BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Just a few days ago, some good news hit regarding the environment of our homeland. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a bill titled “Haiti and Armenia Reforestation Act”. But as with everything in life, it is not unalloyed good news. Also, in a somewhat atypical development, the bill was initiated by the senator, not the Armenian community, though he did reach out to our groups regarding the legislation.
The first thing to pop into anyone’s mind that sees this is, “Haiti and Armenia together? Huh? What’s the connection?” There’s history and there’s politics. Both countries used to be extensively forested. Over time, each through its own series of abuses, the trees have been largely lost.
When in French hands some three centuries ago, Haiti was described as the richest colony anywhere in the world. But it was also a slave based economy. Then, Haiti became independent, but was saddled with the antipathy of its former overlord and has struggled economically. That impoverishment coupled with ignorance of the economic importance of forests, as happens everywhere, led to consumption of trees at unsustainable rates, creating an island almost devoid of trees. Now, when tropical storms strike the (Caribbean) isle, massive mudslides destroy homes and kill people. When earthquakes strike, landslides take another huge toll. With no forests to do the job, fresh water for drinking is scarce. Armenia’s history is similar, though spanning a longer period of time. Centuries of invaders, desperation, and ignorance have rendered Armenia almost desert like. No doubt you’ve seen pictures of the Western Armenian landscape and noticed the desolation. The Republic of Armenia (RoA) is not quite as badly off, but given the extractive rapaciousness that is driving the government’s resource management policy (or lack thereof), the moon-scaping of the RoA may not be far off.
So there is some logic to the juxtaposition of Armenia and Haiti. But the fact that Sen. Durbin has tried to pass a Haiti reforestation bill unsuccessfully probably played a larger role in this “joining” of countries. Plus, he visited Armenia last year, and while there, may have observed or been informed of the dangers Armenian woodlands (what little remains) are facing. He’s probably thinking, “With both Haiti and Armenia in my bill, I can get the lobbying support of both constituencies,” and he’s probably right.
Next you’re probably wondering how this will be implemented if the bill becomes law. Will the U.S. buy a bunch of trees and have them planted in Armenia? Will it just give the money for this to be done? It turns out that the RoA would be required to set aside tracts of land, both currently forested and subsequently planted, that would be protected from the axe. In exchange, the RoA would receive two things: technical assistance, support, and capacity-building expertise to accomplish the reforestation and debt forgiveness/reduction from international creditors. This arrangement, referred to as a debt-for-nature swap, would be mediated by a nongovernmental conservation group.
So we have a situation where, based on first principles, there is a good proposal on the table. But, it needs refinement. Given the irresponsible approach demonstrated by the RoA’s government on the environmental front (questionable mining practices unchecked, illegal lumbering ignored, the near irrelevancy of very good laws that are on the books, and the ever-present corruption that taints everything in the country), strong compliance and enforcement measures must be included in the legislation.
A very important, though hidden, political calculus may also be driving Durbin. Despite his strong support on issues revolving about Artzakh and the Genocide (he used to be an author of resolutions), in recent years, he has backed off. In part, he has used the foolhardy Protocols as an excuse. It is our job to make clear to him that we appreciate environmental initiatives such as this proposal, but it cannot replace, only supplement, his support on our core issues, the ones he has been cool to since the lying President Obama commenced his love-fest with Turkey.
Let’s all support this bill. Let’s make sure it is strengthened before it is passed. Let’s communicate our concerns to Sen. Durbin. Let’s get our compatriots, friends, and relatives in his state of Illinois to convey the same concerns. It’s good to see how much more integrated in world politics and economics our concerns have become. But, let’s make sure we achieve a comprehensive, meaningful, and practicable law as the outcome.