A resident of the Shnogh village in the Lori Marz told “Hetq” that a large swath of walnut trees registered in the “Red Book” of endangered species had been cut down. While this person requested that we not mention his name, he was clearly upset about the felling of native trees. He gave us a photo he had taken of some ten felled walnut trees. “Damn these people. They’ll get their come-uppance, believe me.” The forest of Shnogh covers some 6,400 hectares of land.
On July 12, we headed off to a certain spot in the forest. On the newly constructed road leading to the Teghut mine we came across Engel Avetyan, a village resident who was leading his flock of animals to graze. He told us that, “Yeah, there’s talk in the village about the cutting of walnut trees. But I couldn’t say if it was true or not.” Shnogh residents informed us that Edgar Kochinyan, the son of Village Mayor Haykaz Kochinyan, heads a group involved in cutting down walnut trees in the forest. Mayor Haykaz, by the way, is the brother of the former Regional Governor of Lori, Henrik Kochinyan. This group operates under the orders of Kamo Shahnazaryan, who heads the local branch of “HayAntar’s” (the Armenian State Forest Service) Tumanyan forest products firm. (Kamo Shahnazaryan is the brother-in-law of Henrik Kochinyan). According to their testimony forest ranger Mantash Matinyan also works in this group and Shnogh resident Shahen Arakelyan is the one who operates the chain saw.
The villagers told us that the felled walnut trees are transported out in trucks belonging to geologists working at the Teghut mine and taken to the sawmill belonging to Kamo Shahnazaryan located on the road leading to the villages of Shnogh and Teghut. The cut wood is then loaded onto the “Kamaz” truck belonging to Shnogh resident Seryozha Tiratsvyan for transport out of the area.
The road proved impassable but our partner in conversation, a 25 year-old Shnogh resident, knew the place like the back of his hand and as soon as we had entered the forest, he pointed out where the trees had been felled.
We photographed the stumps of ten cut trees. Our guide stated, “These were cut early in the spring. To these ten we have to add those ten walnuts cut down in each of the forests of “Bagheri Djala”, “Metz Kakalkout”, “Kharatanots”, “Bragdzor” and “Serkevladzor”. That’s an additional 60 walnut tress felled.”
To verify what the Shnogh residents had related to us we also talked to Kamo Shahnazaryan, Director of the local branch of the Tumanyan forest products firm. Mr. Shahnazaryan stated, “I had heard the stories but didn’t have evidence. I called the warden and directed him to go out and investigate the matter. They went out and came back with one case of a tree being cut, but it was done a long time ago.” To verify what he had told us Mr. Shahnazaryan called in Aram Ramazyan, Senior Warden at the Tumanyan Company, at the end of our meeting. Apparently uninformed about the issue being discussed the Senior Warden stated that, “No, I haven’t heard anything about the illegal felling of walnut trees” but added, “I had information about cut walnut trees in the “Bragdzor” and “Serkevladzor” areas but I viewed those as the community’s property, lands that were fenced off.” In any event, neither the Director nor the Warden told us to whom those lands belonged.
In response to our query, Kamo Shahnazaryan verified that the sawmill on the Teghut-Shnogh road belonged to him. Without doubt, the Tumanyan firm’s Director built the place to take advantage of the huge resources at his disposal.
Two days after our conversation Mr. Shahnazaryan telephoned us and stated that, “Yesterday I went to the Shinu Khetch valley to investigate but saw no evidence of cut down walnut trees.” We invited him to our office to see the photos we had taken of felled trees. At first he agreed to meet with us but then backed out, explaining that right now he was too busy. Rouben Papoyan, Chief at the Teghut Mine, informed us that the firm of “Karast Ltd” would implement tree cutting envisaged for the lands at the mine. The President of “Karast” is Vardan Petrosyan, the brother-in-law of Kamo Shahnazaryan. Trees already cleared away for the operation of the mine are presently being milled at Mr. Shahnazaryan’s facility. Thus, if according to Tumanyan’s local branch Director Kamo Shahnazaryan, walnut trees were being felled on the sly until the early spring of 2008, today, that process has become a legal enterprise.
On July 16, the Alaverdi branch of the Lori Regional Prosecutor’s Office announced that in 2008 the Prosecutor’s Office registered no cases of illegally cut trees included in the “Red Book”. However, on July 17 our source within the Tumanyan forest products company informed us that members of the Investigative Unit of the Tumanyan Police Department found traces of 40 cut walnut trees in the forests of “Shinu Khetch”, “Bragdzor” and elsewhere. As a result, the Police called in the Warden at the Tumanyan Company and other employees for questioning. Residents of Shnogh are convinced that this time as well law enforcement will conveniently put a lid on the case once they have received their “share of the pie”.
P.S. - After the Armenian version of this article was published in the July 21 edition of Hetq, the Office of Control Service (OCS), at the behest of Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, began an inquiry into the issue. At the request of the Service’s staffers, “Hetq” handed over some ten photos related to the issue. In addition, the OCS invited the “Hetq” reporter to accompany them to the site of the illegal tree cutting.