By Jeanmarie Papelian
"Where is Kotni?" That was the reaction from my son, Luke, when we presented a tree planting certificate for our new Living Century Initiative to my father, Roger. We dedicated a tree in memory of my grandfather, Andon, who was from the town of Kotni in Sebastia.
We launched the Living Century Initiative as part of the worldwide commemorations of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. We're planting 10 new community forests in northern Armenia that correspond to regions of historic Armenia.
We're doing what ATP does best, using trees to connect the Diaspora with Armenia, while at the same time honoring our families and remembering our ancestral towns and villages. We're building bridges, as we've been fond of saying in our environmental education program.
The bar was truly raised by the global centennial events this year. Pope Francis canonized the genocide martyrs and conducted a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, scores of prominent people visited Armenia including Kim Kardashian and System of a Down, and George Clooney participated in the launch of the 100 Lives initiative to recognize heroes fighting human rights abuses in the modern era. More than 150,000 Armenians marched in Los Angeles demanding justice for the genocide, and commemorations were held in every community around the world leading up to April.
The response to our campaign has also been strong. More than 350 families have already joined the Living Century Initiative to plant trees in our new forests. Our goal was to create something tangible for the land and people of Armenia, to look forward to what we are calling the "living century."
We've used the web, social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube videos, and even "selfies" in ATP t-shirts to promote the campaign. For those of you who are more savvy in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, we used the "hashtag" #LivingCentury to promote the campaign. A lot of this is new to me, and maybe to you, but it shows that ATP is a young and vibrant organization that is looking to the future, and using modern technology and communication to build support for our greening mission.
The anecdotes and facts being shared in the dedications for the Living Century donations have been incredibly interesting. The Shamlian Family donated a Cluster of trees to celebrate the 105th birthday of a genocide survivor in their family! Asdghig Alemian was born in Keghi in 1910 and came to the United States in 1922 after witnessing the horrors of the genocide. The family presented the ATP certificate to Mrs. Alemian and was kind enough to share this photo with us. What a tribute to this brave soul who has raised a strong Armenian family in the Diaspora.
Please join us in support of this campaign to remember our roots and replant them in our Motherland. Our goal is to plant more than 300,000 trees by year's end.
For gifts of $200 or more, I will send you a complimentary copy of Matthew Karanian's breathtaking travel guide to historic Armenia as a special token of appreciation. This new book, "Historic Armenia After 100 Years: Ani, Kars and the Six Provinces of Western Armenia," has been delighting reviewers and audiences.
Some of us have visited historic Armenia or have dreamed of doing so. Matthew's book has been tried and tested as a practical companion. For those of us who may not have the opportunity to go, the book is still a wealth of visual and factual information about the present and past, documented by Matthew himself over 15 years of travel. And he has generously donated the books to ATP to present as a gift to you.
We began planting the trees in the Living Century forests in spring and will continue this fall and into 2016. The total size of the initial 10 sites is 28 hectares, or an area about the size of 28 European football fields. It's wonderful progress on top of the 4.7 million other trees we have planted since 1994! Of course none of this would be possible without your support... so, thank you!
Our tree planting team is in the field every day monitoring sites, meeting with community partners and offering training on tree care. They paid a visit to the forest in Gogaran recently, where we are planting 8,000 new trees. These trees are being planted on behalf of Armenians from Adana, Aintab, Marash, Musaler, Zeitoun and other places from historic Cilicia.
Gogaran is a small village nestled in the mountains of Lori with a population of about 1,300. The local forests were lost when the wood was used for building and fuel for cooking and heating. We've been planting trees in the area for several years, so we knew the town was a reliable partner to expand our partnership.
The head of the village, Arthur Galoyan, talked about why this new forest was important for the local community: "No question about it! We wanted a forest to make our natural surroundings more beautiful and the hearts of our villagers along with it. It's not only beautiful but it keeps the air clean. I don't know how this looks to you but we consider this place paradise and we don't ever want to leave. In fact, this is one of the few villages where emigration is low and birth rate is on the rise."
We hope you will join us in this celebration of life and perseverance through the planting of new forests. Our hope is that the campaign is truly global, with every Armenian around the world planting at least one tree in honor of the centennial.