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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Armenia 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Armenia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Armenia country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Armenia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Do not travel to the Nagorno-Karabakh region due to armed conflict. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Yerevan as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Crime Threats

Armenia is generally safe and relatively free of random acts of violent crime. The overall crime rate throughout the country is lower than those of the United States and many Western European countries. Crimes committed against U.S. nationals remain relatively infrequent; most involve petty theft (e.g. pickpocketing and vehicle break-ins to steal objects left in plain sight). Violent crimes do occur, though the embassy does not receive many reports of such crimes involving U.S. nationals. Vehicle break-ins and theft are the most common crimes. Police indicate that there is a criminal group in Yerevan that targets foreigners and burglarizes rented apartments when the victims are away. Although organized crime does exist, it is not a significant threat to U.S. nationals or interests. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind, Hotels: The Inns and Outs, and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Credit card fraud and ATM card skimming occurs. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Cybersecurity Issues

Although cybercrime is not a major concern, review and use established cybersecurity best practices to protect personal and business information systems. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, and Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Except for the few main roads and portions of the immediate city center, most roads are in relative disrepair, with large and deep potholes. Damage to tires and suspensions along with wheel alignment issues commonly result from poor road maintenance. Most roads do not have shoulders. Authorities do not repaint road markings on a regular basis, and markings may not be visible. In many places, especially outside cities, street lighting is nonexistent, not maintained, or turned off. Street signs outside Yerevan are not plentiful. Authorities only reliably remove snow from major thoroughfares. The U.S. Embassy prohibits personnel from traveling outside Yerevan after dark because of the extremely poor road conditions, lack of lighting, and the inability of emergency service first responders to reach victims of accidents in a timely manner.

Traffic is heavy in Yerevan. For the past few decades, the increase in the availability of cars has outpaced the expansion of the road system. Left turns are very difficult to make; they are either not allowed or traffic lights are poorly timed, forcing drivers to run red lights in order to make a turn. Instead of left turns, many drivers perform U-turns—without the aid of traffic lights—at designated points on roads. This increases the chances of collisions.

Many local drivers are aggressive, distracted, poorly trained, or a combination of the three. Even where lane markings exist, drivers often do not heed them. Cell phone use while driving is commonplace. Drivers will often switch lanes without warning to avoid potholes or open manholes. Due to a lack of shoulders, drivers also park or idle their vehicles in traffic lanes, forcing other divers to change lanes quickly —often into the lane of opposing traffic—at the last moment; buses and taxis routinely stop in traffic lanes and change lanes without warning. Defensive driving is essential. When accidents do occur, local law requires vehicles to stay in place, even if they are in the middle of the road. The driver and passengers should move to a safe place and wait for the insurance company representative or Traffic Police officers to arrive.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Pedestrians should be vigilant when crossing major thoroughfares. In Yerevan as well as in the countryside, pedestrians routinely cross streets – even major thoroughfares – at undesignated points or against the light, increasing the risk of accidents; the risk of striking a pedestrian increases at night and in bad weather. Even when pedestrians cross the street at designated points with the right of way, drivers frequently do not stop for them if there is not a stoplight associated with the crossing. Light-controlled crossings typically provide pedestrians with a minimum time necessary to cross the street.

Public Transportation Conditions

The most common form of public transportation in Armenia is the small, often owner-operated minibus or van (marshrutka). The Embassy discourages travelers from using marshrutkas, which frequently are overcrowded and lack proper maintenance. The vehicles generally lack seatbelts and other safety equipment, drivers often have only basic driving skills, and the threat petty theft poses is high.

While taxi usage is prevalent in Yerevan due to their ubiquity and low cost, most lack seat belts and other safety features. To reduce the chances for overcharging or other crime, find taxis through online apps (two of the most widely used are GG and Yandexi) or by calling reputable taxi companies. When hailing a taxi on the street, negotiate the price in advance. Most taxi drivers do not speak English.

Car rental companies like those found in Western Europe or the United States are rare; when they are available, the vehicles are often very expensive. For travel outside Yerevan, it often is more economical to hire a car and driver.

Due to the poor condition of roads outside Yerevan, consider sturdy vehicles (usually four-wheel drive vehicles) when traveling through the countryside or between major cities.

There is a regional train from Yerevan to Tbilisi. If traveling by train, reserve a private compartment that you can lock. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Armenia has two international airports: Zvartnots (ENV) in Yerevan and Shirak (LWN) in Gyumri. Zvartnots, a modern facility with good infrastructure, handles the vast majority of commercial flights. Most international flights to and from Europe or the United States depart and arrive in the early hours of the morning.

Within the region, there are no direct flights from Yerevan to Azerbaijan. There are 3 – 4 flights a week between Yerevan and Tbilisi and 2 – 3 flights a week between Yerevan and Istanbul. The frequency of flights between Yerevan and other European destinations differs by season, but with the exception of flights to Moscow, which occur daily, flights to Vienna, Warsaw, Paris, Kyiv, Bucharest, and Athens each occur 2 – 5 times a week. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Yerevan as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. While there is a heightened risk of terrorism in Europe, there is no recent history of terrorism in Armenia. Attacks cannot be ruled out, and travelers should be vigilant.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Yerevan as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

While there is a history of civil unrest in post-Soviet Armenia, with a few notable exceptions it has not been violent. In the past, most cases of violence associated with protests were due to law enforcement response, and not protesters. Since the “Velvet Revolution” of 2018, law enforcement authorities have shown less inclination to use force against protesters. Avoid large political rallies or demonstrations. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Armenia is in a zone of high seismic risk. The most recent catastrophic earthquake was the 1988 Spitak earthquake. Small tremors occur periodically; the risk of catastrophic earthquakes exists.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

In 2006, the Armenian government passed new laws to ensure safer building standards, particularly higher earthquake standards; however, many older buildings remain unsafe from a seismic standpoint.

The Armenian Nuclear Power Plant is in the town of Metsamor, 36 km west of Yerevan. The plant began operating in 1976. If there were to be a release of radioactive material at the plant due to problems with the aging systems or as the result of an earthquake, Yerevan lies in the projected fallout zone.

Economic Concerns

Matters involving commercial and investment disputes can take months or years to resolve as they work their way through the civil courts. The U.S.-Armenia Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) provides that in the event of a dispute between a U.S. investor and the Republic of Armenia, the investor may take the case to international arbitration.

Armenia joined the World Trade Organization in 2003. The government has made improvements in tax and customs administration in recent years, but anti-corruption measures have been largely ineffective. Armenia will need to pursue additional economic reforms and strengthen the rule of law in order to raise its economic growth and improve economic competitiveness and employment opportunities, especially given its economic isolation from Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Personal Identity Concerns

Informal taxis or mini-buses pose particular threats to people unfamiliar with local conditions, especially to women traveling alone. There have been occasional reports of taxi drivers sexually harassing single, female travelers. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Armenia in general is a conservative country. There are no laws protecting LGBTI+ individuals, though at the same time there are no legal impediments to organizing LGBTI+ events. Due to traditional cultural attitudes, LGBTI+ individuals often face de facto discrimination and harassment by state and private actors. LGBTI+ U.S. nationals have been subject to threats and harassment. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Although Armenia signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, Armenian authorities have yet to enforce it. Facilities with accommodations for individuals with disabilities are rare and, in rural areas, usually nonexistent. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Armenia is primarily a drug-transit country, with moderate domestic drug use and increasing transportation through its borders, namely at the Meghri crossing point with Iran. Legal and law enforcement officials are attempting to improve drug investigation and prosecution strategies, and add resources and support to further large-scale investigations, often through the assistance of U.S. agencies. Law enforcement and legal professionals are slowly becoming more adept at investigating and prosecuting drug-related crimes, though some still lack the expertise and experience to conduct counternarcotic operations and combat sophisticated drug-trafficking and money-laundering organizations. Some courts are not equipped to conduct lengthy narcotics distribution and money-laundering trials nor able to prosecute cases requiring the introduction of testimony and evidence from multiple foreign nations at trial.

Armenia has little tolerance for recreational drug use. Even though marijuana grows naturally, possession of even small amounts of the drug may result in prison sentences of five years or more. U.S. nationals found with marijuana have faced significant prison sentences.

Kidnapping Threat

Since 2013, there have not been any reported cases of kidnappings of U.S. nationals. Though rare, when criminally oriented kidnappings take place, they usually only last for a short duration. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Do not travel to the Nagorno-Karabakh region due to armed conflict.  Despite the declaration of a cessation in hostilities, casualties continue to occur in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Intermittent gunfire and the occasional use of artillery systems, land mines, and mortars result in deaths and injuries each year.  Avoid roads near the ‘line of contact’ and roads near the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh as U.S. government employees may not travel there.  Engaging in any commercial activities in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories, whether directly or through business subsidiaries, can result in criminal prosecution and/or other legal action being taken by the Azerbaijani government against individuals and/or businesses, and might make a traveler ineligible to visit Azerbaijan in the future.

Police Response

The police emergency line in Armenia is 102. Police response times generally are slower than in Western countries. Law enforcement officials often lack the sensitivity training required to investigate crimes such as domestic violence and rape. Many law enforcement officers do not speak English, although a special division of police who patrol downtown on foot do speak English.

The Police is a national police force, spread throughout the country’s 10 mars (districts). It maintains public order, and responds to and investigates general crimes. The Traffic Police has a similar structure. Unlike in the United States, where a single law enforcement entity in each geographic area is typically responsible both for public order and the enforcement of motor vehicle laws, Armenia separates the responsibilities of the two agencies. The Traffic Police handle violations of the law related to the nation’s roads and does not become involved in the enforcement of other laws; the reverse is true for its sister agency.

Armenian police departments lack a Western-style patrol mindset. They respond to crimes or accidents once reported, rather than trying to prevent them or maintaining a continuous presence throughout the geographic area of responsibility. As a result, response times are longer than in the United States or Western Europe. Armenia’s government has made police reform a major government priority with the aim of establishing citizen-friendly law enforcement that responds quickly and effectively to crimes or accidents. This will include the establishment of a modern patrol police based on Western models.

The National Security Service (NSS) is the government’s domestic security as well as domestic and international intelligence agency. In its law enforcement role, the NSS functions in a manner analogous to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Most private security companies provide little professional training and pay their staffs low salaries.

Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

The medical emergency line in Armenia is 103. Medical care is limited, and emergency services may be slow to respond to calls for assistance. Although basic medical supplies (e.g. disposable needles, anesthetics, standard antibiotics) are generally available, advanced medical care is not available outside Yerevan. Individuals with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities and services. Emergency medical responses to traumatic accidents or injuries may arrive too late to provide necessary lifesaving treatment. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services on a “pay as you go” system, and often will not release persons from the hospitals without payment in full. Patients must arrange food delivery services separately. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

Armenia is home to numerous, sometimes aggressive, stray animals, particularly dogs and cats. Do not feed or pet stray animals. If bitten, contact Nairi Medical Center. Pre-exposure rabies vaccine is recommended only for those subject to occupational exposure. Even those already immunized should seek post-exposure prophylaxis due to the large number of feral animals and the inability of the local health system to provide immunizations. Review OSAC’s Report, When Wildlife Attacks.

Remain up to date on immunizations, including vaccines for hepatitis A and B. The CDC recommends receiving a tetanus/diphtheria booster every five years. Carry a copy of your immunization records. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Armenia.

OSAC Country Council Information

The OSAC Country Council remains in the development stage. Contact OSAC’s Europe team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

1 American Ave., Yerevan

Regular Hours: 0900 – 1800, Monday – Friday, excluding U.S. and Armenian holidays

Embassy Operator: +374 (10) 46-47-00

Post One Marine Guard: +374 (10) 49-44-44

Website: https://am.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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