Armenian Lives

New Internationalist
April 2004

Armenian Lives

A photo essay on poverty and transition by Onnik Krikorian

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

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.