Notes From Hairenik
November 16, 2004
In the Minasian’s home in the “Raikom” district of Yerevan, about 2 kilometers north of Victory Park, there are micro particles of cement dust flying everywhere, being tracked around the apartment and inhaled by everyone. The remodeling of the bathroom, which has been completely gutted out, save for the toilet kept separately in a closet, has being going on for nearly four weeks, the schedule for completion set back due to an incompetent tile setter who, as it turned out, had no experience at all. I relieve the dry throat that I frequently develop during the course of the day by drinking several glasses of juice or water, usually Jermuk, the lightly carbonated mineral water bottled in the town of the same name, 200 kilometers (or more) southeast of Yerevan. Rosehip is usually my choice of juice—it reminds me of cranberry juice, but does not have that same blood-red color and tartness. Depending on the company producing it, the flavor can be very sweet or mild, so that you can actually taste the faintly rosy aroma of the fruit.

There was much activity during the morning hours running into early afternoon in the Minasian household. Sergey and I talked about various topics, most of them dealing with the mentality of people regarding his own benevolence and economical insight. He and I believe that in general the government-accepted standard minimum salary for workers, about $50, is generally unacceptable and a step has to be taken to contradict this discrepancy between low wages and increasing food prices. He is considering to hire a 24-hour watchman to guard his trailer out on the farmland and also protect his property, particularly his mulberry trees that he has planted himself, from being cut for firewood or out of spite. In general there is a resentment amongst the town residents in Voskedab, located in the Ararat valley and is the same town in which he was born and raised. They believe he has come from Yerevan with grandiose ideas to cultivate their own land, the same that they cannot afford or have no intention to cultivate. It has been 8 years that he has been farming in Voskedab, yet the townsfolk generally do not commend his efforts and instead resent him.

So when I told him that the guard should receive a minimum of $100 a month, he agreed with me, but said he would only pay him $200 for four months of work, once he selected the right candidate. He told me that people do not understand why they receive higher wages than expected. If he doubles the salary of, say, a crop picker, not only are they suspicious of what his intentions are, but other farmers begin to curse him, as they cannot compete with his salary rates. In some instances workers have even demanded that he pay 50% more than what he offered and were thereby dismissed for being greedy. He told me that as much as he wanted the system to change and for workers to make more money commensurate with rising living costs, people cannot comprehend the necessity to increase salaries down the line. Thus the economy as a whole remains stagnant, with suspected millions of untaxed dollars floating in a shadow economy, believed to be deposited into foreign banking accounts by wealthy oligarchs with close ties to the government.

Corruption is a business in Armenia by which government officials and parliamentarians alike earn a steady, far-from-modest income. Yet as much as citizens and observers criticize, no action is taken to reverse corrupt practices, which are also rampant throughout the entire law enforcement system. Sergey’s brother Karlin, who lives in their childhood home in Voskedab and was primarily responsible for taking care of their mother until her death three weeks ago, believes that if corruption was eradicated throughout both the judicial and police departments, the other systems of corruption would dissolve, albeit gradually. The entire economical scheme of Armenia is so complex and so riddled by corruption that it is virtually impossible to determine how real effective strides can be taken to abolish it.

While visiting Voskedab yesterday with Sergey as well as his son Karen, for whom I have been designated as godfather, we inquired about a vehicle for sale for me to drive commonly known as the Lada/Zhiguli Model 08, first introduced in the Soviet Union in 1988 but continued to be produced until only a few years ago. It is said that the car is about 10 years old and in very good condition inside and out, but I have been advised by Karlin to stay away from it as it has most likely been abused by the rough unpaved inside roads found from Ardashat to Ararat. But the car is selling for $1800, which is a good price considering the fact that older models sell for as high as $2800 in the open auto markets in Yerevan, as the prices for vehicles have generally skyrocketed, the reasons for which no one can seem to determine. Sergey knows of a neighbor who is selling his Model 2107, also introduced by Lada in the Soviet era but still produced today. The price is roughly $3500, as it is in very good to excellent condition with only 40,000 kilometers having been driven. But there may be ways in which to get around paying the steep price by offering to rent the car at a monthly rate of $100. I will undoubted be able to actually see the car within the next few days. Sergey also told me that he heard of a Lada Niva, a 4x4 Jeep-like vehicle that was only about five years old, being sold for around $2000. New models sell for about $7500 or slightly more.


Anonymous Anonymous said...
Garo, I think it's possible to combat corruption although of course, the task isn't going to be simple. However, all it takes is a firm directive from up top, some well-publicized and genuine prosecutions and sooner or later, the threat of punishment under the law will yield results. Basically, there needs to be the political will to fight corruption and not, as many say here, merely declarative statements without any action to back them up.

Yes, I know it all sounds rather simple but we can see that such an approach as yielded positive results in Georgia. Although some of the actions against high-level former officials under Shevardnadze have been controversial to say the least, I'm told that there is now a great fear running through government up north. Nobody wants to be accused of corruption but compare that to here. Nobody really cares because there's no threat of prosecution.

On a lower level in society -- and probably the most obvious form of corruption visible to all -- the days of Georgian Police demanding bribes seems to be over (famous last words). Even on the way downtown today, the taxi driver said he had heard the same when we passed two fat policeman waving down cars on Prossian. Likewise, this seems to be the most obvious change in Georgia under Saakashvili that one head of a USAID project noticed on a recent trip to Georgia.