Friday, 17 August

Residents Fearful of Speaking Out; Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution” Hasn’t Reached Ahnidzor



The shockwaves of Armenia’s recent “Velvet Revolution” haven’t yet reached Ahnidzor, a village in the country’s Lori Province.

Press coverage of the area has irritated more than a few residents pining for the old days.

On Saturday, two young men rebuked me, arguing that my articles on local environmental issues had led to increased surveillance of the nearby forest. Residents can no longer freely enter the woods to cut down trees and use the timber as fuel.

Some residents avoided talking to me.

Katya Karyan, who’s been teaching at the local school for thirty years, invited me to the confines of her house before speaking.

Before we even had a chance to sit on the sofa, Katya’s phone rang. “Call me later. I have a guest,” she said to the person on the other end of the line. After ending the call, Katya turned to me and said it was a warning not to ‘spill the beans’ about what is taking place in the village.

Katya says the “Velvet Revolution” hasn’t arrived to Ahnidzor. It’s only been televised. People want to be left alone, she tells me.

Katya accuses the local government of poorly managing funds allocated to the village. She relates the example of money being spent to build a bus shelter several years ago even though a public bus hasn’t linked local communities for years.

“They could have purchased a bus with the money. We would have waited anywhere for such a bus,” she says.

Villagers must now walk four kilometers to catch the bus to Vanadzor, the nearest large town.

  

Levon Zavaryan, the mayor of Tumanyan, an administrative communityincorporating Ahnidzor and five other villages, says that he spoke with regional officials ten days ago, requesting that a bus should occasionally service the village. He hasn’t received any feedback.

Zavaryan says the Regional Development Fund of Armenia (RDFA), as part of a USAID project, allocated AMD 18.6 million) to build bus shelters in Ahnidzor and adjacent villages.

Brizma-Van LLC, the company that won the contract, used 7.2 million to build shelters in five villages. The rest was used to build one shelter in Karindj.

Zavaryan says the state government has promised to allocate two Gazelle minivans to Tumanyan for inter-community service. He couldn’t say when the vans would arrive.

Davit Aslanyan, who coordinates RDFA projects financed by USAID, says that the organization has allocated $330,000 since 2016 in development assistance in Tumanyan.

To date, the money has been used to purchase a garbage truck, a dump truck and an excavator, in addition to eighty trash receptacles. Tumanyan’s current population hovers around 1,800.

The estimated cost of each of the bus shelters was 3 million drams. Aslanyan got somewhat irritated when I pointed out that 4.5 million was spent on the Ahnidzor bus shelter. He argued that most of the money was spent to improve the site itself and make it accessible.

Aslanyan claims that no one has filed a bid to operate the two minivans.

Katya says that no one uses the trash bins.

“We are not accustomed to throwing our trash in receptacles. We have our own spots. We have no garbage. We burn it all and gave the leftovers to the pigs and dogs. But we conscientiously pay 100 drams for garbage collection.”

Aslanyan was aware that people in the other Tumanyan villages weren’t using the garbage bins.

“You can ask the villagers why they live like pigs. Ahnidzor is awash in dung. Why don’t they dry that dung and burn it in the winter as fuel instead of cutting down the forest?” he asked.

Katya, meanwhile, presented a list of unsolved complaints. The roads are bad, there are electricity cuts…In a word, she sees no improvements.

“The electric wires date to the1950s. A tree falls, hits the wires, and we have no power. No one comes to change the wires and the poles. It pains me to tell you all this, but perhaps the village will see some positive change due to your article,” Katya tells me.


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