(l-r) Armenia Tree Project's Jeanmarie Papelian, The HALO Trust USA's Amasia Zargarian, and the Assembly's Mariam Khaloyan
Washington, D.C. - The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) continued its 2021 Fall Advocacy Week, organized in remembrance of the first anniversary of the 44-day war on Artsakh, with two additional relevant panels, "Working to Make Artsakh Safe and Green," and "Fuel Advocacy," that took place virtually on Tuesday, September 28.
Jeanmarie Papelian, Executive Director of Armenia Tree Project (ATP), and Amasia Zargarian, Deputy Head of Government Affairs of The HALO Trust USA were featured in the panel, which was moderated by the Assembly's Congressional Relations Director Mariam Khaloyan.
Papelian explained how over the course of the past 27 years and by Spring 2022, ATP will have planted 7 million trees. Founded by Carolyn Mugar in 1994, ATP has greened over 1,300 communities in Armenia while employing thousands of people to date, including local villagers who are often seasonal workers. ATP's newest forest planting is in Lernakert, a village in Armenia's Shirak Province, and close to 400,000 new trees will be planted by the end of this year.
ATP is "revitalizing and engaging communities" as a result of its work, despite the fact that it lost 14 Community Tree Planting sites in Artsakh during last year's war. Papelian noted, however, they have new plans for the future thanks to ATP donors, who are "improving the environment and the economy of Armenia when they support ATP."
In Artsakh today, ATP is focusing on providing rural villagers with small greenhouses as "many villagers lost farmland during the 44-day war."
ATP is also partnering with Green Lane NGO, which trains farmers in
growing, packaging and marketing vegetables for sale in local marketplaces. The greenhouse project will be inaugurated in villages around Artsakh's towns of Martuni and Askeran, giving farmers the opportunity to grow vegetables in the greenhouse year-round.
Looking ahead, ATP's goal is "ensuring that the next generation of children in Armenia and Artsakh be better stewards of the environment." As a means to achieve that, ATP is establishing a nursery in Stepanakert, which will be located on the grounds of the Stepanakert Botanical Gardens, and where locals will be employed to run the nursery. ATP will provide green space as well as fruit and nut trees to local villagers.
The HALO Trust USA's Amasia Zargarian acknowledged the importance of their generous donors, whose donations have aided in the removing of cluster munitions and unexploded ordnances from people’s homes, attics, roofs, gutters, and gardens. Zargarian estimates it will take another four years to clear most of the unexploded ordnances remaining in Artsakh, though "a good number of cluster munitions have already been cleared around the towns of Martuni, Martakert, and Askeran."
"It is important to point out how different the cleanup challenge is now, after the 44-day war, versus the cleanup after the first Artsakh war in the early 1990s," said Zargarian. "So much of the explosive threat this time is inside civilian-populated centers in Artsakh, and not just in the outskirts of towns and villages, as was the case in the immediate aftermath of the first Artsakh war."
Zargarian reported that the clearing of cluster munitions and unexploded ordnances in Stepanakert, which has been a priority for The HALO Trust, will be completed in October 2021. He emphasized that 99% of The HALO Trust's staff on the ground in Artsakh are locals and 150 are employed full time, while more than 20% of the current staff are displaced Armenians. Zargarian added that The HALO Trust "is proud to employ them."
Another major challenge facing the people in Stepanakert is the issue of water access, which has yet to be resolved, according to Zargarian.
"We rely on organizations like the Armenian Assembly of America to advocate for Congressional support, in order for HALO to get the job done," he concluded.
(l-r) The Assembly's Mihran Toumajan and Mariam Khaloyan, New England Patriots' Berj Najarian and the Assembly's Bryan Ardouny
The "Fuel Advocacy" panel, featuring New England Patriots Director of Football/Head Coach Administration, Berj Najarian, Assembly's Western Region Director Mihran Toumajan, Director of Congressional Relations Mariam Khaloyan and Executive Director Bryan Ardouny, highlighted the importance of activism and advocacy efforts in order to achieve results that benefit the Armenian people. Najarian said it is a "great honor and duty" to use his platform in an effective manner. His activism increased in 2015 when he became an advocate for U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide during the centennial commemoration. He noted that within the Patriots organization, there are "players, coaches and owners who use their voice" to create change. "I'm going to continue stepping up and doing it in a respectful, but firm way," said Najarian. "There has been receptiveness, not only in the organization, but different organizations and people outside of it, so we're going to keep going." In his concluding remarks, Najarian commented on the importance of inclusivity in advocacy efforts and to approach causes "thoughtfully, strategically, and creatively." He said that he informs non-Armenians about Armenia and Artsakh, and that the large Armenian flag in his office that greets Patriots players everyday "has become a conversation sparker." Toumajan remarked on the Assembly's activities on the West Coast, where he has been engaged with California state officials and testified before a State Senate Committee earlier this year regarding local agencies divesting from Turkey and Turkish government-controlled bonds, under State Senator Anthony J. Portantino's leadership and upon the wise counsel of Assembly intern alum, Ardashes Kassakhian, who is a Glendale City Councilmember. Toumajan also works closely with California State Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, who recently secured $9 million in state funding for the first Tumo Center to be established in the U.S. in the greater Los Angeles area. Ardouny expressed the Assembly’s appreciation to its network of State Chairs and activists across the country and highlighted the importance of the successful passage of five decisive amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act last week. Ardouny also talked about the importance of affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and yesterday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) confirmation hearing of U.S. Ambassador to Turkey nominee and former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), as well as SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez's questions relating to the importance of Armenian Genocide reaffirmation. Ambassador-nominee Flake affirmed that he recognizes the Armenian Genocide, and that he would memorialize the Genocide as Ambassador each April 24th. Highlights from an exclusive interview with Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) were also shared, including on aid to Armenia and Artsakh, the importance of growing the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, as well as lessons observed from the decades-long effort to secure passage of legislation affirming the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide. Rep. Pallone noted that through the work of the Armenian Caucus and with the support of the Assembly and other organizations, $50 million in humanitarian and economic development assistance was secured for Armenia, and $2 million for demining in Artsakh. With the end of the Fiscal Year approaching, Rep. Pallone will continue to work with his colleagues as Congress looks to wrap up the remaining appropriations bills. "This is all very positive," said Rep. Pallone, who also remarked on the significance of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues. "I would continue to encourage Assembly members to reach out and make sure your members join the Caucus," said Rep. Pallone. "It always helps to have our Caucus members be Democrats and Republicans." Finally, Rep. Frank Pallone commented on the importance of advocacy and reflected on the overwhelming passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives. "There were many times when I didn't think we would ever get Armenian Genocide recognition, but it happened, not just by a miracle, but because of all of the hard work," said Rep. Pallone. "So I want to use that as an example to tell everyone in the Armenian diaspora that you can never give up and to stay active." Echoing Rep. Pallone’s sentiments, Ardouny concurred that "we never gave up and we never gave in," and again expressed appreciation for activists like Berj Najarian for helping make a difference. The Assembly's 2021 Advocacy Week panels continue today, Wednesday, September 29 with "Media Matters" from 12:00 Noon to 1:00 pm EDT.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.