- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 August 8, 2003 

Hard Sell: A visit with the market night traders of Echmiadzin

From seller to re-seller, night market merchants provide the produce for day-time buyers.

As Gohar Hambardzumyan talks, the cracked skin of her hands catches the attention and provides evidence of the harshness of her work. Sun beams make perfect ornaments of the wrinkles that line her face and the bright blush of her cheeks can not distract from the tiredness in her 38-year-old eyes.

Gohar travels to Echmiadzin market to sell paprikas that she has grown at her home in Haykashen village in Armavir region. The daytime trade at Echmiadzin gradually gives way each evening to the night market, where growers sell their goods mainly to retailers.

Gohar is selling paprikas at eight for 100 drams from four sacks at her feet. She says with discontent in her voice: "Sometimes I spend all night here, sometimes I get so fed up that I sell everything for a song and leave.

"I am so tired of this trade and of cultivating the soil. I make nothing after paying for water and land. I do this just to survive."

Traffic gradually builds as villagers hurry to the market after 6 p.m. in cars laden with goods from the Ararat Valley. Re-sellers become customers for a few hours to get the goods that they will sell next morning.

Fruits and vegetables grown under the hot Armenian sun seduce customers. Apricots, peaches, cherries, apples, melons, water-melons, cucumber, tomatoes all contribute intense colors like a palette of the Orient.

Khachik, 40, from Garni village in Kotayk region, arrives in a Volga car loaded with cherry boxes. As he unpacks them, he says: "At the beginning of July, I sold one kilo for 500-600 drams, but today I sell for 300 drams. I have brought 200 kilos and will finish selling around 1 a.m.

"To tell the truth, it is profitable work. I don't sell in the daytime because I would hardly manage to gather all of this together with my brother's family in time to bring it here at night."

Traders at the night market pay 1,000 drams ($1.75) if they sell from a vehicle and 500 drams if they have no car. The air is punctuated with calls of "tasty coffee" and "hot pastries" as middle-aged women walk the market selling from trays to keep traders' spirits up.

Although it is mid-summer, and harvests are reaching their peak, prices on the market remain high. While apricots for preserving have sold for as little as 50 drams at this time in previous years, now it is 250 drams.

Zhora Hakobyan from Aknashen village explains: "This year the apricot harvest was not good in every place but in some places it was so good all the harvest couldn't be taken. This has created high prices."

Hakobyan says people in their apricot orchards work collectively and receive 2,000 drams for a full day's work, or 10 drams per kilo part-time.

Margarita Vardanyan, 48, from Jrashen village in Artashat region, has gathered the first harvest this summer from her six-year-old apricot orchard.

"We gathered 1.5 tons from one hectare of orchard. Some businessmen came and paid a preliminary price of 300 drams per kilo before the apricots matured."

Her 52-year-old husband Eduard Vardanyan says their fruit is mainly exported from Armenia to places such as Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Moscow, where he says businessman make big profits from selling them, particularly in winter when prices are higher.

"The buyers were bringing groups of workers with them to bring the fruit in on time, paying them 3,000-5,000 drams each per day. The apricots were immediately stored in refrigerated trucks, where some of them will stay for five or six months," he says.

The Echmiadzin tinned food factory is a major customer for many growers. Director Hamlet Avagyan says: "This year we have canned 6-7 tons of apricot at 220 drams per kilo, cherries at 350 drams per kilo, vine leaves at 160 drams per kilo and roses at 450 drams per kilo. We paid the villagers immediately."

Avagyan says the factory will can up to 15 tons of tomatoes costing 22 drams per kilo. It employs 200 people in three shifts, earning 25,000-30,000 drams per month, and exports products to the United States and Russia.

Igit Azroyan from Nalbandyan village of Armavir region has had contracts to supply cucumbers to the factory for two years. He says: "This is a better option than selling to re-sellers at a market."

Hakobyan and his wife Gyulnara prefer retailing to cultivation. He says: "We have 4,400 meters of land, but we don't cultivate it for sale. We buy produce in our village and at Echmiadzin market and sell it in Yerevan. Work is easy, profit is high."

Gyulnara says one sack of fertilizer costs 6,000 drams. In addition to seeds, etc., those growing cucumber, tomatoes and paprika in hothouses have to pay for peat, oil-cloth and electricity.

"Last year we weren't able to cover even our oil-cloth costs and so we decided to start re-selling," she says.


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