Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Building Bridges


Planting trees in Armenia

Amenia Tree Project Builds Bridges

By Eric Diekhans

Wedged between Turkey and Azerbaijan, many American wouldn’t be able to find the small, land-locked country of Armenia on the map. But Armenia Tree Project has become a model for environmental stewardship and international bridge building.

 Activist Carolyn Mugar was in Armenia during the very dark days of the early 1990s, following the collapse of the Society Union. It was a time of war and an energy crisis, as well as the aftermath of a terrible earthquake. There was no water, no heat, and no light, and people were denuding the landscape to heat their homes, even cutting down trees in city parks. Mugar saw that even if Armenia survived these crises, the mass deforestation would bring about an environmental catastrophe.

But Mugar had a vision of a better tomorrow, that led her to found Armenia Tree Project. “What Armenia needed was hope,” says Jeanmarie Papelian, Executive Director of ATP.

Mugar, believed planting trees was a very visible way to give hope to desperate people. In the 28 years since its founding, ATP has planted and seven million trees, serving the Armenian people, offering jobs and raising the standard of living, and protecting the global environment.

 ATP doesn’t just plant trees and move on. Its team in conjunction with local workers it hires, cares for the trees and makes sure they thrive.

 Education Builds Bridges

 Environmental education has become another major focus for ATP. “We felt that it was really important for the next generation of Armenians to be better stewards of the environment,” says Papelian. “We reach thousands of students every year, not only in Armenia, but in many parts of the diaspora.”

 The educational program is called Building Bridges, and engages youth in Armenian schools and churches. Youth groups even travel to Armenia, where they visit an ATP education center, where they are paired with students from a local school. They receive a lesson, do an educational activity, and then they all plant trees together.

 Churches are a central part of the Armenian Diaspora community, which is spread all over the world, and congregations have become deeply involved in this work. “Any Armenian you meet will tell you that Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its national religion in the year 301,” says Papelian.  “We’ve had great success in spreading our message through churches. I’m always invited to speak at coffee hours and to Sunday school classes.”

 Papelian likes to share Gensis 1:29 with her audience. “I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.”


 Armenia Tree Project has collaborated and been inspired by other environmental organizations around the world. One nonprofit they’ve worked with is the Jewish National Fund, which plants forests in Israel.

 In 2019, ATP co-hosted an international forest summit at the American University in Yerevan in connection with their 25th anniversary. “We talked about the challenge of reforesting Armenia,” says Papelian. “The country is currently at about ten percent forest cover. Ideally, experts say, it should be twenty percent.”

 During the summit, ATP brought in representatives from the Jewish National Fund, and from the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, to talk about their approaches.

 The three countries have very different climates but, according to Papelian, “there are still lessons to be learned about engaging the local community and how to take action on their own, because it has to be a bottom up approach.”

Armenia Tree Project is eager to share its vision beyond the Armenian community. “Invite us to come and talk about Armenia Tree Project,” says Papelian. “You don’t have to be Armenian to appreciate that anywhere in the world where people are planting forests will benefit all of us.”

 If you want to get even more involved, you can visit Armenia to explore ancient Christian monasteries and churches, eat delicious food, and visit an ATP site, where you can make a difference by planing your own tree.


Eric Diekhans is a fiction writer, video producer and editor, and a passionate cyclist. He’s a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago, where he has served as an Elder and Deacon.

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