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Armenia suffered its apparently worst power outage in nearly two decades at the weekend as a result of what the authorities in Yerevan called a brief disruption in electricity supplies from neighboring Iran.

The entire Armenian capital and some other parts of the country were abruptly left without electricity for more than two hours on Saturday morning. The emergency deactivated traffic lights and brought the city’s underground transport system to a halt, leaving hundreds of commuters stranded in its tunnels. They all were evacuated by the national Rescue Service before power supplies were restored.

The Armenian Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources blamed the blackout on “technical problems” in imports of electricity from Iran. “Our energy system was automatically disconnected from the Iranian system,” the ministry spokeswoman, Lusine Harutyunyan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Harutiunian said that Energy Minister Armen Movsisian set up an ad hoc commission that will investigate the precise causes of the disruption. Movsisian told reporters on Monday that the commission will also discuss how to prevent such emergencies in the future.

There was no official reaction from the Iranian government and energy officials.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Armenia is currently heavily reliant on Iranian electricity because its Metsamor nuclear plant was brought to a halt in September for regular repairs and maintenance. Metsamor’s sole functioning reactor, which generates around 40 percent of Armenia’s annual electricity output, is due to be restarted on November 16.

The Soviet-era plant was shut down in 1989 but reactivated in 1995 to end severe power shortages in the country. Armenian households had electricity for only a few hours a day from 1992-1995.

Armenia and Iran have supplied each other with electricity on a seasonal basis for the past decade. “We give them electricity in the summer and they usually supply it to us in winter months,” explained Harutiunian.

The mutual deliveries have intensified since Armenia began importing natural gas from Iran through a newly built pipeline in 2008. The Iranian gas is mainly converted into electricity at Armenian thermal power plants, which is exported to the Islamic Republic. The seasonal swaps should increase further after the completion of ongoing work on a third power transmission line connecting the two countries.
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