Thursday, 14 November

Ten Years On: Armenian Village Has Little to Show for Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline

When construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline got underway and it was revealed that a 2-kilometer section of the 1,768 pipeline would pass through the fields in the village of Molit, in the Samtskhe-Javaketi region of Georgia, local Armenian residents were overjoyed.
They were to be compensated, and residents decided to share the windfall equally, regardless of whose fields the pipeline passed through.

In the end, each Molit resident received 14,000 Georgia Lari (US$6,000). 

Construction of the Molit section of the pipeline began in earnest in 2004-2005. Once complete, twenty jobs to keep watch over the pipeline went to locals. While village roads weren’t asphalted, then were upgraded.

Molit, at 2,050 meters above sea level, had 54 households (273 inhabitants) according to a 2002 census.  Now, 45 households remain. Nine families left the village after receiving the pipeline money.

Other than monetary compensation, the greatest benefit to the village was the upgrading of the nine-year old school. Only 36 pupils attend the school. This September, three kids will start first grade.

Knar Haroutyunyan, a graduate of Yerevan State University who teaches English at the school, is a native of Molit. She remembers that when she attended class, the school’s enrollment was more than 100.

Ten years after the pipeline started to transport oil, the village is again in retreat. Jobs are being cut and the pipeline is now looked after by various law enforcement agencies.

The road to Molit is in terrible condition. The village is 64 kilometers distant from the regional capital of Borjomi. Taxi drivers refuse to make the perilous trip no matter how much money is offered. 

When this reporter recently visited Molit, residents were out in the fields for the hay harvest. Winters last for up to eight months in the region, followed by two months of spring and two of brutal summers.

Under the scorching rays of the sun, women cover the faces like Soviet battalion laborers of old. Only their eyes are visible. Some wear wide-brim hats in the Mexican style.

The village is deserted. Shota Margaryan, a 66-year-old resident, approaches and sits under a stone wall in the village center. He tells me that of the four villages in the Borjomi region (Tabatzghour, Molit, Chkharola and Balanta), only Molit has no natural gas. Recently, a Georgia running for MP in the area visited the village and promised to bring in natural gas and repair the road.

“Saakashvili gave the order and the gas pipes were installed. But they have stayed like that. Officials come and make promises that are never realized,” says Mr. Margaryan.

Molit residents mostly engage in raising livestock and a bit of farming, mostly potatoes and fodder for the animals.

A few families make a living from Lake Tabatzghour, four kilometers away. Hetq has written about the lake in the past and how Armenia MP Vardan Ayvazyan has leased the lake from the Georgia government. Local residents were then banned from fishing. Ayvazyan used to have people patrol the lake to stop residents from entering. Not anymore. There are no fish left ever since Ayvazyan introduced crayfish. 

“When were there fish for us to take? The crayfish have decimated fish stocks,” says Roubik Haroutyunyan while working on a haystack.

We walk down to the lake. Rouzanna Mikoyan is washing sheep’s wool. She says the lake water turns the wool snow white. “When I marry off my son this year, they’ll sleep on this quilt I’m making,” she says with pride in her voice.

I spot three boys on the shore. They quickly disrobe and jump in the water. They couldn’t care less who has leased the lake or why. 

“So what? It’s our lake,” says one of the young swimmers.

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Comments (3)
1. Berge Jololian19:25 - 15 August, 2016
Thank you Hetq for providing maps :) It puts the story being reported in a geographical context, helps the reader understand and relate to the story. I happen to have travel plans in the region and will do my best to swing by and check out the Molit village school. With many thanks for the maps.
2. joe07:31 - 22 August, 2016
So if the pipeline went through Armenia and its villages instead, would the locals see any improvement or benefit?
3. brian10:20 - 27 August, 2016
Joe, the folks who built the pipeline had to come up with a plan that satisfied Baku and Ankara. Thus Armenia was skirted around. If it was planned to go through Armenia, the other two countries would not have given permission.
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