By Mary Jo Wonacott Agbabian, R.N.
Armenia has a wealth of biodiversity and a rich natural heritage. The country has 3,600 of the 6,000 plant species found in the Caucasus, 2,000 of which have nutritional or healing properties, and 17,500 invertebrate and 500 vertebrate species, of which 346 are birds; regrettably, the Caucasian leopard is now an endangered species.
The forest of Armenia covers only 8-11 percent of the land area, down from 18 percent in the 17th and 18th centuries. The dominant tree species are broadleaf, oak, beech, and hornbeam.
Lake Sevan is Armenia’s largest source of water and one of the biggest alpine lakes in the world. This lake is one of the highest priority environmental management issues, and depletion of fish stocks is one of the current concerns. In Armenia there are more than 1,000 small lakes and 14 river basins that include 10,000 rivers and streams.
On Oct. 10, Armenia Tree Project (ATP) Director Jeff Masarjian and Deputy Director Jason Sohigian arrived in Southfield, Mich., to educate the community in a lecture titled, “The Re-Gardening of Eden or Environmental Collapse in Armenia?” This Inaugural Annual Armenian Independence Day lecture was co-sponsored by the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian School.
I have traveled to Armenia three times and have seen the environmental work done by ATP. I am a witness to the impacts of deforestation: erosion, landslides, and flooding. I have seen the mud slides, washed-away roads, mud in people’s homes, and large tree logs illegally cut, pilfered, and plundered for profit. And I have seen the enormous task of restoration at the Karin Nursery and the environmental beautification done at churches, parks, and hospitals.
Creating jobs and greening the environment, while promoting environmental education, is what ATP does. There are now three nurseries and two educational centers, with the establishment of a new one in the Lori region. Since 1994, more than 4 million trees have been planted throughout Armenia. One million high-quality fruit and decorative trees have been planted at 909 sites throughout the country.
And now to address the environmental collapse in Armenia: ATP has sounded the warning bell about the consequences of open-pit mining and pollution from abandoned mines. There are an astounding 630 mines in Armenia with no regulations for the safety of air, water, or soil. The potential damage to the health of Armenia’s population, its plants, animals, and forests, cannot be understated and underestimated. The toxic contaminants left behind in the air, water, and soil are arsenic, sulfur, zinc, lead, and cadmium.
All of these heavy metals, minerals, and chemicals are toxic to humans and may cause extensive damage to the body, including kidney and liver damage, fetus abnormalities, spontaneous abortions, low sperm count, delayed growth in children, learning disabilities in children, blood diseases such as anemia, disruption of the digestive enzymes, gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, and neuromuscular diseases. This list is just the tip of the iceberg in the causation of illnesses due to a depressed immune system.
The tailings left from ore extraction pollute the water. The unrecoverable and uneconomic metals, minerals, chemicals, organics, and processed water are discharged as slurry to a final storage area. Not surprisingly, the physical and chemical characteristics of toxic tailings and their method of handling and storage are of a great and growing concern. There are now at least 25 operational tailing dumps in Armenia.
Seventy-seven laws of the Republic of Armenia have been violated. Environmental protection laws have been ignored. The environmental protection ministry in Armenia is corrupt and inept.
There is no public outcry. What can we do? Spread the word that this plundering and pillage of Armenia must be controlled and stopped. The landmass in Armenia is limited and one cannot contaminate such a small geographical area.
Clean air, clean water, and healthy soil are the sustaining life of Armenia. If tourism, agriculture, and the beverage industry—three of the economic drivers of Armenia—become compromised, then the country’s economy will stagnate and die along with a sick and weakened population. Education and prevention has to be done now.
For whom the death bell tolls; I pray it is not my beloved Armenia.