Earth Day was celebrated in Dzoravank last week, a village hidden at the foot of forested mountains 300 kilometers away from Yerevan.
The US Ambassador dug in.
The Armenia Tree Project and Jinishian Memorial Foundation planted a fruit orchard of about 600 trees on a one-hectare plot next to the village school. Dzoravank’s 230 villagers turned out to welcome their guests and participate in the planting.
Zhanna Mkrtumyan, 50, is surprised that anyone remembered their village and for her the day has turned into real festival. She says: “We are going to plant so many trees. It is a symbol of the continuation of life.”
The planting begins with a consecration ceremony. A priest says prayers for the fields and forests, and that the new orchard will be fruitful by the will of God
The villagers have already dug pits in preparation for the trees before the arrival of their guests, with a small pile of manure next to each one. Genik Movsisyan, an agricultural specialist, explains how exactly one should plant a tree.
“Before planting we put a little soil in the pit and then we put manure in. After that, we mix soil and manure with a spade and then pour water. And finally we put the plantlet into the pit,” he says.
John Ordway, the US Ambassador to Armenia, and his wife Maryjo also participated in the tree-planting. The ambassador says proudly that he has planted many trees in Armenia during his period in office, which will end in September. But he will always remember the trees he planted in Dzoravank and Aygut.
“These are not just trees. A fruit orchard is being created and it will be of great importance for this community,” says Ordway.
The Armenia Tree Project has been carrying out such activities in this area of Gegharkunik Region for two years, starting in Aygut village, eight kilometers from Dzoravank.
Mher Sadoyan, the head of the regional projects , says: “Our research showed that this region is the most isolated and socially insecure. By creating orchards, we will help these communities. It is not only tree-planting, but a project aimed at restoring and developing the communities.”
According to Sadoyan, the orchard will produce rich crops, but only after 10 to 15 years. Dzoravank is located 30 kilometers from the border with Azerbaijan and residents include refugees who settled here from the Azeri villages of the Shamkhor regions in 1988.
Nikolay Khalatyan, the head of the village, says: “We had wonderful vineyards and peach gardens in those lands. We want very much that these gorges should become like the ones we lost. The trees in our village are old and don't produce crops any more. This is a wonderful opportunity for further development of our village.”
Villagers take the opportunity to tell also about their wishes and problems. Alvard Saribekyan, the director of Dzoravank’s school, says: “We would like to have a small milk factory, where we could produce cheese. People living in these parts can also weave very good carpets. It would be great if a carpet production facility opened here.”
Little ambassadors were on hand, too
The Armenia Tree Project cooperates with a number of international and local organizations including the World Food Programme, Heifer Project International, “Orran” non-governmental organization, and the Marketing Support Project of the US Department of Agriculture. In Aygut, the US Department of Agriculture has already created a milk collection post.
Karen Sarkavagyan, the tree project’s public relations coordinator, says: “Besides Dzoravank and Aygut, there are 11 more villages in the valley of Getik river where economic recovery programs will be carried out gradually. These programs will include both forest restoration measures and measures aimed at overcoming poverty.”
In Aygut, villagers assure that this has been a good year for the trees. Each class in the local school takes care of one row of trees.
Twelve-year-old Hasmik, in whose village such a project was started last year says: “I take care of trees with great love. Today we also were impatiently waiting to show our guests how we've been taking care of these trees for one year.”
When the time for leaving has come, the director of the project Susan Yacubian Klein says: “The trees planted in Dzoravank are trees of hope not only for Dzoravank but for Armenia. Everything continues in our homeland.”
The Armenia Tree Project celebrates its 10 th anniversary this year. In that decade it has planted and restored more than 500,000 trees in 450 different locations in Armenia from Gyumri to Goris.