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2006 News






Deforestation in Armenia





















Armenian Forests NGO
38 Moskovian St., apt. 10
Yerevan, 375002, Republic of Armenia

Contact: Mher Sharoyan
Media Coordinator
Phone: (374 10) 54-15-29
Fax: (374 10) 58-20-39

Within the frames of USAID funded "Increased Civic Activism Among Men and Women" and "Increased Community Involvement in Addressing Public Issues" projects Armenian Forests NGO is implementing Community Environmental Action Groups project, which started in June 2005 and will last for two years.

The main goal of the project is to raise public awareness on environmental issues in marzes and encourage local residents to become key initiators and actual problems solvers. The core participants of the problem-solving are schoolchildren, youth and women, who can convey
a new breath into the disclosure of pressing environmental problems and decision making, add to their fair solution and elaboration of necessary mechanisms for it.

Within the project 10 communities throughout Armenia have been selected, where one or more Community Environmental Action Groups are formed comprised of locals active in public life and willing to bring about a positive change in their environment.

Target communities are selected from Lori, Tavush, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Vayots Dzor and Syunik marzes.

With the help of selected local coordinator these groups prepare a comprehensive list of all pressing environmental problems of their community and present it to the Project implementers (Armenian Forests NGO representatives), who analyzes the problems and with the help of
relevant experts provides consultations to local activists. During consultations/trainings the ways and means of solving the corresponding issues are introduced. Based on this Community Environmental Action Groups will draft most effective mechanisms of addressing and solving
local environmental problems, which, after screening and approval of the Project Coordinator will be subject to implementation via cooperation and support of all interested/beneficiary parties, NGOs, local self-governing bodies and wider public.

Major problems include water and air pollution, unsustainable management of waste, forest situation/felling, protection of local biodiversity and issues concerning natural resources. Any new ideas and initiatives from the local groups is yet highly encouraged.

Armenian Forests NGO supports the establishment of stable liaison between local groups and state bodies, whereas local activists are responsible for maintenance and deepening of the relations.

Armenian Forests NGO also supports local groups in reforestation actions, conduction of environmental assessment actions, water analysis, minimization of solid waste quantities - thus encouraging the citizens to have their contribution in solving environmental issues. Thus, major work in the communities will be carried out by the local groups, who will also pursue the resolution of environmental issues.

The direct beneficiaries of the project are the Community Environmental Action Groups and local population.

Also see the NEWS BULLETIN of the activities implemented by community action groups in the next post.

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News Bulletin of the activities accomplished in the period of September-December 2005 by local action groups within the frames of USAID funded "Community Environmental Action Groups" project implemented by Armenian Forests NGO:

1. Tavush marz, Gosh community

The community has problems with forest rehabilitation, waste management and particularly livestock manure.

With the guidance of Armenian Forests experts, Gosh environmental groups have terraced an area on the hill behind the Goshavank monastery, planted trees and fenced it with dry branches. They also sowed walnut and oak seeds on the same hill. They are carrying out an ongoing care and protection of the rehabilitated area.

Local environmental youth group has also done sanitary cleaning of nearby forest- collecting dry branches and leaves out of the area.

After the target trainings conducted by Armenian Forests NGO experts, eco-teams of schoolchildren were set up in the community, who are carrying out environmental attendance in the community on rotational basis- seeing to the cleanness of the village's streets and propagating
to keep the community clean among the residents.

As an alternative to waste disposal, the members of eco-teams are using utilized tetra-pack bottles of juices to sow seeds of various trees with an aim of further replanting the seedlings in the nature and raising titled trees.

As the most interesting of the activities should be mentioned the examination of several yew-trees preserved in nearby forests and revelation of newly regenerated small yews around them, which require immediate preservation. The active group is entitled to organize the protection and care of the rare trees.

2. Tavush marz, Sarigyugh community

A major issue for this local group is the protection of local yew-trees' small forest. The group is currently undertaking actions to preserve the forest: group members have cleaned the surroundings and land-cover of the territory from dry branches and leaves, loosened the soil under the trees, thus creating favorable conditions for the regeneration of yews from seeds.

Also, for the purpose of increasing the number of young yews, seeds of the trees have been collected for sowing in spring.

In January-February practical trainings will be organized for the schoolchildren of the nearby communities - particularly on topics of forest protection and waste management.

It is also planned to set up a small forest of plane-trees next to famous old plane tree (which is said to be planted by notable military general Vardan Mamikonyan in 5-th c AD) in Sarigyugh village.

3. Tavush marz, Ijevan community

As a priority issue subject to solution in the community is the poor management of household solid waste. The environmental action group has met with the representatives of the mayor's office, discussed the possibilities and methods of proper waste management and came up
with suggestions.

It is planned to organize a series of TV broadcasts and prepare information leaflets on the problems of waste management and waste disposal for population, as well as hold round table discussions on the issue.

4. Kotayk marz, Tsakhkadzor community

As the resort faces problems with controversial allocations of forest and general use lands to individuals and companies, the main activity in the community was chosen to be lobbying and active work with local self-management bodies and mentioned entities.

Local activists had meetings with local administration and discussed the problem of land allocations, as well as examined relevant documents. Currently the group is preparing a package of recommendations and remarks that will be submitted to the mayor's office.

During the trainings held at the community the activists were introduced to the technique of coppicing (regeneration of trees from stumps). Young activists have sown seeds of oak tree at a
forest-adjacent territory.

The local coordinator has organized an eco-tour for school children group, during which the youngsters got acquainted with basic environment-friendly principles.

5. Lori marz, Vanadzor community

The active group had initiated a campaign-training at local secondary schools aimed at propagating against felling of pine and fir trees in the area. The schoolchildren were taught about the harm that felling of forests brings and the use of alternatives to natural Christmas
trees has been recommended.

The activists have patrolled the trails leading to the area of nearby forest where pine trees grow in order to stop and track the illegal cuttings of evergreens. As a result cases of illegal cuttings of pine trees have been tracked and reported to law-enforcement authorities, who are to launch investigations into the matter.

The action group plans to give a news conference about the findings of illegal cutting of evergreens.

6. Lori marz, Stepanavan community

The active group here planned to set up a town park in one of the districts, and had meetings with representatives of mayor's office. Yet a final agreement has not been reached yet: the problem is the land allocation for the purpose. Other activities are being planned at present.

7. Vayots Dzor marz, Jermuk community

Here cases of illegal tree felling have been reported tracked by the active group members. The mayor's office has been informed about this, and the action groups carrying out lobbying of relevant officials to reach a solution of the problem.

There are also issues of preservation and sanitary cleaning of the local natural monuments (jermuk water springs), which the activists have also discussed with local authorities.

8. Gegharkunik marz, Sevan community

Major issues of the community are the greening of the town, waste management, as well as keeping the adjacent beach of Sevan lake clean.

9. Gegharkunik marz, Martuni community

The community's main environmental problems are the greening of the town, establishment of a recreational park next to a local hospital, poor waste management, and the cleaning of the nearby beach of Sevan lake.

For questions and inquiries contact Assistant Project Coordinator Mher Sharoyan at the following address:

38 Moskovian Str., apt. 10
RA, Yerevan, 375002
Phone: (374 10) 54-15-29, 58-20-39
Fax: (374 10) 58-20-39

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(ANC of Eastern Massachusetts press release)

Public Forum on Armenia's Environment Highlights work of Armenia Tree Project and Armenian Forests NGO

WATERTOWN, MA--On January 24, approximately 40 members of the community attended a public forum hosted by the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts (ANCEM) in collaboration with the Armenia Tree Project on Armenia's environmental challenges, featuring Armenia Tree Project (ATP) executive director Jeff Masarjian, and Armenian Forests NGO president Jeffrey Tufenkian, at the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown, Massachusetts.

The evening began with the viewing of a remarkable documentary produced by VEM Media for the Armenia Tree Project, Armenia Forests NGO, World Wildlife Fund, and the American University of America describing the building of a coalition of NGOs in Armenia to successfully address the threatening of the Shikahogh Nature Reserve last year.

The event was moderated by ATP Deputy Director Jason Sohigian, who said he and other environmental activists have been heartened by the increasing support of environmental issues in Armenia, both by the Armenian government and by the diaspora. On a local level, the ANC has become involved in environmental discussions and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), as part of the coalition government of Armenia, has placed more emphasis on environmental policy particularly through taking responsibility for the Ministry of Agriculture, said Sohigian who also noted that Yerkir Media has also been championing the Armenian environmental cause.

Sohigian introduced the two panelists, who described the efforts of their respective organizations in protecting Armenia's environment and natural resources.
Masarjian explained that during the Soviet era, Armenia did not have sustainable environmental policies, and there was a severe lack of public awareness about the problems that Armenia was facing, such as deforestation, pollution, and desertification. Although, he admitted, deforestation became a severe crisis in the early to mid 1990's when heating fuel was sparse and trees were cut down for fuel.

Masarjian explained that in Armenia, there are 8,800 species of plants, 2,000 of which are used for healing and industrial purposes; 13 species of wheat; 260 species of trees; 7,500 species of invertebrate animals; and 500 species of vertebrate animals. He said that Armenia owed this unique, enormous biodiversity to the fact that it encompasses seven of the nine types of climate zones, and 40 percent of the types of landscape. But, due to deforestation, many of these animals are facing a loss of habitat, he said. Air quality and water quality have also been diminished.

Masarjian explained, however, that Armenia lacks a checks and balances system for environmental issues. The Forestry Department has not planted forests for a considerable while, and forests were recently placed under the Ministry of Agriculture instead of the Ministry of Nature Protection. Armenia needs to restructure the government such that a separate ministry governs the forests, he said.

ATP has been working to rebuild the forests in Armenia, by planting vast areas of oak, maple, hornbeam, wild apple and wild pear trees—all of which are indigenous to Armenia. Masarjian explained that it's not safe to plant "monocultures," using one type of tree to repopulate the forests, because a tree disease could destroy the entire population. He also said that it is not enough just to plant the trees. The government needs to address poverty and community development issues so that people are not forced to cut down large amounts of trees in order to generate heat, create room for crops, or to build new housing.

ATP focuses heavily on education, in explaining the impact that losing the forests could have on Armenia, as well as on the benefits of reforestation and houses an educational center in its Karin nursery in Armenia.

Tufenkian then detailed the consequences that deforestation has had on Armenia, including a change in the microclimate, floods caused by erosion of the land, as well as an increase in pollution levels throughout the country. He said that people don't want to destroy the forests but, in many instances, have been left without alternatives for reliable heating. Other options such as solar energy and wind energy have been considered, but have proven to be too expensive for Armenia at the present time.

The people of Armenia need to learn sustainable forestry practices, Tufenkian said. The AFNGO focuses on educating the public through media advocacy. So far, the NGO has worked in ten communities to develop Armenian environment action groups, to train citizens on trash disposal, tree planting, stream cleaning, and energy efficiency.

ATP and the AFNGO recently scored a tremendous victory, when they utilized the media to create worldwide awareness about the Armenian government's proposed plan to build a highway that would destroy the Shikahogh Reserve during construction. It was the first time people spoke up, and took steps to making Armenia an environmental democracy, said Masarjian. Together with an international coalition of environmental groups and other agencies, ATP and the AFNGO were able to persuade the government to use another route that would avoid going through a substantial part of the reserve. "It set a precedent for mobilizing the people," said Tufenkian.
The forum was the first in the ANCEM's 2006 Public Forum series.

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(The Armenian Weekly Boston-based newspaper)

WATERTOWN, Mass.— Recruited by his entrepreneur and philanthropist uncle James Tufenkian, Jeffrey Tufenkian's first trip to Armenia was in February of 2002 to develop a campaign to protect and restore Armenia's forests for current and future generations. Before moving to Armenia, Jeffrey Tufenkian, cofounder and president of Armenian Forests NGO, had 18 years of advocacy experience in the United States on a variety of issues including environmental protection, human rights, public health, and consumer protection. Raised in Oregon, Tufenkian has also lived and worked in Colorado, Illinois and California. He holds a bachelor's degree in humanities and his work has included organizing students, developing policy, lobbying, fundraising, candidate campaign management, and nonprofit management. In addition to leading AFNGO, Tufenkian is a founder of the Kanach Foundation through which he co-authored a book on eco-tourism titled Adventure Armenia: Hiking and Rock Climbing, aimed at providing incentives for protecting Armenia's natural environment
Jeffrey Tufenkian, and Tufenkian foundation program director Antranig Kasbarian recently visited communities in Portland, Ore., Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston, where they discussed the foundation's environmental protection efforts and its resettlement activities in war-torn Karabagh.

Armenian Weekly: What were the specific problems that you saw in Armenia?

Jeffrey Tufenkian: Huge problems with mass deforestation. You see these trucks just constantly running down the highway full of trees, and no real reforestation efforts to speak of. In the center of the country, there are almost no forest areas. The forests are concentrated in the far north, and far south. But those are being seriously degraded. Around many villages and cities, whole slopes have been denuded and there are huge problems with erosion. Whole rivers have disappeared; springs have dried up due to deforestation. People have actually died in Armenia due to landslides from deforestation. It's causing desertification. According to government reports, 80 percent of the country is subject to some sort of deforestation. It creates harshness of local microclimate. Trees provide shelter for people and crops, so when forests are cut, it becomes a problem for crops.
Jeff Acopian, another environmental activist, used this analogy: When you look at someone with cancer, oftentimes they look very healthy, when in fact they're very sick. This is the situation with the natural environment in Armenia. It looks wonderful at first glance, but is in fact very sick. The difference between the two is that when a person gets cancer they try very hard to get well. Armenia's nature has a cancer that's being helped along by people in charge.
People picture Armenia as this Eden that used to be covered with forests, which is not really the case. But historically around 1,000 B.C., about 40 percent of the current territory of Armenia was covered by forests. 200 years ago, it was 25 percent. At the last comprehensive assessment in 1991, it was 11 percent. Now the best estimates are around 7 or 8 percent— which is very little, and puts Armenia in the class of a country with low forest coverage. It does really pose a lot of problems for biodiversity, and for human life. Twenty-five percent has been identified as an optimal amount, so it gives plenty of territory for agriculture, and for cities and towns. To get there, we're talking about millions of dollars a year in reforestation. We're able to put in a few hundred thousand a year. So, It's no small feat that's required to restore the forest.
One of the other things to point out, in Armenia it is very difficult to get forests to grow again once cut; generally, if you cut a forest it becomes desert. Foresters from other countries can't believe we have to irrigate when we do reforestation. Armenia has a relatively arid climate and it's very difficult to regenerate them, which makes it all the more important to have these forests because they help maintain the moisture.

AW: People may not understand the importance of preserving forests, or they see a burgeoning democracy and might imagine a place like Boston or Los Angeles and say there's no forest in the middle of the city. How would you explain the primary concern about stripping places like Yerevan of green spaces?

JT: There's no forest in New York City, but there's Central Park, which is a huge green area, and there are many smaller parks that make the city livable, by giving people some recreation space, space that's quiet and away from traffic, and the green spaces clean the air—they provide oxygen for people to breathe. And in Yerevan, the green space is far below the standards for what it should be per person—certainly much below what it was envisioned by Alexander Tamanian when he designed the layout of Yerevan. He had put much more green space, and anticipated a population of 300,000. Now it's over 1 million people, with much less green space. He certainly didn't envision the amount of cars that are there now. This forest is referred to as the “lungs of Yerevan” due to the vital cleansing function it provided. The number of cars is growing every day. Yerevan is a semi-desert climate and when you lose the green spaces it moves towards a desert climate. And now with the destruction of the green spaces, people are seeing more snakes, more scorpions—signs that it's moving more towards a desert climate. It used to be a city of gardens. Yerevan has never been a forested place. But it was full of gardens—irrigated gardens that provide a much more pleasant microclimate, and much cleaner air. There used to be a forest on Nork Hill where the television tower is. In the 90s, that was cut down due to need. Now instead of reforesting, they're busy dividing that territory up so that oligarchs can build mansions up there rather than turning that place into a forest again as a way to keep the city livable.

AW: What is the need that the people are trying to meet, that they're cutting down the forests?

JT: In the early 90s it was purely need. With the energy crisis, people were burning down anything they could—parquet, furniture, books and, of course, cutting down trees to keep from freezing. You can't blame people for that. But it's really turned from need to greed. Here we are in 2006, and most people are not struggling to keep warm anymore. Not to say that it's not part of the equation—there's still the need for wood for fuel. But it's less the individuals going out and cutting a small tree, and taking something out on their donkey and more these organized, illegal business operations. They go in, they cut roads through the forests, go in with big trucks, hire some local people to cut down these big, beautiful trees, and sell them either elsewhere in Armenia for furniture, construction or fuel, or they're sending them out of the country to Iran, Spain, Italy—even to Turkey—countries with much richer forest resources than Armenia. And, it's just because a few people can get it cheap—for the cost of some bribes—that they're taking advantage of the environment and everyone else in the country.
The use of natural gas is slowly expanding. More and more people are able to get access to natural gas for fuel, and hydropower is increasing. There are alternatives for fuel, but there still needs to be more.

AW: Along with reforesting, does the NGO also work on providing alternative means of energy to the country?

JT: It's beyond our direct purview to really do alternative energy, although we're interested in it and would like to attract projects to either do on their own, or to fund us to do things like biogas, solar hot water, or other means. Of course we're interested in renewable energy from the standpoint of reducing demand on wood for fuel, as well as its other benefits for the environment and national security. But, our main focus is on restoring and protecting the forests.

AW: What are the reforestation efforts being undertaken by the NGO?

Odzun pics here!!!

JT: We're doing a lot. We're the first NGO to do successful reforestation in Armenia. Three years ago, we planted our first large project: 100 hectares (247 acres), in Odzun village, which is one of the largest villages, having a population of 5,000, near Alaverdi and Lori Marz. It's a unique situation there, as it's Armenia's first community forest. We work with the community, and the area is half on community land, half on national forest land. We're very excited about that. For the first year survival rate, 50 percent is a good rate. We achieved over 90 percent, and since then it's been close to 100 percent. At first, people said we couldn't do it, because this is something the villages would have to water by hand. There's no irrigation pipes, no stream. They have to water the trees by hand. They've been able to get them to survive very well, and now the areas are thriving. One of the reasons we went to Odzun was that this large village had lost their whole water supply, which was a spring. Because of deforestation, the spring dried up to a mere trickle, and they had to bring in water from another village by canal. So they were motivated, and they saw the importance of protecting forests, and restoring forests. Since then, we've done a total of 1,100 acres of reforestation, either in planting or coppicing, which is a technique of restoring cut trees from stumps. If you have a deciduous tree (a tree that loses its leaves, as opposed to an evergreen tree), if it's been cut you have the stump. If you do nothing, often the stump will still generate some shoots, and little branches will come out of the stump. Coppicing is getting rid of most of those shoots, and allowing the strongest straightest one to grow into a tree with the same roots. So rather than having to do intensive care and lots of watering and having a relatively low survival rate, you do no watering and minimal care and you have a 100 percent survival rate. So it's a relatively inexpensive way to help jumpstart reforestation. Since there are so many cut trees in Armenia, there's a lot of opportunity to do this coppicing technique. It's not a be all, end all solution, but it's a great way to jump-start the regeneration of the forests. Rather than becoming bushes and dying out, they can actually grow vertically again into trees.

AW: Are there people assisting the people in the villages as they try to rebuild the forest area?

JT: We usually hire a local coordinator to facilitate the work in each community, or a forest specialist who goes out once or twice a week to these areas depending on the season. They oversee the work, as well as make recommendations for the next steps. We now have projects, and are doing ongoing care, in Odzun village. We have coppiced and planted a total of about 270 trees in Sevan National Park near Aghtamar. We started a project in Ara Mountain. There's 1400 hectares there, which we're just starting to work on. We did the first 40 hectares last year, and will continue this year. We also have a couple projects in Kotayk village, north of Yerevan. We first restored 23 hectares, and another 15, then another 10 hectares. The work was initially with coppicing, and the last 25 with planting. We have nurseries in Sevan village, in Yerevan, and near Gapan. As of the fall, we've restored over 1,100 acres.

AW: What work have you done in the United States?

JT: This is our first outreach to start generating support, and to develop more partnerships. Our core budget has been from, and continues to be from the Tufenkian Foundation, and we've been able to generate some other good support from organizations that have some kind of presence in Armenia—a good-sized grant from USAID, two from the Department for International Development in the United Kingdom, two from Open Society Institute/ Soros Foundation, and one from the Jinishian Foundation. We haven't really done outreach to people or entities in the United States per se, and this is our first major effort. We've had events in Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and New York.

AW: How have people responded?

JT: The communities have been very supportive. I think we'll continue to do outreach efforts, maybe once a year.

AW: Besides deforestation, what environmental issues does Armenia have?

JT: I'm certainly aware and concerned about other issues, including solid waste. There's still not one proper solid waste disposal site in the whole country. There are institutional issues with solid waste, both pickup issues and personal habits, where people just as routine throw out trash wherever they happen to be walking at the moment, expecting someone else to come by and clean up after them. Certainly there are pollution issues. There are issues of air pollution in the city that relate to green spaces, and also relate to automobile exhausts and some of the factories that are not using pollution control, particularly cement factories that are causing a lot of pollution. There is air, water and soil pollution, caused by mining near Sevan, Alaverdi, and near Gapan. There's plenty to work on in terms of environmental issues there.

AW: Could you tell us about the struggle to save the Shikahogh Reserve?

JT: Shikahogh was not only a great victory for environmental issues, but for civil society in general in Armenia. The government had decided to build a second North-South highway. We were all very much in favor of that. But when it became apparent that they decided to put this right in middle of the Shikahogh reserve, which is the last unspoiled forest of the country, we were very concerned, especially because this is a pristine area, home to a tremendously rich biodiversity of plants and endangered animals such as the Persian leopard, the Armenian mouflon, the Bozar goat, and others, that in many cases live primarily there. There may be something like 10 or 12 Persian leopards in the country and most live in the reserve.
WWF Caucasus sounded the alarm. They have people on the ground there in the reserve. We joined with them, several local NGOs, the Armenia Tree Project, Transparency International, as well as some others, and formed a coalition of about 40 organizations. We wrote letters to the government, met with embassies, the World Bank, OSCE, and other international organizations, we got tremendous media coverage— over 80 news stories in the course of two months, just in Armenia. We staged a protest, met with the Minister of Transportation, we went to the site and met with the local government there—who were very supportive of our position.
Whenever the government makes a decision about a major construction project like this, they are required by Armenian law to do an environmental impact assessment, to hold public hearings, and to explore various alternatives before they make a decision— none of which they did in this case. So, we were making those points and, as the environmental community, trying to fill in those gaps. We hired road engineers, took out environmental experts to the site, did an assessment of the current highway of the proposed government route, and we came up with an additional alternative route. We were able to give scientific details for each alternative in terms of cost, elevation change, winter conditions, and all these different issues. They didn't hold a public hearing, so we held a public forum to be able to have full discussion of these issues. We invited the government and the two key ministers showed up, and we had a packed, standing room only crowd at the American University of Armenia. And, eventually the government relented and tok another route around the reserve. Again it's a great victory not just for environmental issues, but is an example of organizations and NGOs working together as a coalition and petitioning the government, and the government ultimately
listening and taking another direction.

AW: So there won't be any cutting in that area?

JT: Technically it will go through a small piece of the reserve. If you look on the map, it's
kind of a horseshoe shape with the vast majority being in the southern part. This new route cuts through the western finger that goes through the northern part and the southern part, and
according to the World Wildlife Federation people—who I trust that are there and doing whatever
they can to protect the animals and habitat—it's not going to be a problem for wildlife migration
patterns or habitat there. It will go through a small sliver of the reserve, and then go around the majority. The government's plan was to go right through the middle of these 10,000 square hectares, and it would have destroyed it. It also would not have been a good highway. Some of these slopes are 40 degrees and steeper. They would have had to blast through mountains. It would have been hugely disruptive. Also, it's the north-facing slopes of these mountains. If you notice, trees grow on the north side, and it's bare on the south side because more sun comes on the south side. In the winter, it would have been very icy and snowy. It would have been difficult to pass through. So it
didn't make sense on a whole slew of standpoints. If they did more research they may have ultimately come to the same conclusion. But they just saw the trees, and they made a decision
that was later withdrawn, to give all the trees cut through the middle for the construction, to the Minister of Defense. They later withdrew that decision once there was pressure and publicity. The way I see forest issues as it relates to many other major problems in the country— certainly poverty and corruption—is a shortsighted mentality and, in this case, lack of energy alternatives. In
terms of shortsighted mentality, people think ‘It's here today, we'll use it, we'll take it, we'll steal it,
we'll cut it, we'll burn it. And, who knows what will happen tomorrow.' Unfortunately, that is
still a prevalent mentality. Hopefully it's slowly changing, and will change sooner rather than later.

AW: Is the NGO based in Armenia?

JT: We only have legal status in Armenia. We get funding from abroad, but we are a local NGO.
The Tufenkian Foundation has legal status in both places, so that's our U.S. connection in terms of
receiving donations. If people want to donate, they can donate to the Tufenkian Foundation in
the United States, where it is tax deductible, and Tufenkian Foundation will relay the funds to us.

AW: Where do you and your staff spend the majority of your time?

JT: Actually, I'm the only non-Hayastantsi that is working with our NGO. I have a staff of 11 people that works in the Yerevan office, and then other people who work in our nurseries and eforestation projects. We hire up to several hundred people to do these reforestation projects in the regions. And I live there, as well, now. I moved there three years ago, after first going four years ago.

AW: How can people learn more about Armenia's environment and become involved in the
efforts of the NGO?

JT: One of the things that became clear with Shikahogh was its importance to have international
organizations and diasporans involved. The government has gotten used to ignoring its citizens
within the country. So I think one of the elements that helped was not only getting massive media
but also having diasporan support. Some high profile diasporans writing letters to the
pres, but also many diasporans sending faxes, emails and talking to representatives of the government. It makes it much more difficult to ignore. People can stay in touch with our NGO, so we can let them know when things like this are happening, so they can write letters or send faxes. We also put these action items on our Web site. There's a lot of other information about the environmental situation in Armenia out there. So for people who have the time and want to be informed, there are opportunities to do so.

People can also come to Armenia and see what's there firsthand, and talk to the people who live in
Armenia. Of course, we won't turn away contributions if people want to support our work financially. Our core funding is supported by the Tufenkian Foundation. But that means additional
funds go not to overhead, but directly to project work. So, we can utilize donations very efficiently.

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(Birthright Armenia website news)

Invited speaker, Mr. Jeffrey Tufenkian, head of the Armenian Forests NGO, presented the activities of his non-profit organization as well as described the main environmental issues in Armenia , with a concentration on forest protection.
After a short introductory conversation with the volunteers about their professions and current community service activities in Armenia , Tufenkian began his presentation with a basic overview of what The Armenian Forests mission and activities.
The Armenian Forests NGO was founded in 2002 as a project of the Tufenkian Foundation and became an independently operated non-profit organization in February 2003. The mission of the organization is to protect and develop Armenia 's forests for current and future generations through the development and implementing models of local reforestation and stewardship. As a means to reclaiming, protecting and expanding forested areas, the organization involves individuals, communities, other NGOs, government and businesses in a variety of solutions, on multiple fronts, including: changes in policies, norms of thinking and action, economic involvement, public education and media advocacy.
Tufenkian briefly described the history of deforestation in Armenia . According to statistics, the total amount of Armenia 's forest coverage was 20-25% in the late 19 th century. The situation changed due to the energy crisis in the early 1990's, when the forest coverage was reduced to 11% with the population relying on firewood as their sole means of heat during the winter months. Today only 8% of the whole territory of Armenia is covered by forests. Unfortunately, the forest reduction continues under the guise of sanitary cuttings and the healthy trees are being cut mainly for export and furniture production. According to Tufenkian, the main reason for the decrease of forests today is the lack of the rule of law.
Among the projects and activities implemented by the Armenian Forests NGO, Tufenkian highlighted the reforestation of about 470 hectares (1175 acres) in the Lori, Gegahrkunik, Kotayk regions as well as in Yerevan . He also informed the volunteers about the Shikahogh campaign organized by a number of environmental organizations against a road project which was planned to be built across the biggest reservation in Armenia to connect Armenia with Iran . This project was a great danger for the Armenian multi-climate, flora and fauna. The Shikahogh reservation is considered to be one of the few places where the Persian leopards still exist. The advocacy campaign organized by the Armenian Forests , the Armenia Tree Project and other local and international environmental NGOs, was able to force the officials from the Ministry of Transport to stop the project.
After the presentation, a lively Q & A session took place, with a few of the questions and answers that took place included below:
Q. How much reforestation should be done in Armenia to reach the needed level?
A. We should have at least twice as much forest as we have today. We will need millions of dollars during the coming 5-7 years to reach the normal level of 20-25% of forest coverage.
Q. Are people concerned with the deforestation problems?
A. Segments of the population begin to be concerned with it, yes. But for the last 15 years this was the last thing people were thinking about. During the last parliamentary elections our research showed that none of the represented parties had environmental issues amongst their programs.

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Deforestation in Armenia
(Oneworld Multimedia Blog/ Onnik Krikorian)

Leaving Ijevan for Yerevan earlier this afternoon the roads were full of people, old and young, transporting wood home to use as fuel and for heating. As an example, the kid in the photo above said that even though his village now had gas, it was too expensive for his family to afford. Wood was the cheapest and most readily available alternative. No wonder then, that deforestation in Armenia has reached catastrophic levels although contrary to popular opinion, this can not be put down to the energy crisis of the early 1990s.
Some would even argue that it is not even socially vulnerable families that have no option but to use wood fires even in Yerevan that are responsible. Simply, oversight mechanisms are not working, corruption is rampant, and businessmen and officials have a lot to gain from the wholescale destruction of Armenia’s last remaining forests. Environmentalists warn that there will not be any left by 2024 at present rates of deforestation.
Even so, several local NGOs and international organizations are working on this problem, and in recent years have actually achieved success in saving nature reserves such as Shikahogh — something I wrote about for
Government-connected businessmen and state officials engaged in the illegal export of timber from Armenia are mostly to blame for the former Soviet republic’s dwindling number of forests. Whereas 11 per cent of the republic was covered by forests in 1991, the figure stands at below 8 per cent today. Environmentalists warn that unless current trends are reversed, Armenia will be forestless by 2024.
Meanwhile, public outcry has at least united NGOs in Armenia. Dozens of NGOs working within a coalition to save the nature reserve say that an alternate route should be taken and, already, extensive media coverage has forced the government to suspend construction for 15 days. However, while construction in the reserve has not yet started, bulldozers are still clearing the way for the access road.
Concern over the fate of Shikahogh and Mtnadzor has also spread far beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet republic. In the influential Armenian Diaspora, Carolyn Mugar, founder of the Armenian Tree Project and Executive Director of the US Farm Aid organization, has already started a letter writing campaign to lobby the Armenian Embassy in Washington.
Since then, the Minister for Transport and Communication, Andranik Manukian, has told the ArmInfo news agency that the government would now look at alternate routes and requested that environmentalists put in as much energy into securing extra finance for the project as they have in protesting. Paradoxically, he also declared that this “change of heart” had nothing to do with the campaign by environmentalists to save Shikahogh.
One thing that struck me about the campaign to save Shikahogh was how a variety of people from all walks of life became involved, and despite all the odds, actually managed to force the Armenian government to overturn its initial decision to construct a highway through it. There were local Armenians, foreigners and Diaspora — young and old, rich and poor, pro-government as well as supporters of the opposition.
Basically, encompassing several issues such as community involvement in decision-making, anti-corruption initiatives and education as well as the environment itself, what I saw was perhaps the most only genuine manifestation of a pro-democracy movement in Armenia today. Therefore, it was with great pleasure that I accompanied the Armenian Forests NGO to Ijevan and Gosh in the Tavoush region of the Republic to see one of their USAID-funded projects aiming to involve local communities in planting trees.
Armenian Forests NGO began in 2002 as a project of the Tufenkian Foundation, and was registered as an independent organization in February 2003. The NGO was founded by the successful entrepreneur, James Tufenkian, who works to advance social justice through his business and philanthropic endeavors. Armenian Forests NGO is the outgrowth of his concern and determination to do what is needed to protect and restore Armenia’s threatened forests while helping to create jobs and build the economy.
As a means of reclaiming, protecting, and expanding forested areas, Armenian Forests NGO involves individuals, communities, other NGOs, government, and businesses in a variety of solutions on multiple fronts including changes in policies, norms of thinking and action, economic improvement, public education, and media advocacy.

Accompanying Armenian Forests’ Mher Sharoyan in addition to myself for today’s trip to see trees being planted were three journalists from Hetq Online, A1 Plus and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s Max Liberty. Vartuhi will be writing an article on the day’s events for Hetq and I’ll likely be putting together a proper photo essay, but for now a few pics taken of faces encountered along the way. Later, I’ll post some photos of the tree planting in Ijevan and Gosh itself.
In the meantime, Hetq Online has a lot of material in the ecology section of its website.
Incidentally, Armenian Forests were one of the NGOs involved in the campaign to prevent the construction by a senior government official of yet another cafe in central Yerevan. I posted some pics of that event here. There’s also an interview I conducted with Jeffrey Tufenkian online here.

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(ArmeniaNow Online weekly)

Armenia's forests and urban green spaces barely survived the energy crisis of the early 1990s. Fifteen years later the nation's forests are again under threat, this time from illegal logging, corruption and the lucrative trade in lumber.

Non Governmental Organizations engaged in environmental problems say that while focus was centered on damage from the energy crisis (1992-93), greater damage has been done to the forests of Armenia since a market for lumber emerged afterwards.
“The forest cuttings started spontaneously in the 90s,” says Hakob Sanasaranyan chairman of Armenia's Union of Greens. “Then they became systemized and then powerful statesmen took the monopoly of cutting forests in their hands. From provinces that had abundant trees, firewood began being imported to the Ararat valley for sale. That is how the inhuman exploitation of forest began.”
Today, trees in the republic's three most heavily forested areas – the Tavush and Lori regions in the northeast, and south-eastern Syunik – are being cut at such a brisk pace that World Bank and environmentalists predict the landscape will be denuded in 20 to 30 years.
According to the “Hyeantar” SCJSC (State-run closed joint stock company) the last records of the forests in Armenia were done in 1993, when the massive illegal cuttings were still ahead. (“Illegal” is defined as cutting trees without a license, or over-cutting, in the case of commercial use.)
According to the latest data -- which is 13 years old – Armenia has 334,100 hectares of trees – 11.2 percent of total coverage.
Environmental NGO Armenian Forests' research shows that Armenia is losing some 1 million cubic meters of trees annually from illegal logging – equivalent to about 8,000 hectares of forests.
According to Zhirayr Vardanyan, head of Forestry Studies at Yerevan Agricultural Academy, 28 to 30 percent of Armenia should be covered in forests.
Chief Forest Supervisor of Armenia Ruben Petrosyan says the last forest-planting in Armenia took place in 1988-1989.
“In the 1980s seeding was significant; it is witnessed by the size of artificial forests – nearly 50,000 hectares,” Petrosyan says. “In those years there were almost no illegal cuttings. First, there was no energy problem. Trees were rotting. Besides, there was no demand for wood.”
Now, 47 percent of Armenian forests are considered “middle age”; 26.3 percent are mature. Only 10.6 percent are young trees.
Experts say the low percentage of young forests is evidence of unsatisfactory natural restoration, as certain types of types of trees have brought to the edge of extinction.
As a result, not only the density, but the makeup of the Armenian forest has changed.
Natural seed restoration is especially inadequate in oak forests, where undesirable changes of species are taking place. Oaks, for example, are being replaced by hornbeams, a type of beech. The phenomena is noticeable particularly in Syunik province. A former forestry supervisor there, Vladik Martirosyan, says diversity of the forests has been severely impacted.
“Trees that are very important for reproduction are cut today. That is, the cutting takes place not for sanitary purposes or occasionally, but selectively. That means they choose what is expensive,” says Sanasaryan.
Cutting of oak as well as Greek walnut is prohibited in Armenia (these two types are most expensive and the Greek walnut is registered in the Red Book as endangered). According to a law adopted last year, violators of the forestry code can be fined up to 50,000 drams (about $112) per illegal cutting.
The Head of World Wild Life Fund Armenian office Karen Manvelyan illustrates Sanasaryan's claim with an example.
“Last year the pine-tree forests of Stepanavan – considered to be a preserve – were cut. The head of the village administration was charged, but he was backed, naturally, by officials – just as in all cases of large-scale logging. Besides it is beyond doubt that the greater part of illegal cutting cases is never disclosed,” says K. Manvelyan.
“The once verdant forests have either turned into brushwood or have totally been exterminated,” says Vladik Martirosyan, a former forestry official and ex-director of the Shikahogh Forest Reserve in southern Armenia. “A forest is a whole condominium – if there are no trees, the fauna and the water will be extinguished.”
Chief Supervisor Petrosyan does not deny that Armenian forests are damaged. But he insists the situation is not catastrophic.
“As in all countries, it is impossible to immediately stop the cuttings because they are directly connected with the social-economic condition of the country, employment and the living standards of people,” he says. “But today the illegal cuttings are not massive.”
Illicit trade
The demand for wood is driven by a multimillion-dollar lumber export business. According to the Republic of Armenia's Statistical Service, in 1999 slightly more than one ton of lumber was exported from Armenia. By 2003, wood exports topped 10 tons.
Armenia's ties with furniture-producing countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Italy, etc. have become stronger, the demand has grown, and Armenia has types of trees, oak and Greek walnut, for example, for which demand is high.
The appetite for lumber has led to corruption, according to current and former forestry officials interviewed by ArmeniaNow.
"As a rule the large-scale tree cuttings take place with the participation of the representatives of the forestry agencies," says Rafik Andreasyan, who was head of the republic's forestry agency in the Kapan region in 2003 and 2004, and also a former deputy mayor of Kapan.

"It is unambiguously that way, because you need either documents with false permission or you need to act secretly. In both cases the mediation of someone from inside is necessary. Those kind of things happened also during my administration and I have fired some officers myself and later criminal cases were brought to action against them."
Petrosyan says low salaries for forestry regulators make them vulnerable to bribery.
"There are many cases when the forest supervisors themselves take part in the illegal cuttings," Petrosyan says. "Before 2003 the monthly salary of the forest keepers was 6,000 drams (about $15) that of the forest supervisors and the director heading the forestry of 40,000 hectares was 13,000 (about $25) and 20,000 drams (about $40) respectively. In those conditions it was inevitable that the supervising people would be involved in the business of illegal cuttings."
Martirosyan, the former forestry official and ex-director of the Shikahogh Forest Reserve, says he resigned to protest corruption.
"I can recall the times of my incumbency I was told they will give me the keys for a BMW immediately if I permit cutting eight Greek walnut trees in the Kapan forests. I went mad. I spit upon my position, wrote a resignation letter and left," Martirosyan says.
The former Shiakhogh director says Greek walnut, an endangered tree, and oak are in demand and bring top dollar – about $800 or more per cubic meter for processed wood – in markets in Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Iran.
Beech tree and hornbeam, abundant in trees in the forests of Tavush, Lori and Syunik regions, are also popular trees for lumber exports.
Authorities cite enforcement efforts
Authorities say new laws that impose penalties of up to 50,000 drams (about $112) per tree will help stop illegal logging. They also point to steps that are being taken to crack down on abuse.
According to the new Forest Code penalties are determined according to the diameters of the tree stumps. If the stump diameter of a rare or valuable tree exceeds 30 centimeters, penalty for each cm is 1500 drams ($3.50) for example cutting a 35 cm-stunk tree the penalty will make 52,500 drams (about $120), whereas up to 30 cm the penalties are fixed sums. For common trees the fine is 500 drams (about $1.20).
Several forestry workers have been forced to resign for alleged corruption, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection says it has brought 46 civil charges, and criminal charges against 10 violators, representing trees worth 1.2 million drams (about $2,730) in Kapan.
Lyova Gevorgyan, head of the Kapan Forestry Agency, says stronger supervision and enforcement have nearly eliminated industrial logging in the Kapan region, where tree stumps pockmark once-wooded hillsides and valleys. He attributes the brunt of the illegal logging to poor peovple who have no other sources to heat their homes or cook their meals.
"Socially unprotected people have been the main illegal cutters of the forests," Gevorgyan says. "It is impossible that people from outside come and cut trees in these distant forests."
Where the wood goes: Armenia's exports to the world
(Exports include lumber and items made of wood):

Country Tons USD
Australia 2.2 24.400
Belgium 20.7 14.900
Belarus 31.7 26.300
France 120.1 221.700
Georgia 79.0 11.800
Iran 8702.9 802.100
Italy 136.1 220.500
Latvia 0.1 800
Russia 198.9 240.400
Spain 61.9 33.400
Switzerland 4.5 22.400
United Arab Emirates 179.5 64.700
Turkey 1094.5 23.600
Turkmenistan 5.8 6.700
USA 3.7 7.200
Total 10641.6 1.720.900

Source: Republic of Armenia Statistical Service. 2003.
Meanwhile, the Prosecutor General's Office has filed criminal charges against the forest supervisor in the village of Dsegh, in Lori province, for illegally cutting about 220 trees in 2004-2005. Another case has been brought against the representatives of the 4th maintenance department of the forestry agency in Tumanyan region, also in Lori marz, for the illegal cutting of 333 trees. Though they face heavy fines, observers say the potential profit is considered worth the risks.
But Karen Manvelyan of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says illegal logging continues with the complicity of regulators, and that a few prosecutions will not resolve a corruption problem.
"No matter how many criminal cases the law-enforcers bring into action, the forest cuttings will continue as they are done with the mediation of the representatives of forestry agencies with the sponsorship of high-ranked officials," says Manvelyan, who heads the WWF office in Yerevan.
Brisk pace of logging
At the start of the last century, one-quarter of Armenia was forested, but today forests account for less than 10 percent of the country, according to Armenian Forests, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to reforest parts of the country.
Replanting efforts launched by the government and public organizations have not kept pace with the tree coverage lost to logging. “Our Armenian forests have undergone degradation and there is no proportionate spread,” explains Zhirayr Vardanyan, head of forestry studies at the Yerevan Agricultural Academy.
Mher Sharoyan of Armenian Forests paints a more dire picture of the future. “Even if the density of our trees drops only a few percent, the forest self-restoration function will be lost. Consequently, forests will be lost as an ecosytem.”
By Arpi Harutyunyan
ArmeniaNow reporter

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(Armenian Volunteer Corps website)

Six Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) volunteers traveled to Kotayk village east of Yerevan to plant trees with members of Armenian Forests NGO and IREX alumni. In total, over 300 apricot trees were planted by volunteers on an open hillside overlooking the rolling hills of Kotayk Marz. The site is one of multiple locations within the area designated for reforestation activities, according to Armenian Forests NGO President Jeffrey Tufenkian.

Here is what Maral & Sayat Arslanlioglu, a married couple from Istanbul say: “We have had the great experience of working with these organizations (AFNGO and Armenia Tree Project) through AVC, for the reforestation of our beautiful Armenia. We have planted trees and worked in the tree nurseries in several villages. AVC has also made the arrangement for volunteers to join community tree planting activities in various weekends.

Our experience in Armenia was unparalleled. We met best people and we saw best sceneries there. Each tree is a new hope for the future of Armenia and we have seen many hopes planted for that paradise country.

Both Armenia Tree Project and Armenian Forests NGO are excellent organizations who do wonderful work to reforest Armenia, which has a very critical level of 8% of forests today. Together with AVC, they made every effort to make our volunteering experience a fruitful and pleasant one.”

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(MCA-Armenia website news)

Minutes N2 of Election Committee Session for the election of 5 civil society representatives for the Governing Council under Millennium Challenge Armenia Program
Yerevan, 31 May, 2006

The election of 5 civil society representatives for the Governing Council under Millennium Challenge Armenia Program took place at 16:00, May 31, 2006 at the conference hall of German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), 5 Nalbandyan Street.
1. Hakob Abrahamyan, "Pyunic" Armenian Association for the Disabled
2. Nadezhda Hakobyan, Journalists' Club "Asparez", NGO (with authorization letter)
3. Mamikon Gasparyan, Jrvezh Dzoraghbuyr WUA, Representative
4. Alexey Petrosyan, Republican Association of Communities of Armenia (with authorization letter)
5. Vardan Hambardzumyan , Federation of Agricultural Associations, Union of Legal Entities
6. Arayik Hovhannisyan, Armenian Avagani Association
7. Lyudmila Hovhannisyan, Reproducer, Kotayk marz ,
8. Tonakan Ghazaryan, Shenik WUA, Representative
9. Karen Nazaryan, Armenian Inter-Church Charitable Round Table, Foundation
10. Ashot Voskanyan , Agridevelopment, NGO
11. Hrachya Javadyan, Foundation of Applied Research and Agribusiness
12. Vanik Soghomonyan, National Union of Farmers, NGO
13. Nazeli Vardanyan , Armenian Forests, Environmental NGO
14. Vehanush Hovhannisyan, "Meghvik" Children and Youth, NGO
15. Levon Nersisyan, A.D. Sakharov Armenian Human Rights Protection Center, NGO

Invited to the session was:
MCA-Armenia team member Mkhitar Hakobyan
1. Election of chairman and secretary for the Election Committee Session for the election of the Governing Council members under Millennium Challenge Armenia Program
2. Election of the Governing Council members under Millennium Challenge Armenia Program.
3. Summarizing the results of the election of the Governing Council members under Millennium Challenge Armenia Program.
On the first item of agenda
In accordance with Minutes N1 of the May 25, 2006 Session of the Stakeholders' Committee, Hakob Abrahamyan, representative of "Pyunic" Armenian Association for the Disabled was elected as the chairman for the Election Committee Session, while Nadezhda Hakobyan, representative of Journalists' Club "Asparez", NGO with an appropriate authorization letter was elected as the secretary for the Election Committee Session.

On the second item of agenda
1. In accordance with election procedures for the Governing Council under Millennium Challenge Armenia Program, the Election Committee received 15 (fifteen) voting papers.

2. The list of electors consisted of 15 (fifteen) electors.
3. According to the signatures on the list of electors 15 (fifteen) electors participated in the election.

4. The electors were provided with 15 (fifteen) voting papers.
5. Upon opening the voting box, it contained 15 (fifteen) voting papers.

6. No voting paper was considered invalid.
7. The number of valid voting papers made 15 (fifteen).

8. The voting papers consisted of 13 (thirteen) candidates' names.

On the third item of agenda
The distribution of votes was as follows:
1. Hakob Abrahamyan, "Pyunic" Armenian Association for the Disabled - 5 votes
2. Levon Barseghyan, Journalists' Club "Asparez", NGO - 4 votes
3. Mamikon Gasparyan, Jrvezh Dzoraghbuyr WUA, Representative - 7 votes
4. Emin Yeristyan, Republican Association of Communities of Armenia - 3 votes
5. Vardan Hambardzumyan , Federation of Agricultural Associations, Union of Legal Entities - 7 votes
6. Arayik Hovhannisyan, Armenian Avagani (Elderly) Association - 3 votes
7. Lyudmila Hovhannisyan, Reproducer, Kotayk marz - 1 vote
8. Tonakan Ghazaryan, Shenik WUA, Representative - 8 votes
9. Karen Nazaryan, Armenian Inter-Church Charitable Round Table, Foundation - 6 votes
10. Ashot Voskanyan , Agridevelopment, NGO - 9 votes
11. Hrachya Javadyan, Foundation of Applied Research and Agribusiness - 4 votes
12. Vanik Soghomonyan, National Union of Farmers, NGO - 9 votes
13. Nazeli Vardanyan , Armenian Forests, Environmental NGO - 9 votes

Thus, Vardan Hambardzumyan, representative of Federation of Agricultural Associations, Union of Legal Entities and Mamikon Gasparyan, representative of Jrvezh Dzoraghbuyr WUA, had equal number of votes - 7. In accordance with the election procedures, a second phase of elections took place, as a result of which the distribution of votes was as follows:
Vardan Hambardzumyan - 5 votes
Mamikon Gasparyan - 8 votes
Two voting papers were considered invalid.
Thus, the following civil society representatives were elected for the Governing Council under Millennium Challenge Armenia Program:
1. Tonakan Ghazaryan, Shenik WUA, Representative - 8 votes
2. Ashot Voskanyan , Agridevelopment, NGO - 9 votes
3. Nazeli Vardanyan , Armenian Forests, Environmental NGO - 9 votes
4. Vanik Soghomonyan, National Union of Farmers, NGO - 9 votes
5. Mamikon Gasparyan, Jrvezh Dzoraghbuyr WUA, Representative - 8 votes.

Committee members:
Hakob Abrahamyan, Chairman
Nadezhda Hakobyan, Secretary

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(Hetq online)

Within the framework of the USAID-funded project entitled Community Environmental Action Groups, the NGO Armenian Forests organized a tree-planting on March 29, 2006 in the Freedom Fighters' Memorial Grove in the town of Ijevan in the Tavush Marz, with the participation of the local municipality and students' group.
“There will be roses at the entrance to the grove, and there will be evenly-trimmed bushes forming a green hedge along the length of the grove. The khachkar (cross-stone) will be surrounded by roses and other flowers and inside the grove; pine-trees and tuyas will be planted. We are planning to plant one hundred trees and 1,300 bushes,” explained Atabek Abazyan, who is in charge of Ijevan's greenery. Ten days earlier, the same group of volunteers planted 250 trees near the entrance to the town.
The mayor of Ijevan, Varuzhan Nersisyan, welcomed the fact that in addition to Ijevan residents, NGOs were interested in the preserving town's green areas as well. “I hope that now people will view the issue with understanding, will be more consistent, and next time we'll be dealing with the appearance of the grove,” he said.
The town administration has promised to take care of the trees and bushes on its own without assistance from residents. This time, as in previous plantings, residents of the adjacent apartment buildings showed little interest in the undertaking—they didn't even put their heads out on their balconies to see what was going on. “We have been trying to improve this area for three years now. Last year we planted 500 bushes and trees, anticipating that 50 percent would take root, but now we have just a few saplings left standing. We even planted trees on behalf of kids from the adjacent buildings, so that every kid would take care of the tree bearing his name but with no results. People have changed since the crisis of transition years, they've become indifferent, they are burdened down with their own worries, they are not interested in community problems anymore,” said Garnik Blbulyan, head of the department of municipal services.
Abovyan Street, which runs through the center of Ijevan, used to be completely green, but now there are shops in place of trees. And the cypresses that remain are seriously ill and have to be cut down. The Ijevan municipality has allocated land on the central streets to businessmen for shops as part of a small- and medium- business promotion project. Garnik Blbulyan assured us that the municipality requires all the necessary authorization papers before any trees are cut down or construction work begins, and that in the place of each tree they remove the developers are required to plant 20 evergreen saplings 1.5-2 meters high on their plots. Thus, the upper segment of Abovyan Street is completely covered in saplings.
Gas is now supplied to 80 % of Ijevan and most of the neighboring villages. That is why the flow of people flow from Ijevan and the surrounding villages into the forest has decreased over the last two or three years. However the town administration is worried that the rise in the price of gas will mean a return of the problem.
“Some fifteen years ago we had areas covered with thick forests, but many regions of Armenia have survived at the expense of our trees. And the rise in gas price will, no doubt, send people back to the forests. Forbid it all you want, but if people have no money to buy gas they will cut down trees. Our forests are in danger again,” Blbulyan said.
Under the guidance of Armenian Forests, the Community Environmental Action Groups of Gosh, made up of seventh- to tenth-grade students, have established themselves on the slope behind the Goshavank monastery since last fall and planted trees there. They have hedged in the territory with twigs, sown walnut and hazelnut seeds and cleared some forest areas of dried trees and twigs. The “school eco-groups” organize environmental watch - they keep track of the cleanness of the village streets, exhort the residents to keep the community clean. As an alternative way of recycling, children sow seeds of various trees in used juice cans with the purpose of replanting the saplings later on.
“Children take part in the work with great pleasure. They realize very that that planting greenery on the neighboring slopes is very important since the trees planted now will have a safeguarding function in the future, preventing landslides and protecting settlements from wind and rain,” said Mher Sharoyan, the project coordinator for Community Environmental Action Groups.
Another distinguish characteristic of Gosh is the fact that there are yew trees growing here. Yews are among very rare trees registered in the Red Book which environmentalists all over the world devote themselves to protecting. Local residents say that a twig cut from a yew-tree can stay alive for years. Besides, yews are the only trees in the world that produce ozone. In Armenia, yew trees grow in a few places. “There are a few yew trees in the areas adjacent to our village and we take good care of them. Though no one even tries to hurt them because yew-trees are very strong and it is almost impossible to cut them down, even with an axe. Recently we discovered a number of small yew trees next to those giants, and they need serious care because they don't grow in an unnatural environment. Presently we are planning with the kids to fence the areas with yews in to prevent animals from damaging the saplings,” Suren Grigoryan, head of the Gosh Action Group, told us.
Within the framework of the Community Environmental Action Groups project, ten communities from Lori, Tavush, Gegharkunik, Kotayk and Vayots Dzor Marzes have been selected. One or more Community Action Groups have been set up in each of the communities. They are preoccupied with water and air pollution, deforestation and garbage-collection. “It is quite possible that in the future we will do the first experiments with waste systematization here in Ijevan. However since it's spring now it is more important to plant greenery,” said project coordinator Arman Vermishyan.
They also plan to restore groves in Martuni and Sevan and to new groves in Stepanavan and Jermuk before the project is over in June 2007.
Varduhi Zakaryan
Photos by Onnik Krikorian

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Today, UNDP and other UN agencies in Armenia, jointly with a wide range of partners, marked the World Environment Day. In line with the theme of the day, "From Need to Greed", a film on illegal logging in Armenia was screened. The film, funded by the Armenia Tree Project, Armenian Forests NGO, and the World Wildlife Fund Caucasus Office and produced by Vem Media Arts studio tells about deforestation in the country - a phenomenon that, if not stopped, will bring about dreadful levels of desertification.

Further, a press conference was held by Mr. Simon Papyan, Deputy Minister of Nature Protection and Ms. Consuelo Vidal, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative. Representatives of active local environmental NGOs, donor community, state bodies and the mass media participated in the event.

The World Environment Day, commemorated each year on June 5, is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action. The World Environment Day theme selected for 2006 is Deserts and Desertification and the slogan is "Don't Desert Drylands!" The slogan emphasizes the importance of protecting drylands, arid and semi-arid regions that are home to more than two billion people and cover 41 percent of the Earth's surface. This ecosystem is home to one-third of the world's people who are vulnerable members of society.

As mentioned by UN Secretary General in his message on World Environment Day, "Desertification is hard to reverse, but it can be prevented. Protecting and restoring drylands will not only relieve the growing burden on the world's urban areas, it will contribute to a more peaceful and secure world."

Although in the first millennium, B.C., forests covered approximately 35-40 percent of the country, the destruction of Armenia's forests has reached tragic levels. According to historical data, forests covered 20 percent of Armenia at the turn of the 20th century, but by the early 1990s this area was reduced to 11 percent and is now below 10 percent.

The loss of forests creates multiple problems which directly affect economic and social well being in Armenia: Increase in soil erosion, flooding, and landslides; Drying of local climate causing loss of water supply, desertification, and extreme weather; Reduction in soil fertility causing lower crop yields; Loss of biodiversity; Economic hardship from loss of forest products such as herbs, mushrooms and fruits; More severe impacts from existing air pollution due to lack of "natural air filters".

"We would like today to call upon the government, civil society, media representatives and general public to combine their efforts towards preventing desertification. Applying sustainable agriculture practices, measures to prevent landslides, forests' rehabilitation, appropriate waste disposal practices and increasing awareness of threats posed by desertification and its causes already would make a big difference," - noted Ms. Vidal in her speech.

In order to help address environmental problems facing the country, UNDP Armenia office provides multi-faceted support to the government. Specifically, to increase public access to sustainable energy services through introduction of new legislative frameworks and new technologies for renewable energy, and rehabilitation of municipal heat and hot water systems. Also, UNDP Armenia helps to ensure that targeted households benefit from continuous supplies of heating and hot water at less greenhouse gas emission level.

A national environmental information management and monitoring system will be established with UNDP support, which will, among others, strengthen the national environmental reporting capacity to fulfill obligations under UN Conventions on Desertification, Biodiversity and Framework Convention on Climate Change. UNDP also supports the secretariat of the National Council for Sustainable Development. A comprehensive project proposal on integrated management of protected areas, such as national parks, will be developed.

UNDP will also provide support for the identification of waste treatment, recycling, recovering and utilization facilities in the country, monitoring of waste disposal sites and identification of dumpsites, analysis of information and establishment of registers on disposal sites, compilation of secondary data on waste generation and publication of a "Waste Directory".

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/Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN) Weekly Digest: News From Armenia/

Dear CENN Readers,
Here comes news bulletin of environmental activities carried out in ten communities throughout Armenia within the frames of Community Environmental Action Groups project Armenian Forests NGO is implementing under USAID auspices.
It is interesting News Bulletin about what local communities have achieved in working to improve environmental conditions in their settlements.
This bulletin is an update of the actions carried out in the period of January-April 2006 by the Environmental Action Groups of the communities selected within the USAID-funded "Community Environmental Action Groups" project that is implemented by Armenian Forests NGO.

Given the fact that spring is one of the two windows for doing forest and park establishment and restoration most of the activities of these groups mhave been focusing on that during this period. In the summer they will concentrate on lobbying and other activities including focus on solid waste and other environmental issues.

1. Tavush marz, Sarigyugh community

Local group had consultations with the director of Ijevan's Dendropark Mekhak Sayadyan for sowing yew seeds nearby Sarigyugh village. The sowing took place on 10-15th April.

The Sarigyugh activists also participated in the cleaning works of surroundings of Ijevan town's main waste disposal site, collecting mainly polyethylene bags. The action was organized by "Young Tavush" youth NGO, members of which are part of action groups in Ijevan and Sarigyugh. The action was supported by Tavush governor Mr. Ghularian, Ijevan mayor Mr. Ghalumian, Director of local <Kar Art> stone producing enterprise Mr. Grigoryan.

Local Environmental Action Group coordinator has met with the head of local community Mr. Elarian and discussed the possibilities of involving funds for fencing the planned Plane tree park to be established near the village. The local group has also applied to the local World Vision branch for getting funds for the above-mentioned goal, as well as met with the Environmental department head of the Tavush marz. No funds have been allocated yet.

Due to bad weather - non-stop rains and dampness - the care works of the yews growing in nearby forests have been postponed till May.

2. Tavush marz, Ijevan community

In January 2006 local coordinator met with local agricultural-environmental "Bardi" CJSC director and discussed the plans of Ijevan's greening and restoration. Local activists also agreed with local "Ijevan" TV to broadcast cartoons on environmental issues.

Meetings have been held with the representatives of local forest economy, Nature Protection Ministry's agencies, Ijevan branch of Yerevan State University as well as local TV, as a result of which a round table-discussion was held January 29 on the topic "Why are forests logged?". The roundtable was broadcast on the local TV channel.

As a result of cooperation with the mayor's office it was agreed to restore local Azatamartikneri Park. Armenian Forests NGO (hereinafter AFNGO) specialists advised upon the types of trees and bushes that should be planted there. After that the projected number of trees and bushes (mainly pine trees and rose and arbor-vitae (lat. Thuja) have been obtained for planting.

March 29 restoration works of the Azatamartikneri Park launched withparticipation of the municipality's staff, local YSU branch students, as well as AFNGO employees. Some 80 pine trees and 1500 rose bushes and arbor-vitae were planted during three days, and the care works are organized by the local group. The event was covered by national and local media.

3. Tavush marz, Gosh community

The planting and terracing of the first section of the hill slopes behind the Gosh Monastery continued and was accomplished, and the planting on the second section started. The planted trees will have wind and water protective importance for the Monastery and nearby households. The activists have carried out care and treatment of the trees planted in fall 2005. They also cleaned a territory at nearby forest from thick branches, cut stubs and spunk.

A subbotnik (cleaning of area) was organized in the village, the streets of the community were cleaned by the local youth group. Similar works have been carried out on the shore of Gosh lake - during an eco-tour organized for the activists.

Currently the environmental group carries out treatment and protection of the yew trees in nearby forest (Note: Due to the fact that yew trees are quite rare in Armenia, any forested territory that has yew tree cover near Sarigyugh and Gosh communities is under special attention of Armenian Forests NGO and community groups.)

4. Lori marz, Lejan community

This is the last of the ten communities selected. The environmental action group members were gathered and local coordinator was appointed. The most pressing environmental issues of the community have been identified; and based on their needs, targeted trainings have been conducted for the active group and a working plan has been drafted.

As an initial action they decided to begin coppicing works of the nearby forest in the beginning of May. It is also planned to green the surroundings of the local school and post office, and plant poplar trees alongside the road entering the village. For this purpose AFNGO plans to purchase 200 trees (150 poplar, 50 pine trees) and 2500 bushes for planting.

As another issue that will be addressed is the contamination of the village river with solid waste; discussions with the village administration and AFNGO specialists are being carried out regarding its cleaning and restoration.

5. Lori marz, Stepanavan community

January 31-February 2 trainings have been held for the action group. February 2 the AFNGO specialists and the local coordinator met with the mayor of Stepanavan Mr. Gharakeshishyan, during which an agreement was reached to allocate 1.1 ha of land at Ajapnyak district of town for establishing a new park. Afterwards meetings with experts of municipality's architecture department were held to discuss issues related to the establishing the park and land leveling works.

Following the mayor's pledge to assist in every possible means, land works of the area allocated for park started early April and the area was made ready for planting. Seedlings were obtained from Vanadzor forest economy, because the prices at Stepanavan's forest entity were high. The group planted a total of 200 trees and 1500 bushes on April 15 and16th. The local action group manages the park including the watering of seedlings and other care work.

The local activists also met with the director of the local forest entity, who has promised to provide free seedlings for planting on the slopes of the Dzoraget river gorge.

6. Lori marz, Vanadzor community

There is an idle water-purifying station situated at the Pambak river shore within the town, which the municipality planned to allocate to "Asad" LLC for producing chemical substances. The local environmental group found out that the company doesn't have a comprehensive strategy of waste management, which would definitely lead to contamination of the river. The group undertook relevant measures in working with members of city elders' council, in result of which the territory was not allocated to the mentioned company.

The activists have also inquired about the place and prices of submitting certain types of wastes (like polyethylene bottles and bags), which gave the consumers an opportunity to separate their waste disposal and compensate certain expenditures. The local coordinator has regular meetings with the local media and comments and gives interviews on the community's environmental problems, as well as recommends necessary actions to improve the situation.

Throughout April 2006 large-scale coppicing works have been undertaken on one of the hill slopes surrounding Vanadzor, where they plan to rehabilitate a total of 30 hectares of forest. Particularly on April 7th and 14th an overall of 40 students and volunteers from Yerevan and Vanadzor participated in coppicing works, a technique of regenerating trees from stumps. Two exchange students from Lithuania and Slovenia, who are in Armenia for cultural exchange program, also participated in coppicing works. Coppicing works are initially guided and supervised by AFNGO specialists, and after relevant instructions the action groups carry out the works on their own.

7. Gegharkunik marz, Sevan community

Major issues in this settlement include town greening, waste management and having clean lakeshore of Sevan. Following extensive trainings held for the local group by AFNGO specialists February 22-24, schoolchildren eco-teams were set up in the town and special courses were held for women activists. For involving all interested parties the activists had meetings with the mayor of Sevan and other municipality officials, school teachers, students, community members, NGOs, as well as local media. As a result of cooperation, together with local STV-1 TV the action group has prepared and aired a TV discussion on the topic of "Public's role in environmental process".

On April 21 the rehabilitation works of two city parks began, which will continue in early May as well. A similar number of trees and bushes as in other community parks have been planted in both areas, and the nearby residents take care of the seedlings. In another area, due to social-cultural issues, guarding of the territory is carried out. The planting and all other activities are being covered by the local TV channel.

8. Gegharkunik marz, Martuni community

Two action groups are set up in Martuni - a youth group (9 people) and a school group (10 pupils). The "Martuni Women's Community Council" NGO, which comprises the core of the local environmental group, has allocated a room with relevant equipment for the activists.

The local Peace Corps volunteers, among them an environmental specialist, expressed a will to assist the group in every possible way.

In February the local coordinator met with the municipality officials to discuss the possibilities of rehabilitating the city park. An agreement was reached on maintenance and shared investment for restoring the park. Following three-day trainings of the youth groups of the town, preparatory works were extensively organized and seedlings have been obtained upon the guidance of AFNGO specialists. April 21 the restoration works started, as a result of which 125 trees and 1700 bushes were planted with joint efforts of AFNGO staff and local activists. Mayor of Martuni and marz authorities also participated in the works.

The action group also met with the Martuni branch representatives of "Sevan" National Park and discussed issues of Sevan lakeshore restoration. In result it was decided to rehabilitate the protective forest cover near the shore through coppicing.

9. Kotayk marz, Tsakhkadzor community

Local activists and AFNGO staff have together stopped a case of illegal logging in the nearby forest of the resort town, and have come to an agreement with the company that caused the damage to compensate the loss. The company is to allocate certain amount of funds to plant a corresponding number of trees (as many as have been cut) and even go further to assist in restoring another area of forest. For correct rehabilitation of the damaged forest, AFNGO specialists have examined the territory, did the relevant planning, and scheduled the works for May 2006.

Activists lobbied local authorities for allocation of several areas around the town for additional reforestation. After cooperation with forest economy and municipality, it was agreed to plant trees on treeless areas of nearby forest land to expand forest cover. Restoration works, as well as coppicing of certain areas will start in early May. The activists are to obtain seedlings in cooperation with the pan-Armenian tree planting project led by Nig-Aparan Union, which promised to provide a necessary amount of seedlings free of charge. Local youth and school environmental groups have been trained by AFNGO forest specialists for appropriate work during tree planting. Tree planting and coppicing works in the community and nearby forests will be implemented by the forces of local action group.

The local coordinator also worked closely with municipality to obtain a territory for establishing a forest nursery.

The AFNGO specialists have supported local "Forests for future generations" NGO, members of which are also part of the environmental group, to apply to Open Society Institute for financial assistance to
conduct research on civil society issues.

10. Vayots Dzor marz, Jermuk community

Local activists have tracked illegal logging of pine trees in nearby forests, and reported about the case to local authorities and forest economy. The group members have also witnessed cutting of ash trees in city parks, after which the municipality undertook relevant measures.

The local coordinator led a group of local schoolchildren to conduct a subbotnik (cleaning of area) nearby their school on April 22, after which a tree planting in the backyard and surrounding territory was organized.

The coordinator has also met with municipality officials and agreed upon establishing a new park on 1 hectare. The territory was allocated for the purpose, yet the planting works have been postponed till May due to cold weather.

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(ArmeniaNow online weekly)

A report by the Ministry of Environmental Protection confirms environmentalists concerns that Armenia's forests are suffering.
“Due to poor management forests have grown older and over mature in some areas and others have, on the contrary, degraded and extinguished,” says the report by Vardan Aivazyan, the RA Minister of Environmental Protection. “Because of the logging the protective capabilities of the forests have decreased, erosion and other negative processes have been activated, the ecological balance of the environment has been disturbed.”
The report corresponds to information published by the United Nations, which says that 82 percent of Armenia is in danger of desertification, and 26 percent of that in severe threat.
“We call on to the government and civil society to jointly fight for the prevention of desertification,” stated the UN Yerevan office Permanent Coordinator Consuelo Vidal.
“Armenia today has chosen a unique way of desertification – the asphalt and concrete desertification,” mentions Karine Danielyan, a former Minister of Environment, who is now the Chairwoman of For the Sustainable Human Development NGO.
Surveys conducted by the NGO found that 55 percent of Yerevan residents think the environmental situation has significantly worsened in recent years; 84 percent of the respondents are primarily concerned with the elimination of green areas. 72.5 percent do not believe authorities are properly addressing environmental problems.
Simon Papyan, the Deputy Minister of Environment, mentions there is some move in forest restoration.
The film, “From Need to Greed”, produced jointly by the Armenia-Tree Project, Armenian Forests NGO and the World Wildlife Fund Caucasus office showed that 10,000 of the 22,000 hectares near the town of Vanadzor in Lori marz, once known for its forests, and more than 3,000 of the 13,000 hectares close to the Lake Sevan have been destroyed, and more destruction is planned.
“In Gegharkunik marz Sevan is a priority question. In former times the problem was the decrease of water level, now the problem is with its increase as well as the forest logging,” says Arevik Hovsepyan chairwoman of the Sustainable Water Environment NGO.
According to the Sustainable Water Environment NGO the cement plant in the town of Hrazdan in Kotayk marz also causes environmental problems by contaminating the air basin.
The report by the Ministry of Environmental Protection says Lori is leading in the amount of hazardous material exhaustions.
In Armenia the highest index of air pollution is in the town of Alaverdi in Lori marz with its Copper-Molding Plant: its exhaustions (particularly that of sulfur dioxide) exceed the fixed permitted concentration for 10.6 times. (See ArmeniaNow's special report.)
Hrant Aivazyan, the President of the Center for Lori Development NGO does not deny the fact either.
But he is happy the lobbying of their organization prevented the construction of a hydro electric power station on the river running through the town of Vanadzor.
“If the notorious water electric power station were built, the whole environmental system would be destroyed, as 2-3 kilometer segment of the river would have been damaged,” says Aivazyan.
Regarding the ecosystem of Armenia as a whole, the Ministry of Environmental Protection concedes that “at present all the ecosystems in Armenia suffer from human influence resulting in the appearance of hundreds of flora and fauna species on the edge of extermination.”
By Arpi Harutyunyan
ArmeniaNow reporter

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(Oneworld Multimedia Blog)

Today, as part of work commissioned by the Tufenkian Foundation, I visited a nursery operating under the umbrella of the Armenian Forests NGO situated in the Botanical Gardens in Yerevan. According to the NGO's web site, Armenian Forests was established by Armenian-American philanthropist and entrepreneur, James Tufenkian.
As a means of reclaiming, protecting, and expanding forested areas, Armenian Forests NGO involves individuals, communities, other NGOs, government, and businesses in a variety of solutions on multiple fronts including changes in policies, norms of thinking and action, economic improvement, public education, and media advocacy.
The NGO's President is Jeffrey Tufenkian. Anyway, As most readers will know, Armenia faces a huge problem with deforestation, and it's no surprise that there are concerns that reversing this trend under the Millennium Development Goals might not be achievable.
Armenia's environmental situation has considerably deteriorated, as compared to 1990, mostly due to the economic crisis of the first half of the 1990s. Deforestation reached unprecedented levels, the waters of Lake Sevan were used for energy generation, soil degradation intensified, and desertification became a threat.
According to expert assessments, massive deforestation resulted in the shrinking of forested areas from 11.2 percent of the total land area in 1990 to only 8 to 9 percent at present. According to MDGs, by 2015, Armenia commits to restore its forest area up to the pre-crisis levels. Unfortunately, that is a very difficult task, especially since illegal cutting is still underway, particularly the cutting of industrial nature.
Well, even if the struggle might be an uphill one, local NGOs such as Armenian Forests are at least trying to do something. I've posted about their activities here and here, and also about a collaborative action with other environmental NGOs to protest the destruction of Yerevan's green areas.
Meanwhile, ran a disturbing story on Friday concerning the extent of desertification and deforestation in Armenia. According to the article, over 80 percent of the country is at risk, with 26 percent considered to be critical. Interestingly, it appears as though the general public is unhappy with the situation and a lack of government attention.
“Armenia today has chosen a unique way of desertification – the asphalt and concrete desertification,” mentions Karine Danielyan, a former Minister of Environment, who is now the Chairwoman of For the Sustainable Human Development NGO.
Surveys conducted by the NGO found that 55 percent of Yerevan residents think the environmental situation has significantly worsened in recent years; 84 percent of the respondents are primarily concerned with the elimination of green areas. 72.5 percent do not believe authorities are properly addressing environmental problems.
For more information on Armenian Forests the NGO has a web site at There's an interview I conducted with Jeffrey Tufenkian here. An article by Tufenkian on a new draft forest code is also available here.

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(OneWorld Multimedia Blog)

As part of work for the Tufenkian Foundation in Armenia, today took me to Kotayk Region of Armenia where the Armenian Forests NGO have a project to replant trees in a village of the same name. As concerns are raised regarding deforestation and desertification in Armenia, reports that some parts of the country are again experiencing drought.
Drought started across the regions of Armenia, Zarui Petrosyan, department head at the Armenian hydremeteorological service told In her words, at the moment the level of temperature of air is above 4-6 degree. There will be no precipitations in the country until the end of the month with June 22 and 23 the hottest.
The drought was a complete surprise for the ministry of agriculture. In the words of the department head on relations with the ministry Vahag Martirosyan drought was not anticipated at the beginning of the year. Such a disaster covering the republic was reported only 5 years ago. The ministry of agriculture refutes to forecast the damage.
No surprise to discover that much of the work undertaken by the Armenian Forests NGO is reliant on effective watering using storage tanks and irrigation. It's blatantly obvious that future generations and the ecosystem in Armenia really deserve greater attention at the moment, which is why after writing an article on the campaign to save Shikahogh last year it's good to be touching upon the environment through this work now.

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(Oneworld Multimedia Blog)

Yesterday saw a third trip out into the field with Armenian Forests as part of continuing work for the Tufenkian Foundation in Armenia. After visiting Kotayk and the Botanical Gardens for the environmental organization, this time it was to coppicing being used to restore trees that had been cut down by others for fuel or business.
Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management, by which young tree stems are cut down to a low level, or sometimes right down to the ground.
In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and after a number of years the cycle begins again and the coppiced tree or stool is ready to be harvested again. Typically a coppice woodland is harvested in sections, on a rotation. In this way each year a crop is available. This has the side-effect of providing a rich variety of habitats, as the woodland always has a range of different aged stools growing in it. This is beneficial for biodiversity.

Incidently, from what I understand, the chainsaws in the photos are used not to cut more trees, but rather to clear any other foilage to make space for those stumps growing. Anyway, all of the work undertaken so far for the Tufenkian Foundation can also be accessed under the appropiate category. Now I’m off to Aghavnadzor to do some more work for Habitat for Humanity.

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(MCA-Armenia website news)

A meeting of MCA Armenia Program Stakeholders' Committee took place on July 3 and 5, 2006. Its main goal was the substitution of the two Governing Council members that have self-rejected, Ashot Voskanyan and Mamikon Gasparyan. Two suggestions were made regarding the substitution:

1. Hold new secret voting elections. Voting results for this suggestion were as follows: for - 4, against - 8, abstained - 2.
2. Based on the results of May 31 elections, fill the vacancies with the next highest ranking candidates. Voting results for this suggestion were as follows: for - 8, against - 4, abstained - 2.

As a result of this voting, it was decided to base on the results of May 31 elections and fill the vacancies with the next highest ranking candidates: Vardan Hambardzumyan, Federation of Agricultural Associations, Union of Legal Entities and Karen Nazaryan, Armenian Inter-Church Charitable Round Table, Foundation.
Thus, the civil society representatives in the Governing Council elected by the MCA Armenia Program Stakeholders' Committee are as follows:

1. Nazeli Vardanyan, Armenian Forests, Environmental NGO - 9 votes
2. Vanik Soghomonyan, National Union of Farmers, NGO - 9 votes
3. Tonakan Ghazaryan, Shenik WUA - 8 votes
4. Vardan Hambardzumyan, Federation of Agricultural Associations, Union of Legal Entities - 7 votes
5. Karen Nazaryan, Armenian Inter-Church Charitable Round Table, Foundation - 6 votes.

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The names of the candidates for the position of the Armenian office of “Millennium Challenges” are submitted for approval to the Fund’s Head Office in USA. Nazeli Vardanian, member of "Millennium Challenges" Fund's Board, executive director of “Forests of Armenia” said this at today’s discussion. She said that the Fund’s Board will elect the
director after the candidacies are approved in USA. She added that the names of the candidates are not announced to avert the corruption risks. Vardanian informed that in the preparation stage of "Millennium Challenges" program they have shaped the council of beneficiaries that consists of 15 members. Besides, it is planned to open 21 territorial councils that will control the implementation of the works on the spot. The board, comprising of 6 government members and 5 public figures is also formed. Besides, the public figures may impose a veto on the decisions of the board.

In his turn, Levon Barseghian, member of beneficiaries' council of "Millennium Challenges" Armenian Office, emphasized the importance of increasing the awareness of the residents about the program, when dwelling on the drawbacks of the program implementation works. The stated that the most undesirable drawback is that the monitoring of the program will be carried out by the executive body and this may lead to many abuses. He emphasized that only independent monitoring may secure effective implementation of the program.

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It was painful to watch people in Armenia fell the trees around their homes, and burn them along with their furniture, their books, and their shoes back in the terrible winter of 1993, when they had no other way to keep warm. The pain was in the bitter cold, and in the desperation of having to destroy one's patrimony just to survive another day.

Thirteen years later, the trees are still coming down apace. The cutting is now mostly commercial, even if some of the demand for it is still borne of desperation.

About 70 percent of the wood cut in Armenia is used for heating and cooking purposes, according to Armenian Forests, a nonprofit established two years ago by the Tufenkian Foundation. Illegally cut wood is a cheap option for poor families who cannot afford the initial investment required to make the switch to equally cheap natural gas or other energy sources.
As for the other 30 percent, some of the best wood is exported to Iran and Turkey for furniture making. The rest is used to build furniture for domestic consumption. Be it out of need or greed, no less than 1.3 million cubic yards of woods are ripped down illegally every year, Jeffrey Tufenkian of Armenian Forests tells us. At this rate, Armenia will have no woodlands left in twenty or thirty years.

But things need not go that far before the Armenian people, and especially the poorest among them, suffer the consequences of deforestation. The loss of forests will devastate agriculture, with an increase in soil erosion, flooding, and landslides, a loss of water supply, and a reduction in soil fertility, which will cause lower crop yields. Beyond agriculture, it will cause economic hardship from loss of forest products such as herbs, mushrooms, and fruits. And the elimination of trees, some of nature's best air filters, will intensify the impact of ever-increasing air pollution.

Solutions are at hand. They require the cooperative participation of government, business, nonprofits, and the general public. The priorities are to increase enforcement in order to curtail illegal logging; engage in more sustainable government reforestation efforts; reduce the need for logging for fuel by developing alternative energy sources; and manage forests more effectively.

The government notes that enforcement and reforestation have intensified. Vahag Martirosyan, head of public affairs for the Ministry of Agriculture, tells us that deforestation was a serious problem only until 1999; law enforcement efforts on the one hand, and reforestation efforts on the other have slowed the pace of deforestation such that "today the forest is not dying; the state is protecting it."

Mr. Tufenkian of Armenian Forests acknowledges that the pace of deforestation has slowed. He notes, however, that loggers have moved from quantity to quality, selecting the biggest and most valuable trees for export. As for law enforcement, he says that local villagers harvesting dead trees may be fined, but to date none of the suspected major violators has been charged.

Mr. Martirosyan of the Ministry of Agriculture declined to disclose the number or acreage of new trees planted in recent years. He tells us, however, that much of the government's reforestation work is unsuccessful because of a lack of irrigation and poor implementation. Mr. Tufenkian puts the annual amount of reforestation in the hundreds of hectares, in contrast to thousands of hectares of deforestation. (A hectare is about 2½ acres.)

Another part of the solution is to reduce or redirect the demand for wood from Armenia's forests. The National Assembly can help by eliminating excise taxes on imported wood, making it a more viable option for families that rely on firewood and for furniture makers and interior decorators.

Meanwhile, the effort to develop and better exploit alternative energy sources to logging for fuel is growing. Working with the Armenian government, the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and others are encouraging the private sector to make small hydro, wind, solar, fuel cell, geothermal, and other alternative sources competitive and sustainable. Active in the private sector response are SolarEn, with its solar-powered water heating systems, Zod Wind, which is developing wind turbines in the east of Armenia, and H2Economy, which is developing fuel cells for international markets. (These companies are owned by the Cafesjian Family Foundation, which also owns this newspaper.)

And it is not too late to start more effective forest management. The state may sanction some logging, in areas where it would have the least impact on agriculture and the biosystem. Logging rights would be granted through a transparent bidding system that would require loggers to pay a reasonable harvesting fee and to make a binding commitment to reforest according to generally accepted international standards.

Jason Sohigian, deputy director of the nonprofit Armenia Tree Project, rightly calls on the Armenian government to "do everything it can to ensure that wood is not illegally exported from the country." The Armenia Tree Project, established in 1994 by the environmentalist and philanthropist Carolyn Mugar in direct response to the desperate cutting of 1993, has planted over 1.25 million trees, close to half a million of which were planted this year.

Mr. Sohigian rightly believes the government "can do much more to support reforestation—aside from international funding which can be attracted, the government can support the efforts of groups like Armenia Tree Project in providing access and adequate protection and irrigation of land for reforestation. The government should be taking its national energy policy more seriously, so rural areas are not dependent on degraded forests for fuel."

As for our readers, many of them already support the Armenian Tree Project ( and Armenian Forests ( The efforts of these organizations to plant trees, to involve local communities as stewards of their woods, and to engage in public education and outreach are a shining beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape.

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CAPS invited an international expert in Adventure tourism to work with Armenian adventure tourism professionals and study the product and tailor according to the needs of American and other tourists from Aug 1- Sept. 5, 2006.
This project was initiated to identify and develop adventure tour product of Armenia and tailor it according to the needs of American and other international tourists. Mr. Roger Williams worked closely with Armenian tourism professionals, who provided in depth guidance about the existing tour product.
Armenia has a lot to offer in adventure travel. It is a newest and fastest growing sector of the tourism industry. Despite its popularity, adventure travel is difficult to define because it is comprised of so many diverse activities. One definition states adventure travel matches the natural resources of an area, to the growing interest in experiencing that area. It has also been described as an outdoor leisure activity that takes place in an unusual, exotic, mountainous or wilderness setting and tends to be associated with some level of physical activity. The types of activities that are commonly provided by organized and commercial operators, and that can be considered under the adventure travel are; hiking, biking, trekking, bicycling, horseback riding, fishing, skiing and camping.
Numerous meetings were organized with Armenian Adventure tourism experts and other colleagues involved in the sphere. Mr. Jefferey Tufenkyan (Armenian Forests NGO), Mr. Arkadi Sahakyan (Avarayr Adventure Tourism Co.), Mr. Apres Zohrabyan (Bnatachar Co.), Mrs. Gohar Danielyan-Dubost (DG Communication and Immage Co.), Mr. David Khachiyan (Levon Travel Co.), Mr. Vladimir (DA Tours Co.), Mrs. Nina Dadayan (Armenia Travel+M Co.) have kindly provided detailed information about Armenia’s adventure tour product and available assets to visit. With Armenak Mikayelyan (CAPS local consultant) Mr. Williams successfully traveled to the all regions (marzes) of Armenia.

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Armenia which has been importing wood for the last 70 years has started to export it recently.
According to the data from the Customs service, Armenian wood is exported to Iran, Turkey, Spain, France, Germany and even Tanzania. By the way, in Soviet times Armenia never engaged in wood export.
The total area of forests in Armenia was last calculated in 1991.There is no exact information about the forests at present. If 25% of the territory of Armenia used to be covered with forests, now the index is about 6-8%. In the CIS countries the average amount of forest per person is 2.7 hectares, whereas in Armenia it makes 0.1 hectares per person.
According to the order given to the Armenian forestries, the annual volume of chopping does not exceed 71-75 thousand cubic meters. In reality the volumes are much higher. According to the investigations of independent experts, the annual volume of chopping in Armenia is 1 million 250 thousand cubic meters. And the total number of forest resources in Armenia is about 42 million cubic meters. By the way, this data was generated years ago. The main species of trees chopped are oak and walnut.
Annual circulation of building wood is about 8 million USD, and that of firewood is 10 million USD. “This sum does not even go to the state budget as the majority comes from illegal chopping. At present only chopping for sanitary aims are legally allowed. No businessman will export that wood as it costs nothing. Only the most valuable wood is exported, like oak, the stores of which are very little in the whole world. Factually, we export is almost for nothing, at the expense of the environment,” says Nazeli Vardanyan, the head of the NGO «Armenian Forests».
It is noteworthy that the decision about amnesty in connection with the 15th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Armenia says that there are several crimes for which amnesty is not granted. Wood chopping is one of them.

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As part of the EBRD’s Policy Dialogue with stakeholders, the Yerevan Resident Office organised an annual meeting between the head of the RO, Mr Michael Weinstein, and a group of Armenian NGOs on 14 September 2006. Local NGOs which participated in the meeting were: Eurasia Foundation, Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation, Centre for Regional Development/Transparency International Armenia, Union of Manufacturers and Businessmen of Armenia, Civil Society Institute, Environmental Public Advocacy Centre, Association for Foreign Investment and Cooperation, NGO Centre, Corporate Governance Centre, CDCS Centre for Development of Civil Society Armenia, International Centre for Human Development, Armenian Tree Project, Armenian Forests NGO and Armenian Assembly of America (NGO Training & Resource Centre).
The NGOs were interested in the EBRD’s work in Armenia, mainly in the environmental due diligence in the Bank’s projects. Other issues raised include the local business climate, especially how to tackle corruption and enhance business practices in accordance with the principles of corporate social responsibility. Ms Angela Sax, Senior Analyst at the Yerevan RO - who is also in charge of NGO liaison - organised the meeting.

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On November 3 – 5 a transboundary media - tour to Lori Province (Marz) in the frames of REC Caucasus Project “Promotion of Media - Government - Civil Society Environmental Dialogue in the South Caucasus” was held in Vanadzor, Armenia.

The participants of the media tour were journalists and NGO representatives from Bolnisi (Georgia), Vanadzor, Alaverdi and Yerevan (Armenia), as well as officials from the Ministry of Environments of Georgia and Armenia.

The media representatives from Georgia and Armenia gathered together to discuss the main transboundary environmental problems of two countries, namely joint forests management and pollution of air and water. During the training in the frames of the event, the REC Caucasus experts together with the officials from the Ministry of Nature Protection of Armenia draw journalists’ attention to environmental cooperation issues of the region, presented the current practices and ongoing environmental projects, as well as discussed environmental journalism questions.

During the three days event the participants visited Armenian Copper Programme Factory in Alaverdi, where after an excursion they asked questions to the ecologist and met with the specialist of Ministry of Environment Monitoring Centre in Alaverdi. The other part of the media tour was dedicated to the issues of forests management, during which participants visited sites of forests degradation and talked to forestry officials of the region. Besides this, the participants were in sites where different approaches of forests restoration are applied and met with Armenian Forests and Lori Development Centre, Armenia Tree Project and Green Cross NGOs that implement projects.

As a follow up of the event articles, TV materials on environmental issues were developed and published/broadcasted in local and central newspapers/TV and radio channels of two countries.


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Some environment organizations complain about the order issued by the government on management of forests. The government decision says state forests will be accredited to companies if forest economies cannot manage them on their own or work on losses.

Public organizations in environment believe that this will boost up corruption risks. Nazely Vardanyan, Armenian Forests NGO Director, believes the order is underdeveloped and does not include expert opinions. /


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News Bulletin

This bulletin is an update of the actions carried out in the period of
May-August 2006 by the Environmental Action Groups of the communities
selected within the USAID-funded "Community Environmental Action
Groups" project that is implemented by Armenian Forests NGO.

This summer characterized itself with hot and dry climate - a direct
challenge for newly planted trees and bushes. With certain difficultly,
our Environmental Action Groups managed to achieve normal survival
rates for the parks- the first in its kind environmental project for
Armenia's communities.

They even went further to lobby local inert mentality to discard
plastic use through extensive work with local self-management bodies,
creation of films and TV broadcasts. Environmental education was
extended to more than 500 schoolchildren, and forest preservation
works continued with higher pace. Local authorities in several
communities receive decisive demands to work with national government
to receive funds for allocation of waste disposal sites, where waste
separation will be practiced. Details are presented in the news
bulletin below.

Tavush marz

1. Sarigyugh village

The active group takes care and waters the newly grown seedlings from
the seeds sown in early spring. The schoolchildren of the village
have been instructed how to take care of the old yew trees in the
forest - they clean up the soil in the bottom of trees from leaves
and branches, creating better conditions for natural regeneration.

A tour to nearby forests has been organized to acquaint the youth
with forest situation and types of trees growing there. The kids and
adults in the village are being encouraged not to cut trees to use as
fuel for winter, but stick to alternative sources as is cattle manure
or burn dry branches and stumps- which is good both for forest and

2. Ijevan town

Local coordinator participated in two round tables at Ijevan Aarhus
center on general environmental issues and forests situation. On July
21 an eco-tour from Ijevan to Achajur and Makaravank monastery took
place, during which young environmentalists cleaned the monastery
area from plastic waste, dry branches and leaves. During tours the
activists hold to strict eco-tourism principles, using no plastic
bottles or throw-away plates and forks for lunch.

>From July 24 to August 13 the Ijevan coordinator and couple of
activists participated in a camp organized by World Vision Armenia
near Dilijan town, during which they held several seminars on
environmental issues for participating schoolchildren aged 10 to 12
and organized tours into nearby forests, explaining the harm of tree
felling and importance of care towards nature. During the visits the
youngsters collected dry branches to be used for camp fire.

3. Gosh village

During the summer the youth group here concentrated on keeping the
Gosh lake area clean, thus supporting the eco-tourism in the area.

The works included weekly cleanings of the area from garbage and
sanitary care of nearby forested area.

The youth patrol groups also controlled the cleanness of the
Goshavank monastery, which had such celebrity guests as singer
Charles Aznavour and president Robert Kocharian this summer. The yew
trees in the nearby forest have also been taken care of, and
irrigation of terraced and planted hill slopes of Goshavank monastery
have been carried out.

Lori marz

4. Lejan village

The local coordinator works with local self-management bodies for
allocating an area for waste disposal of the village, a reasonable
alternative to local habit of throwing garbage into the river gorge.

The local mayor promised to raise the issue at regional authorities'
meetings. The active group organized an environmental tour to nearby
picnic area.

Coppicing of the nearby forest were carried out in May. Evergreen
trees and bushes were planted in the surroundings of the local school
and post office. Poplar trees were planted alongside the road
entering the village. For this purpose AFNGO purchased 200 trees (150
poplar, 50 pine trees) and 2500 bushes. The activists continue the
care and irrigation of greened areas near village school and the post

The team also carried out cleaning and repair works of several
popular picnic areas in the outskirts of the village, repairing the
holding posts of the iron tents there.

5. Stepanavan town

The irrigation and care of the new park has been regularly performed,
and the survival rate of trees and bushes is 90%. The activists had
meetings with municipality representatives to discuss possibilities
of electric lamps location in the park, the decision will be made by

The activists also organized a cleaning of the river gorge of the
town, cleaning the area from plastic bags and bottles.

6. Vanadzor town

The local municipality organized yard camps throughout the town,
during which, among other activities, the Environmental Action Group
members delivered seminars on environmental basic principles to
schoolchildren. Seminars aimed to warn kids from committing
"environmental crimes"- throwing garbage in streets and green areas,
polluting water basins, harmfulness of plastics etc. Overall an
estimated 645 kids participated in these yard-camps from July to
August, some 200 of which participated in environmental classes.

The active group also organized eco-tours for several groups of
schoolchildren to nearby forests, showing them in-situ situation and
problems of forests. The camping areas were cleaned and garbage taken
to city waste disposal.

Kotayk marz

7. Tsakhkadzor town

The activists regularly water the planted trees in community adjacent
forested area with help of a water-truck and a 50m hose - mainly in
those areas that are steep and hard for the truck to enter.

The Kecharis monastery area was cleaned from garbage and plastic bags
by the action group members and local schoolchildren, as were several
other sites in the town. The coordinator now negotiates with the
municipality for allocation of an area to establish a small park near
the Writer's Union resort house.

Gegharkunik marz

8. Sevan town

In May the rehabilitation works of two city parks were finished, and
watering and care works started. Yet, due to hot and dry summer and
lack of funds for allocating water-truck by the municipality, the
survival rate of the seedlings is 50%. For improving the situation
and avoiding more loss, the active group worked to involve funds for
constructing a fence and irrigation channel for restored parks. The
municipality has agreed to allocate funds for fence construction and
for having a guard at the site, yet the irrigation funds issue still

With support of Peace Corps environmental volunteer appointed to
AFNGO's partner organization, the activists work with municipality
for allocation of waste separation disposal site for city and nearby
villages. The mayor promised to apply to government for the matter.

As part of anti-plastic campaign leaflets informing about the harm of
polyethylene are being prepared to be distributed throughout the

9. Martuni town

The active group was awarded with one computer by the Save the
Children Armenia office. The restored park was watered and taken care
of, yet due to hot summer the survival rate is 60%.

The local "Zangak" TV channel has prepared and broadcast for several
times a 7 minute film on the negative impact of plastics on
environment and people. The creation and airing of the film was
financed by the project (AFNGO has the recorded tape).

Vayots Dzor marz

10. Jermuk town

Although the municipality didn't allocate the promised 1 ha area for
establishment of a new park, AFNGO specialists and local activists
achieved the permit to restore one part of the city's big park, and
carried out restoration works in June. In three days, with direct
participation of AFNGO staff and director, more than 500 rose bushes
have been planted in two major alleys of central park, with tourists
and local residents participating in the works.

The local action group takes an intensive care of the restored area
of city park - watering the bushes and flowers with buckets (due to
no irrigation system), which has yielded good survival rates by
end-August. Local schoolchildren also take active part in the care

For questions and more information please contact Mher Sharoyan,
Assistant Project Coordinator, at (374 10) 54-15-29 or e-mail at

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