Saturday, 22 September

Campaigning Has Begun in Lori

Karen Karapetyan, elected to parliament on a majoritarian ticket in Lori Marz's District 32, is currently performing miracles of charity in Tashir. Ahead of the 2007 parliamentary elections, Karapetyan has been bribing residents of Tsater, Aygehar, Mghart, Ardvi, and other villages in his district with two kilograms of sugar. These villages were artificially removed from the District 31 and made part of District 32 solely to bring them under control. In these villages, citizens do not themselves decide who to vote for; rather the village heads utilize different levers of influence to determine who they vote for. Otherwise, villagers lose subsidies and even their land, or are even taken to court for their debts. As a result, when the candidates win they feel grateful towards the village heads and not towards the citizens of the villages.

In the case of Karen Karapetyan, the residents of these villages well understood that that the candidate needed Tashir's vote if he was to be elected to parliament. Clearly for our MPs it is more honorable to give electoral bribes than to draft laws in the National Assembly that could actually address the problems that the villages face. Meanwhile, the villagers who were affected by the drought are still waiting for Karapetyan to press the government to help them cover drought-incurred losses, to improve the water supply to the villages, to provide quality pesticides to fight the rats who are ruthlessly devouring the potato crop, to improve village roads, to enable the cultivation of hundreds of hectares of unused land, and to eliminate other problems that contribute to rural poverty.

The villagers do not hide their outrage. “I'm very sorry, but how can I solve my financial problems with this two kilograms of sugar? It doesn't do anything, “ said Ruslan Shahverdyan who has a animal farm in Aygehat. “I can drink tea with sugar for two days, but what happens on the third day? I am a working farmer; I have 100 lambs, but no buyers. I have cows and pigs. I also have huge tax debts, because of the drought. How am I going to pay off these debts?”

Ruslan Shahverdyan spent $ 2,500 to cultivate eight hectares of land this year, but because of drought he earned nothing back. We also interviewed Ararat Shahverdyan, who complained that he has three-and-a-half hectares of land, but he cannot afford to cultivate it on his 7,000-dram-(less than $20)-per-month pension.

The smaller roads that lead from the Otzun-Stepanavan main road to Aygehat, Arevatsag, Tsater, Mghart and other nearby villages are in such disrepair that it is impossible to drive on them; instead, people drive over fields to reach these villages. In recent years even the president has spoken of the necessity to repair the roads in the area of Otzun-Stepanavan, but to this day nothing has been done.

The road from Aygehat to Tsater is lined with scorched and abandoned fields. Withered cornstalks can be seen here and there. “The corn and wheat all dried up in the drought,” the villagers said. We wondered why there were so many fat black crows in the fields. The residents of Tsater explained that this year the fields have been invaded by rats that eat the potatoes. None of the pesticides used have worked against them. The crows eat the rats.

“ Fuel is very expensive. We have 360 hectares of the best land in the region. Many fields are abandoned now; only half of the 360 hectares is cultivated now, “ said 65-year-old Sarukhan Avetyan.

“Let's go to the village. If you find a drink of water, you'll be lucky,” added Julieta Avetyan from Tsater.

Water is brought to Tsater from Agarak, but most of the village's 150 families are two poor to get it to their homes.

Water is also a serious problem in Mghart. Under the scorching midday sun women and children carry water in pots from a barely-functioning source in the center of the village. Vachagan Navasardyan, the head of the village administration, said it's not possible to bring water to the village because there are no mountainous sources of water around Mghart. These poor and forgotten villages, far from the civilization, have many problems that require radical action. And MP Karen Karapetyan is trying to solve them with two kilograms of sugar.

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