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Armenian Minister Urges Protesting Farmers to Rob Winery Owner’s House

A group of grape farmers from the Ararat province village of Kaghtsrashen gathered again Thursday outside the Armenian government’s offices to demand a meeting with prime minister Karen Karapetyan and talk with him about the millions of drams they are still owed from 2015 harvest.

Nonetheless, protester Nerses Ghazaryan said in conversation with Epress.am the farmers no longer believed that state officials would take any steps to solve the issue. “We are fighting for money we’ve earned with our own sweat and toil, but they keep lying to us. Our prime minister talks big on TV but he won’t come out and speak with us personally. His predecessor Hovik Abrahamyan, at least deigned to meet with us and sent 50 million [drams] which was distributed among some of the farmers. If the current prime minister followed suit, the entire debt would be covered. We have even appealed to the president, but to no avail. It is all a lie; they only pretend to work,” Ghazaryan said.

The farmers did not get to meet with the head of the government today after all; however, they managed to stop agriculture minister Ignaty Arakelyan on his way to a Thursday government sitting. Arakelyan, for his part, insisted that he had no relation whatsoever with the issue at hand since the villagers have been deceived by the Vinar winery. The minister further insisted that he has done his best to help the farmers by referring the matter to the office of the Prosecutor General.

As the conversation went on, however, Arakelyan began offering the protesters alternative ways of settling the issue. The minister, for example, proposed that the farmers should enter Vinar co-owner Avet Galstyan’s house and take his property. “He has taken something that belongs to you; he is not giving you your money. You have to go to his house and take away whatever catches your eye; there is no other way,” Arakelyan urged.

The protesters, in turn, replied that they would only resort to such a step if the minister guaranteed that they would not be arrested afterwards. “We are not afraid of Avo, we are afraid of these guys in uniform. Who the hell is Avo to eat my money? We are afraid that [the police] will come and say to us. ‘Who the hell are you to lay a finger on Avo?’ Where did Avo come from? The government has brought him around, not my father. Let someone from the government then come and take responsibility of him,” one of the protesters told the minister.

Arakelyan, in response, insisted again that he had no authority over such matters, said he was late for the meeting and hurried to the government building.

Deputy agriculture minister Robert Makaryan also came out today to speak with the protesters and told them that Avet Galstyan has promised to distribute 10 million drams among the farmers in the coming days. When asked by a reporter where Galstyan was going to get the money from – since he has been constantly claiming that he has no money to pay the villagers – Makaryan replied; “It is not our responsibility to establish the source of the funds. But today he is coming to the ministry, and we will decide when and how we will give out the 10 million drams he has promised.”

The protesters, for their part, claimed they would begin taking extraordinary measures if they were lied to again.