BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
If you own some property and lease it to someone else for some activity, usually, but not necessarily economic, you expect the lessee to clean up after her/him/it-self, right? You don’t expect garbage lying around. You don’t expect mounds of poisonous stuff that will persist, effectively, forever. You expect the property to be returned to you in essentially the same condition as you gave it out. And, you certainly wouldn’t knowingly create a state of affairs that would result in anything but such a respectable restoration of your property.
If only the government of the Republic of Armenia had that much good sense! In pursuing an economic development strategy that emphasizes extractive industry, i.e. mining in this case, they have adopted a very penny-wise-pound-foolish policy. They have invited the world’s miners, not a very well behaved bunch to start with (think of all the needless deaths you read about from the U.S. to China), to come to the country to rape, ravage, and pillage the land. The government has accepted responsibility for watching all the mining wastes— tailings to toxic ponds —forever. Doesn’t that sound a bit fishy to you? The government that comes up with the infamous Protocols with Turkey, that conducts election after crooked election, and that enables a savage bunch of oligarchs to run roughshod over the country, is going to see to the safe maintenance of incredibly poisonous materials. Not very plausible in my book!
But when people realize they’re being screwed, especially by their “own” government, a deep revulsion stirs. They are moved to act. They take back control of their lives. This process may not be rapid, but it becomes unstoppable in due time. An example of this is Kacharan. Next to this village, located on the Azerbaijani-occupied-Nakhichevan border (therefore holding great military value), is a mine that has been exploited since the 1960s. Now, despite the fact that the current mine has decades more to go before the end of it is played out, the owners want to “move” Kacharan because it sits on more, near-surface, ore deposits. What unspeakable, irresponsible, and treasonous greed! Fortunately, spearheaded by the village leader, the locals are standing firm on their historic homeland. They’re asking for help in upgrading the road into Kacharan, all of two kilometers long (1.25 miles) so the economy can develop. It seems that “their” government, i.e. Yerevan, is not doing this. Does it take much to guess why? Remember, state policy is “mining = path to development”, and it’s likely the relevant authorities are in the miners’ pockets, or worse, are might themselves be the miners.
Let’s take a look at that developmental premise. It’s true that natural resources, harvested wisely and the moneys they generate invested back into the economy, can spur development. But remember, a few months back, I’d written about how only two cents of every dollar from the Teghood mine were going to end up serving the country and people. The rest? Who knows? Probably in the pocket of some leering lout of an oligarch. What makes anyone believe that Kacharan is any different? Or, for that matter, any of the others of the hundreds of active and proposed mines effectively covering the RoA (Artsakh is no better it seems).
Judging by the reaction to Yeghia Nersesian’s, the eco-activist who toured the Los Angeles area, presentations last week and the nascent organizing in the Diaspora to support those doing battle with the minions of miners in the fields, forests, mountains, and streets of our homeland, we may be on the verge of seeing some positive movement.
Remember, in the background to all this looms the RoA’s presidential election, just over two months from now. Add to that the lawsuit being pursued by the activists that was to be announced in Yerevan as this piece is being written. Factor in the “proto-parliament” that some sectors of society are trying to get off the ground as an alternative to the current government. Consider the growing awareness of the villagers in Teghood and elsewhere that they’re being screwed. Clearly, there is a potent mix of ingredients that may lead to significant progress being made.
If what little of our homeland we have left gets ravaged by unscrupulous, reckless, exclusively-money-grubbing miners, what legs will we have to stand on to demand the rest of it back from Turkey and Azerbaijan? Ankara and Baku must by in tears from the laughs they’re getting at our expense as they watch the prospect of turning our gorgeous homeland into a desolate, uninhabitable, wasteland.
Please, hitch your wagon to the movement to save Teghood. That’s the first level. The second level is to fight to have sensible, sustainable, publicly beneficial mining operations in the country. And the third level is to learn from this environmental activism how to be full-fledged, engaged citizens and stakeholders of our homeland.
Jump in, this is a grave time. You might become the John Muir of Armenia.