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2005 News

08.11.05
NGOs FINDING PLACE IN MILLENNIUM CHALLENGES

08.07.05
ARMENIA: DEFORESTATION PLANS DITCHED

28.06.05
PREMIERE OF DOCUMENTARY FILM DEDICATED TO SHIKAHOGH FOREST RESERVE TO BE DEMIONSTRATED

27.06.05
WITH HELP FROM DIASPORA

17.06.05
SHIKAHOGH RESERVE SAVED

17.06.05
PUBLIC FORUM DEDICATED TO SHIKAHOGH RESERVE

17.06.05
LAST CHANCE FOR FORESTS OF ARMENIA

07.06.05
SHIKAHOGH ISSUE


06.06.05
ARMENIAN ECOLOGY IN DANGER

20/05/2005
IMPLICATIONS OF THE NEW FOREST CODE

April 8-11, 2005
DRAFT FOREST CODE DISCUSSED

1 March, 2005
Every year 4,000 ha of forests are cut in Armenia for heating purposes


03 Mar 2005
Armenian Forests: Exhibition of photos "Road to Desert" opened


1 March, 2005
Road to Desert continues...

January 12, 2005.
ARMENIAN FORESTS NGO INITIATES INVOLVEMENT OF STUDENTS
INTO NATURE PROTECTION



A1PLUS, 08.11.05
NGOs FINDING PLACE IN MILLENNIUM CHALLENGES


Today Armenian non-governmental organizations organized a discussion to find out their role in the Millennium Challenge Account.
For already three months representatives of three NGOs were taking part in the elaboration and implementation of the program. “We participate in all the discussions and secure feedback. NGOs can play an important role for monitoring and awareness. Presently we do not have the vote but later we will elect 5 representatives, who will have the vote on the board of trustees. 50-60 proposals were put forth and a part of them was adopted,” Armenian Forests NGO Chairman Nazeli Vardanyan said.
Today the representatives of the NGOs marked the principal directions the sums received via the Millennium Challenge Account will be spent in part, on the repair of country roads ($57 million) and irrigation system($118 million) as one of the preconditions for poverty reduction.
When asked how the roads to be repaired are chosen Deputy Minister of Finance and Economy Tigran Khachatryan said, “Each community should have at least one normal road.”

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WPR CAUCASUS, 08.07.05
ARMENIA: DEFORESTATION PLANS DITCHED

Public pressure forces Armenian government to back down on plans to build a highway through nature reserve.

By Arevhat Grigorian in Shikahogh

The Armenian government has abandoned plans to build a new highway through a nature reserve after an unusual public outcry, led by local environmental groups.

In June, the government approved a road route linking Armenia and Iran, to the south, via the Shikahogh reserve.

Instead, the road will now circumvent Shikahogh and the Mtnadzor forests, home to unique trees, plants and even a small number of rare panthers.

The government was forced to bypass the park by adopting an alternate route that will add seven kilometers to the original 89-km projected length. Armenian environmentalists say avoiding Shikahogh will save 14,000 rare trees and hailed the climb down by the government as a major victory.

But Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian said the plan to build the road through Shikahogh had been reconsidered not because of pressure from NGOs, but due to so-called “strategic problems”. Some observers said the government was merely reluctant to admit a defeat.

“True, the government does not accept it in any way, but public opinion was the reason for the change of a decision,” said Sona Ayvazian, environmental policy expert with the Centre for Regional Development/Transparency International Armenia.

Vladik Matirosian of the local non-governmental organization Khustup said deforestation would have caused four billion drams (8.8 million US dollars) in damage to the environment, and endangered many animals in the area.

“Because of land explosions and the construction machinery, the forest’s fauna would at best have fled the territory which is an impregnable, irreplaceable habitat,” said Martirosian.

Many species in Shikahogh - like the Bezoarian Goat and the Armenian moufflon (a species of wild sheep) - are indigenous to Armenia. The reserve is also home to between five and eight Asian Panthers - an endangered species of which there are only 20 in the greater Caucasus.

The name Shikahogh (orange earth) comes from the orangey, fiery red color of soil in the area. Scientists say the ten thousand hectares of forest help to moderate hot winds blowing from desert plains in Iran to the south. The vegetation is also influenced by air from the Caspian Sea to the east. These climatic conditions have created a mix of flora and fauna unique to the region, they say.

The oldest parts of the forest in Shikahogh are 1,000 years old. The growth is so thick in places it block out almost all sunlight, meaning that deep in the forest even the brightest days can seem dark here. Experts say the local ecosystem has been kept intact largely because of the region’s remoteness.

Shikahogh’s director, Ruben Mkrtchian, said the government dispatched construction machinery towards the reserve this spring. But Mkrtchian says that following appeals by him, his colleagues and the local office of the World Wildlife Fund, the government did not press ahead with delivery of the equipment.

Opponents of the plan then appealed to the president of Armenia, the chairman of the National Assembly and the prosecutor general, demanding the project through Shikahogh be scrapped. Some in Armenia say influential Diaspora figures lobbied extensively and met with President Robert Kocharian in an effort to overturn the decision to build the road.

The president of the Armenian Forests NGO, Jeffrey Tufenkian, told IWPR, “Yes, we believe this is a great precedent. We would like to see the continuation of this kind of involvement by NGOs, international organizations, the Diaspora and the general public. If this kind of public participation continues, Armenia will have a great future.”

But Tufenkian said it remained to be seen whether the decision to cancel the road project through the reserve was part of a larger trend.

“We are certainly glad that the highway will avoid the major part of the reserve, but we are still concerned that the processes seem to be happening in an illegal manner,” said Tufenkian. “For such major projects the government is required by Armenian law to carry out proper environmental impact assessments. They are also required to analyse different possible routes, and they are also required to hold public hearings. When they took the decision about this new route, they seemed to be doing none of this.”

Arevhat Grigorian is a correspondent for the newspaper website Hetq in Yerevan.

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ARMINFO, 28.06.05
PREMIERE OF DOCUMENTARY FILM DEDICATED TO SHIKAHOGH FOREST RESERVE TO BE DEMIONSTRATED

The premiere of a documentary film telling about the fate of Shikahogh forest reserve will be demonstrated at Yerevan Movie House on June 29. To note, the Armenian Government planned to lay a new highway connecting Armenia to Iran via the reserve.

The task group of the public ecological Union “SOS-Shikahogh” informs Arminfo that the film presents the richness of the forest reserve, the unique oak forest. The key roles in the film are performed by the unique fauna representatives. The film also presents the opinions and conclusion of ecologists, episodes of illegally laid roads/

The film was shot by radio-company VEM with the support of Armenian Forests NGO, Armenia Tree Project and WWF.

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HETQ ONLINE, 27.06.05
WITH HELP FROM DIASPORA


In the end, it has turned out that the Kapan-Meghri strategic highway is going to bypass the Shikahogh State Preserve, or Mtnadzor, the only virgin forest left in Armenia. Although government officials did everything they could to diminish the role of society, non-governmental organizations, in particular those that deal with nature protection, waged a persistent, unyielding battle to protect the forest, and this time they won.
Now what concerns officials is not so much the profit they stand to gain from the road (different officials would make millions on the sale of those trees), but the fact, or rather the precedent, of this victory by a public movement. Now the NGOs are sure that they can stop the “strategic” cynicism of the authorities if they are united and persistent in the fight.
This victory happened for a couple of reasons. First of all, the government sought to destroy a preserve that had a unique significance, and because of that, the struggle for Mtnadzor brought together organizations and newspapers who might be more willing to compromise in other cases. Secondly, it was too obvious that the authorities were pushing for their option in the expectation of personal profit. Moreover, because it was so obvious, they were not able to demonstrate the uniqueness of their plan. Third, we have to respect the Syunik Province officials who were with the movement till the end. This cooperation between NGOs and local self-government bodies was also unprecedented. And fourth, the movement was joined by well-known Armenian benefactors from the Diaspora, and although their word may not be law for the Armenian government, it does make them stop to think.
This was perhaps the most significant factor, and it gives us new hope today regarding the context and quality of Armenia-Diaspora relations. If in the past, the relationship was mainly a matter of providing financial support, implementing development projects through the government while at the same time closing their eyes to all the injustice, then after Mtnadzor, everything changed slightly, and a new level of cooperation arose, one in which the Diaspora, it seems, no longer intends to maintain their status as silent benefactors.
Hrair Hovnanian, Caroline Mugar, the Tufenkians…These people have been with us since the very first days of independence and have never been mere sentimental benefactors who did good for their own pleasure or well-being. Instead they have participated in finding solutions to the problems that are of real strategic significance for Armenia . Without going into detail, it’s enough to, it’s enough to mention the seven-figure sums they’ve donated to building The Hyusis-Harav (North-South) Highway, or the Goris-Stepanakert Highway connecting Armenia with Karabakh.
It was when I heard that Hrair Hovnanian had joined the environmental activists and had written a letter to the president that I first began to suspect that the problem might be resolved in favor of the environmentalists, in other words, in favor of the people. Then when I found out that Caroline Mugar had arrived in Armenia for the sake of this cause, my hope became a conviction. Although people around me didn’t believe it, I was sure that the road was going to bypass the preserve, because I knew that our government, though unwilling to enter into dialogue with society, nevertheless respects, or fears, powerful people.
I am sure that the cooperation between Armenian NGOs and experienced, respected Diaspora Armenians will not end here, because it is time to put a stop to the government’s hostility toward society, their placing of the interest of the state over that of society, thereby infringing the rights of the possessors of that state, the people.
Mtnadzor is unique as a virgin forest but it is not unique as an event in which a group of officials turns public property and national treasures into objects of sale. It happened in Haghtanak Park when they cut down all the trees to build a hotel; it happened in the park near the Opera House when they poured concreted on the green areas and turned them into cafes; it happened with Northern Avenue, when along with people’s huts and cottages they destroyed buildings that were historical and architectural treasures. Now it’s about to happen to Komitas Park and the Pantheon, which they want to move, in order to use the land for public and private construction
In every one of these cases, ordinary citizens and non-governmental organizations were alone in the struggle against the authorities, and they were defeated. Their defeat, however, was not a disgrace for them, but for the government who paid a disgraceful $14,000 to the owners of the houses they demolished in the center of Yerevan , a sum too small to buy an apartment on the outskirts of town.
I am sure that the experienced, respected Diasporans see and understand all this, and, having lived all their lives in democratic countries, they know that oppressing society and silencing public opinion never works in the long run. They know that the state, so long dreamed of, is stable and safe when negative processes are noticed right away, talked about, and put an end to.
These Diasporans have demonstrated their patriotism though their actions, and in doing so, their love for their homeland has grown stronger.
Tigran Paskevichyan

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17.06.05,A1+
SHIKAHOGH RESERVE SAVED

The RA Government has decided to reconsider the idea of constructing a road through the Shikahogh reserve. Today Transport and Communication Minister Andranik Manoukyan announced about it during the discussion of the matter. The discussion was organized in the American University and besides non-governmental organizations, representatives of the
Government, the NA and ecological organizations were invited.

The highway connecting Armenia with Iran will probably be constructed passing around the reserve. As a result of it the highway will become longer for 7 kilometers. Now it will run 96 km instead of 89.

“Today a Committee has been created which will give the economic and technical basis of the road”, announced Andranik Manoukyan. Minister of Environment Vardan Ayvazyan who had also arrived at the discussion added that because of the additional 7 kilometers many problems arise. So he called the non-governmental organizations to help solve the financial and technical problems with the same enthusiasm with which they struggled for the Shikahogh reserve.

By the way, the members of the Government hinted that they have made the decision not because of the pressure of the non-governmental organizations but proceeding from strategic reasons. The participants of the discussion were angry at the remark. The Ministers of Transport and Environment, answering several questions, complained that they were not aware of the question-answer process. So the Ministers preferred to leave the discussion.

Nevertheless, representative of the non-governmental organization “Forests of Armenia”, lawyer Nazeli Vardanyan said, “There is not a single official decision and we do not know how the road will be constructed”. So, the participants mentioned that the non-governmental organizations must continue the struggle.

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PRESS RELEASE, 17.06.05
PUBLIC FORUM DEDICATED TO SHIKAHOGH RESERVE


The Public Forum went extremely well and is considered by all a real achievement and a step in the direction of democracy building and rule of law. The government has listened to the outcry from NGO's, international organizations and the Diaspora ( even though the government denies that another route was chosen because of pressure) and the government understands that there is a real environmental movement of unified NGO's in Armenia. Even though the Minister of Transport announced that the government is choosing another route that does not go through the Reserve at all and is not one of the alternates that has already been presented, the coalition agrees that we will not stop the fight until the road is completely resolved including environmental
monitoring when they actually build the road.

First of all, it was an overflow audience of about 160 with people standing on the sides. Exactly the effect we wanted. All the TV channels were there and many journalists.

The Minister of Nature Protection, Ayvazyan , the Minister of Transportation, Andranik Manukyan and the Deputy Minister of Nature Protection, Papazyan, along with members of Parliament were there.

The Minister of Transportation spoke first and said the alternate route chosen was discussed with the President yesterday and a committee was set up with the Prime Minister. Within one week we will have full information on the road to be constructed. He said we should meet and
discuss it then. The road is 7 km longer than the original route through Mtnadzor and 155 meters higher.

The Minister of Nature Protection emphasized that the committee is still working for another week and no final decision has been reached. There was a heated discussion with questions from the audience, particularly from a Member of Parliament, Harutunian, from Megri, demanding to know why the responsible people didn't do an environmental analysis and characterizing it as a criminal act to start the road before the analysis was done. He noted that the environment has already been destroyed and that the analysis was done by NGO's when legally it should have been done by the government. Minister of Transport, as I said above, said NGO pressure is not the reason for changing the route.
This incensed the audience more. The Minister of Nature Protection, however, said the NGO's had a role in it and that he knows the Minister of Transport is as concerned about the environment as everyone else. (It is felt that MNP wanted to stop the road but was afraid of loss of his position and appreciates the NGO involvement.)

After the Ministers left and the Deputy MNP stayed to listen and respond, we carried on with the scheduled program of speakers. There were some speakers who spoke emotionally as did Parliamentarian Harutunian accusing the Ministry of Defense of wanting timber worth $60
million which can be extracted from Shikahogh and others, like Karen Manvelyan, WWF, appealed to the audience to speak calmly and thanked the government, the NGO's and the Diaspora who have all worked very hard on this issue.

Speakers included Gohar Oganessova, Nora's Deputy at the Botanical Institute, who gave a background of how the coalition was formed. Karen Manvelyan gave a very fine power point preservation on Shikahogh, the diversity of flora and fauna, and the threat to the eco-system presented by tree cutting. He commented that Mtnadzor, which covers half of the
Reserve, can be considered a monument of natural heritage.

A highlight of the speakers was Nazeli Vardanian, Armenian Forest NGO, who gave an impassioned and excellent account of the laws which have already been violated. Notably, Article 8 of the constitution, which says the government is not supposed to violate the environment and Article 10, which says the state is supposed to protect the environment. She emphasized that no decision has been reached yet and we need to continue to fight and be vigilant for further violations of the law. The Forest Code has also been violated regarding forest
reserves and the land code. Environmental expertise must be consulted when roads are constructed and she pointed out that they stopped building the road only when the public raised concerns. The government is supposed to have public hearings announced in the newspapers, which was not done.

Natalie said the criminal code is supposed to punish such activities and that if the Minister of Nature Protection could not stop such violations, he should resign. She also said why is the Ministry accusing NGO's of not wanting the road to go through the Reserve so that they
won't lose international grant money when the government has received grants from the World Bank and we don't know what has happened to the money received. She also pointed out that our neighbors in Azerbaijan, who have many more Reserves than we do and are establishing more, are rejoicing that we are destroying our environment.

Renee Richer, from the AUA Environmental Center continued with a short, very clear power point presentation distilling 40 years of scientific research showing the extent of damage to the environment when a road goes through a forest. (Jeff, she will give me the bullets of her
presentation to send you.) Basically the road creates habitat fragmentation because it increases the forest edge, which means increased light, decreased water, increase in predators and parasites, all of which cause any plant or animal that lives in the interior of the forest to suffer The effect of one strip of road extends 50 - 200 meters beyond the road edge; it effects 4 km for animals and 10km for birds; so, it is not just the edge adjacent to the road that is impacted.

Mr. Markaryan, the independent road engineer who went to Shikahogh last week with the coalition, spoke as did Vladik Martirosyan, President of Khustuk NGO. The latter is an environmental forester from Megri. Martirosyan showed us the old forest of huge, beautiful plane trees last weekend. He said the government road engineers were given three
points that had to be included in the original road: Megri, Kappan and Mtnadzor. He could not understand why Mtnadzor was included and said he felt the President was given wrong information or he would never have agreed to this.

Nora Gabrielyan gave an excellent presentation on bio-diversity in the Caucuses and particularly the rare species in Shikahogh. Shikahogh has virgin forests which we don't have anywhere else in Armenia plus relics of ancient flora. Because of the climate and conditions of Shikahogh
there are flora that can survive only in that habitat and not elsewhere. We have to protect them. In addition to international conventions that Armenia has signed there are those that Armenia has not signed, which are a concern.

Discussion then continued from the audience with the following people participating:

Gagik Matevosian representing health and the environment said that if we sign conventions it needs to be made known to the public. Shikahogh belongs to the world, not just Armenia, and we must protect it so that this barbarity does not continue and finally destroy our beautiful
country.

The author, Hratch Matosian, who went with us last weekend, praised the patriots who want to save nature and berated those who want to kill it. Other speakers included Nora Hagopian, from the Women's Center, who said the coalition working group should continue to work and should
form an environmental monitoring group and raise productive dialogue with the government.

Aida Iskoyan, head of law department at Yerevan State University and head of EPAC (Environmental Protection Advocacy) spoke about the land code which allows the government to change the status of the lands and suggested for each individual change of status there should be a law passed.

Hrant Sarkisian from Tappan Eco-Club pointed out that June 17 is the Day to Fight Against Desertification. He remembered Nork forest which used to be protecting Yerevan and is not there anymore and warned that desertification of Armenia is happening at an alarming rate.

A spokesman from the Armenian Helsinki Committee warned that even though we've accomplished a great deal, we should not believe everything the government says. Monuments they promised not to destroy in Yerevan were destroyed. If they change the status, all laws won't be violated. He was very skeptical.

Ivan Gabrielyan, an archeologist at the Botanical Institute, gave very interesting historical background stating that the forest of Armenia that existed 1 -2 million years ago were similar to what is growing in Shikahogh. Shikahogh is that old that if we cut the trees they won't regenerate. A road built through he Reserve will also violate the surface of the land for instance if one bronze age cemetery is destroyed how can we justify this? Karine Hagopian of the Monuments Preservation Department said it should also be determined if there are any
archaeological monuments in the path of the new road and before it is approved it should be examined by experts in monument preservation.

The Forum was summed up by Gohar Oganessova pointing out what we all agree were the accomplishments of the day. Our power is our unity!!!
1. It's the first time NGO's have worked together.
2. The NGO's worked with the Ministry of Nature Protection staff to find alternates.
3. We can initiate other conventions which Shikahogh falls under but Armenia has not signed.

The Deputy Minister of Nature Protection, Papazyan thanked the NGO's for initiating this and said that we have shown our force, raised issues appropriately and shown how to solve the problem appropriately. He said the executive power listens and takes actions and the fact that we have an intermediate decision shows that laws are not being violated. He said the Minister of Nature Protection used the law to stop the work on the road. The law says without an environmental assessment road work cannot be done. He encouraged the audience to keep raising issues on other topics as well and said it will lead to the government's finding balanced decisions, which he feels they are capable of doing. He said we need independent experts such as those who spoke today who are not afraid to speak up.

The main result and a very exciting one to be witness to today was the workings of the beginning of a civil society from the grass roots level up. The government came, there was a dialogue, many experts spoke in a unified manner. This really has not happened here before. Karine
Danielyan ( Sustainable Human Development NGO), who was the moderator, summed it all up by saying it was a small achievement today, not a victory and that we should continue to go forth. She cautioned that Papazyan had said NGO's should help with the finances and maybe in some months they may say there is no funding and they will build the first road instead. Papazyan clarified that it's possible that the oligarchs can help with funding.

In all it was a step toward rule of law and the foundation of a civil society. The coalition achieved results and will continue to work. We are wisely skeptical but ready to continue the process and the fight. We'll meet at the beginning of next week to decide on the next strategy.
The coalition left feeling our work is having an effect!!!

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ONEWORLD MULTIMEDIA, 17.06.05
LAST CHANCE FOR FORESTS OF ARMENIA

Onnik Krikorian

Government-connected businessmen and state officials engaged in the illegal export of timber from Armenia are mostly to blame for the former Soviet republic’s dwindling number of forests. Whereas 11 per cent of the republic was covered by forests in 1991, the figure stands at below 8 per cent today. Environmentalists warn that unless current trends are reversed, Armenia will be forestless by 2024.

In recent weeks, such concerns have have been reinforced by plans to build a highway through the Shikahogh Nature Reserve situated in the southern-most Siunik region of the republic. Tens of thousands of trees in the reserve will be felled in government plans to build a second, 90-kilometer road leading to the Iranian border. Shikahogh is habitat for over 1000 species of plants and fauna such as leopards. Environmental activists and NGOs in Armenia are up in arms against this latest threat especially as work on the $16 million project has already begun..

Blockaded by Turkey and Azerbaijan as a result of the frozen conflict with the latter over the mainly Armenian-inhabited territory of Nagorno Karabagh, Armenia relies on its two other neighbors, Georgia and Iran for the bulk of its import and export. Approximately ten per cent of all imports into Armenia come from the Islamic Republic via mountainous terrain that often makes the journey dangerous during the winter.

The government argues that it is for this reason that a new road should be constructed even though the proposed route will not only pass through the Nature Reserve but also the centuries-old Mtnadzor forest.

Environmentalists say that the new road offers no advantage over that which already exists and accuse the government of having other motives for the project. Because the Shikahogh reserve and forest are currently protected under national law, they say that the new highway is simply a way to “legitimize” logging and hunting in the area.

According to the Armenia Now online publication, the value of the 14,000 mature and 90,000 younger trees that stand in the path of bulldozers is estimated at approximately $1 million.

“If they refuse to accept any of the proposed alternatives then the road is not the real issue,” said Karen Manvelyan, National Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Armenia in an interview with Hetq Online. “The plan for a ‘strategic' road is simply to get at the forest and the wood. Governmental officials say that the highway has strategic importance but none can explain why they have chosen this way through the reserve.”

If the road passes through the reserve, the government will violate several of Armenia’s international commitments as signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN Convention on Biodiversity, UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the European Convention on Landscape,” says Jeffrey Tufenkian, Executive Director of the Armenian Forests NGO.

“It also breaks various national laws and contradicts many decrees by the Armenian Government such as the State Strategy and National Action Plan for Development of Specially Protected Natural Areas,” he adds. “Construction will also infringe upon the Law on Environmental Impact Expertise as there was no environmental impact assessment conducted for the concept of passage of the road through the natural reserve.”

In fact, the Environmental Impact Assessment that the government had to undertake only occurred after construction started in May. In an interview with Radio Free Europe / Radio Europe at the beginning of June, however, the Armenian Transport and Communications Minister, Andranik Manukyan, added insult to injury by saying that the road would be constructed regardless of what the assessment concluded.

Amalia Kostanyan, Chairperson of the Armenian branch of Transparency International, the world’s leading anti-corruption watchdog, is not impressed.

“The plan was examined by the State Non-Commercial Organization on Environmental Expertise,” says Kostanyan, “The law says that the construction of any project can only start after the positive conclusion of an impact assessment. In the case of this road, however, no findings have been released – neither positive nor negative – and in fact, the assessment was returned by the government with the request that it be revised.”

Environmentalists are equally unimpressed and are particularly concerned by what they see as a cynical ploy to legalize construction on the reserve by changing the status of Shikahogh from a Nature Reserve to that of a National Park. Such a dangerous precedent would immediately open it up to poachers and other commercial activities, they argue. Moreover, the new road would also allow easy access to loggers and poachers.

Meanwhile, public outcry has at least united NGOs in Armenia. Dozens of NGOs working within a coalition to save the nature reserve say that an alternate route should be taken and, already, extensive media coverage has forced the government to suspend construction for 15 days. However, while construction in the reserve has not yet started, bulldozers are still clearing the way for the access road.

As a result, environmentalists are convinced that the Armenian government has no intention to bow to public pressure to adhere to its own national law and international commitments.

“They seem to be proceeding in a way that indicates they have already made their decision regardless of what the public and NGOs have to say,” says Tufenkian. The American environmental activist of Armenian descent is also part of the coalition to save Shikahogh. A public hearing scheduled to be held in Yerevan on 17 June might well represent the last stand of environmentalists to prevent further deforestation in Armenia.

“The coalition of organizations working to save the Shikahogh Reserve has taken it upon itself to organize this public forum and has had to invite the relevant government ministries,” says Tufenkian. “Hopefully they will yield to public pressure and protect the reserve by choosing another route for the highway. However, it is possible that even if the government attends the public hearings, they will be doing so insincerely and simply as a matter of formality.”
Concern over the fate of Shikahogh and Mtnadzor has also spread far
beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet republic. In the influential Armenian Diaspora, Carolyn Mugar, founder of the Armenian Tree Project and Executive Director of the US Farm Aid organization, has already started a letter writing campaign to lobby the Armenian Embassy in Washington.

Since then, the Minister for Transport and Communication, Andranik Manukian, has told the ArmInfo news agency that the government would now look at alternate routes and requested that environmentalists put in as much energy into securing extra finance for the project as they have in protesting. Paradoxically, he also declared that this “change of heart” had nothing to do with the campaign by environmentalists to save Shikahogh.

But given earlier broken promises that construction would be suspended, environmentalists are not taking the government at their word just yet. “There is not a single official decision and we do not know how the road will be constructed,” says Nazeli Vardanian, Director of the Armenian Forests NGO. “So, non-governmental organizations must continue the struggle.”

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AZG DAILY, 07.06.05
SHIKAHOGH ISSUE

As soon as the Ministry of Transportation did not react to our claim of organizing public hearings to discuss the construction of the highway through Shikahog, the coalition of ecological organizations has decided to perform them this Friday in the American University. Armenian laws on nature, ecology and animals, international conventions on changing climate, desertification and others which Armenia has joint, are the main weapons of the coalition. We are not against the construction of the strategic road, but we cant allow it pas through Shikahog. This is also a strategic matter for our ecology, genetics and also tourism.

40 Feminin organizations announced their readiness to join the coalition yesterday. They offered a new way of struggle - to organize a mass pilgrim or Shurjpar to Shokahog with people from all the organizations, villages and others, and use some slogans on Shikahog protection instead of music.

The ministry has rejected the alternative route through Shishkert, stating that it has more slopes, and is longer for 19 KM, is higher for 200-300 m, and demands 1.5 million dollars more. This route was offered by the ministry of ecology.

The Armenian representative of the International Fund of Wild Nature has offered another alternative, which has the height 2156m. This is even higher than the Shishkert alternative. But experts say that this height does not hurt any animal, and here the climate is softer and the winter will be softer as well, the road here is safer - says the president Karen Manvelyan.

Last week the representative of the Armenian Forests organization - Karen Afrikyan along with other 13 experts has participated to the expertise in Shikahog which was held 28may -3 June. He presented the results which contained some unexpected news: according to the project the road will cut the Mtnadzor for a 10m width and 16.6km height sector. But this experts say that the forest must be cut for 30 meters width in order it to be possible to build a 10m way.

The officials say they would cut just 12000 trees, according to the experts at least 26000 trees would be cut and also 50ha will be destroyed along the road. Their report shows all the losses. Karen Afrikyan announced that they are responsible for even 0.1%
mistake made in the report, (which means that they are 99.9% sure in the results they have). This report will be presented to the government.

A very interesting fact - the local habitants are changing their opinions , which also means that some active work has been done on them. Now they say that the construction will provide them with wood and working places.

The expert say that Mtnadzor has is quite dangerous and some falls will happen during the constriction. If we ignore this we will have the same effects which we
had during the road construction with Linsy fund. In winter this road will froze, here many fallings (rain, snow.) will take place, and the road cant be serviced properly.
Anyway the ecologists are sure that the government has already made the final decision on the construction of the road, and the final step is the Presidents assignment.

 

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This is what we must prevent!
A1+, 06.06.05
ARMENIAN ECOLOGY IN DANGER


According to Karen Afrikyan, head of the non-governmental organization “Forests of Armenia”, the road to be constructed through the Shikahogh state reserve to Iran represents huge ecological danger.
Not only 26 000 big and 117 000 small trees will be chopped down, but also 70 plants recorded in the Red Book will be annihilated. As Mr. Afrikyan said, there are alternative solutions to this problem, for example, the road can be constructed though the village Shishkert near the reserve; thus the forest will not be damaged.
Today in the UN Armenian office the presentation of the books devoted to the ecological problems published by the non-governmental organizations “For Sustainable Development” Association and “Ecological Academy” took place. According to Karine Danielyan, head of the Association “For Steady Development”, publication of the books about ecological problems will raise public awareness about the issue.

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AZG Armenian Daily #090, 20/05/2005
IMPLICATIONS OF THE NEW FOREST CODE

Part One: Protect Our Forests

Note: this is the first of three columns focusing on key points of the new
draft forest code and its implications for Armenia's threatened forests.

Armenia's endangered forests

Last week a series of discussions began in Yerevan focusing on the draft new
forest code. These discussions, organized by Armenian Forests NGO with the
support of Open Society Institute public policy formation grant, seek to
engage key NGOs and others in the realization of this proposed Code and
related implementation. These discussions are timed to prepare for the
expected introduction of the draft code to Parliament later this spring.

For those who may not be aware, the destruction of the forests in Armenia is
reaching tragic levels. Although forests historically covered approximately
40-45% of current territory of Armenia and even the early 20th century it
was 25%, forests now only cover about 8-9% of the Republic of Armenia. Loss
of forests brings problems of soil erosion, landslides, loss of springs and
rivers, loss of fruits and other forest products, greater weather damage,
loss of productive soil, loss of biodiversity, loss of sensitive animal
habitat and additional problems. Although some of the greatest loss occurred
during the energy crisis, the cutting and devastation still continue at
alarming rates. According to expert estimates, at current rates of
destruction Armenian forests could be destroyed within 20 years.

In Soviet times and since then, Armenia's forests have had protective status
in that there is no legal cutting except sanitary cutting intended only to
cover getting the dead trees out of the forests and care cutting (select
thinning) to improve the health of the forest. However, under the guise of
"sanitary cutting" mass cutting is carried out mostly by illegal business
operations supplying wood for internal fuel needs, furniture, construction
and sending the best, most valuable trees to other countries.

During Soviet times, the government planted up to 7,000 hectares of forests
each year and imported wood (from Russia and other places) to meet needs
within Armenia. Unfortunately, there has been almost no reforestation since
1991 and there is very little import of wood while the cutting has increased
dramatically.

Why a new forest code?

The current code is not bad, but needs some updating to reflect the current
situation and it was significant enough that it made more sense to develop a
whole new code. This has been a long process managed by FISP (Forest
Institutional Support Program), a group funded by the Swedish SIDA, under
the World Bank Natural Resources Management and Poverty Reduction Program.
Nazeli Vardanyan, an environmental attorney and director of Armenian Forests
NGO has been one of the lead people in facilitating this in-depth process
and developing the code with other local and foreign experts over the last
18 months.

The forests should remain under the ownership of Armenia's people

Among one of the key provisions that should remain in the code through the
Parliamentary process is the provision of ownership. Armenia's forests are
here for the benefit of current and future generations. To that end,
Armenia's forests have been and should always remain the property of the
state as guardians for the people and never be privatized. The Minister of
Agriculture, David Lokyan, who is the lead minister for this code and the
World Bank, which is responsible for the project that has developed this
draft code, are adamant that privatization of Armenia's forests should not
be allowed; however, there are others who would love to buy forest land, cut
the trees, build their mansions, fence it off for their own use.

We have only to look at other examples of countries that have gone this
route to the destruction of their forests to see what a disaster this would
be for Armenia. Upon analyzing the impact of privatization in Central and
Eastern European countries, an FAO report (Issues and Opportunities in the
Evolution of Private Forestry and Forestry Extension in Several Countries
with Economies in Transition in Central and Eastern Europe) sites extensive
problems with management of private forest areas and recommends against this
direction for CEE countries.

Armenia's forests are in a precarious position; hopefully this series of
workshops and media coverage of these issues will help encourage people to
be more engaged in the protection of the forest resources of Armenia. If we
expect the forests to be here for the next generation of Armenia's children,
Parliament should maintain the provision that maintains forests as state
property.

Part Two: What Will Our Grandchildren Say?

"We have inherited the nature from our ancestors to preserve and pass on to
our future generations."

--Armenian proverb

Is this the framework by which Armenia is treating its forests?

When the illegal business operation cuts 80-100 year old trees and leaves
bare hillsides behind to erode, like so many areas in Armenia, are they
acting in the best interest of their grandchildren's generation, or even
their son's and daughter's? Hardly.

This column will briefly explore two key aspects of the draft forest code
and related laws; namely sustainable management and the flow of trees across
our borders.

Managing the forests, ensuring a future

Armenia's forests are suffering from shortsightedness. This is not to blame
people for cutting trees to keep their family from freezing in the
winter-any of us would do so if needed. However, those who have choices
(such as those running and profiting from the illegal cutting operations)
are doing what may seem to be in their short-term interest, but at the
expense of not only everyone else but their own long-term interests. We
cannot, as the saying goes, see the forests for the trees. In the attempt by
a few rich people to further fill their pockets today, the forests,
biodiversity, habitat and not least Armenia's people are suffering-and will
continue to do so for generations.

Armenia must immediately move to practices of sustainable forest management
as well as mass reforestation to begin to stem the tide of destruction. We
are hopeful that this code, if properly enacted and enforced, will help
support such a change; but the leadership and citizens alike must make it
so.

Is it possible for Armenia to have productive-cutting for commercial uses
like construction and furniture-forests while restoring the forests? The
answer remains to be seen, but it certainly is the case in other countries.
To do so requires proper management. It is clear that the forests have not
been managed well, barely at all, since Soviet times. It is theoretically
possible to identify and allow proper, controlled, sustainable cutting the
less sensitive areas of forests where harvesting will cause minimal
disruption while prohibiting cutting in the most sensitive areas such as
those where the slope is very steep (prone to erosion) or particularly
delicate biodiversity areas.

Parallel mass reforestation must be made a high priority in order to begin
to repair the damage done by over a decade of abuse, mismanagement,
corruption and need-based cutting. Nurseries must be established,
cultivation of high quality trees must be undertaken, forests planted and
cared for, dry or eroded land must be reclaimed to reverse the trend of
desertification as has impoverished so much land in Armenia.

Exporting our valuable forests

Another example of shortsightedness and pure greed in the forest sector is
the situation of mass export of large, valuable trees to other countries. In
Soviet times (and technically still on paper, though not in practice)
Armenia forests were considered under "protective" status and there was no
productive cutting for internal uses let alone external uses. That has all
changed; now not only are people over-cutting Armenia's forests to meet
internal demand and make furniture for export, but a few wealthy people
taking advantage of the corrupt, non-existent enforcement of laws to again
fill their pockets by cutting and selling Armenia's most valuable trees as
whole logs to Iran, Spain, Italy, Germany and even Turkey.

One may rationalize destruction of forests for internal needs based on a
poor economic situation and the lack of affordable alternative fuels, but
such destruction purely for the gain of a few is inexcusable. These people
are in essence stealing our grandchildren's property.

Unfortunately besides the corruption and greed, there is a policy that
supports such destruction. Namely that for import of wood-something that
Armenia needs to protect the remaining forests-there are both taxes and
customs fees making it prohibitively more expensive. Adding to the
imbalance, exports of wood are charged neither taxes nor customs fees. This
unfortunately increases the incentive to cut more forests for export. At the
very least, this must be reversed to allow more incentives for import and
disincentives for export.

Armenian Forests NGO among organizations seeks to include such an amendment
to the tax law and customs code as part of the forest code package.

If Armenia really does have sufficient forest resources to allow for export,
one related positive step that could be taken is to develop properly managed
"certified" forests. In this way the products could be "certified" by a
recognized third party as harvested in a sustainable manner. This would
thereby not only support the protection of our forests, but enable Armenia's
trees to command much higher prices on the world market.

Another way to look at it is to see that the forests belong not to us but to
our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Forests are the cornerstones of
our ecosystem and support fragile biodiversity and animal habitat, and
moderate the microclimate, protect the soil, and clean the air. We must be
thinking, feeling and most importantly, acting with a view to the future. As
much trouble as it may seem to stop the mass destruction of the forests, it
is much more costly to try to repair the damage later.

Armenia must immediately implement an effective process of sustainable
management and restoration of its forests. Armenia should not be exporting
its scare, valuable forest wood to countries that have richer forests than
Armenia; at a minimum, Armenia should establish incentives for import and
disincentives for export of wood. These measures should be adopted by
Parliament and enacted by law, but will take the concerted will and effort
of all levels of society to carry them out. From the President to
Parliament, to marzpets and village mayors, to villagers and Yerevan
residents; the commitment must be borne by everyone.

Part Three: Making it Real; Making it Work, Now

Mass deforestation in Armenia is being driven by a combination of factors
including poverty, lack of affordable alternative energy, corruption and
shortsighted mentality. These are significant issues that feed on each other
and exacerbate the destruction of forests. However, gains in these areas due
to other efforts (such as improving the economy, implementing the rule of
law and cracking down on corruption) will also have payoffs for the forest
sector.

In this context, the new forest code has been drafted and will be submitted
to the Parliament later this spring or in the fall. Although it is not a
"silver bullet" it could be an effective tool to bring about positive
changes for the dwindling forests of Armenia.

Parliament's responsibility

A tremendous amount of work has gone into developing the current new draft
forest code (and related legislation on exports and imports of wood) aimed
at helping improve the forests of Armenia. However, the best draft code will
not have a chance of bringing any positive change to forest problems unless
its provisions are maintained through the Parliamentary process and signed
into law.

There are likely to be pressures within the Parliament to gut or change
certain key provisions of the code before it becomes law. The important next
steps must include local citizens, NGO's, international organizations, and
donor organizations (not the least of which are the World Bank and Swedish
SIDA who are funding the project dealing with this new code). We must convey
to members of Parliament and the President the need to pass this new code
and related legislation intact. We hope they will take this responsibility
seriously and do the right thing for current and future generations.

The critical details

The current forest code, which is still in force until a new one replaces
it, is not so bad. However, although it was passed in 1994, the vast
majority of the regulations (also referred to here as "bylaws") were never
adopted. Unfortunately, regulations-which describe how the law will be
carried out and by whom-are required to implement the law. Without them,
there are no directions to for the bodies to be able to enforce the law. It
is like a car that has a destination but no driver and no road to get there.

Once the new code is adopted as law, the regulations must be finalized and
also adopted as quickly as reasonably possible. We should not accept excuses
that aim to needlessly delay this critical step.

Enforcement is the key

Many officials point to the poor economic situation of villagers and try to
pretend that the villagers are the ones to blame for cutting the forests. In
fact, villagers pulling branches and small trees from the forest by hand or
donkey (although certainly a factor) are a fairly small fraction of the
whole problem. In this case, the real villains are the businessmen who are
bribing local officials to look the other way while they take out the large,
valuable trees by the truckloads for sale in and out of Armenia. In some
cases they are even making new roads to access the more remote forests.

It is no secret that Armenia's laws are not generally well enforced, but
steps must be taken to immediately curb the corruption and rampant theft of
forests if we expect forests to remain for our grandchildren.

The other thing some officials say to disguise the truth of this ongoing
destruction is to talk about the past with phrases like "Armenia experienced
extensive over-cutting of forests during the energy crisis in the early
90's." The reality is that although some of the greatest loss occurred
during the energy crisis, the cutting and devastation still continue at
alarming rates. In fact, the cutting that occurred at that point, although
it was significant, was purely need-based. Now, unfortunately, a few are
making a big business of cutting forests for their personal gain.

The single most important aspect of all of this is that THERE MUST BE PROPER
ENFORCEMENT OF THE LAW. Without proper enforcement the forests will continue
to be destroyed.

For proper enforcement to happen several factors must be in place. First
there must be the political will among officials at all levels to make sure
the law is followed. Second, the public, NGO's, international organizations,
media, and others must be engaged and help create the political will for
enforcement to take place. Steps must be taken to develop effective means of
enforcement and to weed out corruption. The regulations should make it easy
to do the right thing and difficult to do the wrong thing-not the other way
around.

It will not be an easy road, but the new code and related regulations once
adopted, MUST BE ENFORCED-PERIOD.

In conclusion, Armenia's forests are at a critical juncture. Forests now
cover only 8-9 percent of the country and the forests that remain are in
relatively poor condition. As a result, great areas of Armenia are beginning
to suffer due to erosion, drying of springs and rivers, loss of
biodiversity, loss of animal habitat, desertification and other problems.
Given the fragile state of the forests here and the immense destruction that
is currently underway, this situation demands to be resolved.

The new forest code and related regulations could be an effective tool to
protect and restore the forests, but the commitment to follow and enforce
the law must be there. This is a commitment that must be borne by all
sectors of society from the local villagers, to NGO's, to businesses, to
local officials, to the highest levels of government. We must act quickly
and with firm resolve to get this new code enacted, adopt effective
regulations and to make sure it is effectively enforced. Only then will our
grandchildren have a chance of inheriting any forests.

For more information or to get a electronic copy of the draft code and
related documents, please email Armenian Forests NGO at
info@ArmenianForests.am.

By Jeffrey Tufenkian, co-founder and president of Armenian Forests NGO
focusing on actions to restore and protect Armenia's forests for current and
future generations. See www.ArmenianForests.am. He also is co-founder of
Kanach Foundation, publisher of the Adventure Armenia: Hiking and Rock
Climbing book (www.kanach.org).


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ANN/Groong -- Armenian News Index
April 8-11, 2005
DRAFT FOREST CODE DISCUSSED

YEREVAN, APRIL 8, NOYAN TAPAN. Director of the organization Forests of Armenia Nazeli Vardanian stated at the April 6 discussion of the new draft RA Forest Code that Illegal forest exploitation has a mass character in Armenia and is threatening with disaster. The papers presented at the discussion bear witness to the fact that illegal deforestation makes about 1 mln cubic meters each year. Yet, according to the reports drawn up, the annual volume of illegally felled timber makes only 5-6 thousand cubic meters. Thus the state budget loses millions of dollars (according to some estimates, 3-4 mln) and irreparable damage is caused to the environment. In N. Vardanian's opinion, the main amendments to the Forest Code should be related to the right of property, the right to rent and forest status change. She proposed that forests should continue being state property within the same limits as they are now. If anyone plants a forest on his/her own territory, it may become private property. As regards forest status, N. Vardanian proposed distinguishing protection, specially secured and industrial forests, which, in her view, will reduce shadow forest exploitation.


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1 March, 2005 / ARKA News Agency
Every year 4,000 ha of forests are cut in Armenia for heating purposes

Yerevan, March 1, Arka. Every year some 4,000 hectares of forest is being cut in Arenia only for heating purposes.
As Armenian Forests NGO informed Arka News Agency, an estimated 500,000 cubic meters of forest is used as fuel in the country. At the beginning of the century forests covered 20 % of the country’s territory, whereas today the figure fell to merely 8-10 %. Twice during the 20-th century have the forests of Armenia undergone major felling: first time in 1930-50’s for industrial purposes, and then in 1992-94- during the energy crisis years.
Ads a result, currently an average thickness of Armenia’s forests is 0,52 units, below which any forest loses its capability of natural. Under this figure, any kind of felling is strictly proihibited in forests. In this respect worth mentioning is that currently only sanitary cuttings are allowed in the country.

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1 March, 2005 / ARKA News Agency
ROAD TO DESERT EXHIBITION OPENS TODAY IN YEREVAN

YEREVAN, March 1. /ARKA/. “Road to Desert” 3rd exhibition, organized by Armenian Forests NGO and the Forestry Chair of Agricultural Academy opened today in Yerevan. The exhibition is dedicated to green zones of Armenia. According to Jeffrey Tufenkian, Head of woods of Armenia NGO, the objective of this exhibition is to draw the attention of students and future forestry specialists to issues of forestry, its preservation and rehabilitation and prevention of illegal fellings and wood export. “Unfortunately, the woods of Armenia are being exterminated. This results in erosion of the soil and extermination of species of fauna”, he noted..
The photos of the exhibition picture both the nature of Armenia and scenes of extermination of forests. The pictures were taken in the forests of Lori, Tavush, Syunik marzes. The exhibition will last till March 4. Then, it will be also taken to marzes of Armenia.


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Armenian News Network/Groong
Armenian Forests: Exhibition of photos "Road to Desert" opened
Thu, 03 Mar 2005


PRESS RELEASE
1 March, 2005
Road to Desert continues...


Exhibition of photos "Road to Desert" opened at 2 PM on March 1, 2005 at
Yerevan-based Armenian Agriculture Academy's Agronomy department. The
exhibition dedicated to the forests of Armenia was organized by joint
efforts of the "Armenian Forests" NGO and the mentioned department's
Forestry chair.

The goal of the exhibition is to draw the attention of students and
particularly the future forestry experts to the situation in Armenian
forests, their protection and restoration, as well as stress the necessity
of stopping the illegal cutting of woods in Armenia. This display of photos
is the third in the series of exhibiting the "Road to Desert" throughout
Armenia since its launch in February 12, 2004.

The expo photos display both beautiful and green corners of Armenia, and the
destruction of forests and scenes of tree felling by the side of humans. The
photos were taken in the forests of Lori, Tavush and Syunik marzes.

The exhibition will be on till March 4, from 10 AM to 5 PM.


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YEREVAN, January 12, 2005. ARKA
ARMENIAN FORESTS NGO INITIATES INVOLVEMENT OF STUDENTS
INTO NATURE PROTECTION

 

Training for local public organizations initiated by Armenian Forests NGO and In Memory of Jinishyan Foundation was started in Yerevan today. As Jeffrey Tufenkian, Chairman of Forests of Armenia NGO said, the purpose of a three-day training is assisting the public organizations in efficient involvement of students in nature protection. Seven organizations from Armenian regions and five organizations from Yerevan participate in the training. As mentioned by Tufenkian the students are concerned around ecological tasks.
"We can assist the public organizations in implementation of measures and involvement of students into the process of solution of the ecological problems.

The Armenian students have a big potential in this regard and it must be revealed", he said. He also said that each participant of the training may apply for receiving a grant in the sum USD 3-5 thou. for the purpose of solution of ecologic problems. Armenian Forests NGO functions in Armenia since 2002. The project of involving students into nature protection will continue until 2005.


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