BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
The government of Armenia on Thursday adjourned for its annual summer recess with no discussion whatsoever on a matter that has riveted Armenians around the world this summer: the public outcry over the rise in electricity prices.
It is astounding that Armenia’s government has decided to defer discussion of this topic given the mass demonstration in late June and early July that blocked Baghramyan Avenue and created a groundswell of support and activism over this issue, which impact every single Armenian in the country.
While the demonstrations, led by the “No to Plunder” movement, which is comprised of vibrant young Armenian activists, were ongoing the government made two promises: an immediate audit of the Armenia’s Utility Regulatory Commission; and the shouldering of the electricity rate hike until the audit is completed.
Several critical questions should have been addressed before the summer recess. The government should have determined the entities that will be participating in the audit, as well as identify the resources from which the government would subsidize the electricity rate hike. The latter issue is of utmost importance since both the prime minister and the president have pledged that the subsidies would not come from the state budget, which would mean that taxpayers would be paying for the government subsidy.
The organizers of the “No to Plunder” movement announced that they are continuing meetings with experts and asking pertinent questions, so that their demands are based on concrete realities. Some of their demands that involved the Armenian police response to the protests, which saw the deployment of water cannons at protesters, have not been addressed by either the government or the law enforcement agencies.
Meanwhile, another street protest movement has sprung up, with smaller groups staging sit-ins at Liberty Square. The “Rise Armenia” or “Stand Up, Armenia” movement, has been staging the sit-ins with the reiteration of the demands that were the cornerstone of the “No to Plunder” movement. The difference, however, with this movement is that political figures, including former presidential candidates Paruyr Hairkian and Andrias Ghukasyan have emerged as leading figures in the protests, alongside David Sanassarian, who, for a brief time, helmed the protests at Baghramyan. Another key distinction is that “Rise Armenia” effort has clear political undertones, with Hairkian and Ghukasyan using the soapbox to veer the message from the electricity price hikes to other issues that were part of their presidential campaign rhetoric with the aim of stirring unrest.
Maxim Sargsyan, one of the founding members of the “No to Plunder” movement said in an interview with A1 Plus that while members of his group attend the sit-ins at Liberty Square, he and his collaborators are not organizing the “Rise Armenia” initiative. This can be seen as the “No to Plunder” distancing itself from sometime inflammatory rhetoric being used to anchor the “Rise Armenia” movement.
As the government breaks for summer, the population of Armenia is left where it was before the “No to Plunder” initiative mobilized tens of thousands to occupy Baghramyan Avenue: looming electricity hikes, without a solution that can improve the daily lives of Armenia’s citizens.
With the electricity rate hikes scheduled to go into effect on August 1, will the people of Armenia be forced to foot the bill, through taxes, until the government returns from vacation, with no signs that this issue will be a priority.