Farmers in a village in Armenia’s southeastern Vayots Dzor province blocked a major highway on Monday in continuing protests against a wine distillery’s 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 the Armenian government after similar demonstrations staged earlier this year.
The increasingly desperate farmers blocked the entrances to Aghavnadzor’s school, kindergarten and even village administration building for the same purpose on Saturday. They refused to leave those premises after police intervened to unblock the highway.
“We are dying of hunger,” shouted one farmer.
The Vayots Dzor governor, Harutyun Sargsian, assured the protesters that he will convey their demands to a new government that will be formed by the newly appointed Prime Minister Karen Karapetian. “We will present all our problems to the new government,” he said.
The grape farmers remained skeptical, threatening to again block the highway when Karapetian holds a cabinet meeting in Yerevan on Thursday. “What government?” said one of them. “Why do we need a government? Who thinks about us?”
Several other farmers complained that the government has only just started exploring the possibility of freezing repayment of their agricultural loans extended by commercial banks.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Robert Makarian, who arrived at the protest scene, said that the government is ready to help Vedi Alco secure a bank loan to clear its debts to the farmers but that the already indebted company has trouble offering collaterals to potential lenders.
“We do realize the gravity of the problem,” said Makarian. “We need to find a mechanism for solving it. It’s just that there are few such mechanisms.”
Like many other Armenian wine and brandy producers oriented towards the Russian market, Vedi Alco has 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 grape farmers on time on those losses.
Vineyards have traditionally been the main source of revenue for Aghavnadzor’s 2,000 or so residents. Many of them say they have yet to find wholesale buyers for this year’s grape harvest.