Dozens of employees of Armenia’s largest chemical plant rallied in Yerevan on Thursday to condemn a court ruling that declared it bankrupt.
Demonstrating outside the Prime Minister’s Office, they also renewed their demands for the Armenian government to help reactivate the Nairit plant that has largely stood idle for the past five years.
The Yerevan-based facility manufacturing synthetic rubber employed several thousand people in Soviet times. It has struggled to remain afloat since the early 1990s, repeatedly changing foreign owners and operators in murky deals overseen by successive Armenian governments.
Nairit has had only 260 or so employees since the government, which now controls the debt-ridden plant, laid off 1,700 of its workers in January. The remaining workers have not been paid for months, regularly protesting outside the main government building in Yerevan.
A district court in the Armenian capital added to their anger on Monday when it ruled in favor of the Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA) national power utility, which had sued Nairit in January. ENA asked the court to declare the chemical giant bankrupt because of the latter’s failure to pay electricity bills totaling 1.24 billion drams ($2.6 million).
The protesters claimed that the government engineered both the ENA lawsuit and the resulting court verdict to avoid trying to re-activate Nairit. “They don’t want it to operate,” said one middle-aged woman.
“There are other companies to which Nairit owes much more, but they’ve not taken legal action,” argued another protester.
In early October, an Armenian-born businessman from Slovakia, Ashot Grigorian, said that he and other Slovak entrepreneurs will revive the Soviet-built plant with $100 million investments if the government transfers its ownership to them for free.
Prime Minister Karen Karapetian voiced skepticism about the proposal after holding talks with Grigorian. “It’s hard to operate a plant like Nairit in Armenia,” Karapetian told Armenian television on October 22. “There have been three of four such attempts, and I think that none of those operators made 10-year forecasts about the [price of] energy resources.”
“In my view, if a potential investor does not raise this issue [of energy prices], we should not continue to talk to them,” he said.
Nairit heavily relies on natural gas in its production operations. Karapetian managed Armenia’s national gas company from 2001-2010.
The World Bank argued against attempts to relaunch Nairit’s operations in an audit conducted earlier this year.