In Touch With Tavush: With communication projects nearing completion, President promises further attention

President Robert Kocharyan made a visit to Tavush last week, with promises that the strategic region will soon be better connected to important trade and communication routes.

By the end of this year, villages that border Azerbaijan, and that have been virtually isolated due to damage left over from the Karabakh War, will be better connected to each other, and to the main highway linking the border settlements with Yerevan and Tbilisi.

Already, 16 kilometers of the 23-kilometer Aygehovit – Vazashen – Paravakar motorway have a new surface. All but one kilometer of the border life-link is expected to be completed before 2006. The project is financed by 1.5 billion drams (about $335,000) from the State budget.

The President also promised similar projects for connecting internal villages and towns.

“During the next two or three years the sections of the Berd-Chambarak, Dilijan-Chambarak, Chambarak-Shorzha, and the ways connecting Berd with the remotest villages will be put into operation,” Kocharyan told reporters last Friday.

The evidence of promises being carried out is welcomed by residents such as Hakob Poghosyan, of the village of Chinchin.

“Everyone who had a possibility to travel through this mountainous area cannot but remember the danger that awaited them around each serpentine curve – the mighty trunks of trees overturned by a night windbreak and slow sliding ground along which rare transport has to move,” Poghosyan said. “And even in ‘safe’ Soviet time these places knew only one stable means of movement – a loaded donkey.”

Situated in the north-east of Armenia, the Tavush region occupies a territory of 2,700 square kilometers. In addition to being one of the republic’s most scenic regions, it is also the only one that borders Georgia and Azerbaijan. It is strategic from a defense standpoint, especially considering that, in addition to bordering enemy territory, its Georgia neighbors are also mostly Azeri-populated territories – specifically the Marneuli region.

The main settlements of Tavush (including Ijevan and Noyemberyan) bear the marks of life on a battle front: abandoned railroads, shelled houses, mined lands and cut-off water lines. The province is home to about 160,000, with 63,000 living in towns (Dilijan – 24,000, Ijevan – 21,000, Berd – 11,500, Noyemberyan – 6,500).

“Besides the visual reminders of the frontline zone, all this forms a special psychology of people living on the line of contact of the armed forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan,” says the region’s head Armen Ghularyan. Half of Tavush’s 58 villages are, Ghularyan says “within the radius of a sniper’s shot”. The overwhelming majority of cases of violating the May 12, 1994 cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbiajan, have taken place in Tavush villages.

“Nearly a 100,000-strong rural population of the region, part of whom still continue to live in extreme conditions, must feel their link to the midland areas of the republic,” says Ghularyan. “For this it is necessary to take a lot of measures on the economic development of the region, such as to create agricultural infrastructure, install new canals and form sales points for agricultural produce of border villages. However, the most important is building road communications without which it is impossible to speak about the region’s economic development seriously.”

Taking into account the specifics of Tavush, the Government of Armenia adopted a program on the socio-economic rehabilitation of the region in 2002, which became the first State project applied to a single province.

“The government program on the economic development of Tavush is no doubt a very important document exactly in the aspect that it is a thoroughly considered list of all socio-economic priorities of the region,” Kocharyan said. “This document in fact shows the logic of the rehabilitation of this area. Meanwhile, Armenian authorities are developing new points on the basis of the already existing project.

“In particular, we must abandon the ‘piece-mill policy’ in which allocated funds are spent on reshaping only separate components of several facilities – repairs of the roof of one school or another, reconstruction of one or another communication sector, etc. Today it is time for conceptual solutions – construction of new schools, building new roads…”

And, the President added, time to get telephone service to such areas.

“It is also a strategic task to provide the population, especially of borderline areas of Armenia, with mobile phone connection,” Kocharyan said. “I think that in the near future this problem will be solved through the activities of the new mobile phone operator (VivaCell, see links below for related ArmeniaNow article). Besides the military-strategic factor, here another aspect is also important: it is only with the presence of stable communication that the development of economic infrastructures of the region is possible.”

The President did not, however, mention that in his own city, Yerevan, proper mobile phone service has not been available since July, when Viva Cell and Armentel started fighting over the cell phone market. It is a condition not lost, however, on villagers such as Zhora Bejanyan, a resident of the village of Koti, who believes his province deserves special attention.

“The ArmenTel Company, which has undertaken to provide the population of the country with stable communication, has failed to carry out its functions,” Bejanyan said. “While this incompetence within the boundaries of the Armenian capital is taken in the form of social irritation or violation of consumer rights, then on the frontline it is also the cause of strategic losses.”