The Jungle


On October 3, 2023, the Armenian National Assembly passed into law the prohibition of the sale of animals that were not slaughtered in a licensed slaughterhouse. The law went into effect on December 3 of this year. This means that local cattle herders and shepherds must deliver their animals alive to licensed slaughterhouses, and the slaughterhouses then deliver the meat to butcher shops. 

In the United States, this would be a normal law, protecting citizens and guaranteeing the quality and safety of meat purchased. As I dig deeper into what the government of Armenia is trying to achieve with this decision, I remember many years ago when I read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle in school to learn about the evolution of food and drug regulations in the United States. Is our new legislation a means of making safer, cleaner meat a standard in Armenia, or is it a sinister move to force a taxable step into the livestock economy? The Ministry of Health would have to answer this question, by sharing instances of meat-related poisonings in Armenia, broken down by frequency and location. 

Having lived in Meghri for the better part of the past three years, my arguments come from a local perspective on this matter. The closest registered slaughterhouse to Meghri, which is located along Armenia’s southernmost border with Iran, is in the Syunik capital of Ghapan, which is 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) away, a one and a half hour drive from the city of Meghri itself and even farther for some of the surrounding villages. However, since slaughterhouses are private entities, and the slaughterhouse in Ghapan only butchers meat from its own farms, a person from Meghri would have to drive three hours to Goris for the closest slaughterhouse that accepts outside livestock. 

Since the law went into effect on December 3, the local meat that takes advantage of the rich pastures surrounding Meghri is no longer available for sale and has been replaced by lower quality product that is raised on industrial feed. While you may pay top dollar for Whole Foods grass-fed free range organic beef, Armenia’s latest legislation is preventing Meghri from having access to local livestock, raised by farmers who are known to locals and have a reputation that they have upheld proudly for years. In Meghri, we have not seen the sanitation standards of the slaughterhouse and do not have a good impression from witnessing the supplier’s truck, which brings a mix of lamb, beef and pork, mixed together, lying open and exposed on a piece of cardboard for at least the three hours on its journey from Goris to Meghri. Additionally, considering that I have not heard locals recount any instances of poisoning or disease directly related to a local butcher shop, the government’s intent is clear. 

But why not build a slaughterhouse in Meghri? As the American saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Meghri does not have any issues with local meat and is not seeking regulation on its local markets. However, due to the centralized legislative system in Armenia, this is not a choice. Multiple shepherds and cattle herders met with the Syunik state governor, and the response they received was that the onus is on an individual to open a slaughterhouse in Meghri or to take their livestock to Goris for slaughter, both of which are not economically viable solutions. The Armenian government’s rash geopolitical decisions have caused tensions with Russia, leading to the closure of its fruit import market, Meghri’s largest buyer of local produce. Now with the livestock business freezing in its tracks, how are local villagers supposed to make a living? Worse yet, with the slaughterhouse law, how will the church perform a traditional madagh?

To add salt to the wound, for the last two months the pistol and iPad clad “Baregayin” police have been deployed to Meghri and are wreaking havoc on a once free region of Armenia, where local customs did more to dictate law than official legislation. Some locals have shared with me that, according to unofficial data, more than 150 million drams (350,000 USD) in fines have been issued to the 100,000 residents of the Syunik area since the Baregs’ deployment. From traffic violations and missing paperwork to unlicensed drivers and absurd laws that have no regard for the local infrastructure or way of life, locals now live in fear of being fined every time they leave their homes. There is no DMV equivalent, no smog and brake test centers, and limited public transportation in the Meghri area, giving the Baregs a field day with the poorest of villagers.

The once libertarian lifestyle now feels like the American propagandized version of the Soviet Union, with an authoritarian rule of law that shows no mercy for its citizens.

Since PM Nikol Pashinian’s arrival, the supposed crackdown on corruption has mostly affected the lives of those living farthest from the capital city Yerevan. Before Pashinyan, and particularly before the arrival of the Bareg police force, who are not locals to the areas of their deployment, there was a natural equilibrium through which laws were and were not enforced, based on local customs and available infrastructure. Legislation comes from Yerevan, and there is no representative body to uphold the rights and livelihoods or make decisions for those living in Meghri. The new police, equipped with body cameras, also have no choice but to issue the fines, as a review of the footage could lead to an investigation as to why a fine was not issued for a violation, which can lead to a corruption investigation. I myself have witnessed a 10,000 AMD ($25) fine to a friend for having their driver’s license out of date by three days. The same occurrence in the U.S. would likely end in the officer giving a reminder to get it renewed.

EU-sponsored courthouse placard

Since, according to the World Bank, only 60-percent of Armenian adults have a high school education, with that number being much lower in rural villages, it makes sense that driver’s licenses have traditionally been obtained through bribery. With bribery no longer an option, many are left in a hopeless state, given the difficulty of the driving test. Here are two sample questions from the exam’s official English version:

What are the signs of principal arterial bleeding, and how does first aid for principal arterial bleeding begin? 

  1. Dark blood flows slowly out of the wound. A compression bandage is placed on the wound on which there is a note on the time of holding it on the wound. 
  2. Bright red blood flows from the wound, spouting strongly with intermittent flush or like a fountain. The injured artery should be squeezed with the fingers, then above the wound, as far as possible near the wound, a bleeding cord is placed, on which there is a note about the time for keeping it on. 
  3. Blood flows slowly from the wound. A bleeding cord is placed below the injury, with a note of time for keeping it on.

The answer is number 2.

In what cases should the victim be taken out of the car? 

  1. In the event of a car overturning, ignition, high probability of explosion or loss of consciousness of the victim. 
  2. In case of a car overturning, ignition, high probability of explosion or hyper freezing of the victim, loss of consciousness and breathing, as well as in case of impossibility to provide first aid directly in the cabin. 
  3. In the event of a car overturning, ignition, high probability of explosion or severe bleeding, craniocerebral injury.

The answer is number 2.

Regardless of how one obtained their drivers license, prior to the arrival of the Baregs, residents in the Meghri area had the liberty of driving without a license, which was particularly advantageous to teens who live far from school in a region with no school buses. The closest location to take the driver’s test is in the provincial capital, Ghapan. I would be interested, and also surprised, to see if there is a correlation between accidents in Meghri and unlicensed drivers to justify the strict enforcement in such a rural area.

One of six EU-sponsored Bareg police cars in Meghri

Over the last 50 years, there has been a heavy migration from the surrounding villages of Meghri to the city of Meghri itself, leaving many villages completely empty. The villages of Vank, Galer, Lijk, Guris, Gudemis, Vahravar and Garjevan, once thriving, now only have a handful of residents, if any at all. However, many people with family roots in those villages maintain their relationships to the villages by visiting frequently, hosting celebrations and spending their summers as well as keeping livestock, bees and gardens in the very cottages that they or their parents grew up in. 

The recent strict enforcement of various laws is destroying what was left of any remaining life in these villages, and leaves me increasingly feeling that we are living under foreign rule and not in the homeland we were raised to believe was our home.That may be so, as the Meghri courthouse and the new Bareg police vehicles all feature EU flags, and the similarly foreign-funded red beret contingent is scheduled for deployment to Meghri this January. Jungles are synonymous with being unruly, but in its own twisted way, life in rural Armenia is feeling more and more like a jungle, and less like the civilized society that it was when I first moved here.



Garin is an alumnus of the AYF Chicago "Ararat" Chapter. He lives in the town of Meghri in Syunik, Armenia.

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1 Comment

  1. If you know anything about Chicago, it’ll come as no surprise that the writer has such a cavalier approach to the law. I’m not Armenian and, just as probably 99.9% of Armenians, I’ve never read the Armenian constitution (yes, there is one), but I suspect there’s nowhere in that document where it states that it’s OK for any individual Armenian to obey, respect, or interpret that constitution any way they wish.
    From an historical perspective it seems Armenia has virtually always been ruled by other nations or has otherwise lost most of whatever land it once claimed. And, although the Armenian “haves” love to tool around in their Bentleys, Range Rovers, G-Wagons, and Porsches, the vast majority of Armenians are stuck in nowhere. To most people, those would be a pretty clear indication that something in society is not working. If you’ve spent any time anywhere in Armenia, including in any section of Yerevan, let alone Meghri, you know the “let us do what we’ve always done” attitude the writer desires for Meghri is also pretty much desired by Armenians everywhere, even those in the diaspora. Given the obvious lack of progress for most Armenians from doing “what we’ve always done,” now just might be the time you finally give the Rule of Law a try.
    Representative democracy is not easy, especially if you’re used to blaming all of your problems on somebody else, but it only gets harder (or gets taken away) the longer you ignore it and “do what we’ve always done.” As I was told growing up, and as I told my sons when they were growing up, “if you don’t like the law, change the law, don’t break the law.” As worthless as your elected representatives and law enforcement may be, your job as a responsible, active, voting citizen is to make society better, not to assure that it stagnates (or regresses) just so you can “do what we’ve always done,” especially considering that that’s been such a disaster. Perhaps the reason there are no Meghri-centric laws and there is non-resident law enforcement in Meghri is because Meghri has never tried to uphold the law nor demanded or lobbied for those laws or for local control of their community or police.
    Maybe, instead of whining about not permitting anyone with a dead animal and an axe from selling meat butchered on some filthy street, you should take a look at what’s actually being done in other parts of Armenia. See just one excellent example here:
    And about those poor unlicensed, unregulated teenage drivers? Have you ever seen how most people “drive” in Armenia, not even including typically reckless teenage drivers? Have you ever seen the vehicles? There’s a reason why virtually every vehicle in Armenia has some type of collision damage, including a high percentage of vehicles without one or both bumpers. Who do you blame that on?
    As for the EU funding of the police vehicles (as well as for the millions in grants and special funding from the U.S. and other countries), it’s my understanding that the money is to help tackle the corruption (which is destroying Armenia) that Armenia itself has essentially done nothing about in – like – forever. If you’re objecting to this, my guess is that the taxpayers of all of those other countries would be more than happy to stop throwing money into that black hole.

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