Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Wildlife Wars in Armenia and Azerbaijan?

A month after Armenia’s districting of a new wildlife sanctuary, Zangezur, its ex-Soviet neighbor Azerbaijan has renamed a newly-expanded national park – not too far from the one in Armenia – Zangezur.

The environmentally praiseworthy move may prove politically dangerous. While a likely coincidence, the name-sharing of the two parks could increase the already sky-scraping atmosphere of mutual distrust and information wars. But the incident also has potential to help Armenia and Azerbaijan – technically at war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and locked in so-far-unsuccessful negotiations – to acknowledge some of their overlapping history.

History is hotly (and hostilely) contested in Armenia and Azerbaijan, with both trying to delegitimize each others’ national claims. Azerbaijan, for instance, outright distorts Christian Armenia’s ancient roots in the region – often deliberately destroying distinct Armenian monuments (and later denying their previous existence in the first place) to support its absurd case.

Armenia, in turn, exclusively (and religiously) insists that the idea of “Azerbaijan” is a mere construction of 1918 when a Persian toponym (the northern part of Iran) was applied to a newly-established Muslim Turkic country in the Caucasus. While accurate, Armenia’s argument ignores Azerbaijan’s diverse ethnic composition which is not completely limited to colonizing Turkic tribes from the other side of the Caspian but also includes some native peoples who, on their turn, share blood with Armenians. This explains why native Armenians and largely-settler Azerbaijans are genetically more related than either would want to admit.

Instead of emphasizing commonalities, which hasn’t been limited t conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been each demanding exclusive rights to geographic names. The name of the new sanctuaries in both countries, Zangezur, for instance, is the name of the mountain range that separates southernmost Armenia’s Syunik region – often called Zangezur itself – from Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave. Instead of considering history-sharing, both Armenia and Azerbaijan regard Zangezur and Nakhichevan (and neighboring Nagorno-Karabakh) their exclusive historic lands.

The history dispute is a headache. But it may contain the key to solving the conflict. The Western and Russian negotiators of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict deliberately overlook (and wrongly so) the delicate issue of history and cultural protection. Instead, they should work toward an honest and straightforward address of historical disputes. If indeed a coincidence, the two Zangezur sanctuaries should remind Armenia and Azerbaijan (and the dithering negotiators) that “power sharing” – in this case the coequal right to using common historical names – maybe the road to sustainable peace.

Would a “sister” program between the Zangezur reserve in Armenia and the one in Azerbaijan help bring some change?

Armenia: Chemical Plant Explosion

Asbarez reports about the Nairit explosion in Yerevan, a plant that Armenians closed due to environmental concerns toward the collapse of the Soviet Union. After the plant reopened in 1992, demands to close it down had died due to economic depressions. Will the new incident reignite the environmental movement?

Two explosions within the spam of about five minutes rocked the Nairit chemical plant in southern Yerevan at about 6.40 pm Thursday.

The explosions reportedly followed a huge fire at a chloroprene production shop at Nairit, the region’s largest synthetic rubber producing plant. The two explosions could be heard by residents living in the nearby area.

Sixteen fire-fighting vehicles reportedly rushed to the scene soon after the incident and were fighting fire late on Thursday. The fire rated as ‘huge’ was reportedly localized.


Several ambulance vehicles were rushing into the area. According to unconfirmed reports, there are at least three deaths and over a dozen injuries.


According to A1Plus, there are five deaths.

Armenia: “Bettering” Co. Dumps Trash into the River

Hetq photo: Waste being dumped into the Debed river
Armenia may be the smallest of all ex-Soviet countries, but when it comes to damaging the environment it shows little modesty.

Writing in Armenian, posts a photo of resident and economic trash being dumped into the River Debed in the northern city of Alaverdi.

Most ironically, the contractor that dumps the waste three times a week is named “Bettering Alaverdi.”

Armenia: 20th Anniversary of Killer Earthquake

In one of the worst earthquakes of the Soviet Union, the second-largest city in Armenia was destroyed on December 7, 1988. Twenty years after the devastation, Gyumri (formerly, Leninakan) and much of northern Armenia isn’t completely rebuilt.  Today marks the 20th anniversary of an honor that took 25,000 lives and made half a million people from a population of 3 million homeless. They were other damages too:


  • The number of the wounded: about 20.000 people, from which 12.500 people were hospitalized
  • The material losses were about 10bn USD
  • Destroyed or severely suffered: 21 towns and 342 villages
  • Destructed: 50% of the housing – about 8mln m2
  • Stopped functioning 170 industrial enterprises with 82 000 jobs, the industrial capacity was 1,9bn USD
  • Severely suffered or destroyed 917 centres of people’s education with 200 000 jobs, 250 health units, 324 clubs and houses of culture
  • Destroyed 24 000 head of cattle, 45 000 head of sheep, 8000 pigs.
  • From 8461 architectural, art and historical monuments of the disaster area completely destroyed 1255, seriously damaged – 984, became half-destructed – 1216.

    Before Armenia could start rebuilding Leninakan in late 1988, struggle for independence from the Soviet Union intensified, and a war with a former Soviet neighbor, Azerbaijan, became inevitable. Leninakan was renamed Gyumri as Armenia became independent in 1991, but reconstruction took a slow path. Those who survived the earthquake started another chapter of struggle.


    In the face of economic hardship in all parts of Armenia, many residents of Gyumri left the country with a hope for a better life. They had seen how rich and generous the rest of the world was. Massive aid and support had reached Armenia following the earthquake, even bringing Jeb Bush, the son of America’s president-elect and vice president George Bush Senior, to the falling walls of the Soviet Union.


    Twenty years after the destruction, northern Armenia still bears the marks of the earthquake. May the dead rest in piece. Hope and salute to all the survivors, including to my ex-girlfriend A. whose baptism cross was lost in ruins during the earthquake (she was just a year old at the time).

    Armenia: Nature Protection Chief No. 1 Violator

    While institutionalized corruption has become an unfortunate norm in post-Soviet Armenia, some flagrant cases of abuse of power can still be shocking. Consider this: the chief of the Ministry of Nature Protection is buidling himself a summer house in an area that he recently delisted from the national preservation list.

    According to Hetq:

    “A few months ago, when the Armenian government was debating the permissible amounts of water that could be drawn from Lake Sevan, the press was full of reports that the agreed upon 360 million cubic meters of water to be extracted wasn’t needed for agricultural irrigation usage but rather to save the numerous property sites of government officials from the rising lake’s waters.

    At the time, government officials and National Assembly Deputies labeled such allegations as ridiculous and without merit.

    The private house pictured here on the shore of Lake Sevan, with its numerous annexes, belongs to Aram Harutyunyan, the Minister of Nature Protection. (The photo depicts only a portion of the private compound). Construction on the house began this year and renovation work is still continuing. The house is located on the road that leads from the village of Shorzha to the Artanish Nature Preserve, a few meters removed from the shoreline. Sources close to “Hetq” claim that one year ago the house site was a part of the Artanish Preserve lands and that it was detached from the Preserve’s boundaries after a decision passed by the government. “

    “Yes we can do anything we want” is not a new slogan in Armenian politics. Just last month, news broke that the now-speaker of the Parliament was building a hotel complex in another natural reserve.

    Armenia: Private Development in National Reserve

    Private development is threatening the biodiversity of one of the largest national forests in the former Soviet Union, and an oligarchic lawmaker in Armenia is said to be the violator.  

    (See photos at Bnamard: Private development in Armenia’s largest reserve by a member of the ruling Republican party)

    A Facebook message from a member of an Armenian environmental group informs that their group has confirmed an earlier report by that a large area of Armenia’s largest reserve, the Khosrov forest, is underway for private development.

    Hetq, while writing about the uncertain state status of a neglected natural area next to the Khosrov reserve on September 8, 2008, also reported that a large acrage of the reserve has been allocated for development:

    …տեղաբնակ ադրբեջանցիների կողմից ժամանակին թաղված եւ միայն վերջերս հայտնաբերված հրաշք եկեղեցու հարեւանությամբ, իրազեկ մարդկանց պնդմամբ, Աժ պատգամավոր Հովիկ Աբրահամյանը հսկա հյուրանոցային համալիրի շինարարություն է նախաձեռնել: Խոսրովի արգելոցի տնօրեն Ս. Շաբոյանը հաստատեց, որ այդ հատվածում 192 հա հող է տրվել վարձակալության, թե ու՞մ` «հստակ» չէր հիշում:…

    [According to informed sources, National Parliament member Hovik Abrahamyan has organized construction for an enormous hotel [in the Khosrov resort] next to a newly-discovered church, which had been covered by soil by the former local Azeris [who left Armenia in the late 1980s due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan]. The director of the Khosrov reserve, S. Shaboyan, confirmed that 192 acres of land have been leased out, but couldn’t “precisely” remember to who…]

    Hovik Abrahamyan is a member of Armenia’s ruling Republican party and a close friend of President Serzh Sargsyan. It is rumored that Mr. Abrahamyan may soon become the Speaker of Armenia’s Parliament.

    That much about “change” in the Caucasus this week.

    Armenia: Environmental NGO Accused of Improper Political Activism

    Writing in his weekly USA ARMENIAN LIFE MAGAZINE  column (received in an e-mail), managing editor Appo Jabarian shares reactions to a broadcast video, also posted at, in which he criticized opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan and defended Armenia’s government’s actions in the March 1, 2008 post-election clashes.

    While saying that he wasn’t surprised to receive e-mails of both support and disagreement from individual activists to his message delivered on behalf of a group of Armenain-American journalists, Jabarian – who is often regarded as nationalist for his views – says an offensive letter from a non-governmental organization (NGO) was quite unexpected. The Diasporan journalist says that a short research finds that the NGO in question is, in theory, working for environmental issues and is funded by an organization based in the United States. In Jabarian’s own words:




    On Monday, April 21, the editorial offices of USA Armenian Life Magazine received a letter titled “Repulse from Armenia!”


    It said: “‘Armenia[n] Life’ exactly repeats the statements made by Kocharyan, and other barking ‘puppies’ like Tigran Torosyan or Aghvan Hovsepyan, but even in a more disapprobatory [sic] tones. These types of biased statements are more destabilizing rather than stabilizing, and forcing a thorny wedge between Armenia and Diaspora. Who gave you [Jabarian] the right to make an appeal on behalf of the Diasporan Armenians? Do you think that you are the ‘Messiah’ of the Nation? Your recent columns proved once again that you are paid prostitutes [sic] of Kocharyan-Serzh [Sargsyan] regime, and your publications remain at inferior level intended for ‘hade bye’s like you! — P.S. ‘Turkey Life’ would be more appropriate to your bull s**t ‘offline’ magazine.…” — It was signed “Ecological Academy NGO.”


    The website of “Ecological Academy NGO” describes its “mission statement” as follows: “‘Ecological Academy’ visualizes Armenia’s future in sustainable and socio-economic development of the society, in parallel with environmental improvement and harmony. The ‘Ecological Academy’ is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that favors enhancement of environmental quality in the Republic of Armenia, advancement of environmental science and education, by carrying out educational, research, technical-advisory, project-appraisal, public-awareness-raising actions.”


    A brief research on the “Ecological Academy NGO” revealed that this particular NGO is financially linked to The Natural Capital Institute, a U.S.-based privately funded organization. The Institute boasts on its website: “Our donors choose to invest in the Fund because of our commitment to safeguarding their privacy.”

    The mere conflict of interest and action by the Ecological Academy raises a number of questions.


    Is “Ecological Academy NGO” confounding its vision of “Armenia’s future in sustainable and socio-economic development of the society, in parallel with environmental improvement and harmony” with its anti-Armenia political activities?


    Are Ecological Academy’s U.S. backers aware that their “Project” in Armenia is in fact conducting political opposition to the Armenian government as opposed to focusing on its “stated mission?”


    Isn’t Ecological Academy a non-profit organization that is exempted from income taxes, and as such is governed by the strict laws of Armenia?

    Does one of the Armenian laws not explicitly bar NGO’s from any overt or covert political activity?


    Speaking of NGO’s in Armenia, there is no question that several NGO’s are honest and genuine humanitarian enterprises. However, according to various reliable sources, there are a number of Armenian NGO’s that are set up by foreign funds for the explicit purpose of covertly meddling in Armenia’s internal political affairs. Is Ecological Academy one of these covert “NGO” operations?


    Shall any of us be surprised to discover that certain NGO’s are fronts for espionage and other treacherous activities, undermining the national security of a target nation — in this case Armenia?


    There is no question that Armenia’s national security authorities are highly aware of the potential dangers presented by certain so-called NGO’s. However, they may need to further step up their scrutiny of these foreign-funded NGO’s.

    Happy Earth Hour!

    From 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. my local time I joined the Earth Hour campaign. In order to remind/tell friends about the event, I texted them “Happy Earth Hour.”

    Forestfree Armenia Can Be Avoided

    Armenia Tree Project is alarming yet another government decision to eliminate a rich and unique forest in Armenia:

    Teghut, with its thousands of acres of virgin forest and rich ecosystem in Northern Armenia, is home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and plants, including many that are registered in the International Red Book of Endangered Species.

    Armenian Copper Program (ACP), with approval from Armenia’s Ministry of Nature Protection, plans to clear-cut over 1,500 acres of Teghut’s forest in order to establish an open pit strip mining operation for copper and molybdenum ore. In addition, ACP plans to create a “tailing dump” in a nearby pristine gorge, where heavy metals and other toxins from mining waste will leach into the ground and into the river flowing through the gorge, ultimately contaminating the local water supply.

    An online petition is available for your signatures.

    Noah’s Ark Replica Is On Its Way

    The Denver Post has posted an Associated Press article informing that “[e]nvironmental activists are building a replica of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat—where the biblical vessel is said to have landed after the great flood—in an appeal for action on global warming, Greenpeace said Wednesday.”

    In this picture provided by Greenpeace, wooden planks are carried by horses in the Dogubayazit valley to built a replica of Noah’s Ark near mount Ararat in Agri, eastern Turkey, Sunday, May 13, 2007. Greenpeace activists are building a replica of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, the mountain where the original Biblical Ark is said to have landed after the great flood, in an appeal to world leaders to take action against global warming. Turkish and German volunteer carpenters were building the wooden ship on the mountain in eastern Turkey, that sits on the border with Iran. (AP Photo/Manuel Citak, Greenpeace, HO )

    The joint Turkish-German project is something to welcome especially the universal message that the involved volunteers are trying to spread.Yet in promoting environmentalism, Greenpeace, I believe, is also unintentionally violating Armenian cultural rights while not inviting Armenians to be part of a project that involves their sacredMount Ararat. Ironically enough, the Mount is not even called Ararat Turkey (it is called “Agri”).

    Turkish and German volunteer carpenters are making the wooden ship on the mountain in eastern Turkey, bordering Iran. The ark will be revealed in a ceremony on May 31, a day after Greenpeace activists climb the mountain and call on world leaders to take action to tackle climate change, Greenpeace said.”Climate change is real, it’s happening now and unless world leaders take urgent, decisive and far-reaching action, the next decades will see human misery on a scale not experienced in modern times,” said Greenpeace activist Hilal Atici. “Those leaders have a mandate from the people … to massively cut greenhouse gas emissions and to do it now.”

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