Sunday, 17 November

The Villagers of Goghtanik Dream of 8 % Loans Promised by Government

The villagers of Goghtanik wait for when someone goes to the city from the village to give them a list of their goods or products that they need. 

To put it mildly, this person’s luck has run out. Besides his purchases, he must fulfill the needs of its neighbors, relatives and villagers and make their purchases. Then he must return to the village laden down with everything he has bought.

Goghtanik is located in the Vayots Dzor province, one of the villages in the vicinity of the town of Yeghegnadzor. The village can be found in the Yeghegis gorge, on the left bank of the river Yeghegis. The village is located 30 km from Yeghegnadzor and has a population of 235 people. 

The village has no stores. Goghtanik Council members said that at one time the village had a shop, but it is now closed.  “The shop owner was buried under debt and had to pay interest rates, as a result he fled the town. We go and buy stuff there without paying.” says village Mayor Hambardzoum Samvelyan, who jokingly adds, "His family is looking for him as well, but they cannot find him.”

Goghtanik is not a rich village and there are many problems present here. The villagers are engaged in livestock and agriculture. There are 150 hectares of arable land available, however not one piece is used by the villagers because there is no farm equipment. Residents only cultivate their household plots and   the arable land is only used as fodder meadows. 

The mayor said that the shopkeeper couldn’t turn the situation around, because the banks do not give credit to the village. According to the mayor, this is the major problem. While there are favorable conditions for raising cattle in the village, locals are not able to invest in the sector. 

“In order to acquire agricultural machinery you must go to the bank. There they tell you to put an apartment in Yerevan as collateral.  If I had an apartment in Yerevan, what would I be doing here?”, says the mayor.  “They need to make better conditions for loans.  They should at least accept a village house or land as collateral.  They will not.  Or let’s say, they seize the equipment we purchase if we don’t pay back the loan. This concept doesn’t exist either.”

Mayor Samvelyan says that he previously applied to ACBA-Credit Agricole Bank, was caught in a credit carousel, and was not able to come out from under it for 3-4 years. Borrowing from one, he was hardly able to pay off the other.  This is no HaygyughPokhbank (Rural Cooperative Bank), it is a house-destroying bank. I barely got free of this bank,” says Samvelyan.

Goghtanik has made several attempts to deal with the credit and loan issues. Aregak a, credit agency, and ArdshinInvestbank has worked with the village. Aregak, has given loans backed up by guarantees. However they are very small.  They started out at 120-200,000 and grew to 500 ,000 dram; but at high interest rates of 22-24%, and an additional service charge . “When everything is said and done, we wind up paying 30%", says the mayor.

Council member Grigor Tamanyan adds that they need to spend an additional 60-70,000 for loan processing documentation.  “You think the interest is very low, but when you account for the overall costs, the interest is doubled. With the loan you take out, you are not able to do anything in agriculture. You wind up in the red, at a loss, and can’t make any profit.” 

“They don’t explain things so that villagers understand what they are getting into,” adds the village head, suggesting that long-term loans need to be given to farmers so that they can get established, buy livestock, equipment, and pay off the interest after making some money.

The 8% loans launched by the government remain a dream for the Goghtanik villagers.  “They lie to us. Such loans have no connection to reality. They are not for us, " says mayor Samvelyan. The mayor has petitioned the regional administration for 8%  interest for loans and was told there wouldn’t be any problem. However, so far these low interest rates have not been granted to the village. 

The mayor confesses that he has grown tired of applying for various programs  because his village never wins any of the program competitions. He remembers the one time they applied for a tree planting program. Out of the blue, the organizers said that the winning village would have to be below 1,700 meters in elevation.

“We were despondent since the village is at 1850 meters. They place an obstacle in front of us at every turn. Today, all kinds of tress grow here - we have peaches, apricots, grapes, plum, walnuts, hazelnuts, and delicious apples," continued the mayor.   

Mayor Samvelyan is confident that there are good prerequisites for building a winter recreation area in their village, as the snow remains longer. In his opinion, it is also possible to develop a ski sport area in Goghtanik.  If they are forced to truck in snow to Tzaghkadzor to keep the tourists around, Goghtanik always has a constant supply.   

However, Goghtanik can’t do anything with its paltry budget comprising a state subsidy of 3.5 million AMD and local revenues of 1.5 million. It can just about pay the salaries of the village municipal staff.  There are many problems that need to be fixed in the village including the repair of the damaged drinking water pipe, renovation of the school kindergarten, and inter-community roads, which are in poor condition. "We’ve written and petitioned frequently for assistance, but we receive no results," says the mayor.

Goghtanik had around 400 people in the 1990s. But the old people died off. ,  Many who fled Azerbaijan and wound up in Goghtanik left as well. They weren’t used to village life and the poor conditions in Goghtanik didn’t make the transition any easier. 

Today, Goghtanik only has 235 inhabitants.

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