A couple of weeks ago, a 75-year-old Georgian villager, Hayastan Shakarian, became an overnight media sensation because she allegedly severed Internet connections in Georgia and Armenia while using a shovel to scavenge for copper. But the real story has less to do with the interruption in Internet service than with the decidedly low-tech, low-glamor topic of scrap metal.
Little known to outsiders, Georgia’s scrap metal industry -- advertised by roadside signs displaying the single, handwritten word “jarti” (“scrap”) – has become one of its most lucrative economic sectors. Ranked in 2010 as the country’s third largest export sector ($151.03 million), scrap metal easily outstrips the better-known wine and mineral water sectors ($69.4 million).
While Shakarian denies that she severed fiber-optic cables in her hunt for copper, the scrap metal business in her neighborhood, as in much of rural Georgia, is hard to miss. Two scrap metal collection centers, one offering 360 laris ($215.71) per ton of metal, stand on the road leading to her village, Armazi, some 29 kilometers to the north of Tbilisi.
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Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi and editor of the American Chamber of Commerce’s Investor.ge magazine.