It was morning.
The old men of the Dalarik, a village in Armenia’s Armavir province, had gathered in the square to hunt for the first rays of sunlight from between the clouds.
I approached and told them I was a reporter. They immediately asked which political party I represented.
When I told them I had no political affiliation, one of them replied, “If you were from the Republican Party, you wouldn’t have gotten off so easily.”
Rafik Badalyan was surprised that reporters are interested in them at all. They visit the village, take notes and write stories, but no government official or agency takes an interest in their plight.
“We haven’t seen anyone come here and interview us about our standard of life. The TV stations deceive us. They just spoon-feed us lies,” he said.
Badalyan hadn’t yet finished when Telman Gevorgyan started to rant against the government.
“The government has nothing god to tell the people. They just know how to sweet-talk us and cheat the people. There are only oligarchs seated in the government. They act for themselves. They pass all these laws but not one is in the people’s interest. If they are working for me and the people, then why must I leave the house without eating? They robbed the banks and have become millionaires. Who can launch a business here? They’ll strike you down. They’ve divided it all up amongst themselves,” exclaimed Telman Gevorgyan, asking me to accompany him to the cultural center nearby.
Along the way, Mr. Gevorgyan tells me that there isn’t a household in the village where a family member hasn’t gone off overseas for seasonal work. His two sons have done the same, but this year they weren’t that successful.
“Why doesn’t just one official or parliament member come and ask us how we are doing? We only see them from election to election when they come to get our votes,” he says, showing me the cultural center that hasn’t been open since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Hearing voices from within, I enter the building to see a group of men playing backgammon.
One of them, Mamikon Galstyan, advises me to take a phot and quietly leave. Otherwise, he says, their litany of complaints would keep me there for hours.
“Morning breaks and we gather her to play cards and backgammon. When we get hungry we return home. All of us her have crushing unpaid debts. They go abroad to work, return, and take out loans. This is our plight. What else can I tell you?” says Mr. Galstyan.
He says that this year has been a tough one. They haven’t been able to work the land due to a lack of irrigation water and high prices for fertilizers and diesel fuel.
“The young guys sit on rocks and play cards. What else can they do? There are no jobs here,” says Mr. Galstyan.
As we were leaving the center, village resident Avetik Ghazaryan approached and told me he had overheard the complaints of the others. Ghazaryan said he could sum up the situation in a nutshell.
“How can you respect a government that can’t take care of its pensioners? The social problems in Armenia are endless. If I started to list them all we’d be here till tomorrow,” he said.
The conversation then assumed a much more personal tone.
“The longing I have is suffocating me. Everyone here suffers from the same thing. My grandchild was three when his parents took him abroad. I haven’t seen him for twenty years. I have another one who was born there. He’s turned 18 and I have yet to see him. I’m a parent, a grandfather with a heart and soul. How can I go on like this?”
Mr. Ghazaryan says that a government must be evaluated according to how it takes care of its citizens. In Dalarik, many do not even have fuel for the winter.
“I’m 74, but I already feel that my life is senseless. Even the young people are disillusioned. This outlook is dangerous. Our enemy is waiting for just this situation,” Mr. Ghazaryan tells me.
Dalarik Mayor Bargev Saghatelyan described the plight of the village a bit less harshly. He said that in the summer months there’s a lack of workers in the fields. He claimed that workers are invited from neighboring villages to come and work for 5,000 AMD (US$11.50) per day.
“Isn’t that work? Everyone wants to become a village mayor or his deputy. But there aren’t any vacancies,” Saghatelyan says.
Regarding the dilapidated state of the cultural center, the mayor says the village doesn’t have the funds to fix and reopen it.
“We presented the problem to the government. A plan has been drawn up. Around 130 million AMD is needed. Even the president of the country is involved in resolving the issue,” the mayor noted, adding that repairing the streets is his next priority.
Close to where the men had gathered voicing their complaints, the walls of a new church were rising. It’s being built by a well-off village resident. While the men said that having a church was a good thing, it wasn’t a priority.
“The people don’t have bread to eat. They are building a church. Go figure!” exclaimed Mr. Badalyan.