New PAEF Film Highlights Destructive Mining in Armenia

Special for the Armenian Weekly

In my journey to learn more about Armenia’s environmental organizations, I attended a movie screening of the Pan-Armenian Environmental Front’s (PAEF) documentary film titled, “Armenia’s Breaking Backbone.” We sat down afterwards for a question-and-answer session with four members of PAEF to learn more about the organization and the work they’re doing in Armenia. The civil initiative was established in January 2013 with the goals of raising awareness about environmental issues in Armenia, developing solutions to those issues, and supporting sustainable economic development. PAEF is a group of young, passionate environmental activists whose motto is “The Protection of Nature is the Protection of Armenia.” One of their most recent projects has been the production of “Armenia’s Breaking Backbone,” which exposes the harsh reality of Armenia’s mining industry.

Participants of PAEF's bee-keeping program in Litchk Village, Syunik region PAEF2: Students at Glendale Community College participate in a screening of ‘Armenia's Breaking Backbone.’
Participants of PAEF’s bee-keeping program in Litchk Village, Syunik region PAEF2: Students at Glendale Community College participate in a screening of ‘Armenia’s Breaking Backbone.’

Although heavy mining activity in the country dates back decades and even centuries, exposure of its significant environmental impacts has only begun in recent years. Because of the industry’s huge impact, PAEF has chosen mining as a priority of their work. “Armenia’s Breaking Backbone” is the first documentary with specifics about the mining industry in Armenia. According to PAEF, there are 460 registered mines currently in Armenia, and testing at an additional 71 mining sites is underway. The documentary shows the consequences of these mines, including clips of some of the few hundred million tons of mining waste, or “tailings,” which are often dumped into local streams, polluting them with heavy metals and other dangerous chemicals. At times, the film is difficult to watch as the harsh degradation of Armenia’s lands is brought to light.

Now PAEF is working to combat irresponsible mining in Armenia by promoting other forms of rural development. The organization recently started a pilot project to support bee-keeping in communities at risk of contamination from future mining ventures, by providing alternative income to local families. In its first year, the program has seven families in the village of Litchk, Syunik region, organized in a cooperative. Each family has agreed to give 10 percent of its honey profits to the cooperative, and at the end of the season the group will decide how to use the pooled funds for the benefit of the entire community. PAEF is looking forward to receiving feedback from the participants and local communities at the end of the pilot project to improve the program and ensure its success in the future.

I asked the members of PAEF about succeeding in the battle against mining in Armenia. For viewers of “Armenia’s Breaking Backbone,” it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s the classic tale of David versus Goliath, and Goliath’s grip only appears to be tightening. But PAEF thinks differently. They’ve been a part of the success Armenian activists have had in recent years—for example, in saving Mashtots Park in Yerevan. Suzy Petrosyan, one of the initiative’s coordinators, believes it takes a group of genuinely committed people. She notes that every country has corruption, not just Armenia. But she also believes that if you’re truly committed you can make changes in small steps. She says with enthusiasm for the future, “You don’t know how much success you can have until you try.”

To watch the film “Armenia’s Breaking Backbone” with English subtitles, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyRdxRT2v5Y.

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Ali Hamlin

Ali Hamlin currently lives in Yerevan, working as a volunteer with Birthright Armenia. In her time with Birthright she has worked for the American University of Armenia, the Fund for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets, the Armenian Environmental Network, and the Janapar Trail. She hails from the North Shore of Boston and in her free time enjoys hiking, sailing the small sailboat she built with her dad, and staring out at the ocean. Ali holds a degree in Chemistry from the University of Rochester.

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