By Atom Markarian
Thousands of farmers in an arid Armenian region near the Turkish border are looking forward to the reconstruction of a nearby water pumping station slated for completion at the end of this year.
Government officials said on Friday that the facility located on the river Arax marking the Turkish-Armenian border in the area will allow the locals to nearly double the use of its much-needed water for irrigation purposes. The nearly $1 million reconstruction effort is funded by the World Bank as part of its $31 million loan program launched in February 2002 to upgrade Armenia’s aging irrigation networks.
Arax waters are jointly and equally used by Armenia and Turkey in accordance with a 1983 Soviet-Turkish agreement prolonged by Ankara and Yerevan in 2001. Although the border has been closed for the past ten years and the two governments have no diplomatic relations, they set up a joint task force that regularly monitors the agreement’s implementation. One of its members, Slavik Ishkhanian, said Turkish and Armenian officials cross the border over a bridge and inspect each other’s facilities every week.
“Our technical capacities did not allow us to get our share of the water,” said Adibek Ghazarian, a government official supervising the project’s implementation. “But the situation will soon change.”
“We now get 28 cubic meters of water per second from Arax and after the reconstruction work is finished we will raise the volume to 53 cubic meters, or as much as our neighbors get. We have long dreamed about such volumes,” Ghazarian added.
Officials say the extra water will significantly boost agricultural yields in the entire southwestern Armavir region, which is part of Armenia’s fruit-growing Ararat Valley. Local authorities expect that it will also allow them to desalinate and use 5,000 hectares of arable land for agricultures purposes.
According to Roger Robinson, head of the World Bank office in Yerevan, the joint use of water resources is also a rare example of Turkish-Armenian cooperation and is “very encouraging” for the future of bilateral ties. “The World Bank would like to see a normalization of trade and commercial relations between the two countries,” Robinson told reporters while he inspected the Arax station.
The Armenian government hopes to secure $66 million in external loans to construct and repair of water mains and carry out sweeping structural reforms in the hugely loss-making sector by 2008. Irrigation is vital for Armenia’s struggling agricultural sector. The Soviet-era network of 17,000 kilometers of pipelines covering 250,000 hectares of arable land has not seen substantial investments since the country’s independence.