Hadjox from Kirk Wallace

After two years my time with AEN has come to a close and I would like to share a few final thoughts.  Looking back at my blog posts I notice that most of them describe serious shortcomings in environmental practices in Armenia.   These shortcomings still exist today and there is a tremendous amount of work yet to be done if we are to adequately protect Armenia’s precious environment.  Mining, deforestation, waste management and now hydropower facilities pose serious threats to the environment and challenges for environmentalists.  These things we already know.

However, I want to focus on some of the positive changes I have seen in Armenia during my tenure, some minor, some not.

AEN is now established.  Now we just need to improve and expand our work.  Two years ago no one was talking about solid waste management.  Now it is on most people’s minds.  We have also engaged our efforts into environmental education and mining reform issues.  This is just the beginning.

When I arrived, Yerevan was a trash filled mess.  Today, with the placement of hundreds of trash bins around Kentron, the city is cleaner.  And, recycle bins are showing up.  Apres!!

When I arrived, Mashtots Park was a park in name only.  It was essentially an open space with a café surrounded by piles of dirt, burning trash and stray dogs.  When the activists decided to fight for its existence my first thought was “why? This place is a dump.”  Today it is the nicest park in Yerevan filled with people every day, lying on the grass, sitting on the benches and making use of the trash bins.  It is nicer than Lover’s Park even, where lying on the grass is forbidden.

Speaking of Mashtots Park, the environmental activists cut their teeth on this action.  Although the saving of Trchkan Waterfall from complete and utter destruction was their first victory, the activists really proved themselves at Mashtots Park.  I am proud to say that I followed Hrayr Savsyan into the kiosks, past the police cordon on that amazing day in the Winter of 2012.

Alen Amirkhanian has transformed the Acopian Center for the Environment at AUA into a real institution of research and environmental policy research.  Although new to the job as director, Alen is doing amazing and important work.  His next goal is to establish a Center for Responsible Mining at AUA.  In public and behind the scenes Alen is working tirelessly to bring sanity and science to protecting Armenia’s fragile environment.

The Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC) took over the zoo and literally saved the health and lives of the animals.  Anyone who visited the zoo prior to 2011 knows how bad it was.  They also manage the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, near Khosrov reserve.  Their work is bearing fruit as they have confirmed a sighting of the very rare Caucasian leopard in this valuable buffer zone.  They also get an “apres”.

Armenia Tree Project just keeps working and working.  They have planted thousands and thousands of trees since my arrival and educated thousands of people.  If deforestation is reversed in Armenia it will be because of this organization.

My friends and partners that include Tapan, Researchers for Bio-Heating Solutions, Sir Timothy Straight (Norwegian and Finnish Consul) and others.  I am awed by your work rate and dedication to environmental causes in Armenia.  Visit their websites to learn about all of their positive contributions to environmental change and progress.  They are bringing education, innovation, trainings and positive energy to this country.

I even have to give kudos to some recent governmental decisions.  There is a move towards reforming the Environmental Impact Assessment laws.  The new ones, due to be enacted this fall won’t be perfect but do represent an improvement.   There is also a move to re-classify tailings wastes as “toxic waste” so that mining companies are duly taxed on their production.  I can even say, with confidence, that there are individuals working in the Ministry of Nature Protection that love the environment and want to protect it.  Strange, I know!!  These individuals need to be nurtured and we must learn to work with them.

And my very good friends Sona Ayvazyan, Anna Shanazaryan, Arpine Galfayan and Artur Grigoryan.  The Diaspora and most Armenians do not know about these people but to me they are national treasures.  They work, continually, and mostly on their own dime to bring attention to critical issues.  If I could clone them I would and Armenia would find itself in a much better place as a result.  So for you, my dear friends and unsung heroes of Armenia, HALALA!!

Please continue to support AEN in its important work in Armenia.  Together we can make a positive and lasting difference.