Monday, October 18, 2004

Last week it was reported to me that on weekends, a group of fisherman from Stepanagert were coming to my lake and on Saturday nights, casting nets, and then collecting them on Sunday mornings before my guard would wake.

I was not sure if this was fully accurate information, nor did I know if my guard could also be involved, as casting nets that yield 100 kilos of fish would be time consuming and it would be very difficult, but not impossible that the guard was not involved (since this has happened in the past, though this guard does not seem like the type).

On Saturday night, my driver, Vahe and I, dressed in black with night-vision scopes, paid a visit to the lake to see if there were any overnight campers?

We arrived at 11pm to the lake, coming in on the back road with our headlights turned off. We walked in the dark for a kilometer, which felt like 5 kilometers, as when you can only see as far ahead of you and the IR laser illuminator will project (it was overcast and we had no starlight to help illuminate further), things are slow going so it take much longer to cover the distance.

We came across a couple of parked cars, which we spotted 30 meters ahead of us. My driver who is former Babayan special forces person, went on alone to see if there was anyone in the car and to get the license plate numbers.

We returned to our jeep and decided that we would come back at 5am, before the sun started to rise so we could get into place and observe the lake to see if any nets were being removed?

At 4am, I got a wake-up call from my driver, who came by at 4:30. We headed to the lake, once again parking the jeep and walking in. I had decided that instead of hiding in the surrounding green space, we would take up a position in the gate house, which is located high above the lake and has a clear view of everything.

We had to pass the cars in order to get to the gate house and had a couple of choices in how to do this. One was to walk along the side of a steep embankment, which would not be impossible for some trained special forces guy like my driver, but for me, could very easily end in my falling and being injured. The other option was to walk quietly passed the cars which had the sleeping fisherman inside.

We chose the safer, but in a big way, more difficult route of walking past the fisherman’s cars and did so separately. My driver went first, since he has more experience than I do in such operations (crossing over into Azerbaijan many times) and passed without being noticed, giving me the signal to proceed. I crossed, but being that I’m not trained, I was detected by one of the fishermen, who by the time he got out of the car, I got off the road before he could fix where the sound was coming from.

We took up our position in the gate house and waited. I was not all that cold but even if it was, the layers of clothes I was wearing made for a very cozy wait.

Sunrise was beautiful and it’s really interesting to watch how even before the sun peeks out, comes a very faint rose color, which really lights up everything and it would have been impossible to cross the bridge and have the cover of darkness to hide under.

Once the sun came up, the fishermen got to work. A couple of them made their way down to the shore and started a fire. One started down and then got into the squatting passion to relieve himself and did this for the longest time. He then made his way down to join his friends.

We watched them for an hour and after it was clear that they were not going to take a net out of the water, we stripped off our black outer layer and made our way down to them.

They were fishing with poles and were actually catching fish. I didn’t do any talking so they would not suspect me to be anything other than a local. My driver proceeded to ask about fishing and if they allow people to cast nets?

After some very good answers in favor of my guard being very strict in enforcing the rules and even taking on army personnel who come to blow up land mines we were convinced that these guys were not casing nets. They talked about hearing a car at night on the back road that probably got stuck and the passengers passed their cars shortly there after. They asked when we came, which my driver said at sunrise. We excused ourselves, made our way back to where we left the bag with our clothes and walked off to our jeep and drove back to Martuni, where I went straight to bed and slept until 6pm.

Now I can’t say that net fishing has not recently happened by a group from Stepanagert, but will say that we will be more careful on the weekends was to who is coming and going, just in case.

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