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Volume 11, No.1 Spring 2008

New Initiatives for an Ancient Land
IOCC's Partnership with the Armenian Apostolic Church Enhances Humanitarian Work for Former Soviet Republic

IOCC Regional Director Mark Ohanian (above, right) visits agricultural projects in Armenia. The country has struggled to move forward from its Soviet-era economy and a heavy reliance on subsidies. IOCC recently delivered a shipment of quilts worth $167,000 to hospitals and orphanages throughout the country.

Yerevan, Armenia — Armenia, an ancient Christian land of the southern Caucasus and a former Soviet republic, struggles to move forward from a state-controlled economy and a heavy reliance on subsidies. A devastating earthquake in 1988 coupled with regional disputes with neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey drain the central government’s resources to deal with poverty and unemployment. Recently, IOCC, in cooperation with local partners, the World Council of Churches Armenian Inter-Church Charitable Round Table Foundation (ART), the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Lutheran World Relief (LWR), sent and distributed $167,000 worth of quilts to hospitals and orphanages throughout the country. IOCC Regional Director Mark Ohanian, an ethnic Armenian and veteran of IOCC programs in Southeastern Europe, talks about the challenges ahead and how IOCC can bring its expertise to Armenia.

News & Needs: What kinds of social issues is Armenia facing?

MARK OHANIAN: After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s’ Armenia suffered greatly because it was heavily dependent on subsidies from Moscow and raw materials from other Soviet republics. The country’s industrial sector is completely outdated. Due to political turmoil, Azerbaijan and Turkey have imposed blockades on Armenia leaving the country with only two small borders with Georgia and Iran. Consequently, it is extremely difficult for Armenian businesses to import and export. Today, Armenia is still bogged down with high unemployment, massive rural migration to urban centers and abroad, and the lack of healthcare benefits for the elderly.

News & Needs: Is there concern about a "brain drain" in Armenia?

MARK OHANIAN: Armenians are well known for being skilled traders and businessmen. The country has also produced a great many artists. Armenia is a very singular and self-contained culture and the people pride themselves on the fact that in the 4th century it was the first country to declare Christianity as the state religion. But since 1992, an estimated one million skilled and unskilled professionals have left to seek better education and employment opportunities in Russia, Europe and the U.S.

News & Needs: What kind of development work has taken place in Armenia?

MARK OHANIAN: There are a number of U.S. and international organizations here that are focusing primarily on infrastructure: road rehabilitation, agriculture, public health clinics and improving hospitals. Many improvements have been made in the capital of Yerevan, but less than 10 kilometers outside the city, you will find no rural or agricultural development.

News & Needs: What makes Armenia a good fit for an organization like IOCC?

MARK OHANIAN: Using a faith-based approach that works closely with the Armenian Apostolic Church is a good fit. Also, although there is a thriving indigenous non-governmental sector, it is mostly concentrated in Yerevan. The civil society and agricultural development programs that IOCC fine-tuned in Bosnia, Serbia, and Romania can be successfully translated to Armenia.

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