Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Chopping Wood, Again

with 2 comments

As September rolls in, so does the truck carrying yards of wood to chop up for the winter. Today, that truck parked itself outside my apartment building and I heard the swing of the ax throughout the afternoon (accompanied by a car blaring less-than-welcome mugham music). This takes me back to the story we heard this past year regarding the man who burned down his house and sacrificed himself and his family because of the harassment he was receiving for trying to provide firewood for his family over the winter. As the season for wood-gathering commences, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting has this story, reported from Lənkəran:

Illegal logging in heavily-forested areas like Lenkoran, close to the southern border with Iran, takes place on two levels. Local residents cut firewood for heating and cooking because they lack alternative fuels, and illegal logging also takes place on a commercial scale. Opposition activists accuse local officials of shielding businesses involved in the latter trade.

Afiq Malikov, a member of the Society of Independent Ecologists of Lenkoran, said the small-time loggers acted out of need.

“Unless the regions and villages are not fully supplied with gas, then it isn’t going to be possible to solve this problem,” he said. “I live in the central town of Lenkoran, and we’ve had no gas since the end of the Soviet Union. The official statistics say 75 per cent of Lenkoran residents have gas. That figure isn’t true.”

As an aside to this story, the government of Azerbaijan has also in recent years committed to extending gas to all of its cities and villages. Still, count me among those without gas, living in an apartment building in a small city. The initiative is a worthy one and should be pursued with due vigor, but there are certainly infrastructure barriers (old) and physical barriers (mountains) to getting that done.  I’m told that gas should be available to everyone in Azerbaijan by the end of 2012.  A shift like that will be a great relief for many families and entire villages across the country.


Written by Aaron

September 14, 2011 at 2:56 pm

2 Responses

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  1. This story makes me sick. The harvesting of wood for domestic usage is not the same as “illegal logging”. I would reserve that term for commercial enterprises clear-cutting vast swathes of tropical hardwoods on an industrial basis. Azeris have been using wood to cook on for thousands of years and there is no reason they should stop now, so long as the wood extraction is done on a sustainable basis.

    People seem to forget that wood and timber (two different things) are crops, in the same way that wheat and potatoes are. The difference is the length of the growing cycle. I love the ancient woodlands of the Talysh mountains and area around Gusar and don’t want to see these destroyed but unless people have alternative sources of energy to warm their families and cook their food they will have to continue using wood.

    I have professional qualifications in landscape and garden design and can report that the quality of woodland management I have seen in Azerbaijan has been universally low. For the planing schemes (serried rows of conifer planted without thoughts of appropriateness) to small-scale harvesting (taking a cross-saw into the woods and cutting of a few random tree-limbs).

    What is needed is a broader understanding of economic value of broad leaved woodlands and the education of the Azeri people in wider environmental issues. It is too simplistic to say “cutting bad” and “planting good”. Cutting trees through coppicing can enhance the environment by increasing ground cover for birds and small animals whereas planting inappropriately can cause harm, as conifers can increase soil acidity, shade out shrubs and plants and may not provide an appropriate habitat for locally occurring species.

    Personally, I do not understand what lies behind the vigorous desire the stop people using trees for traditional purpose but I doubt it is related environmental conservation.


    September 15, 2011 at 12:46 am

    • My understanding of the issue is that the logging is “illegal” because the necessary collection of wood for domestic use (either your own, or through a middle-man, thereby making it “commercial”) actually is illegal.

      I think it’s important to balance this with mention about the frequent injury and death that comes with the shoddy gas lines that exist in Azerbaijan. Most people in the village I lived in up north felt safer and less dependent on the government because of the complete lack of gas lines.


      September 18, 2011 at 1:51 am

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