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Unpaid Grape Farmers Resume Protests


Armenia - Farmers in Ararat province block a highway to demand payment for grapes purchased from them, 31Mar2016.

Armenia - Farmers in Ararat province block a highway to demand payment for grapes purchased from them, 31Mar2016.

Hundreds of farmers again blocked traffic on a major highway in Armenia on Tuesday to protest against a local winery’s continuing failure to pay for grapes that were purchased from them last autumn.

The private company based in Kaghtsrashen, a village in the southern Ararat province, has still not paid them, citing major losses incurred in recession-hit Russia, the main export market of Armenia’s wine and brandy industry.

Most of the protesters were Kaghtsrashen farmers who are owed approximately200 million drams ($420,000) in total. Some of them sold their grapes to the winery for as little as 50 drams per kilogram.

The angry villagers already closed a nearby section of the national highway running southeast of Yerevan on March 15 after the company failed to meet a deadline for payments set by it in February. They agreed to disperse after company representatives as well as two Armenian deputy ministers of agriculture assured them that they will get paid by March 31.

The company failed to honor that pledge, triggering the fresh protest on the highway. “All we want is our money,” said one of the protesters. “We are not demanding anything else.”

“They owe me 2 million drams but I now have to borrow 1 million drams to invest in my vineyard so that we can feed our kids,” said another angry farmer.

Two provincial vice-governors arrived at the scene to urge the protests to unblock the road. They said government officials and winery executives will meet them in Kaghtsrashen on Saturday to make an important announcement. They did not elaborate.

The farmers eventually ended the protest. Many of them were skeptical about the latest government pledge.

“We’ve been hearing such promises for eight months but have still not seen any results,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I’ve received no money since September.”

Several other Armenian wineries have also failed to pay up on time, triggering similar protests in other villages in Ararat and the neighboring Armavir province in the last few months.Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian downplayed the protests in late December, saying that more than 80 percent of grape farmers across the country have already received payments.

Karapetian argued that most of the distilleries increased the volume of their grape purchases from farmers in 2015 despite their financial troubles caused by a sharp depreciation of the Russian ruble.

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