By Armen Zakarian
A business association uniting Armenia’s leading construction companies appealed for government intervention on Tuesday in the face of a surge in the price of cement, a key construction material. The Armenian Union of Constructors called for “emergency measures to save the already struggling construction sector from the artificially created crisis.”
The union issued a joint statement after a sudden shortage of the material, caused by the simultaneous work stoppage at the country’s two cement-producing plants, pushed up its price from 21,000 drams ($38) to 45,000 drams per ton in the course of last week. The price stabilized at 26,000 drams on Monday after Hrazdan Cement, one of the two factories privatized earlier this year, resumed its production operations.
The other one based in the southern city of Ararat still stands idle. Ararat Cement, which is run by former prime minister Aram Sarkisian, was the center of a major controversy last week when its angry employees barred a government minister from entering the factory, in a bid to stave off its upcoming sell-off. Sarkisian, who has argued against the company’s privatization in the past, said the cement crisis is not related to the incident.
He told RFE/RL that Ararat Cement suspended its operations last month after a fall in supplies of Russian natural gas, on which it is highly dependent. The factory will restart production as soon as the authorities restore the usual volume of gas deliveries, he said.
The chairman of the constructors’ union, Yuri Simonian, also insisted that the privatization issue has nothing to do with the cement shortages. But he warned that local construction firms, struggling to remain afloat in an economically depressed environment, could face mass bankruptcies if the price of cement does not return to the pre-crisis level.
The union’s statement described as “desperate” the situation in the sector. But it did not specify which measures the government should take to deal with the problem.