U.S. Ambassador John Heffern heaped praise on growing civic activism in Armenia on Tuesday, saying that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) believes it is now more effective than in virtually all other parts of the former Soviet Union.
“According to a recent USAID assessment, civil society in Armenia is the second strongest anywhere among the republics of the former Soviet Union,” Heffern said in his latest video blog entry posted on the Internet. “We have recently seen several effective grassroots campaigns here of Armenians promoting positive change.”
“Armenia’s civil society is growing and … getting stronger and more effective every day,” he added, sitting in Yerevan’s Mashtots Park.
Earlier this year, the small park was the scene of a three-month standoff between municipal authorities and mostly young environment protection activists protesting against the construction of more than a dozen kiosks there. President Serzh Sarkisian ordered the authorities in May to dismantle the kiosks.
Heffern cited those protests as well as environmentalists’ equally successful campaign last year against the construction of a hydroelectric plant near a waterfall in Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province. He also mentioned a series of angry street protests that were sparked by the June 17 fatal beating of a man at a Yerevan restaurant owned by an influential government-linked businessman. The tycoon, Ruben Hayrapetian, was forced to resign as member of parliament.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honored a group of Armenian civic campaigners when she visited Yerevan in June.
Echoing Clinton’s remarks at that ceremony, Heffern said, “We applaud those courageous and committed Armenians who are working hard every day to bring about positive change here. And where we can, we are eager to partner with them to make Armenia a stronger, more prosperous and more democratic country.”
“Positive change is possible,” the envoy concluded in Armenian.
Over the past two decades, the U.S. government has spent million of dollars on grants to Armenian non-governmental organizations involved in human rights advocacy, election monitoring, mass media and other civic initiatives.