Pathetic Policy, Protest, Progress

Pathetic Policy, Protest, Progress

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

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.