BY HRANT APOVIAN
“When Alexander the Great wished to build a city that should serve as a monument to his glory, his architect Dinocrates, pointed out to him how he could build a city on Mount Athos, which place he said, besides being very strong, could be so arranged as to give the city the appearance of the greatness of its founder. Alexander having asked him what the inhabitants were to live upon, he replied, “That I have not thought of”; at which Alexander smiled, and, leaving Mount Athos as it was, he built Alexandria, where the inhabitants would be glad to remain on account of the richness of the country and the advantages which the proximity of the Nile and the sea afforded them.”
The plunder began with the advent of the second Republic of Armenia. During the presidency of Levon Ter-Petrossian, entire factories were sold, including land, structures and equipment – built during the Soviet era – to private individuals for far less than the land value alone. The buyers in turn sold the machinery and equipment for scrap to neighboring countries. Thus, began the looting. Thus was terminated all manufacturing, creating massive unemployment.
While the appetite for bargain buying did not subside, cash strapped and unscrupulous subsequent administrations continued the “garage sale.” Historic buildings, entire hospitals – land, building and equipment included – were sold off for pennies on the dollar. In some instances, the buyer was exempt from repaying the debt owed by the sold hospital. The list of divested rights, property, and national resources and treasure is extensive; and unfortunately, the depletion of national treasures continues unabated.
Everything was up for sale. Nothing was sacred:
– Historic buildings
– Mineral rights
– Telephone and mobile phone networks
– All energy sources
The plunder continues unabated over the last two decades. The proceeds are not necessarily reinvested in the homeland. Foreign investment is discouraged if not eliminated, monopolies are rampant and free competition is frowned upon. This vicious cycle is what is wrong with Armenia: it is what leads to the creation of “oligarchs,” why foreigners do not invest in Armenia, why and how so much foreign debt was accumulated, why citizens of Armenia can’t find local employment and ultimately why is there massive emigration. Sadly, the oligarchs are not yet done usurping the populace.
The latest scandal is the unfortunate saga of the Karen Demirchyan Sports Complex or “Hamalir,” as its commonly known. This ongoing saga represents the demise of a colossal undertaking that was accomplished by Karen Demirchian and his generation, who made countless sacrifices, took astute maneuvering with the Soviet Government, and garnered the help of dedicated and talented architects, construction experts and sculptors. The project was the result of Armenian ingenuity, innovation, persistence and a labor of love dedicated to the citizens of the homeland.
This structure, the supposed pride of Armenia that was built at the cost of so much sacrifice in 1983 for 35 million rubles, was first sold in 2005 to the Moscow based construction company BAMO. It was subsequently resold for 30 million dollars to an unknown private investor. The buyer is apparently intent on converting it to an entertainment center and casino. Some opposition and prominent public figures have denounced the deal, especially because of its proximity to the genocide monument.
According to architect Kourken Mousheghian, the sports complex was built in proximity to the Genocide memorial as a symbol of rebirth and he cannot imagine any changes to this historic structure. The widow of the late Karen Demirchian came out against the conversion and asked that her husband’s name be taken off. Armenian intellectuals also came out strongly against the proposed project.
In an article entitled “The Gradual Demise of Our Collective Memory,” Garo Armenian laments that “[o]ne after another, everything that rightfully belongs to our collective heritage is put up for auction by a pathetic class of elites who are in control of our destiny.” He cites the example of the Historic House of the First Republic that was turned into a pizza parlor.
Another ongoing fiasco is Air Armenia. Majority shareholder Arsen Avedisian was reportedly assaulted and severely beaten by the president of the football federation of Armenia, Ruben Hayrapetyan. Armenia’s Prosecutor General’s office announced Tuesday that no charges would be brought against him. This is not the first time; Mr. Hairapetyan’s bodyguards severely beat three army medics killing one of them with complete impunity to Mr. Hairapetyan. The incident raises questions as to the efforts to reorganize and revive Air Armenia. This kind of attempt at intimidation may jeopardize the emergency infusion of 68 million dollars by the East Prospect Fund, a Ukraine based investment group, who is poised to re-invest in Air Armenia.
With the over-dependence and reliance on big brother Russia, energy is yet another area of contention. The head of the Solar Technology lab, Jozef Panosyan, has accused Armenian authorities of impeding the development of solar energy in the country without elaborating on the reasons why. The advent of solar energy would clear the way towards energy independence for Armenia, but would be detrimental to the energy monopoly.
It is a sad commentary on the state and the future of the Armenian homeland. When does the looting of national treasures stop? When do the pilferers and abusers of the system quench their thirst for what truly belongs to the people of Armenia?
There was a time when revolutionary organizations knew how to stop those who usurp the people. The movement against a hike in electricity rates was a sign that the young generation is still attached to the homeland. Theirs was an attempt to reclaim what rightfully belongs to the people. Maybe all hope is not lost. However, only proper organization, push back and popular uprising can stop the endless looting by oligarchs and government officials.