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 October 10, 2003 

Destructive Decoration: Nature preserves become personal plucking grounds for the powerful


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.

Holes 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 paid.

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.

Now 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.

Uprooting and replanting takes a toll on the trees' health..

Environmental activists charge that those with money and influence are satisfying their own interests, at the expense of damaging the republic's already fragile eco-system.

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."

According to Agnes
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Winning looks

Unconfirmed reports say that an unusually high number of girls and women spectators were on hand Friday night at Vazgen Sargsyan Stadium for Spain vs. Armenia. Seems that the Spanish national football team, led in looks by Raul, give the female fans something to cheer about. Even when the home team loses 0-4.



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