Thursday, 20 September

Shamlough, Lori Marz: Town Property Reverted to Mine Owners after Independence

The town of Shamlough is one of the mining extraction sites in Lori Marz. The villages of Shamlough, Bendik, Boughaqar and Verin Akhtala are located within its administrative borders. During the waning days of the Soviet Union, Shamlough had a population of 4,000, including a large number of Azeris. Today, only 800 residents remain.

Despite the presence of some twenty copper mines, the Shamlough community budget receives little revenue from local mining activities. According to community Mayor Lendroush Bezhanyan a mere 56,000 AMD trickles into the budget from property taxes. He says that some 80-100 Shamlough residents work at the three mines now operating in the district. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the living standards of residents have dropped considerably, mainly due to a lack of adequate employment. Here, residents mainly get by on the natural resources culled from the rich forests surrounding Shamlough. The town of Shamlough is visibly withering away as well. “In the past, there were a few core Armenian families in the town and they have stayed on. The rest of the populace was comprised of Greeks and Azeris. The Greeks, out of economic necessity, resettled in Greece, and the Azeris left for reasons known to all. Afterwards, people came from Tiflis, Yerevan and other places, purchased homes, boarded the doors and then left. We don’t see those people; the homes have become summer resorts.” The mayor says that those presently engaged in the mining sector, contrary to the Soviet era, do not reinvest in the local development projects or in improving the social lot of residents. Shamlough lacks a kindergarten, cultural house or hospital. Soviet-era property handed over to mine owners The buildings housing these institutions back in the Soviet period still stand but they’ve long since ceased operating as such. “They were never allocated to the town; they were never included in the property transfer deeds. They all belong to the Akhtala mining enrichment plant. The kindergarten and cultural center aren’t serving the needs of the community and there’s only a clinic housed on the second floor of the hospital building,” the mayor said. When asked why he hasn’t asked that these buildings be turned over to the municipality, L. Bezhanyan responded, “According to RoA government Decision 451, not only these buildings but all the property belonging to the pre-existing enterprises should have been turned over to the municipality but they weren’t. I am at a loss to say who prevented the transfer and why. The municipality presently has no edifices under its jurisdiction, so how can I possibly receive the kindergarten or cultural center.” During the post-Soviet period, the only substantial work projected completed in Shamlough was the capital renovation of a 9.5 kilometer stretch of Akhtala-Shamlough roadway. The mayor said that the work was financed by the state but he didn’t know the actual cost. The construction contractor was “Titanyan Brothers, Ltd.” and company Director Samvel Titanyan stated that roadway work commenced in 2006 and 538.4 million AMD had been allocated by the state for the project. That year, 2.3 kilometers were renovated at a cost of 72.1 million. The rest of the projected was completed in 2008 and this year. 1.7 million for purchase of garbage truck The community budget had forecasted 2008 revenues at 17.9 million but by year’s end actual revenues totaled 24.6 million. The surplus revenue came from the sale of lands of 15 million. In 2008, the municipality budgeted 8.5 million for machinery costs; a sizeable amount given its limited budgetary resources. Mayor Bezhanyan purchased a garbage truck for 1.7 million for trash collection. The surplus at the end of 2008 amounted to 12 million. 2009 revenues were forecast at 12 million and as of August 1 some 9.5 million had actually been realized. The mayor has also budgeted 7.5 million this year for machinery maintenance and repair. During our conversation, Mayor Lendroush Bezhanyan stated that 7 million had been allocated from this year’s budget for repairs on the town’s internal water distribution system. “Shamlough has no water issues and I am hopeful that the water situation will only improve with repairs to the distribution system,” he said. In this year’s budget, 8 million in state assistance has been credited as revenue. Locally earned revenues make of 6-7 million of the budget, loans exceed 5 million and land taxes amount to 200,000. “Land tax debts stand at around 2 million. These are the taxes accumulating on lands owned by residents who have since relocated and now longer pay,” he said. Clearly, the paltry municipal budget cannot provide adequate community services. None of the town’s neighborhoods have overhead lighting. Residents also claimed that the town has no gas supply. During our visit, residents said that the neighborhood of Bendik had been without electricity for three days due to lightning. The mayor assured us that electricians were working on the problem as we spoke. Mayor Bezhanyan noted that his top priority was the repair of roofs atop multi-family dwellings. “We have thirteen multi-family buildings whose roofs haven’t been repaired since independence. We are now asking the state for help to remedy the problem.”

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