A group of anti-government activists gatecrashed an international conference organized by the government in Yerevan on Friday in fresh protests against an ongoing reform of Armenia’s national pension system.
The one-day forum was attended by senior Armenian officials, Western diplomats, and representatives of international lending institutions, private finance companies and commercial banks. Titled “New Pension System: Opportunities, Challenges and Expectations,” it focused on various aspects of the highly controversial reform implemented by the Armenian government.
Members of the Dem.Am pressure group campaigning against the reform briefly disrupted the discussions, chanting slogans, holding placards, and demanding that they be allowed to address the audience. A government official presiding over the conference refused to allow any of them to take the floor, however.
That did not stop one of the protesters, Davit Manukian, from appealing to foreign participants. “Please tell me in which democratic country a reform or law is enforced when 80 percent of the population is against that reform or law,” he said in English.
Manukian and other activists insisted that the Armenian authorities have failed to substantiate the need for additional social security contributions deducted from the monthly wages of some 270,000 workers born after 1973.
The protesters broke into the conference room after Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian delivered a 30- minute speech and left it along with senior representatives of the donor community. Sarkisian reiterated government arguments that the existing pension system is not sustainable because of Armenia’s aging population.
“They say ‘we don’t trust you, the country is in trouble, there is emigration and poverty,’” Sarkisian said of the reform opponents. “Yes, that is correct. But what is the way to rectify it? There is only one way: reforms. There is no other way out.”