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U.S. Department of State
1997 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1998

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Europe and Central Asia


I. Summary

Armenia's geographic position makes it a potential transit route for narcotics from the Middle East, central Asia, and Russia destined for western Europe. Domestic consumption is small but expanding, with cocaine and heroin perceived as a domestic problem only since 1996. Armenia is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention. Armenia hosted two visits by representatives of the UNDCP in January and November 1997.

II. Status of Country

According to the Department on Combat Against Illicit Drug Trafficking of the Ministry of Interior and National Security (MINS), Armenia, due to its geographic position, has recently become a center and a transit point for international drug trafficking. Drugs are coming from Iran, Lebanon, and the Russian Federation (Armenia's border with Turkey remained closed due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict). MINS official statistics state that 53 percent of drug transit enters Armenian territory by truck and 45 percent by air. MINS reported six cases of drug smuggling registered in 1997; the same source estimated that 60 percent of the drugs consumed locally are imported, particularly heroin and opiates. Hemp and opium poppy grow wild in the north, in the Lake Sevan basin and in mountainous regions.

Drug abuse, though growing, is still at relatively modest levels. The traditional drugs of choice are opium and cannabis. In 536 tests for drug abuse made at the state Narcotics Dispensary during 9 months of 1997, 74 percent revealed use of cannabis and 26 percent opiates. According to MINS, the Republic of Armenia registered its first seizures of heroin and cocaine in 1996.

Health Ministry statistics confirm an upward trend in drug abuse. At present, there are 536 drug addicts registered at the Narcotics Dispensary; in 1996 the number was only some 450. The MINS and the health authorities, however, consider this figure the "tip of the iceberg." By 1997 estimates, the true number of drug addicts in Armenia is more than 20,000, most of them in the 35-40 age group. (In 1995, the number of drug addicts was estimated as 10,000).

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1997

Policy Initiatives. A 1995 presidential decree gave "priority status" to drug control programs in Armenia, establishing a state Interagency Commission chaired by the Minister of Interior and National Security. The Commission includes representatives of the Defense Ministry, Customs, Health Care, Education and Science, Prosecutor's Office, regional governors, and public organizations. The Commission drafted a national drug control master plan aimed at improving legislation and strengthening border controls, law enforcement activities, and health care programs. In 1996, the plan was passed to the Government of Armenia (GOAM) for expertise.

The Ministry of Interior and National Security clarified that no drug labs were seized in 1997. In a recent speech, the Minister said 1650 persons were identified as drug addicts, and estimated that the real total was about 15,000.

The United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) made an assessment mission to Armenia in November 1997. A new statute in the draft criminal code will make money laundering in Armenia and anti-narcotics legislation on par with international standards. The legislation would cover five areas, including new classification of drugs, harsher sentences for drug sales, strict control over licit production, sale, and distribution of pharmaceutical drugs of psychotropic nature, and money laundering. UNDCP also emphasized demand reduction, to be addressed through an effective long-term drug control effort. UNDCP drafted an assistance program to give greater impetus to the GOAM's counternarcotics program.

Accomplishments. Armenia is in the process of completing a massive overhaul of the judicial and legal system, including civil and criminal codes and new/retrained judges and prosecutors. The new draft criminal code, which should be ratified in 1998, will make money laundering a criminal offense.

Law Enforcement Efforts. 383 tons of cannabis and 14.5 tons of opium poppy were destroyed by the police in 1997. Armenia has substantial numbers of unemployed chemists. According to the MINS, six illicit chemical laboratories producing synthetic drugs were discovered during 1995-1997.

There was a rise in drug-related crimes in 1997. MINS reports 772 drug-related crimes/violations committed in the first nine months of 1997, compared to 517 in all of 1996, and 569 in 1995. The Prosecutor General's Office reports that in 1996 and first 6 months of 1997, 128 people were convicted by the courts for drug sales and 688 for drug abuse.

Corruption. Corruption is recognized by the GOAM as a serious concern in their efforts to stem the flow of narcotics to and through Armenia. The press reported that in April 1997, four police officers were arrested and charged with drug trafficking.

Agreements and Treaties. Armenia is a signatory to the 1996 Dushanbe Agreement of the NIS countries on cooperation and narcotics control. In addition to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, Armenia is a party to the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1961 UN Single Convention and its 1972 Protocol. Armenia has signed bilateral agreements on cooperation against illicit traffic in narcotics and psychotropic substances with the State Customs Service of Turkmenistan, the Customs Committee of the Republic of Georgia, and the Customs Committee of Tajikistan. An agreement on drug control assistance between the GOAM and Iran is being drafted.

Cultivation and Production. Cannabis and opium poppy grow in the wild in the northern areas of Armenia, in particular, in the Lake Sevan basin and mountainous areas. The MINS reported 383 tons of hemp and 14.5 tons of opium poppies located and destroyed in 1997.

Drug Flow/Transit. Drug transit is recognized as the most serious concern for the GOAM. The main drug routes have been identified as being from Iran, central Asian countries, and Russia. Drugs transported are opium and hashish, though small amounts of heroin and cocaine were seized in 1996 and 1997. There is no evidence that these narcotics reach the US in significant quantities.

Demand Reduction. Narcotics treatment/demand reduction is one of the most serious concerns of the health service, which reports a significant increase in drug usage in 1997: 536 patients registered at the Narcotics Dispensary. The Dispensary has assigned a physician to each of Armenia's ten provinces. However, limited financial means and inadequate conditions at the hospital prevent them from launching an "early intervention" campaign in Armenia. There are a handful of drug-related NGOs, including a "No to Alcohol and Drugs" and "Hope" Medical Center, which provide anonymous treatment for drug addicts and lectures at schools on the dangers of alcohol.

IV. US Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. One officer from the Department of Combat Against Illicit Drug Trafficking of MINS participated in International Narcotics Enforcement Management Seminar No. 78 in Alexandria, Virginia, on June 2 - June 26, 1997. A MINS forensic chemist participated in DEA International Forensic Chemists' Seminar No. 23 on June 2 - June 13, 1997. UNDCP has proposed a $600,000 program of training and equipment for Armenian authorities.

The American Bar Association and the Office of the Prosecutor General held a conference in October 1997 in Yerevan to discuss legislative amendments and cooperation with neighboring states for an effective anti-drug campaign in Armenia. Representatives of the Military Prosecutor and law-enforcement officers from both Yerevan and provinces participated in the conference.

The Road Ahead. As Armenia emerges from its post-independence economic, social and political crises, the Government of Armenia is beginning to give the problem of narcotics trafficking greater attention. Police and Customs have an urgent need for basic narcotics training and for improved counternarcotics cooperation with the services of neighboring countries. Both in the context of UNDCP and bilaterally, the US Government has an important role to play in assuring that all three Caucasus countries develop the capability to control their borders for drugs, first through training, and subsequently through the provision of key enforcement equipment.


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