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Water for the Rich: Who Actually Benefits From Controversial Irrigation Project?

Who benefits from supplying a number of villages of Kotayk province with water diverted from the Geghardalich reservoir? Dozens of residents of the village of Goght discussed this question during their June 3 protest action against the construction of a gravity flow irrigation system in Geghardalich. They had blocked the main road to Geghard, demanding that authorities stop construction and discuss the project with them. Goght village head Artavazd Hakobyan and villager Marcos Gharibyan were perhaps the only people who did not oppose the project; however, protesters claimed that Gharibyan was biased because he owns agricultural lands and a small hydropower plant not far from the village. Chairman of Armenia’s Control Chamber Ishkhan Zakaryan, according to the villagers, was another interested party.

Village head Hakobyan did not share the protesters views on the World Bank-financed project, insisting that it would only benefit the village. The project envisages transferring water via pipes from the Gilanlar basin to Geghardalich from where it would be diverted to Kotayk villages – Hatsavan, Geghadir, Jrvezh and Voghjaberd, among others – through a gravity irrigation system. The village head claimed that the volume of water in the reservoir would increase, while neighboring communities would only be supplied with water transferred from Gilanlar. In the process, he added, some of the water would even be left to Goght residents.

The villagers, however, were not convinced by Hakobyan’s words; they stressed that during “dry years,” which, according to them, are not uncommon for the area, Goght would not get any water because “surely, they won’t leave the pipes empty.”

“There are 2,4 million cubic meters of water in Geghardalich, and it barely meets the requirements of Goght residents. There are years when it’s not even enough for our lands. They have told us they’d leave the 2,4 cubic meters and take the rest. Make no mistake, they’ll transfer 3 million [cubic meters of water] instead of the promised 1 million, and we won’t be able to do anything to stop them,” a protester told Epress.am.

He added that the Gilanlar basin was not an adequate source since its waters were mostly accumulated from rainfalls and thawing snow, and “it would be absurd to spend so much on Gilanlar; what they actually have their eye on is the water of Geghardalich.”

Other protesters insisted that the project was being implemented to provide the “enormous lands of the village’s rich” with irrigation water. Even Hatsavan and Geghadir residents, according to them, don’t believe that they would have any share in it.

“Residents of those villages don’t even believe that the water will reach them. The waters are taken to irrigate the lands of the rich. We offer to build a separate reservoir near Geghardalich and take the Gilanlar water there. From there they can divert it wherever they wish,” a protester said.

According to another version, those behind the project intend to use the Geghardalich water to irrigate the vast tracts of land that can be seen from the Goght-Garni highway. A villager, who wished to remain anonymous, alleged that these lands belonged to Ishkhan Zakaryan, the head of Armenia’s Control Chamber.

Talking to the demonstrators during the action, village head Artavazd Hakobyan claimed that at present construction works were suspended. However, on the way to Geghardalich, our correspondent saw a lot of water pipes, building machinery, and construction workers. Villagers, for their part, insisted that over the past few days, pipes were being transported to Geghardalich, while construction machinery worked increasingly actively.