Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Government Backs Down -- Shikahogh is Saved

In what is an unprecedented victory against the government, both RFE/RL and Hetq Online today report that the battle to save the Shikahogh Nature Reserve has ended in success. This could be a sign of a weakened government in Armenia but whatever way it is, it represents a unique example of both local and Diasporan activists working together to prevent highly dubious plans to build a road through a protected area in the south of the country.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) indicates the path of the proposed road through the Shikahogh Nature Reserve, Siunik, Republic of Armenia

Writing for Hetq Online, Tigran Paskevichyan, puts it simply.
I am sure that the cooperation between Armenian NGOs and experienced, respected Diaspora Armenians will not end here, because it is time to put a stop to the government’s hostility toward society, their placing of the interest of the state over that of society, thereby infringing the rights of the possessors of that state, the people.

Mtnadzor is unique as a virgin forest but it is not unique as an event in which a group of officials turns public property and national treasures into objects of sale. It happened in Haghtanak Park when they cut down all the trees to build a hotel; it happened in the park near the Opera House when they poured concrete on the green areas and turned them into cafes; it happened with Northern Avenue, when along with people’s huts and cottages they destroyed buildings that were historical and architectural treasures. Now it’s about to happen to Komitas Park and the Pantheon, which they want to move, in order to use the land for public and private construction.

In every one of these cases, ordinary citizens and non-governmental organizations were alone in the struggle against the authorities, and they were defeated. Their defeat, however, was not a disgrace for them, but for the government who paid a disgraceful $14,000 to the owners of the houses they demolished in the center of Yerevan , a sum too small to buy an apartment on the outskirts of town.

I am sure that the experienced, respected Diasporans see and understand all this, and, having lived all their lives in democratic countries, they know that oppressing society and silencing public opinion never works in the long run. They know that the state, so long dreamed of, is stable and safe when negative processes are noticed right away, talked about, and put an end to.

These Diasporans have demonstrated their patriotism though their actions, and in doing so, their love for their homeland has grown stronger.

My article on plans to build a road through the Shikahogh reserve can be found online here. There is also a photostory on the Hetq Online web site.

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