by Ani Melkonian
YEREVAN--It's been an unprecedented Armenian Spring in many respects. One obvious reason is for the opposition-led protests which culminated in the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan as the country's Prime Minister. Another event which left no room for comparison was spring itself. Nature went to work as early as February, forcing trees into a vegetative period.
Armenia Tree Project (ATP) was in a race against time to get 70,000 saplings planted all over Armenia and Artsakh. This brought the number of trees planted to more than 5.5 million since 1994.
The organization closed one more chapter of its own green revolution in what was the mildest winter of the past 60 years. Armenians have a thousand and one challenges ahead as they attempt to carve out a new future for the country. So should climate change be on the agenda?
Unseasonably warm weather, though welcomed by most, presents a threat and may even affect Armenia's national security. According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations, because of the snowless winter the government was forced to release water from the country's five main reservoirs for irrigation. The reservoirs now contain 30 million cubic meters less water than in 2017. These shortages leave farmers vulnerable and threaten food security and the economy. So yes, climate change has hit home and it must be factored into all decision-making.
"We didn't have any water for irrigation last summer. We had to use drinking water from our houses to save our crops," says Samvel Grigoryan, a farmer from Arevashat. "The mountains have no snow on them now, so who knows what this summer will bring."
During a panel discussion on forest fires organized by ATP in Stepanavan, one representative of the Ministry of Emergency Situations acknowledged there has been an increase of forest fires in recent years. "We think it’s a sign of climate change as fires have been starting in locations where the weather’s become drier and drier," he explained.
What can be done to mitigate and prevent scenarios brought on by climate change? We can start by planting forests, which prevent soil erosion, sustain wildlife, and stabilize the climate by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forests are also a huge source of fresh water. They conserve it, filter it naturally, and slowly regulate its flow -- another reason why trees are so essential to our survival.
Climate change could also result in an increase in emigration. Unfortunately, many are leaving the country due to the lack of jobs, and if living conditions are worsened due to natural disasters those numbers will rise. That is unless new plans are introduced to create sustainable jobs which can improve social, environmental, and economic conditions in this new chapter for Armenia.
"We have 82 full time workers, and we hire 150 to 200 seasonal workers who assist in forestry plantings every year. All these jobs revolve around tree planting," says ATP Operations Manager Arthur Harutyunyan. "So the simple act of planting trees has the ability to minimize many of the negative effects of climate change."
ATP has four tree nurseries which provide year-round employment. The first two nurseries were established in refugee villages to provide jobs to Armenians relocated from Azerbaijan. All the employees share similar stories of planning to emigrate before finding work with ATP.
The Armenian Nation is like an old tree. For centuries it has been cut down and for centuries it has grown back, despite all odds. Today it continues to exist, because like all ancient trees, Armenia has roots which are deep and strong. Its branches have grown in different directions, but in recent weeks the Armenian people proved to the world they are united and powerful. If we can move mountains we can surely overcome climate change.
On April 23, the victorious night of the velvet revolution, the people's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan addressed a crowd that numbered in the tens of thousands as they celebrated, asking them "not to harm even a single branch of a tree." If the country’s leadership continues the same style of thinking and takes action then Armenia will emerge victorious. "At ATP, we think Armenia looks good in green velvet," concludes Harutyunyan.