The Minister of Nature Protection dug up 10 environmentally
sensitive trees from an Armenian nature preserve
and used them to decorate his wife's cafe near
Yerevan State University.
In April, Minister Vardan Ayvazyan, filed papers
stating that the 30-year old silver spruces of
five-to-seven meter height would be uprooted from
the Charents Reservation Park in Jrvezh and replanted
in Kotayk, to improve the aesthetics of the former
forestry administration building. But the paperwork
was merely a coverup for the real purpose.
The trees in fact were taken to Yerevan, where
they now grace "Mermaid" Cafe, owned
by Mariam Ginosyan, the minister's wife.
mark the spot where the trees once stood..
Immediately upon learning of the trees' removal,
the Union of Greens of Armenia filed a complaint,
first notifying Ayvazyan himself, then after getting
no response, union president Hakob Sanasaryan
appealed to the General Prosecutor's Office.
Upon receiving Sanasaryan's appeal, the prosecutor
investigated the complaint. ArmeniaNow has learned
chief prosecutor Aram Tamazyan advised President
Robert Kocharyan of the investigation results,
but was ordered by the President to withhold prosecution.
Instead, Ayvazyan was ordered to pay a just market
value for the trees. But the minister has not
Records show that Ayvazyan's family paid 300,000
drams (about $526) for the 10 spruces. According
to the prosecutor's investigation, the market
value is about 10 times that amount. Further,
the prosecutor's report found that the park's
effectiveness as a "greenbelt" (created
in 1977 for reducing air pollution) was damaged
as a result of taking the spruces. (Silver spruces
are rare trees for Armenia and they don't grow
here in natural conditions. The ones in the nature
park were brought from Russia.)
The General Prosecutor's Office refuses to comment
on the case. According to our information the
Prosecutor's Office had sufficient grounds for
bringing the case before a court. The crime of
misuse of office causing major damage to the state
is punishable by up to five years in prison.
trees grace Mermaid Cafe, owned
by the Minister's wife.
Rather than face prosecution, Ayvazyan has been
ordered to pay the State the market value of the
spruces. Ayvazyan, however, contests the estimated
value of the spruces and has offered documentation
showing the value to be $1,000. Ayvazyan has made
one payment of $500 toward that amount. (Ayvazyan
refused ArmeniaNow's request for an interview.)
The Mermaid Cafe is not the only beneficiary
of such destructive decoration.
It has become something of a fashion in Yerevan
to uproot trees from protective forests and replant
them in the city. This year a spruce of about
10 meters has been transplanted in front of the
Kentron District Office (of Yerevan Municipality)
and two others in front of the Ministry of Justice.
Five spruces and 13 mature pines were transplanted
around "Partez" cafe, which is owned
by the Minister of National Security, Karlos Petrosyan.
It is believed that the trees were taken from
a nature preserve near Sevan. Many of the 30-year
old pines and spruces have dried out.
and replanting takes a toll on the trees'
Environmental activists charge that those with
money and influence are satisfying their own interests,
at the expense of damaging the republic's already
Covering 407 hectares, Jrvezh Reservation is
a research and development area where a forest
was created using a special pump station taking
water to the top of a mountain. The "greenbelt"
serves as a means of producing better air quality
for surrounding areas, including Yerevan. The
reservation is maintained by scientists who are
specialists in creating environmental regions
for ecological purposes.
"If the overt crime committed by Vardan Ayvazyan
remains unpunished then there is no sense to apply
to the Prosecutor's Office with other requests
too," says Sanasaryan. "We hoped that
after entering the court this case would serve
to prevent this torrent of spruce transplanting.
But the pattern has not stopped."