Thursday, 20 September

The Victims of Deforestation

On November 11th a “Zil 131” truck tipped over and rolled into the valley below while returning from the Lalvar forest products company located near the village of Shogh in the Lori Marz (Region). The truck was loaded with wood from tip to toe.

Loggers Davit Kharatyan aged 20 and Suren Norekyan aged 66 died as a result of the accident whilst Vahan Hobosyan and Koryun Sargsyan were badly injured. Davit Kharatyan would have turned 21 on November 20th. “ He had a sweetheart and they were to be engaged in December”, his grieving mother recounts. In Shogh they state that during the past three years five villagers have died and three have become invalids either working in the forest or along the forest road.

In relation to the accident Kamo Shahnazaryan, the Director of Lalvar, declared that, “ Despite the fact that I registered the loggers, I couldn’t tell you what part of the company’s lands the wood they were transporting came from. Perhaps the forest ranger would know.” When asked why so many accidents occur on that particular road Mr. Shahnazaryan replied, “ Who knows if there’s any correlation. All I know is that people want to work and earn some money.” The Director added that in order to avoid accidents and to satisfy the people’s demand for wood his company couldn’t organize the collection of fallen lumber from their tracks of land. “ We can’t draw up such plans. That’s something that falls under the purview of “Hay Antar” (Armenian Forest Service).

Even Felix Bektashyan, the company’s Chief Forest Warden, cannot say what Lalvar tracts of land the victims had removed the wood from. “ Vahan Hobosyan came to me requesting a permit allowing him to remove wood from the forest. I told him that permission was to be granted to Kamo Shahnazaryan. He then left and wasn’t to be seen for a week or ten days. Later on I was scheduled to undergo heart surgery. After returning home I heard that a road accident had taken place in the Noyemberyan district and that a vehicle had flipped over resulting in fatalities. I went and saw that none of the lands under my watch had been touched. I don’t have any information about the matter at all “, says the Chief Warden.

Levon Karyan, Lori Section Chief of the Republic of Armenia’s Natural Protection Inspectorate, states that the road accident victims had removed wood from Teghut. Might this be the reason then that both the Director of Lalvar and its Chief Warden claim to know nothing of the matter? One cannot rule out the possibility that the illegal felling of trees has already begun in the wooded areas owned by the Vallex Group, a mining concern recently given the go-ahead to mine copper and molybdenum and build a tailings dam on those lands. Some in the village blame careless driving and faulty vehicle mechanics as the cause of the accident. It’s common knowledge that this wasn’t the first time that the loggers were transporting wood from the forest. Even the Director of Lalvar claims that they went back to the forest in order to earn some money. In this context Smbat Kharatyan, who lost his son Davit, states that, “ As far as I know the accident occurred on Mount Akhed. When Davit had nothing to do he’d go to work in the forest with Vahan and his crowd. There’s no work around here. They’re just kids who went to the forest to earn some ‘kopeks’.” And it’s impossible to earn some ‘kopeks’ without Lalvar’s Director Kamo Shahnazaryan or the forest wardens. No wonder then that despite the loss being a heavy one, the relatives of the dead or injured are apparently trying to conceal the circumstances of the accident.

Seeming to be engaged in a conversation with himself in an attempt to answer those questions that continue to haunt him, Koryun Sargsyan, his arm in a cast and with blood-filled eyes as a result of the accident, states that, “ The accident occurred on Sunday around dusk. We were transporting the wood down from Gogdakh Mountain in the Noyemberyan district, far from Teghut. It was all dead wood and we had the necessary permits.” Next to him was a child, only a few months old, wrapped in diapers. The mother was blessing the child as if to say that God saved the life of her husband for the child’s sake.

The brother of the deceased Suren Norekyan contradicted Koryun and declared, “ The accident happened on the road to Teghut.”

Rudolph Stepanyan, Chief of the Investigative Unit of the Tumanyan Police, states that, “ An examination of the circumstances surrounding the accident is in the preliminary stage and so far no criminal charges have been brought. According to the information we are privy to the accident took place on Mount Gogdakh but that’s not to say that a on-site inspection will bear this out.” 

Many in the village of Shnogh blamed the accident and the cutting down of trees as the reason for their poor quality of life. “ Each parent has the responsibility of raising their children properly but we don’t have the means to do so. Where should we go? Last year they had to amputate somebody’s foot because of an accident”, says Sirush Norekyan.

While attempting to describe the difficult life of the villagers Garnik Beroyan observed that, “ The villager lives from hand to mouth, the soil’s dried up and doesn’t bear fruit. People just sit around all day doing nothing. There’s no fertilizer. The kids haul water from Vardan spring. The pigs have gotten sick and are dying. I’m 74 years old. I get the bucket and head off. Where else can I get water to drink?”

 While Shnogh is supplied with gas, the villagers heat their homes with wood. Garnik Beroyan ponders, “ I’d have to spend 15,000 to heat the home with gas for one month. I only receive a pension of 16,000. What should I do? Go hungry?” Village Mayor Haykaz Kochinyan states that while 570 homes in the village have gas some 70% of them still collect dead wood from the forest as heating fuel.

In Shnogh they said that one square meter of wood logged legally costs 6,000 drams while the same wood logged and sold ‘under the table’ is 5,000. As to why people in Shnogh live in such poor conditions and why they are ready to risk their lives to have something to eat, Mayor Haykaz Kochinyan answered by saying, “ Who is living high on the hog these days?” He went on to say that since Davit perished in the accident the Kharatyan family is really going through some rough times. The father used to go abroad to work but doesn’t any more. Once the kids grow up who’ll be left to take care of their parents.

What the Village Mayor forgot to say was that the family owns 3,000 meters of land. This land hasn’t been cultivated for many years because, just like half the village, water to irrigate the land doesn’t reach the Kharatyan’s.

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