BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
“Price hikes won’t impact the poor, because they don’t have money and essentially they aren’t able to buy anything. They don’t buy expensive products such as butter or meat, because they don’t have [money].” These words were uttered by Hakop Hakopyan, a member of Armenia’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia and the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on health care and social welfare.
Another Republican Party of Armenia member, Khosrov Haurunyan, who heads the parliamentary standing committee on economy, said: “Poor people don’t have money, hence they don’t buy anything, What difference does it make if meat is expensive or cheap,” adding that “potato eaters don’t eat meat.”
These tone-deaf comments from the ruling party legislatures were made in response to press inquires about pending price increases as envisioned by the new state budget, which the parliament on Friday approved by an overwhelming majority.
The comments were made on the same day that Armenia’s National Statistical Service issued a report called “Poverty and Social Landscape of Armenia,” which places Armenia’s poverty rate in 2016 at 29.4 percent, nearly the third of the population, if we are to believe that some three million people live in Armenia. This means, around 880,000 people live in poverty in Armenia, a sharp increase from 2008 figures.
The NSS report stated that an additional 1.2 percent growth in the gross domestic product is needed to overcome poverty. That is 63.2 billion drams or $130 million.
The Yerevan-based investigative news site, hetq.am, reported Thursday that Hakopyan, among other assets, owns three homes, nine parcels of land and three separate buildings, according to his latest financial disclosure. He also owns shares in a hydroelectric plant and other ventures.
Hetq.am also reported that Harutunyan declared two apartments, one non-residential building and a vacation home in 2014. One apartment and the non-residential building are on Yerevan’s plush Northern Avenue, while the vacation home is in Sevan’s Lavanda City neighborhood. His other apartment is in Varna, Bulgaria.
Based on their declarations, these two Republican Party of Armenia leaders do not have to worry about price increases. As legislators, they are clearly not worried about the third of Armenia’s population.
Their comments have created an uproar in Armenia, with many taking to social media to call for their immediate removal from parliament and their posts.
The Republican Party of Armenia spokesperson and deputy parliament speaker Edward Sharmazanov lamented his colleagues’ statements, saying that no member of parliament or public official has the right to make such statements about any citizen of Armenia. He added that every single citizen in Armenia is an asset to the country.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s parliamentary bloc chairman and a member of the party Bureau said that it was unacceptable to draw such distinctions between the rich and the poor, adding that citizens are protected by the human rights convention, which Armenia has adopted. He declined, however, to elaborate on the behavior of his parliamentary colleagues.
This “let them eat cake” attitude by Hakopyan and Harutunyan seems to have become the norm for Armenia’s nouveau riche class, whose greed has gotten so out of hand that they don’t realize that the rest of the population has not looted the national wealth.
The new constitution was supposed to usher a new era of reforms and was crafted to provide more power to the people. It is clear that no piece of legislation or a constitution will have its intended impact with the same nomenclature in power. Their disdain for the people is the reason why Armenia continues to struggle and the rift between the ruling elite and lay citizen increasingly widens.
In a different time in history, people like Hakopyan and Harutunyan met a different—more permanent—end.