Sevan’s Woes: Not Much Has Changed in the Town Despite the Tourist Trade
Lake Sevan, the “blue jewel” of Armenia.
It attracts thousands of tourists and vacationers yearly. One would have expected that at least a portion of the money spent there, in restaurants, hotels and the myriad of small-scale auxiliary mon and pop businesses, to have made its way to the municipal budget and used to improve living conditions in the town itself.
This hasn’t been the case. The town of Sevan remains one of the most depressed and unimproved in all of Armenia. Basic infrastructure is a remnant of the Soviet era. Even the tourist sector that drives the economy remains unchanged for the most part.
The only positive change has been the restoration of the round-the -clock water supply, but even this hasn’t reached all neighborhoods in the town. The municipality is just getting around to open a public toilet and a new park, the latter financed by private money.
Unemployment is high, resulting in a population decrease. The town’s official population now stands at 19,100.
According to Armenia’s National Statistical Service, 1,308 residents have registered as looking for work in 2017.
In July of this year, Hetq invited Sevan municipal officials and residents to a roundtable meeting to discuss the issues facing their town and why it’s not progressing despite the large numbers of visitors.
Residents told Hetq that they don’t see any real benefits flowing from the tourist trade, and that they feel cut-off from the lake.
Vigen Hakobyan, an architect who returned to his native Sevan after living in Yerevan for fifteen years, told Hetq that he’s seen no real change in the town even though he argues that Lake Sevan attracts enough business revenue to fill half the budget of the town and Armenia to boot. He says that Sevan, unlike Dilijan, Jermouk. Goris and Tzaghkadzor, hasn’t been officially recognized as a tourist town by the government. Thus, it remains neglected.
Only 60% of the streets in Sevan are illuminated. It’s estimated that it will cost 170 million AMD to install street lights for the remaining 40%.
Only 60% of the town’s roadways have asphalt surfaces (black top). The rest are gravel. Many are potholed and difficult to traverse, by car or by foot.
This is the sorry state of affairs even though the national government allocated 706 million AMD in 2010-2017 to improve the roads. Of this, 426 million went to the Sevan Municipality and 280 million to the Office of Implementation of Transportation Projects SNOC attached to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies.
The town has five parks and six playgrounds. The children we talked to complained that the playgrounds are just empty open spaces lacking any type of furnishing to play football or other sports.
Sevan Mayor SargisMouradyan says that budgetary resources are being targeted elsewhere, to improving basic infrastructure and other immediate needs. He says that private benefactors have built most of the parks and play areas ticked away in residential courtyards.
A football field should have been built last year, after the Sevan Municipality and the Football Federation of Armenia agreed to pool their resources and renovate the federation’s old field by installing an artificial surface. Construction never commenced due to a lack of funds.
The town’s only public bus route is on the verge of closing. The operator, Raffi-Serineh Ltd, says its incurred heavy losses and has requested a municipal subsidy to continue operating. Company founder Atom Davtyan told Hetq that there’s a lack of passengers.
To make matters worse, the Sevan Municipality has debts of 94.2 million AMD.
It owes 64.9 million to Suardi-Armenia, the local subsidiary of an Italian company, that was only partially paid for a 2005 114.9 million contract to repair street potholes in the town. The company sued and the court has frozen the municipality’s financial assets. The remainder is owed to other companies, again contracted for road improvement projects.
To pay the town’s debts, Mayor Mouradyan has petitioned Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan for assistance.
But the national government in Yerevan already provides 75% of Sevan’s annual budget in the form of subsidies and grants. Only 25% is from internally derived revenue – various business and property taxes.
Even though Mayor Mouradyan claims that local revenues have increased by 7% (29.7 million AMD) in 2014 and 7.3% (33.3m) the following year, it remains a drop in the bucket given the needs Sevan must address to improve conditions for residents.
In the end, while national and local policymakers wrestle with these financial challenges, residents remain disillusioned, seeing a real disconnect between the money flowing into Lake Sevan and the pittance that eventually winds up in their town’s coffers.
They also question how efficiently that money is being spent and the competency of officials spending it.