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Ecotourism: The Far-Reaching Potential of the Unkown Kapan Region


''Armenia is a small country with big potential. Not only in the capital, but also in the rest of the regions. We want  to represent southern Armenia because we are afraid that a lot of the solutions might happen only in Yerevan'', Oscar Alvarado, the Senior Environmental Specialist of ARK Armenia said. 
ARK Armenia is the first organization dedicated to developing ecotourism in Southern Armenia, specifically in Kapan, the regional center of the Syunik Province. The 31 years old Canadian became heavily involved with ARK Armenia from the beginning, a year and a half ago. 
Particularly out of Yerevan, he would say: ''Sources of energy are limited: there is the nuclear and the wood. And we know that deforestation is a big issue here. So ARK wants to show and protect the best of Armenia, its nature. And nature is located out of Yerevan.'' 
The project germinated in Armen Kazaryan and his wife Siranush Vardanyan’s mind while living in Sochi. The city located on the Black Sea coast attracts many tourists because of its nature. Why not Kapan, the place of birth of Armen ? At that moment, the adventure began: ''One of the facts is that Armenia has a good number of tourists, but very few of them go to Kapan. We have statistics: one percent of all tourists that have come to Armenia actually go further than Tatev. So they decided to build the infrastructure, to mark Kapan as a touristic destination'', explained Oscar. 
For hikers, cyclists, independant travelers, Kapan is the perfect place to be.  In addition to a rich historical and cultural heritage, the region has an amazing diversity of landscape, flora and fauna. It has the largest area of forests in Armenia as well as four out of eight biosphere national parks and reserves in the country. At the moment, ARK has two functioning ecocamps, one in Kapan, the other in Arajadzor village. These camps are built for tourists and for volunteers to stay. They are made from recycled materials, they include permaculture gardens to grow food and tourists and volunteers can help grow and then eat. In addition, ARK have mapped over 100 km of hiking trails in the Kapan region. 
One and a half year later, they have made very encouraging strides: ''We get revenue from two elements. First is ecotourism. It includes guides, hiking, cycling, volunteering.The volunteers come to the camp and they are farming, some people built us as stove made of clay that is more efficient than a normal stove. Second is consulting. We offer expertise and help as consultant for green ideas such as the use of rewable energy'',  Oscar Alvarado said.
The unfailing smile that carries Oscar shows his motivation in the organization’s project. Passionate about nature and sustainable development, Oscar decided to move in Armenia two years ago after a four months experience with Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC). Since then, he doesn’t want to leave the country: ''The people is the best thing, especially when you go to the regions. They are friendly and nice, you feel like family immediately. Then the potential of Armenia, there is so much to explore inside. The landscape is gorgeous and the food is great!'' enumerates Oscar with a laugh.
For Oscar and his organization, the most important thing in the ''Ecopreneurs for Climate" - Yerevan, is learning, more specifically, learning from Armenia. ''We would like to find out what is going on with Armenia. Instead of starting from zero, we would like to partner with the other entrepreneurs, share our ideas.'' The second point would be inspiration: ''When we get to know what everybody is doing, the question will be ''where do we fit ?'' What can we do together to boost the green potential of Armenia?'', - Oscar concluded. 

Interview taken by Ani Paitjan


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