The Armenian government has refused to finance badly needed repairs of battered streets in Gyumri, sparking allegations of retribution against local residents who overwhelmingly voted against President Serzh Sarkisian’s reelection.
The roads passing through Armenia’s second largest city have been in an increasingly poor condition in the last few years. More than 80 percent of them are now dotted with deep potholes and thick layers of mud. Some are practically impassable, placing residents of nearby buildings beyond the reach of public transport and taxis.
The cash-strapped Gyumri municipality estimates that as much as $80 million is needed for resurfacing the local road infrastructure. Its entire annual budget is equivalent to only $6.5 million.
With its tacit approval, the municipal council recently drew up a list of six major streets that are in a particularly urgent need of repairs that would cost 1.2 billion drams ($2.6 million). The council asked the central government to finance the road works.
Levon Barseghian, a councilor and prominent civil rights campaigner, said on Tuesday that the authorities in Yerevan have rejected the plea by citing a lack of funds. In his words, Davit Harutiunian, the chief of Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s staff, told the council in a letter that the municipality itself should take care of Gyumri’s streets.
Barseghian dismissed the official explanation as “ridiculous.” He argued that the Armenian authorities spent in 2014 much larger sums on repaving many streets in Yerevan that were in a much better condition than most Gyumri roads.
“Every provincial community would dream about having the kind of roads that Yerevan has,” Barseghian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Per capita spending on road repairs in Yerevan has been 2.5 to 6 times higher than in Gyumri.”
His anger is shared by many ordinary Gyumri residents having to trudge through mud on a daily basis. “There is mud all over the place,” complained one woman. “We can’t live like this anymore.”
Echoing a growing sentiment in the city still reeling from a catastrophic 1988 earthquake, Barseghian claimed that local residents are paying the price for President Sarkisian’s extremely poor showing in Gyumri during Armenia’s last presidential election held in February 2013. Most of them voted for the main opposition candidate, Raffi Hovannisian, in that ballot.
The government fuelled this conspiracy theory after effectively freezing the protracted construction of new homes for thousands of Gyumri residents huddling in temporary shelter more than 26 years after the earthquake. It had pledged to complete the process by 2013. Some 1,500 families remain on the local waiting list for free housing, however.
The government said recently that it will give them cash to buy new apartments, instead of financing more housing construction.But it has yet to specify financial details of the promised scheme.