30% of Armenia’s Communities, Totaling 139,764 Residents, Lack Natural Gas

18:50, 23 July, 2018

When it comes to having natural gas to cook and to heat one’s home with, residents of Armenia’s southern Syunik Province are in worst shape than the country’s other ten provinces.

Only 54% of the province gets the fuel, even though the Iran-Armenian gas pipeline runs through it.

Nation-wide, 30% of Armenia’s communities, totaling 139,764 residents, aren’t supplied with natural gas. All but two of the 300 that lack gas are rural communities. (Source-National Statistical Service)

Syunik Provincial Governor Karen Hambardzumyan says that during the Soviet era, when there was a major drive to supply Armenia with the blue fuel, communities in the north of the country first got the gas because the supply was piped from the north. The farthest south the main pipeline reached was the city of Kapan. After Armenian independence, the pipeline made its way to the town of Kajaran and the Meghri area, after the completion of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline in 2015.

Armenia: Communities Not Supplied with Natural Gas

Hambardzumyan says that as part of the Iran-Armenia gas agreement, Tehran spent $2 million to partially get gas to the towns of Meghri and Agarak. To complete construction to get gas to these towns and the village of Lehvaz would have cost $250 million. The Armenian government never allocated the money and to date Meghri residents have gone without natural gas. (It is supplied to the manufacturing sector in the town.)

Starting last year, the Syunik government has taken steps to introduce alternative energy systems in the province. Solar and photovoltaic units have been installed in some communities. The units are produced locally, according to Hambardzumyan, and thus increase the country’s overall energy independence level.

“Government financial support to produce the units and install them stopped in 2018 for reasons unknown,” Hambardzumyan says.

Armenia: Percentage of Each Province’s Communities Not Supplied with Natural Gas

Syunik – 54%

Vayots Dzor – 49%

Shirak – 45%

Aragatzotn – 43%

Gegharkounik – 30%

Lori – 27%

Ararat – 12%

Armavir – 9%

Kotayk – 7%

Tavoush – 5%

Due to a lack of funds, no gasification work is planned for Vayots Dzor, which follows Syunik in terms of lacking natural gas.

According to the information the provincial governments sent Hetq, almost all of the communities lacking gas don’t plan to invest in the necessary infrastructure this year. The money just isn’t there.

Lori Provincial Governor Hrant Margaryan points out that it would cost AMD 1.5 million ($3,120) to supply gas to each resident who now doesn’t have any. Nevertheless, the province has submitted a 2019-2021 gasification plan to the central government, giving priority to border villages and larger communities. ( Lori is in the north of the country, bordering Georgia)

In Armavir, only nine of the province’s 97 communities lack gas. In the town of Armavir, the provincial capital, there’s a neighborhood called Cheremoushka that isn’t supplied with gas. Armavir Governor Gagik Mirijanyan says it will cost an estimated 100 million drams to get gas to the 47 households in that neighborhood.

Starting last year, the Syunik government has taken steps to introduce alternative energy systems in the province. Solar and photovoltaic units have been installed in some communities. The units are produced locally, according to Hambardzumyan, and thus increase the country’s overall energy independence level.

“Government financial support to produce the units and install them stopped in 2018 for reasons unknown,” Hambardzumyan says.

In Lernamerdz, an Armavir community of 400 founded in 1924 that’s never had gas, residents started to use solar power in March 2017.  In January 2017, then Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan visited the village and was bombarded with complaints on the problem. The government studied various alternative energy options and decided to install solar units since it would cost too much to bring in natural gas.

Armavir’s Metzamor village also lacks gas. During the Soviet era a gas pipeline reaching the outskirts of the village was installed but a distribution system wasn’t built.

“People bathe by heating water using firewood and animal dung. It’s embarrassing, given the year we live in. No one is leaving the village, but if this situation continues, they will. They bathe using pots and pans. I’ve become a liar, telling people that the gas will soon come. Residents no longer trust me,” says Metzamor Mayor Edward Mirzoyan.

The lack of gas has also negatively impacted the local economy. Most Metazmor residents grow greenhouse vegetables and have to heat the units in the winter somehow. They rely on electricity, an expensive luxury. Mirzoyan says the village’s 1,400 residents consume 15 million drams worth of electricity per month.

Bagaran, an Armavir community on the border with Turkey, doesn’t have the funds to invest in capital improvements. It will take donor organizations or the central government to allocate funds to get natural gas to the village.

“The matter isn’t even discussed. There are no resources. The municipality allocate 46 million drams in 2006 to get the gas. They ate part of the money and the work remained incomplete,” says Mayor Gevorg Margaryan.

Years ago, four outlying villages in Armavir Province (Vanand, Koghbavan, Bagaran and Yervandashat) joined forces and started work on getting gas. In the end, the pipeline only made it to Vanand. They paid a company called ManShin LLC to do the work. A large diameter pipeline was installed to Vanand. From there, three feeder pipes to the other villages were to be built. Half of the money was paid to the company. The gas only got to Vanand.

Police investigators later revealed that the director of HayRusGazArd’s Armavir branch had learnt about the project to bring gas to the four villages and hatched a scheme to win the contract and pocket the money.

The director, V. Mkrtchyan, registered two companies (ManShin and Man-Nakh) in the names of his son. The mayors of the four villages, trusting Mkrtchyan at his word to do the work, handed over 259 million drams.

Mkrtchyan did work worth 170 million drams and pocketed the rest.

Map by Hrant Galstyan