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Sara Petrosyan

Ghost Village of Tegher: Who Profits from Holding Elections in Community of Twelve Permanent Residents?

The Aragatzotn village of Tegher, spread across the slope of a mountain, is only visible after traversing the last turn of a winding road.

One is immediately struck by the magnificent church looming large in the foreground. The uncommon silence surrounding the village is noticed later, after having enjoyed the magnificence of the church, after having communed with the Almighty, when the visitor has the desire to explore further.

It was a cold afternoon when I arrived in Tegher, located 1,700 meters above sea level. But I saw no smoke curling up from the chimneys of the houses.  As I walked through the village, I thought to myself that maybe local residents were saving their reserves of atar (dried animal dung used as fuel), or maybe they were out in the warm rays of the midday sun.

I met no one in the street, even though newly constructed houses outnumbered the semi-dilapidated mud structures. All the gates were locked.

Residents of Tegher had been evicted in the 1960s under a state plan to resettle people living in higher elevations to lower climes. Most villagers took up permanent residence in the village of Proshyan. Others moved to Etchmiadzin and elsewhere.

The village experienced a brief rebirth in 1989, when many former Tegher residents returned to their native hearths and filed for private ownership of their lands. They soon moved out yet again.

Tegher never had a school and students would go to the school in the neighboring village of Orkov. But the number of students gradually dwindled. The last family with school age children left the village two years ago.

The village now only comes to life in the summer, when outsiders visit to relax or make a pilgrimage to the church. The village abounds with natural beauty and was famous for the various botanicals growing in the area. Perhaps this is why many government officials, as well as diaspora Armenians, have built good-looking private homes in the village.

There are contradictory estimates regarding the village’s population. It depends on what sources one uses. The Aragatzotn Provincial Government website presents a variety of population figures – 90, 262, 117 households, etc. It would appear that the website hasn’t updated its article of Tegher for many years.

Perhaps the most credible population figure is that given by Tegher Mayor Garnik Hovhannisyan – 220 residents, 178 eligible voters and seven permanent resident families.

“It’s a seasonal population,” explains Hovhannisyan. “In the late fall they move into the valley and return in May. (Permanent residents later corrected the mayor, claiming that there are only six families that live in the village year round)

Mayor Hovhannisyan, a permanent resident of Proshyan as well, only visits Tegher occasionally.

It was only on my third visit to Tegher, on March 15, that I met Hovhannisyan in the village. It was Election Day and he was the only candidate for local office.

I was interested to see if those 178 registered voters, now living twenty or miles away, would make it back to Tegher to cast their ballots. Organizing an election for a mere twelve residents seemed absurd.

Equally incomprehensible is why such a tiny village in Aragatzotn Province should be governed by a mayor, a two person staff, and a five person village council, all residing in Proshyan in neighboring Kotayk Province.

Doubly baffling is why hold elections at all for a place that is little more than a summer resort, pasture land, and not a community.

Nevertheless, the government annually allocates a 3.5 million AMD subsidy to the Tegher local authorities. The village is also said to generate 1.5 million AMD in revenue annually from the collection of land lease fee, land taxes and property taxes on farm equipment.

Luckily, the village saves when it comes to the five person council – the job doesn’t pay.

Article 3 of The Law of the Republic of Armenia on Local Self-Government stipulates:

Local self-government bodies are elected by the members of the community. A community member is a citizen of Armenia who permanently resides in said community or has been registered as community taxpayer for the past three consecutive years.

Thus, the local authorities of Tegher village – comprised of a three person administrative staff and a five person council, govern the twelve permanent residents of the village.

The simplest explanation of this absurdity would be that the government maintains the three person local government, at a cost of 3.5 million drams, just to collect 1.5 million in fees and taxes.

But, on the surface, this makes even less sense. The numbers just don’t add up.

The only explanation is that it is conducive for some interested party to keep the charade going; to make it seem above board, at least on paper.

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