The Living Century Initiative was Launched in 2015
By Ani Paitjan
To mark the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, Armenia Tree Project (ATP) launched a planting campaign called the Living Century Initiative in 2015. The campaign established 10 new forests in the northern villages of Vahramaberd, Keti, Gogaran, Ghanzanchi, Arevshat, Lusaghbyur, Saralanj, Arevashogh, Akunk, and Basen.
The sites in the Shirak, Lori and Kotayk regions are named after major Western Armenian communities that were devastated by the Armenian Genocide. They focus on areas where ATP has been planting forests since 2004. “The Living Century Initiative gives Armenians an opportunity to sponsor trees in those forests as a way to remember the past and celebrate life,” notes Country Director Lucineh Kassarjian.
The Kars Memorial Forest was established in Shirak’s Saralanj Village. Like many others, the village has massive unemployment and its population has been dwindling by the year. The people live off of Mother Nature’s goods: livestock and agriculture.
ATP is welcomed by Vachakan Papoyan, an employee at the village administration. According to him, most of the inhabitants of Saralanj are originally from Kars and Erzurum. “The village was established in the 19th century during the massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, because it began even before 1915,” explains Papoyan. “I am a descendant of people from Kars. I have a family tree showing my roots.”
For the people of Saralanj, this has a huge meaning. “Lots of villagers helped to plant the trees. When we get older, we will say to the next generation that this forest exists in memory of our ancestors and that it is a beautiful symbol of our origins,” he adds.
Armenia faced massive deforestation in the past 25 years. An estimated 500,000 cubic meters of wood are burned in Armenia every year for fuel. This means over 4,000 hectares of forests are cut for fuel as well as other purposes. The average forest area per Armenian inhabitant is only 0.1 hectare, while for the Commonwealth of Independent States the average is 27 times higher (2.7 hectares per inhabitant). It is widely believed that the mean density of Armenia’s forests is below the point at which they have the ability to regenerate, which is why Carolyn Mugar stepped in and founded ATP in 1994.
“Overall we have planted more than 5.2 million trees since 1994,” says Kassarjian. “Through the Living Century Initiative, we planted another 13,000 trees. This was made possible thanks to the generosity of more than 1,200 donors from 20 countries who contributed to the centennial campaign.”
Maureen Dadekian of New England is one of those supporters. Her ancestors were from Kharpert and survived the genocide. “When ATP began, my mother and aunt sponsored trees in honor of various family members. Decades later, ATP was going strong. While I’d always wanted to go to Kharpert in Turkey, it wasn’t safe to do so last year. Planting trees in ATP’s Kharpert Forest was a symbolically fulfilling way to connect with where my grandparents came from,” she recounts.
Dadekian did not only donate to the campaign. She actively participated in the planting and visited Arevashogh Village. “Planting trees with ATP and the local mayor was the best introduction to Armenia. I felt like I was a part of history and the future. I was connected to Armenia in a meaningful way. It was one of the most important and special activities I did while in the country,” she recalls.
The experience was so meaningful that she is planning go back to Armenia this year. “I plan to visit Armenia again. My daughter will be coming with me. We will visit the Kharpert Forest and check on the trees I planted. We also hope to plant new trees,” she says.
“I planted two trees in honor of a dear friend in New Hampshire whose family also came from Kharpert. I will bring some of her ashes with me to plant with new trees in the Kharpert Forest. That is a profound activity that illustrates how special, important and meaningful the Kharpert Forest is to me, my family and friends,” concludes Ms. Dadekian.
Ani Paitjan is a journalist from Belgium. She left Brussels for Yerevan seven months ago. She is currently volunteering via Birthright Armenia as a journalist for CivilNet and as a Content Writer for Armenia Tree Project.