YEREVAN—Armenia Tree Project (ATP) stands ready to provide its expertise and assistance to help restore forests and surrounding areas in Artsakh, which were targeted and damaged by Azerbaijan during the war.
On October 30, Azerbaijan added to its list of war crimes the use of white phosphorus munitions to destroy Artsakh’s ancient forests. ATP has learned that 1815 hectares/4484 acres of lush green land were burned as a result, causing irreparable damage to the natural environment and rendering areas in and near the forests uninhabitable.
Before ATP can begin the replanting process, crucial steps must be taken by key stakeholders and necessary organizations to ensure the region is safe to work in. First, new maps must be drawn according to the ceasefire, and ATP will need to be granted access to these areas. Then, HALO Trust must ensure that all the areas are free of explosives and hazards. Lastly, the area’s soil and water levels will need to be tested for contamination levels.
The use of white phosphorus is not only a threat to Armenia’s rich biodiversity but to all life in the region. The chemical may remain within the deep soil for several years, contaminating underground waters and rivers, putting valuable ecosystems at risk.
“Even though a ceasefire now holds in Artsakh, it is not yet clear which forests we can and can’t work in,” says ATP operations manager Arthur Harutyunyan. “Once border demarcation is finalized, experts will map out the damaged areas and determine the extent of destruction. ATP can then identify areas for reforestation and provide our expertise and healthy native seedlings to help bring those lands back to life.”
The next issue that needs to be tackled is the remains of mines and other unexploded ordnances. The HALO Trust, a mine-clearing organization, is currently on the ground in Stepanakert, Martuni and Martakert, clearing explosives and teaching civilians to avoid hazards.
“I maintain regular contact with the deputy mayor of Stepanakert. The demining organizations have much work to do there to ensure the safety of citizens, before we can continue greening community sites in the towns and villages,” continues Harutyunyan. “Demining activities must also be carried out in the forests.”
In the coming months ATP will produce a plan for the establishment of a new forest in Armenia as a living memorial for the heroes of the war. Communities will be able to come together to pay tribute to fallen soldiers and honor them by planting trees. More details about the memorial will be revealed as they unfold.