By Ruben Meloyan
Vahan Hovannisian, the presidential candidate of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), lashed out at Armenia’s present and former leaderships on Thursday, saying they are both to blame for the country’s socioeconomic woes.
Hovannisian attacked the two mutually antagonistic forces as he campaigned in economically depressed areas south and east of Lake Sevan one day after they were visited by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
In a speech before more than a hundred people in the local town of Martuni, the deputy speaker of parliament said Armenia’s economic slump of the early 1990s was the result of “illiterate privatization” and other economic policies implemented by the Ter-Petrosian administration. “They privatized whatever they could for nothing, they sold off machines and other equipment of our plants, they operated nothing, they closed jobs,” he said.
“They are now again rising up. He [Ter-Petrosian] came here again and tried to pour poison into your ears. They are signing the song of the former authorities. But we won’t be deceived by that,” Hovannisian told the crowd, which was much smaller than the one pulled by Ter-Petrosian the previous day.
Hovannisian was also highly critical of the economic track record of the current Armenian government in which his party is represented by three ministers. He said Armenia’s double-digit economic is not broad-based and has been largely confined to the capital Yerevan.
“Have you felt the 12 percent growth on your skin?” asked the Dashnaktsutyun leader. “Are you better off by 12 percent? Has the [state] budget has been quadrupled? Yes, it has. Bravo! But have your living standards quadrupled? No.”
Speaking in the nearby large village of Vartenik, Hovannisian said that he, if elected president, will make sure that “huge investments” flowing into the Armenian economy are more evenly distributed all over the country. He also pledged to “reconsider terms” of controversial and repeated privatizations of Armenia’s largest gold mines located in the area.
Operations at the Zod mines, which employ hundreds of poorly paid local residents, all but ground to a halt in January last year amid a serious dispute between their Indian owner, Vedanta Resources, and the Armenian government. Vedanta was forced to sell them to a Russian financial-industry group after being accused of large-scale fraud by the government.
Hovannisian would not say if he has serious misgivings about this deal and, if so, whether he would try to have it renegotiated.
The prolonged hiatus in Zod’s operations aggravated the already difficult socioeconomic situation in a region where a large part of the male population has to work in Russia on a permanent or seasonal basis. High unemployment is in turn fuelling voter apathy about the approaching presidential election and political life in general.
“There are no jobs here,” said one man in Martuni. “We are barely surviving.”
“We want jobs and nothing else,” agreed another. “I have three sons aged between 20 and 25 and they all sit at home. Only I work.”