About the size of Maryland (29,800 square kilometers), Armenia is a landlocked, mountainous country situated in the Caucasus region, surrounded by Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. Armenia’s location on the strategic seam between Europe and Asia, as well as strong ties between the American and Armenian people, make the country’s stability and prosperity an important U.S. interest.
The United States has been actively engaged with Armenia since it achieved independence in 1991. With the opening of the first U.S. embassy in Armenia in 1992, the two countries signed a bilateral agreement on provision of U.S. humanitarian and technical economic assistance. The U.S. aid program, however, dates back to 1988. In that year, a disastrous earthquake in northern Armenia, registering 6.9 on the Richter scale, took over 25,000 lives and left about 500,000 Armenians homeless. The United States was among the 74 countries that responded to the disaster and provided immediate humanitarian aid to the Armenian people. In subsequent years, USAID’s Earthquake Zone Recovery Program helped 7,000 quake victim families (or about 30,000 persons) in temporary shelters to obtain permanent housing. More than 100 public buildings, including schools, kindergartens, and museums, and public sites were cleared of displaced residents and reclaimed for public use.
Following Armenia’s independence, USAID’s programs in 1992-1998 focused on humanitarian aid, emphasizing food, fuel, medicine and clothing to help Armenia cope with post-earthquake, post-war, and post-Soviet economic collapse.
USAID started provision of more technical support in 1998-2005 and initiated local capacity building activities in addition to humanitarian and direct assistance programs.
In 2005-2012, USAID transitioned from direct assistance to longer-term development initiatives aimed at increasing Armenia’s economic competitiveness, strengthening good governance, and ensuring higher quality and more accessible social and health services. The global financial crisis in 2008 affected Armenia’s economic standing, posing new challenges for the country’s development. After years of double-digit GDP growth, the Armenian economy slowed by 14.4 percent in 2009 and the poverty rate increased from 27.6 percent (2008) to 35 percent (2011). In response, USAID worked with local counterparts to ameliorate the impact of the global financial crisis by supporting the sustainability of Armenia’s economy and creating short-term employment opportunities for vulnerable communities at small-scale infrastructure renovation projects.
Armenia’s borders are closed with two of its four neighbors - Turkey and Azerbaijan - due to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The closed borders make it more difficult for businesses to thrive and enter new markets. In this context, USAID, along the U.S. Embassy’s fence-mending initiatives, has implemented cross-border activities with Turkey aimed at fostering people-to-people and business-to-business ties.
At present, USAID works to increase Armenia’s economic growth and competitiveness, promote civic participation and participatory governance, expand access to quality healthcare, and improve the welfare and social inclusion of vulnerable children while promoting inclusive education and equal access to community services. USAID programs seek to ensure that the benefits of growth and good governance, including service delivery and employment opportunities, are also felt outside of the capital Yerevan.