Police used force on Wednesday to stop hundreds of angry farmers from again blocking a major highway in Armenia in continuing protests against what they see as the government’s inadequate response to a weekend hailstorm that destroyed their crops.
The protesters were mostly from two of around three dozen villages in the southern Armavir province that were affected by the calamity. They demanded that President Serzh Sarkisian, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian or other high-ranking officials visit them and promise financial compensation for their losses.
After a brief scuffle with law-enforcement officers, the crowd failed to get through a police cordon set up at a section of the highway connecting Yerevan to the provincial capital Armavir. “We elected officials. Where are they now?” shouted one of the villagers.
Ashot Ghahramanian, the Armavir governor, visited the protesters moments later, urging them to disperse and wait until officials from the Agriculture Ministry calculate the total damage caused by hail and submit proposals to the government. “Why are you hampering our work and wasting your time?” he said.
“We don’t believe you,” replied one farmer. “Let the prime minister come here,”
Ghahramanian passed on to them President Serzh Sarkisian’s assurances that the government will help them. But he made clear that the affected farmers will not be fully compensate for their grapes and other fruits destroyed by hail. “There is no law saying that if you suffer losses as a result of a natural disaster the state will be obliged to compensate you,” he said.
Government compensation for losses incurred by farmers as a result of hail, cold snaps and other unfavorable weather conditions has always been scant.
Many of the Armavir farmers borrowed agricultural loans to buy seeds, fertilizers and fuel and pay for irrigation water. They hoped to repay them with proceeds from sales of their produce. Much of their anticipated harvest was wiped out by the hailstorm.