Pro-government lawmakers have introduced legislation that would extend and expand wide-ranging economic benefits enjoyed by residents of Armenian towns and villages close to the border with Azerbaijan.
People living in the 36 mostly rural communities affected by periodical Armenian-Azerbaijani border skirmishes have been exempt from property and agricultural land taxes since 2015. A law initiated by the former Armenian government also requires the state to subsidize the prices of electricity, natural gas and water supplied to them.
Amendments to the law drafted by parliament deputies from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc would extend the tax exemptions by three more years, until January 2024. They also call for the government to continue paying half of the local residents’ utility bills.
Irrigation water used them would also be covered by the subsidies. And their children going to school would receive textbooks for free or at knockdown prices.
The proposed amendments would further commit the government to repairing homes damaged by cross-border gunfire from Azerbaijan, which has been a regular occurrence ever since the early 1990s.
The government has until now been legally obliged to help only the owners of homes completely destroyed by Azerbaijani shelling. The latter are eligible for new and free housing.
In addition, the bill stipulates that residents of the border towns and villages severely wounded as a result of truce violations would not only receive free healthcare but also financial compensation ranging from 1 million to 3 million drams ($2,100-$6,300). The state would pay 5 million drams to the families of civilians killed by enemy fire.
The bill, which the Armenian parliament is due to debate this fall, was circulated in the wake of deadly fighting that broke out along the border between Armenia’s northern Tavush province and the Tovuz district in Azerbaijan on July 12. Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of shelling border villages during the hostilities that lasted for several days and left at least 17 soldiers dead.
According to the provincial administration, 89 houses in three Tavush villages were damaged as a result of the border clashes. The Armenian government has pledged to fully repair those properties. The repairs reportedly began last week.