People always speak of the rampant corruption occurring in Armenia. Here are two stories of what the corruption is like. The first comes from a friend who heard the story from one of the pipe-layers. The second comes first hand from that same friend.
#1 The Naive (Armenian-)American
There was an Armenian-American who visited this small town in Armenia and noticed how hard it was for old people to go get water from the well. Being a proper Armenian, he decided to fund a piping system to bring the water to this and a neighboring village to make it easier for the old people. He spent $10,000 of his own money and organized contractors to lay the piping and record their work so he can oversee it from America.
The contractor got to work laying the pipe. He paid a number of workers to do the work and everything seemed great. The people, the mayor, the contractor and the American couldn’t be happier. The piping for the first town was finished, so there was a small celebration and the contractor took lots of pictures to send back to the American.
After the celebrations end, the contractor told the workers to dig up the pipes. Wanting to get paid, they did so. The contractor then had the workers lay the same piping to the second village. Another small celebration occurs with nice pictures taken for the American to show all of his Armenian friends and family in the US what he accomplished with this money.
Then the contractor dug up the piping, sold the pipes and pocketed the money.
There is no doubt that the mayors of those towns get a healthy chunk of the money, so there’s little reason for them to challenge the contractor. And, when protesting can get your house burned down or when you honestly believe that your mayor’s connections (i.e. corruption) is the only way that any money or services will come to your village, there isn’t much a villager can do.
#2 Bringing a Kalashnikov to a Knife Fight.
My friend is a swell fellow who donated his time freely when he was rich once upon a time. At this point, he was volunteering to fix up the kid’s room at the local hospital. The room was in terrible condition and it took him and a few other volunteers a good amount of time to fix it up and give it a fresh coat of paint. In the end, the room was rather nice. So nice that the department officers wanted the room for themselves.
My friend gets a call one evening to “come quickly, they’re trying to take the room.” He shows up to hear the head of the department trying to take over the room for his own office.
“What are you doing? This room is meant for the kids. You can’t just take it.”
“Hey, hey, hey. This is my department. I choose how the resources are used. Besides, you forgot what country you’re in. It’s best not to ruffle too many feathers here before something bad happens to you.”
This is when most reasonable people would have cowered. Key word being reasonable.
“Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am? Do you think I’m just some naïve Diasporan? You don’t think I have my own connections? I’ll tell you right now, if anything happens to me, you’re dead. If I get hit by a car, if my bus catches on fire, if I so much as cut my finger, you’re dead. Not just you, but your family is dead to. Don’t expect it to be a slow death either. My guys will slowly kill your children in front of your eyes before they turn to you. These aren’t empty threats, I’m calling my people as soon as I step out of that door.”
“Whoa whoa whoa! This is getting too heated, let’s take the night off and talk in the morning.”
Morning comes around, and suddenly the department head’s story changes, “there was a misunderstanding last night. Of course nothing will happen to the kids room.”
As I can’t have a blog post without any links. Here is a comment about how corruption remains a “serious problem” in Armenia. More visceral and depressing, here’s a story of art “gone missing” from the National Gallery for over a year with no criminal charges being pressed.