New Internationalist

Armenian lives

Issue 366

A photo essay on poverty and transition by Onnik Krikorian

(Please note: we are still awaiting permission to publish the photos from this photo-essay on-line, so please be patient and watch this space..)

Throughout the former Soviet Union, the transition to a market economy has incurred a heavy price. In Armenia, according to official statistics, 50 per cent of the people live below the national poverty line and 23.7 per cent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. The National Statistics Service reports that 70 per cent of Armenians live on a staple diet of macaroni, bread and potatoes. Armenia has the most unequal distribution of wealth in all of the former Soviet Union. The new World Bank-initiated Poverty Reduction Strategy (2003) has identified endemic corruption and a shadow economy that accounts for up to 60 per cent of all business dealings in the Republic.

Pic 1: The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) identifies urban poverty as a growing concern in Armenia. In Yerevan, this family lives in a dilapidated hostel. One week after this photograph was taken, the child sitting on her mother’s lap died.

Pic 2: Armenian refugees from the conflict with Azerbaijan lead a precarious existence. According to the Armenian Government, there are 245,106 refugees registered in the Republic and over 70,000 who have been displaced from the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

Pic 3: A man living in dilapidated housing in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, removes copper wire from old appliances to sell. He will earn 300 dram (about 50 cents) for every kilo of copper he retrieves.

Pic 4: A pensioner catches fish in a lake near the southern town of Sisian. With pensions standing at approximately 5,000 dram a month (less than $10), he will sell the fish for around 20 cents each to businesses that will then sell them for considerably more in Yerevan. Pic 5: After having their three children taken and placed in a children’s home, this couple work sweeping the streets for 15,000 dram a month (approximately $30) in order to provide for a family home they and their children can return to.

Pic 6: Life for some, however, is not bad. Corruption, as elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, is endemic in Armenia and especially in the police force. Although salaries for police officers stand at around $20 a month, bribes from passing motorists are commonplace and are passed up in a chain that leads straight to the top.

Pic 7: Twelve years after Armenia declared independence from the former Soviet Union, internal social tensions escalated during the presidential elections held in 2003 as a result of poor living standards. The Council of Europe considered that the elections fell far short of international standards. More than 40,000 Armenians took to the streets in support of the main opposition candidate to protest the announcement of a second term for the incumbent, Robert Kocharian.

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