I just finished reading an infuriating article on Hetq Online about a classic case of the “vochinch” mentality. It explains that the mayor of Garni has done nothing with an allocated 43 million dram budget (or $104,000) for 2006 to alleviate serious issues regarding the infrastructure of the village. The drinking and irrigation water network, about 50 years old, is disrepair with the pipelines corroding. The sewer system has also been failing to drain properly due to frequent blockages and waste being filled from a nearly tannery. A Russian minivan was purchased to transport kids to school—an otherwise 3 km walk—but instead is being used to cart the mayor around. Between 700,000-1,000,000 dram, or about $1,700-$2,400, are spent annually on the mayor’s mobile phone expenses from the village’s expenditure. The mayor also apparently cultivates most of the 114.7 hectares of agricultural land leased between 2004-2005, for which he fails to pay taxes. Garbage collection is virtually non existent, so residents simply throw refuse in the Garni gorge, which is incidentally a popular recreation area. Residents complain but do not get anywhere, since Armenians are good at arguing but fail to take any subsequent action, probably in fear of being beaten up by the mayor’s henchmen.
Similar stories can be told in perhaps hundreds of villages and towns throughout the country. The city of
My in-laws, who have a seven-month old baby to take care of, are fortunate enough to have a nearly apartment that they rent to a person who only stays there on weekends, where a 200 liter reserve tank was installed since the district normally receives water for about six to eight hours every two days. When that supply runs out, there effectively will be no water to be had anywhere for at least another week, when the water system will supposedly be repaired. According to my wife’s family and friends in Vanadzor, no complaints have been made to the mayor’s office to relieve the situation as soon as possible. People don’t think that protesting will make a difference, so they don’t bother, remaining as quiet as lambs, only bleating when they get in each other’s way. There are effectively no leaders who are able to instill the motivation needed in the population for bringing about the necessary reforms in the system.
Thus, civil society develops at a snail’s pace or, arguably, not at all. The State Department has financed several ongoing democracy and civil society building programs in
People can only strengthen civil society when they know how to actually do it. Citizens throughout the country have heard about cases of violence against those who criticize, so they stay silent in order to protect their “heads from being broken,” a common fear here. But sooner or later, “vochinch” has to come to an end. The 8,000 residents of Garni, many of whom do not know one another apparently, need to come together and throw the lucrative businessman mayor out on his ass, then take charge themselves. That’s what communism was all about, actually. Armenians forgot socialism in only a 16 year time span. It has been replaced by a governing system of intolerance and indifference.
You can read another fresh article about “vochinch” here.