The Conundrum of protected landscape

Several weeks before, on suspicion of fish poaching, one of the rangers of “Gnishik” protected landscape was arrested in Vayots Dzor. The ranger`s main task was to catch the poachers. We were informed that he was fined and released. Afterwards it was somehow revealed that he has also worked in “Safari International” – a company, which organizes hunting tours. Ironically some people recognized him as a guide who organized eco-tours for tourists and probably spoke about the love of the Armenians towards the nature. This hilarious ranger- hunter-poacher- environmentalist combination managed to spread in social media platforms.

Simultaneously having several jobs is a very normal phenomenon. But when we tried to learn the reason of employers, with actually contradictive activities, why they hired the same person for such inconsistent activates, we learnt a very interesting thing: the employer was the same person. The “Gnishik protected landscape” foundation engaged in environmental activities (hereinafter GPL) and the “Safari International” Ltd organizing hinting tours (hereinafter “Safari”) are linked to each other due to Arsen Matevosyan the son of Vardges Matevosyan the former governor of Vayots Dzor. He inherited “Safari” and founded the “GPL”.

Is the environmentalist also a hunter?

“Safari international”, an Armenian-Italian joint enterprise, was established by Vardges Matevosyan -then the governor of Vayots Dzor. People who knew him witness that he had an exceptional love and affection towards the nature and the establishment of a hunting company was only one part of his long-term project. They tell that Vardges Matevosyan, after receiving a piece of land from the government, was intended to fence it and organize conservation of endangered species, while the necessary means had to be collected by the means of only old species hunting. 

After his death, the situation has started to deteriorate in the territory provided for “Safari”. The natives are not sure in the reasons. Perhaps the son, who does not possess his father`s strength, gave way to the pressure excreted by influential "hunters" or perhaps the profit of hunting business was too tempting.

Irrespective of the sphere of his activities, shortly thereafter, Arsen Matevosyan has become the director of “Gnishik” protected landscape foundation, established due to a large grant capital (UNDP/GEEF, CEPF, CNF, WWF` approximately 500 thousands USD) and responsible person for environmental protection.

This fact would be very surprising if the role of Karen Manvelyan the director of WWF- Armenian was not significant. He has announced for many times that Arsen Matevosyan is his close friend.

Here is an obvious conflict of interest between the hunting business and protection of environment implemented due to grants. Apparently it didn`t bother anyone, because there is even a provision in the charter of “GPL”, which states the “creation and development of the institution of hunting economies in the region, stimulation of the process of its establishment “as one of the goals of the foundation.

In the 110 pages management plan of “Gnishik” protected landscape, downloaded from the webpage of the Misery of Environment, it is impossible to find some line directly promoting hunting in protected landscape, the way it is done in the charter of “GPL”. It is briefly mentioned once as one of the possible long-term sustainability guaranteeing mechanisms of the landscape. Despite, it is only mentioned about amateur fishing in the manner prescribed in the legislation from permissible equivalent actions of individuals and legal entities.

From the very inception it has been logical that the combination of these two contradictory phenomena would not remain without consequences.

Environmentalist Gor Hovhannisyan in this interview to Econews.am, directly said “In “Gnishik” protected territory some officials hunt. I have heard about it for many times from the native people. That means it is not accessible for ordinary people, hunting activities are not permissible in there, but there are officials, politicians who come here and hunt, and of course the employees ( of the protected territory) are the organizers and they are present during hunting, After all these, what do you want to demand form those people?”

“Gnishik” tormented landscape

GPL is founded in the administrative territories of Areni, Khachik, Gnishik communities. The Caucasus Nature Fund, WWF has started financing of that project in the time, when there was no basis for land ownership, relevant agreements, and cadastral records. Moreover the information center of GPL was established in the very territory of “Safar”, and only afterwards was separated by Cadaster. Auxiliary community development projects have also been implemented on the basis of incomplete documentation.

The new head of Gnishik community Ara Levonyan claims that there has been no agreement between Gnishik community and Gnishik foundation, which would regulate the activity of the foundation in the administrative territory of the community. There was not even a rental agreement; there was only the decision of Senior Staff/Elders about handing over the lands to the foundation for free. Thus there is logical question: “but why?” Gnishik community donates 3000 hectares of land from his administrative territory to an organization, which receives 100 of thousands of USD for projects implementation in there.

This whole Conundrum is the basis, on which the new head of Gnishik community months before severed all the ties with GPL (in the face of Arsen Matevosyan:, and with WWF-Armenia which directly or indirectly finances the former (in the face of Matevosyan`s close friend Karen Manvelyan).

In addition to the foregoing, the reasons for the conflict were in particular the incompletely implemented projects of barley seeds, apple gardens, beekeeping households, new pipes of irrigation water and others in Gnishik. About some of these projects will tell the former head of the community himself a bit later.

In the famous environmentalist journalist Galust Nanyan`s “Selling landscape" film, the former head of the community Mesrop Melkonyan tries to explain why they gave the land for free to GPL “For environmental purposes only”. The acting head of the community Ara Levonyan does not agree with that, in his opinion the community should have some benefit form that deal, the organization should rent the land and implement some projects in there.
The former head of the community claims that some projects were implemented and lists several projects of the WWF-Armenia implemented in Gnishik community. For instance, one of those projects was the free distribution of 10 tons of barley seeds. Afterwards Mesrop Melkonyan in the same “Selling landscapes” continues ”Now let`s not look for the guilty ones responsible for the results, because we know, that agriculture, farming in the open air is a kind of work which depends on the will of the God and the Nature. This year drought was a little stronger, and we didn`t receive a good harvest. I don`t feel like looking for a guilty person”
After that the community received 70 Bee Colonies. Mesrop Melkonyan says that the colonies were distributed among 10- 12 families. The former head of the community is surprised why this phenomenon is concerning or why it raises any questions: “There were such families who were caring and they were able to develop and multiply the number of colonies to 15-20, there were also others who were not responsible”. Afterwards he advises to have a walk in the community, and see the presence of proves of those projects.

From the combination of to a degree surprising and sometimes illogical facts, a very interesting chain appears: CNF – WWF – GPL/(Safari) –Gnishik community. In fact the chain weakened after the loss of Gnishik community.

What is the benefit of the donors?

And what can be the benefit of WWF-Armenia in the face of Karen Manvelyan and CNF of Armenia in the face of Arman Vermishyan from this chain. They are very close partners which is even logical. There is no other fact stating the guilt of the very donor organizations for the shortcomings of the implemented projects. As a result of the possible intervention of law enforcement bodies, perhaps it might have been turned out that 10 tonnes of barley seeds didn`t suffer due to the drought, but simply was shared between the donor and the former head of the community. But at this moment these are only insidious and mere suppositions without any factual base.

There are also no facts, which will prove the information/rumors disseminating in Vayots Dzor that the donors ignore the large scale hunting the lands of GPL In return for certain and specific compensation. These can also be viewed as falsity.

But there are facts that the WWF uses the projects implemented by the means of grants for economic purposes. Particularly, one of the examples is “EcoTour” Ltd, which implements paid tours in the territory of “Gnishik” protected landscape.

According to the information of State Register the head of that Ltd and one of the participants is the environmentalist Arsen Gasparyan, who is also the project manager of WWF-Armenia
Formerly, Sargis Aghayan the head of the “Young Biologists” NGO took part in that Ltd, who later on was replaced by Tsovinar Ghaltaghchyan the representative of the same organization. (“Young Biologists” NGO is famous as the closest young “friend” of WWF-Armenia): Everything is correct, permissible, and legal in the documents. And everything would have been ideal if the founder of the Ltd was the Foundation and not the persons having certain tied with it. Only in this case it would be possible to claim that the profit of the Ltd served the goals enshrined in the charter of the Foundation. 

Lusine Barseghyan (168.am)

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