If a post-Communist record-book were kept of political protests in formerly Soviet states, Armenia could easily rank near the top. But, after years of demonstrations under various politicians, how long will Armenians keep rallying without results?
A fascination with grandiose graves, built to show respect for the deceased and bestow honor on the bereaved, could mean that the Armenian capital of Yerevan, a city of over 1.1 million people, soon will run out of space to bury its dearly departed.
What’s the cost of fighting for Armenia’s independence? Based on a payment to injured former presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikian for his “contribution to [Armenia’s] independence,” the Armenian government appears to have calculated it at precisely 20.5-million drams, or just under $50,000.
The gift, drawn from a reserve fund, allegedly is meant to pay for Hayrikian, a Soviet-era independence activist, to receive medical treatment in the Dutch city of Rotterdam for a gunshot wound to the shoulder he received during this year’s presidential campaign.
Purported health reasons aside, the lavish gesture has sparked widespread anger. The recognition of Hayrikian’s “contribution” amounts to more than 15 times the size of Armenia’s average annual salary of 134,400 drams, or about $3,200.
Although Health Minister Derenik Dumanian has called the measure “expedient” to “fully restore [Hayrikian’s] health,” some Armenians wonder whether the payment instead has more to do with Hayrikian’s ultimate decision not to request a delay in the February 18 presidential election. The government, mindful of the controversy over the 2008 presidential election, was eager for this vote to go off on schedule, without a hitch.
Pro-government politicians have sidestepped such accusations, but, so far, the government not released any independent, expert opinion that confirms the medical need to pay Hayrikian $49,006 at taxpayers’ expense.
Representatives of Yerevan’s prominent Grigor Lusavorich Hospital, where Hayrikian was treated following the January 31 attack , declined to specify to EurasiaNet.org what treatment he required in the Netherlands that could not be provided in Armenia.
While Serzh Sargsyan took the presidential oath on April 9 to begin another term as Armenia’s president, his main challenger, Raffi Hovhannisian, vowed to keep pressing for change. But many members of the opposition rank-and-file are questioning whether Hovhannisian is the right person to lead the next charge.
The recent cancellation of the first Turkish-run flight from Yerevan to Turkey underlines for many Armenians the persistent difficulty of normalizing ties with their longtime foe. But where business interests lie, hope seems hard to quash.
A pending agreement for Iran to graze sheep inside Armenia has sparked a furor among Armenian environmentalists and nationalists over whether or not the prospective deal poses a threat to the country’s national security.
Armenia may not have a sea, but the Yerevan city government was once proud to say that, like “many developed cities in the world,” it did have a dolphinarium. Not any more. To the cheers (and jeers) of environmentalists, the Ukrainian company that ran the controversial facility has decided to set sail for fresh waters.
The 900-visitor dolphinarium, one of three in the South Caucasus (Baku and Batumi also have dolphin tanks), was built in 2010 in a downtown Yerevan park at about the same speed with which it is now being dismantled. The facility’s senior management cite the end of their “period of operations” as the reason for the decision to pull out.
“The animals have been moved to Ukraine; the performances are over since the period of operation has expired,” Nemo Dolphinarium Director Lili Sahakian told EurasiaNet.org. “This is the only reason.”
But environmental activists claim the real reason is entirely different.
“How could the dolphins survive in Armenia, which has no sea? Could they bear the extremely chlorinated water of the pool, the endless performances, or the frozen fish they were fed?” asked Silva Adamian, chairperson of the Bird Lovers’ Center, a non-governmental organization which heads an alliance of 50 NGOs which opposed the dolphinarium’s opening.
“Back in 2010, we talked to international specialists and they said the animals won’t last even two years. So, we now have what we have.”
Are Armenia’s oligarchs using their financial and political power to block the world’s second-largest retail empire, the French-owned Carrefour Group, from entering the country’s largely monopolized foodstuffs sector? For Armenian consumers beset by high food prices and low incomes, the question has become a matter of principle.
Raffi Hovhannisian -- the California native who finished second to incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan in Armenia’s February 18 presidential election -- has promised to fight “a battle of love” to have the official voting results scrapped, and “the rule of the people” restored. But how many people, and for how long, are willing to support Hovhannisian’s post-election campaign remains unclear.