Goris: Calloused spirits and low expectations

Middle-aged stout and red-cheeked Sona Navasardyan angrily raised her arms in the air upon hearing the word “election”.

“Damn the inventors of elections, because they put us into trouble every other year. Elections for ordinary people like us are only headaches that don’t change anything in our life.”

As parliamentary elections draw closer, pre-election passions are getting stronger in Goris, a town situated 250 kilometers to the south of Yerevan, with its narrow streets and original stone houses.

In this general pre-election period Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are active in Goris as they try to raise public awareness about voter rights, through grant-driven promotion of articles, booklets, posters, information leaflets, etc.

However, the results of this guided work are not always obvious.

While one part of voters shows indifference to the upcoming elections, some people fly into fury over continuing unemployment and various unresolved problems, then a solid mass of voters are interested not in bombastic promises of candidates, but in having “expectations” from one candidate or another.

“I expect money from elections, I will vote for the one who gives me money,” says without hesitation one of the organizers of constant debates near Goris’s “Seven Springs” monument, Artush Karapetyan.

“Take from all, and go and give your vote to whoever you want,” senior citizen Seryozha Mirzoyan continues the thought.

While during the parliamentary elections in 2003 the amount of money mentioned in such conversations was 3-5,000 drams, then now the price for the right to vote, a democratic criterion, has risen several times.

There are talks today about electoral bribes of some 10,000 drams (about $28). According to another talk spread in the town, one of the “strong” parties collects citizens’ passport in exchange for 50 kilograms of flour.

How these passports will be used or what influence the upcoming elections will have on public and social life seems to be of little concern especially to young people.

This is clear from recent surveys among youth conducted in five towns of the Syunik region by the “Rights Information Center” NGO.

“What are elections for you?”, “Are you interested in pre-election events?”, “Do you think these elections will be free and fair?”, “What expectations do you have from elections?” – answering these and numerous similar questions young people of Goris expressed dis-interest toward the pre-election processes.

“I am indifferent towards elections, as I never felt their positive results,” says 20-year-old Heghine Mkrtchyan. “However, at the same time I am well aware that if we, young people, do not engage in politics, then political forces will engage in us, using us.”

But unlike the indifference among young people, teachers showed a peculiar activity during the survey, with a positive tendency.

“I don’t have particular expectations, but I am going to participate in the polls and support a deserving party and candidate with my vote. If people think like I do and participate in the elections, make sure their votes count, then the election conduct will be fair,” says Ruzanna Martirosyan, a teacher at Axel Bakunts School in Goris.

One of the teachers at another school, asking not to give her name, whispered that the optimism of teachers has its reasons.

“We aren’t fools to say things after which we will be fired. We have husbands, brothers… it’s a small town, all know who is whose relative. With one frank opinion you may create problems for them,” she said.

Unlike the “good” opinions of teachers, Ara Grigoryan, who has a PhD in physics, has no good expectations from these elections. He gives assurances that the coming elections will not change anything in the difficult lives of people.

“What will change if the same people will stand at the helm of power? Fair elections are impossible. What fair elections can we talk about in a totally corrupt country?” Grigoryan expressed his opinion without evasion, adding: “If they are going to fire me from the school village for my words, let them do that…”

However, a larger part of Goris residents avoid speaking from their hearts in the atmosphere of fear, indifference or bias.