Haze over Ararat: The Role of Environmentalism in the Rise of  National and Civil Society Movements in Soviet and Post-Soviet Armenia, 1975 – Present

Haze over Ararat: The Role of Environmentalism in the Rise of National and Civil Society Movements in Soviet and Post-Soviet Armenia, 1975 – Present

19 May 2013

The environmental movement in Soviet Armenia served as a catalyst for the rise of the Armenian national movement during glasnost. Despite extensive studies of the collapse of Soviet power in Armenia, little research has looked at this movement as a major factor in Armenia's move towards independence. With the aid of exclusive interviews with leading Armenian environmental activists, Karine Danielyan and Hakob Sanasaryan, this study explores the roots of the movement starting from the 1970s to its evolution under glasnost and its continuing concerns.

Pietro A. Shakarian is a graduate student enrolled in the Masters of Arts program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

PHOTOCREDIT: © 2013 Robert Kurkjian


History demonstrates that environmental and national movements are often intimately linked. Such was the case in Soviet Armenia in the late 1980s. The policies of glasnost (political openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring), as instituted by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, encouraged citizens throughout the USSR to voice their grievances. For the people of Soviet Armenia these demands primarily focused on the status of the Armenian-majority enclave of Nagorny Karabakh1, an autonomous region (oblast) in the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. However, before this issue rose to prominence, the environmental issue was a central concern among many Soviet Armenians. The purpose of this study, therefore, will be to explore the development of the Armenian environmental movement and how it served as a catalyst for the rise of a broader Armenian national movement of the late 1980s.

The importance of the correlation between environmental and national movements must be viewed from the perspective of environmental history. This relatively new field emerged in the late 1960s when American historian Roderick Nash published his book, Wilderness and the American Mind.2 In the early 1970s, Nash coined the phrase "environmental history" and in his 1972 article, "American Environmental History: A New Teaching Frontier," he broadly defined it as "the past contact of man with his total habitat."3 Nash further noted that environmental history was integral to the study of social activist and "New Left" movements in American historical discourse.4 Applying Nash's school of thought to the Soviet Union, one can see how environmental movements shared a deep and intimate connection with national dissident and proto-civil society movements. In this way, the study of Soviet environmental activism is a study of Soviet political activism.

In the Armenian case, environmental activism had a definite national component. Though Soviet rule brought many benefits to Armenia, its generally irresponsible attitude toward environmental concerns was clearly a drawback. An expression of discontent with the status of the environment was indirectly an expression of discontent with Soviet rule, except that its focus was not political injustice to people, but rather environmental injustice to "biota and the land itself."
5 The environmental movement in Soviet Armenia during glasnost must be comprehended in this context.

Origins and Major Concerns of Armenian Environmentalism 

There were three major ecological concerns that contributed to the rise of the Armenian environmental movement. They included air pollution, the status of Lake Sevan (the largest fresh water lake in the Caucasus), and the Metsamor nuclear power plant.6 The origins of these issues lie within the origins of the development and industrialization of the Soviet Armenian republic.

When the Armenian Republic (1918-20) in the Caucasus was incorporated into the Soviet Union, it was subjected to a systematic policy of state-building. Its population largely consisted of refugees who had fled from the 1915 Genocide in the former Ottoman Empire, and Soviet authorities had to attend to the basic needs of these people.7

The Armenian capital, Yerevan, was by no means a bustling city. Rather, it was a sleepy frontier town bearing a strong Persian influence. Dominated by mud-brick houses, it was dubbed a "clay pot" by the Russian Tsar Nicholas I on a visit to the settlement in 1837.8 Since then, virtually nothing had changed in Yerevan, save for its enlarged population of hungry refugees. The situation began to dramatically change during the NEP era of the 1920s, both economically and culturally. Under the guidance of the architect Aleksandr Tamanyan, the city of Yerevan began to evolve into a relatively modern, European-style metropolis.9 This ultimately served as the symbol for a national revitalization among Soviet Armenians.

Simultaneously, along with the rest of the Soviet Union, the country began to rapidly industrialize.10 Prior to this, Armenia had been a largely agrarian society with no major urban proletariat. The growth of industry and urbanization changed this entirely, as thousands of new workers were drawn toward Soviet factory life. By 1935, industry was registering substantial success in Soviet Armenia, with the gross industrial production growing by 650 from 1928. Further, in all economic production, the proportional value of industry had increased to 62 percent in 1935 compared to 21 percent in 1928.11 With such gains, it soon became apparent that industry was to become a major fixture in Soviet Armenian society.

Unfortunately, the speed and execution of industrialization often held greater precedence over safety and environmental concerns. Heavy and often haphazard industrialization was particularly pronounced during the reign of Joseph Stalin (1928-53). This was especially true during the First Five-Year Plan of 1928-32, which was regarded as the most intense phase of the so-called "Stalin Revolution."12 It was during this period that the first major Armenian ecological concern emerged.

Air Pollution

During the First Five-Year Plan, Yerevan was selected as the site for the Nairit chemical factory, a facility specializing in rubber production. Nairit was conceived during the 1920s when the Soviet government, lacking its own natural source of rubber, tasked its scientists with developing ways to synthesize the substance, utilizing available materials.13

Initially, it was decided that ethyl alcohol would be used to facilitate this process. However, the use of that substance, which is derived from potatoes, proved too costly. It was the Armenian chemist Stepan Hambaryan who suggested replacing alcohol with acetylene, thus making the process substantially cheaper.14 Armenia, replete with resources of limestone, pure water, and electric energy, quickly emerged as the top candidate for the site of the proposed factory. Under the name Kirov Synthetic Rubber Plant, construction of the facility commenced in 1933 on a large area of marshy land on the southern edge of Yerevan. By April 1940, it was finally complete, and Nairit, now known as the Yerevan Chemical Plant, opened as the first rubber plant in the Soviet Union.15

The new facility quickly proved to be a successful producer of synthetic chloroprene rubber, commencing with an annual production capacity of 14 thousand tons.16 This proud achievement was further enhanced by assistance from DuPont as part of the United States' World War II-era Lend Lease agreement with the Soviet Union. This technical aid raised production capacity to 42 thousand tons per year by the end of the war. It was during this time that the factory, along with its product, assumed the name "Nairit."

A brand of synthetic chloroprene monomer rubber, Nairit (or Sovprene) was the Soviet equivalent to DuPont's Neoprene. It proved to be a highly versatile rubber that could withstand chemical corrosion and extreme heat. This would be a major benefit to both Soviet civilian and military needs. However, Nairit, as a form of chloroprene monomer, was also both flammable and toxic and formed an "explosive mixture with air." Therefore, fire and health hazards were, and continue to be, a serious concern in the production of chloroprene monomer rubber. Unfortunately, with the onset of the Cold War and the rise of the Soviet military-industrial complex, production became a primary concern. Nairit completely ignored safety rules and regulations in favor meeting quotas, a practice not uncommon in other parts of the USSR.17

This also coincided with the growth and expansion of Yerevan. As the city began to expand southward, Nairit found itself surrounded by residential buildings, hospitals, playgrounds, and schools. The problem was "solved" by building more facilities in and around the city. These included large industrial complexes for manufacturing polyvinyl acetate, tires, and aluminum. By this time, the factory had already been singled out as a source for unwanted pollution. In 1956, the Soviet Council of Ministers ordered that the Nairit plant, along with 75 facilities, be removed from Yerevan to protect the health and well-being of the city's citizens.18 Unfortunately, the decree was never executed, perhaps because of the benefits generated from the industries. Indeed, they not only remained but were also expanded. Over the next 30 years, 54 additional plants were built in and around Yerevan, creating more pollution.19 In the 1960s, Soviet writer Vasily Grossman recounted seeing factories with "smoking chimneys" and "entire settlements" around them in "densely populated" districts where "little houses are close together and there is a family in every room."20 Later, a half-hearted attempt was made to move Nairit and its associated factories out of Yerevan and into the nearby town of Masis in 1973. However, this was quickly abandoned after builders discovered high ground-water levels on the proposed construction site.21

Meanwhile, the Nairit plant and Yerevan's other industrial enterprises were quickly turning the Armenian capital into one of the Soviet Union's most polluted cities, spewing an excess of 31.8 million pounds of polluting chemical emissions into the atmosphere, according to a 1988 report. The situation became so severe that Mount Ararat, the national symbol of the Armenian people and once a fixture of the Yerevan landscape, could barely be seen from the city.22 In fact, by the mid-1980s, Yerevan ranked among the Soviet Union's ten most polluted cities and also held the dubious distinction of being the most polluted capital of all the union republics.23

Unfortunately, Tamanyan's city plan did not help the situation. Yerevan was built along the lines of its surrounding geography, and it formed a natural amphitheater that opened up to nearby Mount Ararat. Unfortunately, this natural setting also effectively trapped the air pollution emanating from the city and the surrounding areas. Consequently, smog became prevalent, with the city suffering from "classic chemical London smog in the winter" and "photochemical Los Angeles smog in the summer," creating a phenomenon that Armenian environmentalists have dubbed "Yerevan smog."24

According to a report from November 1984, air pollution in Yerevan exceeded "public-health maximum allowable levels."25 It did not help that the city contained 40 percent of the republic's automobiles, 60 percent of its industry, and 35 percent of its population.26 By 1989, approximately 348 million pounds of motor vehicle exhaust was spewing into the air over Yerevan on an annual basis. 45 percent of this was attributed to trucks, 30 percent to privately-owned cars, 14 percent to taxis, and eleven percent to buses.27 The scholars Joseph R. Masih and Robert O. Krikorian note that while "much of the pollution was not readily evident to the naked eye, the thick black soot that covered every open space in the course of a normal day in Yerevan was a grim reminder that something was seriously wrong."28

The construction industry was yet another source of air pollution in Yerevan, contributing 35.5 percent of the total. The rapid growth of the city created an increased demand for building materials. Consequently, this paved the way for the emergence of manufacturing plants producing resources such as gypsum, cement, prefabricated concrete, gravel, and asphalt. The Yerevan Local Construction Materials Plant, established in 1930, was just one of the culprits of crass construction pollution. Located in a northern suburb of the city, its primary product was gadj, a material used in the manufacturing of plaster that was less expensive than though similar to gypsum. The mass production of this product led to huge amounts of gadj dust being spewed into the atmosphere via the facility's seven smokestacks. The materials would settle throughout nearby residential areas, seeping into every nook and cranny of daily life, creating an unbearable existence for the local people. In the late 1970s, it was announced, much to their joy, that the plant would be moved and, in 1981, a new Yerevan Gadj Factory was opened in an eastern suburb of Yerevan. Unfortunately, this new factory was just as poorly maintained as the original, which, despite official promises to close it, continued to remain open in the face of complaints from local residents.29

However, the gadj plants were only one example of pervasive construction pollution. Based in the town of Ararat, 25 miles southeast of Yerevan, the Ararat Cement and Slate Factory had been operating since 1933. With an annual output of 700 thousand tons of cement, the Ararat Factory suffered from poor maintenance with little concern for environmental safety or public health. The emission of gritty cement and asbestos dust became a dubious signature of the facility. The substance, harmful to both the soil and to the local people, caused an alarming rise in respiratory problems and cancer. In addition to this, another cement plant, the Hrazdan presented further problems. Officially opened in 1970, the Hrazdan, though more modern than the Ararat plant, was located too close to local resort and residential areas. Together, according to official statistics, both plants emitted over 175 million pounds of cement dust into the environment on an annual basis.30

Fossil-fuel-fired power plants, designed to meet Yerevan's growing appetite for electricity, were yet another culprit in the growth of industrial pollution. Emissions from these facilities resulted in the creation of acid rain, smog, and global warming and were estimated to account for 13 percent of Yerevan's air pollution in 1989. Of that figure, the Yerevan Thermal Electric Power Station, established in 1963, contributed 84 percent of the total while boilers contributed the remaining 16 percent.31

By 1989, it was reported that 1.6 billion pounds of pollutants were annually discharged into the atmosphere. Perhaps even more alarming, over 530 million pounds of that figure was recorded as being dispersed into the air of Yerevan and its surrounding areas. Understandably, the effects of living daily in such an environment took a serious toll on the health of the population. Headaches, burning eyes, dizziness, and – even worse – symptoms of choking and gasping for breath became prevalent, in addition to an alarming rise in respiratory diseases and cancer. The effects were even more tragic among children, in which dramatic increases in mental retardation, learning disabilities, congenital birth defects, and pneumonia were reported.32

Lake Sevan

Armenia's environmental issues were not limited to air pollution. Indeed, another major concern that originated during the Stalin era was the status of Lake Sevan. Deriving its name from the Urartian33 term "Siunna" or "Shanna," meaning "Land of Lakes," the fresh water Sevan is regarded by Armenians as one of their greatest natural treasures.34 The lake's majestic beauty has never failed to inspire visiting travelers, artists, and writers. Among them were the Baltic-German naturalist Friedrich Parrot, the celebrated Soviet poet Osip Mandelstam, and the Soviet writer Vasily Grossman who described the lake as "one of the most beautiful places on earth."35 All were especially struck by the lake's breathtaking turquoise blue waters that appear in sharp contrast to the jagged mountains that dominate the surrounding landscape. In addition, throughout its history, Sevan was also famous for its much-coveted salmon trout known as ishkhan, or prince in Armenian.36 The Sevan Island (now a peninsula due to declining water levels), the lake's most distinguishing feature, has traditionally been a place of seclusion and asceticism. Home to the ninth century Sevanavank monastery, it was used during the Middle Ages as a place of exile for the Armenian nobility.37

Unfortunately, the history and natural beauty of Sevan did not save it from potentially harmful large-scale projects. In 1910, Soukias Manasserian, a St. Petersburg-based Armenian civil engineer, proposed lowering the surface of the lake to 50 meters in order to utilize the water for hydroelectricity and irrigation.38 Though the plan was proposed during the final years of Tsarist Russian rule, it was not until after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian Civil War, and the Sovietization of Armenia that the plan gained momentum.

In 1931, the Soviets, improving upon Manasserian's earlier scheme, devised a complex plan for harnessing Sevan's water resources known as the Sevan-Hrazdan Cascade. The objective was to decrease evaporation and to divert the lake's water for irrigation and electricity purposes. In order to accomplish this, they increased the lake's outflow from the Hrazdan River from its natural 1.8 billion cubic feet per year to 35 billion cubic feet annually.39 This would reduce Sevan's surface area by roughly 80 percent. The newly-exposed areas would be devoted to agriculture.40 Additionally, to increase the production of the fishing industry, non-native whitefish from Russia's Lake Ladoga would be introduced.41 The plan was subsequently approved by the Armenian Supreme Soviet, and construction began in 1933. It was not until 1949 that the project was actually completed, a situation largely due to the delay caused by World War II. At this time, the government hailed the Sevan-Hrazdan Cascade project as a "major achievement of socialism."42

Once construction was completed, Lake Sevan experienced a dramatic decrease in water level, with a rate surpassing one meter per year. The decrease was so dramatic that the lake's famous island became a peninsula. "Where there was once deep-blue water," wrote Vasily Grossman during his visit, "there is now only a band of dark, murky stone." He continued observing that "the lake is disappearing from its stone basin" and that "Armenia, awash with electric light, grieves for Lake Sevan, which is perishing."43

Fortunately, an ecological disaster on par with the Aral Sea calamity44 was averted after the project was stopped in 1956 as part of Nikita Khrushchev's de-Stalinization initiative.45 However, it was too late. By the early 1960s, the water level of the lake had been reduced by 19 meters while the water volume had been cut by over 40 percent.46 Adding to this was the growth of green and blue-green algae, divesting the water of critically-needed oxygen.47 Subsequently, some new initiatives began to change this situation. In 1961, the Soviet Council of Ministers unanimously sponsored a resolution in favor of saving the lake. This meant restoring it to its original water levels and reducing pollution.48

The first immediate response was the Arpa-Sevan project, meant to redirect water from the Arpa River and its Yeghegis tributary into the lake. Initiated in 1963, this plan required building a tunnel from the Arpa and the Yeghegis to Sevan. A reservoir would be built at Kechut from a 150-foot high dam to collect the waters from the river to be brought to the lake. The tunnel would stretch 30 miles, bringing roughly nine billion cubic feet of water to the lake per year.49 Time was crucial as the solution for Sevan needed to be immediate. "There is now a project to redirect a mountain river and make it flow into Lake Sevan," wrote Grossman, "but in the meantime, the deep-blue pearl is melting away becoming smaller every day."50

Fortunately, the plan, completed in 1981, finally ended the precipitous drop in the lake's water level and even succeeding in raising it by 28 inches by 1988.51 Further, in 1978, the Soviet Armenian government also established the Sevan National Park around the lake and its basin in order to protect the unique and fragile ecology of the area.52 Still, the lake continued to suffer from issues regarding the introduction of Russian whitefish, resulting in the virtual extinction of two subspecies of the lake's famed ishkhan trout.53

The Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant 

Another major environmental issue that emerged in Soviet Armenia was the Metsamor nuclear power plant. Completed in 1976, the plant is located only 25 miles from Yerevan on an active seismic zone. "You have to be crazy to build a reactor in a place like that," remarked the dissident nuclear physicist Andrei Sahkarov about the plant in 1989.54

The decision for placing the facility in earthquake-prone Armenia came about gradually. It began in the 1960s, at a time when Yerevan was searching for new sources of energy and when Soviet scientists were touting nuclear energy as a safe and strong alternative. With hydroelectric projects exhausted and neighboring Soviet Azerbaijan an unreliable energy source, Soviet Armenian leader Anton Kochinyan became increasingly receptive to the nuclear option. When it was decided to place the plant in Armenia, the exact location was the subject of much debate. It was decided that any future plant had to be built away from Lake Sevan, and eventually the Metsamor site was finally selected.55

The decision to place a nuclear power plant at Metsamor, indeed in Armenia, caused alarm among many specialists. George Ter-Stepanyan, a world renowned geologist and a member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, signed a petition with 23 other Armenian scientists and intellectuals expressing their strong opposition to the construction of the plant at Metsamor. There was plenty of reason for their concern. The authorities glossed over serious environmental, safety and health considerations. The fact that the proposed site would be in an area of both high seismic activity and population density raised many red flags among the republic's academic community. Not surprisingly, the most vocal opponents of Metsamor were seismic engineers who argued that the placement of such a facility in such a highly active seismic area was a recipe for disaster. Notably, all of Armenia, including the Metsamor site, had been zoned at a level of seismic intensity eight on the MSK-64 scale used by the Soviets. However, these pleas fell on deaf ears. In the autumn of 1969, building of the Metsamor plant commenced.56

Metsamor was constructed with two VVER-440 model V230 nuclear reactors, which by the time of the plant's completion, were already considered outdated. The effects of an earthquake had never been given serious consideration in the design of Soviet nuclear reactors. This changed in 1977 when an earthquake struck Vrancea, Romania, 200 miles from Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear power plant. In response to this, new criteria for the building of reactors were adopted in 1979. Unfortunately, the Metsamor plant had been operational for three years by then, though significant structural changes were made to ensure greater safety.57

Understandably, this did little to satisfy the plant's vocal critics who were later emboldened by the April 1986 catastrophe at Chernobyl in Ukraine, especially after details of the tragedy spread throughout the Soviet Union. Indeed, if applied to Metsamor and Armenia, the impact of the Chernobyl tragedy would be even greater. After the accident at Chernobyl, 40 thousand square miles of land were rendered "seriously contaminated" by radioactivity. If the same thing were to occur at Metsamor, Armenia, with a total land area of 11,500 square miles, could be totally engulfed in an area of serious contamination from nuclear fallout. 

Furthermore, unlike at Chernobyl, which occurred in a sparsely populated agricultural area, the areas surrounding Metsamor are densely populated and primarily urbanized. In the event of a Chernobyl-style nuclear accident at Metsamor, there would be virtually no place for Armenia to evacuate its population. The entire country would be "transformed into a bleak lifeless radioactive wasteland."58 Further, local concerns and questions with regard to both the building materials of Metsamor and the plant's maintenance also began to emerge. Despite efforts to refute these charges by the facility's chief of construction, doubts persisted.59 Also, as if the threat of nuclear holocaust was not enough, local residents also blamed the plant for a sharp increase in birth defects due to emissions from its dual reactors.60

The Rise of Contemporary Environmentalism in Armenia

All of these environmental issues – air pollution, Lake Sevan, and Metsamor – became central to the emergence of the Armenian environmental movement of the late 1980s. However, the issues alone did not serve to bring the people together and launch a mass movement. Rather, it was a combination of the issues and historical circumstances.

The historical process that led to the rise of the environmental movement in Soviet Armenia began in the 1970s. Specifically, there were two events during this decade that were crucial to the future development of Armenian environmentalism. The first occurred in June 1972, with Soviet participation in the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden. Known as the Stockholm Summit (or Stockholm Conference), this event was the first major UN conference ever convened regarding international environmental issues and, thus, was a watershed in the international environmental movement. At this summit, the USSR pledged to promote awareness of environmental issues within its borders.61

In 1975, this commitment was reaffirmed 246 miles east of Stockholm, in the Finnish capital Helsinki, where the Soviet Union, along with the United States, Canada, and virtually all the states of Europe, signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (or the Helsinki Accords). According to the agreement, all signatories agreed to study multinational environmental problems, to increase the "effectiveness of national and international measures for the protection of the environment," and to take the "necessary measures to bring environmental policies closer together."62

Additionally, the signatories at Helsinki were mandated to "encourage, where possible and appropriate, national and international efforts by their interested organizations, enterprises and firms in the development, production and improvement of equipment designed for monitoring, protecting and enhancing the environment." Thus, again, the Soviet government was obliged by an international agreement to encourage environmental movements both inside and outside its borders. Further, the Helsinki accords outlined specific areas of environmental concern, such as control of the issues of air and water pollution, which applied directly to the Armenian situation.63

Unfortunately, the initial responses to both the Stockholm Summit and the Helsinki Accords were limited in the Soviet Union. In principle, there were environmental movements and discussions on environmental issues. However, none of them applied to specific problems within the USSR. Rather, attention was focused solely on the environmental problems that existed in the Western world. Armenian environmental activist Karine Danielyan recalled that the Soviet government established an organization known as Giteliq, or Knowledge in Armenian, to discuss ecological matters.64 According to Hakob Sanasaryan, President of the Green Union of Armenia, variations of this organization existed in the other 14 Soviet republics as well.65 Unfortunately, the members of Giteliq spoke only in a theoretical manner and were chiefly concerned about ecological problems in the West. Indeed, Danielyan stated, "there was a position that, in Soviet socialism, we can have no problems." However, for many environmentally-conscious Armenians, this was far from the truth, especially as they witnessed "serious problems in Yerevan, Kirovakan,66 Alaverdi, and Sevan, but were not allowed to speak about them."67

Though practical issues remained largely unresolved, theoretical ideas began to slowly penetrate society. The construction of the plant at Metsamor was especially concerning for Armenian ecologists. Additionally, only a few years after the construction of Metsamor, the Khlopin Institute in Moscow suggested building a regional nuclear waste facility underneath the plant, to accommodate waste from the entire South Caucasus region.68 To make matters worse, according to Sanasaryan, the site was also to include waste from West Germany and Finland as well, largely as a means for the Kremlin to pay off foreign debts. Fortunately, thanks largely to the efforts of George Ter-Stepanyan, such plans were never put into effect.69 However, they did prompt serious discussions among ecologists at the Armenian Academy of Sciences who, by the middle to the end of the 1970s, gradually turned toward activism.70

The First Phase: 1975–1985

The Armenian environmental movement entered its first, low-level phase in the 1970s, at a time when voices of dissent and dissatisfaction were emerging throughout the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. The Helsinki Accords not only mandated greater Soviet concern for environmental issues, but also human rights. This led to the rise of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group on May 12, 1976, an organization formed in the apartment of Andrei Sakharov. The group's sole purpose was to defend human rights within the Soviet Union and to ensure Moscow's compliance with the obligations it made at Helsinki.71 Its founders included activists such as Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Yelena Bonner, Pyotr Grigorenko, Anatoly Marchenko, and Yury Orlov, who had been actively involved in the Soviet dissident and human rights movements for years. They announced that they would "accept information on violations of [the humanitarian articles in the Final Act], compile documents, and familiarize the public and the signatory governments of the Helsinki accords with their contents."72

The Moscow Group then encouraged other countries to create groups with a similar purpose. The first response came from the non-Russian republics within the Soviet Union. On November 5, a Lithuanian Helsinki Group was announced in Vilnius. This was followed by the formation of a Ukrainian Helsinki Group on November 9, a Georgian Helsinki Group on January 14, 1977, and an Armenian Helsinki Group on April 1.73 This, in turn, was followed by the rise of human rights and Helsinki-related groups outside of the Soviet Union in the Warsaw Pact countries of the Eastern bloc. The most notable of these was the civic initiative Charter 77, which emerged in communist Czechoslovakia in January 1977. Led by the playwright Václav Havel, the group was based on a groundbreaking document of the same name. Written in response to the arrest of the members of a non-conformist rock group, the Charter document indicted Prague for failing to implement human rights provisions that it agreed to initiate under various international treaties and documents, including the Helsinki Final Act.74

It was in this context that the earliest voices of Armenian environmental activism began to emerge. Most of these voices came from the Armenian Academy of Sciences in Yerevan. They included scientists, biologists and environmentalists, individuals such as Karine Danielyan, George Ter-Stepanyan, Hakob Sanasaryan, Gohar Saribekyan, and Evelina Araratyan. They were later joined by others as the decade moved on, including Hrant Sargsyan and Vache Qalashyan, who established the Goyapayqar or Struggle for Survival union. Seminars were organized by these concerned members of the academy at the Institutes of Experimental Biology and Biochemistry. Soon even more prominent figures, including activists such as Valya Adonts and Khachik Stambultsyan, joined the nascent group.75 Notably, they avoided using the term "ecology" in their movement because of its association with what Hakob Sanasaryan referred to as "dissident thoughts."76

Soon, these early Armenian environmental activists began to utilize the group Knowledge as a mechanism for advancing their concerns. The group slowly began to focus on domestic environmental concerns as well as those in the West. Soon, the group began touring factories and universities, speaking about environmental issues. Members also began to write articles and organize meetings. The Armenian Writers' and Journalists' Unions also began to join in the movement, lending active and substantial support.77

Occasionally, individual members of the nascent movement would be called in by the provincial Raikom authorities.78 "There was an interesting incident," Karine Danielyan once recalled. "the third secretary of our Raikom was talking to me at the table and told me that we have not taken up a good policy and we are doing something very bad. And then, later, he would call me toward the window and say: 'Karine jan,79 this is very dangerous, you're needed for the nation, be more careful.'"80

The First Department of the Academy, the KGB unit of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, also called in members of the group and gave them a similar warning. However, as Danielyan notes, "the Armenian authorities were patriots, they were not hindering, they were just warning us to be careful not to speak too harshly, that it was dangerous, etc."81

By the beginning of the 1980s, a loose movement had been formed with the stated aim of combating the excesses and abuses of the country's haphazard and uneven industrialization. Most were members of the educated class. Among their ranks were prominent scientists, writers, educators, and other intellectuals.82 They were "very courageous individuals" who lent "their voices to what may have at the time seemed like a lost cause."83

The Second Phase: 1985–1991 

According to Karine Danielyan and the journalist Pierre Verluise, there have been claims by some Russia/Soviet watchers that the Armenian environmental movement of 1985-91 was actually orchestrated by the Kremlin in order to provoke a popular uprising that would discredit the local Soviet Armenian authorities and give Moscow a convenient pretext for their removal.84 However, such a theory fails to take into account the realities on the ground. In fact, the Armenian environmental movement had been already brewing for a decade and had begun to simmer by the time reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev ascended to power in 1985. 

In Gorbachev's own words, the policies of glasnost and perestroika "dramatically opened up to the public the subject of the environment" and "for the first time allowed the people to obtain not just isolated, carefully filtered crumbs of information, but rather the whole truth about what was happening to our land."85 Soon, the people of Armenia found that, in the words of Armenian-American environmental historian Philip P. Ketchian, "the environment was one of the few topics that they could form a consensus on which the government could be sometimes challenged."86 It would, therefore, be glasnost and perestroika that would ultimately catapult the environmental movement into full force.

 In March 1986, 365 intellectuals, including the writer-activist Zori Balayan, issued a letter to Gorbachev, enumerating the problems that industrial pollution had inflicted on their republic.87 Between 1965 and 1985, the letter noted, cancer rates had quadrupled while abnormal births, mental disabilities, and leukemia had become even more prevalent.88 Following this, the activists began picketing in front of Nairit, calling for a halt to toxic emissions. Then, weeks before the Chernobyl disaster, they began demonstrating at the site of Metsamor.89

It quickly became apparent that the movement in Armenia was not only significant from the vantage point of the greater Soviet environmental movement. It was also Armenia's first genuine popular movement. The environment was a means for people to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo, at a time when similar "Green" movements were just coming to fruition in Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, and Belarus.90 The movement eventually began to encompass artists, filmmakers, dissatisfied officials, and underground (samizdat) writers. Significantly, it also undercut the appeal of the National Unification Party (NUP), the most established dissident group in Armenia.91

However, not everyone agreed with the movement. The Nairit factory had its supporters, most notably the plant's Yerevan director and the Soviet Ministry of Chemistry. Certainly, Nairit was the only producer of high-grade chloroprene in the entire Soviet Union. This particular type of rubber, which can withstand chemical corrosion and extreme heat, was key to the Soviet military-industrial complex, especially in light of the ongoing Soviet engagement in Afghanistan.92

This did not dissuade the environmentalists. Zori Balayan "turned up the heat" and published a strong piece in the Literaturnaya Gazeta entitled "Yerevan in Trouble” on October 16, 1987.93 In it, Balayan criticized and deplored the pollution caused by the Nairit plant and the Sevan project. He openly attacked the authorities, depicting local party bosses as "a veritable mafia with no concern whatsoever for the health of the public."94

The day after the article appeared in the Yerevan edition of the publication, Balayan rallied four thousand demonstrators to Yerevan's Theater Square against the abuses of pollution, the first major event of its kind in the Soviet Union.95 Angry protesters held up banners bearing such slogans as "We Want Clean Air!", "We Want Healthy Children", and "Shut Down Nairit, So the Armenian People Will Survive!" From his podium, Balayan declared "Down with large-scale chemical production! Long live Great Armenia!"96 The famed Armenian poetess Silva Kaputikyan also spoke, demanding that all chemical plants be shut down and warning her audience "Don't let the Red genocide be followed by this invisible genocide!"97 Additionally, the composer Tigran Mansurian lamented that the smog was preventing the people of Armenia from seeing Mount Ararat.98 "You can't imagine what an environment it was, how much pressure there was," recalled Hakob Sanasaryan. "I personally was an amateur photographer and I wasn't able to take pictures of the 1987 demonstration. I didn't dare to use the camera, because I cared about the rest of the people. The KGB would just chase them, but the KGB did take pictures of course."99

Despite their strong statements, however, Balayan, Kaputikyan, and Mansurian, as members of the nomenklatura, knew their limits. In fact, Kaputikyan and another fellow poetess, Maro Margaryan, even asked Haykaz Shahinyan, the Soviet Armenian Minister of the Interior, to ensure against police intervention in the demonstrations and to prevent violence and bloodshed. "We were very scared there would be violence and pressures," recalled Sanasaryan.100 Additionally, while Balayan, for example, protested against the placement of the Metsamor nuclear reactor, the activist also acknowledged Armenia's need for nuclear power. He also conceded that the newer Nairit plant could only be shut down if a similar factory were built in another part of the Soviet Union.101

In response to the October demonstration, Moscow dispatched a scientific commission to Yerevan to investigate the concerns of the protestors and to prescribe necessary measures to be taken.102 The commission, however, ignored the research conducted by local activists on the matter. One such activist, Emma Khachatryan, who wrote her PhD thesis on the pollution caused by Nairit, was not allowed to defend her position. To make matters worse, critical documentation on the plant's adverse effects on public health had been destroyed by the local polyclinic from where she had originally obtained the information.103

In the end, the commission concluded that the best solution would be merely to close half of the Nairit plant by September 1. When the date finally came, thousands of Armenians gathered in front of the facility to make sure that this promise was indeed carried out. While the first section was closed, the crowds looked toward the second section of the factory, which continued to discharge fumes and pollutants into the air. Outraged, they renewed their demonstrations, which only seemed to grow in strength.104

By the end of the year, the movement was beginning to spread to other parts of Armenia. In the northwest, major demonstrations broke out in the city of Leninakan.105 Then, on January 18-19, 1988, the citizens of the industrial city of Abovyan, located only nine miles northeast of Yerevan, organized a large-scale protest march to Yerevan's Theater Square over a proposal to open a microbiology factory.106 The plan called for opening the new, large plant on the site of an existing experimental microbiology center. The protestors stood against this, largely because the women who were already working at the experimental facility were affected by some sort of disease.107 The demonstrators were led mostly by women and had attracted the participation of over two thousand people.108 They drew their inspiration from demonstrators in the Russian town of Kirishi, located some 65 miles southeast of Leningrad. The protestors there were demonstrating against a protein and vitamin concentrate factory that was blamed for the town's outrageously high number of bronchitis and asthma cases.109

Delegations from Moscow attempted to downplay the Abovyan protest, claiming that the spread of disease in Kirishi had nothing to do with factories, bronchitis, and asthma but rather with prostitutes and syphilis. This, of course, was far from the truth and was, in fact, a means for distracting attention from the issue of the Abovyan plant. However, activists such as Karine Danielyan managed to gain access to semi-restricted data from Vladimir Amatuni, vice-rector of the Medical University, to refute the government's claims, thus strengthening the demands of the demonstrators and ensuring their success.110

"All those [scientific] institutions had information about the state of affairs in the country, both economic and health-related data," recalled Hakob Sanasaryan. "The key reason and motive of the environmental movement in Armenia was the health of the human beings and here we had a horrible situation. So, these institutions and specialists would just give us data and not stir themselves... We would secretly receive copies of these documents, analyze them, make less technical interpretations of them, and then present them to the public. Of course, in the Gorbachev era it was also possible to publish them in the so-called non-official press."111

Still, Sanasaryan also noted that such documents were extremely difficult to obtain and that the authorities would also go to great lengths to censor, falsify, or destroy critical data.112 The activists were so nervous about the pervasiveness of the state security apparatus that they never stored the documents in their homes, but rather in other places, including the Armenian-inhabited region of Javakheti113 in southwestern Georgia and the Georgian capital Tbilisi.114 In fact, the relationship of Georgia to the Armenian environmental movement also extended beyond safe-keeping documents vital to the cause. In 1990, Zurab Zhvania, the future Georgian Prime Minister, formed an ecological group known as "Caucasus, Our Common Home," an umbrella organization with the purpose of bringing together environmental groups from the entire Caucasus region.115 Assisted by Naira Gilashvili, they invited activists from Armenia, Checheno-Ingushetia, and other parts of the Caucasus, all of whom participated and played an active role. The Georgian activists likewise reciprocated by attending meetings of the Armenian Writers' Union regarding ecological matters.116

By early 1988, the environmental movement was gaining strength and winning success. An asphalt-producing facility was moved out of Yerevan, while a chemical plant in Kirovakan and a Yerevan aluminum factory were ordered to "change their methods of operation." Perhaps most important of all, the movement found increasing support among the general Armenian populace. Clearly, the environmental movement was quickly becoming the basis for what would be a broader mass national movement.

In the words of historian Ronald Grigor Suny, the environment "gave the Armenians a popular, broad-based issue that mobilized significant numbers of people but that did not yet appear to threaten political authority."117 Indeed, by 1988, another political issue emerged that did threaten Soviet authority in the republic. This was the status over the nominally autonomous oblast (region) of Nagorny Karabakh in the neighboring Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. The area had been fiercely contested between Armenians and Azerbaijanis during the collapse of Russian power in the South Caucasus in 1917-1920. With the conclusion of the Russian Civil War and the Sovietization of the region, it was initially proclaimed that Karabakh would be awarded to Armenia. This decision seemed reasonable as ethnic Armenians constituted a majority of the territory's population and Armenian churches and cultural monuments dotted the area. However, under the influence of then-Commissar of Nationalities Joseph Stalin, the decision was reversed and the region was instead forcibly incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan.118

Throughout the Soviet era, the Armenians made periodic protests to the Soviet leadership to repeal the decision and to place Karabakh under Armenian rule as initially promised. Borders within the Soviet Union had changed under the principle of ethnic self-determination in the past. Unfortunately, this did not seem to apply to Armenian-inhabited Karabakh. Letters and protests from intellectuals and activists consistently fell upon deaf ears in Moscow.119 Meanwhile, the Karabakh Armenians, despite their "autonomous status," were consistently denied cultural and linguistic rights. The authorities in Baku attempted to assert the primacy of Azerbaijani culture and national identity over the area, in keeping with the nationalization process of the union republics.120 This uneasy relationship only appeared to fan the flames of the problem.

Glasnost and perestroika allowed for greater freedom of expression among Soviet citizens, and the Armenians of Karabakh immediately took full advantage of this opportunity. By 1988, their demands to unite their territory with Armenia had spread from the Karabakh capital Stepanakert to the streets of Yerevan. Soon, the issue of Karabakh gradually overtook the environment as the central focus of the Armenian national movement. This transition occurred steadily and, as Karine Danielyan noted, while the issue of Karabakh was not the initial focus of the protests, Zori Balayan mentioned it at least once.121

By the time Karabakh had become an issue, there was considerable debate on how the movement should move forward. Should it focus solely on environmental problems, the status of Karabakh, or both and possibly more? Danielyan was, for her part, opposed to the latter. Though she remained against the emissions and harmful effects of Nairit and Metsamor, she also pragmatically recognized that, if Karabakh was to be pursued as an issue, then Armenia's industry, no matter how polluted, had to stay open and intact in order to sustain the country through any future political crisis. Indeed, as detrimental as the Nairit factory was to the environment, it was still supplying some 300 factories in Armenia. Danielyan and others who supported this position were labeled "traitors" by former colleagues who felt that the damage caused by the Nairit plant could not be excused and that the benefits for closing the facility outweighed any keeping it open.122 Overall, however, the movement encompassed both issues and by early 1988, the Yerevan rallies were beginning to attract as many as one million people.123

Meanwhile, as the Karabakh issue became more prominent, tension continued to rise between Baku, Stepanakert, and Yerevan. In February, animosity between Azeris and Armenians exploded in the Karabakh town of Askeran, resulting in the deaths of two Azeris.124 A few days later, anti-Armenian pogroms in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait resulted in 32 deaths.125 Shortly thereafter, Azeris living in Armenia fled to Azerbaijan, while Armenians in Azerbaijan began leaving for Armenia.126 A vicious cycle of inter-communal violence had begun.

Then, on December 7, 1988, northern Armenia was struck by a devastating earthquake, leveling to the ground several entire towns and villages. Registering a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale, the quake claimed a total of 25 thousand lives and inflicted major psychological and physical damage on many more.127 However tragic the earthquake was, it nonetheless paved the way for some serious environmental action.

At Metsamor, 50 miles due south from the epicenter, tremors of were detected measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale. The plant continued operating at full force throughout the earthquake and only later was temporarily shut down for inspection for 48 hours with no issues reported.128 According to Metsamor's director at the time, Migran Bartanyan, while the initial tremor was not strong, the subsequent tremors became more severe.129

The sheer impact of the earthquake alone only added greater urgency to demands by environmental activists who sought to shut the plant down. During his visit to the Caucasus only a few weeks later, Andrei Sakharov noted that "after the [1988] earthquake, the Armenians were in a state of shock and panic, almost mass psychosis. The fear of a nuclear accident [at Metsamor] added to their stress."130 Indeed, the earthquake, combined with the recent memory of the Chernobyl disaster, only heightened anxieties over the plant.131 When Soviet Ukrainian photojournalist Yuri Rost later asked Zori Balayan about the condition of the plant in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the writer anxiously responded, "Apparently, it is okay, but that is today. Tomorrow maybe there'll be a second Chernobyl."132

Subsequently, plans for the construction of two additional reactors were immediately cancelled, and, when the full extent of the earthquake's devastation was revealed, Metsamor was shut down entirely in February-March 1989.133 During that same year, the Armenian Pan-National Movement published its manifesto and declared one of its immediate goals to be "to wage an uncompromising struggle for the conservation of nature in Armenia and the cleanliness of the environment, realizing that the difficult ecological situation in the republic threatens not only the health of the present generation but also of the future generation. A most important task is the closing of the harmful chemical factories, above all the scientific-production association 'Nairit.'"134 By June, with additional pressure on the authorities by the public, this objective was finally attained and the remainder of the hated Nairit combine was finally closed.135

The Environmental Movement After Independence

The Armenian environmental movement seemed to have been a major success, achieving two major victories within three years. Unfortunately, the legacy of the movement since Armenia attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 remains mixed. The Nairit and Metsamor successes proved short-lived as the country's primary concern became the Karabakh issue with Azerbaijan.

The situation had been deteriorating rapidly since 1988 and, in September 1989, the Popular Front of Azerbaijan compelled the Soviet Azerbaijani government to instigate an air and railway blockade of Soviet Armenia, preventing the transfer of critical recovery aide for the Armenian earthquake as well as energy supplies for the Armenian republic overall. This basically cut off Armenia from access to the rest of the Soviet Union, save through its northern border with Soviet Georgia. Unfortunately, however, the gas pipeline in Georgia was susceptible to disruption from Georgia's own domestic political instability as well as Azeri military forces.  Power outages, caused by explosions on the pipeline, were not uncommon.  The amount of time to fix the pipeline could take anywhere from a matter of days to several weeks, even months.136  In sum, the blockade was crippling and only served to escalate hostilities, further leading, by 1991, to an all-out war between Azerbaijan and the Armenians of Karabakh.

The war brought about new challenges and setbacks for the Armenian environmentalist cause.  As the war broke out, Armenia, desperate for foreign investment, found itself forced to reopen Nairit in January 1992, on the promise that the facility and its associated industries would be substantially improved to adhere to international safety and environmental standards.  Further, Armenia's traditional foe Turkey joined Azerbaijan in the blockade against Armenia in 1992, precipitating a major energy crisis.137

The energy crisis had a major impact on Armenian society.  It badly affected the transportation industry, forcing many Armenians to do their traveling almost exclusively by foot.  The lack of electricity also meant that the risk of consuming spoilt food was high.  This, combined with the terrible cold, brought on widespread illness.138  Perhaps most significantly, however, it also greatly affected the Armenian environmental movement.  It was not only debilitating for the Armenians, but it also created a new issue: deforestation.  Armenian winters, which are especially harsh, became even more difficult without any source of fuel or energy.  Thus, many Armenians took to the forests and began cutting down trees for firewood.  This created a major concern among Armenian environmentalists.139

Though the Karabakh Armenians had effectively won the war in May 1994, it came at a high price for both Armenia and Karabakh.  The blockade and the energy crisis continued into the year, and forests remained at high risk.  The joint Azerbaijani-Turkish blockade had deprived the Armenians of critical energy sources necessary for winter heating and general electricity.  Therefore, despite obvious safety concerns, the Armenian government was increasingly looking toward reopening Metsamor.  Interestingly, Leonidas T. Chrysanthopoulos, Greece's ambassador to Armenia from 1993 to 1994, claims that Yerevan initially sought assistance in reopening the plant from the European Union.  However, Brussels refused all assistance to Armenia with regard to Metsamor. "Had we assisted Armenia in this crucial issue for its survival," wrote Chrysanthopoulos, "the influence of the European Union in Armenia would have been greatly increased and the influence of Moscow would have been somewhat reduced."140

Additionally, according to Chrysanthopoulos, then-Armenian Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan claimed that a major obstacle to gaining European support in reopening the plant was Turkey, whose government protested the reopening on environmental and political grounds.141 Despite everything, however, in 1994-95, after much debate and a thorough inspection from French and, primarily, Russian nuclear consultants, it was finally decided to reopen Metsamor, again with the promise of increased sensitivity toward safety and environmental concerns.142  Ironically, the reopening of the plant, as potentially dangerous as it is, effectively halted the threat to Armenian forests.

Epilogue and Conclusion

Since, the end of the Karabakh war, environmentalism in Armenia has continued to gain greater momentum, especially on the deforestation issue, eventually leading to the establishment of the Dilijan National Park in 2002.143 It also led to a movement for the protection of the Teghut Forest in northern Armenia from copper mining144 and to another movement to protect the Shikahogh Reserve in southern Armenia from government highway proposals.145 This new awareness also provided impetus for the creation of the Armenian Tree Project (ATP), aimed to prevent deforestation and promote appreciation of environmental issues among Armenian youth.146  Meanwhile, the water levels of Lake Sevan continue to rise.147

Despite this, high concern remains over the status of the Metsamor Plant.  In March 2011, Japan experienced one of the most tragic and devastating earthquakes in its entire history, which, in turn, triggered a destructive tsunami.  This resulted in a nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant.  The disaster prompted fresh concern regarding the status of Metsamor, a nuclear facility that is not only outdated but, like Fukushima, is located in an active seismic zone.  There are currently plans to replace Metsamor after 2016 with a new nuclear facility in the same area with Russian assistance.  However, until that time, Armenia, a country still under blockade by two of its neighbors, has no choice but to rely on the aging plant.148

Meanwhile, concern over the plant remains high in the West and, after the disaster at Fukushima, analysts ranked the plant as one of the most potentially dangerous in the world.  This, in turn, prompted the Armenian government to invite inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to review the safety of Metsamor in May 2011.149

The following month, the Hungarian head of the IAEA ad hoc Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) for Armenia Gabor Vamos reported that the level of risk as Metsamor was "acceptable" and there are "technical possibilities to extend the terms of the facility’s operation."  However, he also noted that "the station has not yet made such an initiative."150

Armenian environmentalists, meanwhile, hotly disputed the findings with Hakob Sanasaryan dismissing the assessment as "ridiculous." "We didn't have any other expectations about the experts," Sanasaryan said in an interview with the post-Soviet online news source EurasiaNet. "It would be naïve to think that they would declare Metsamor is dangerous [since the IAEA supports the use of nuclear energy]. Anyway, we will continue our fight. The nuclear power plant is dangerous in terms of environmental, seismic and safety risks."151

Slavik Sargsian, chairman of the All-Armenian Association of Power Specialists, likewise disputed the results of the inspection, stating that "several international experts conduct superficial studies and say the level of risk is acceptable, but we have big problems with specialists."  He noted that "Japan, a super-developed and well-prepared country, faced a disaster. God forbid, if a hazardous situation emerges at our plant, we have neither the capabilities nor the specialists to fight back."152

An interesting development in the drive to close Metsamor and replace the plant with a new facility occurred on October 7, 2011, when former French President Nicholas Sarkozy paid a state trip to the Armenian capital Yerevan as part of his tour to the South Caucasus region.  Meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, Sarkozy pledged that France would "assist Armenia in the sphere of atomic energy" by working toward the construction of a safer, more modern facility.  This statement was met with elation by the Armenian public.  Indeed, Sargsyan himself expressed direct appreciation toward Sarkozy stating that "it is particularly good that France is willing to engage in the energy sphere, including in the work on the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Armenia, as well as in projects aimed at developing infrastructure, which are of such a vital importance for Armenia."  In addition, as one Yerevan daily noted, the plan, if realized "would prove psychologically important for Armenia where Russian energy companies hold dominant positions."153

Until this time, only the Russian atomic agency RosAtom had expressed interest in providing any serious funding for the construction of a new nuclear facility in the area.  Not surprisingly, RosAtom reaffirmed this support only a few weeks after Sarkozy's visit.  The total cost for such a project is estimated to be approximately five billion dollars.154  Meanwhile, as long as the Azerbaijani-Turkish blockade continues, Armenia will have to rely on the plant, which provides the country with 40 percent of its electricity.155

In spite of everything, however, there are indeed some promising signs of a greater environmental awareness in Armenia.  A renewed sense of genuine civic responsibility and social activism is the main achievement of the Armenian environmental movement.  It stands as a prime example of an environmental-national movement because, through its demonstrations and protests, it mobilized Armenian society and started a process that eventually led to the end of Soviet rule in Armenia.


*This study of Armenian environmentalism draws on key primary sources, as well as books , newspapers, journal articles, and online secondary sources. The key primary sources include important pieces written by the independent scholar Philip P. Ketchian. Mr. Ketchian has studied and examined Armenian environmental issues extensively and has written articles on each of them for the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, all of which he has provided to this author. Also utilized were articles co-authored by the scholars Hovik Sayadyan (of the Armenian State Agrarian University in Yerevan) and Rafael Moreno-Sanchez (of the University of Colorado in Denver) for Environmental Conservation and the International Forestry Review.
   Especially helpful and enlightening are the personal interviews utilized in this paper with veteran Armenian environmental activist Karine Danielyan and the President of the Green Union of Armenia, Hakob Sanasaryan. Both had actively participated in the Armenian ecological movement from its inception in the mid-1970s. The interviews were based on questions devised by this writer and were conducted by Ms. Anna Shahnazaryan, a graduate of Lund University in Sweden, in the Armenian capital Yerevan in early October 2011. In addition to recording the interviews, Ms. Shahnazaryan translated them from Armenian to English. Needless to say, this study would not be complete without her hard work and vital contributions.  Special thanks are also due to Robert Kurkjian, for allowing me to use the image of the Yerevan Thermal Power Plant included in this work.
   Further, Dr. Jim Krukones, Dr. Maria Marsilli, and Dr. John McBratney of John Carroll University also deserve special thanks and acknowledgement for their counsel and encouragement of this project. I would also like to give special thanks to Lilit Grigoryan, my fellow Armenian environmental researcher and companion, for her review of this work and for her tireless love, devotion, and care. Most of all, I would like to thank my parents, Berj and Carol Shakarian, for starting me on my path toward academia and for their love and continued support of my endeavors.

1 Transliterated from the Russian name Нагорный Карабах. Нагорный (Nagorny) translates as "upland" or "highland" while Карабах (Karabakh) is of mixed Turkic-Persian origin, the "kara" being Turkic for "black" and the "bakh" being Persian for "garden." The name is alternatively known as Nagorno-Karabakh or Mountainous Karabakh in English, Dağlıq Qarabağ (or Daghlik Karabagh) to Azerbaijanis, Լեռնային Ղարաբաղ (Lerrnayin Gharabagh) or Արցախ (Artsakh) to Armenians.
2 Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, Third Edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), vii-viii.
3 Roderick Nash, "American Environmental History: A New Teaching Frontier," Pacific Historical Review 41 (1972): 363.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 The name Metsamor (Մեծամոր) is alternatively transliterated as "Medzamor."
7 Simon Payaslian, The History of Armenia (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 172.
8 Matthew Karanian, Armenia and Karabakh (Los Angeles: Stone Garden Productions, 2013), 91.
9 Aghavnie Yeghia Yeghenian, The Red Flag at Ararat (New York: The Womans Press, 1932), 33-36. Reprinted by Gomidas Institute, 2013.
10 Suny, Looking toward Ararat, 142-143.
11 Mary Kilbourne Matossian, The Impact of Soviet Policies in Armenia (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1962), 112.
12 Ibid., 151.
13 Philip P. Ketchian, "Nairit: Its History, Politics, and Environmental Impact," The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, August 3, 1991.
14 Mark Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!": The Emergence of the National Democratic Movement in Armenia (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996), 134.
15 Ketchian, "Nairit."
16 Ibid.
17 Ibid.
18 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 134-35.
19 Ketchian, "Nairit."
20 Vasily Semyonovich Grossman, An Armenian Sketchbook, trans. Robert and Elizabeth Chandler (New York: NYRB Classics, 2013), 26.
21 Ketchian, "Nairit."
22 Philip P. Ketchian, "Air Pollution in Yerevan: Causes and Effects," The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, August 1, 1992.
23 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 134.
24 Ketchian, "Air Pollution."
25 US Defense Technical Info. Center, USSR Report: Political and Sociological Affairs, Press Surveys From Soviet Southern Republics. (accessed October 31, 2010).
26 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!"
27 Ketchian, "Air Pollution."
28 Joseph R. Masih and Robert O. Krikorian, Armenia: At the Crossroads (London: Routledge, 1999), 2.
29 Ketchian, "Air Pollution."
30 Ibid.
31 Ibid.
32 Ibid.
33 "This term refers to the ancient Kingdom of Urartu (Ararat) that existed in the land of Armenia from 870 to 590 B.C.  The kingdom was a tribal confederation and, of these tribes, the Armens gradually began to dominate.  Following the collapse of the Urartian state, the name "Armenia" and the term "Armenians" was applied to the region and the people respectively by King Darius I of Persia (modern Iran) signaling the emergence of the Armenians as a single people.  For further information, see: Razmik Panossian, The Armenians: From Kings and Priests to Merchants and Commissars (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 34.
34 Philip P. Ketchian, "Lake Sevan: A Brief Ecological History," The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, February 17, 1990.
35 Grossman, An Armenian Sketchbook, 50.
36 Zev Katz, Rosemarie Rogers, and Frederic Harned, eds., Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities (New York: Free Press, 1975), 143.
37 Ketchian, "Lake Sevan."
38 Araik Babayan, Susanna Hakobyan, Karen Jenderedjian, Siranush Muradyan, Mikhail Voskanov,
Lake Sevan: Experience and Lessons Learned Brief. (accessed May 21, 2013).
39 Ketchian, "Lake Sevan."
40 Karanian, Armenia and Karabakh, 175.
41 Ketchian, "Lake Sevan."
42 Babayan, Hakobyan, Jenderedjian, Muradyan, Voskanov, Lake Sevan.
43 Grossman, An Armenian Sketchbook, 49.
44 The Aral Sea calamity refers to one of the worst environmental disasters in the former Soviet Union.  Located in post-Soviet Central Asia and politically divided between the states of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea was once the fourth largest lake in the world.  During the Soviet era, however, it was decided that the water from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, which fed the Aral, would be diverted to irrigate the deserts of Central Asia as a means of fostering the growth of cotton, rice, melons, cereals, and other crops.  The result was a major ecological disaster that resulted in a drastic diminution of the sea's size.  Between 1960 to 1993, the level of the Aral fell by more than 16 meters, with its area shrinking by 45 percent and the water volume decreasing by 25 percent.  By the 1980s, the sea split had into Northern and Southern sections.  (Archie Brown, Michael Kaser, and George S. Smith, eds., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Russia and the Former Soviet Union (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 9).  While the Kazakh government has, since independence, been able to replenish the Northern Sea, the Southern Sea, largely located in Uzbekistan, continues to shrink and is projected to dry up completely by 2020. ("Uzbekistan: Southern Aral Sea on Pace to Dry Up in About a Decade," EurasiaNet, July 12, 2009, (accessed December 21, 2011).
45 Ketchian, "Lake Sevan."
46 Karanian, Armenia and Karabakh, 175.
47 Ketchian, "Lake Sevan."
48 Ibid.
49 Ibid.
50 Grossman, An Armenian Sketchbook, 49.
51 Ketchian, "Lake Sevan."
52 Karanian, Armenia and Karabakh, 167.
53 Ketchian, "Lake Sevan."
54 Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, Moscow and Beyond, 1986 to 1989, trans. Antonina Bouis (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), 84.
55 Philip P. Ketchian, "Medzamor: The History and Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power in Armenia," The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, August 1, 1992.
56 Ibid.
57 Ibid.
58 Ibid.
59 Ibid.
60 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 134.
61 Karine Danielyan, interview by Anna Shahnazaryan, October 8, 2011.
62 Conference on Security and Co-Operation in Europe Final Act, Helsinki 1975. (accessed May 21, 2013).
63 Ibid.
64 Danielyan, interview.
65 Hakob Sanasaryan, interview by Anna Shahnazaryan, October 14, 2011.
66 Since 1993, the city of Kirovakan has been officially known as Vanadzor.  The previous name was chosen in homage of Sergei Kirov, an Old Bolshevik who was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1934.  The Kirov murder was used as a pretext by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to initiate the Great Purge of the late 1930s, in which millions of Soviet citizens perished.
67 Danielyan, interview.
68 Ibid.
69 Sanasaryan, interview.
70 Danielyan, interview.
71 Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious, and Human Rights,
trans. Carol Pearce and John Glad (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1987), 338.
72 Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, 338-339.
73 Ibid., 339
74 Václav Havel, Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Hvíždala, trans. Paul Wilson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), 125-138.
75 Danielyan, interview.
76 Sanasaryan, interview.
77 Danielyan, interview.
78 The term "raikom" (райком) is the short name for the Russian "raion komitet" (район комитет) which translates as "district committee" in English.
79 "Jan" (ջան) is a term of endearment in the Armenian language.
80 Danielyan, interview.
81 Ibid.
82 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 133.
83 Ketchian, "Nairit."
84 Pierre Verluise, Armenia in Crisis: The 1988 Earthquake, trans. Levon Chorbajian (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995), 84.
85 Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, Memoirs, trans. Georges Peronansky and Tatjana Varsavsky (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 205.
86 Ketchian, "Nairit."
87 Bohdan Nahaylo and Victor Swoboda, Soviet Disunion: A History of the Nationalities Problem in the USSR (New York: Free Press, 1990), 243.
88 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 133.
89 Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, Jr., Ecocide in the USSR: Health and Nature Under Siege (New York: Basic Books, 1993), 232.
90 The term "Green" refers to "Green politics," a movement that began in the 1970s based on the principles of environmentalism, social justice, and democracy.  For further information, see: Derek Wall, The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Politics (Oxford: New Internationalist Publications, 2010), 12-13.
91 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 133-135.
92 Ibid., 135.
93 Danielyan, interview.
94 Verluise, Armenia in Crisis, 84.
95 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 135.
96 Ketchian, "Air Pollution."
97 According to the author of the article from which this quote can found, Kaputikyan is most likely referring to "the many disasters that the Communist regime brought upon the Armenian people."  The use of the term "genocide" demonstrates the residual legacy of the Armenian Genocide, committed by the Ottoman government in 1915, on the collective psyche of the Armenian people.  The term can likewise refer to environmental damage inflicted by the Soviet government specifically.  According to the scholars Joseph R. Masih and Robert O. Krikorian, "environmental concerns were to the Armenians yet another attempt at 'genocide.'  The psychological burden of the 1915 Genocide was played out in the environmental movement which claimed that the policies of the center were endangering the existence of the Armenian people." (Masih and Krikorian, Armenia: At the Crossroads, 2).
98 Ketchian, "Air Pollution."
99 Sanasaryan, interview.
100 Ibid.
101 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 133-135.
102 Verluise, Armenia in Crisis, 84-85.
103 Sanasaryan, interview.
104 Verluise, Armenia in Crisis, 84-85.
105 Since 1990, the city of Leninakan has been officially known as Gyumri.  The previous name was chosen in homage of Soviet leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, immediately after his death in 1924.  Prior to this, the city had been known as Alexandropol during the Tsarist era.
106 Sanasaryan, interview.
107 Danielyan, interview.
108 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 33.
109 Feshbach and Friendly, Ecocide in the USSR, 15.
110 Danielyan, interview.
111 Sanasaryan, interview.
112 Ibid.
113 This region of Georgia is known officially by the Georgian government and the local Georgian population as Javakheti (ჯავახეთი) and by the local Armenian majority as Javakhk (Ջավախք).
114 Sanasaryan, interview.
115 Naira Gelashvili: Short Biography. (accessed November 24, 2011).
116 Danielyan, interview.
117 Suny, Looking toward Ararat, 196.
118 Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), 204.
119 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 24-27.
120 Suny, Looking toward Ararat, 205-206.
121 Danielyan, interview.
122 Ibid.
123 Malkasian, "Gha-ra-bagh!", 41.
124 Ibid., 52.
125 Ibid., 54-55.
126 Matthew Collin, "Azeris criticised on human rights," BBC World News, June 28, 2007, (accessed October 31, 2010).
127 Victor Sebestyen, Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (New York: Pantheon Books, 2009), 227-228.
128 Ketchian, "Medzamor."
129 Yuri Mihaylovich Rost, Armenian Tragedy: An Eye-Witness Account of Human Conflict and Natural Disaster in Armenia and Azerbaijan, trans. Elizabeth Roberts (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), 110.
130 Sakharov, Moscow and Beyond, 84.
131 Donald E. Miller and Lorna Touryan Miller, Armenia: Portraits of Survival and Hope (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 146.
132 Rost, Armenian Tragedy, 109.
133 Ketchian, "Medzamor."
134 Charles F. Furtado, Jr. and Andrea Chandler, eds., Perestroika in the Soviet Republics: Documents on the National Question
(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), 441.
135 Feshbach and Friendly, Ecocide in the USSR, 248.
136 Miller and Touryan Miller, Armenia: Portraits of Survival and Hope, 116.
137 Payaslian, History of Armenia, 206.
138 Miller and Touryan Miller, Armenia: Portraits of Survival and Hope, 118-119.
139 R. Moreno-Sanchez and H. Y. Sayadyan, "Evolution of the forest cover in Armenia," International Forestry Review 7 (2005): 122.
140 Leonidas T. Chrysanthopoulos, Caucasus Chronicles: Nation-Building and Diplomacy in Armenia, 1993-1994 (Princeton: Gomidas Institute, 2006), 152-154.
141 Ibid., 60-61.
142 Library of Congress, Armenia: A Country Study: Environmental Problems. (accessed October 31, 2010).
143 Karanian, Armenia and Karabakh, 191.
144 Nelli Danielyan, "Another Battle between Nature and Profit," Hetq Online, April 10, 2006, (accessed October 31, 2010).
145 Karanian, Armenia and Karabakh, 256-257.
146 Ibid., 183.
147 Ibid., 160.
148 Marianne Lavelle and Josie Garthwaite, "Is Armenia's Nuclear Plant the World's Most Dangerous?," National Geographic Daily News, April 11, 2011, (accessed November 25, 2011).
149 "Visit: IAEA experts will test Armenian Nuclear Power Plant," ArmeniaNow, May 16, 2011, (accessed November 25, 2011).
150 Naira Hayrumyan, "Experts: Armenian nuke station risk 'acceptable',"
ArmeniaNow, June 3, 2011, (accessed November 25, 2011).
151 Marianna Grigoryan and Anahit Hayrapetyan, "Armenia: Fight Brews Over IAEA's Thumbs-Up Appraisal of Metsamor,"
EurasiaNet, June 7, 2011, (accessed November 25, 2011).
152 Ibid.
153 Ruzanna Stepanian, "Armenia, France Discuss Plans For New Nuke Station," Radio Free Europe, October 7, 2011, (accessed November 25, 2011).
154 Naira Bulghadarian, "Russia 'Still Committed' To Armenian Nuclear Project," Radio Free Europe, October 27, 2011, (accessed November 25, 2011).
155 Siranouish Gevorgyan, "Power Plant Plans: Experts discuss Metsamor shut down," ArmeniaNow, October 13, 2006, (accessed November 25, 2011)

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