Tag Archives: Armenia

Armenia’s new medical tourism

>> Armenia is cashing in on a medical tourism industry focused on the pandemic, writes James Kilner

YEREVAN/JULY 22 2021 (The Bulletin) — Finding a hotel room or an apartment to rent in Yerevan has become a challenge but, in the second year of the global coronavirus pandemic, it is not Armenia’s relaxed attitude towards facemasks and social distancing that is attracting tourists. Instead, Armenia’s offer to vaccinate anybody against the coronavirus has created a new “medical tourism” industry.

The vast majority of these so-called medical tourists are from Iran, as data from Armenia’s tourism ministry showed. It said that the number of people arriving from Iran over the past month has doubled.

And the epicentre of this coronavirus-motivated migration lies at the top of Yerevan’s North Avenue. 

Across the road from the hulking grey Soviet-built opera house, an ambulance parks up every day. From 10am, anybody is invited to have a coronavirus vaccination. Priority is given to Armenians but the take up has been poor. The Armenian doctor instead talks to the crowd in English. Standing next to her, a Farsi translator repeats her instructions.

“We did about 100 vaccinations today,” she said later. “A few at the start were Armenian but most, by a long way, are from Iran.”

One of these was Makhmoud from Tehran. He had been waiting for his vaccination standing a few metres back from the crowd, pulling on a slim cigarette, his facemask pushed down under his chin. His wife sat on a bollard next to him.

“What choice do we have?” he said. “The vaccination programme in Iran is falling over and we may have to wait another three or four months for our turn. I’m 57-years-old.”

According to Makhmoud, a retired gas complex worker, the Iranian authorities have only offered the vaccine to people over the age of 60. He had flown to Yerevan but he said that thousands of people were making the overland crossing via Tabriz in the northwest of Iran.

“The problem now, though, is that it is expensive. Now everybody who enters has to wait 10 days to have a vaccine,” he said.

The new rules, that people have to stay in Armenia for at least 10 days before they can have the vaccine were imposed on July 15 and it is clear from ministers’ comments that they were introduced to generate extra income. “Tourism indicators show growth,” media has quoted economy minister Vahan Kerobyan as saying. “Now is a good time to think about medical tourism.”

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— This story was published in issue 493 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on July 22 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Iran talks up trade deals with the EEAU

JULY 21 2021 (The Bulletin) — Iranian diplomats are talking up a trade agreement with the Kremlin-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEAU) which they hope will create a series of free trade zones that will spur joint projects. The EEAU includes Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Media reported that a group of 40 Iranian businessmen had flown to Bishkek to look at potential investments in Kyrgyzstan.

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— This story was published in issue 493 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on July 22 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Power cut strikes Yerevan

JULY 21 2021 (The Bulletin) — A power cut hit a large part of Yerevan, a blackout that analysts linked to a heatwave that has triggered heavy use of air conditioning units and fans. Analysts have said that Armenia needs to do more to increase its electricity production to meet a surge in demand linked to a rise in living standards. It is over-reliant on the Soviet-era Metsamor nuclear power station to generate power. The 45-year-old power plant was supposed to be decommissioned in 2017/18. Instead, its lifespan has now been extended until 2027.

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— This story was published in issue 493 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on July 22 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Skirmishes intensify between Azerbaijan and Armenia

JULY 20 2021 (The Bulletin) — Militaries of both Azerbaijan and Armenia reported that skirmishes along their shared borders had intensified. Some reports even said that heavy weapons had been brought up from the rear. Analysts said that the visit to Moscow by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev may have sparked off the intensified skirmishes. With the help of Turkey, Azerbaijan defeated Armenia in a war last year for control of Nagorno-Karabakh.

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— This story was published in issue 493 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on July 22 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Putin wants more aviation cooperation with Central Asia

JULY 20 2021 (The Bulletin) — In a clear pitch for Russia’s aviation business, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin said that he wanted to deepen Russia’s cooperation in the aviation sector with other member states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Mr Putin was speaking at the opening of the MAKS 2021, air show in Zhukovsky, Russia.  The EAEU includes Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

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— This story was published in issue 493 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on July 22 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Armenian opposition MPs to take up seats in parliament

JULY 19 2021 (The Bulletin) — Armenia’s opposition MPs, with the exception of former president Robert Kocharyan, said that they would take their seats in parliament, diverting a potential constitutional crisis. Opposition groups in Georgia declined to take their seats after an election last year which they said was fraudulent. Analysts had worried that the opposition in Armenia would do the same. Nikol Pashinyan won a majority in the election last month. Mr Kocharyan, whose party now holds 29 of  107 seats in parliament, said that his status as a former President precluded him from taking up an MPs position.

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— This story was published in issue 493 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on July 22 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Vaccine uptake in Armenia is minimal, say nurses

JUNE 16 2021 (The Bulletin) — Nurses administering vaccinations against the coronavirus on a Yerevan shopping street told The Bulletin that around 45,000 people across the country had been given a vaccine but that most of these were foreigners. Armenia has one of the lowest uptakes for the coronavirus vaccine in the world. It has set up points around towns and cities where anybody can have a vaccine, an offer, it seems, that has been mainly taken up by visitors.

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— This story was published in issue 48 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 16 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Interview: Gold-plated resiliance in a tough year

>> Artem Volynets, the CEO of AIM-listed Chaarat Gold, had to deal wtih war and a coup in 2020, on top of the global pandemic.

JUNE 16 2021 (The Bulletin) — A global pandemic meant a tough 2020 for most people but for Artem Volynets, the CEO of AIM-listed gold miner Chaarat Gold, it was just one issue that he had to deal with. He also had to navigate a war and a coup.

“Yes, it was a complicated time,” he told The Bulletin over lunch in central London, flashing a pearl-white, relaxed, smile. 

“But in many ways it made us stronger as a company.”

Chaarat Gold is the owner of the Kapan gold mine in southeast Armenia and two gold concessions in Kyrgyzstan, Tulkubash and Kyzyltash. In 2020, Armenia lost a war to Azerbaijan for the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and in Kyrgyzstan, a coup in October overthrew the government.

Volynets said that a third of his 1,000-person workforce at the Soviet-era Kapan gold mine was called up for active duty.

“Even so, if anything our reputation in the region was strengthened by the war,” he said. “We were the ones paying the taxes, keeping production going and jobs open.”

Chaarat Gold bought the Kapan mine from Russia’s Polymetal in 2019 for $55m, a deal that Volynets said had proved to be good value. 

He dodged discussing criticism of Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan for allegedly dragging his feet over clearing protesters who have blocked access to another foreign-owned gold mine at Amulsar, but he was keen to discuss the expropriation in Kyrgyzstan of the Kumtor gold mine, the biggest in the country, from its Toronto-based owners, Centerra Gold.

Western investors in Bishkek have now described Kyrgyzstan as an “investment pariah” but Volynets was more circumspect.

“It’s very much an isolated incident that has to do with one particular foreign investor and one particular project,” he said. “We have been assured that we have no problems.”

Still, the noise around the expropriation of Kumtor has made life more difficult for Volynets and Chaarat Gold. Last month it said that raising finance for its Tulkubash project had slowed and that its first gold production was now delayed by a year to the second half of 2023.

In 2018, Chaarat Gold had offered to buy Kumtor, but Centerra Gold had turned down the offer.

“We’re not interested in it any more but we are still looking around at other FSU projects,” Volynets said.

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— This story was published in issue 48 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 16 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Erdogan flaunts his power in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

BAKU/JUNE 15 2021 (The Bulletin) — Turkish Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan showed off the influence he has built up in the region by visiting a town captured by Azerbaijan in a war against Armenia last year and by hosting Kyrgyz Pres. Sadyr Japarov for only his second visit to a foreign leader outside Central Asia since grabbing power in October.

With Azerbaijani Pres. Ilham Aliyev by his side Mr Erdogan toured Shusha, Azerbaijan’s biggest trophy from its victory over Armenia for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, in what some analysts described as a victory lap.

Turkey helped Azerbaijan in the war, supplying drones and military advisers. In return, it now has a permanent military presence in Azerbaijan and can count on Baku’s staunch loyalty.

“We call on everyone, who has an influence on the region, to see the facts, acknowledge the Azerbaijani people’s victory and look to the future,” Mr Erdogan said after signing the ‘Shusha Declaration’ with Mr Aliyev. Armenia criticised his visit to Shusha as provocative.

On June 9, Mr Japarov, the Kyrgyz president, had flown to Ankara to meet with Mr Erdogan. Other than two meetings with Russia’s Pres. Vladimir Putin, this was his first trip outside Central Asia since taking power last year. At their meeting, the two leaders talked up relations and the threat from Gulenists, followers of an exiled cleric that Mr Erdogan blames for a failed coup in 2016. 

There was no mention, though, of Orhan Inandi, a Kyrgyz-Turkish Gulenist businessman and educator who disappeared in Bishkek in May. His wife has said that Turkish security forces abducted him and are holding him in the Turkish embassy in Bishkek.

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— This story was published in issue 48 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 16 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021

Armenia raises interest rate to highest level since Dec. 2016

YEREVAN/JUNE 15 2021 (The Bulletin) — Armenia’s Central Bank said that the economy had rebounded faster than expected from both losing a war against Azerbaijan and also from the coronavirus pandemic, giving PM Nikol Pashinyan a boost ahead of a tight election.

The Central Bank also raised interest rates by half a percentage point to 6.5%, its highest level since 2016, strengthening the Armenian dram against the US dollar.

“Gross demand is recovering faster than expected, mainly due to the rapid growth of global demand, increased remittances, the high growth rate of private consumption, while private investment activity remains weak,” the Central Bank said in its statement.

Armenians vote in a parliamentary election on June 20. Polls put Mr Pashinyan ahead of his main contender, former president Robert Kocharyan, but they have also suggested that he may not win a majority.

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— This story was published in issue 48 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on June 16 2021

— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2021