Sunday, 08 December

"How Many Trees You Have is More Important Than Being Elected Village Head": Local Elections in One Armenian Village



Only slightly more than half of the residents of the village of Nrnadzor in Syunik Province voted in Sunday's municipal elections, and though, according to preliminary results, the significant majority voted for the sole mayoral candidate, Mkrtich Mkrtchyan, villagers believe becoming mayor is not as important as owning land and salvaging crops after the winter frost. Nrnadzor, after all, is a small village, and it is confronted with more important issues on an everyday basis than elections for the village head and seats on the council.  

Several years ago, it was nearly impossible to get to the village of Nrnadzor, about 450 km from the capital, near Armenia's border with Iran. The road went over deep winding canyons and was only one lane wide so that if two cars going in opposite directions happened upon one another, one car had to reverse — sometimes several kilometers — to let the other pass. And though the new road constructed along the former railway is pebbly, unpaved, and longer, it is, nevertheless, an improvement over the old road. 

There is a feeling of being at the end of the earth: scrap heaps, the ruins of destroyed buildings, the nearly impassable village roads, the scanty and impoverished homes, the locks on the doors, naturally, do not suggest that something important is happening in the rural community. 

The first person the Hetq correspondent going to cover the local elections met was Irina Vasilyeva of Russian descent. According to her, though the issue of supplying water to the village has been partly resolved, residents continue to collect water from the village spring, since the main water pipe froze in the winter, and it costs money to repair it. One of the main problems in the village is the supply of irrigation water, since the only source of income for inhabitants are their crops, and the need for water especially in the summer in this southern hot climate is paramount. Irina says residents don't talk about these issues publicly because, according to her, they cannot be solved. 

The picture is rather sad, and one wonders whether it's possible to change something in this isolated community through elections. Even human resources are lacking in this border village: "There are 104 voters registered on the electoral list, but I'm convinced that barely half will vote. I'm from Karchevan; I was nominated by the Prosperous Armenia party, but I heard from the locals that the majority of voters are outside [of the country]," said president of the electoral commission Arto Aghayan, noting that 6 candidates will compete for 5 spots on the village council. He also informs me that he hasn't comprised a supplementary list of voters.  

As of 12 pm on March 9, voting day, 34 people had voted. In the following two hours, only 2 people came, accompanied by incumbent and sole candidate for village mayor Mkrtich Mkrtchyan.  The mayor had voted much earlier but spent a long time in one of the rooms of the school building that doubled as the polling station. "I drink a cup of tea; plus, it was cold; he brought the heater and we turned it on," said electoral commission member, Armenian Revolutionary Federation nominee Gagik Khalafyan, explaining the mayoral candidate's presence in the precinct, while accompanying the village mayor. When Mkrtchyan again tried to enter the precinct, the commission president asked him to step outside, as "he doesn't have the right to be present during voting." 

The commission president, Arto Aghayan, also says that there are neither observers nor proxies in the precinct. However, all seven members of the electoral commission were on the scene, and, according to Aghayan, they are performing their duties in the manner prescribed by law. In the two hours the Hetq correspondent was in the precinct, the record book of voters was constantly closed on the table, and commission secretary Kristine Stepanyan refused the Hetq correspondent's request to open it. "That I can't do; I don't have the right," she said, holding it shut with her hands.  

While waiting for voters, commission members expressed their concerns regarding the winter frost, impatiently waiting for the weather to get warmer to see whether any of their crops are salvageable or not. "In the villages of Meghri as here what's important is not for you to be elected village head but how many trees you have," jokes electoral commission member, Heritage Party nominee Karen Stepanyan.  

According to this logic, it must make no difference for the sole village mayor candidate that, according to the preliminary election results, of the 58 people who voted only 4 voted against him. It's possible, since he didn't even want to speak with us. "I'm sick," he said curtly. 


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