New Hope for Old Problems: Haghpat’s Mayor Fights for Water, Gas
During the last ten years of our travels to the Tumanyan district of Lori Marz, Sergo Karyan, the newly elected community leader of Haghpat, is perhaps the only literate local official we have met. He told us that before being elected community leader, the prosecutor’s office had seized accounting documents for the 2005-2008 period and they have yet to return them. As a result the newly elected leader hasn’t been able to familiarize himself with the financial problems facing the community. Sergo Karyan stated that he’s decided to organize his work according to the wishes of the villagers and that his 2009 work schedule and list of projects for the community is based on the demands that residents have voiced. “We have ascertained that their primary demand is the gasification of the village. Gas pipes were fitted to reach the village some 2-3 years ago but residents haven’t been able to use them due to the severe social situation. In order to resolve this issue the Community Council voted to petition the RoA Ministry of Nature Protection to direct 7 million drams out of the 9.7 million allocated by the Armenian government to the community’s ecological budget for the construction of an internal gas distribution system. We have received their agreement to this and have thus placed an order for an outline of such a gas distribution system. The draft has already been drawn up,” stated Sergo Karyan. Mr. Karyan is convinced that by solving the gasification issue the ecological issue will be solved as well. “270 families live in the village and they use 4,000 cubic meters of wood to heat their homes in the winter at a cost of 32 million drams. By solving the gas issue we’ll be assisting the villagers and saving the forest.” The village mayor stated that it was vital to renovate the old kindergarten building for the village’s 30 young children. Haghpat inherited a typical kindergarten building from the Soviet era which has gone to ruin during the past six years and “the fixtures have been gnawed away by the mice”. Mr. Karyan gave assurances that he has located a benefactor for the partial renovation of the building but that he’s still on the lookout. We tried to gauge the opinion of local residents regarding the work habits of the new village mayor. Vanik Abelyan, a resident who can always be found sitting in the village square, said, “It’s a dead village, what can the mayor accomplish in a few days. But we hold out hope that things will get better, that things will start to pick up. We go outside and there’s no one to say hello to. The mayor has installed some street lights and wants to change the water system. It will get better in the spring. The village is planning to get a tractor to work the fields.” Vanik Abelyan laments the fact that the land isn’t being cultivated. “I have about 3,000 meters of land and other land in the privatized field. But it’s far from the village and I don’t cultivate it. I tilled it one year and planted it. The whole thing cost about 70,000 drams. The wheat I harvested was so little that I took it all home on my back. Now, if there’s a tractor I’ll plant and do a little bit of fertilizing. The village lives on hope.” Seryozha Bejanyan, another resident we bumped into at the village square, also recounted that the village has no farming equipment, a reason that 50% of last year’s hay harvest wasn’t reaped. Many gathered in the square stressed the irrigation water problem. A few years ago an irrigation water pipe was laid from the Tzaghkashat Mountain springs destined for the villages of Haghpat, Akner and Sanahin. Haghpat residents complained that the true aim of those who laid the water pipe wasn’t to provide villagers with irrigation water but rather to construct a private hydro-electric station. “During the past few years that water doesn’t reach us on a regular basis since most of it is siphoned away by the hydro-electric stations even though the contract stipulates that during the irrigation period all he water must be allocated to the villagers. However, perhaps due to artificial impediments all the water isn’t supplied to Haghpat. We’re going to follow-up on the matter this year,” explained Sergo Karyan Years ago Haghpat residents staged a protest action and declared that the hydro-electric stations were operating off of the village’s small stream and that was the reason they couldn’t use any of the water. Sergo Karyan, the present village mayor, was one of the protestors. His attitude hasn’t changed since and he still holds the same opinion. “I have to approach the matter quite seriously. The water must be used by the villagers first and foremost, especially for irrigation. Only when there’s a water surplus can the hydro stations tap the flow,” states the village mayor. Who owns those hydro stations? The Haghpat mayor confessed that he still can’t specify who the owners are. “I myself don’t know who owns the hydro station. I only know there’s a contract but I haven’t seen the contract since it and other documents were seized by the prosecutor’s office. All I know is that according to the contract the Armenian government permitted the construction of the hydro stations on condition that during the irrigation season all the water be used by Haghpat, Akner and Sanahin and that after November, when the waters start to freeze, it be partially used by the hydro stations. Now, if Akner and Sanahin haven’t, for the most part, used this irrigation water, and Haghpat does only occasionally, then there’s something amiss here.” The village mayor gave assurances that when he was given the hydro stations’ contracts and it became clear what “powers” were backing them up, he would still stand up to defend the interest of Haghpat, no matter what. Why? Because he wanted to see the villagers return to cultivating the land and to do that water was of the essence.