Sunday, October 28, 2007

Better than Heaven Armenia

Walking along the Toumanian street in the centre of Yerevan, I passed by the shop of a person I have come to know since he came to Armenia a couple of years ago to be a part of Galus Sahakyan’s ‘Better-than-Heaven’ business boom. Miran was propping up the post of his front door at the top of the few steps that lead up to his small but well-fitted ladies clothes shop, and as usual, in passing I asked, how’s life? Miran, a chirpy and optimistic person, would usually smile and reply - ‘fine thanks’ and that would be the end of our brief but pleasant encounter. But this time Miran’s smile was replaced by a ‘not altogether’.

Concerned about what had caused this apparent downturn in Miran’s outlook on life, I stopped for a chat. They won’t let me get on with my business said Miran. What’s the problem, I asked, isn’t your patron (sponsor) doing his bit, or does he already want more pie than there is pastry? What patron, Miran retorted, I don’t need a patron, I just need to be left in peace to get on with my business in a normal honest way.

The reason for Miran’s disgruntledness was immediately obvious, I had seen it so many times before, a repeat of what inevitably happens sooner or later to all members of the international community who come to Armenia to be a part of Galus’s ‘Better-than-Heaven’ business boom. Let them spend their money sprucing up a shop or restaurant and establishing a clientele, and then when all seems to be going well, hit them with a Galus Googly. At this time, our ‘Better-than-Heaven’ investor will better have become the soul mate, or even better have become the family member of his or her Armenian patron, who should be well-placed among the state authorities. Because any idea of running an honest business in Armenia is simply off the cards, irrespective of who you are or from where you hail. State Intolerance of legal business activity is the foundation of Armenian politics, it is a fundamental part of the grip the authorities have on the social framework, and any business person wishing to buck the system will find that their illegal activities will eventually be used against them.

Through this state-enforced illegal business exclusivity, the authorities are able to dictate the will of the people; especially critical at times of major decisions, such as when the people go to elect their new parliament or their new president. It is at these times the livelihood of any business person who may wish to not toe the political line will come under heightened threat, and that will often threaten the livelihoods of a long string of vote carrying workers and family members who are dependent on that business person for their meager existences.

In this way, not only do the incumbents control the votes of central and regional government workers and their families, but also the entire business community and their dependents. Opposition candidates are well aware that this seemingly insurmountable hurdle needs to be overcome for them to have any hope of coming anywhere near to challenging what has already become a very well established autocratic Armenian society.