Knights and Daughters of Vartan Partner with Armenia Tree Project to Honor Vartan Mamigonian’s Dream
By Paul Yeghiayan
In 450 AD, one year before the famous Battle of Vartanantz, General Vartan Mamigonian led his troops to the region of Kazakh to defend Christian Armenia against the Zoroastrian Persians. After defeating the Persians, Mamigonian led his troops back home and along the way stopped in an area today known as Aknaghbyur, Armenia. Exhausted, hungry, thirsty and tending to their wounded, they amassed by a spring, later known as Vartan’s Spring.
At this moment, Vartan Mamigonian performed a notable act. He planted an acorn to celebrate the recent victory. This deed represented his unwavering commitment to a free and prosperous Armenia. It symbolized the hope that lies within all Armenians who believe in the future of our homeland. Vartan Mamigonian, who was politically savvy, knew that the odds for Armenia were grim, and as a soldier, he must have also known that he would not live long enough to see that acorn turn into an oak tree.
That acorn did turn into a mighty oak and survived for more than 1,500 years before it was struck down by lightning in 1960. Vartan Mamigonian’s Oak Tree is a legend in Armenia and people travel from all over the world to pay respects to what is now an outdoor shrine. For generations, Armenians would travel to what is now the village of Aknaghbyur and drink from Vartan’s Spring and pray next to Vartan’s Tree. They did so for strength in battle, to heal the sick, to pay homage to Vartan Mamigonian and to hope for a better Armenia.
Today, the remnants of Vartan’s Tree remain for all to see. A khachkar and a small church border his tree. Marshal Hovannes Baghramian visited the site in 1976 and planted three new oaks. They now reach for the sky in the same way that Vartan’s Oak did.
Today the border village of Aknaghbyur is struggling to survive. Under the constant threat of violence coming from the Azerbaijani border, the villagers eke out a living through subsistence farming. Others have left the village, seeking opportunities elsewhere. The Mayor of Aknaghbyur, Karen Dolmazian, approached ATP more than a year ago requesting fruit trees be donated to the village, since most of the productive trees have died or are too old to produce fruit.
According to Anahit Gharibyan, ATP’s Community Tree Planting program manager, “We wanted to help, but the village did not have irrigation, so we were worried that the trees would die.” Last summer, Armenia Fund installed both gas and irrigation lines in the village, so the opportunity was ripe for ATP to get involved.
“When we learned about the story of Vartan Mamigonian’s tree, I couldn’t help but see the connection between his act of hope and ATP’s reason for coming into existence 15 years ago, which was also an act of hope,” said Carolyn Mugar, ATP’s founder.
Jeff Masarjian, ATP’s executive director, said “The only thing stopping us now is funding for the project, so we thought to approach the Knights and Daughters of Vartan for assistance.” After several meetings with the senior leadership of the Knights, it was decided that ATP would start a campaign to raise money to provide 1,800 fruit trees for the village.
“With around 180 families in Aknaghbyur, our goal is to provide 10 fruit trees for each family and to provide them with training and ongoing support to ensure that these trees have a high survival rate and are productive so the families have food,” said Masarjian. “The trees that we will provide have been grown in our state-of-the-art nurseries for four to six years. They are the highest quality fruit trees available in the Caucasus, so we are confident that they will be of benefit to the villagers in Aknaghbyur.”
Haig Deranian, Avak Sbarabed of the Knight of Vartan, states “This was an easy decision for us. The connection with Vartan Mamigonian is strong and this project allows the Knights and the Daughters to directly improve the lives of villagers in Aknaghbyur, Armenia.” Deranian states, “We understand the connection between food security and national security, so this is a very important project for the Knights and Daughters. We have every confidence in ATP, who has proven itself time and again. If this project goes as well as we hope, the possibility for future collaborative projects remains a strong possibility.”
States Masarjian, “Many of our supporters are also members of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan. Their commitment to improving the lives of Armenians is unquestionable and we are proud to work with them to assist the village of Aknaghbyur.” The project, entitled “Honoring the Past, Investing in the Future” will take place over 2010-2011.
Since 1994, Armenia Tree Project has planted and restored more than 3,500,000 trees at over 800 sites around the country and created hundreds of jobs for impoverished Armenians in tree-regeneration programs. The organization’s three tiered initiatives are tree planting, community development, and environmental education. For additional information and to support ATP’s mission, visit the web site www.armeniatree.org.