GEGHARKUNIK, Armenia (Combined Sources)–Armenian Presidential Candidate and ARF Bureau Member Vahan Hovannesian Thursday criticized Armenia’s present and former leaderships along his campaign trail in Gegharkunik Province, saying both are to blame for the country’s current socioeconomic woes.
Hovannesian condemned the two mutually antagonistic forces as he campaigned in economically depressed areas south and east of Lake Sevan.
In a speech before hundreds of people in the local town of Martuni, the deputy speaker of parliament said Armenia’s economic slump of the early 1990s was the result of "illiterate privatization" and other irresponsible economic policies implemented by the Ter-Petrosian administration.
"They privatized whatever they could for nothing," he said. "They sold off machines and other equipment from our plants, they operated nothing, they closed jobs."
"They are now again rising up. He [Ter-Petrosian] came here again and tried to pour poison into your ears. They are singing the song of the former authorities. But we won’t be deceived by that," Hovannesian told the crowd.
ARF Parliamentary Faction member Alvard Petrosian blamed the current administration for failing to give a proper political assessment of the Levon Ter-Petrosian administration and its overall performance. If President Kocharian had addressed this situation earlier, Ter-Petrosian would never have dared return to politics.
But Armenia’s have not forgotten the long years of turmoil and hardship they had to endure during Ter-Petrosian’s rule, according to Petrosian, who criticized the former President for making unrealistic and avish promises to voters on his campaign trail.
Hovannesian was also highly critical of the economic track record of the current Armenian government in which his party is represented by three ministers. He said Armenia’s double-digit economic growth is not broad-based and has been largely confined to the capital Yerevan.
"Have you felt the 12 percent growth on your skin?" asked the ARF Bureau Member. "Are you better off because of the 12 percent growth? Has the [state] budget been quadrupled? Yes, it has. Bravo! But have your living standards quadrupled? No."
"When visiting Yerevan, you may see that it is developing but we don’t feel it in regions," he added. "This injustice is even greater in the remote regions that experience harsh climate."
Speaking in the nearby large village of Vartenik, Hovannesian said that if elected president, he will make sure that "huge investmen’s" flowing into the Armenian economy are more evenly distributed all over the country. He also pledged to "reconsider terms" of controversial and repeated privatizations of Armenia’s largest gold mines located in the area.
Operations at the Zod mines, which employ hundreds of poorly paid local residents, all but came to a halt last year amid a serious dispute between their Indian owner, Vedanta Resources, and the Armenian government. Vedanta was forced to sell the mines to a Russian financial-industry group after being accused of large-scale fraud by the government.
The prolonged hiatus in Zod’s operations aggravated the already difficult socioeconomic situation in a region where a large part of the male population has to work in Russia on a permanent or seasonal basis. High unemployment is in turn fuelling voter apathy about the approaching presidential election and political life in general.
"There are no jobs here," said one man in Martuni. "We are barely surviving."
"We want jobs and nothing else," agreed another. "I have three sons aged between 20 and 25 and they all sit at home. Only I work."
Hovannesian told rally goers that many are aware of his platform. The toughest job in this country is to establish justice, he sad. The first injustice that must be rectified is when the authorities tell us that Armenia is developing.
People have been intimidated and frightened to vote for people they do not trust or believe in for far too long, according to Hovannesian. It is time to put an end to that fear, he said.
"I have the support of the strongest team, the best specialists, and a political party has been struggling for the betterment of the Armenian people for 117 years," Hovannesian exclaimed.
"The ARF is not a party that belongs to, or is lead by one powerful individual," ARF Parliamentary Faction member Ruzan Arakelyan said. "The ARF is a viable political force that has been gaining experience for over a century. It is a party of warriors and intellectuals."
"If we are ready to fight for our freedom then we should vote for Hovannesian,"Then we will have a country that every Armenian is proud of and no Armenian is willing to leave."