By Nane Atshemian
The Armenian government’s Department on Emergency Situations blamed Monday alcohol abuse and recklessness on what it described as an alarming increase in the number of people drowning in the country’s water resorts.
Official figures show that as many as 40 people have died this year while swimming or sailing in Lake Sevan and other water reservoirs popular with holiday-makers. According to the deputy chief of the department, Vrezh Gabrielian, most of the victims ignored safety guidelines issued by his agency’s rescue service. One of the most important of them is to avoid any consumption of alcohol before swimming.
“Because of our Armenian mentality, people sometimes go out there, drink alcohol and then start swimming,” said Gabrielian. “There have been cases where our rescuers warned people only to be insulted by them. We have many such cases. They were even assaulted once.”
Sevan accounts for the vast majority of the reported death cases. The sprawling lake surrounded by mountains and located almost 2,000 meters above the sea level is the most popular of Armenia’s resorts. It offers residents of Yerevan and other parts of the country a brief escape from the sizzling summer heat. However, its chilly waters represent a significant risk factor, with even the most experienced swimmers discouraged from straying far from its shores.
This season has seen a considerably greater influx of vacationers to Sevan beaches. Gabrielian said most of the deadly incidents occurred in the areas that are rarely patrolled by rescue boats. The lake is too big to be fully controlled by the Department on Emergency Situations, he said.
One of the most serious incidents occurred just a week ago when four residents of Yerevan drowned after their small boat capsized and sunk about 300 meters from the coast. Only one of the bodies has been recovered so far.
“They were young people,” Gabrielian told journalists. “If I’m not mistaken, two of them are 24-year-old brothers, while another victim was 36.”
“I express my condolences to their relatives, but at the same want to urge everyone to be very careful in Sevan,” the official added.