Tag Archives: armenian oligarchs

March for Justice

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Now that Ruben Hayrapetyan has resigned from the National Assembly thereby forfeiting his mandate by the will of the Armenian people, something even more important is being demanded–that he he brought to justice. Today a demonstration march began at 10:00 am in front of the National Assembly building on Baghramyan Street, then with the arrival of EU President Herman Van Rompuy, who is on a short working trip to the South Caucasus, the protesters moved to the main entrance to parliament on Karen Demirjian Street. From there the group marched to the Office of the Prosecutor General situated on Vasken Sargsyan Street near Republic Square. More of what happened and who said what can be read here and here.

A greater number of people are starting to rise from their long slumber.

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All photos by Anush Khachatryan

Open Discussion: How to Put an End to the Armenian Oligarchy

P1040126I want to open a discussion about what it will take to get rid of the oligarchic system that has long taken control of Armenia.

For years I have heard nothing but complaints about the various clan leaders who enjoy immunity from prosecution and use their power positions in government to essentially do whatever they want, like terrorizing Armenian citizens and even having them killed as in the case of Vahe Avetyan. There is a video of Ruben Hayrapetyan on YouTube boasting about how he’s harassed and “punished” people, even some at gunpoint, so that he gets his way. But not all peer powerheads are so brazen as to admit committing such acts.

Some of these men rarely do some kind of benevolent work so people won’t think very badly of them. Gagik Tsarukyan has done quite a bit to shed his bad guy image with his philanthropy, helping people mostly living throughout the Kotayk region–his wife has even opened a maternity clinic helping women having difficulty becoming pregnant. And his Prosperous Armenia Party is trying to distance himself from pro-government forces, whatever his intentions may be for doing so.

But by and large, the “oligarchs,” which could include government ministers and even the president himself, depending on your definition of the term and its scope, can manipulate the system whenever and however they want because they know most citizens are too scared, lazy, or apathetic to challenge them. They invest very little in the country; they don’t use their wealth to develop Armenia’s industrial and production capabilities for instance, and they pay employees running their numerous businesses low salaries, at or below the minimum wage in most cases. Only those in their inner circles including family members seem to be living the privileged life. Thanks to their exclusive distribution of wealth, narcissism in Armenian society is endemic.

The questions are: why do Armenian citizens continue to permit the oligarchic system to thrive, and what steps can they take to stop them? Leave your answers in the comments section below. No defeatist answers, please.

A Vigil for Vahe Avetyan

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These are photos of a vigil held close to the “Harsnakar” restaurant in Avan where three military doctors were beaten on June 17, one of whom, Major Vahe Avetyan, died yesterday from severe head trauma. He was only 35 years old.

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The vigil apparently turned into a full-blown protest when the police tried to restrict the demonstrators’ movements. Eventually some of them made their way to the building and were somehow able to write nasty slogans on the walls.

“Harsnakar” is a high profile establishment owned by oligarch Ruben “Nemets Rubo” Hayrapetyan where the wealthy have extravagant wedding parties. Although what exactly happened two weeks ago is still, quite bizarrely, not entirely clear, apparently the doctors were entering the restaurant to join some kind of celebration but they were not dressed appropriately, having shown up in athletic clothing and were essentially asked to leave by the waiter and/or security guards. Vahe purportedly went home to change but he returned still wearing his cap and made a wise crack about whether they would let him in anyway. Minutes later he and his friends were being rushed to the hospital. Six men allegedly involved in the beatings remain behind bars.

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Some sources are saying that not only was a bodyguard directly implicated in Vahe’s beating, it was Hayrapetyan’s personal bodyguard himself, Garik Markaryan. This  means Hayrapetyan was likely on the premises at the time since he doesn’t go anywhere without protection. So with my limited knowledge on the basics of criminal law, Markaryan could be charged with either murder or manslaughter, and if we follow that train of logic, Hayrapetyan could be seen as being guilty by association or an accessory, depending on however that plays out, but he’s immune from prosecution anyway since he is a member of parliament. And of course, being Armenia, the judicial system is flawed to the extent that if the president or prosecutor-general issues a verbal order a judge has to make a ruling that complies. My prediction is that the bodyguard will either get some kind of slap on the wrist or be found not guilty on the grounds of having committed an act of self-defense. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll get some jail time to put society at ease that indeed justice had been served. But given Armenia’s track record and the degree to which how utterly powerful these oligarchs have become whereby they can resort to severely beating someone in the clear light of day at a public venue, knowing they can get away with it, I don’t know how realistic that is.

I am going to be honest and say that I hadn’t been reading the Armenian news for one week so I could concentrate on some personal affairs and I didn’t want to know how Vahe’s status was progressing.  It didn’t sound good based on what I had initially read and there was little hope for optimism, and I began to live by the old adage that ignorance is bliss. My wife told me the bad news last night and I felt numb to it, perhaps because it was late and I was falling asleep.  Then, naturally, as we spoke about the incident several times during the day today I ruminated about what it meant to kill a serviceman, a doctor, anyone, over a cap. There’s really nothing more to say, is there? I mean, you don’t bash someone’s head in without the intent to do some serious damage, i.e., to kill. How long can this senseless violence continue?  How long are these oligarchs going to rule Armenian society and cynically manipulate the system? Why aren’t Armenian citizens standing up to this oligopoly, and why don’t they put an end to it? How did they let things get so out of hand in the first place, by allowing apathy and the immorality of the ruling elite overtake them?

There are no easy answers, I know. But remember that Vahe’s kids will be asking these same questions soon.

Photos by Anush Khachatryan

Armenia’s History Continues to be Destroyed

The Mashdots market
The Mashdots market

Yesterday I learned that the market at the end of Mashdots Street, which is a historical landmark, was slated to be demolished. But today on News.am, I saw a photo of the rear of the building completely destroyed. The photo and story were published late Monday morning (on Independence day of the First Republic). Hetq reported that Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian said the recent work undergone was not authorized.

Two weeks ago while walking by the building I noticed that a steel fence had been erected around the entrance of the building. I thought that meant it was going to be restored since there are renovation projects of building exteriors citywide. Turns out that the building was sold to the oligarch and Republican member of parliament, Samvel Alexanyan who is infamous for controlling a monopoly on sugar and flour imports, gouging consumers, and selling inferior vodka as genuine at high prices in his City Yerevan supermarkets, which are popping up all over the place. He wants to convert the market into yet another gigantic supermarket and destroy it in the process (he says otherwise). People are already starting to protest the demolition but it will take a lot of mobilization to stop him from completely taking the market down, although the Ministry of Culture insists that somehow the architecture will be preserved. Sounds a bit empty considering that half the building is gone.

Questions begged to be asked: Who approved the sale of a historical landmark and who was consulted before the building was sold? Did the transaction occur in secret? If not, was there any movement to stop the sale in the first place? Why weren’t concerned citizens investigating the reason for the market’s closure, especially the sellers? Who else knew about what was planned for the market, and why wasn’t it discussed beforehand? Why didn’t the press break the news sooner, long before the building was damaged beyond repair?

All sorts of unique architecture across Yerevan are being dismantled without warning. Several years ago the Youth Sports complex and guest house that was situated at the top of Abovyan Street on the hill there was dismantled to construct a luxury hotel, which was never built because the developer went bust apparently. About two years ago a new hotel project was announced by the Armenian government with the backing of a Japanese investment firm on the same site. Although the area has been cleared, nothing is being built on the location. About 95 percent of Old Yerevan in the city center has already been wiped off the face of the earth and there’s no telling when the remaining buildings — all architectural masterpieces — will be raised.

In Armenia, there is no system of checks and balances, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone with any ethical standards working in government. Even when citizens do catch word about something about to go drastically wrong, they don’t talk about it until it’s too late. Then these same people complain that the country is not a country, the laws don’t work, etc. There needs to be accountability. No one, no matter how wealthy or “powerful” they are, should be allowed to touch any historical landmark without the public being informed beforehand. In this case, since the Ministry of Culture is making promises about the market’s final transformation not being as bad as it seems, Minister Hasmik Poghosyan, a Republican, is complicit in letting the sale go through (so is Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, yet another Republican for that matter).

Petty carelessness, whimsical power wielding, and defeatism are bringing the downfall upon the Republic of Armenia. This is applicable to virtually all large-scale business projects sponsored by the government or those with close ties to it. If those in power continue to do whatever they wish without being held accountable for their actions, Armenian citizens will have no one to blame but themselves.

Interview with Levon Zourabyan

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Two days ago I had the opportunity to interview a parliamentary candidate representing the Armenian National Congress, Levon Zourabyan. He was Levon Ter-Petrossian’s right-hand man during his presidency and evidently still is.

In this interview for Hetq, Zourabyan talks about the need to break up the Armenian monopolies, impeachment, the expected rise of the opposition in parliament and government, methods of electoral fraud, and the importance of fair elections.

To watch the interview go to the Hetq web site.