BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
The Caucasus Nature Fund is a relatively new arrival on what turns out to be an even more ancient landscape than even many of us “natives” knew.
CNF is a foundation whose purpose it is to preserve the plant and animal life (flora and fauna) found south of the Caucasus Mountains and extending into Western Armenia. This is one of the worlds “biodiversity hotspots”, which means there is a high density and variety of life. In particular, because of the area’s geology, it is blessed with species that are found nowhere else because they were wiped out by the last ice age (10-12 thousand years ago). The Caucasus Mountains presented an impassable obstacle to the glaciers, so in our homeland, along with what are today known as Georgia, Azerbaijan, and the northernmost parts of Iran, these biota survived.
As with so many other places and their plant and animal life, many of these species are endangered because of human encroachment and activity. Enter CNF. The foundation started with a $10 million grant from the German Entwicklungsbank and has since raised another $10 million. These moneys are in an endowment fund with the “interest” generated used to pay for the activities of this charity. Primarily, they supplement rangers’ salaries and buy them basic equipment (jeeps, binoculars, etc.) so they can do their jobs well— prevent poaching of endangered species, or cutting of trees in off limits areas, and so on.
CNF is tasked with working in the three main states of the South Caucasus—Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. They are precluded from working in “disputed areas”, so Abkhazia, Artzakh, and South Ossetia are off limits. Currently, the governments of Georgia and Republic of Armenia (RoA) are working with CNF, but Azerbaijan has yet to come aboard (what a surprise- a floundering petro-state run by a dynastic president is leery of working with an environmental preservation group!).
Just under 10% of RoA’s surface area is protected (for comparison, 15% of the U.S. is, with a huge portion of that being found in Alaska), so we’re not doing too badly. But help is needed and CNF’s mission is to provide the basics, matching what money the governments will put in to projects. Their current goal is to be involved in “15 parks by 2015”, all of them in the RoA and Georgia.
This is very important work, and not many of our organizations have paid enough attention to it. If our homeland’s ecology is destroyed, we won’t survive very long. Much work needs to be done and CNF is in touch with Armenia Tree Fund which works on the arboreal aspects of the environment. They have also contacted the Tufenkian Foundation to discuss ecotourism possibilities, another VERY important way of generated vested interest in the local population to protect their environment since it becomes a source of income. Of course these relationships are in addition to working with the relevant government agencies. I’m kind of excited by the possibilities!
Of course, nothing comes for free, and CNF hopes to raise some funds from the Armenian community. The ultimate goal for their endowment fund is 35 million, so they’re more than half-way there. They hope to raise about $3 million from our community. Of course when I heard this from David Morrison, CNF’s Executive Director (a retired international lawyer), my concern was what everyone else is probably thinking, “will any of that money go to Azerbaijan when/if they partner with CNF?” Fortunately, the answer is “no” because donations can be directed to specific a project/park/country. While the whole area is an interconnected ecosystem, and we shouldn’t care where the money specifically goes, it’s very hard to get over Azerbaijan’s murderous, bellicose, and hateful policies towards our nation.
You can get more information about CNF from the organization’s website. If you can, give a few bucks, or tell your environmentally conscious friends to do so (using guilt is OK). The protection, expansion, and later interconnection of protected places in our homeland is extremely important and timely work. It will bear valuable fruit (literally and figuratively) in the near and long term. Let’s support it.