The protests at Mashdots Park concluded yesterday after eighty (that’s 80) police officers confronted a small group of demonstrators making them understand that their time’s up. Supposedly three companies/entities/interest groups or whatever you want to call them pledged that they promise to take care of the park during their three-year lease — the government/city hall insists that the kiosks will only remain on the park for that long. Look forward to some quality clothes shopping (the latest styles from eastern Turkey) after you have a coffee at one of the cafes facing the street. Great town, this Yerevan. The whole city center is slowly transforming into a disorganized, cheap bazaar. And no one with any sense of decency from either the government or the opposition bothered to support the teenagers and twentysomethings who decided that enough was enough. This absurd placement of kiosks could have been overturned if the authorities were put under harder pressure.
You can read more about the protests here and here.
Last night while out for a stroll with my dog I met my friend Haik who lives next door. We were talking about the advantage of having a garage to keep a car away from gasoline thieves. who love to ravage my Niva’s fuel supply.
While we chatted the upstairs neighbor, who along with his wife and kids has snubbed me for the last five years despite the number of times I’ve said hello, stopped to great Haik and exchange New Years greetings. As they were parting I overheard him telling Haik that he had taken his family to Moscow for the holidays, since staying in Armenia was “meaningless.”
The neighbor, purportedly a banker by profession, is one of these nouveau riche Yerevanites who suddenly found himself with a lap full of cash overnight. Within the span of only a couple of months I recall he purchased two brand new Hyundais and remodeled his home. And now that he has the money to burn, it’s “meaningless” for him and his family to celebrate the holiday season in their own country. Like it’s all some big joke.
Vacationing outside Armenia for New Years and Christmas is a trendy thing to do nowadays. But this sentiment of meaninglessness is permanent, particularly amongst the wealthy. A glance of the daily headlines will make this obvious — government officials trying to push through deals to excavate hundreds of hectares of land for mining projects, or displacing hundreds of homes for urban development projects, cutting forests to sell the wood, and so on and so forth. For these people, it appears it is “meaningless” to take pride in your country, since as the old ludicrous saying goes, “the country is not a country” to begin with. And since the world is going to end this year as many the naive believe, it’s better to take advantage while you still can. Yet the nouveau riche appears to have been living by this mindset on a daily basis, and I am convinced they have no love for country, only what they can reap from it for fattening their purses. An imprudent generalization, I admit, but there it is.
I can’t say what this New Year will bring for Armenia. But there’s one thing I always hope for — when people with the means to benefit their nation will come to their senses, reset their jaded attitudes and begin to innovate rather than devastate.
Today my wife Anushik attended a protest held opposing the plans for a massive copper mining project. It was held in front of the Government Building on Republic Square in late morning, then the protesters marched to the Presidential Palace. I covered the controversy surrounding this project in my two previous posts, so read them for more details.
An estimated 608 hectares of precious land in Syunik is slated to be turned into a massive open mining pit so that a handful of government officials can make countless millions at the expense of Armenia’s long-term environmental sustainability. But not if these activists can help it.
Reading yesterday’s headlines I came across a major news story of a Kajaran mayor in Syunik, Rafik Atayan, resigning from his position and from the Republican party in protest to the government’s decision to confiscate 181 hectares of land in the area. The land will be turned over to the German-owned mining company, Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC). The lands will become an “open-pit mine,” meaning that all the dust created in the excavation process will drift and pollute the surrounding areas. Water supplies and agricultural lands will be ruined as well. The Armenian MP living the village, a former executive of the mining company, is obstinately indifferent.
The mayor’s protest is admirable but will ultimately prove nothing since his replacement will obligatorily sign the paperwork formalizing the new mining initiative.
Land has already been given to the Chinese in Syunik in a different government-backed plan, ironically nit to far from Tatev, which was anticipated to be Armenia’s top tourist attraction when it opened just over a year ago. There are still other controversial projects that are stalled or about to get underway in Teghut and Hrazdan.
The justification for opening the mine (and others) is the following, quoted from an article published by RFE/RL:
The German group [Cronimet, the parent company] insisted that the planned expansion of the ZCMC’s mining operations stems from “a number of agreements” with the Armenian government. That will also boost Armenian exports and “economic stability in the country, it said.
These types of statements have become totally laughable and even insulting. The monthly minimum wage in Armenia is absurdly low at 32,500 dram ($83) and a bill introduced by the ARF last month to nearly double it was shot down by the Republican controlled National Assembly. In other words, most people in Armenia — factory or mining workers being no exception — live hand to mouth. Most people can’t save up and have little or no pocket money to spend to benefit the economy. ZCMC prides itself as supposedly being the top tax paying corporate institution in Armenia (untold sums of collected taxes are, in turn, eaten), but that doesn’t mean government officials will not reap the benefits of kickbacks from profits. The money made in this deal (and others) will not be vested in the Armenian economy realistically simply because it will end up in several peoples’ pockets and foreign bank accounts instead at the expense of Armenia’s fragile environment. That’s the way things work in capitalist Armenia.
So let’s stop kidding ourselves that high exports in metals are good for the economy. When rural areas are still underdeveloped in and around Armenia, with some new settlements in Armenian-controlled territories doing without roads, running water and electricity as I wrote in a previous post, these statements from government officials are paradoxical. Mining businesses benefit the elite, while the rest of the country’s potential along with its ecological longevity suffer.
This morning I was awakened by the patter of a rain shower, the second one in a week. It hadn’t been raining for the entire summer, which was brutally hot. For the most part the temperature was averaging in the high 90s Fahrenheit for two consecutive months. I don’t remember it being hotter in Yerevan.
Usually there are less cars on the road during and after the rain. I used to attribute that to people afraid to get their cars dirty or simply being unconfident about cruising in wet road conditions. This morning, though, there were the usual number of vehicles on the road from what I noticed. When people really need to get somewhere, seems they don’t hesitate to drive any more.
With the rain comes a fine grain dust. I’ve only seen dusty rain in Armenia. While the rain naturally helps to clean the air, it doesn’t do much to curb the dust problem. Once it dries, it’s back up in the air again, ready to coat everything in its reach.
My car is always caked with dust after a rainstorm. Logically you would think it would have the opposite effect. In Boston, where I’m originally from, you can count on the rain to do a decent job with washing down the car, but not in Yerevan. Actually, the only memory I have of the precipitation actually having a cleaning effect was when I drove through a rain and hail storm in Vayots Dzor, on my way to Jermuk last year. The Niva looked like it had just come out of the car wash.
As I write this from the office where I work on Gomidas Avenue, the blinding sun is attempting to break through the dense, billowy clouds. It won’t last for very long though because it’s still generally overcast and supposedly will remain so throughout most of the weekend according to the forecast. But weather conditions change fairly quickly here, so you can never tell. It makes living in Armenia all the more fascinating.