Kristine Aghalaryan

Lake Dispute Continues Pitting Javakhk Armenian Villagers Against MP Ayvazyan

Disagreements between residents of the Armenian populated village of Tabatzghour (in the Samtskhe-Javakhk region of Georgia) and Vardan Ayvazyan, an MP in Armenia’s national Assembly who was born in the village, has taken on new twists and turns.

It all harkens back to 2010 when Vardan Ayvazyan’s company Ldjer Ltd. obtained the right to use a lake in the village to farm fish. He banned locals from catching fish in the lake.

Recently a fight broke out between a relative of Ayvazyan and the son of the lake’s manager appointed by Ayvazyan himself. It seems that despite being a relative of Vardan Ayvazyan, the man is siding with the villagers to regain control of the lake. 

Village resident Hovhannes Hovsepyan told Hetq that after Saakashvili left office (when Ayvazyan’s partner Prime Minister Ivane Merabishvili was arrested), Vardan Ayvazyan didn’t visit the village for quite a while.

After the elections in Georgia, village residents got together and collected some 7,000 Lari ($3,000) to buy fingerlings for breeding in the lake. They forbade anyone to fish in the lake until the fry matured.

Vardan Ayvazyan again appeared and appointed Alikhan Muradyan to supervise the lake and ban locals from using it to farm fish.

The villagers were offered a deal where they would keep 35% of the take and Ayvazyan 65%. They refused.

“Now they are offering 50/50. Let’s see what he wants to do with the village in the long run. They’ll be calling Tabatzghour by its new name Vardanavan. He’ll keep the people as vassals to work for him,” said Hovhannes.

The villagers have since taken Ayvazyan’s company to court.

Hovhannes says the villagers want the courts to deem the lease agreement invalid and to hand the lake over to the state.

“Once the state takes control it should restore our rights to use it. Naturally, we’d pay any taxes,” Hovhannes said.

150 families live in Tabatzghour. This year some 60 men from the village have gone to Russia for work, a tenfold increase from last year.

Hovhannes charges Ayvazyan with cheating the villagers out of their only source of income; the lake.

“Our fight has been going on for four years. Ayvazyan came and got the lake by deception. His friends in high places gave it to him.  It was our only source of income. He even took the land around the lake to make tourist sites. But he hasn’t done anything in the past four years,” said Hovhannes.

In 2011, Saakashvili gave 308,000 square meters of adjacent lake property to Ayvazyan for the symbolic price of one Georgian Lari. It turns out that part of the property belonged to a state preserve. Ten hectares of land belonged to the villagers.

Ayvazyan was supposed to invest 100 million AMD into the land and build suitable infrastructure for tourism and fish farming. None of these promises has been fulfilled.

This year, the villagers’ land was returned to them.

A court in Tbilisi has heard two preliminary sessions on the matter. A trial has been scheduled for June 15.