THE PLUNDER OF THE ARMENIAN HOMELAND
The Karen Demirchian sports complex was recently privatized
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." - Nicolo Machiavelli
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.