Monthly Archives: September 2010

A Victory for Forest Protection in Armenia

I just read an article on RFE/RL reporting that the main financier of the proposed environmentally devastating mining project in Armenia’s Teghut Forest has put a hold in transferring funds. The Russian bank VTB was set to provide the Armenian Copper Program (ACP) with a $280 million loan to get started with mining projects.

That decision was mostly if not entirely based on protests by Armenian environmentalist groups lead by the Save Teghut Forest movement.

RFE/RL writes:

The country’s leading environment protection groups and other non-governmental organizations have for years been campaigning against plans by the Armenian Copper Program (ACP) mining company to develop a massive copper and molybdenum deposit in the Lori region. The Teghut deposit is estimated to contain 1.6 million tons of copper and about 100,000 tons of molybdenum.

The project, if implemented, will lead to the destruction of 357 hectares of rich forest, including 128,000 trees. Critics say that would wreak further havoc on Armenia’s green areas that have already shrunk dramatically since the 1990s.

This is fantastic news for advocates of protecting Armenia’s fragile ecosystem. However, residents of that area in northern Armenia may not be cracking open the champagne just yet. ACP had promised to create 1,400 new jobs and build new schools. But many Armenian corporations never make due on their promises, especially related to charitable or benevolent undertakings that benefit society. Vivacell is one such company immediately coming to mind that does good, including producing public service announcements on television that campaign against littering. Personally, I’m all for job creation in rural areas on Armenia, but not at the expense of forests, which are slowly but surely being eradicated. Nevertheless, something else has to be planned for job creation if the project never comes to fruition, although it’s hard to believe that it won’t.

This victory is huge. It just shows that lobbying and protesting by special interest advocate groups can change things detrimental to society at large in their favor. It will encourage thousands of Armenian citizens to start struggling for what they believe in, despite threats of being beaten or arrested. It means that people are once again finding the courage and inspiration to stand up for themselves.

Kudos to the Armenian environmentalists. By all means, don’t give up the fight!

No Privacy Allowed

Last night while I was staring at my laptop trying to develop a chapter from the albatross of a novel I’ve been writing off and on for several years, a vehicle pulled up in front of my building with the radio blasting. The music being played was some kind of swinging dance tune with a repetitive mambo-like theme that didn’t go anywhere., it just repeated over and over. The volume level must have been at ten, it was extremely loud even with all the windows hermetically shut. After about half a minute I heard a woman cry out in some kind of excited, yet a bit reserved yelp of excitement, and she repeated her performance about two more times, once as they were driving off. It was as if they were trying to deliberately get the attention of the residents all around. Indeed, after two minutes of that nonsense I approached the window, and I noticed that some of the neighbors were on their balconies wondering what was the ruckus about.

I live on Hanrabedutyan Street, in central Yerevan, which is generally quiet in the evenings. At least it used to be before so many rich-bitch brats started driving expensive cars gifted to them by fathers and uncles that they never could have afforded otherwise. At all hours of the evening now you can hear horns sounding when a car is about to run the red light to warn motorists driving perpendicularly. They also make the point of driving down the street in the low gears to make the engine rev louder in a feeble, yet in-your-face way to show off. They don’t realize that they are not impressing, but are instead simply annoying anyone that bothers to be in ear’s reach.

About two weeks ago, at around 1:30 am (my wife claims it was later) two vehicles pulled up along the sidewalk on the corner and started dancing right below my balcony. They had opened all the doors of the tank-like Mercedes-Benz SUV they were driving to make sure the music was plainly audible for the entire neighborhood to wince in bed. They were playing this typical wedding music, with the drum, keyboards and clarinet; it was some riff that didn’t get anywhere, it just kept going on and on without ever seeming to end. Two guys were prancing about, evidently drunk, waving their arms above their heads. There was another car, a white Toyota sedan, parked just behind with the driver talking on the phone, refusing to get out. They were infuriating me and arguably everyone on the block that could hear them — it was difficult not to. Then one of the guys opened the tailgate wide and the license plate number was in clear view. It contained three “7s”, which meant that they were probably linked somehow to the mayor of Yerevan. Purportedly any car with a plate showing a series of sevens belongs to a member of his inner circle, or his crew.

My wife says that our neighbor who moved into the apartment directly above ours only eight months ago is a cop. In any case, those clowns were dancing and singing for what must have been twenty minutes. When I looked down below from my balcony one of them was looking up at me, but later I realized he wasn’t concerned about whether I was observing. At first I thought they were doing this simply out of entitlement, that they felt they could indeed get away with this behavior since they didn’t answer to anyone, placating their own egos and not giving a damn about what others thought or felt or whether their privacy was being violated.

It hit me that their actions were deliberate, that they were antagonizing the policeman. Just why they were doing so is anyone’s guess, but when they finally left it became clearer to me than ever that I or anyone for that matter living in this area is powerless to do anything about it. They simply do have the right because the law authorities cannot stop it, since that would mean challenging the former president directly, something no one would ever think of doing — not the neighbors, and certainly not the police. In other words, in such cases there is no such thing as employing self-empowerment.

It’s not possible to beat this behavior down directly, but through covert channels, such a victory can be won. Whether that can be accomplished through a change in power or by simply making a lot of noise in public forums in an attempt to embarrass the culprits and thereby thwart such ill-manners is up to the residents of this neighborhood.

But until something’s done to stop this foolishness, I realized that the only thing that I can personally do about it is to merely identify the problem. Let’s see what the good citizens of Yerevan will try.

Armenian Red Berets Protect College Students?

This morning as I drove past the State Economics Institute on Nalbandyan Street in Yerevan I saw two Red Berets standing on the corner in front of the entrance. Today is back to school day across Armenia and students were flocking in front of their college buildings waiting for class to start while smoking slim cigarettes and playing with cell phones, as they do every day.

I’ve heard that oligarchs, big shots, and wannabes send their sons to the institute, which explains why there are so many fancy European cars parked in the area. The thing I did not understand was the presence of the armed military guards.Why do those privileged kids need such protection?

The Red Beret division of the Armenian military is supposedly an elite corp. There are Blue Beret soldiers as well, although I don’t understand what the difference is. You can visibly see Red Berets roaming the perimeter of the Opera House every evening, and they travel using in pairs or packs of four. They walk around at a snail’s pace while staring at males suspiciously. Once in a while you see them communicating on walkie-talkies or cell phones. Most of these guys are noticeably overweight, and I can’t imagine any of them running very fast (although I’m sure their blows can inflict serious damage).

You would think that the Defense Ministry had better things to do than to place military details at areas where the businesses of oligarchs are located. After all, it’s not the oligarchs themselves who visit their own establishments, and even if they do, they have their own armed bodyguards with them, so the military presence seems redundant. Besides, Yerevan has a police force to deal with fights that arbitrarily break out between young males, so it seems to me that the army should not be involved in public shoving matches. I can see them being needed when diplomats visit the area — when President Dimitry Medvedev was here last week he went to a cafe somewhere with President Sarkisian, so obviously maximum security was needed at that time. But what threat do middle-aged couples pose strolling around with their kids?

I really don’t know what to think about it any more as I’ve become used to feeling the presence of Red Berets roaming the streets of stoic downtown Yerevan. I used to be intimidated, even disgusted to see them, but now I walk right by them without giving second thought. Nevertheless, it was surreal to see them on campus today, and I can’t help but wonder what students who aren’t being protected think.