Armenian Botanical Gardens Looking to Blossom

YEREVAN—The Armenian Botanical Gardens and Institute is in dire need of a make-over.

Once the blossoming rose of Yerevan, today it has wilted through hard economical times and lack of governmental support.

Where colorful floral arrangements and ecology once stood rests shoddy grounds. A public park designed to attract tourists lies in arrears. A research center that served as a vital experimental station looks like the aftermath of a holocaust zone. Greenhouses and nurseries remain eyesores with broken windows and shattered glass. Warehouses are in shambles.

Research director Gagig Movsesyan points to the decrepit condition of a greenhouse nursery at the Institute of Botany in Yerevan.
Research director Gagig Movsesyan points to the decrepit condition of a greenhouse nursery at the Institute of Botany in Yerevan.

“The government would like nothing better than to see this place dismantled and turned into a housing development for the rich,” said Gagig Movsesyan. “It deserves better than that. I see it offering a wealth of opportunity to visitors and ecology students.”

A diamond in the rough?

“Absolutely,” Movsesyan added. “There’s so much potential for research, recreation, and tourism if only some immediate attention could be focused here. We have before us the best kept secret in Yerevan. Instead, we’re hoping to recreate a public spectacle.”

With the help of the Armenian Tree Project (ATP), volunteers have cleared out brush and planted trees. That was four years ago. Little has been accomplished since. Of major consequence is the lack of workable toilet facilities.

Seventy-five years of venerable history appear ready for burial unless action is taken quickly. At one time, 150 workers dotted the landscape. Today, 8 are “hoeing” the line, many of them in advanced age.

Environmental engineer Areg Gharabegian has undertaken the difficult task of trying to rehabilitate the Armenian Botanical Gardens and Institute in Yerevan.
Environmental engineer Areg Gharabegian has undertaken the difficult task of trying to rehabilitate the Armenian Botanical Gardens and Institute in Yerevan.

A principal project manager has been hired in Areg Gharabegian, who makes frequent visits from his base in California. The task ahead, he admits, remains daunting.

“Once you get to that stage of respectability, it may become self-funding and lead to commercial relationships,” said Gharabegian. “That is our vision. Until then, we have areas of depressed land waiting to be revitalized. The first impression shouldn‘t necessarily be a bad one.”

Despite the decadence, business continues. At one time, this center supplied most every florist in Yerevan with flowers. There is still a huge market. You can visit a florist most any time seven days a week for a bouquet. But you cannot get a good cup of coffee before 10 a.m.

A fast-growing poplar tree project is evident. Only problem is getting the government seriously interested in this resource. Armenian engineers are pitching a hand. Different variations of plant life continue to remain helpful for physicians and medical researchers.

“The lack of an appropriate heating system has raised problems with the greenhouse,” Movsesyan pointed out. “Ideally, what this place needs is a major overhaul to become a true botanical center for research, development, and recreation. It used to be a wonder place for families to gather and children to roam.”

According to Gharabegian, the sum of $250,000 in American currency could return this place to an arena of respectability.

“A lot of it is cosmetic work,” he added. “Then there’s the issue of properly sustaining it. This represents the growth of Armenia and we aim to cultivate it to its fullest potential. Beneath this soil stands a lot of energy and sweat. We cannot lose sight of that.”


How the Garden Grows

The Botanical Gardens of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences was founded in 1935 in Yerevan and quickly opened branches in Vanatsor and Sevan.

As any botanical gardens are supposed to be, they were founded as scientific institutions—centers of ecological education and training, with the goal of introducing highly ornamental plant species.

Botanical gardens also serve as indispensable recreational resources for the local population.

The Yerevan Garden lies in the northeast part of the capital with an institute for learning.

Of particular interest is the successful planting of numerous trees and shrubs whose natural growth conditions differ considerably from the local variety.

During its 75 years, the Yerevan Gardens and its two other counterparts have introduced a wealth of landscaping to Armenia, contributing to the economic wellbeing of the country.

One of its important goals is the creation of rare and endangered plants (there are nearly 400 endangered species in Armenia), along with the dissemination of botanical knowledge and ecological education.

Hardships brought by the conjuncture after the collapse of the Soviet Union made its impact on this important resource. An energy crisis caused a considerable decrease in the amount of introduced plants and different floral collections.

These days, specialists remain on the grounds, trying to restore the gardens to their once-prominent stage. A lack of funding and governmental support has made the rehabilitation process a challenging one.

With unbridled optimism, there remains hope that the Botanical Garden will recover its position as a leading institution in the southern Caucasian region.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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