Friday, December 29, 2006

Working against all odds

Last nights return to Martuni following my visit to Yerevan on Christmas to deliver the New York Life settlement to my relatives who living under less than favorable conditions really got me thinking. Road conditions were really bad, so the almost 9 hours ride gave me lots of time to think.

What got me thinking was seeing my relatives living under very compromising conditions. Why is it that my blood-relatives who live in the homeland along with the majority of their fellow countrymen are facing such hard times?

When the Soviet Union fell, Armenia had a very good chance to develop into the most stable and prosperous former Soviet republic according to Western experts. We had the basic infrastructure any modern country needs. We had factories (some were of course obsolete, but many were not), educational institutions, a transportation system that used our own natural resources (electricity), a telecommunication system and most important, a population who for the most part were united. This unity was confirmed a few years later with the first victory the Armenian people had against their Turkic-Azeri neighbors who had many times before tried to wipe them out. So with all that, why did things not pan out and Armenia finds itself 16 years later in shambles? Why are my relatives and most people in Armenia living under less than favorable conditions and why are so many things working against them?

Yes we had a war, are facing threats and blockade on our boarders from two sides. We have less than stable neighbors to the North and South, one who is kind of controlled and the other who is being threatened by the U.S.

On the other hand, we are supposedly experiencing double-digit economic growth and have been for a number of years. Minimum wage has gone up, pensions, the salary of school teachers and government workers have also doubled in the last few years.

A few years back, one could get by with the $100 a month they were getting from their relative who moved to Los Angeles in hopes for a better life. Today, if one can pay their electricity, gas, water and telephone with the 36,200 dram that $100 converts to (20,000 dram less than what it was worth 2 years ago) they are not living beyond their means too much. That means one only need to figure out how to pay for food, transportation and other expected and unexpected expenses that arise during the month. Of course the job that you have which pay 20,000 a month helps, but what you have to pay to get to work and related expenses to your job like the need for presentable clothes and your share for the coffee and sweats in many cases is a wash. So what’s the point of working and what about people who don’t have money coming each month from Los?

Then we have the 10 richest people in Armenia list which includes many government officials who can’t explain and deny they have the wealth which the list claims they do. These are the same people who brag about the double-digit growth and often talk of how well off people are.

Bottom line is that something is just not right here. While I was writing this log, my wife asked me the question of when will the average person in Armenia and Artsakh who has a job and follows the rules put down by the government be able to live a semi-normal life? Normal salary, heated house, hot water, paved roads, a variety of foods, access to a good education and the other basic things that those in West take for granted.

Though this log is already quite long, I want to note that my dreams lately have been featuring visits with people who no longer walk among the living, people who have had heart to heart talks with me just months before their death. The one that seems to be visiting the most is Vartkes Barsam, a man who did so much for Armenia and Artsakh and did all this not for name recognition, but for the sake of helping those less fortunate.

The last time I saw Vartkes was in April of this year. During my 4 hour visit, this man of little words and many actions told me things that I had never heard come out of his mouth. He spoke of his work, the things he had done for Armenia/Artsakh and his impression of the government, who he made a point of not being social with. The one thing he said that has stuck in head is all the money he arranged to be sent for relief efforts starting with the earthquake, throughout the Artsakh war and up to his death a few months ago, the donation of a hotel and business center he had built to the AUA. He said that when they were sending money in the early days, government officials were living it up, acquiring new and very expensive cars. He asked them where the cars had come from, suspecting the acquisitions were made with the money he had send and was told that they received them as gifts. He said that he felt with the hardship the country was facing, a leader who really is interested in serving their people would sell those cars and help the people.

In closing I would say that I understand most of the problems we face today and what is preventing the common working stiff in Armenia from living a life with the basic amenities we really do take for granted in the West. Of course it’s not an easy fix, but is doable and the sooner we all embark on that road towards social, economic and spiritual and bite the bitter bullet what no one wants to even talk about, the better off we will all be.

I invite all of you to think long and hard as to what YOU will do to be a part of a prosperous Armenia and put an end to the suffering our people are facing.

In a few days, Santa and his helpers will be visiting families in Lachin who are facing the worst imaginable conditions that anyone in all of Armenia are facing. These are people who are facing starvation and even death due to government policies. Though financial assistants is really only a band-aid, our helping them directly sends a message to the government responsible for their hardship that we know what is going on and by making up for their deficiencies gives us a voice to demand the restoration of the services they are obligated to provide to the people they were elected to serve.

For those of you ready to take up the call of helping out a fellow human, you can read about our program Hand-To-Hand and see if the methods we are using makes sense to you and if it does and you would like to give, you may make a tax-deductible contribution to this program by sending a check to:

The Shahan Natalie Family Foundation, Inc.
3727 W Magnolia Blvd., Suite 215
Burbank, CA 91505

You can also make your donation with a credit-card via Paypal by clicking on the donation button below.

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