Friday, 15 November

Khosrov Forest in Danger: Should "Matagh" Meals and Campfires be Banned?

Varantsov Barseghyan, who runs the Khosrov Forest National Reserve, told Hetq that the repair of an 8 kilometer vehicular road is vital to allow for fire fighting equipment to get into the forest.

It seems that many local residents use the sprawling 24,000 hectare reserve in Ararat Marz as a convenient spot to prepare matagh; a pagan/Christian ritual of animal sacrifice. The slaughtered animal is then prepared and eaten.

Barseghyan told Hetq that large sections of the reserve have already been destroyed by fires left by careless picnickers and that the last such fire was caused by an instructor from Yerevan’s College of Engineering.

“He killed the rooster and left the fire smouldering when he left. The damage was extensive,” Barseghyan said.

But the road has been a cause of concern for Armenian environmentalists who argue it will just add to the numbers visiting the reserve and causing damage.

Today, a number of nvirp0nmental NGO reps and the First Deputy Environmental Minister visited the site for a first-hand look.

The activists argue that campfires should be banned in the reserve altogether.

An OSCE specialist in wild fire prevention, who has been invited to Armenia to study the occurrence of fires in Khosrov, noted that the reserve is really not prone to large-scale wild fires and that the last incident was in the 1960s.

When I asked Director Barseghyan if this was the case then why was there a need for the road he simply answered it was a government initiative.

400,000 AMD has been spent to repair the road.

Narineh Hovsepyan from the Elitar tourist agency was also in the reserve guiding a group of Germans to Havouts Tar, an 11-13th century walled monastic complex in the Azat River valley.

She said that European tourists come to the reserve to enjoy the virgin environment.

“These tourists say that instead of building a road, the government should be spending the money to clean up the garbage and to stop people from coming into the reserve to slaughter their animals for a family barbecue.”

Hovsepyan added that unlike many Armenians, these people would rather walk through nature softly then trample through it in cars.

But people have been coming to Havouts Tar for centuries to make sacrifices in the name of their faith. It would be almost impossible to deprive them of this tradition.

Many of the activists requested that Barseghyan produce the permit documents for the roadwork.

He evaded their request.

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