I just received an email asking that I promote the ensuing protest of 52 hectares of land being “illegally taken by some [government] officials.” The land was being used as a nursery for “fast growing” hybrid poplar trees which were being used for reforestation purposes undertaken by an organization called the Fast Growing Tree Project. Although I found out about this situation a few weeks ago on Onnik’s blog,
I haven’t discussed it until I was officially asked to do so.
According to a paper that was attached to the email,
In 1994, the Armenian Engineers and Scientists of America (AESA) of Glendale, California and Institute of Botany of the Armenian Academy of Sciences embarked on a project to introduce fast growing hybrid poplar trees in Armenia, which can be used as fire wood or as soft wood lumber. These trees then can be cut to satisfy the need for wood instead of cutting old trees from established forests. A few years later, the Armenian Forest Service (Hay Andar) also joined the project team.
Unfortunately, Hay Andar, which now falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, has been largely impotent in preventing illegal cutting. The land, which is located in Armavir, was owned and operated by Hay Andar.
Parts of the plantations in Armavier that were developed with a large investment from the US private and governmental sources are now in jeopardy due to the corruption in high levels of the Armenian government. Land where these plantations are established belonged to Armenian Forest Service (Hay Andar). In December of 2004 Armenian Forest Service dissolved their organization in Armavier region because there were no forests at that region. They had land that was leased to the farmers, a small apricot plantation, and 52 hectares where the fast growing hybrid poplars were planted. When the government decided to dissolve the Armavier region of Forest Service, all the land excluding the 52 hectares were given to the governor’s office for distribution. Government’s decree 128 dated December 8, 2004 clearly indicates that the ownership of 52 hectares where the fast growing trees are planted plus 3000 square meters of land where the water well is should be given to the Armenian Institute of Botany to continue the experiment of the fast growing hybrid poplars.
The problem is that the regional government of Armavir somehow managed to overturn that decision.
In early 2005, the governor of Armavier region appealed this decision and claimed that this land should also be divided and sold to the local farmers. Attempts were made to meet with the governor but he was not willing to meet with the plantation project team members. AESA, Armenian Forest Service, Ministry of Agricultural, Ministry of the Environmental Protection, and National Academy of Sciences protested against the governor’s request about destroying the plantation and selling the land. They had written letters to the Prime Minister requesting that the governor’s appeal to be denied and land ownership to be given to the Institute of Botany. After consideration of all the facts, the Armenian Government denied the governor’s request and confirmed its previous decision of transferring the land to the Institute of Botany.
But wait, there’s more to this saga.
Then, there were some requests of payment of $300 for expediting the transfer of ownership that was denied by the Institute of Botany. Finally it became apparent that all of these were smokescreens to sell big chunks of land released by the Forest Service to some governmental officials. Approximately 80 hectares of land has been sold to the minister of finance at a ridiculously low price. However, the land deed was issued under his mother-in-law’s name. A few months later, the land was sold to a friend of the minister who lives in the City of Echmiatzin, for $40,000.
You can guess that the trees are expected to be cut and sold as firewood and the project will officially cease to exist. The backing organizations are asking that people send letters of protest to the prime minister since this project has effectively been sabotaged. Since I am in solidarity with this effort as deforestation has been a great concern of mine, the contact information of the Prime Minister is as follows:
Mr. Andranik Margaryan
Government Building 1
Republic Square, Yerevan
You can also send letters to the Armenian ambassador to the US:
Mr. Tatoul Markarian
Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia
2225 R Street, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20008
Tel: (202) 319-1976 , Fax (202) 319-2982
In a sort of related note regarding environmental issues, the Nayrit chemical plant apparently has had its second blazing fire in two months. Apparently 600 tons of a noxious byproduct, which was illegally stored for 10 years, went up in toxic black smoke. Not surprisingly, foul play was suspected in the fire. You can read more about the situation here.