Notes From Hairenik

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 Vanadzor, the third largest in Armenia, is currently undergoing a crisis with its infrastructure, as no fresh drinking water has been supplied to most of the city’s residents in the last five days. Apparently, the city receives its drinking water from Stepanavan, located about 30 kilometers north, and the main line has been damaged somehow. The mayor of Vanadzor is too busy worrying about his own businesses than protecting the welfare of his constituents. He owns at least two restaurants, a hotel, and even a hair salon.

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 Armenia within the last decade, which are clearly not operating to the degree that they should. A few US-based organizations are bent on opening Internet computer centers across the country to “foster” civil society, which youngsters were using to surf porn sites at one point. Instead of training people about how to become activists and instill the change needed in their own communities, people are encouraged to learn how to use the Internet, when their main concerns are, for example, trying to find the appropriate funds to cultivate their farm land by paying the appropriate bribes to the local water works administrator so they will have irrigation water. Organizations based in the Armenian diaspora have been ineffective in this regard as well.

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.

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Blogger nazarian said...
I highly doubt that the socialism (or social activism) you refer to ever existed in Armenia. There was as much corruption and cronyism 16 years ago as now. And the current repressions by the figures of authority pale in comparison with the Soviet state control.

Anonymous Knarik said...

Your piece reminds me so much of life in Jrashen in 1991, a village next to Spitak. It was heart-rending to witness day in and day out what those poor, good, brave people had to endure. Winter was especially difficult...and when one became ill it truly was "survival of the fittest." The people were controlled so well by village leaders: "You do what I say or you get no heating fuel...!" And then, there were the auto "accidents" if one complained or talked too much...How I remember the mournful voices that sang in the darkness...There were no candles for some to light their humble dwellings at night...And so instead they sang their songs to "brighten" the darkness that engulfed them each evening...They did not deserve such ugly, heartless treatment. But then, one must remember the "schooling" they had and the lessons learned in the days of Soviet glory. It will take a long, long time to unlearn what was taught.

Knarik O. Meneshian

Blogger Arman said...
Yeah corruption existed in ARmenia even at soviet times. But please NAZARIAN dont compare the soviet curroption to todays`. Soviet system did things, got things accomplished, it was not a free for all like it is today. Bribes had a limit and they actually accomplished something. Unlike today when bribes are payed just to get evryday things