Personal Tour of Armenia Tree Project Lifts Spirits

YEREVAN—It all began 15 years ago with a single twig and the vision of emissary Carolyn Mugar to promote the economic and environmental well-being of Armenia.

Antranik Monument Park in Yerevan is flourishing with trees after being barren a decade ago, thanks to the efforts of ATP, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary of enrichment. (Photo by Tom Vartabedian)
Antranik Monument Park in Yerevan is flourishing with trees after being barren a decade ago, thanks to the efforts of ATP, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary of enrichment. (Photo by Tom Vartabedian)

Today, Armenia Tree Project (ATP) remains a scion to that country, in terms of forests, parks, and inner-city landscaping that not only beautifies the land but enhances the very standard of living.

In a nutshell, the tree of life continues to gain momentum in Armenia and Karabagh with more than 800 communities reaping the benefits to the tune of some 3 million trees planted and restored, hundreds of jobs being created, poverty reduced, educational resources dispensed, and a better overall impression upon tourists. That number should rise to 3.5 million trees by next year and 15 million trees by 2015—10 trees planted for each victim of the Armenian Genocide by its 100th anniversary.

A secure Armenia with a tree-filled base can only mean prosperity and growth for the population.

I got the opportunity to take “the grand tour” during a visit to Armenia in April. Reading about the accomplishments of ATP was one thing. Seeing the work was another. The meeting was arranged by Jason Sohigian, a former Armenian Weekly editor now overseeing the Watertown, Mass. office out of 65 Main St.

We met at Artbridge Café and Bookstore on Abovian Street, and from there took a short ride to Antranik Monument Park with public relations coordinator Bella Avetisyan and community tree monitor Navasard Dadyan.

ATP continues to beautify the country after 15 years. Checking out the greenery at St. Trinity Church in Yerevan are Bella Avetisyan, the public relations volunteer coordinator, and Navasard Dadyan, the community tree planting monitor. (Photo by Tom Vartabedian)
ATP continues to beautify the country after 15 years. Checking out the greenery at St. Trinity Church in Yerevan are Bella Avetisyan, the public relations volunteer coordinator, and Navasard Dadyan, the community tree planting monitor. (Photo by Tom Vartabedian)

Both were indigenous to the project and rightfully so. It was their passion and clearly defined over the next four hours.

The park is found in the southwest corner of Yerevan, bustling with activity. Children were seen frolicking about. Elderly were seated on benches solving the problems of the day or playing backgammon. Young couples were found walking hand-in-hand. It painted a viable picture of a day in the city.

In 1997, there wasn’t a single tree to be found on the premises. On came ATP to plant 2,700 trees over time. Amazingly, all but 200 survived, turning the place into a cascade of greenery, joined by a rich repository of shrubs and floral concoctions. The enormous statue of the general was erected in 2005.

It’s as if someone put a magic wand to the place and a miracle occurred.

“We believe in miracles,” said Avetisyan. “Every area that has been refurbished in Armenia has been a small miracle. It’s amazing what can occur when people work together. They can restore a country.”

The ATP isn’t alone in this endeavor. They supply trees, not the elbow grease, the grime, the sweat, and sometimes the tears. That belongs to the people. They get involved with their hands and their hearts.

What we saw at the Antranik Park were a variety of maple, ash, poplar, evergreen, and apricot trees with a noticeable setting of rose bushes.

“We provide trees for no money,” added Avetisyan. “The population gets involved with providing the labor and irrigation. They are responsible for a minimum 70 percent survival rate and are motivated to take that initiative.”

From there, we proceeded across the street to St. Trinity Church where 4,000 trees and shrubs were planted. Today, people in the neighborhood call them “trees from heaven.” The park is sprawled out over three acres with a magnificent monument dedicated to the 1,700th anniversary of Christianity in Armenia.

A desert-like atmosphere existed there in 1997. Today, it serves as a mecca for tourists and townsfolk, not to mention the animals. Birds also find comfort here.

“It’s truly God’s work,” says Tigran Palazian, the chief propagator. “We get up to 50 calls a day looking to plant trees. Some 850 communities have been addressed and there’s no end in sight. We look at all the sites. If they meet the criteria, then trees are provided. An attempt is made to satisfy all requests. People associate a healthy environment to a healthy population.”

Driving along Antranik Street, we observe islands and walkways replete with trees aligned accordingly.

“If it wasn’t for ATP, Armenia would be brown, not green,” offered Dadyan. “Armenia would be without three million trees. In the long run, it’s better to have a surviving generation than trees. You can restore trees, but not a generation of people. We seem to think that both contribute to one another’s welfare—trees and people.”

In 1993, following the re-establishment of independence in Armenia, the country was in the midst of an energy crisis. Trees were being cut for fuel. The state had suddenly lost its green cover and there was turmoil everywhere.

“It’s been a work in progress,” added Dadyan. “We’ve planted by monuments and churches, buildings, parks, forests, and just about everywhere else. Wherever there are trees, there’s ATP.”

Mugar provided the initiative as a veritable trailblazer and founder. She comes around more often than not to the greenhouses and nurseries in Karin and Khachpar, providing valuable insight. Mugar continues to remain a redwood in a forest of pine.

“ATP began in 1994 with the modest goal of re-greening the public spaces in Yerevan where trees had been sacrificed during the ’dark years’ after independence,” she pointed out. “People were forced to burn whatever they could find to stay warm. Ten years later, we had planted 500,000 trees in Yerevan and neighboring communities. It became clear that rejuvenating public areas alone was not going to significantly impact the larger issue of deforestation. So we accelerated our efforts. By next year, we expect to have 3.5 million trees in Armenia.”

Two staffers have now turned into 80 with many others being recruited as the need persists. At Karin, we came across refugees from Baku doing the bullwork in the fields with shovels and hoes in hand. On a hot day, this remains a comfort zone.

“They live on the grounds and work each day, regardless of the conditions,” said manager Rubik Ghandilyan. “It’s medicine for these refugees–part of their poverty reduction.”

Much of the fertility is engineered by Ghandilyan, who started these nurseries from scratch. In Karin, you have 70,000 seedlings while Khachpar boasts 90,000. For Ghandilyan, it’s “the good earth.”

“It’s been an ideal place for AYF internships and educational classes,” he maintains. “People come here and are amazed by the productivity. Students majoring in horticulture, forestry, agriculture, and botany find an ideal hands-on education here. We have both a master’s and doctorate program available.”

At St. Moughni Church on the outskirts of Yerevan, you will find an 800-year-old sanctuary and memorials. You will also see 925 decorative and fruit trees planted since 1996—a haven of growth at a place least expected. It wasn’t Khor Vrap, a prominent cathedral, but every bit as native to the infrastructure.

“This was a model site for us,” said Dadyan. “There was nothing here before. Now it’s become a showpiece and we enjoy promoting it.”

We passed by a zoo where poplars stretched to the sky—a symbol of Armenia. At a community center, we found fruit trees agog with apple, sweet cheery, apricot, peach, and plum, ripe for picking. The treat was on a tree.

Others also instrumental in the project are executive committee members Nancy Kricorian and Dr. Moorad Mooradian; Jeffrey Masarjian, executive director, who performs yeoman’s work from Boston; deputy director Sohigian, who sleeps with the trees; and Mher Sadoyan, Armenia director.

Our tour ended at the Karin nursery where we encountered a beehive of activity and a table sagging with Armenian delicacies. I didn’t expect that. Nor did I expect to find 120 Chinese date trees offered for medicinal purposes, much less 25 varieties of pomegranate trees. I thought one pomegranate said it all.

On the wall facing me was the tree of life, spouting its branches and leaves with donors who’ve planted a tree in Armenia –a practical way to see a contribution help rehabilitate a country with its ripple effect.

I learned something from this experience. A country without a tree isn’t fit for a dog, much less a population. Thanks to ATP, Armenia remains on fertile ground.


About ATP

Now into its 15th year, ATP continues its mission of providing vitally important environmental projects in Armenia’s impoverished and deforested zones.

Since 1994, the non-profit program has made enormous strides in combating desertification in the biologically diverse but threatened Caucasus region. More than three million trees have been planted and restored while hundreds of jobs have been created for Armenians in seasonal tree-related programs. ATP works to further Armenia’s economic and social development by mobilizing resources to fund reforestation. These vital new trees provide food, wood, environmental benefits, and opportunities for economic growth.

Its ultimate goal is to assist the Armenian people in using trees to improve their standard of living and protect the global environment. In doing so, the ATP is guided by the need to promote self-sufficiency, aid those with the fewest resources first, and conserve the indigenous ecosystem.

Three major program initiatives are tree planting at urban and rural sites; environmental education and advocacy; and community socioeconomic development and poverty reduction.

With a staff of over 80, the Yerevan office manages three state-of-the-art nurseries, partners with villagers to create tree-based micro-enterprise opportunities, creates urban green belts for public use, restores degraded forest lands, and employs hundreds of part-time workers to plant new forests.

The organization seeks support in advancing its reforestation mission. Persons can help by planting a tree in Armenia for some worthy cause. To learn more, call (617) 926-TREE (8733) or email

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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