By Gevorg Stamboltsian
A group of government ministers continued to tour rural areas in central Armenia on Friday, avoiding outbursts of popular anger that marred their first such trip earlier this week.
The three ministers representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party and another cabinet member enjoyed friendlier reception from residents of the Aragatsotn region, most of them subsistence farmers. The local authorities appeared to have carefully prepared their meetings in the regional capital Ashtarak and several nearby villages.
“You will sit quietly and speak one at a time,” Aragatsotn governor Gabriel Gyozalian, also affiliated with Dashnaktsutyun, told an audience in the village of Tsaghkahovit.
About a hundred of them gathered in the village hall to meet the ministers of agriculture, health, urban development and social affairs. Several of them, seated in the front rows alongside regional village chiefs, read out written questions to the high-ranking visitors. Some thanked the government for its attention to the agricultural sector.
Gyozalian denied afterwards that the whole exercise was stage-managed to prevent a repeat of the embarrassing scenes during the ministers’ trip to the neighboring Kotayk region on Tuesday. “Why should I be worried? Let the people express themselves,” he said. “Everything is not normal at the moment. You just have to explain to the people what will happen when.”
But many in the audience appeared reluctant to expressed their feelings. “There are a thousand of [spying] eyes here,” muttered one man, looking around nervously. “I’ll talk to you later.”
The villagers turned more uninhibited after the meeting, surrounding the officials as the latter were about to leave Tsaghkahovit. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Aghvan Vartanian was confronted by a local farmer and a veteran of the war with Azerbaijan. He complained that he can barely afford paying for the health care of his child who is currently in hospital in Yerevan. “I should stop eating to pay for transportation alone,” he said.
“I do understand you Ara, I do,” Vartanian replied with a sigh.
More frequent were complaints about poor farm irrigation and a lack of state compensation for unfavorable weather conditions. “They make no compensation, nothing,” said one elderly farmer.
“The mouse-like rodents completely destroyed our wheat and potato crops last year,” added another agitated villager. “Something must be done about them. Otherwise they will eat people as well.”
The ministerial visits to areas outside Yerevan were announced by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on Monday. He said cabinet members and other top officials should do a better job of “presenting” government policies to the population. The move appears to have been aimed at offsetting the ongoing nationwide rallies held by the Armenian opposition.