By Jeanmarie Papelian
ATP is on the move!
That’s the best way to describe the busy year we’re having. We have a full time staff of 60 people working in Armenia. They manage our three tree nurseries, are establishing a fourth and run two environmental education centers. I recently spent a week with them and everyone is on the go with tree plantings, educational seminars, meetings with partners, hosting visitors, monitoring planting sites, public education and much more.
All of us were worried by the outbreak of violence on the eastern front of Artsakh. Our own Andranik Hovsepyan immediately volunteered to help defend Armenia. We are so grateful for his service. Andranik is a veteran of the Artsakh war in the 1990’s. He began work with ATP as a driver in 2006 and he was never late for an appointment. In fact he was usually early, so we actually convinced him to drive a little slower! And he was recently promoted to join our forestry team as a monitor. I’m pleased to report that he has returned home safe and sound.
We reached a huge milestone this spring. I planted our five millionth tree on Earth Day with US Ambassador Richard Mills. What an achievement and a source of pride for all of us. And we owe it all to you as a believer in our green mission. We’ve always taken a long term view, and we urge you to continue to support this effort for our children and grandchildren to enjoy a healthy and prosperous Armenia.
Our Community Tree Planting and Forestry teams planted another 68,607 trees at 125 locations this spring, bringing the total number of trees planted to 5,021,249. It’s something we can all be proud of, and a legacy that will continue providing benefits. The trees you plant are a solid investment and an expression of belief in the future of Armenia.
Another reason for my recent visit: I was invited to attend the Aurora Prize for Humanity events initiated by 100 Lives and our friends Ruben Vardanyan, Noubar Afeyan and Vartan Gregorian. What an honor to attend the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at Tsitsernakaberd and to be a part of the Aurora Prize events. The courage and dedication of the nominees was a huge source of inspiration for me.
By now you know that the actor George Clooney was there as a long-time activist for human rights and genocide prevention. His organizations Not On Our Watch and the Satellite Sentinel Project have spearheaded genocide prevention initiatives for years, and we even had a few moments to chat about ATP. He recounted a trip to Costa Rica, where he learned from coffee farmers about the importance of trees.
I’m humbly reminded that we are all part of a community of citizens and activists working to make the world a better place, to leave the planet in better condition than we found it. And the thousands of supporters who have joined ATP are an integral part of this vital cause. It is something for all of us to be proud of.
Closer to home, long-time friend Tom Vartabedian--a writer, photographer, and chronicler of community life for decades--said something that really struck a chord with us. I’d like to share his quote about the Armenian people and our story of survival and perseverance.
In a recent column for the Armenian Weekly, Tom wrote: “Our communities throughout the world [are like] seeds growing inside a forest. A seedling falls on fertile ground and in its place grows a tree. Before long, there are two trees and ultimately woodlands. In some ways, you can compare that to our communities throughout the diaspora: First one Armenian, then another, and before long a colony and then a community.”
Yes, Tom, I’m sure we can all agree about this, and we took a special interest in this message as an organization that is spreading new trees all over our homeland.
As a tribute to the civilians and soldiers who lost their lives in the recent conflict in Artsakh, we dedicated a planting site in their honor. In April we planted 1,000 trees in Gtashen, a town in Shirak, in their memory. We call the site a “Park of Peace.” We remember the sacrifice of those lost and hope that the tensions will ease soon so that our people can return to nation building and the pursuit of growth and prosperity in a peaceful Armenia.
Gtashen is a small village in Shirak near the border with Turkey, not far from Gyumri. There are only 36 Armenians living in the town and all were present at the planting ceremony along with residents of neighboring Amasia. The local priest blessed the site in memory of those lost and with hope for a better future.
Our year is off to a strong start, and our plans for the summer and fall are even bigger. We expect another big year of fruit production from our trees, which is distributed for the benefit of local communities. Last year, our fruit trees produced more than 1,000,000 pounds of fruit, with varieties including apricot, peach and pear. Our team is also laying the groundwork to plant another 175,000 trees this fall!
If you thought it would not be possible to have more good news to share, here goes. We are creating a new tree nursery in the Vayots Dzor region which will allow us to provide more local trees to sites in the southern regions including Artsakh. The region is developing into a center for tourism and wine production.
I had the opportunity to take a group photograph with our leadership team at the site of our new nursery in Chiva, which is a great source of joy and hope for our future growth. We have many plans and announcements in store for this new nursery so stay tuned.
Our bright yellow t-shirts are emblazoned with ATP’s 2016 “Get Rooted” theme. As I mentioned in our annual report, we encourage people living in Armenia or traveling from the diaspora to join a tour to our tree nursery in Karin. This nursery is the backbone of our flagship Community Tree Planting program which provides tens of thousands of decorative and fruit trees every season. For the latest updates on our Get Rooted tours, stay tuned to our Facebook page or contact one of our offices. We’ll be glad to fill you in and we hope you will join us!