To celebrate its 25th anniversary of linking Armenia and the Diaspora through tree planting, ATP planted an olive tree at the Ararat Home in Los Angeles; pictured is Armenian Assembly director Bryan Ardouny, ATP director Jeanmarie Papelian, Ararat Home director Derik Ghookasian, author Matthew Karanian, and ATP executive committee member Anthony Barsamian.

Celebrating 25 Years of Tree Planting in Armenia

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By Monique Svazlian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

LOS ANGELES — It was 25 years ago that Carolyn Mugar, an Armenian-American activist from the Boston area, visited Armenia during the difficult time after the 1989 Gyumri earthquake and the energy crisis when she witnessed people cutting down trees in city parks to heat their homes. Her immediate thought was if the country were to survive this crisis that they would do so but have an environmental crisis to then deal with. That was when the idea of the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) was born. It began with Community Tree Planting programs in churchyards and school yards, while engaging local community in planting and taking care of trees. The first nursery was established in Karin village where the UN High Commission of Refugees provided homes to those who had fled Baku and Azerbaijan. Those villagers became dedicated planters and produced the most trees, and thus, the ATP established their first nursery there.

Since then, the Armenia Tree Project has planted close to six million trees and over a thousand hectares of new forest. They maintain four nurseries, two educational centers, with over twelve hundred community tree planting sites throughout Armenia. They grow over fifty species of trees native to the region with over 30 percent fruit and nut trees. Today, the largest nursery is still in Karin village, having created many jobs in that community. Visitors are invited to the Ohanian Center for Environmental Educational where over 2000 students per year visit and participate in hands-on activities like planting a tree, and where the high-tech work of seed testing and in-vitro testing of production of trees that are replanted all occurs.

A big part of the mission of Armenia Tree Project is engaging and revitalizing the community and teaching the next generation to be better stewards of the environment. They also provide environmental education in the United States in over 100 predominately Armenian schools. When schools have a trip to Armenia, they are invited to spend a day with the Tree project, where they are paired with local students and have a lesson, tour and plant trees together.

The Armenia Tree Project also provides jobs for local community. During planting season, 150 temporary workers are hired during spring and fall planting seasons to help with forestry planting. They run four nurseries as well as the “Backyard Nursery Program” where seeds are given to families in remote villages, who then plant the seeds in their own backyard. When the trees are ready to be transplanted, ATP buys them back from the villagers. This helps people stay in their homes in an area where employment is hard to come by.

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To celebrate their success, ATP kicked off a year-long celebration with a beautiful fundraising event at the Pasadena home of David and Margaret Mgrublian. In attendance were Founder, Carolyn Mugar; Anthony Barsamian, Armenian Assembly of America and Co-Chair of the Board; Bryan Ardouny, Executive Director of Armenian Assembly of America; Anahit Gharibyan, the first ATP employee; ATP West Coast Operations Manager, Sarah Hayes; and Sevag Ajemian who was the Keynote Speaker that evening and an avid supporter.

“The idea for our 25th anniversary was to take a low-key approach. We didn’t want to do big banquets and galas, we wanted to do smaller, more intimate house parties and more of them to reach the many places where we have supporters. We have events planned year round in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Lake Arrowhead, Fresno, New York and Philadelphia. Each event is different with different hosts to celebrate our 25 years of success together.  Our goal is to raise four million dollars, a majority of which will go toward our Forestry Fund and the forestry program, to keep those and all our other programs going for another 25 years,” states Executive Director of the Armenia Tree Project, Jeanmarie Papelian.

Instead of a black-tie gala, Armenia Tree Project will host a Forest Summit in Armenia from October 20-23, 2019. The Acopian Center for the Environment will be co-sponsoring the summit, bringing together regional and international experts to talk about some of the challenges of reforestation, afforestation, and challenges to the environment and how Armenia can meet those challenges, and how other countries can meet similar challenges as well.

Many countries are facing issues of insufficient forest cover which can have negative impacts on the environment, economy and culture. Without forests, habitat for animals decrease and groundwater dries up. Forests act as a filtration system for air and water, so with insufficient cover, there isn’t enough clean water. Forests provide fruits and nuts and if trees are harvested responsibly, they can be used for paper and building. Currently, Armenia has about 10-11 percent forest cover which is considered low, and therefore has committed to the ambitious goal of doubling the forest cover to 20 percent over the next 30 years as part of the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Now that we’ve committed to this goal, we have to figure out how to do it, so we thought we would invite governmental agencies and NGO’s from other countries to share ideas. You can’t plant seeds and walk away, you need to figure out how to get the land, sources of water, who is going to plant the trees etc. We feel like we’re well placed to participate in that conversation through expertise and knowledge we’ve gained. We know how to grow healthy trees as our survival rate is above international standards, and we grow a lot of variety of trees. We’re certainly not the only experts, but we wanted to take the initiative along with the Acopian Center to talk about this.”

“For a tree org what a better way to celebrate then to talk about trees. We’ve had some public plantings to celebrate 25years, and now we’re going to have a conference. We’re a grassroots organization made of individual donors. Thousands of people have given us money and we want to celebrate with them because we wouldn’t be here without them. We have a Certificate program where if it’s your friend’s birthday, you can donate $25 and have a tree planted in Armenia in honor of your friend. It’s the people buying these certificates for small dollars who have added up to the six million trees planted. We appreciate all those people.”

“We all have a responsibility to take care of the environment, and even though Armenia is no longer in crisis like it was 25 years ago, we’re at a crucial point where the whole world is in an environment crisis. It’s easy to feel hopeless, but what you can do is plant trees, and the simple act of planting a tree can truly make a difference.”

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