By Shakeh Avoyan
Nine people were reportedly killed and 34 others injured in traffic accidents across Armenia during the first week of the new year, a traditional time of lax road policing that has become an integral part of the country’s most popular holiday.
Police told RFE/RL on Wednesday that they have registered 26 accidents since New Year’s Eve or twice as many as during the same period last year which saw only two fatalities. A police spokesman admitted that drunk driving, customary during the New Year and Christmas celebrations, was among the chief causes of the deaths.
According to the chief of the traffic police of Yerevan, Avetik Evinian, the Armenian capital saw no deadly car crashes this time around, but accounted for half of the injured people. He said the overall number of holiday accidents was up from 2003.
Evinian also acknowledged that his officers were, as always, more lenient towards unruly motorists, fining only 40 of them in the first six days of 2004. He attributed the practice to the Armenian custom of mutual home visits by relatives and friends. Drinking toasts and wishing each other a happy new year is a necessary element of the get-togethers that last for several consecutive days.
Any degree of drunk driving is illegal under Armenian law, and alcohol consumption is generally moderate among the car owners during the week-long holidays. Still, quite a few of them appear to abuse the relative lawlessness, encouraged by the virtual absence of police on the roads.
Regular police patrols were back on the streets of Yerevan only on Wednesday, the day after the Armenian Christmas marked on January 6.