VARDENIS DIARY: RESIDENTS NO LONGER EXPECT SOLUTIONS FROM ELECTED OFFICIALS
Grisha Balasanyan

http://hetq.am/en/marzes/vardenis-13/
2010/03/01 | 16:22

MP Tigran Torosyan: "People must understand officials are not here
to hand out favors"

Trying to reach the village of Vardenis, Aragatzotn Marz, especially
during the winter, is an arduous and nearly impossible journey. Roads
leading to the village, located just five kilometers from the town
of Abaran, are covered with slick ice from the hardened snows.

When the snowfalls are light, the roads are usually cleared pretty
quickly, but the snow is swept along the roadsides, making turning
impossible on the two-lane road.

One of the drivers must park the car along the snow covered roadside
and then, with some elbow grease from the passengers, push the car
back in the other direction. This is what happened to us when we
allowed a passing car to overtake us.

A group of men from Vardenis had gathered next to a non-descript
one story building they call the cultural center. When we entered the
smoke filled room, there were about fifty men inside playing backgammon
and cards. There were two former village mayors in the crowd.

Former Vardenis mayors now unemployed

Djivan Sargsyan was mayor of Vardenis from 1996-2002. He's now
unemployed and passes the time of day playing backgammon with other
men from the village. During our conversation, he had only praise
for current Mayor Kamo Petrosyan, saying that the new man has already
done more than he ever did.

"Today, it's become the accepted norm that all taxes in the village
are collected. Back in my day, we just couldn't do that," said Mr.

Sargsyan

The former village mayor points to government subsidies for the tax
collection success story, arguing that without government assistance
no community leader could ever manage to collect taxes.

Another Djivan, this time Asatryan, served as Vardenis mayor from
2002-2008. He said that he pulled out of the local race two years ago
because it was becoming next to impossible to manage a community with
such few resources.

"I you go pay a visit to someone's home the first thing you pay
attention to is the how clean the place is and the woman who runs the
household. This here is like our living room because everyone from
the village meets here. Take a look around and you'll get a good idea
of what shape the village is in," Mr. Asatryan said, pointing towards
the cultural center. He said that the list of problems facing Vardenis
is a long one Land aplenty but farming just not profitable

Vardenis has about 650 hectares of tillable land, 100 hectares of
natural meadow and 500 hectares of pasture. "The village has a good
amount of land, but residents just don't have the means to buy seed
and fertilizer to work the land and make a profit. We sow our local
seed and pray for rain. There's practically no irrigation water to
speak of. We even use drinking water to irrigate the gardens by our
homes," Mr. Asatryan said.

He told the story of how the entire village flew in a panic the day
the meadow grasses were being mowed for harvesting. The combine,
made in 1985, conked out after just one hectare and remained out of
order for days.

We asked Mr. Asatryan if the village couldn't get the needed equipment
on credit. He answered that there wasn't one person in Vardenis able
to make such a purchase.

We also asked if he had followed up on a list of issues that his
predecessor had presented to Lyova Khachatryan, the local Member
of Parliament.

"What do you expect us to demand of him; he's just one individual.

You're correct he should raise these issues in parliament. This is
his second term in office. But he says nothing about the problems here.

The only development was the 1.5 kilometer gas pipe they installed
back in 20007. Lyova Khachatryan had something to do with that small
event," he said.

Village remains without gas

Gas for heating and cooking has been the main problem in the village
and remains so today. Residents burn dried dung for their winter
heating needs. Those better off can afford to buy wood.

Valery Safaryan, one of the unemployed men, who had gone to the
cultural center to shoot the breeze, told us that the village had
loads of uncultivated land.

"Even the young people have nothing to do and drift around aimlessly.

Those who can, leave the village. All of us would leave if he had
the chance," he said.

"No government official has ever visited the village to ask how we
are coping. The only time we see a politician is before an election to
ask for our votes. You don't see these guys for the next four years,"
said Hendo, a village resident.

Residents claim MP Khachatryan practices "favoritism with funds"

I asked if they ever got in touch with their representatives. "Geez,
give me a break. The minute we turn our backs they tear up the petition
we just handed over. Nothing gets done. Why should they even read the
damn thing? They come and hand out money at election time and figure
they've solved the problem," answered Hendo.

When we asked how much the politicians hand out Hendo replied,
"5,000 AMD, the same amount they gave you."

Vardges Manoukyan, another resident, said that they have petition MP
Lyova Khachatryan several times but that nothing has yet to be done.

Mr. Manoukyan was worried about the village school. The building is
structurally unsafe. He confessed that it's with some trepidation
that he sends his grandchild to first grade since the building could
collapse at the slightest tremor.

"Every official invests in their home town. It's the same with Lyova
Khachatryan. He takes care of Yerndjatap. He's built a fabulous
cultural center in the village and the gas flows freely. No one cares
about us," Mr. Manoukyan said. He wasn't the only one critical of
the discriminatory largesse handed out by the local MP.

"Our regional governor is from the Talin region. They all direct
the bulk of state funding to their districts. It's the same with the
regional governor. Perhaps, if our esteemed president would just send
a fact-finding team around to the villages, it's just possible that
they'd have a change of heart, a feeling of remorse, and make changes
to actually help rural folk," said resident Artur Grigoryan.

Former NA Speaker Torosyan - Villagers should pester their elected
representatives

He noted that while MP Tigran Torosyan, the former parliament speaker,
traces his roots to Vardenis, he's never publicly acknowledged the
fact and has done nothing for the village.

When asked, MP Torosyan didn't deny the connection to Vardenis but
added that it was his ancestors that lived there ninety years ago
and that today, he has no dealings with the village.

"Officials aren't there to do favors for anyone. They have their
elected MP, village mayor and regional governor. These are the
officials they should be contacting regarding the problems they face,"
MP Torosyan told Hetq.

MP Torosyan said that one of the unfortunate aspects of the country
is that members of parliament usually funnel government money and
projects to their home towns. Other districts go without as a result.

We asked MP Torosyan why he hadn't channeled any government projects
to Vardenis, given that he is the only official to 'hail' from the
village.

"Since the good people of Vardenis have yet to understand that it's
their local mayor who must seek solutions for local problems, they'll
always wind in the same predicament," he answered.

We didn't get to see the mayor of Vardenis. He was in Ashtarak
on business. We did get to speak with Parandzem Gevorgyan, the
municipality's staff secretary. She basically repeated what we had
heard from local residents.

Mrs. Gevorgyan pointed out that farming was no longer cost-effective
since the government had halted subsidies for fertilizer. The cost,
at 7,500 AMD a sack, is prohibitive for most

"Forget about the fact that we have no seed to plant. Our MP knows
what's going on in this village. We've petitioned him on many occasions
but what can he do?" Mrs. Gevorgyan answered in despair.