75 year-old Felix Igityan was the first to come from Armenia to explore job possibilities in Javakhk.
Igityan made his way to the Akhalkalak village of Ghadolar because he had heard that there was work to be had installing a natural gas distribution system. He soon told his former work brigade buddies to join him.
“Hey, we’re Armenians but Javakhk is losing its Armenian residents. They are leaving because many communities have no gas. People have to burn dung to cook and warm their homes in the winter. No wonder they are leaving where conditions are better,” explains Igityan, who adds that he and his friends are doing their bit to keep Armenians in Javakhk.
Extensive gas works are now being undertaken in a number of area villages. The Georgian government plans to supply gas to all of Javakhk by the end of 2013.
The contractor carrying out the work in Akhalkalak and Ninotsminda is the Samtskhe-Javakheti Gas Company owned by the Sanosyan’s. The company’s executive director is Aram Sanosyan, brother of Armenian MP Hayk Sanosyan.
The company has already finished work in 15 of the 64 Akhalkalak district villages.
Four work brigades, about 15 men in all, from Armenia are installing gas in the villages of Tourtskh and Ghadolar.
I tell them that people from Javakhk usually travel to Armenia or Russia to find work.
“So what are you guys doing in Javakhk?” I ask them. Stepan Sargsyan, from the village of Shahoumyan in Armenia says that not just anyone can perform this specialized kind of work dealing with gas.
All the workers I met in Javakhk have years of experience under the belt.
The men complained that salaries in Georgia are less than in Armenia but that nowadays gas installation jobs are much more plentiful in Armenia’s northern neighbour.
The work crew has taken over an abandoned house in the village and make ends meet the best they can.
As you can see from the photos, the men wash and shave in the open alleyway outside the house.
Levon Petrosyan, one of the gas workers, compares the village to those in Armenia back in the 1960s. “This place reminds me of being in Karabakh,” he jokes.
Felix Igityan was in this very village back in the early 1980s and says that the only change he can see is the road from Akhalkalak to Aragva has been paved.
“There used to be 595 families in the village of Tourtskh were we are now working. Now there are only 190 residents left. The rest have left. Some really nice houses have been turned into cattle sheds. You need people to maintain the land and for the place to prosper,” laments Igityan.
The workers tell me that residents of Javakhk villages only pay for electricity and neither for drinking or irrigation water. Neither do they pay land tax.
Mikayel Mikayelyan argues that the Georgian tax system has its good and bad points. On the plus side is the fact that rural residents aren’t burdened with land and water taxes. The negative is that there are no organized rural municipalities to mange local issues. Such local governance bodies need to finance their own budgets, which they can’t.
The guys argue that a combination of factors can ultimately lead to Armenians leaving Javakhk for good.
“One day, mark my word, you’ll see that the Turks and Georgians have moved in,” says Mikayelyan.
For now, however, the men have about another two weeks of work in Ghadolar and Tourtskh.
They don’t know for sure if they’ll be moving on to other area villages afterwards. If they do, they tell me that their first priority will be finding a place with a working shower.