Farmers in a village in Armenia’s southeastern Vayots Dzor province disrupted classes in a local school on Thursday in a fresh protest against local distilleries’ failure to pay for grapes purchased from them last year.
The residents of the wine-growing village, Aghavnadzor, are still owed a total of 140 million drams ($295,000) despite repeated promises given by the Vedi Alco company and other wineries as well as the Armenian government after similar demonstrations staged earlier this year.
The increasingly desperate farmers blocked the entrance to the Aghavnadzor school on the first day of Armenia’s new academic year. They thus prevented its 200 or so students, many of them their children, from attending classes, saying that they are unable to support their families and repay their agricultural loans.
“The government knows, the agriculture ministry knows, the prime minister knows about our situation,” one of the villagers told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But they’ve always given us false promises … We’ve run out of patience.”
Many of the students gathered in the school courtyard voiced support for the protesters’ demands. As one teenage boy explained: “Because of a certain Vedi Alco, my father has gone to Russia to make some money there.”
“I must inform my superiors about this situation but I don’t know what will happen afterwards,” the school principal, Nahapet Manukian, said for his part.
The farmers ended the protest several hours later after the Vayots Dzor governor, Harutyun Sargsian, and the Vedi Alco owner, Manvel Badalian, arrived in Aghavnadzor to negotiate with them. Both men assured them that they will finally get paid for their produce soon.
Badalian claimed that he has for months tried unsuccessfully to secure a commercial bank loan to repay Vedi Alco’s debt. He also said he had warned the farmers beforehand about likely delays in the payments.
Many Armenian wine and brandy producers oriented towards the Russian market suffered significant losses last year as a result of a sharp depreciation of Russia’s national currency, the ruble. They have blamed their failure to pay for the grapes on time on those losses.
Robert Makarian, a deputy minister of agriculture, downplayed the arrears in early August. Markarian said that liquor firms currently owe only 830 million drams ($1.75 million) to farmers across the country for last fall’s grape purchases that were worth 31.5 billion drams.