Thought I'd forgotten?
Part 1 can be found here. Short version: Armenia has an enormous mountain lake, Lake Sevan, which was severely damaged by misguided Soviet engineering.
I wanted to drive up to the lake again this weekend, but Claudia hasn't been feeling well. So today was a quiet day at home. The boys and I watched a lot of cartoons (current favorite: Teen Titans), then went outside for a couple of hours, then came back in, ate popcorn, and watched some more cartoons. Maybe next weekend.
Why do I want to go to Sevan, you ask? Well, one, because we're leaving Armenia soon and this may be our last chance to see it. And two, because Sevan in January will be really freaking cold. Like, Siberian cold. 2000 meters up in the Caucasus: daytime temperatures run around -15 Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit), and at night it drops to -30. Although I'm no fan of cold weather, I find this sort of intriguing. Also, seeing a lake that huge frozen solid enough to drive trucks over sounds interesting.
But anyway. At the end of the last post, I left a question: how's Lake Sevan doing?
Not so bad. Not great, but not so bad.
The water level has come back somewhat, thanks to better water management. It'll never be as big as it was, but it's not going to be the Aral Sea. There are plans to raise the water level still higher, although they're meeting resistance from lakeside land owners.
The wetlands are now protected. They'll never be what they were, either; 90% are gone, and a lot of plant species have disappeared for good. Still, they survive, and might even come back a little.
The water... well, the water is a problem. The water and the fish.
The fish are pretty screwed. Overfishing plus environmental damage plus the introduction of alien species has probably changed the lake's ecology permanently. The mix of species is different, and the bigger fish have all disappeared. Poaching is still a problem. Armeniapedia notes that "there has been a ban on commercial fishing (without authorization) in recent years. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see men standing along the main road signaling cars by hand the supposed length of the fish they sell. To put these fish on display would mean calling the attention of unwanted authorities." I can testify that this is true; there are dozens of these guys, all doing the "biiiig fish" gesture at every passing car. Why this doesn't attract the authorities' attention... well, whatever.
As for the water, let me quote from one of my favorite local blogs
I was standing on the banks of Sevan recently with an Armenian Diaspora who was born in Gegharkunik but lives in Europe. He took out a cup and stooped down to fill it. I asked him what he was doing and he said, “I am going to drink the cleanest water in the world, the water of Sevan!” I asked him to reconsider his decision. He was confused and pressed me as to why. I told him, “I will show you a few things and after that, if you wish, you can still drink the water.” We got in the car and took a tour looking for the small rivers that filter into the Lake from the surrounding mountains. Each small river had garbage and other pollution that was on the banks and in the water. The film that could be found in slow moving water was obviously not natural.
The thing that changed my friends mind was when he realized there is no sewage treatment facility for the Gegharkunik communities. He saw pipes emptying sewage water directly into the water ways that flow to Lake Sevan. He turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, “I understand why you stopped me.”
Kind of depressing. On the plus side, Lake Sevan is so big that it can tolerate and process a certain amount of sewage and pollution. I'm told that there are places where you can drink the water just fine, no problem. You just have to know where.
Three other things about Lake Sevan. One, the drive up there from Yerevan? Goes through some really spectacular scenery. You're going up the valley of the Hrazdan. On one side there's a wall of mountains, behind which is Aragats, the top-blown-off volcano that's the biggest mountain in Armenia. On the other, there's a complicated terrain of cone-shaped hills. After you stare at them a while, you realize the cone-shaped hills all have craters, either on top or blown out one side. They're all little volcanoes. Pull off the highway and walk through the fields, and obsidian is everywhere, glittering darkly in the sunlight. At some point in the past -- ten thousand years ago? Ten million? -- the valley of the Hrazdan must have been a pretty good approximation of the antechamber of Hell.
Second thing is, the Sevan basin used to be one of the more ethnically mixed parts of Armenia. Armenians lived along one side of the lake, Azeris along the other, and Kurds brought their herds through en route from here to there.
The Kurds stopped coming around after 1918 -- there are some Yezidi Kurds in Armenia, but they're a bit further north and west. The Azeris stuck around until 1990-91, when they were "escorted out of the country". There are still empty villages along the far side of the lake. Very melancholy, or so I'm told.
Third thing is, there's a small but lovely monastery on what used to be an island in the lake. The lower water levels have turned it into a penninsula, but it's still lovely. If you're ever in Armenia, don't miss it.
Claudia put in some pictures for me. A view of the lake: