Minister for Local Government Davit Lokian defended on Monday the Armenian government’s decision to merge hundreds of small villages into larger communities over the objections of many local residents.
The government began enforcing the mergers early this year, saying that they will improve governance in the affected communities and make budgetary spending on them more efficient. It also promised that Armenia’s Western donor supporting the process will provide them with financial aid.
The government met with strong resistance from local government officials and ordinary residents in some of those villages. The latter believe that their administrative unification with neighboring villages will only make the consolidated local governments less accountable and responsive to them.
In Lokian’s words, some 140 villages have been incorporated into 18 bigger communities to date. More than a hundred others will undergo similar mergers in the coming months, he told reporters.
The minister attributed the resulting protests to a lack of popular awareness of the benefits of the process. In particular, he said, many villagers wrongly think that the consolidation will reduce the number of public sector jobs in their communities. Lokian insisted that there have been no job losses there.
Yervand Yeganian, who was until recently the former mayor of Voskepar, a village in the northern Lori province merged with several neighboring communities, disputed that claim, however. Yeganian claimed that at least one-third of the local government employees in the area have been laid off.
“We were predicting job losses,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The minister and government experts were claiming the opposite. We have been proved right.”
Both Yeganian and Narek Sahakian, who has run the nearby village of Baghanis, also accused the central government of not delivering on economic aid and infrastructure improvements promised to their communities. “The promises remain promises,” said Sahakian.