02 Mar, 2023

A Breath of Fresh Air: “Forest Lungs” Afforestation Project in Urasar Village

We began our ambitious “Forest Lungs” Afforestation Project in Urasar Village, Lori Region in the Spring of 2022. Through funding from the European Union’s EU4Environment Grant, we planted 33 hectares of native pine, birch, and rowan trees. This year, we plan to finish the project by planting an additional 73 hectares to reach our goal of 106 total hectares of afforested land. 


Forests are the “Earth’s lungs.” They suck in carbon dioxide and release oxygen that other living creatures depend on for survival. That’s why protecting these “lungs” is crucial for maintaining our planet’s rich biodiversity and for preventing climate catastrophe in Armenia and globally. In the fall of 2021, our Forestry Department piloted the symbolic “Forest Lungs” initiative by designing a 9-hectare forest for Urasar Village in the shape of human lungs.

As one could imagine, growing a forest in the shape of human lungs is no easy task, but with the expertise of the ATP Forestry Department, ATP Forester Vahe Matsakyan has already begun to breathe life into this initiative. The border of the “lungs” is already marked and initial planting has begun. According to Vahe “The territory is situated above a 35-degree slope, which will make the planting process quite challenging. To carry out this project, careful, intentional work is required to maintain the shape of the ‘lungs.’ Luckily we have a great team of skilled planters in Lori Region who are up to the challenge.” He also noted that in “8-10 years, the lung-shaped forest will be clearly visible from an eagle eye view.”

The native pine, birch, and rowan trees for this project are grown in our Mirak Nursery in Margahovit and through our Backyard Nursery Program, a micro-enterprise program designed by Armenia Tree Project to provide villagers with resources and mentorship to grow trees that we then buy back for our projects, creating economic opportunity and partnership with vulnerable populations. 


PINE: Pine trees are ubiquitous in Armenia and known for their lasting beauty, as evidenced by their evergreen status, which keeps them green throughout the winter. They are also culturally symbolic to Armenia, frequently appearing in folklore and traditions and representing resilience, longevity, and strength. Their pine needles and resin are said to contain medicinal qualities for treating respiratory problems, skin conditions, and joint pain. Every year, people across Armenia collect pine cones and sap to make their famous pine cone preserves and pine gum.

BIRCH: Birch trees are adored in Armenia for their unique, papery-white bark and delicate leaves. They symbolize renewal, protection, and fertility. Their leaves, bark, and sap are also said to have medicinal qualities and are used for a variety of ailments. 

ROWAN: Rowan trees, also known as Mountain Ash are appreciated in Armenia for their beauty, and red berries for jams and sweets. Their berries, rich in vitamin C, are said to treat a variety of illnesses, including digestive issues. The trees themselves are said to bring good luck and protect against evil spirits. 

For us at the Armenia Tree Project, each one of these trees has a symbolic meaning as well as serves a purpose to this initiative. The pine trees symbolize the health of the forest and the surrounding community. The white renewal of the birch symbolizes the purification of the air and the growth of our forest. The red of the rowan berry represents the blood that brings oxygen to the lungs, and the blood of our ancestors that connects all Armenians to each other and our homeland.   


Located in a mountainous area in the northern part of Armenia, Lori region is rich in forests, subalpine meadows, and high peaks. The State Forest Lands, state-owned territory for the purpose of foresting, monitored by the Ministry of Environment and State Forest Committee, makes up 101,205 hectares of the region, 86,000 of which are covered by forests. The State Forest Lands territory makes up roughly 27% of the region and 30% of Armenia’s total forest cover. Accordingly, Lori is considered Armenia’s greenest area, with more native forest land than any other region of the country. The region is also home to two World Heritage Sites: the Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin, plus numerous monasteries and churches along the Dzoraget, Pambak, and Debed River gorges.

Despite State Forest Lands protections, Lori’s environment is under threat from mining companies and industries looking to use its abundant resources and minerals. Lori is populated by metal (gold, copper, molybdenum, and iron), construction material, mountainous chemical material, and precious and semi-precious stone mines and has suffered from industrial waste dumping. By planting more forests in the region and lobbying for increased allocations of lands to be State Forest Lands, Armenia Tree Project is able to protect the natural resources of the region and the health of the surrounding people and environment. 


With a population of roughly 400 people, Urasar (formerly Kuybishev) is a small village in Lori Region. Until 1960, Urasar was inhabited solely by Russians and was considered one of the leading economies in the region. Despite this history, Urasar now has one of the smallest populations of any village in Armenia and faces severe socio-economic challenges. We will hire seasonal workers from Urasar and surrounding villages to carry out the reforestation planting. 

                                                          - # # # -

Armenia Tree Project, established in 1994, is a non-profit organization that revitalizes Armenia’s and Artsakh’s most vulnerable communities through tree-planting initiatives and provides socio-economic support and growth. It is based in Yerevan, Armenia, and has an office in Woburn, Massachusetts. For more information, please visit ArmeniaTree.org.