Editorial: Armenia After Ten Years
By Vahagn Avedian

A week ago I arrived in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. It was exactly ten years ago since I visited Armenia for the first time and I have, more or less, returned on annual basis.

The difference is actually quite striking: in 1995 Armenia had experienced two harsh winters during its first four independent years, a devastating earthquake and seven years of armed conflict with Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno Karabakh. Electricity, as well as water, was strictly rationed. There were almost no cars in the streets, fuel was sold out of tankers standing on the side of the road and only a few stores were open. The population emigrated in thousands and those who chose to stay and try to build a new life out of the ashes of the collapsed Soviet Union had to face a refined and ruthless organised crime. Now, the business is thriving in the capital, you can barely cross any street due to the swarming traffic which to a major part consists of foreign imported cars, gas station have popped up like mushrooms, the electricity issue in the capital is almost entirely solved (with obvious exemptions) and the coffee shops and the bars compete fiercely with each other. Even though the emigration still continues it has declined considerably and Armenians abroad, even if in very limited numbers, have started to move to Armenia. However, the segregation is huge and the gap between the two classes is too obvious and continues to grow and there is hardly a middle class worth mentioning.

Nevertheless, this is a rendering of the life in Yerevan and in no way a representative image for the rest of Armenia, since most of the tourists (yours truly included) have been in Yerevan and environs, with the Sevan Lake the furthest place from Yerevan.

But there are also many similarities between Yerevan in 2005 and that of 1995. The corruption and the loss in the public sector are still enormous. The most obvious example, and especially well visible for a tourist, is the police corps of the country (partly due to the low wages but also because of the deeply rooted Soviet traditions), maintainer of law and order, who stop the drivers at random and get their cut during the smooth handshake. However, the police is not alone and the corruption can be seen every where and on every level. The police are merely the most visible of all and their conduct can be seen in bright daylight, without any reaction from the surroundings. The fact that the government has recently fired 150 police officers charged with bribery has hardly made the rest more law obedient.

The lack of infrastructure, collective thinking and long term planning have resulted in the fact that no one thinks more than six months into the future or thinks about anyone but himself and his own family. The lack of infrastructure is embodied in the fact that a mountainous country such as Armenia, with countless springs, brooks and rivers, has a water shortage. But when one is informed that the 70 percent of the drinking water disappears in the ground due to ancient water pipes it becomes clear why the water is rationed in a country which exports drinking water in bottles.

But it is not only the water pipes which leak. The leakage in the public sector and the government agencies are far worse. This is however no unique situation for Armenia alone, but a common issue in the majority of former Soviet republics. Armenia has actually managed to pull through surprisingly well despite the circumstances. In spite of the earthquake, a war against Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh, frozen relations with Turkey due to the issue of the Armenian Genocide, and the subsequent embargo from Azerbaijan and Turkey, the economy of Armenia has grown steadily. So, after all, one can not help to admire the vitality of the Armenian people and their determination to exist.

Armenia has a long way to go before it can even be considered in European measures. But with a couple of thousands years of history at hand I am convinced of the fact that the Armenians are fully competent to once more rise and accomplish this difficult task only if they are allowed a longer period of peace and stability in the country as the region. The path is long, but it is the will for changes and development that shall decide the pace and the time needed for covering this distance. It will be a difficult task, but no more difficult compared with the obstacles which this country has overcome during its 2500 years of conquests, wars, earthquakes and genocide.