BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
For ten days, three environmental activists from our homeland were in the Los Angeles area to raise awareness levels about the severe problems we face. They are now in Washington, DC. Anna Aghazarian, Levon Galstian, and Yeghia Nersesian spoke to numerous audiences conveying that the biggest threat we face is a mining industry that is proceeding, unregulated, to exploit the Republic of Armenia’s mineral wealth. All three are members of the Pan-Armenian Environmental Front formed in January. Check out the group on Facebook.
The three spoke at the University of California at Berkeley, Irvine, and Los Angeles; Glendale Community College; three Armenian schools— Ferrahian, Manoogian-Demirdjian, and Pilibos— to the high school students; community gatherings— in the Ararat-Eskijian Museum and two in Glendale; and Armenian media outlets.
The good news is that the level of interest was strong among those who heard the activists. I witnessed the high school students paying close attention, no mean feat when you consider the age bracket involved. The events at the various colleges were organized by the campus Armenian groups. At Pilibos, the AP Environmental Science teacher asked that the activists return (they did) to discuss issues in more detail with her students. The students were even encouraged to do their research papers on issues related to Armenia’s environment.
At one of the Glendale events, held Friday night, October 18, a movie was screened for the first time in the U.S. containing extensive footage of the damage wrought by reckless mining practices. It subtly conveyed the geo-strategic danger of the concentration of active and proposed mines in the Siunik province, near the Iranian and Nakhichevan borders. The risk is that mining wastes will render the area unlivable, driving out the native villagers, with the depopulated areas becoming susceptible to Azerbaijani encroachment, attack, or seizure. The movie is still not in its finished form. Once completed, it will be a must-see for anyone who cares about Armenian issues.
The bad news is that attendance at the community events was weak based on what I observed and was told, about the events I was not at. Particularly worrisome for me was the turnout at the Glendale Public Library event. This is a venue in which I have seen numerous standing-room-only lecture/presentation/panels. Part of this may have been due to the lateness of the notice sent out. The Armenian Renaissance group who invited the activists was severely constrained since just two weeks before the planned trip, two of the guests did not yet know if they would be given visas to travel to the U.S.
Locally, Green Armenia*, another group formed within the last year, helped to give exposure to the critically important issues raised by the activists. We, Armenians, are not accustomed to addressing environmental issues in an Armenian context. This is particularly true in the Diaspora. But learn we must, if we care about the future habitability of our homeland. This is akin to learning how to deal with issues arising from statehood in the post re-independence era we’re living in.
Just to give you sense of scale, here are some numbers, and you can check them out through the Mining Safety and Health Administration’s website, specifically, its mine data retrieval system. In Los Angeles County, there are currently 20 active (and 71 abandoned) mines/quarries. Of those twenty, only one is for metallic ore—this is the kind that tends to produce toxic wastes, known as tailings. The quarries are largely for construction materials—stone, sand, gravel, etc. Los Angeles County is home to some 10 million people with a land area of 4752 square miles. In the Republic of Armenia, I learned from the PAEF activists during their visit, there are some 27 metallic ore mines (this number is from memory and may be slightly off) and 400 quarries. The RoA has three million inhabitants living on its 11484 square miles. This means that in terms of land area, the RoA has over 21 times as many mines/quarries as LA County, and in terms of population almost 72 times as many!
You might be thinking “Our plate is already full. We’ve got Hai Tahd issues, local community issues, electoral-political issues, fundraising for homeland needs, how can we handle one more thing?” Consider: if we allow large tracts of Armenian land to become unlivable, how do we expect to maintain a homeland? And, how’s this for an added incentive: there are now areas in occupied Western Armenia where the Turkish government is allowing projects that create sustainable development. Can you stomach the fact that the Turks may be doing better for our lands than we are?
Our engagement on the environmental front is critical, get informed, get engaged, get busy!
*For full disclosure, I am active in Green Armenia.