Residents of Armenian towns and villages close to the Azerbaijani border will be exempted from some taxes and receive utility subsidies starting from next year, the government announced on Monday.
Vache Terterian, the acting minister for local government, unveiled the economic privileges as he discussed with lawmakers the government’s draft budget for next year pending debate in the National Assembly.
Terterian said that property and agricultural land taxes will not be collected at least until 2018 from the 31 mostly rural communities that have long been affected by Armenian-Azerbaijani border skirmishes. He said the government will also subsidize the price of electricity, natural gas and irrigation water supplied to local residents. In addition, the latter will be provided with free housing in case their homes are destroyed or seriously damaged by Azerbaijani gunfire, added the official.
Terterian did not specify the extent of the utility fee discounts. “We will calculate the average consumption of electricity and gas in those communities and that will be used as a benchmark for paying compensations,” he told members of the National Assembly.
The government announced the aid package after months of pressure from opposition deputies who believe that residents of border communities must be compensated and even rewarded by the state for the security risks that not only endanger their lives but also make it hard for them to earn a living.
Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s cabinet came under opposition fire last month when it presented in the parliament a bill giving tax breaks people doing business in those communities. Opposition deputies denounced those privileges as cosmetic.
Their senior pro-government colleagues said that the latest government measure is meant to address the opposition criticism. “This is a classic example of political dialogue,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker and the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
Some opposition deputies remained dissatisfied, however. Armen Rustamian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) said that the government should do more in over a dozen villages that are located particularly close to Armenia’s militarized border with Azerbaijan. He said they are in urgent need of special fortifications that would give them better protection against sniper and automatic gunfire from nearby Azerbaijani army positions.