Tag Archives: corruption in Armenia

Yerevan’s Digital Billboards – Are They Really Necessary?

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About six weeks ago a mounting stand for a digital billboard was fixed on the corner directly across the building in which I live adjacent to the printing house, at the intersection of Vartanants and Hanrapetutyan Streets. It was supposed to be installed across the street but someone came by and complained that it would block their windows, and remarkably whoever was in charge listened, then they hauled the thing away. Last week the LED  screens were installed, and yesterday the blinding advertisements for luxury ski resorts, casinos and expensive furniture stores began, in the heart of a middle-class neighborhood.

I have become so numb to such buffoonery that I’m not even trying to understand the logic in installing this billboard and others like it in the first place. But I wanted to get an estimate for what such a billboard would ordinarily cost and I found a web site that provides instant quotes.

I’m not very good with guessing measurements but to my eyes the billboard measures about 3 x 3 meters.  The screen seems to be high-resolution, judging from the picture quality and brightness, which brings the price at around $18,600. The stand seems to be constructed of some heavy duty metal, perhaps iron–the site estimates it to cost around $11,800. Then there’s shipping and installation to take into consideration, about $800 and $1800, respectively. At 7 cents per kilowatt, the current price of electricity that is scheduled to increase incidentally, the monthly operational cost is just over $103. Altogether, including other fees such as connectivity, the total expenditure comes to around $56,640, and again, this is according to the data that I fed into the calculator, it’s not meant to be an accurate figure.

Some alternative, more constructive ways to put that $56,640 to use:

1. Subsidize low income housing for two newlywed couples. In more remote parts of the city like Sepastia, Nor Nork or even Avan, Soviet-era apartments could be found for $25,000, maybe even less. Give them another few thousand to furnish the place properly and inspire them to be good citizens in the process. Or, find housing for families living in crammed quarters like sardines in the Erebuni hostels. The homeless, naturally, could also benefit from proper living conditions and mental rehabilitation.

2. Renovate one or two schools in dire need of repairs, especially in rural areas of Armenia far from the capital. Many still have broken windows, improper heating, dysfunctional lavatories. State-subsidized hospitals are also in need of funds–the shabby, unhygienic maternity ward where my child was born in Zeytun comes immediately to mind.

3. Build additional playgrounds, especially soccer fields, and thereby encourage children to be more active in playing sports. While your at it, might as well start a physical education campaign to get kids off their asses and exercise properly.

4. Increase the wages of the invisible street sweepers who are out there at 4 o’clock in the morning each day. Who knows what they make–it can’t be much more than a hundred bucks a month, realistically half that.

5. Install new, clean public toilets, especially in areas heavily frequented by tourists, like Republic Square and the Vernisage. If Armenia aspires to be European, it needs to act like it and properly cater to so many of its guests from Italy, France, etc.

The list goes on. I could sit here all night and think of more useful ways to spend that fifty grand, and I’m sure anyone reading this will have some other useful suggestion in mind. Installing digital billboards is not the answer to demonstrating progress. It comes from smaller, tangible things that are not easily noticed but make a huge impact on the community. That’s how society expands and transforms.

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Waiting for Sarkisian to do the right thing

Serge Sarkisian, left, and Surik Khachatryan (Photolur photo)
Serge Sarkisian, left, and Surik Khachatryan (Photolur photo)

One week has passed since the assault accusations against Syunik governor Surik Khachatryan were revealed to the public. On Monday, November 14, while leaving the Marriott Hotel in Yerevan Silva Hambardzumian, a businesswoman, was allegedly hit on the head by Khachatryan, who later denied any wrongdoing. Naturally, no one working at the hotel saw anything, not even the doorman apparently. The parliamentarian Khachik Manukian who happened to be there and purportedly witnessed everything according to Hambardzumian later said that he had arrived on the scene just moments after the incident of violence took place. Now the Special Investigative Service (SIS) is looking into the matter, although its unlikely it will hold Khachatryan accountable.

The issue stems from an allegation made by Hambardzumian that equipment worth 100 million dram had essentially been stolen from her mine then found its way to a different mine owned by Khachatryan, and she passed blame on him, who besides being a regional governor is a feared thug (and, according to former defense minister Vasken Manukian, an “uneducated criminal”).

Khachatryan is no stranger to controversy. He is believed to have embezzled about $1.5 million in state funds in 2008, as determined by the Audit Chamber of the National Assembly, and got away with it.

Apparently Khachatryan is well connected to President Serge Sarkisian and has even been described as his “protégé.” He apparently ran an election campaign for the president’s brother Alexander in 2007. His relations with former president Robert Kocharian are also excellent. For these reasons alone, there is a very good chance that he will not face prosecution and walk away scot-free.

Not unless, of course, the president wants to add to the credibility of his legitimacy. President Sarkisian has been cleaning house lately, forcing several high-level officials to resign. In the last month both the Yerevan mayor Karen Karapetyan and National Assembly president Hovik “Moog” Abrahamyan stepped down (the press insists they left their posts because of their ties to Robert Kocharian, who supposedly wants to run for president in 2013). A year ago Sarkisian fired then mayor Gagik Beglaryan for slapping around one of his assistants. The president not only has to give the impression that he is not tolerating any nonsense from any of his officials, he also has to show the world that governmental corruption or ethical misconduct cannot be tolerated on any level.

Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian claimed that the authorities are waiting for a final determination from SIS before action is taken against Khachatryan. But the right thing for the president to do would be to replace the governor. The accusation of assault in a public setting is reason enough to fire him.

The position of regional governor should be an honor to hold. But for Khachatryan, his post is nothing more but a conduit to do unchecked business and even get away with misappropriating state funds. President Sarkisian, do the Armenian citizenry good service by promptly sacking Khachatryan and make sure that his replacement will actually respect his governing role. Armenia certainly doesn’t need another mafia boss in a position of power.