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.