The repeatedly postponed construction of a major hydroelectric plant on the Armenian-Iranian border has still not begun despite being officially announced a year ago, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian admitted on Thursday.
President Serzh Sarkisian was among senior officials who attended in November 2012 what his office described as the launch of a $330 million project meant to cement close energy ties between Armenia and Iran. Sarkisian applauded as Movsisian and then Iranian Energy Minister Majid Namjou broke ground on the plant to be built on the Arax river separating the two countries.
It was announced at the time that an Iranian company will build the 130 megawatt facility within five years. Armenian officials said the company, Tavan Abaraz, will use all electricity generated by it at will for 15 years. The plant will then become property of Armenia, they said.
Movsisian said on Thursday, however, that the two sides are not yet even done designing the plant. “Design work on the project is in the final phase. I think construction will start next year,” he told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. He did not comment on reasons for the delay.
The Iranian ambassador in Yerevan, Mohammad Reisi, said last week that the project’s implementation has been primarily hampered by international sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Reisi cited serious restrictions imposed by the Armenian authorities on cash operations with Iranian banks. He expressed hope that the recent easing of those sanctions will speed up the plant’s construction.
Armenia - President Serzh Sarkisian meets with Iranian Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian, Yerevan, 22Nov2013
Movsisian and Iran’s new Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian met twice, in Tehran and Yerevan, last month in the space of two weeks. Few details of their talks were made public.
Critics of President Sarkisian will seize upon the officially confirmed delay in the project’s implementation to again accuse the Armenian government of lying to the public about its energy dealings notorious for a lack of transparency. Hayk Gevorgian, an economic writer for the pro-opposition daily “Haykakan Zhamanak,” claimed that Sarkisian used last year’s purported inauguration of the construction work as a publicity stunt for the February 2013 presidential election. Gevorgian called the November 2012 ceremony on the Armenian-Iranian border a “sham.”
The government was already embarrassed on December 6 by Reisi’s claims that it has never sought to negotiate with Tehran over more large-scale supplies of Iranian natural gas. The Iranian envoy further questioned Movsisian’s claims that Armenia remains heavily reliant on Russian natural gas because it is cheaper than Iranian gas.
Movsisian denied Reisi’s claims. He insisted that the Armenian side has negotiated with the Iranians on the gas tariff and that they have not set it lower than Russia’s Gazprom giant has.