Sunday, 15 December

Sinkhole Politics: Who Stands to Profit from Ijevan Highway Reconstruction?

On April 14, a huge sink hole closed a stretch of the Yerevan-Ijevan highway near the village of Hovk, just north of Dilijan. It came as no surprise that the road gave way. I had written about the impending threat six months ago in several Armenian papers. On February 26, Armen Gevorgyan, the RoA Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Emergency Situations, had paid a working visit to Tavush Marz and held consultations at the Regional Administration regarding the threat that sink holes posed for the regions roadways. 15.9 million AMD in estimated road repair Upon the directive of Mr. Gevorgyan, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications hired the “TchanNakhagitz” Roadway Institute to conduct an examination of the Hovk sinkhole. The Institute reported that based on their findings it would take 15.9 million AMD to repair the stretch of affected road. The Transport Ministry applied to the government to allocate the needed funds. It has expected that the roadway would be completely reconstructed in a month’s time once the money was allocated. Just five days earlier, RoA President Sargsyan, accompanied by a large entourage, had travelled the highway to make a working visit to Tavush. President Sargsyan travelled same stretch of road Clearly, the nation’s head of state and other top officials made their way over this stretch of road, now just a few hairs wide. Tigran Papyan and his mother, who were travelling along the roadway at night, narrowly escaped death as the asphalt beneath them started to give way.. They jumped from the car just in time. The car, however, tumbled down into the gulley below. I was at the site on April 16 and saw how the Ijevan emergency rescue services unit pulled the car from the raging waters of the Aghstev River, some 500 meters below. Artak Evanisyan and the other emergency personnel had entered the river and tied a stout rope to the car. They eventually were able to hoist the car out. At first, the landslide had dammed up the river’s natural flow, but the Aghstev just carved another bed for itself. Due to the roadway sinkhole, half of the former roadway now lies at the bottom of the gulley. Large cracks in the forested area on the road’s shoulders have appeared. People risk getting to other side on foot Immediately after the landslide, an official alternate route was declared between Ijevan and Yerevan that wound its way through Noyemberyan, Alaverdi and finally Vanadzor. During my April 16 visit to the Hovk site, I witnessed something quite peculiar. People and cars were still travelling along the road, now just a fraction of its former self, even though it had been officially cordoned off. Several inter-city minivans were also lined up along the roadway. They had schedules to keep and passengers to get to Yerevan. No mere landslide was about to stop them. I approached one of the “Gazel” minivans. The passengers got out of the vehicle and started to make their way on foot along the treacherous stretch of road to the other side. If what was left of the road started to give way and some of the passengers fell to their certain death below, I wondered who would ultimately be found responsible; the government, for not monitoring the situation, or the hapless risk takers themselves? An elderly woman got out of the van and tried to make it across. Since the remaining roadway had buckled up, the poor woman kept falling down. A soldier came to help her up. A little later, Ijevan Mayor Varuzhan Nersisyan and his Deputy, Karen Otaryan, showed up. The two officials were seeing some guests off and they began to walk up the narrow footpath, a detour around the destroyed stretch or road, together. The pedestrian pathway is about 500 meters long. One first has to walk up and then down to reach the other side. Once passengers walk to the other side, they get into another “Gazel” minivan waiting to take them to Yerevan. There were many minivans on either side of the washed out roadway waiting to take passengers in either direction. I should point out the dangers inherent in making the detour around the slide. There are cracks so deep in areas that one cannot see the bottom. A false step here could be fatal. A few days ago, a road detour was opened just north of Hovk village. Artak Sargsyan, who heads the Tavush Regional Administration’s Department of Transportation, says the detour is a mere 2.5 meters away. Residents of Ijevan say the road was constructed due to the efforts of Artak Chiboukhchyan, a businessman from the village of Yenokavan who now resides in Russia. He has opened a campground just outside of Yenokavan. Gagik Matinyan, who heads the Tavush Regional Emergency Services, said that only vehicles with high road clearance could now make the journey across the road. “It rained yesterday, and the place became a traffic jam.” Artzruni Ghaloumyan, Director of the Ijevan Road Construction Company, is well known in these parts as a skilled road builder. He said his firm could build a quality road in just three days. European technology to build gravel road? On April 20, the Transportation Ministry stated that the company “Amarashin” would be building a temporary detour road using the most modern of European technology. As to what is meant by ‘European technology’ when it comes to building a dirt and gravel road, only the Transportation Ministry can say for certain. Questions still linger. For example, how did “Amarashin” win the right to build the road? Why die “Amarashin” get the job? According to our information, the head of “Amarashin” is a guy called “Amarasi Artur” a former Karabakh fighter. He is the son-in-law of noted diaspora Armenian businessman Vahakn Hovnanian. The Transport Ministry has stated that 80 million AMD will be spent to build the detour road and that work will be completed in two weeks. Was their ever a bid for this 80 million construction project? What ties does Artak Chiboukhchyan have with this company? On the evening of April 20, a program was broadcast by the “Ijevan Studio” TV station regarding the construction of the temporary roadway. During the program, Ijevan Mayor Varuzhan Nersisyan thanked Artak Chiboukhchyan, Vachik Matinyan, Andranik Kochinyan and those Ijevan mechanical equipment operators who spared no effort to get the road built. The TV report also noted that the Ijevan Municipality helped out by providing fuel. Wasn’t the 80 million enough to get the road built? According to a Transport Ministry statement, in addition to the construction of the temporary roadway, work was carried out on drafting plans to reconstruct the main highway from the bottom up. As a result, four alternative proposals have been made. Once one of the four proposals is accepted, work on rebuilding the main highway will commence. The job is scheduled to be completed within one year. The question then arises, if none of the four proposals has yet to be selected how is it that Transport Minister Manuk Vardanyan can categorically state that the job will cost $10-12 million and that will take one year to complete.

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