- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
April 16, 2004

The Price of Politics: Getting into the capital becomes costly during demonstrations

When oppositonal party demonstrations start, mass transport into Yerevan stops.
Deterred on the road to Yerevan.

On ordinary days, residents of nearby towns and villages in Echmiadsin, Abovian, Armavir, Ashtarak – 10 or so kilometers surrounding the capital – reach the capital by minimally-priced minibus. But over the past two weeks, getting into Yerevan has often been influenced by whether the political opposition has a meeting planned.

Members of the government say blocking roads is a means of maintaining security. Members of the anti-government movement say it is suppression by authorities and a means of denying demonstrators a chance to express their discontent.

Ordinarily, 51 year old Misha Khachatryan would spend about $5 a week to get to his job in Yerevan. Last week, however, he spent more than $10.

“Four of us take a taxi. Each gives 500 drams (about 90 cents) and as a result we have 2000 drams to get to Yerevan. What can I do else? I have to pay this sum as it was really very hard for me to find this job and I’m not going to lose it. But I cannot continue this way as in fact I will spend all the money I earn for taxies,” he says.

Students from Echmiadsin, who study in universities of the capital, go to Yerevan by special student buses and pay 150 drams (26 cents) instead of 250 (44 cents). On demonstration days these buses don’t operate as well. Some students miss class as a result.

“How can I spend 1000 drams (about $1.80) every day if my parents can hardly pay for my study in the university,” says medical college student Anahit Arushanyan. “When will these demonstrations finish? In the beginning of this week I missed my lessons.”

Last Sunday, Easter pilgrims wishing to reach the Holy See at Echmiadsin were not in a reverent mood, learning that politics had interfered with worship by restricting public transport.

Ashot Margaryan, who came from Yerevan to Echmiadsin with his family, said: “Why do they make people angry on this festive day? We decided to light candles in Echmiadsin Holy See and watch the mass. But it cost too much for us. We spent 4000 drams (about $7) only for the road.”

Politics aside, taxi drivers may not be eager to see demonstration days end.

“This week I’ve earned good money,” says one Echmiadsin taxi driver who, like many in these tense days, doesn’t want to be identified. “People usually don’t need to go to Yerevan by taxi. I don’t care what they do, the upper strata makes heaps of money so why can’t we use our chance?”

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Not Opposed to Blessing

Before all hell broke lose in the center of Yerevan the next day, His Holiness Garegin II offered blessings to worshippers attending Easter services. Roads linking Echmiadsin and the Holy See to Yerevan have been blocked, even on the Holy Day, to discourage travel to the capital for political rallies.



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