President Armen Sarkissian has said that he feels the pain of scores of poor Armenians who have lost their jobs and other sources of income due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a weekend interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Sarkissian stressed the need to find the right “balance” between easing their hardship through renewed business activity and tackling the deadly virus.
“My thoughts are constantly with such families because they lack reserves, so to speak, to get by for one, two or three months [without work,]” he said. “They obviously need assistance and that assistance must come not only from the state.
“Of course, the state and business need to cooperate very closely, and I can see that the government is taking some steps in the financial, social and business sectors. To the best of my ability, I certainly give my advice when necessary, but it’s a quite difficult problem.”
“It’s not an Armenian problem, it’s a global problem, and it’s hard to find the right balance between public health and public well-being,” added Sarkissian.
The Armenian government ordered a nationwide lockdown last month in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus. Since then it has also approved a series of measures designed to cushion the severe economic impact of the lockdown.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian listed those measures in a televised address to the nation aired on Friday. In particular, he touted some 7 billion drams ($14.4 million) in one-off cash handouts planned or already paid by the government to about 100,000 socially vulnerable citizens. They include employees of private firms forced to suspend their operations, microbusiness owners, self-employed and unregistered workers as well as some pregnant women.
“The most endangered stratum in our country is those people who had no permanent jobs and were dependent on day labor; those families that have always had very modest incomes,” said Sarkissian. “Just imagine what a difficult time those families … are having now.”
The head of state, who has largely ceremonial powers, also said that despite the unfolding economic crisis Armenians should already think about “how we will be living after coronavirus.”
“In the case of Armenia, we can, for example start from the simplest thing: public health … Right now air in our city [Yerevan] is two or three times cleaner than it was before coronavirus. So why don’t we think about always having clean air?” he said.
Sarkissian suggested in that regard that the municipal authorities plant trees on more than 100 hectares of presently unused land adjacent to the Tsitsernakabert memorial to the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. The public park could have 1.5 million trees matching the estimated number of genocide victims, he said.
“I have written to the government, the prime minister and the [Yerevan] mayor proposing that we discuss this issue,” the president said. He added that he will personally start raising private funds for the would-be park if they back the idea.