azeri population to flee.

A Russian-brokered deal in 1994 secured a ceasefire but little progress has since been made and recent years have seen a resurgence of violence. In early December 2015, Azeri tanks fired upon Armenian positions in the disputed region for the first time in 20 years. A year later, in April 2016, a new outburst of violence was responsible for the loss of dozens of soldiers' lives on each side. Azerbaijan has repeatedly accused Armenia of breaching the ceasefire (and vice versa).

There are no peacekeeping forces separating the two sides.

POLITICS

Armenia held a landmark constitutional referendum on December 6, 2015, to change the country's governance from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary republic with the changes to take place during the 2017-2018 electoral cycle.

Legislative elections were held in April 2017. The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2018.

The Turkish refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide perpetrated during World War I remains a subject of contention and discretion is advised if/when discussing such a topic in Armenia. 

SOCIAL RISKS

Social protests have been held for four consecutive years during the summer since 2013. Protests in July 2016 were met with severe police backlash and dozens of participants were detained and injured. Large protests have also been known to occur in Armenia especially during electoral periods.

Respect of human rights has proven to be inconsistent in Armenia with reports of excessive police brutality notably during protests.

Although freedom of expression is protected by law, the government holds a monopoly over radio and television broadcasting. Freedom of religion is unevenly protected by the law. All religions need to be registered with the government and proselytizing is forbidden by law.

CRIME

Crime levels across the country are low. However, incidents of pickpocketing, bag snatching, theft from cars, and burglary involving foreign nationals have been reported. There have been occasional shooting incidents, chiefly related to organized crime.

The US Embassy recommends its citizens to avoid casinos and the Persian (or Blue) Mosque for security reasons.

LEGAL

The use of illegal drugs carries stiff penalties, including fines and long prison terms. The penalty for smuggling drugs carries a prison term of between four and ten years.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 2003 but is still viewed with disapproval by many Armenians. Local LGBT groups occasionally suffer from verbal and physical harassment.

Sites such as military bases, equipment and installations should not be photographed. These are considered sensitive areas and visitors have been detained and questioned while attempting to photograph them.

TRANSPORTATION

Traveling in the South Caucasus can be unpredictable and infrastructure is sometimes in a poor state of repair, particularly in the coldest months (November to February). The local standard of driving is poor; be prepared for drivers who drive recklessly and flout traffic laws. Finally, note that the route to neighboring Georgia from Yerevan, which goes through the cities of Vanadzor, Alaverdi, and Bagratashen, is closed for maintenance from September 2016 through 2018 at minimum.

Public transport is often overcrowded and poorly maintained. If you have to travel by train, secure your valuables, do not leave the compartment unattended, and lock the door from the inside. 

Aviation security standards in Armenia are acceptable.

NATURAL RISKS

Armenia is located in a strong seismic zone, and, as such, is vulnerable to earthquakes and subsequent landslides. In 1998, an earthquake registering a magnitude of 6.8 devastated the Spitak region, leaving between 25,000 and 100,000 dead. There are reportedly over 3500 landslide-risk sites in Armenia.

The country is also prone to droughts and floods.

HEALTH

Health risks in Armenia should be taken into account. Cases of rabies, typhoid, tuberculosis, cholera, and even malaria (in certain isolated zones in the western border areas) have been reported; travelers should take appropriate precautions.

Periodic outbreaks of food-borne and water-borne diseases, notably hepatitis A, have been reported. It is strongly advised that travelers only drink boiled, purified, or bottled water and wash their hands regularly.

Healthcare facilities are of a poor quality and it is therefore wise to take out repatriation insurance before traveling. Further, please note that doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payments following treatment and have known to refuse that their patients be released until full compensation is received.

OTHER

It should also be noted that hotels and other types of tourist infrastructure are rare outside of Yerevan.

Climate

Armenia's climate is continental. Summers are hot and dry in the plains and winters are harsh throughout the country, brutal in the reliefs (snow from December to April). The mountains receive the highest levels of precipitation. Days tend to be sunny all year long.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +374 Police: 02 Fire Dept.: 01 Ambulance: 03

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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