During Soviet times Ararat Region’s Dimitrov village was populated mainly by Assyrians. There were also Armenians living in the village, but just a few. After Armenia became independent or, as villagers say, “in the years of perestroika”, many people left, mostly the Assyrians.
Today, there is either 1,550 villagers or 550, depending on who you listen to. The higher number comes from village head Ludwig Khlkhatyan, who cites the total registered residents. Villagers say the true population is closer to the lower number, about 30 percent of which are Assyrian, and others refugees from Azerbaijan.
It is a small settlement, but big enough for political problems: Some in the village accuse Khlkhatyan of misappropriating humanitarian aid and of maintaining his office through election fraud.
After crops and gardens were damaged last year, International Food Organization allotted 2,100 kilograms of wheat seeds for families who suffered loss.
Villagers claim they never got the wheat, and lay the blame on village head Khlkhatyan. They filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General’s Office, charging that Khlkhatyan sold wheat intended as aid, and gave some to friends, rather than to families who needed it.
Further, they claim that Khlkhatyan faked the signatures of the villagers for whom the wheat was intended.
Villagers say they are always late with getting information about aid – flour, potatoes, etc. – that is sent to the village.
“Humanitarian aid, which the government gives, is stolen and after that they are surprised when people fill streets protesting and organizing demonstrations. We have a lot to protest about but we lack fact and this is the fact,” says villager Feodor Badalyan, showing a document he of what he claims are faked signatures.
“If they fake our signatures can you imagine what else they do? Grabbed wheat is a fact. Law-enforcement bodies love facts. The crime has been committed and let it be solved,” says Assyrian Ernest Yakubov.
“We had no idea the aid was sent to village and I bought 150 kg. of wheat for 180 drams (about 33 cents per kilo),” says Assyrian Liova.
However, villagers are more concerned with the fact of faking signatures than about mis-assigned seeds. They allege that the village head cohorts with those above him to make profit off of charity.
“So this is how they live on villagers. If head of the village is punished then crimes committed by people of higher ranks will be revealed and that's why they protect him,” concludes specialist of Russian and Assyrian languages Taisia Muradova.
Taisia Arsentievna, 79, was born in Dimitrov. She was deputy principal of the school and is an Honored Teacher.
“For many years head of the village has been stealing and people see that. But who gets ' Paros' aid? Poor people don't get the aid. Those, who have cars and cattle, get the aid,” the teacher says. “The father of head of the village says residents of Dimitrov are sheep and his son is shepherd and he will treat them the way he wants. How long are we going to live like this and be subjected to mockery?”
For his part, Khlkhatyan is confident of his actions. And, since the Regional Prosecutor's Office threw out the villagers’ case on grounds that there was “absence of crime in the act”, he does not deny that signatures were faked.
The 39-year old village head says it is wrong to give the villagers humanitarian aid.
“They teach people to become beggars,” Khlkhatyan says. “It doesn’t matter among whom I distributed aid as people would have complained in any case. If they complain why did they elected me for the third time?”
Villagers answer that they didn’t, in fact, elect Khlkhatyan, but that his election was assured by outdated election rosters that inflate the number of voters.
The election list, Badalyan says “contains the names of dead people. Many people are registered in the village but haven't been living here for a long time.”
A winning village head candidate must get two thirds of the votes. Badalyan says there is no way the actual number of villagers can outvote the number that were fraudulently counted for Khlkhatyan.
Villagers, both Assyrians and Armenians, are displeased with administration of the region, especially with Minister of the Regional Administration Hovik Abrahamyan.
Villagers say all positions in the region are held by relatives of the minister, including the position responsible for the water pipe supply, and water is the most painful problem in the village. As a result of the lack of water people cannot grow vegetables, which is a more profitable business than wheat (which requires less water).
“Everything dries up and dies and only then we get water,” says villager Nadia Alaverdova. “That’s why people leave. And if Assyrians had water and grew vegetables would they leave? They work in Krasnodar and Rostov but in that case they would have worked here.”