By Anush Martirosian
Buying U.S. dollars was all but impossible in Yerevan on Friday in a further sign that the exchange rate of Armenia’s national currency, the dram, is no longer market-based.
Unlike many other currencies, the dram has not depreciated against the dollar since the onset of the global financial crisis late last year. The government and the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) have since been facing allegations by critics that they are using the country’s hard currency reserves to artificially bolster the dram.
The authorities deny any heavy intervention in the currency market. Many Armenians seem unconvinced by these assurances and anxious to convert their dram savings into dollars. Lines of dollar buyers could be seen outside some Armenian banks and currency exchange shops on Friday. “Dollars are not for sale in any currency shop,” one woman told RFE/RL.
“Everyone wants dollars, but we don’t sell them,” complained one currency trader at a food supermarket in downtown Yerevan. “It’s a panic. I have only $125 in cash right now. I used to have $20,000 at this time of the day.”
“People would buy even as little as $20,” said another deal. “They are panicking. The banks have not sold dollars in the last two days.”
“People are panicking,” confirmed a branch manager at the Ardshininvest bank, one of the largest in Armenia. He claimed that people can buy dollars at the bank unless they want large sums.
But bank clients interviewed by RFE/RL claimed the opposite. “They say they don’t have dollars,” one of them said.
A spokesman for the CBA, Zaruhi Barseghian, denied that the greenback is in short supply in Armenia these days. She said there might only be temporary shortages caused by currency retailers “catering for the shadow economy” and engaged in “speculative games.”
“There are no problems,” Barseghian told RFE/RL. “The banking system is functioning well.”