Villagers are Killing off Chickens to Avoid Bird Flu

(–There is a relative peace in 65-year old Etchmiadzin resident Stepan Zohrabyan’s chicken coop. Six of his 8 hens have died. Stepan–aware of the persistent news about the spread of bird flu–has decided to get rid of the threat in his own way.

"I have buried the hens in my garden–I don’t know what killed them–but I think now there is no threat anymore," says Stepan. "If they wouldn’t die–I would kill them all the same–everyone does–everyone is afraid."

Silva Galstyan–an expert of serum at the Veterinary Lab in Etchmiadzin says every day they get alarming calls on dead hens and other birds in the town and neighboring area.

"There are mainly histological illnesses. Birds are vaccinated against plague," says Silva Galstyan. "But despite controls–people are afraid."

With news of continued deaths and outbreak in neighboring Turkey–fear has also spread in Armenian villages literally within flying distance of villages that have been infected in Turkey.

At present the government has allocated 50 million drams (about $100,000) for prevention measures against the bird flu; the World Bank is also going to give some $5 million for that purpose.

"There are no bird flu specialists in Armenia," says Artavazd Hakobyan–World Bank Armenian office Agriculture and Environment analyst. "We are going to cooperate with the specialists of the World Health Organization and the World Food Program."

"During the last several months we have received information about high numbers of fallen birds in countries neighboring Turkey; some cases sound like poisonings–others–like other infectious illnesses. But they should be characterized and confirmed in the UN Food and Agriculture and Animal Health International organization laboratories," UN Food and Agriculture Organization expert Juan Labrot stressed.

But while experts visit Armenia in the coming days to evaluate the situation–local specialists assert Armenia is free of bird flu at the moment.

Despite this–the question of whether to consume poultry and eggs–is a persistent one.

"Everybody says unambiguously there is no bird flu in Armenia," says Anushavan Aghajanyan–senior advisor to the Minister of Agriculture. "But for unknown reasons some specialists advise caution while cooking poultry. What’s the logic of this?"

Meanwhile Armenia’s major poultry producers have formed a committee that aims to provide consumers with "multidimensional" information about bird flu.

"Analyzing the existing situation–the committee believes–the forecasts of possible penetration and possible spread of bird flu in Armenia are exaggerated," says the committee’s statement.

To take it one step further–poultry producers have been publicly consuming poultry and eggs from their own farms. But to no avail: residents and the shopkeepers say–it does not change the situation.

With talks of the danger spreading throughout the country–hens in villages are being slaughtered.

Aghajanyan calls on the population to leave the hens alone and quit killing them.

"If necessary–we will visit every single household and village ourselves. In case of danger we will exterminate the birds ourselves," he says.

But those who have hens do not want to lose them–and solve the problem their own way.

Marjanik Arakelyan–45–opens the doors of her freezer.

"You see–we are afraid. I had 40 hens–but so much talk of the bird flu prompted me to kill them and keep them frozen; we will eat it slowly. I will kill them all gradually," says Marjanik–a resident in Arazap village.

Located on the bank of Arax River–Arazap village is located in the Armavir region–which borders Turkey–and is some 45 kilometers from Yerevan.

There is havoc among the villagers–and with each bit of news from Turkey or a new revelation on TV–the outcome is lethal for the hens.

The villagers even gamble with hens. Losers kill at least 2 or 3 hens and make harisa (a soup of chicken and grains) for the winners.

Nvard Mkhitaryan–41–shows the cauldron on the oven where there is still harisa left from the previous day.

"My husband lost in the game so we killed two hens. What can we do? I have 25 hens and their fate is the same. It’s dangerous–everyone is afraid."

Villager Hayk’s piece of land is surrounded by barbed wired; 500 meters beyond is the Arax river. The Turkish villages of Alican and Evcilar are on the other bank.

"As far as I know the threat for bird flu is mostly on the eastern side of Turkey," says Hayk. "But who knows where will the curse come from. How do you know–maybe we also have it but they don’t tell us–the mafia in our country is so strong."

Manvel Harutyunyan–Arazap village administration head–says the threat of the illness will grow with the coming of spring and bird migration.

"I think by that time there will be no hens left in the villages; by that time everyone will have them killed. It is the best way–because when illness spreads there will be no other way and the birds will be exterminated anyway."


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