By Gevorg Stamboltsian and Armen Zakarian
The Armenian government’s week-long provincial outreach campaign remained dogged by popular apathy and cynicism on Wednesday as its high-ranking representatives toured the northwestern region of Shirak.
The ministers, instructed to make the government’s case in the country’s economically depressed areas, appear to be losing interest in the public relations stunt which has forced them to hear embarrassing criticism from ordinary people. Only two of them were in a delegation of senior officials touring Shirak and promising to address grievances voiced by local residents.
The reception they received was again less than enthusiastic. “We have no intention to quarrel, we are tired,” said an elderly man in the village of Lanjik. “We don’t see anything done here.”
The sentiment was echoed by other villagers who claimed that they turned up for the meeting out of boredom. “This is just a formality,” said one man. “These guys don’t do anything good for the people. Look at our school. It’s going to collapse on students’ heads, but nobody cares.”
Village schoolteachers, who claimed to have not been paid for the past three months, deplored the absence of Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian. “As a minister of culture he must enter these small villages to look at their schools,” one of them told RFE/RL.
The officials faced less tension as they held an indoors meeting in the nearby town of Artik. Many in the audience were village heads and other local government officials. But there too the cynicism ran high, with participants starting to leave the cold and dark conference hall mid-way through the meeting.
“This is more of a show than something concrete, nothing will change,” said one disgruntled young man. “They have brought together all village chiefs along with their staffers.”
Gagik Aslanian, the deputy minister for local government, denied that the ministers have grown frustrated with the lack of sympathy in the regions and are now reluctant to leave their Yerevan offices. “Those who hold senior posts must meet people,” he said. “I believe this is necessary.”
The government launched the campaign of regional trips last week in an apparent bid to offset the ongoing opposition rallies around the country that are seen as a prelude to street protests in Yerevan.
The opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance of Stepan Demirchian on Wednesday campaigned in the neighboring Lori province, reiterating its plans to try to oust President Robert Kocharian with a wave of mass demonstrations. “The resignation of this regime is imperative,” Demirchian told a rally in the industrial town of Alaverdi.
Demirchian and other opposition speakers claimed that only regime change is a necessary condition for alleviating economic hardships in the country. One of them, Hrant Khachatrian, said the Armenian leadership has already realized that its downfall is inevitable and is now “thinking about an exit strategy.”