Monday, 24 September

Largesse to a Chosen Few: Araks Village Council Members and Municipal Staffers Buy Hothouse Plastic Sheeting and Pay Off Loans with Budget Funds

A host of problems plague Araks, a village in Armenia’s Armavir Province on the border with Turkey.

The roads are in bad shape, the kindergarten needs repairing, there’s a lack of irrigation water; the list goes on.

Municipal workers admit all this, but argue that the village’s budget is too small to make a dent. Nevertheless, annually, some 4 million AMD US$8,371) is allocated in social assistance.

Some of the money winds up in the pockets of municipal council members, municipal workers and their relatives.

Araks is the second community in Armavir that Hetq has honed in on for using a portion of its budget to serve the personal interests of local officials and employees. The first was the community of Voskehat.

So far this year, Araks village council members Minas Khanoyan and Robert Tatoyan have received 100,000 AMD ($209) each. So has the wife and brother of council member Armen Aydinyan, Vardouhie Asatryan a relative of council member Shira Asatryan, and Meri Danielyan, the sister of chief of staff Knkoush Danielyan. This is just a partial list.

A similar picture occurred last year. 100,000 AMD in social assistance was allocated to council member Minas Khanoyan and Maksim Bazoyan. Around 150,000 AMD went to the father of Araks mayoralty expert Melineh Gevorgyan. Her mother received 100,000 AMD.

When this reporter visited Araks, Mayor Avag Mikayelyanwasn’t in, so I talked to deputy mayor Manoushak Mkhitaryan. She said she was new at the job and couldn’t answer my questions. Mkhitaryan suggested I speak to Levon Galstyan, who runs the village cultural center.

In an attempt to justify the allocations of cash to local officials and employees, Galstyan said that Minas Khanoyan lives in extreme poverty and resides in a hut, while Tatoyan is disabled with a spinal problem.

“Council members don’t get a salary. They can also wind up in poverty,” said Galstyan. He had no answer when I asked why his father had received social assistance. “That, I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.”

Manoushak Mkhitaryan said that most of the money allocated by the village council this year has gone to owners of hothouses who suffered due to excessive winter snow. This was the case for council member Armen Aydinyan’s brother Ashot and Armen’s wife, Meri.

Levon Galstyan made an interesting revelation when he said that anyone who applied for the hothouse assistance received it. “We issued a notice and there were applicants,” he said.

It should be mentioned that Armen Aydinyan and his brother Ashot own large hothouse operations in Araks and can’t be considered eligible for social assistance by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, at a 2014 auction, Armen Aydinyan purchased 8,562 hectares of land. He purchased another 1,176 in 2015.

Araks village council member Gevorg Grigoryan, who received 100,000 AMD in social assistance in 2015, purchased 539 hectares of land that same year. Grigoryan also runs the sports club at the village school.

We visited council member Minas Khanoyan, who periodically receives social assistance, and it’s true that the family lives in a cabin. But so do many other residents of Araks, and they have never received municipal largesse.

Khanoyan told me that he used the 100,000 AMD he received this year to buy plastic sheeting for his hothouse.

More amazing is that Khanoyan confessed that 200,000 AMD ($419) was written out of the village budget last December and divided amongst seven council members so that they could usher in the New Year in style.

He couldn’t remember any other money being allocated this year. When I refreshed his memory, he was initially shocked and repeated that only he had received money. Slowly, his memory returned.

Khanoyan claimed money was allocated to Robert Tatoyan in order to buy equipment for the tractor used to clean garbage in the village. The tractor driver, Jirayr Tatoyan, is the son of council member Robert Tatoyan.

Khanoyan went on to say that council member Armen Aydinyan and his brother Ashot were allocated money, classified as social assistance, in order to finish the job of cleaning out the village stream. He says the original expenditure wasn’t enough and more money was allocated to several people in the form of social assistance.

When I asked why the money was budgeted in the names of council members, and why sufficient money hadn’t been set aside for the work, Khanoyan replied: “Well, in whose name should we write it out? We know what the money is for.”

Khanoyan said that last year money was budgeted, as social assistance, to him, his wife and other municipal staffers, but actually went towards installing a water pipe to the village cemetery.

The council allocated 150,000 AMD to cultural center director Levon Galstyan’s father so that he could pay off some bank loans.

Deputy Mayor Mkhitaryan says that 90-95% of village residents have loans to pay off. She couldn’t explain why the council voted to allocate money to the father of a municipal worker in order to pay off his interest.

In addition, both Manoushak Mkhitaryan and Levon Galstyan note that, for example social assistance was allocated to council member Armen Aydinyan, his brother and wife, to rebuild their damaged hothouses, despite the fact that they aren’t needy. Council member Khanoyan notes, however, that money in the form of assistance was allocated to them for community needs. Furthermore, council members who received money participated in the council session and voted in favor of themselves.

I asked to see those requests where residents asked for assistance, especially those of the council members and municipal staff.  I wasn’t provided with any. The argument given was that a person could have written a request, saying that money was needed for a surgery, and that the council approved it. The council said it was under no obligation to share such information with the press.

In addition to allocating social assistance, the village council and municipality have also bestowed monetary prizes on municipal staffers. Last year, the council awarded 175,000 AMD several times to Araks Mayor Avag Mikayelyan, 158,000-170,000 AMD to former deputy mayor Razmik Tonoyan, and 125,000-170,000 AMD to chief of staff Knkoush Danielyan.

By a special decree in 2015, 443,000 AMD ($927) was awarded to Razmik Tonoyan and the postmaster general of Araks for a ‘job well done’.

When I asked cultural center director Levon Galstyan why he has been awarded monetary prizes when the center (see above) is hardly in a fit shape to operate, Galstyan beamed and said it was for doing a good job.

When I specifically asked what job, Galstyan replied, “In addition to being the club director, a job that I know, I will now confer with the electricians and see where’s the best place to put an electric cable to irrigate the lands without water.”

When I was conversing with municipal staffers, in walked Souren Galstyan, who served as deputy mayor of Araks until 2012. He’s now a farmer.

Galstyan was befuddled that the decisions of a village council could be of any interest to the press.

“Your job is to report, to write about village problems, and not about the decisions of the village council, Galstyan said, as if he was blind to the connection.

While counting the issues faced by Araks, especially the lack of natural gas in the village that shares a nine kilometer border with Turkey, Galstyan noted officials have come and gone, promising to bring gas into the village, but that nothing has been done.

Photos: Narek Aleksanyan

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Comments (2)
1. Vrej 18:48 - 30 May, 2016
Dear Grisha, Thank you for a great article, the word for "hothouse" in English is Greenhouse. I noticed this in another article as well, just want to bring it to your attention.
2. Peter20:54 - 30 May, 2016
Actually, a hothouse is a heated greenhouse...Both are "English".
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