Traveling through Armenia, the beautiful landscapes of this mountainous republic in the Caucasus strike the eye with intense drama. Long within Russia’s sphere of influence, Armenia, along with the other countries of the region, achieved independence only a short time ago after the end of the Soviet Union. With that longed-for freedom came the labor pains of the birth of an emerging democracy and economy. The end of the Soviet system meant the overnight disappearance of the institutions of government and economic collapse. One casualty was environmental protection, a luxury when people are starving, but a necessity in reality. From the architecturally unique bus stations crumbling for lack of maintenance funds, to the empty factories whose raw materials disappeared along with Communism, the unfinished resorts for Russian tourists abandoned along Lake Sevan, to the mountaintop research stations slowly decaying, Armenia, like other former Soviet countries, has great need for environmental preservation and little funds. But even in a poor country, where people are resourceful and concerned they can begin to make a difference. From the homegrown NGOs supporting recycling to individual citizens who run nature preserves, I met ordinary people who understand the need and lack of funds, but continue to do all they can in the face of great odds.
At this time in America when politicians seek to destroy the EPA and the regulations that attempt to preserve our natural environment in favor of wildly escalating corporate greed and willful ignorance, it may be useful to consider the consequences of the political negligence that might result in the collapse of governmental agencies that protect the environment. A cautionary tale about the fall of empires? These photographs may help you to imagine.