By Gayane Danielian
More than 300 Armenian scientists demonstrated in Yerevan on Monday, demanding the payment of their back wages and complaining about what they said is government neglect of their highly underpaid profession.
The protesters are among some 5,000 employees of over 40 research institutes run by the Armenian National Academy (ANA). They have not been paid since December, with the total amount of wage arrears exceeding 250 million drams ($435,000).
The demonstrators, whose average monthly salary is about $30, gathered outside the Academy building and briefly blocked the nearby Baghramian Avenue, one of the city's main thoroughfares. "Our salaries are extremely low, but we can't get even that," said one of them.
The president of the Academy, Fadey Sarkisian, told his employees that the government last week allocated funds to pay their December and January wages and will clear the rest of the debt by the end of this month.
However, the ANA employees appeared unimpressed by the assurances, accusing the government of neglecting their needs. "My observations of recent years have shown that this government, this president are trying to root out science in Armenia just like the previous one did," Aleksandr Gevorgian, a senior researcher at the Organic Chemistry Institute in Yerevan, told the rally.
The research institutes, just like most other state-run agencies, have experienced an acute shortage of funds since 1990. Most of them used to be part of the Soviet military-industrial complex and had therefore received substantial funding from Moscow.
The Armenian government's budget for this year allocates a mere 2.7 billion drams ($4.7 million) to science. The state-run Armenian Public Television, by comparison, is to get 3.5 billion drams.