Trchkan: Waterfall conservation saga ends in rare victory for Armenian environmentalists

What has been a long battle for saving an endangered waterfall in Armenia seems to have borne its first fruits this week as the country’s executive has decided to give Trchkan a status that would make it immune to all sorts of industrial exploitation.

In response to protests staged by members of a recently formed environmental pressure group, “Let’s Conserve the Trchkan Waterfall”, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan on Thursday suggested that the government grant Trchkan a specially protected area status.

Situated on the administrative border of Armenia’s northern Shirak and Lori provinces, Trchkan is the tallest (25.5 meters) and most abundant waterfall in the country.

In 2008, Trchkan was recognized as nature’s hydrographic monument, but that did not prevent a private company, Robshin Ltd., from getting permission to build a small hydro-power station at the river Chichkhan -- on top of the waterfall. Various environmental non-governmental organizations and activists said that construction would imperil the very existence of the waterfall.

Environmentalists were not placated even by assurances from the environment minister that the plant would stay out of operation during the summer months when the waterfall loses a considerable amount of water and would operate only when there is plenty of water for the waterfall.

Twelve members of the “Let’s Conserve the Trchkan Waterfall” civil initiative put up tents near the waterfall on October 25 and have held an open-ended protest action there, in fact forcing Robshin Ltd. to suspend its construction and evacuate its heavy equipment from the construction site. Several organizations participating in the campaign called the step a gimmick and an attempt to distract their attention from the issue. They continued their protest, pressing for a conclusive solution.

At a regular government meeting on November 3 Prime Minister Sargsyan, addressing the Trchkan issue, ordered Vice-Premier Armen Gevorgyan to see to it that all agreements be complied with by local government bodies and the waterfall enjoy a specially protected area’s regime.

Environment Minister Aram Harutyunyan elaborated at a news briefing that the category of the land adjacent to the waterfall would be changed from that of industrial significance to a specially protected natural area. The minister did not rule out that the issue of paying compensation to Robshin Ltd. would be discussed. (No reaction has yet come from this private construction company).

Environmental expert and member of the “Let’s Conserve the Trchkan Waterfall” Armen Vermishyan has described this step by the executive authorities as “Trchkan’s salvation”.

“This is the result of our struggle. This way Trchkan has been saved, and now it must be preserved,” he told ArmeniaNow on Thursday.

But Ecolur NGO head Inga Zarafyan is not quite satisfied with what has been achieved so far.

The leading environmentalist believes that the Environment Ministry broke the law by providing a positive expert opinion for the hydro-power plant’s construction in the first place.

“It is good that the order has been changed, but we demand that permission for water utilization issued to the Robshin Company and the results of the environmental expert examinations be revoked. This will later ensure Trchkan’s conservation,” Zarafyan told ArmeniaNow.