By Karine Kalantarian
Dozens of angry parents of Armenian servicemen killed in action and non-combat incidents besieged on Wednesday the parliament building in Yerevan for the second time this week, demanding a steep rise in meager benefits paid to them by the state.
The protesters, most of them middle-aged and elderly women, said the loss of their sons and husbands entitles them to a monthly pension of 100,000 drams ($176), tax exemptions and a 50 percent discount for the public utility fees.
Their demands were rejected as too extravagant by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. They said the authorities can not afford satisfying them, arguing that the average Armenian pension is ten times smaller.
Still, representatives of the protesters were received by the chairmen of two parliamentary committees later in the day. The results of the meeting were not immediately known.
The dead soldiers’ mothers scuffled with police officers as they attempted to break into the parliament compound through its main entrance during the previous protest on Monday. Some of them claimed to have been briefly detained and questioned by the police late on Tuesday.
“A police officer came to my home at about eight o’clock and told me to follow him,” said one 63-year-old woman whose son Artur Gharibian went missing while on duty near the border with Azerbaijan. “They kept me in the police station until two o’clock in the morning. What for? I had simply demanded my pension from the state.”
Wednesday’s protest was more peaceful and quieter, and security was tightened at the main National Assembly checkpoint. Still, many of its participants were just as furious with speaker Baghdasarian who described their demands as “unrealistic.” “He’s been fooling us for the past year,” one of them said. “The government refers us to the National Assembly, while the National Assembly to the parliament. How long will this go on?”
The existing law provides for little material compensation to a person who lost a family member in the armed forces. They can only count on receiving extra 1,000 drams (about $2) a month after reaching the retirement age.
According to Markarian, the government has also spent this year at least 30 million drams on paying the electricity bills of those families. He claimed that there is little else it can do to alleviate their plight. “No pensioner gets 100,000 drams in Armenia,” he said.
However, the protesters found the argument unconvincing. As one of them put it, “Why is it possible for them to build villas and open shops in Yerevan but not pay the families of the dead?”