Notes From Hairenik
October 27, 2009

I’ve been back in Yerevan for about 10 days now, observing society from afar. I say that because my day job precludes me from cruising around the city, trying to figure out how people are getting by.

There’s one observation that is unmistakable. Two clearly distinct Yerevans exist—central or downtown Yerevan and the other districts as one entity. With each passing day the disparities between the two realities are more noticeable and pronounced. The fancy clothing boutiques and posh “lounges” as trendy restaurants are called here are on the rise, while Armenia is supposedly suffering from an economic “crisis.” Construction of “elite” apartment buildings is going strong despite reports in the news that the sector is in a slump.

There’s no telling where the hundreds of millions of dollars (amounting to well over $1.5 billion!) entering Armenia in foreign aid from the IMF, European Union and Russia will go. Apparently much of it is going to boosting the country’s cash reserves and trickling down to the banking sector which will provide loans to businesses, but when someone (without connections) applies for a loan the funds are supposedly unavailable to them.

RFE/RF reported yesterday that the “crisis” has hit the allocation of social services and thus pensioners will have to continue contending with the meager pensions they receive. Part of the foreign aid could easily have been redirected to boost the social security funds—the EU recently pledged to allocate $149 million to Armenia as an “anti-crisis” safeguarding measure, despite a statement made by Armenia's Minister of Finance on October 9 that Armenia would not seek new loans. It wouldn’t take much to do so. Pensioners could for instance do much better with a $100 monthly stipend in place of the $68 they are currently getting. That’s still not a lot but it sure is better than what they’re getting now. Since they would have more money to spend they would in turn assist in helping to boost Armenia’s “struggling economy,” but it seems the government authorities believe otherwise.

The way I see things, people who are unemployed can’t find jobs because there aren’t enough opportunities for them and weren’t to begin with, even before the “crisis” hit Armenia. Or, they are simply too lazy to work, which is not an exaggeration. Farmers are struggling not because they don’t till the soil and yield high-quality crops, but because they fail to turn a profit due to corporate greed, being forced to accept abnormally low prices offered to them by canneries, wineries and distilleries. The young sons and nephews of men in roles of power and influence earned though government connections are doing just fine with handouts or salaries presumably being paid to them for doing very little related to this or that enterprise they are connected with.

So as long as people can afford to put food on the table, own a car and have at least one phone (I know at least three people who find it necessary to have two lines—for instance, one for messaging and another for making and receiving calls) there won’t be any calls for social reform or regime change by any means. With the exception of pensioners who don’t receive stipends from relatives working abroad, people seem to be living well. The food markets and stores are thriving because people need to eat and have the money to eat well. Only the poor and downtrodden, who had long ago met their fate before the “crisis” plagued Armenia, are struggling, and they will continue to struggle so long as job opportunities for them remain out of reach. And an opened border with Turkey is certainly not going to help them, not when the Armenian government continues to stall in promoting investment in the regions of Armenia. It’s just going to make the rich even wealthier.

I don’t know what else to say about Armenia's socioecomonic situation. It seems like I keep repeating myself. Nothing is really changing for the good. It may appear so on the surface, but I really think most people particularly those living in the “other Armenia” outside of Yerevan are going to struggle, no matter whether anti-crisis measures are implemented or not.

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Blogger Anya said...
I noticed that food, services, and products in Armenia are equal to or more expensive than here in the US. I noticed that in the past 6 years, the city has come to life, more or less. But underneath the high-end shopping and brand new luxury flats is a population in crisis. My dad's nearly 90-year-old aunt, who lives in Avan, gets a pension of $100. That's barely enough to make ends meet, and the poor woman doesn't eat like she should for somebody her age. It's sad, but nothing unusual for Armenia. My dad made up his mind as a teenager, in the 1960s, that he would one day leave Armenia. The first opportunity he received out of university to go work elsewhere in the USSR, he jumped at the chance and never looked back.

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