BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
A brief e-mail from a friend spending some time in Armenia inspired this article. Interestingly, the note was an afterthought to the main purpose of the message, which was to forward an e-mail about the new documentary, “Gasland Part II”, being aired this Sunday, July 14 on HBO. It is about fracking— the natural gas retrieval process I happened to write about a few weeks ago when news that such gas bearing rock formations seem to have been located in our homeland’s bowels. It is a process whose seismic risks are not yet fully understood.
Here’s the quote:
“Forget the oligarchs raping the country and all the political BS. What is really going to be the downfall of this country is the ecological disaster that this brewing because there is nobody tending to the public infrastructure issues, simple things like what is happening to all the trash being generated, water issues, sewage, etc. I’m not even talking about the visible things like mining. Things we take for granted in the US.”
The person writing this is far from your typical stereotype of an environmentalist. Three decades of work experience have been in the corporate sector.
“So what?” you’re thinking. “Some momma’s boy’s nose went out of whack by smelling garbage. Big deal!” Except, this course is what brings down civilizations. Think of Easter Island and its famous statues. What happened to the people who built them? They used up their resources, made their environment, their home, unlivable, and proceeded to disappear. This is the idea expounded by Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”.
Think of the first rape of the Republic of Armenia. This occurred mostly in the 1990s when the first generation of crooks took over the government, “privatizing” the Soviet era industrial infrastructure to themselves and their cronies. To them privatization meant “steal the stuff from the state, then sell it to foreigners and pocket the money” which for everyone else meant incapacitating the country, leaving it extra-vulnerable to the economic storms of the capitalist world.
The second rape has occurred in slow motion, over the course of the two decades of independence. The same crooks mentioned above and their successors have created such bad living/working conditions (if work can even be found), that a massive proportion of the Republic of Armenia’s most gifted, best educated, and youngest people have found it necessary to leave the country.
Now, we’ve got a country missing both brains and brawn. But, the crooks aren’t done yet. Their greed is rapacious and unrelenting. Hence, what my friend writes about is happening now— the third raping of the RoA. It’s a “use it up” or “who cares what happens when I’m gone” mentality. That explains why garbage and sewage don’t get properly handled. That’s why there’s insufficient investment in the future. That’s why the final source of the country’s potential wellbeing— its natural resources —is set to be extracted in a devil-may-care way. That explains how in a country just a little smaller than the state of Maryland (or about two and a half times the size of Los Angeles County), some 300 mines are planned! The huge piles and pools of toxic wastes produced will be the legacy of this exploitation, with the money pocketed by a very few people in the country and the foreign accomplices, and the country rendered unlivable,
Is this what we dreamt of for three generations as we struggled for a free, independent, and united Armenia? Was it our goal to lay waste to our homeland? Is this something you’re willing to tolerate?
I hope your answer to all these questions was a resounding “no” and you will work to prevent such a horrible future from becoming a reality. One of your first opportunities to help prevent this calamity will come this September, when the Teghout Fund Task Force is organizing its inaugural activity— a walkathon to heighten awareness of these issues and raise funds to support the activists in our homeland struggling day and night to avert the looming disaster.
Why do we assume that any mining activity will result in the kind of desolation you just described? Yes mining did start that way, but here in the US we have an environmental protection agency that has real power. Before you start a project one has to submit a reclamation plan. After reclamation, the land is recovered. Sometime to a better use than before. There are ways for everyone to win. But the natives do not trust their government agents to enforce these laws, and suspect that they will be bribed to turn a blind eye. So the problem is not mining but the lack of confidence that the population has in their leaders. One can easily remedy that with some draconian fines and prison sentences. Anyone caught taking a bribe should loose all their assets, property, cars, money, jewelry, clothing, everything!!! So when they come out of prison, they will be awaited by their homeless family. We need Draconian punishments against graft.
You reap what you sew!