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Authorities Defend Costly New Year Celebrations In Yerevan


Armenia -- Republic Square in Yerevan decorated with a Christmas treet, December 19, 2016.

The Armenian government and Yerevan’s municipal administration on Wednesday dismissedopposition criticism of their decision to spend more than 400 million drams ($840,000) on upcoming celebrations of the New Year in the capital.

The sum represents a nearly threefold increase from what the municipality spent on festivities organized by it a year ago. Two-thirds of it has been allocated by the government at Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s initiative.

The increased funding will be mainly channeled into a series of live performances and cultural events. The main highlight of the celebrations will be a New Year’s Eve extravaganza in Yerevan’s main Republic Square which will continue into the early morning hours of January 1.

Pashinian on Tuesday urged people from across Armenia and even its worldwide Diaspora to join him at the overnight concert by Armenian and foreign musicians. Few Armenians have traditionally celebrated the holiday on the street.

Opposition members of the city council have condemned what they describe as lavish parties planned by the authorities, saying that the extra money should be spent on Yerevan’s far more pressing needs.

One of them, Tehmina Vartanian, also deplored on Wednesday 44 million drams in funding allocated for the construction of a temporary overpass that will give pedestrians safe access to a huge Christmas tree to be erected at the center of the sprawling square.

Vartanian claimed that the cost of the structure is inflated. “With that much money you can build two or three street overpasses in the capital,” she said.

“All [city] problems are on track to be resolved,” countered Yerevan’s Deputy Mayor Tigran Virabian. “All problems will be solved.”

Virabian insisted that the cost of the celebrations is not exorbitant. He said city residents and guests will be treated to quality shows that have never been staged during New Year’s celebrations in Armenia in the past.

Pashinian, meanwhile, took to Facebook to again defend the planned festivities. He said, in particular, that low-income people will have the option of attending and enjoying them for free instead of having to spend large amounts of money on food at home.

“The atmosphere that will be created at Republic Square will first and foremost allow people who can’t afford day-to-day traditional expenses to celebrate the New Year … very joyfully and in high spirits,” he claimed in a live video address.

Pashinian said the authorities also want to encourage more well-to-do Armenians to stop celebrating the holiday abroad and to attract tourists to the country.

He also made a case for changing the Armenian tradition of celebrating the New Year only at home and with family members and close friends. “We want to create a setting for marking the New Year and socializing [with people] in a wider environment,” he said.

Yerevan residents seemed divided over whether the more expensive festivities will be worth it.“What will we gain from spending so much money? Nothing,” one of them told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

“I think it’s okay,” said another resident. “Why not? It happens once a year. Let it be done well. At least our kids will have fun.”

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