WikiLeaks: ‘Hummers, Numbers, and Oligarchs: Who’s Who on Armenia’s Streets’

YEREVAN (A.W.)–On Aug. 26, WikiLeaks released 846 U.S. Embassy cables originating in Yerevan, bringing the total number from the country to 856.

Below is a cable that describes the transportation vehicles of Armenia’s “tycoons,” including their choice of plate numbers and the significance of those numbers. Created on April 1, 2004, it was written by U.S. deputy chief of mission in Armenia Vivian Walker, and is titled “Hummers, Numbers, and Oligarchs: Who’s Who on Armenia’s Streets.”

The flagships of Yerevan's hierarchy of numbers are Yerevan's largest and most conspicuous automobiles: The four Hummer Humvees.

Walker observed the general public’s acceptance of the plate number system, which reserves certain combination of numbers for a hefty price. These numbers signify both the identity and connections of their occupants, deterring traffic police from stopping or pursuing them. “Thanks to the enterprising spirit of the heads of municipal traffic police, well-off Armenians have established family numbers—patterns and numbers that identify them and their close associates,” wrote Walker. “In many cases oligarchs have purchased exclusive use of all the double- zero plates available with their chosen number (that is, with all the possible combinations for the two letters in the middle) for the cars of their family, staff, and friends.”

Coincidentally, on Aug. 29, Armenia’s traffic police chief colonel, Margar Ohanian, was arrested for embezzlement. Three days earlier, another traffic police colonel, Stepan Karakhanian, was arrested, accused of embezzling 150 tons of fuel intended for use by police cars, reported RFE/RL.

The full text of the U.S. Embassy cable is below.






E.O. 12958: N/A





¶1. (u) This cable is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.




¶2. (SBU) Sometimes for pure vanity, sometimes as a charm against traffic police, Armenia’s residents are picking their own license plate numbers and paying handsomely for them. Flashy number plates have become de rigueur for Yerevan’s flashy cars, and identify relatives and close associates of Armenia’s tycoons. As even the middle classes cannot resist the temptation to pick their own lucky numbers, custom license plates have become a steady source of informal income for Armenia’s traffic police and another sign of Armenian society’s willingness to support petty corruption. End summary.


Royal Flush: The Hierarchy of Numbers


¶3. (SBU) Perhaps the president started it all with 001 uu 01, but the desirability for license plate numbers bearing double zeros and repeating numbers has caught on. Long a Standard practice in Armenia for official cars–the Defense Minister’s Mercedes bears 002 uu 02, the Speaker of Parliament’s, 001 oo 01, and the Prime Minister’s 001 ll 01- -Armenia’s oligarchs have adopted the same patterns for their private cars. Thanks to the enterprising spirit of the heads of municipal traffic police, well-off Armenians have established family numbers–patterns and numbers that identify them and their close associates. In many cases oligarchs have purchased exclusive use of all the double- zero plates available with their chosen number (that is, with all the possible combinations for the two letters in the middle) for the cars of their family, staff and friends.


Four Hummers: A Theme and Variation


¶4. (SBU) The flagships of Yerevan’s hierarchy of numbers are Yerevan’s largest and most conspicuous automobiles: The four Hummer Humvees. Gagik Tsaroukian (Dodi Gago), owner of Multi Group and Yerevan’s first Hummer (and now also, Yerevan’s first Rolls Royce) has de facto exclusive rights

to the various possibilities using 08 xx 008 (xx representing the various possible letter combinations) for his, his family’s, his staff’s and his security guard’s cars. Similarly, Samvel Aleksian (Lfik Samo), a proud owner of Yerevan’s second Hummer and Armenia’s sugar monopoly, has reserved 06 xx 006 and variations thereof for his friends and family. Ruben Hayrapetian, a.k.a. Nemets (German) Rubo owns Yerevan’s third Hummer, the Grand Tobacco Company and the plates 05 xx 005. A fourth Hummer, owned by President Kocharian’s son, bears the plate 07 uu 007, though in a nod to democracy (or perhaps, James Bond) variations of the 007 pattern are still available to the well-connected for USD 2,000 – 3,000, payable to the head of the traffic police.


Upward Mobility


¶5. (SBU) custom license plates aren’t reserved for Yerevan’s rich. Regional bosses have their own themes: 03 xx 001 means little in Yerevan but tells residents of Gyumri that the owner is friends or family with Gyumri’s Minister of Parliament. Middle class citizens are paying more modest sums for less prestigious plates–that is, those with mismatched numbers or without the two zeros. A Lada Niva for sale at a Yerevan car market with license plate 08 lt 009 costs USD 3,000 without plates, USD 4,500 with. The straight 12 ll 345, or the full house, 44 ll 333, can go for as little as USD 150.


Safety in Numbers


¶6. (SBU) Besides the benefits of vanity and prestige, lucky number plates bring immunity from harassment by the traffic police. Because special plates signify a special relationship–fiduciary or otherwise–with the head of traffic police, the street police are understandably reluctant to stop cars bearing custom numbers. While a brazen traffic cop might nevertheless stop a car bearing the simple 12 xx 123 (which signals, after all, little connection and a willingness to pay petty bribes), a plate bearing, for example, 05 xx 555 (belonging to Manvel Grigorian, the Deputy Minister of Defense, former truck driver and Karabakh war hero, once accused of accepting kickbacks from public utilities in Echmiadzin) is “as good as red [diplomatic] plates” says an embassy driver and former traffic police officer.


Comment: A Little More Equal?


¶7. (SBU) Even those Armenians who are unwilling to pay for custom license numbers are surprisingly willing to accept the practice as legitimate. It is not perceived as real corruption, noted the embassy fraud investigator, because anyone can receive a normal (random) license plate without paying a facilitation fee and, of course, all private numbers technically have the same legal status. Perhaps Armenians are so keen to accept (and support) the system because it simply adds clarity to familiar systems of nepotism and favoritism. At least you always know who’s cutting in front of you…


  1. Vanity numbers cost additional fee in California too.  Not that it will get you preferential treatment though. 

  2. Shame on us and shame to all those who called themselves politicians…these oligarchy Armenian traitors have no mercy on their own citizens.. these people became like vicious animals after Armenia’s independence. Twenty years is a long time now, they should pack their belonging and leave the country with their bloody “hummers” and sticklers, for good, enough is enough…  

    Every Politician every where 
    They work for their profits 
    Look to the British Prime Minster 
    Mr. Tony Blair… what he does 
    He travels to Gulf with his wife
    Giving the Arab advice…
    How to run their affairs 
    As if the Arabs don’t have clever brains 
    To run their state 
    Every contract he gets millions 
    Writers protested against him 
    But he doesn’t care 
    Continues to do… reaching recently 
    Further to the East Asia
    Continuing his political b***s 

  4. I agree with Grish Begian 100%.
    The government leaders have become “Armenian Traitors par excellence” and have no mercy on their own citizens. They have ruined the country, they are worse than the turks. The best thing they can do is to get out of the country and get lost.
    Our greatest need is to have righteous, God fearing, real Christian government leaders. May the Lord Jesus help our people and deliver us from evil government leaders.

  5. This is a good bunch of samples of good, innocent, honest and wise Armenians as commented here by many Armenian fellows. These handful people are supported by the poor Armenians who sacrifice their future, so they can lead such luxurious lives.

  6. This and many more examples of how “regular” armenians should behave in their own country in order to deserve respect of the very institutions designed to seemingly provide them protection, is a clear example of what a state our nation is in on a soceital and political level right now. It is as if we are only barely able to unite for a common good for all our countrymen if we are threatened by war, but do everything to destroy our own liability as a respecful society when we have to interact for other reason.

    To James – I agree with your opinion on the scumbags leaders, but please, for our own and any other religiously “troubled” nations sake… not, by any means mix the notion of state and governance with religion of any kind. Any stable democratic nation on this earth (if we see nations such as Germany or France as stable democracies) has earned it’s democratic justice and stable society for it’s citizens by seperating church and state completely. The armenian state should not be defined by it’s religion but by it’s strength to create a just society, productive for it’s citizens no matter what you believe in or don’t.

  7. It is funny how you guys think Levon Ter Petrosyan is a Turkish agent where Ter Petrosyan is a great supporter of democracy, human rights, justice and the rule of law, unlike such tyrannts as Kocharian or Sarkisian. Ter Petrosyan is a hero versus those two I mentioned, period.

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