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Hrant Gadarigian

The Khosrov Wildfire: Are the Media in Armenia Asking the Right Questions?

The media in Armenia should be asking what caused the fire now raging in the Khosrov Forest State Reserve.

For me, that’s the real story to be investigated here.

It comes as no surprise that Armenia doesn’t have the resources or technical know-how to battle such wildfires. (It’s much more involved than getting tanker planes to fly over a few times and unload their water; especially given the high temps in the area).

Hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of parkland and forest burn in the US every few years – most started intentionally or by human negligence.

To date, I’ve read mostly about the number of firefighting equipment sent to the area, the valiant efforts of citizens to fight the blaze, and public confessions by state authorities that they’re woefully unprepared to extinguish the fire.

Azatutyun.am, in an August 14 post, says that law enforcement suspects the blaze was caused by human negligence and that an investigation has been launched.

If so, who are the culprits?

Given that the Ministry of Nature Protection has been woefully inept when it comes to stemming illegal logging in Armenia’s protected forests – I won’t get into the issue as to whether the ministry is actually interested in doing so – then it’s a given that it cannot, or will not, effectively monitor state reserves so vital in terms of eco-diversity and need I say, eco-tourism, a much-vaunted panacea for the countryside's depressed economy.

Khosrov is registered as a Category la (Strict Nature Reserve) according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature; the highest category of protected areas recognized by the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).

Allegedly, such areas are the most stringently protected of natural landscapes.

Such reserves are generally established exclusively for scientific field work and the protection of biodiversity. Getting into such areas is supposed to be highly controlled.

While Armenia’s Ministry of Nature Protection may boast that 150 of its employees are out there on the front line battling the blaze, why aren’t more questions being raised about frontline protection of Khosrov and other natural gems in the first place?

It’s great that reporters and activists are targeting the government for its lack of preparedness in battling the blaze, but there’s a larger issue at play here – the government’s apparent unwillingness to protect and preserve Armenia’s ecological and cultural inheritance overall, and to work with activist groups on the ground as partners in this effort.

Cynics would argue that the government has no such policy agenda and is more interested in squandering the country’s natural resources for short-term profits and personal enrichment.

If “human negligence” indeed caused the Khosrov blaze, then how did those humans get into Khosrov and what were they up to?

If the ministry is controlling access to Khosrov, as it should be, tracking down these careless culprits shouldn’t be too difficult.

Photo: Armenia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations

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