Garni Success: PM calls off controversial irrigation project after protests

Photo: Photolure

Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan has cancelled a controversial irrigation project that residents of a large village in central Armenia say will affect the life of their agricultural community.

Hundreds of farmers in Garni that gets its main irrigation water from the nearby Azat river held angry protests during the past few weeks blocking a highway that leads to one of the most popular tourist attractions in Armenia – a pagan temple built in the 1st century A.D..

They demanded that the project under which some of the Azat river water would be diverted for the purpose of irrigating a dozen communities in the Ararat province of Armenia be stopped.

Many farmers in Garni, a village with a population of over 5,000 situated some 30 kilometers to the east of capital Yerevan, say that the river is already barely able to meet their needs for irrigation and drinking water and that, if implemented, the project would deprive them of their livelihood.

The Garni protests gained momentum last month after heavy machinery was deployed in the local gorge in preparation for the construction work. The villagers had given the government until Sunday, May 22, to call off the work implemented as part of a broader World Bank-financed irrigation program aimed at saving water and electricity by switching from pump-based to gravity irrigation in four agricultural regions of Armenia. Otherwise, they threatened to keep the highway blocked permanently and resort to other forms of protest as well.

Photo: Photolure
Photo: Photolure

In their last-ditch attempt to stop the work, hundreds of villagers again blocked the highway on Saturday and would not leave until the arrival of Prime Minister Abrahamyan.

Some of the villagers have alleged that Abrahamyan himself would be the main beneficiary of the project as his extended family owns large swathes of agricultural land in the Ararat plain. The government, however, has denied any ulterior reasons behind the project.

Abrahamyan, who went to see the Garni protesters himself, declared after a conversation with them that the machinery would be withdrawn from the Garni Gorge and that the project would be stopped.

“I don’t think that there is any prime minister who would like to cut off water of residents. I myself will cancel that project, if I am convinced that it will have negative consequences. If all the people of Garni want the cancellation of the project, there is no problem, it won’t be implemented,” he told the protesters, as quoted by A1 Plus.

According to the prime minister, discussions will continue on the feasibility of another project that implies using water of the Geghardalich reservoir for the gravity irrigation of a number of communities in the Kotayk province.

The protesters were not completely satisfied with this, saying that they will also continue to fight against the Geghardalich project that also affects the neighboring village of Goght.