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Gagik Aghbalyan

Ecosystems Threatened: Improper Mapping of Armenia’s National Parks Warrants Review

New Dilijan Hotel Raises Land Ownership Issue

Spruce trees are being cut down in the town of Dilijan, an area known as the Switzerland of Armenia, to make way for a three-story hotel.

What’s at stake, however, isn’t just the fate of a hundred of so trees but the viability of Armenia’s national parks where flora and fauna can be protected.

The land on which the hotel is to be built is adjacent to the Dilijan National Park (DNP), and many say the site should be a part of the park. It’s an extension of the DNP’s ecosystem.

The only reason the site lies outside the DNP is because those originally mapping the boundaries of the park were bureaucrats with little knowledge of ecosystems and their importance.

Back in the day, the boundaries of Armenia’s national parks and protected reserves were surveyed to show the extent, value and ownership of real estate, especially for taxation purposes.

The site in question, two-tenths of a hectare, belongs to Aram Sahakyan, and the Dilijan Municipal Council has granted him a building permit.

While the permit stipulates that the developer must take special care not to cut down an unnecessary number of trees, the photos we took show the opposite.

Dilijan National Park: A Jumble of Contradictory Maps

It turns out that large areas of the DNP ecosystem have been surveyed as property belonging to the town of Dilijan. As such, they can be commercially developed.

Arman Vermishyan, Armenia National Coordinator of the Caucasus Nature Fund, has studied the DNP maps and says that community lands contain enclaves of the ecosystem, resulting in a park that’s more a patchwork than a sustainable whole.

Vermishyan adds that the survey maps often contradict one another, showing area both within and without the park’s boundaries.

The yellow areas show Dilijan National Park lands within Dilijan town borders

Such contradictions are not unique to Dilijan National Park. Survey maps of other national parks and protected areas in Armenia are just as jumbled.

Vermishyan believes that the problem of specially protected wilderness areas either being registered as national parkland (a less protected status), or outright municipal property, can be traced to the fact that these lands were commercially of interest and were surveyed accordingly.

“It’s high time that these surveys be reviewed and amended if needed,” says Vermishyan.

Satellite imaging shows us that large forested areas have been surveyed as Dilijan municipal land. Vermishyan believes that these areas must be either be protected or directly returned to the park.

Vermishyan says while it won’t be easy to correct the mistakes of the past and to map realistic borders of sustainable ecosystems, it must be done.

“It’s accepted practice in Europe that communities and ecosystems must live in harmony with one another. Such cooperation becomes a sort of national trademark. The decision makers must be people who share these values. It’s a question of personnel,” says Vermishyan. “I believe this revolution must usher in a revolution of quality. I don’t see this yet on a large-scale, but I hope it will gradually happen.”

The 2016-2025 management plan for Dilijan National Park singles out the lack of a buffer zone as a main problem.

The park, in reality, has no buffer zone. It’s all on paper. Even what’s on paper is fragmented and partial.

The government’s ten-year plan for DNP says there’s no buffer zone for the interior, critical areas of the park, for the environs of the town of Dilijan, or the villages of Teghout, Haghartzin, Gosh and Khachardzan.

The above terrain photo shows the forested areas north of Teghout and Haghartzin have been greatly reduced.

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