- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 October 10, 2003 

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

Sometimes it is the seemingly insignificant events that say the most about the living condition: Putting a new coat of polish on worn-out shoes; sweeping trash from a sidewalk that is hardly more than dirt itself; carrying yourself with dignity on your way to borrow money . . . Such things.

We have a story this week that could be seen as insignificant, unless you look past the event itself and to the mentality that creates the environment in which such actions flourish.

Some trees were uprooted from an Armenian hillside and replanted to decorate a Yerevan cafe. So what?

So what, is that the trees were planted 30 years ago in an effort to filter the air and protect, via a "greenbelt", the environment. Now they are practically nothing but potted plants, likely to dry out and do little more than filter clouds of cigarette smoke from one of too many Yerevan cafes.

So what, is that the person who put them there is the very appointed government official - the Minister of Protection of Nature - whose title should spell out pretty clearly the irony here. That Minister took 30 years of cultivated nature - significantly in this case, government property - probably damaged it, and turned it into window dressing for his wife's cafe.

The official was clever enough to disguise the intentions of his action. He filled out papers saying the trees were going to be used for aesthetic enhancement of a government property in Kotayk. But two days after those papers were filed, the 15-to-20-foot silver spruces became landscaping for Mrs. Minister's central Yerevan cafe.

So what?

So what, is that an environmental protection group - the Union of Greens - found out about the transplanting and asked the General Prosecutor's Office to look into it. An investigator found that violations had occurred.

I guess the fact that it involved an appointed official got somebody's attention, so the President was advised that his Minister of Nature Protection had arguably defiled his very title. The President told prosecutors to back off, answering their investigation with, in effect: "So what?"

I came here from California, but I am not a tree hugger. I find it hard to get worked up over environmental issues because I generally find them arrogant suppositions that Mother Nature can't find a way to take care of herself - like, after billions of years she needs our puny help.

This isn't about trees. It is a damn lot about the environment here, however.

The environment here is that abuse of government-appointed power is seen as a privilege of the post, rather than a punishable offense. I wish this incident with the trees were the most egregious example of that fact. In any case, since it is our jumping off point on this occasion please indulge further examination of this "insignificant" occurrence.

First, does anybody question how it is that prime property, i.e., cafe sites in one of the busiest parks in the capital, ends up owned by families who run the government? Does anybody question whether it is right that a pensioner in the city center can hardly find a park bench that isn't attached to the disco-deafening noise of a cafe? Or that a strolling family has no green space for introducing babies to nature because the green space has been overtaken by concrete and neon put up to entice business for the well-connected?

Finally, is it too ironic that government officials/cafe owners cut down park trees to make room for their cafes, then uproot trees from government property to decorate them?

Okay, okay. I won't unravel the whole socio-political ball of thread over this one. So what?

It's just some trees, right?

(Click here for related news story.)

According to Agnes
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Progress for Poverty: IMF official praises Armenian poverty reduction plan

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The Week in seven days


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  Photos of the week
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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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