Hundreds of apricot farmers in Armenia’s southern Armavir province demonstrated on Monday, blocking a local highway and demanding that the government help them sell their produce.
The protesters residing in several local villages complained that wholesale buyers of apricots, most of them export-oriented companies, ignore their communities, stripping them of a key source of revenue. “There are no exporting companies doing business in our villages,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“I want to sell off my fruits at once,” said another farmer. “But nobody will buy them.”
The protesters demanded that Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian meet and talk to them. They unblocked the road leading to the provincial capital after riot police assured them that Karapetian will arrive at the scene soon.
However, the minister never showed up, leaving it to the provincial governor, Ashot Ghahramian, to talk to the angry villagers. Ghahramian could only promise them to meet apricot exporters to discuss the situation.
The protest erupted just days after Karapetian was shown on state television visiting Armavir communities and assuring locals that they will have no trouble selling their produce. He also inspected the wholesale purchase of apricots by one of the Yerevan-based companies exporting them to Russia and other former Soviet republics.
The Armenian government last week faced similar protests in neighboring Ararat province, which is also part of the fruit-growing Ararat Valley stretching along the Armenian-Turkish border. The farmers there were unhappy with what they called disproportionately low prices of their apricots set by corporate buyers. They demanded that the purchasing prices be doubled to around 500 drams ($1.2) per kilogram.
The Armavir protest involved farmers from villages not severely affected by a recent hailstorm that wreaked havoc on 46 other local communities. In 22 of them, crops such as grapes, apricots and various vegetables were completely destroyed. The government estimated the total damage caused by hail at 25 billion drams ($60 million).