By Shakeh Avoyan
Senior government officials faced a lukewarm and at times hostile reception in villages outside Yerevan on Tuesday at the start of their nationwide charm offensive designed to neutralize the opposition campaign for regime change in Armenia.
Visiting rural areas in the central Kotayk region, the officials, among them three ministers, struggled to reassure the disgruntled residents that the government is serious about tackling their problems. The message appeared to fall on deaf ears in at least one of the region’s biggest villages, Garni.
“We are doing everything we can,” Agriculture Minister David Lokian told local low-income farmers, listing the amount of humanitarian assistance provided to them by the government.
“We have quietly given this to you without any public bragging. But trouble is that our people keep wanting more,” he complained at a meeting in the village conference hall.
Lokian went on to accuse the Armenian opposition of exploiting social and economic hardship for its political aims. “The problems will be solved by the government,” he said.
The villagers were hardly impressed, however. “Have they brought us any fertilizers and other assistance?” asked one of them. “No, nothing. So why have they come here?”
“They see what is going on in the country and have come to prevent a revolution,” said another man.
“The are spreading propaganda so that they can cling to their posts,” agreed a middle-aged woman.
The tense atmosphere contrasted sharply with a rally held by the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) bloc in Garni last week. Hundreds of villages attended it to hear opposition calls for a campaign of street protests against President Robert Kocharian.
Ironically, Garni was considered until recently a stronghold of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) of which Lokian and Social Affairs Minister Aghvan Vartanian accompanying him are members.
Surrounded by a group of Garni residents, Gagik Aslanian, the deputy minister for local government, had to hear a litany of usual villager complaints about poor land irrigation, expensive fertilizes and lack of government support to the Armenian agriculture.
“The situation is difficult,” Aslanian said, his remarks repeatedly interrupted by his angry interlocutors. “We all know that. Believe me, it’s not pleasant for us to hear such words and complaints…That’s why we want to solve your problems step by step.”
The Kotayk meetings were the first in a series of high-level visits to areas outside Yerevan which are due to continue through March 26. Prime Minister Andranik Markairan announced on Monday that the ministers will meet ordinary people to “present the government’s activities” affecting their lives.