Our Environment. Our Armenia.

Vrej Haroutounian

In the summer of 2010, I was at Datev Monastery volunteering with Armenian Tree Project (ATP) as a landscape architect. We were working on the planting design for the world’s longest aerial tramway, “Wings of Datev.” I remember the excitement I felt at the chance to be able to contribute to the design of such a gargantuan project that was being eagerly implemented by people from all over the world. But many people had concerns as well; among other things, they complained that the project did not have a master plan, that it did not address the surrounding environment properly, that the developers would eventually build a resort on top of Devil’s Bridge, that the tramway should have been located in a less visually intrusive area. People were passionate about this project, and their points were all valid; it was at this point that I asked myself how we as a people would address such concerns. This question has lingered in my mind ever since.

ATP completed the project a few months later and I, a volunteer, had created a planting design that included over 3,000 trees. Needless to say, I was ecstatic that I had not only spent my time in Armenia living with our environment, people and culture, but also that I had contributed to its development. I got back to Los Angeles and wanted to share my experience with the Armenian community; I wanted everyone to know what I had accomplished by simply trying. I went to Armenia with no expectations and ended up planting 3,000 seeds of change with my own hands. And I was not alone. There were people educating children, empowering women, conserving the environment — working to preserve and better Armenia in every sector imaginable.

I came back in the fall of 2010 and have spent the last year convincing anyone and everyone I meet to go to Armenia and volunteer. I have told them that Armenia needs them as much as they need Armenia. I have told them to visit, learn, teach, and answer for themselves all the questions they have about Armenia. In the summer of 2011, I returned to Armenia as a Youth Corps director. My goal was to show my group an Armenia beyond the nightlife and tourism of Yerevan; I wanted them to see that this was their home that they needed to care for throughout their lives.

The group departed in August and I stayed behind to do my thesis research on the urban landscape of Yerevan; I examined how it had changed throughout the transition from a Soviet state to independence. I felt that after 20 years of independence, people were beginning to realize that they were capable of demanding the right to a more civilized way of life, in a city with parks that were cared for, with better housing choices, with more efficient transportation. They were beginning to speak up about conserving their environment and about using their natural resources to benefit the whole and not the irresponsible few.

I came back to Los Angeles with a sense of hope in the future of Armenia; at this point, many my friends were on the same page, having experienced for themselves the change beginning to sprout in Armenia. We continued to work on our projects, each of us doing our part independently, motivated by our own beliefs. And in January, when the passion of activists in Armenia began to spread all over the world, and the unanswered question from two years ago rose once again to the front of my thoughts, a response began to clarify itself in my mind. We can address the concerns of our people collectively, just like the activists in Armenia are, along with anyone else that wants to commit to doing their part. We can start raising awareness about environmental injustice on every level, starting with mining issues in Teghut, and moving on to the building of private business structures at the cost of the remaining community parks in Yerevan. Together, we can address these concerns, and we can meet our collective goals by contributing our individual expertise to our common interest, the betterment of Armenia.

Saving Teghut: Environmental Justice in Armenia is an education panel organized by the ARF ‘Shant’ Student Association and several leading environmental organizations to inform people about issues that are a part of the struggle for a healthier Armenia. It will take place on March 11th at 6:00 PM at the Hollywood Armenian Center, 1611 N. Kenmore Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027. We hope to see you there.

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