Water Woes of Armenia's Border Villages

No prospect of running water exacerbates problems of long-suffering residents. By Gayane Mkrtchyan in Bagaran

Water Woes of Armenia's Border Villages

No prospect of running water exacerbates problems of long-suffering residents. By Gayane Mkrtchyan in Bagaran

Friday, 19 March, 2010

The village of Bagaran is just 90 kilometres from the Armenian capital Yerevan, but its residents do not have running water in their homes and see no prospect of getting it.

They can see the minarets of a Turkish village across the river Araks, which marks the border, and even hear the call to prayer on a still day. The government should safeguard the population of such a strategic location by providing a water supply if it wants to ensure the country’s security, they say.

Heghine Sahakyan can show the marks on her shoulders made by decades of trekking back and forth with a pair of buckets and a yoke to fetch water. Every bucket takes 12 litres, and she walks the 1,500 metres to the well three times a day.

“Since I became engaged to be married in this village, I have carried water. My hands and shoulders are callused. Our children, when they grow up, leave this village as quickly as they can,” she said.

The inadequate services are nothing new. The water supply was intermittent even during the best years of the Soviet Union.

“There would be water for a day, then there would be none for a year,” recalled Gevord Margaryan, the head of the village administration.

After two decades of independence, the Soviet water system that barely functioned is beyond repair. The local administration should be responsible for it, but cannot afford to undertake the work.

This means it falls ultimately to the government to provide piped water but it says it will only do so if the villagers pay. The trouble is that they want the supply free.

Gagik Khachatryan, deputy chairman of the State Committee for Water Systems in the Territorial Administration Ministry, said it would cost 125 million drams (about 310,000 US dollars) to connect Bagaran to the water system. Before the government would spend this money, however, the villagers would have to commit to paying for their water, which they won’t do, he added.

“For decades people have not paid for water in our villages. According to our researches, many of them do not want to accept that for 10 or 11 cubic metres of water, they have to pay 2,000 drams a month. They think this is the water from their ancestors, which they don’t have to pay for. And when it comes to having to pay for water, they would rather that their wives carried it from the spring in barrels,” Khachatryan said.

But villagers insist that they are impoverished, struggling to maintain their small-holdings from year to the next.

Kostik Petrosyan, a former economist who now lives in Bagaran, told IWPR, “As it is, we barely survive until the end of the year from our farms, and then we have to take out debt until the spring.

“We already encourage our sons and daughters to leave the village ourselves. We have decided we’ve had enough, at least the children will be able to live normal lives elsewhere.”

Hovik Gevorgyan, another Bagaran resident, said the remoteness of the region means that even when they have decent harvests, it’s a difficult to get produce sold.

“It is not convenient for [traders], even though the quality of our apricots is very high. Who wants to drive an extra 50 kilometres for them? Many people don’t even know we exist,” he said.

The recent easing in Turkish-Armenian relations has raised the possibility of opening the border between the two countries, which have lacked diplomatic ties for most of the post-Soviet period - but the villagers do not enthuse about the prospect.

Bagaran has long experience of poor relations with Turkey. It shares a name with the ancient capital of the Armenians, which is now five kilometres away across the river, and that legacy of loss and defeat is more important to the villagers than material matters.

Gayane Mkrtchyan is a correspondent for Armenianow.

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