Pig and Dairy Farm Owned by Mayor’s Family Polluting Spring-Fed Lake Ardenis in Armenia’s Lake Arpi National Park
Lake Arpi National Park,in Armenia’s northeastern Shirak Province, is both home to the lake after which it is named and to Lake Ardenis, a smaller body of water, that nevertheless hosts a unique variety of flora and fauna.
Environmentalists and residents say Ardenis, a spring-fed lake covering some ten hectares, is slowly dying.
Instead of hosting tourists, Lake Ardenis has turned into a sewage storage site within the last 8 years. This has impacted the lake’s fauna - the fish have disappeared, and so have unique migratory birds that used to nest here.
Shakro Ghazaryan, a resident of Ardenis who turned a part of his house into a small B&B, says the lake is slowly dying because of the waste of the dairy plant and pig farm that operate nearby. They belong to the family of Mergel Gharibyan, who was elected mayor of the village of Ardenis in 2008, was re-elected in 2012, and became the mayor of the enlarged community in 2016.
Shakro petitioned the Ministry of Nature Protection eight years ago to look into the matter, when the plant and farm started polluting the lake, but the issue remains unresolved. He says the situationhas worsened.
He believes nothing being done because the Gharibyan family has an influential “sponsor” - Davit Lokyan, the former minister of territorial administration and development.
"To be more precise, whomever you ask here, they’ll say that all this belongs to Lokyan, and that's why the Ministry of Nature Protection hasn’t intervened. Lokyan frequently comes here. If it doesn’t belong to him, or he’s not a shareholder, why would he come to a pig farm? " Shakro asks.
The pig farm was founded in 2005, and the dairy plant - a bit later.
"We started our business in 2008, when Mourad Gharibyan registered as a private entrepreneur. Later on, we registered the dairy plant in the name of Golden Love LLC, and the pig farm is registered in Gyulvard Gharibyan’s name," says the director of Golden Love LLC Samvel Gharibyan (elder brother of the Arpi community mayor). “In the beginning, we bought an old barn, then we’ve built the other buildings step by step. What you see here, was created with our sweat, " says Gharibyan.
The owners, however, don’t seem concerned with polluting the lake. When asked whether they had ever thought of constructing a septic well in order not to pollute the environment, Gharibyan replied, "We have done so much. We have provided many people with jobs. Why should we have thought about a septic well? There’s no sewage in the village. Where do they throw the livestock’s waste, have you asked them? I am against polluting the lake, too, but what can we do?”
At the beginning of the operation, the company was twice fined for pollution – 50,000 drams and one million drams. That’s all that the National Park and Environmental Inspectoratehas done so far for violating the lake’s ecosystem.
All subsequent complaints have gone unanswered.
Gharibyan’s operation covers an area around six hectares and is considered a major taxpayer in the enlarged community of Arpi. But he was unable to indicate the amount of tax paid by the business to the community budget. Neither could he recall the number of its employees.
Instead, he clearly recalled and mentioned the total amount of loans the business has taken - $360,000.
"I did so much, and nobody thanked me. Now they’re complaining about the lake’s pollution. I already regret having invested so much, I want to sell it all and move from here,” says Samvel Gharibyan.
However, he’s in the middle of a new and large construction project.
"I have demolished the old plant and I’m building a new one. Once I finish, and if there’s any money, I'll solve the issue of the septic well. On the other hand, I'm sure that it won’t be of help. We have long winters and it will freeze, and my money will be wasted,” says Gharibyan.
In addition to 1,600 pigs kept in the farm, the company also has 100 goats. They buy milk from residents of eight villages, paying 150 drams per liter. The company sells its product in Yerevan, and also exports to Russia.
Gharibyan says that they exported 30-40 tons of cheese last year and have already exceeded 40 tons in the first seven months of this year.
When the Arpi Lake National Park was being formed, World Wildlife Fund representatives visited the area and promised to support the construction of the septic well, but never did.
According to its statute, the Arpi Lake National Park SNCO is obliged to prevent processes that violate the natural park ecosystem as a result of human activity and take measures to restore the ecosystems.
Hovsep Simonyan, just finishing his first year as park director, says he’s repeatedly urged the Gharibyans to solve the problem since fining them has gotten nowhere.
When Simonyan asked the Gharibyans, in writing, about the specific steps they were taking, the family replied that they were ready to build a septic well if the government allocated a 20 million AMD interest-free loan.
This is Gharibyans’ estimate, and the director says he doesn’t know how much it will cost to build a septic well. Simonyan says they wrote a letter to the Ministry of Nature Protection on July 10, requesting they discuss the matter and make a decision. He promised to inform Hetq once they get a reply.
After we left the pig farm, we met some zoologists from Yerevan who had come to birdwatch.
Mamikon Ghasabyan, Laboratory Head of Vertebrates Zoology, Institute of Zoology, of Armenia’s National Sciences Academy, says he’s been addressing the issue for almost ten years, writing letters to the ministers and asking them to solve the issue either by closing the pig farm or forbidding to dump wastewater into the lake. He’s going to send a letter to the new minister, too.
Ghasabyan says the issue must be resolved in nature’s favor.
"The fish have disappeared, some birds can no longer be found here, and the reproduction of several bird species that live by this lake is endangered. We still do not know how the food affects them - we need to conduct research. It’s not only wastewater flowing into the lake. It's all those cleansers and washing chemicals as well. I have a photo where boxes of medicines are floating on the water. If we need to choose between the pig farm and the lake, we choose the lake. Otherwise, we will lose all this natural wealth forever,” says Ghasabyan.
Gevorg Petrosyan, Chairman of the Biosophia environmental NGO, says that this is not only an environmental issue. All these violations have been backed up by the local authorities. Petrosyan considers it an abuse of official position.
"Someone gets rich, paying 50-60,000drams to a dozen people. As a result, we lose an entire natural environment. Even if there were no fish and birds there, no one has given them the right to dump wastewater into the lake formed by mountain springs. As for the chances of the septic well getting frozen, it will definitely not freeze. I suggested to Mergel that he dig two wells, in order to use the second once the first one gets filled. There are special cars to empty them. Water will be soaked in the soil, and solid masses can be used as fertilizers. There is always a solution if there is a desire,” says Petrosyan.
The environmentalist is convinced that even if the company's business is suspended, around a decade will be needed to restore Ardenis Lake's natural state.