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Sara Petrosyan

Two-Year Struggle of Garni Residents in Armenia Leads to Success

The struggle of Garni residents to safeguard the Azat River was one of the most important events in 2016.

The two-year struggle came to a solution on May 21, 2016 when Hovik Abrahamyan, the Prime Minister of the Republic, met with the residents of Garni, who had blocked Garni-Yerevan road for saving River Azat and announced: “Kaghtsrashen Gravity Scheme is cancelled, the construction is stopped and the construction machinery is withdrawn from Azat Gorge.”

To remind, this project was to construct an intake structure on Azat River in the direction of the pagan temple of Garni (on 1235.5 m) and lay a 27.5 km pipeline to deliver approximately 1000 liter/second of water to Kaghtsrashen pump station outlet channel so that gravity irrigation water would be supplied to 12 villages in Ararat Province.

Hovik Abrahamyan, the former Prime Minister, who owns large plots of land in the two beneficiary villages, namely Narek and Kaghtsrashen, was believed to the key person interested in the project implementation.

A month after the project cancellation the State Committee on Water Sector announced about a new “compromise” design of Kaghstrashen Gravity scheme.

PIU’s environmental specialist Martiros Nalbandyan and design engineer Samvel Karapetyan present changes to the project. According to the “compromise” version, the planned head-water structure intended for water intake for Kaghstrashen gravity scheme has been moved 5.2 km downstream Azat River to the area of the currently operated Geghadir-Hatzavan pump station. To date they have served these villages for mechanical pumping of water. The villages will subsequently receive water from the Gegharalich gravity system operated in parallel.

“Previously the head station had to be constructed, now there will be no construction for the head structure; previously canals had to be built, now the existing infrastructure – buildings, roads, power feeding lines and substations - will be used for the project,” the environmentalist stated.

Due to the changes introduced, the project amount has decreased by 1.6 million dollars. The amount of the loan provided by the World Bank (WB) for the project is 10 million dollars; the expenses have dropped because of scaling down the pipeline and civil works for constructing the head structure.

“We will have water loss because of the changes to the design, which has to be somehow offset, and it will be filled by pumping water through pump stations. We plan to operate3 modern small capacity pumps, two of which have 400 kW and one 500 kW of capacity. 2 of the pumps will be used for pumping water through the pipeline and one will be a stand-by,” says Samvel Karapetyan. According to him, the effectiveness of the design is somewhat reduced in this case given that currently only 8 million kWh of electricity will be saved compared to the original 10 million kWh.  2 million kWh of electricity will be used for operating the pump stations.

To remind readers, the residents of Garni and environmentalists had called the validity of design data for Kaghstrashen project into question. The residents of Garni were claiming that the quantity of water in Azat River was not sufficient to supply water to Garni village and maintain the environmental flow and refill Azat reservoir and deliver 980 liters of water per second to villages in Artashat region through the pipeline. Their claims were supported by the results of water measurements taken a year ago, as well as during the previous three years.


(Kaghstrashen Gravity scheme: Key descriptors of the revised version)

Before introducing changes to the design, the staff of the Water Sector PIU measured water in Azat River this summer by engaging new experts - Professor Vilik Sargsyan from Yerevan State University of Architecture and Construction, professor of Hydro-construction, Water Systems and HPPs, doctor in technical sciences and Professor Emil Khachatryan from Yerevan State University of Architecture and Construction, professor of Hydro-construction, Water Systems and HPPs, doctor in technical sciences. The hydrologist of the Water Sector PIU participated, too.

Water becomes scarce in Azat River especially in the month of August and in recent years in that month the river has nearly dried up. 2016 has been a year of water abundance, and the picture has also changed for Azat River. According to presented results in 2016 the quantity of water in Azat River in August was low at 1.95 m3/sec. “Taking into account the water demand of 0,98 m3/sec in Kaghstrashen in the month of August, the river flow will be 0,97m3/sec, which is even 0.12 m3/sec more than the estimated environmental flow of Azat River (0.85 m3/sec),” indicated the commission taking the water measurements.


Water measurement date

Measurement results/Azat River outflow, m3/sec












The significantly high water quantity for the month of September is the result of stopping the mechanical supply of irrigation water by the WUA in Garni from September 1, which resulted in the higher water quantity in the river.

Marineh Vardanyan, PIU’s social specialist, said that the revised version bypassed the land users in Azat gorge. There are three land owners down the pump station and agreements are in place with them for compensation in case damage is caused to them.

The construction in this section will start in early 2017.

Thus, the so-called “compromise” design of Kaghstrashen gravity scheme meets the demands put forward by the residents of Garni, which they achieved through their two-year struggle.

  • Azat gorge has been saved from desertification; existing plant species have been preserved;
  • Owners of land plots in 5·2 km section of the gorge will not suffer any potential losses which could have been caused by construction, and will not be deprived of the possibility to irrigate their land plots;
  • The natural flow of Azat River will continue;
  • Natural monuments in the gorge, such as the Symphony of Stones and others considered sites for sightseeing in Armenia have been saved from predictable destruction, which could have come from construction;
  • In March 2017 Garni’s internal water network will be rehabilitated under the WB loan project- 6 km section of Garni’s main canal and the badly damaged sections of a total of 3.5 km tertiary network. Water losses are estimated to decrease by approximately 35 percent.
  • The 10 million dollars provided by the WB for Kaghstrashen Gravity Scheme design was reduced by 1.6 million dollars.
  • 8 million kWh of electricity will be saved as a result of the project;
  • In local government elections, the residents of Garni refused tore-elect the former head of the community, who had given consent to implementation of Kaghstrashen Gravity Scheme against the will of the residents of Garni.

The success achieved is, no doubt, the result of the people’s unity and solidarity.

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