When Tzav village mayor Ararat Martirosyan tries to describe the situation in his community a smile appears on his face.
“I’d like to say something good but can’t find anything good to say,” he laughs, adding, “We’re a far removed border village that’s even 4 kilometres from any map.”
The village has about 400 residents and is 37 kilometres from the regional centre of Kapan in Syunik Marz. Tzav is actually situated in the Shikahogh forest preserve.
Mayor Martirosyan says that village residents aren’t allowed to chop any trees in the preserve or even remove dried tree branches for fuel.
“The trees have more value than us humans. This isn’t good. People won’t remain here. If they can take you to court for chopping down one tree then who would want to stay here? They’ll go to the towns. Many have already left.”
The only jobs in town are to be found in the small hydr0-electric plant. Around 15 villagers work there.
Many others have left to work in the Kapan or Kajaran mines. During the last two years, 20 families have already packed up and left Tzav.
This is why the village is split on whether the Bardzradir (Mazra) gold mine should be allowed to operate. Some want the prospect of new jobs while others want to keep the clean air and water of the countryside.
Kindergarten Director Larisa Gevorgyan is sure that the mine will cause air pollution and is against the mine.
“We are fighting for a healthy new generation. Can a mine give us this?” she asks.
71 year-old grandpa Razmik says they have many complaints.
“The mine people say they will pay us well, but it’s not in our favour,” he says.
Mayor Martirosyan is opposed to all kinds of mining.
“It’s our valley and has remained virgin land. They should at least let this one remain,” declares the mayor.
Mining exploration is being carried out by a company called Opulent Trading Solutions.
At public hearings held on May 29, company engineer Vram Tevosyan presented the project to the community and said that the mine was planned to operate in 14 years and that studies would be conducted in the first three.
Tevosyan assured residents that the mining project would not damage the surrounding environment or pollute the air.
“Modern explosion technologies allow for minimal pollution on the local environment. Instead of dust clouds spreading to a distance of one kilometre, they can now be restricted to 300-400 meters,” Tevosyan claimed.
Based on these assurances, the mayor gave the go-ahead for exploration tests on 30 hectares on land once used as pasture.
Mayor Martirosyan said they’ve been prospecting for gold, silver and other precious metals on the same site ever since the 1970s.
He said this was probably the tenth round of tests and that no one has ever discovered a large enough reserve to justify further investment.
“I placed a condition on the exploration agreement. You have just one year to prospect. Once you’re finished you can come back and negotiate another contract.”
Environmentalists are concerned that the mine will damage the Shikahogh preserve. Some villagers do not agree. The mine is 15 kilometres from the village and from the preserve.
Mayor Martirosyan is not convinced. He’s afraid the mine will pollute the village’s source of drinking water, situated as it is at the mine site.
15 young village residents are now employed on the exploration team. Rumors abound that the number of jobs will increase.
“I work as an accountant at the village municipality and make 40,000 AMD monthly. But I just got paid for February. If I find out that the mine will pay me 120,000, I’ll go there and work,” says Hounan Grigoryan.
Mayor Martirosyan says that if there were 15-20 jobs in the village, everybody would be against the mine, even the exploration work.
21 year-old Azat has been working on the exploration team for over one month. He’s all for the mine since he believes there’ll be enough jobs for everyone in the village.
Mayor Martirosyan points to eco-tourism as an employment alternative and believes the area is ideally suited for the sector. He says that many tourists already make a point to visit the village since they have heard about Shikahogh.
He says that environmental projects are being drawn up for the villages surrounding the preserve.
The German Bank wants to heavily invest to preserve the environment in this region. Along with preserving the environment, international agencies also are assisting in agricultural development issues and in the repair of village houses.
The Tzav municipality has won a 10,000 Euro project competition to be used for various local purposes. Next year, there is the chance of winning a 200,000 Euro project.
Some 3 million AMD linked to environmental programs has already been invested in Tzav and other projects are slowly proceeding.
Former municipal council member Spartak Avetisyan doesn’t believe that the German projects are realistic.
“They distributed 35,000 AMD to each family but we have to pay it back in September. What can you do with that amount? Nothing,” says Avetisyan, who believes that jobs are needed to keep residents from moving away.
“If they want to keep this place a virgin zone, let them repopulate all of us and have the Germans move in. They can come and spend their vacations here and say what a fabulous place this is. No one pays attention to the sweat and toil we have to do,” says an irate Avetisyan.
Nevertheless, Mayor Martirosyan says he’ll never support the mine even if 99% of the village back it.
“In my capacity as the mayor I’ll declare that I’m changing my nationality,” he warns.