Monday, 24 September

"Whoever comes here to cut down trees had better watch out," says a Karabakh war veteran

"A tree saved my life. It was a thick tree - I hid behind it and all the shell fragments went into the tree. The tree was torn up and I managed to escape. It was a strong tree, it was a strong mahogany; it was torn up, but it saved my life," Vahe says. Since then he has worshipped trees. He suffered a head injury during the war and has been disabled ever since.

Vahe Rafyan joined the Army as a volunteer in 1992, to protect the border. He was 22. "I stayed there for five months. There were 15 of us in the artillery unit. They used cannons and GRAD missile launchers against us. We were fighting in the village of Shurnukh , near Goris. It was November, we were returning to the village from the frontline at night. The enemy attacked us. They were firing at us from tanks, from whatever possible. They were better armed. We went into the forest. They were shelling the forest for half an hour. The forest saved many people's lives, not just mine. The shells hit the trees, but not us. We have to be grateful to the forest, it saved so many lives. None of us was wounded that day, the trees saved us," Vahe recalls.

We met Vahe in the small green square located at the intersection of Kadjaznuni and Atabekyan Streets. Hetq has reported on how the Yerevan Mayor has signed away land in this yard. (SeeDo not believe Yervand Zakharyan). Vahe was watering the trees and grass. A few kids from the neighboring buildings were helping him. Vahe's main occupation is keeping the green areas in the neighborhood courtyards watered. He is on his feet from six o'clock in the morning. When it became known that the mayor had given away this land for the construction of a restaurant and store, local residents stood up and started filing complaints about the mayoral decision with various agencies. They demand that the results of the land tender be invalidated.

Khachatur Sukiasyan, the member of parliament representing their constituency, has earned residents' particular scorn for his complete indifference toward them. Deputy Prosecutor General Gevorg Danielyan sent a letter informing them that a preliminary study had shown that their complaint was valid and the legality of the tender would be examined.

"There are 18 trees in the square. The garden has a caretaker. We are planning to plant trees and gardens in this vicinity," Gohar Ghazinyan, who lives in the neighborhood, says. "Edmond Zargaryan from the Mayor's Office told us that there would be no construction work here. We want the mayor to declare his illegal land allocation decision invalid and to inform the residents in writing."

Although Vahe is a disabled veteran, he receives no disability pension. "None of my brothers in arms is here, they all went abroad. What would they be doing if they had stayed here? No one remembers them today, why should have they stayed? People don't want to look war veterans in the face, so that won't have to help them out. They put a stamp in my military card stating that I'm 'unfit for military service'. I have the papers, but I don't receive the allowance. Two years ago I sent a letter to [defense minister] Serge Sargisyan but he never responded," Vahe tells us.

34-year old Vahe lives with his father and two brothers. As he talks to us, he continues to water the trees. "I have an obligation to the trees to fulfill. How can someone cut down a tree to build a building? Everyone wants to make money. We are not a good nation - this is the reason. We need a Stalin, to have anyone who cuts a tree down shot on the spot. I told the people from the Mayor's Office that anyone who comes here to cut down trees had better watch out. I told them I have a rifle."

Then suddenly, the expression on the face of this man, who has devoted his life to the trees who once saved it, changes. "Next year," he says, "I'm going to plant roses here."

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