Supporting Karabakh Farmers Under Blockade: The Armenia Tree Project

Inside the greenhouse at the Armenia Tree Project’s Karin Nursery, where thousands of trees are grown (CivilNet/Mane Berikyan)

By Mane Berikyan

Last year, CivilNet went up to Armenia’s northern Lori region to witness the planting of the Armenia Tree Project’s seven millionth tree. One year later, we re-visited the organization to document the progress.

A REFORESTATION DRIVE SPANNING THREE DECADES

A forest dedicated to the slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink covers an area of roughly 27 acres (Photo/Armenia Tree Project)

For nearly three decades, the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) has been pushing a reforestation drive across Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

ATP has planted more than 27,000 acres of new forest and 7 million new trees from its inception in 1994.

Armenia’s forest cover declined dramatically starting in the mid 1990s, when an Azerbaijani-imposed economic blockade during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war led to loss of access to natural gas imports.

The inaccessability of heating gas, exacerbated by a series of uncharacteristically cold winters, led to wide-scale deforestation, as Armenians resorted to cutting down trees in large numbers to heat their homes. The United Nations estimates that Armenia lost nearly a quarter of its forests between 1990 and 2010.

Read more: Armenia looks to reforestation to combat climate change

Today, only about 12% of Armenia’s lands are forests, according to UN figures, making Armenia the least forested country in the South Caucasus. Concerns are now growing in the country about accelerating desertification in once-lush areas.

Trees are propagated and grown in ATP’s Karin Nursery before being planted (CivilNet/Mane Berikyan)

CIVILNET’S VISIT ONE YEAR AGO TODAY

Last July, ATP planted its symbolic seven millionth tree in the village of Margahovit in Lori.

Apart from tree planting, the organization also hosts classes to teach young people about the environment and the importance of reforestation. Altogether, 80,000 students and teachers have undergone this course.

The organizers hope to plant the eight millionth tree by the end of the year.

WHAT’S NEW?

Established last year, the Artsakh Backyard GreenHouse Project provides families in specific villages in Nagorno-Karabakh with the resources to establish nurseries in their backyards. The goal of the program is to help families become financially self-sufficient. In Karabakh, the program serves 51 families in the Askeran and Martuni regions, many of whom had lost their farmlands to Azerbaijan after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Little did these families know that mere months later, their villages would be under Azerbaijani blockade.

Last December, a group of self-proclaimed Azerbaijani environmental activists, many with known ties to the Azerbaijani government, began blocking the Lachin corridor, the only overland route connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia and the rest of the world. Since late last month, Azerbaijan has dramatically escalated the situation, effectively closing its illegally-installed checkpoint and blocking all humanitarian aid and movement by civilians, Russian peacekeepers and the Red Cross across the road, with the exception of the transfer of some critically-ill patients transferred by the Red Cross.

Azerbaijan’s blockade has caused severe — and quickly worsening — shortages of energy, food, medicine and other essentials throughout Nagorno-Karabakh.

Now, as a result of fortunate timing, ATP’s Artsakh Backyard GreenHouse Project participants in Nagorno-Karabakh are in the unique position of being able to grow and harvest their own vegetables, an increasingly rare commodity amid the blockade.

“Artsakh is in blockade, and these families can earn money with the harvest from the vegetables grown in the greenhouses…helping Artsakh people survive in this difficult situation,” Isabel Shatoyan, ATP’s Environmental Education Program Manager, told CivilNet.

Although ATP has been unable to physically visit the families since December, they continue to hold virtual consultations with the families. Before the total humanitarian blockade was imposed, they also delivered supplies, such as hybrid seeds for different vegetables to local farmers.

Along with other NGOs, ATP helped organize the transfer of approximately 90 tons of potato seeds for civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh in the spring. In this way, the organization has allowed farmers in Nagorno-Karabakh to become self-sufficient to some degree.

Since last year, the organization has also furthered its mission to educate Armenian youth about environmental issues. Although its programs are grassroots in nature and local in scale, they aim to be global in impact.

ATP hosts interactive educational programs to teach students about environmental issues (Photo/Armenia Tree Project)

This year, ATP hosted its first-ever agricultural camp in Margahovit, spanning nine days and involving 30 students, all of whom were from Yerevan.

According to Shatoyan, the goal of the program was to teach students from the city about agriculture and life on a farm. However, it also aims to educate about broader issues, like climate change and waste management.

“The goal is to raise awareness among the students about some environmental issues in order to help them develop responsible behavior towards nature,” Shatoyan said.

The garden in Karin nursery, where ATP also guides tours for visitors (CivilNet/Mane Berikyan)


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With additional reporting by Emilio Cricchio and Mark Dovich.

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