Home / Provinces / Grape Farmers Keep Children Off School to Protest Against Unpaid Money

Grape Farmers Keep Children Off School to Protest Against Unpaid Money

Dozens of grape farmers from the village of Aghavnadzor in Armenia's Vayots Dzor province blocked the entrance to the local school on September 1 in protest against the failure of Vedi Alco winery to pay for grapes that were purchased from them last autumn. The protesters, claiming that they could not afford to send their kids to school, parked a vehicle in front of the main school gates, refusing to allow students or teachers enter the building. 


Speaking to reporters, the villagers said they would boycott classes until Vedi Alco paid the farmers' money. The protesters added that they were ready to resort to even more drastic measures, such as blocking an interstate highway and not taking part in the upcoming local self-government elections, scheduled for October.


On Wednesday, an Epress.am correspondent visited the village of Aghavnadzor and spoke to several grape farmers about the issue. Haykaz Asatryan, to whom the winery owes 2.3 million drams ($4829), stated that Aghavnadzor farmers were owed approximately AMD 140 million drams (about $300,000) in total. He stressed, however, that the farmers put the blame of the current situation not so much on Vedi Alco but prime minister Hovik Abrahamyan, who had promised them the previous year that everyone's produce would be purchased and paid for by local wineries. 

“He said 'No one's grapes will be left behind.' At his urging, Vedi Alco took our produce, and for a very low price at that –  for only 120 drams per kilogram. The winery was saying they would not be able to pay us, but Government officials forced them to take the grapes. They were told they would be provided with loans and such, but they weren't since they had already taken out other loans,” Asatryan said.

About two months ago, the farmer went on, PM Abrahamyan met with the villagers and reassured them that the issue would soon be resolved; his promise, however, has yet to be fulfilled.

The issue with the purchase of the farmers' produce, according to Asatryan, is quite deep-rooted; “The thing is that a few years ago the state leased Aghavnadzor's lands to several wine companies, among them Vedi Alco, for a minuscule price – AMD 10 thousand per annum – and they have since planted vineyards there. So now they are using their own grapes, leaving the villagers in uncertainty.”

As a result of the unpaid money, nearly 80 percent of Aghavnadzor villagers have found themselves in increasingly difficult situations. “The entire village is covered in debts. Last year, one of the residents even hanged himself because he was unable to pay off his loans,” Asatryan noted.

Details in the video (ARM):