While President Serzh Sargsyan’s administration touts Armenia’s pending accession to the Russia-led Customs Union as likely to usher in an era of prosperity for the South Caucasus country, rights activists assert that when it comes to democratization, Customs Union membership means Yerevan will take “one step forward, two steps back.”
Armenia’s four competitors at the Sochi Winter Olympics didn’t come close to winning a medal. But a joke making the rounds in Yerevan goes that since the athletes made it into Russia, they should at least stick around and look for work.
Armenia is experiencing a Russian-style winter this year, and despite Yerevan’s plans to join the Moscow-led Customs Union, consumers are not catching a break when it comes to the cost of Russian gas. Instead, the price of Russian gas imports has risen 18 percent over last year, a development that is stoking public anger with the government’s decision to cast its economic lot with the Kremlin.
Traditionally, New Year’s in Armenia is a time for dolma, honey cake and pork legs. Not for smoked crocodile.
A Yerevan supermarket’s decision to sell this “exotic delicacy” as part of its holiday offerings has added fresh bite to a debate never far from Armenia’s mainstream over the country’s yawning economic divide.
Armenia is the most gas-hungry country in the South Caucasus, and already is in a committed energy relationship with Russia. But many Armenians, tired of being taken for granted by the Kremlin, want their government to start flirting with another natural-gas suitor: Iran.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, Armenia, in many ways, must offer a welcome contrast to Ukraine and its building protests against economic integration with Russia and its proposed trade bloc, the Customs Union.
The Armenian government wants to increase salaries of senior leaders and MPs by over 200-percent, while eliminating unemployment benefits. Officials contend that such measures are needed to combat corruption and improve the state’s financial picture.
The mayor of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, made headlines recently by admitting to smoking crack cocaine. Taron Margarian, the mayor of Armenia’s capital Yerevan, is generating controversy in a different way – by proffering a vision of glowing flamingoes for his city.