By Armine Tokhmakhyan
MARGAHOVIT, Armenia — On June 13, Armenia Tree Project (ATP) and representatives of the Ohanian Family hosted the ceremonial opening of the new Michael and Virginia Ohanian Center for Environmental Studies. Vice Prime Minister Armen Gevorgyan and Lori Gov. Arthur Nalbandyan were the guests of honor at the ceremonial opening, along with ATP Executive Committee member Anthony Barsamian and organization founder Carolyn Mugar.
Following its successful model of the environmental education center in Karin village, ATP will host students, eco clubs, teachers, farmers and professionals from Armenia and abroad at the new Ohanian Center in northern Armenia. The first beneficiaries of the center will be the population of Lori and Tavush provinces. The educational facility is located close to ATP’s Mirak Reforestation Nursery, which will allow theory and practice to be combined.
In his opening remarks ATP Managing Director Tom Garabedian stated, “To construct a center like this, you need a strong sense of mission and purpose; you need the financial means for which we thank Mrs. Virginia Ohanian, her late husband Michael and her family; and you need the cooperation of a community which values learning and the importance of environmental conservation. We fully expect that all of these elements are present here.”
Commenting on the site, he added, “As it matures, the center’s landscape will both beautify Margahovit and provide a hands-on learning experience for the children of Armenia. We all want the youth of Armenia to care for their environment, and this center will play an important role in educating them.”
Mugar welcomed guests at the opening and recalled the establishment of ATP in the early 1990s: “In those terrible years of the blockade, when everyone suffered from shortages of heat and energy, people had to cut down trees to survive, stay warm and cook. Tree stumps were everywhere. ATP was born in the midst of those difficult times. People asked me, ‘How can you plant trees when people need kerosene and milk?’ It was just at this low moment that we decided that now was the time to invest in the future of Armenia.”
“Today we are opening the Michael and Virginia Ohanian Center for Environmental Studies,” continued Mugar. “In this center, children and students will learn that wood is a renewable resource if grown and cared for responsibly. They can learn how crucial a sustainable environment is to the future of a secure and thriving Armenia. We can even ask, ‘Is the long term risk of mining which destroys forests and pollutes rivers worth the cost?’”
Mugar concluded by extending her gratitude to Virginia Ohanian and her late husband, Michael, who have been leading benefactors of ATP since its founding. “I hope that their gift will inspire others to give to ensure the viability and vibrancy of Armenia,” she said.
Nalbandyan said that he greatly valued ATP’s programs in Armenia. “I would like to thank ATP for their hard work in Armenia, especially in the Lori region. Their existence in Lori is of utmost importance as Lori is otherwise a center of industrial mining,” he explained. “I would personally like to thank the donors of ATP for their support of sustainable development in Armenia.”
Fr. Dajad Davidian then performed a traditional blessing ceremony for the new educational center. Schoolchildren from Margahovit accompanied Davidian in the blessing ceremony by singing sharagans and also drew pictures of the mountains nearby for the guests.
Family members Gail O’Reilly and Charles Talanian, the niece and nephew of Virginia Ohanian, then unveiled the center’s plaque with Mugar to signal the official opening.
This year ATP celebrates its 18th anniversary. Through ATP’s community tree planting and reforestation efforts, more than 4,000,000 trees have been planted throughout the country. ATP’s environmental education program extends to hundreds of teachers and thousands of students in all regions of Armenia.