Hundreds of furious farmers in central Armenia again blocked a major highway on Wednesday in continuing protests against the construction of a hydroelectric plant which they say would ruin local agriculture.
The residents of seven villages in Aragatsotn province halted traffic for a second time in two weeks after failing to secure a government pledge to ban the construction planned by a private firm. They insisted that the power plant would deprive their communities mainly living off apple groves of irrigation water coming from a nearby reservoir.
The section of the highway running from Yerevan to the Georgian border remained closed for several hours despite attempts by riot police to unblock it. The police briefly scuffled with the protesters at one point.
Traffic through the road resumed only after Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgian arrived at the same and addressed the farmers, some of them joined by their wives and children. He told them that an ad hoc government commission headed by one of his deputies will announce on Friday whether the controversial energy project will go ahead.
“So I suggest that you patiently wait for two more days,” said Gevorgian, who is also Armenia’s minister for local government.
The protesters were unconvinced. “Are our communities and their 20,000 residents a less important commission for you?” said one of them. “Why are you neglecting 20,000 people?”
Sargis Sahakian, the Aragatsotn governor, was also on hand to try to calm the angry crowd. But his assurances were also rejected. The protesters warned that they will march to Yerevan if their demand is not met by Saturday. They also threatened to disrupt the construction if it is sanctioned by the central government.
Dozens of small hydroelectric plants have been built or are under construction on fast-flowing mountainous rivers across Armenia over the past decade. The process is increasingly meeting with strong resistance from farmers living nearby as well as environmentalists. The latter claim that many of the plants cause serious damage to the country’s ecosystem.