About 100 farmers marched to the presidential palace in Yerevan on Thursday after the Armenian government again failed to ensure that they are paid for grapes purchased by a private winery last fall.
The company based in Kaghtsrashen, a village in the southern Ararat province, has still not fully paid them, citing major losses incurred in recession-hit Russia, the main export market of Armenia’s wine and brandy industry.
The protesters, most of them residents of Kaghtsrashen and two nearby villages, are currently owed approximately 110 million drams ($230,000) in total. Some of them sold their grapes to the winery for as little as 50 drams per kilogram.
They and other grape farmers have repeatedly blocked highways and staged other protesters this year. In each of those cases, they agreed to disperse after receiving government assurances that they will get paid by a particular date. The most recent deadline set by the government expired on May 10.
The angry villagers demanded another meeting with Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian, an Ararat native, as they gathered outside his office. “They bought our grapes for only 40-50 drams per kilo,” one of them complained. “But they won’t pay us even that money. That money was earned by our blood and sweat.”
Davit Galstian, a young son of the Kaghtsrashen winery’s owner, arrived at the scene to assure the protesters that the company will clear about half of its debt on Friday. The rest of the sum will be paid by June 1, he said.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Robert Makarian echoed that pledge when he also talked to the protesters moments later. They remained unconvinced, however.
“It’s the Ministry of Agriculture that fooled us,” one elderly farmer told Makarian. “You told us last year that our grapes will definitely be bought and we naively believed you.”
The small crowd then walked towards President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration building. Officials from the presidential staff gave them the same assurances. The protesters warned that they will again block a highway passing through Ararat if the June 1 deadline is not met either.