Tatev's New Road in Armenia Leads to Economic Revival

January 30, 2012

The road to Tatev monastery winds through a spectacular gorge with rocky slopes and lush forests. It once connected several villages, but became so dilapidated that it was known not as the most beautiful pass in Armenia, but as the most dangerous one. Today, the road is rebuilt, and high hopes are pinned on the revival it could bring.

"For over thirty years this road was in a desperate shape, some sections were simply impassable," says Smbat Yeremayn, Shinuayr, village elder. "Now we are proud of the road we have, it's like elsewhere in the civilized world."

Tatev, a 9th century monastery, is an architectural masterpiece, a landmark, and a tourist attraction. The new road is luring tourists from Armenia and beyond once again, and starting to benefit these isolated communities.

" We plan to build a small market, where farmers can sell their produce. Some people have started bed-and-breakfasts, and they confidently take out micro-loans to do it. But the most important thing for me is that the attitudes of people have changed, few people think of emigrating now. They plan to stay in their homeland instead. "

Smbat Yeremayn

Shinuayr, village elder

One of the main goals of the Tatev Revival Project, which upgraded the road and other infrastructure here, was to connect the area's heritage with today's development. It brought together private and public partners, including international ones, around a common endeavor.

As a result, the Wings of Tatev, the longest aerial tramway in the world, spanning the Vorotan River Gorge, was built and is already a major attraction for tourists. The government, with World Bank support, rebuilt a 24.6 km section of the road that runs underneath the tram.

Hamlet Vanyan, a villager in Shinuayr has noticed the effect. "People started renovating their houses; there are taxi services; before, they would drop us off somewhere on the main road. As for me, I drive, so I am saving a lot now on fuel and car maintenance."

Hatsatun means bakery, where lavash is baked: Armenian bread made of very thin dough. Visitors to this area who want to get a feel for village life can visit a number of newly opened bakeries, shops and souvenir kiosks near Shinuayr's main road.

"We've been open a year, just like the Tatev road," says Nora Barseghyan, a lavash baker. "Nine of us are employed here in this bakery. A year ago, we were baking up to 300 lavash a day, now the average is up to 700. Tourists greatly enjoy freshly baked lavash."

Almost every villager mentions the road provides an easy connection to nearby places and to services. "I come from Goris, the regional center, and it takes me 15 minutes to get here now, instead of the hour-long commute of the past. Nice and easy. I didn't expect that the new road would increase the number of patients visiting our modest facility. You see how many medical cards I have on my desk since this morning? We are happy to serve patients also from the neighboring villages, like Khot, Harzhis, Tatev, Halidzor," says Nora Ivanyan, Head of the Shinuayr Primary Healthcare Center.

Halidzor, a community of 900, is the other village in the gorge with a rehabilitated road, including a section linking the village road to the school, repaved by unanimous request of the community.

"We all know it was an additional burden for this program, but it is quite critical for the community, as this is about the safety of our kids. I have worked in this school for 7 years, and I travel from neighboring Shinuayr. I've never crossed this distance with the dignity I do now. In harsh winter weather, the roads would simply be blocked, and the school closed. But not anymore," says Lilit Harutunyan, teacher at Halidzor Secondary School.

The roads linking villages to highways are often called lifeline roads in Armenia, as they are vital for communities located dozens of kilometers away from urban centers. The World Bank-supported project has ended geographic and economic isolation of rural communities. It has fixed almost 300 kilometers of roads in over 80 communities in Armenia, and created thousands of short-term jobs.