By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia opened on Wednesday a new U.S.-funded checkpoint at its main border crossing with Georgia which officials said will facilitate brisk cross-border commerce and complicate smuggling of sensitive equipment.
The two-story building in Bagratashen, a town on the Georgian border, was constructed and equipped with $200,000 provided by the United States. It will house both the local Armenian border point and customs office.
Deputy Foreign Minister Arman Kirakosian thanked the U.S. government for the assistance. “This demonstrates that our relations with the United States in the political, economic and security spheres are at a high level today,” Kirakosian said during the checkpoint’s official inauguration.
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans also attended the ceremony. “This facility is built to the highest European standards with the latest and secure building materials,” he said.
Bagratashen and especially a Georgian village across the border are known for their open-air markets that have served as the main setting for regional trade since the early 1990s. Tens of thousands of traders from Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan converge on the area every week to sell and buy various goods. A large part of them are smuggled in the process.
Officials said the modern equipment installed at the checkpoint will make it easier for the Armenian authorities to keep track of persons crossing the frontier and goods transported by them. The Americans hope that will also lead to tighter export and import controls.
“There is no country in the world which is more committed to free trade than the United States,” Evans said. “At the same time there is no country in the world which is more committed to the rule of law than the United States.”
The money spent on the new checkpoint is part of Washington’s Export Control and Related Border Security Assistance Program (EXBS) implemented in 45 countries around the world. Armenia has been covered by the scheme since 2000. Its border guard and customs services have been supplied with various U.S.-made equipment such as radio-communication systems, border sensors, metal detectors, cargo truck scales, and X-ray units. The assistance has also taken the form of personnel training.
In addition, U.S. and Armenian officials meet regularly to discuss their efforts to thwart possible transfer of sensitive equipment and technology from Armenia to neighboring countries, notably Iran. The Islamic Republic has long been accused by Washington of illegally developing nuclear and biological weapons.