Seventy-second edition of the N&O column / Spooks newsletter

(Date: Mon, 03 May 2004 22:40:41 +0200)

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Intelligence profile: Armenia


Armenia prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt Christianity (early 4th century). Despite periods of autonomy, over the centuries Armenia came under the sway of various empires including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman. It was incorporated into Russia in 1828 and the USSR in 1920. Armenian leaders remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Muslim Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper. The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution.


Country name


Republic of Armenia (Armenia)

Local name


Hayastani Hanrapetut'yun (Hayastan)




Administrative divisions


11 provinces (marzer, singular - marz);


Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Geghark'unik', Kotayk', Lorri, Shirak, Syunik', Tavush, Vayots' Dzor, Yerevan

Military branches

Army, Air and Air Defense Forces, Border Guards.


In the early 1990s, internal security was endangered by growing radical opposition to the moderate domestic and foreign policies of the Ter-Petrosian government. By 1993 a widespread breakdown of law and order in the republic had eroded the authority of the Armenian state.

Shortly after independence, a special internal security force was formed under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, whose special status in the government alarmed many observers in the ensuing years. The original mission of the internal security force was to prevent guerrilla attacks on military installations in the first months of independence. Since that time, this militia also has acted as the sole general police force. Elements of the former KGB have remained active under Armenian direction.

Border patrols are administered by the Main Administration for the Protection of State Borders. Some of the patrols on the Iranian and Turkish borders are manned by Russian troops, whose presence is partially funded by Armenia. The rest of the border patrols are made up of Armenian troops serving under contract.

In early 1994, Armenia completely reorganized the State Administration for National Security (SANS), the umbrella agency of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that heads all national security activities.

In the period between 1996 and 1998 both the police and the special internal security force were under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.Following Decree 19.12.02 the department was divided into two separate ministries, namely the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The first one is now responsible for the special services and the second one is responsible for the police.

Armenia's special troops have the same structure as the Russian army's special forces. The Ministry of Defence is responsible for these units.

The main special service of the country is the Ministerstvo Nacionalnoy Bezopastnosti. According to some sources, there are currently two special units under the MNB; "Alpha" and the Department of Counter-espionage. Alpha's main responsibilities are the protection of the State officials and the struggle against terrorism.

It is a well known fact that Armenia's main political opponents in the region are Azerbaijan and Turkey. Therefore it is no wonder, that from time to time Turkish and Azerbaijan spies are unmasked and that Armenian spies are captured in these two countries. Because of the problems with its nearest neighbours, Armenia maintains strong ties with the Russians. As a result of this Russian special forces operate sigint stations from Armenian soil and Armenia's air defense is a joint effort of Armenia and Russia.

(Sources: Agentura (, CIA World Factbook, Library of Congress Country Studies, USA)

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