Sunday, May 4, 2008

Armenia: Foreign Relations, Energy, Environment, and Future Security

My podcast was on Armenia's foreign relations and how it has affected its energy status and subsequently its environmental situation.

Armenia is a landlocked country with no fossil fuels (at least none that have been explored due to economic and environmental concerns). For most of its energy- oil and natural gas- it relies on imports from nearby countries.

Here's a brief overview of Armenia-Neighbor relations:
East- Azerbaijan: Nagorno Karabakh War. Doesn't like Armenia. The feeling is mutual. Result: Blockade.
West- Turkey: Armenian Genocide, Nagorno Karabakh War. Doesn't like Armenia. The feeling is mutual. Result: Blockade.
North- Georgia: Break-away territories, internally unstable. Decent relations with Armenia, but likes to pick fights with the Big Guy, Russia. Result: Gas pipeline explosions- gas doesn't reach Armenia (especially hard during the cold winters.)
South- Iran: Ironically, our friendliest neighbor! Result: Gas pipelines, investments in border hydro-plants, electricity sold back from Armenia to Iran, potential crude oil processing plants. Here you are: a seldom heard, "Thanks, Ahmadinejad!"
North of Georgia- Russia: Thinks Armenia needs it more than it needs Armenia. Result: "Helps" out its former Soviet Republic, but can cut its assistance at whim (Gazprom, anyone?). Those problems with Georgia don't help, either.

Needless to say, Armenia is in quite a tough spot. It's energy comes from a few, and instable, sources. It's made it this far, though. (This far being millennia, past conquests and genocide and natural disasters.) But, it's made some sacrifices along the way at the expense of its environment. The 6.8 earthquake in 1988 did a number on Armenia. Its inhabitants cut down a significant portion of its trees for energy use (see previous post, "Yerevan: City or Desert"). The fall of the Soviet Union also left Armenia in shambles. Government officially reluctantly had to restart Metzamor, a nuclear power plant on a fault line. Improper use of Armenia's major renewable energy source, the Sevan-Hrazdan Cascade hydro power plant, significantly dropped Lake Sevan's water level, affecting the fauna and flora of the area, along with the economy which is highly focused on tourism.

Seeing as its relationships with the aforementioned countries are not likely to improve in the near future (many of the issues are out of Armenia's hands, or it doesn't have much leverage yet), Armenia must secure stable and sustainable energy sources. Its capital city, Yerevan, is in the midst of a construction boom and cars are being imported at record rates, making energy increasingly important.

There are options, though. Armenia can work to improve relations with Western countries and organizations to increase investments in renewable technologies (so far, most are going to Georgia because it's not officially in a "war" and investors look at the Caucuses as a whole for investment purposes.) Armenia can also capitalize on its high literacy rate and information technology potential for renewable energy purposes.

Armenia has to take control of its own future. It can't let the fact its neighbors happen to live in areas with oil and natural gas determine its energy, environmental, economic and living standards. Armenia can turn its "disadvantage" into real security and prosperity. Renewable energy offers hope and strength to Armenia, allowing it to take control of its direction through the innovation and creativity it has used for centuries.

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