By Ruzanna Khachatrian
About two dozen angry peasants gathered Monday outside the presidential residence in Yerevan to protest against the loss of agricultural land they have scraped a living from for more than 40 years.
The protesters, Yezidi Kurds from two villages in the central Kotayk province, demanded the invalidation of a tender that saw two well-to-do Armenian farmers win a long-term lease on 350 hectares of mountainous pasture. It has not been privatized unlike the bulk of Armenia’s agricultural land.
“Where should we graze our cattle? Where should we go?” asked one of them, Majid Amarian. “We spend seven months of the year up in the mountains and only five months in the village.”
Amarian and other villagers, who together own about 5,000 sheep, said the pasture is the only source of fodder for their livestock. The protesters also accused the current Kotayk governor, Kovalenko Shahgeldian, of being biased against the Yezidi Kurds, Armenia’s single largest ethnic minority. But Shahgeldian denied the charge. He claimed that the land in question was not the property of the two villagers and could be put on a competitive tender.
“The competition took place in accordance with the law,” he told RFE/RL.
Several representatives of the protesters were received by middle-ranking officials from President Robert Kocharian’s staff. Amarian said the officials offered help for arranging another land auction but the villagers rejected that option because they will stand no chance of winning it. “We just can’t compete with the rich farmers,” said one woman.