By Ruzanna Stepanian and Shakeh Avoyan
President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian painted a bright picture of the present socioeconomic situation in Armenia and offered a highly favorable outlook for the future Friday as they celebrated the 16th anniversary of the country’s independence.
“Contemporary Armenia is on the path of sustainable development,” Kocharian declared at an official reception attended by hundreds of politicians, public figures, foreign diplomats and other dignitaries.
“It can be said with certitude that the economy is developing rapidly, thousands of jobs are being created, the population’s incomes are growing considerably, poverty is declining, and the quality of life is improving,” he said. “Thousands of our fellow citizens, who had left the country to ensure their survival, are returning. A middle class is being formed.”
Sarkisian made similarly upbeat statements as he marked Armenia’s national holiday, dedicated to the independence referendum of September 1991, with about two dozen schoolchildren, all of them aged 16. “Today’s Armenia can’t be compared to the Armenia of the late 1990s and, thank God, the Armenia of the early 2000s,” he said after handing them their first Armenian passports.
Opinion polls conducted by the government-connected Armenian Sociological Association over the past year suggest that most Armenians disagree with the positive assessment made by their two top leaders, however. According to the post recent of the polls conducted in July, 54 percent of them believe that Armenia is the wrong track.. Only about third of respondents saw an improvement in the overall economic situation over the previous three months.
“I am optimistic about the future of Armenia, while understanding that a lot still needs to be done, that our potential is great and that our people deserve a better life,” said Kocharian.
Sarkisian, for his part, assured the teenagers that they will be living in a prosperous country in 16 years from now. “You will get a good legacy,” he said. “You will inherit a developed Armenia. You must be able to cherish that legacy and pass it on to next generations with great care.”
Sarkisian acknowledged that he never thought that he will become a military and political leader and end up in the highest echelon of power in Yerevan when he was a schoolboy in his native Nagorno-Karabakh, then part of Soviet Azerbaijan.
“When I was 16, it was hard for me to imagine what the Soviet Union will be in 2004,” he said. “It didn’t even cross my mind that I might find myself at the center of events relating to the vital interests of our people.”
“You just can’t imagine how years will pass and how responsibility will knock on your door one day,” added Sarkisian.