Notes From Hairenik
November 7, 2006

Today was a tough day for me in trying to get things done here. In one case it had to do with a misunderstanding and in the other it was a situation of how to avoid paying a bribe. Late this morning I was supposed to meet a man who I contracted to make a sample set of wooden gift boxes made of walnut, which were suppose to be made last Friday. It turns out they weren’t ready, and he wanted to meet on Saturday if not Sunday. I was busy on Saturday and called to arrange an appointment for Sunday, which was not possible for him, and by the way he had seven boxes waiting for me, even though we agreed that he would make only five. After further bartering over the meeting time and place, we settled for 11:00 am at the former Brussov Institute bus stop on Gomidas Avenue. Unfortunately, depending on who you ask, the stop is in two different locations—one on the corner of Papazyan Street and the other about a quarter mile up the road, on the opposite side. He told me to meet him in front of the hardware store—unfortunately for me there were four in the immediate vicinity of where my car was parked, rather where I thought I was supposed to meet him. I made two phone calls to his home, but his son said he was out—waiting for me—and that he did not have a cell phone so that I could contact him. After a half-hour walking up and down Gomidas Street, even walking past the store in front of which he envisioned we were supposed to meet, I received a call from him whereby he immediately started to argue with me. I told him to finally meet me on the corner of Papazyan and Gomidas to avoid another screw up, and when he approached me the quarrelling began unsurprisingly just before I explained to him where I thought we were to meet. Then he started walking up to random people asking where the former Brussov Institute bus stop was located, in an effort to embarrass me. On top of everything, he told me that the order did not bring him any profit and concluded that he would no longer do business with me because he didn’t like my attitude. I guess he didn’t appreciate the fact that I would not let him get away with his bullshit.

Later on I returned home to prepare the boxes for shipping, as my parents were anxiously expecting them to decide whether to place an order for the Christmas season. I wanted to ship a broken iPod with the boxes in the same shipping package to avoid having to pay two separate rates and save around $80. The Armenian postal department, or Haypost, provides an express delivery service where a package weighing one kilo would be delivered to a US location supposedly in six days for a cost of 26,640 dram. When I approached the clerk, I made a mistake of telling her that the package contents were worth $200—the iPod originally cost me about $250 and the boxes about $22. But apparently the Armenian “customs house” has the right to search all packages with goods worth $100 or more. She claimed that she would have to open and inspect the package herself, just to make sure I was not sending meat or plant seeds. Even though I insisted that I was not doing so, that there were only personal items in the box, she pressed further. Then finally I told her there were some small wooden boxes and a radio-like device, which even though was mine, she claimed I would have to pay customs taxes on it. Thoroughly dissatisfied and suspicious that she was trying to solicit a bribe from me, I burst out then stomped up Abovyan Street to visit the post office on the corner with Sayat Nova Street. But it turned out that they had no mandatory shipping slips in stock there. Rather than visiting yet another post office to await yet more unpredictable results, I called FedEx as the only other rational option. Of course there was more debate about whether to go to the customs house, and when I asked if a law stipulating as such was printed for me to read, the woman I was speaking with loudly as she seemed to be partially deaf gave the receiver to someone else. I made an appointment to meet that service representative, and I told him the contents were worth only $10. I made no mention of the iPod (which in its present condition is of no value), and the cost for shipping the package was just over 31,000 dram. Basically the fuss is about avoiding having to pay out bribes—it’s that simple. If the customs house was to inspect the package, they would make up any possible reason to withhold as much money as feasible to stuff their pockets. The department is considered to be one of if not the most corrupt government institution in Armenia, and their officials are making exorbitant amounts of dollars numbering in the hundreds of thousands each year, if not more. As an example, attached to each car that is imported into this country is an expected customs tax payment of at least $2,000 minimum at the border, and that amount is for cars older than 10 years from the production date. Newer car owners have to pay as high as $10,000 in customs taxes. This is the main reason why you can’t for instance buy a 1994 Opel Vectra—basically a General Motors junk box manufactured somewhere in Europe—for less than $5,000, when in reality it shouldn’t cost half that amount at the most.

In any case, I cannot say how much I would have been required to pay out to Haypost or the customs house, but the point is that I should be able to read a document that stipulates why and how much I would need to shell out. Logically I should only have to pay the shipping costs of the package, since I’m not running a personal business and exporting goods. And I can’t imagine how much export-only companies are suffering financially with the inflated dram combined with high customs taxes. There needs to be a shake down, and despite all the calls from big businessmen who are feeling the heat nothing is being done to remedy the situation.

But in most cases I have found that running errands usually involves bickering about one thing or another, and it has long ago become tiresome as well as redundant. Yet arguing remains as being the means by which to accomplish what you need to do in Armenian society, unfortunately for everyone.

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Anonymous Hamlet Gevorkyan said...
Unfortunately you face this situations where these oficials will make you think thay you are a crook or a smuggler and they would do you a favor of doing that job in exchange of a bribe. I think Armenia is a long way from becoming a "civilized" country as long as we have this "chinovniks" making the life of an ordinary citizen a hell. I just hope that the next generation of Armenia's leaders won't be as money hungry.