On February 5, when we visited Samvel Gigolyan, the newly-elected mayor of the village of Tchotchkan in Lori Province, he was quite concerned about the municipality paperwork handed over to him just two months ago by former Tchotchkan mayor Varujan Tamazyan. “In 2006 they laid a water pipe from Lalvar to Tchotchkan and paid 15 million drams for the job. The pipe is there but there’s no water. I went to take a look at the pipeline, it’s a half-assed job. We have no clue as to where the 15 million came from, who laid the pipe; there’s no documentation anywhere.
All that’s written down in the municipality’s main resource registry is: Lalvar-Tchotchkan water main pipe, 15 million drams,” the mayor explained. As to why he didn’t demand the paperwork on the water pipe when he was handed the municipality’s documents, Samvel Gigolyan explained, “I accepted whatever was left in the balance. I really can’t give any answer about the water pipe. What kind of answer can I give when the only documentation about the pipe is that one line?” Samvel Gigolyan was of the belief that 15 million was a small amount to pay for bringing water from Lalvar to Tchotchkan and that there was something fishy about the matter. Meanwhile, the most pressing issue in the village is water for drinking. When we asked former Mayor Varujan Tamazyan about the water pipe he answered, “The water is flowing just fine. The pipe was laid with assistance from the RoA government, by the Lori Regional Governor’s Office. I’ve built a huge cistern at the top of the village in which the water collects. The village was getting water for two years. Now the pipe has worn away in spots. Let them go and fix it. The water will flow again.” In the twelve years he served as mayor, this is the second water pipe form Lalvar to Tchotchkan laid under his watch that doesn’t work. Residents of Tchotchkan haven’t forgotten the Lalvar-Tchotchkan irrigation pipe fiasco. It was Armenia’s second president Robert Kocharyan who was the guest of honor at the official opening of the pipe and who cut the ribbon. Tchotchkan residents will tell all comers to their village that, “There was water in the pipe after heavy rains but not during the dog days of the summer. As a result, some 1,000 hectares of village fields dried up.” “We have property here in the village that isn’t registered in any of our accounts. Neither are the names of the owners. For example, there is a bath house, refrigerated units. There are neither the names of the owners nor do they show up on our balance sheets. The village medical ambulatory unit is registered either to the municipality or in the balance sheets of the Alaverdi health center,” states Mayor Gigolyan. Satenik Hovhannisyan, the family nurse at the ambulatory unit, also told us, “I shudder with fear when I sit in this building. I’m just waiting for the walls to fall on my head because they cut corners when they built the place. There’s no cement, just earth. We have no water in the unit. How many times can I go back and forth filling up bottles with water? A week after the building was built the wood floors buckled up something terrible.” “The ambulatory unit was built in 2000. Even before it opened it was already undergoing repair,” says nurse Naira Grigoryan, the unit’s director. Former Mayor Varujan Tamazyan told us that, “The ambulatory unit was built by the Lori Provincial Government, under a program of the Ministry of Health. I can’t remember the name of the builder. They can go to the health division at the Lori Provincial Seat to get the name. I didn’t sign off on the construction due to certain deficiencies. They allocated 800,000 drams to fix the problems but no builder wanted to do the job because the money wasn’t enough. The building has remained unrepaired till today.” Samvel Gigolyan views the condition of Tchotchkan as very bad. “Given today’s conditions the village kindergarten doesn’t operate, the building is prone to collapse. The cultural house and the music school are shut, the fields aren’t cultivated. Only ten hectares of the 1,000 hectares of peach and grape fields that existed during the Soviet years have remained. 40% of tillable land isn’t being worked by the villagers and the roads in the village are in a terrible state. Every year some 200 young people leave Tchotchkan for Russia or Yerevan to seek work. People are disillusioned.” As longtime tradition has it, the residents of Tchotchkan have never been informed about the village budget. Only one thing is known. From the start, Varujan Tamazyan unilaterally prohibited any villagers who hadn’t paid their taxes from cultivating the tilled land. The new mayor didn’t agree with this approach. “The villager must work the land in order to pay taxes. How can they pay taxes if they can’t work the land?” asks Mayor Gigolyan. In any event, the revenues forecasted for the2008 Tchotchkan budget amounted to 30.3 million drams but at the end of the year the actual revenues collected amounted to 22.7 million, of which 12.6 million were state subsidies. The municipality underperformed when it came to tax collection activities. Forecasted land taxes amounted to 6 million drams but only 3.5 million was actually collected. 3.6 million drams were forecasted to come from land rentals but only 1 million was realized. Even more comical is the expenditures portion of the budget. Out of the 23.5 million drams in actual revenues of the Tamazyan budget some 17.5 million was spent to maintain the staff of the municipality and the community council adopted a decision to spend 3.9 million drams for a new automobile for the mayor. The new mayor has signed off on the council’s decision. On December 12, Samvel Gigolyan called a meeting of the village residents where they discussed tax payment issues, the problem of the kindergarten and music school, garbage disposal, the 500 dram water payment, the 10 hectares of the “Gilaskud” field not being cultivated, the construction of a nursery and other important village issues. The mayor stressed that his first priority was to reestablish a degree of faith in the villagers. “Many people have sent petitions in order that they can plant fields. We have done everything to ensure that the villagers received ample supplies of water during the irrigation season. The irrigation system for the lower portion of the village is in an awful state. We might not get around to repairing all of it in time but at least part of it will be fixed,” stated the mayor. The residents of Tchotchkan demand that the municipality bring gravity-fed water from the Debed River to the village. “I went to Yerevan to discuss the matter with some experts. It’s a costly proposition. The government can organize a program around this. There are three villages in our area – Ayrum, Tchotchkan and Shnogh. In the Noyemberyan district alone there are ten villages. I have the numbers from these villages. There are 10,000 hectares of land that can be irrigated with gravity-fed water. Mayor Gigolyan sees one answer to the problem of getting the villagers back up on their feet and the village economy moving once again. “For the village to survive we need gardens. Wheat and barley aren’t the answer. They don’t offer our village a real harvest. Sure, maybe for one or two years, but it ends. We need gardens, that’s the ticket.”