THE RE-GARDENING OF EDEN OR ENVIRONMENTAL COLLAPSE IN ARMENIA?
Posted 01 December 2012 - 11:41 AM
November 29, 2012
By Mary Jo Wonacott Agbabian, R.N.
Armenia has a wealth of biodiversity and a rich natural heritage. The
country has 3,600 of the 6,000 plant species found in the Caucasus,
2,000 of which have nutritional or healing properties, and 17,500
invertebrate and 500 vertebrate species, of which 346 are birds;
regrettably, the Caucasian leopard is now an endangered species.
AYF Canada rallies against environmental violations in Armenia.
The forest of Armenia covers only 8-11 percent of the land area,
down from 18 percent in the 17th and 18th centuries. The dominant
tree species are broadleaf, oak, beech, and hornbeam.
Lake Sevan is Armenia's largest source of water and one of the biggest
alpine lakes in the world. This lake is one of the highest priority
environmental management issues, and depletion of fish stocks is one
of the current concerns. In Armenia there are more than 1,000 small
lakes and 14 river basins that include 10,000 rivers and streams.
On Oct. 10, Armenia Tree Project (ATP) Director Jeff Masarjian
and Deputy Director Jason Sohigian arrived in Southfield, Mich.,
to educate the community in a lecture titled, "The Re-Gardening of
Eden or Environmental Collapse in Armenia?" This Inaugural Annual
Armenian Independence Day lecture was co-sponsored by the Armenian
Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the AGBU
Alex and Marie Manoogian School.
I have traveled to Armenia three times and have seen the environmental
work done by ATP. I am a witness to the impacts of deforestation:
erosion, landslides, and flooding. I have seen the mud slides,
washed-away roads, mud in people's homes, and large tree logs illegally
cut, pilfered, and plundered for profit. And I have seen the enormous
task of restoration at the Karin Nursery and the environmental
beautification done at churches, parks, and hospitals.
Creating jobs and greening the environment, while promoting
environmental education, is what ATP does. There are now three
nurseries and two educational centers, with the establishment of a new
one in the Lori region. Since 1994, more than 4 million trees have
been planted throughout Armenia. One million high-quality fruit and
decorative trees have been planted at 909 sites throughout the country.
And now to address the environmental collapse in Armenia: ATP has
sounded the warning bell about the consequences of open-pit mining and
pollution from abandoned mines. There are an astounding 630 mines in
Armenia with no regulations for the safety of air, water, or soil. The
potential damage to the health of Armenia's population, its plants,
animals, and forests, cannot be understated and underestimated. The
toxic contaminants left behind in the air, water, and soil are arsenic,
sulfur, zinc, lead, and cadmium.
All of these heavy metals, minerals, and chemicals are toxic to humans
and may cause extensive damage to the body, including kidney and
liver damage, fetus abnormalities, spontaneous abortions, low sperm
count, delayed growth in children, learning disabilities in children,
blood diseases such as anemia, disruption of the digestive enzymes,
gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, and neuromuscular diseases. This
list is just the tip of the iceberg in the causation of illnesses
due to a depressed immune system.
The tailings left from ore extraction pollute the water. The
unrecoverable and uneconomic metals, minerals, chemicals, organics,
and processed water are discharged as slurry to a final storage area.
Not surprisingly, the physical and chemical characteristics of toxic
tailings and their method of handling and storage are of a great and
growing concern. There are now at least 25 operational tailing dumps
Seventy-seven laws of the Republic of Armenia have been violated.
Environmental protection laws have been ignored. The environmental
protection ministry in Armenia is corrupt and inept.
There is no public outcry. What can we do? Spread the word that this
plundering and pillage of Armenia must be controlled and stopped. The
landmass in Armenia is limited and one cannot contaminate such a
small geographical area.
Clean air, clean water, and healthy soil are the sustaining life of
Armenia. If tourism, agriculture, and the beverage industry-three
of the economic drivers of Armenia-become compromised, then the
country's economy will stagnate and die along with a sick and weakened
population. Education and prevention has to be done now.
For whom the death bell tolls; I pray it is not my beloved Armenia.
Posted 09 January 2019 - 12:03 PM
‘I think the locals thought it was a space centre, with secret technology and hackers,’ says Shahane Halajyane, initiative director for the fund’s Smart programme. ‘COAF has been working here for years, but the villagers didn’t relate this building to them. They were sure it was some place for rich people.’ She should know. Although Halajyane now lives in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, she grew up 15 minutes from here. ‘We decided to bring in groups of children and parents during construction,’ she continues. ‘The idea was to give local inhabitants a sense of ownership.’
The building’s curves continue in a minimalist amphitheatre. Photography: İeva Saudargaitė
COAF, a socio-educational NGO, was founded by American entrepreneur Garo Armen, and has been operating in Armenia since 2003. Now, with the launch of its Smart Center initiative – Debet’s is the first of 20, subject to funding – it is seeking to bring the 21st century to rural areas, through after-school programmes in coding, robotics, engineering, visual arts, music and dance, all offered free of charge.
Kaloustian signed up to the project after Tony Shafrazi, the New York-based Iranian-Armenian gallerist and former art advisor to the Shah, sent him a message on Instagram. ‘It was surreal,’ Kaloustian says. ‘This was someone I respected, whose career I followed. He invited me to New York to meet in person; he’d lost his studio and had a project to replace it. Then one night, we ended up at a party, and we met Garo. The whole thing was very organic.’ A couple of weeks later, Kaloustian found himself flying into Yerevan.
I wanted to design something big that would reach out and embrace the land, a landform, more than a piece of architecture
‘The diaspora has this romanticised vision of Armenia,’ he says. ‘It’s an ideal. So when we go and see that it’s a real country, it leads to mixed feelings.’ For Kaloustian, though, Lori was love at first sight: ‘Excavation had already started for a three-storey structure, but I immediately wanted a single-storey building that related to the sheer size of the plot and the empty space around it. I wanted to design something big that would reach out and embrace the land, a landform, more than a piece of architecture.’
Kaloustian designed an irregularly shaped, winged building that pushes into the landscape via a long, as yet unfinished, curving promenade that will combine rooms, walls and open, ‘wild’ green spaces. ‘I’ve always been interested in exercises in ambiguity, the way you can do something that feels like an exterior, but is delimited,’ he says. ‘Like at the Alhambra. Spaces that are fluid and ambiguous, so the visitor feels something is different but doesn’t necessarily know what it is.’
Extensive glazing opens the building up to the landscape. Circular skylights illuminate the level below ground, where the dance studio, music rooms, changing rooms and recording studios are located. Photography: İeva Saudargaitė
For Kaloustian, the three-year project was a journey, both as an architect, and as a person of Armenian origin. Determined to be as bold as possible, he credits COAF for its willingness to travel along. The contractor, however, was another matter. ‘It was a shock of two mentalities,’ says Kaloustian. ‘There are traces of our clashes all over the building.’
This may be why, if you want, you can find fault. Minimalism is an unforgiving mistress and, in places, the building’s finish is imperfect. But these flaws do not detract from the overall impression that this dynamic beauty stands out even as it hunkers down, a glazed lantern adrift in a sea of green. There is nothing similar for hundreds of kilometres. Here in Lori, this building is alien and yet it is clear from the easy behaviour of its users that it is also their alien.
‘Unconsciously, that is what I wanted to achieve,’ Kaloustian says of a project he has loved, loathed and finally come to terms with. ‘The villagers are super proud of it. They’ve appropriated the building and understood it, and this is rewarding for an architect. §
As originally featured in the October 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*235)
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