ATP’s Community Tree Planting Program Has Planted 1,026,857 Trees at 842 Sites Since 1994
For the last 16 years, Anahit Gharibyan has been manager of Armenia Tree Project’s Community Tree Planting (CTP) Program. She has been instrumental in establishing the CTP program’s policies and procedures, and has been responsible for much of the program’s success. With her efforts, ATP’s CTP program has planted and rejuvenated 1,026,857 trees at 842 sites all over Armenia and Artsakh since 1994. In 2007, Anahit went to Lebanon to help establish a tree planting program affiliated with the American University of Beirut. Before her appointment with ATP, Anahit worked as an English teacher at the Pushkin School, Institute of Foreign Languages, and Open University.
Question: Armenia Tree Project started its operation in 1994 with the Community Tree Planting Program. As the first employee of the project, what can you tell us about the first days of the project and your experience?
Answer: Our project was born in the early 1990s during a difficult time for newly independent Armenia--we were dealing with the Karabagh war, the blockades, and the energy and economic crisis. Wide-scale deforestation started when people were cutting trees and park benches and burning them along with their own furniture for heating. In urban centers such as Yerevan, residents who were desperate for fuel cut more than two million trees.
ATP started off with a two-person staff equipped with a donated computer and working in a corner of the Armenian Assembly of America’s Yerevan office. Our goal was to restore the huge loss of trees. It was evident that we had to start with public institutions that needed trees most--these included hospitals, senior centers, and schools. However in those years the people at the sites were not always happy to receive a gift of trees. They asked, “Why are you giving us trees when we need food and kerosene for heating.” We had to persuade them that they were planting for their children’s future.
Question: How does the CTP program decide where to plant the trees? What criteria does ATP use to assess the commitment of the local community and to ensure the survival of the trees?
Answer: The CTP staff first evaluates the soil quality, availability of water, security, and most importantly the motivation level of the people. Once accepted as a site, residents receive training to plant and tend trees. Only 30 percent of the trees requested are given in the first year and the remaining 70 percent are provided the following year if the survival rates are acceptable.
In the post-Soviet period people were still used to the government doing everything for them and the notion of responsibility needed to be developed. In the absence of the rule of law, ATP set up its own rules. To ensure a high survival rate ATP set up a system whereby residents had to take responsibility for the trees. The heads of local institutions had to sign a contract with ATP that if they do not ensure a 70 percent survival rate of the trees, they had to restore the tree losses by their own means. In this way ATP encouraged residents to become environmental stewards.
Question: How many people work in the CTP program and what are the responsibilities of those individuals? What kinds of work is the CTP staff doing on a daily basis?
Answer: In addition to me, there are three monitors working in the CTP department. Our staff does a wonderful job, because they are dedicated to ATP’s mission with all their heart. On a daily basis, Arthur Harutyunyan, Seyran Hovhannisyan, and Navasard Dadyan evaluate potential planting sites and visit sites that were planted in previous years to check growth rates and provide technical assistance. Each of them is an expert in tree planting and tree care.
Question: All ATP programs are interconnected to deliver environmental, social, and economic results. What are some of the ways that the CTP program has integrated its work with the other ATP programs?
Answer: In 1994-1995, ATP was purchasing trees for planting from state and private nurseries. The quality of the tree seedlings was poor which resulted in a low survival rate of the plantings. We had to produce our own trees and thus the nursery program was established. The needs of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan were also considered when ATP established the nurseries in the villages of Karin and Khachpar. The sites were chosen to provide employment for Armenian refugees who supported their families on the wages received from ATP. These workers, who would otherwise have no source of income, are producing 50,000-70,000 high-quality tree seedlings each year for planting at community sites.
Answer: The story I would like to share is about a visit from an ATP supporter who was not Armenian. Vi Pather is a Canadian of Indian heritage. He owned a store where a friend, Alice Alexanian, was working since the store’s establishment. The young lady passed away very suddenly from cancer and left two small children. It was a great shock not only for her family but for friends as well. To commemorate the memory of a dear friend, Vi decided to support a garden in her memory in Armenia. Vi ordered a memorial stone in Canada and sent it to Armenia. The stone was prepared with great love--it was taken from a place where she used to walk with her children and on the stone one could see Alice’s handwriting. The planting site was the Diocese camp in the Yeghegnadzor region. Vi made the trip from Canada just to unveil the memorial stone and take photos of the trees for the family of his friend.
Question: What are some of the most popular ATP planting sites, and what is it that makes the sites so significant or important?
Answer: The most popular CTP sites are the parks in Malatia Sebastia, Diaconia Settlement of Hope, Red Cross, and St. Mesrob Mashtots Church in Oshakan. Our own favorite is the St. Gevork Church in Moughni. We often take visitors to the site and to remember the late Archbishop Mesrop Ashjian, an enthusiastic supporter of ATP and a devoted friend. Our guests have a chance to taste wonderful fruit from early summer through late fall. In June we pick sweet cherries, in summer apricot and apples, and peaches in the fall. The place is so beautiful and calm that you feel as if the soul of Srpazan is there.
Question: How many trees did the CTP program plant this spring and what is the total number of trees planted since 1994?
Answer: This spring, the CTP program planted 35,741 trees at 125 sites in Yerevan and 10 regions of Armenia. CTP was the first ATP program, and I am proud to report that we have planted and rejuvenated 1,026,857 trees at 842 sites around the country since 1994. We performed this work in partnership with residents of urban and rural communities at parks, public sites, and institutions and enhanced food security through the creation of fruit orchards planted in villages and rural backyards.