It is with heavy heart that the Armenian Technology Groups reports the unexpected passing of a humble servant of humanity, a research scientist in the field of agriculture, Mekhitar Grigoryan.
Heartbroken, Gagik Mkrchyan, ATG Foundation Director in Armenia, shared the sad news with the Armenian Technology Group, Inc. (ATG) executive committee headquartered in Fresno, California.
Grigoryan was the chief agronomist at the ATG Foundation in Armenia. He had worked with Gagik since 1977, while they were employed at the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture, prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gagik worked as a mechanical engineer, specializing in farm equipment and Mekhitar, served as an agronomist.
Mekhitar joined ATG in 1992 and, since 1994, the two were inseparable partners and an integral part of ATG’s projects in Armenia.
In early Spring of 1992, Mekhitar was in Spitak, along with the ATG founding board members, Dr. Arthur O. Hazarabedian, D.V.M., Dr. Robert Bushnell, Dr. Leon Garoyan, Roger Benton, Don Tounjes and Monte Bell, when they planted the first wheat and alfalfa seed fields and trial plots near the epicenter of the earthquake- devastated city of Spitak. What would become a lifelong commitment to building the country’s seed bank, Grigoryan once fondly remembered, was working closely with the founding members in planting the first fields on a snowy day. He adapted the technology passed on by the US technical advisers and, for the next 28 consecutive years, followed the process of propagating the breeder seed, conducting extensive trials of seed varieties and multiplying them, as needed, to meet the local demands.
“Mekhitar was the only person in our republic who literally set seed trial plots all over Armenia. No other person possessed the equivalent knowledge he had. No one did, and perhaps no one ever will, carry out as much as he did, applying agronomic science and methodology in a way that would, finally, assist the growers’ ability to harvest higher- yielding, disease resistant crops and, thus, help feed our nation,” stated Mkerchyan.
Beginning in 1994, Mr. Grigoryan worked very closely with US Technical Advisors, Soil Scientists and Agronomists James Bauder, Ph.D., Roger Culver, Roger Benton and Mark Goodson, the latter, a USDA State Agronomist from Pennsylvania. Mekhitar mastered applied science methodology in seed propagation. At ATG, Grigoryan was in charge of all the seed trial plots that he carried out annually – for each variety, for over a two year period — on 14 trial plots in the seven growing zones of Armenia. In his capacity, Mr. Grigoryan examined 496 seed varieties. He studied their characteristic and adaptability for every region of Armenia, prior to making any recommendation to continue with their use in the country. He co-organized and participated in 295 training seminars and field demonstrations in over 320 villages in Armenia and Artsakh. Grigoryan also represented ATG in attending international wheat conferences organized by International Wheat and Maize Improvement Organization (CIMMYT), International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), held in Turkey, India and former Soviet republics to help bring the latest know-how to his country.
Due to his efforts, Grigoryan was partly responsible for helping propagate enough seed in Armenia, during its crucial early years of independence. Once a farmer from Talin region had stated that most of the bread served at the Armenian dinner table and consumed by rich and poor alike had their roots in those seed trial plots. In the following years, over 65% of the wheat seed sown in Armenia were the result of the joint efforts carried out by Grigorian and Mkerchyan. Few times with the support of the US Embassy in Armenia, they helped save the people from potential famine.
“We were just in the process of identifying new seed varieties that are more drought tolerant and suitable for dry areas when we lost our friend.” said Mkerchyan mournfully. “We had to be forward thinking in order to reduce the losses that the growers in Armenia are facing due to the climate change.”
ATG lost a colleague and dear friend, one who had devoted himself to rebuilding the seed industry in his country. However, the loss is even greater for Armenia. The country lost an experienced and knowledgeable agronomist, one unmatched in his expertise and scientific approach to its seed industry. Did anyone notice?
Mekhitar was an unselfish, quiet person. He focused on his mission. He did not look to making headlines, but rather, behind the scenes, consistently devoted himself to his research. His objective was to insure that he was selecting and recommending the best seed varieties to the growers in each region, so they could harvest higher yield and provide for their families. Corporate Secretary, Margit Hazarabedian, Ph.D. noted, “In order to match Mekhitar’s knowledge and dedication in the field of agronomy, Armenia has big shoes to fill.”
“He definitely was dedicated to Armenia and he definitely helped many, many people in Armenia with his work. He will be missed by more than ATG.” said ATG Board Member, Dr. James P. Reynolds, DVM, MPVM, who last evaluated Mekhitar’s field work during his trip to Armenia, in Spring, 2019.
ATG carried out the research expenses and all the risks associated with the propagation of seed, and only after Mr. Grigoryan and his colleague, Mkerchyan, ensured the best seed varieties were suitable for producing the highest results in a given region – only then the duo made the seeds available to seed producers and grain growers.
“The need to secure Armenia’s grain consumption demands was one of his ongoing concerns,” said Varoujan Der Simonian, Executive Director of ATG. “Recently, as we were assessing our future plans, together with Mekhitar and Gagik, we discussed the volatile region in which Armenia is located. We concluded that, while other industries might be more resilient, grain demands would grow and be felt immediately, should any crisis place the country and its population in a vulnerable situation. This, of course, is very much what Armenia is facing today, when, in addition to the east and the west, the borders from the north and the south are closed also,” said Der Simonian.
“Yes, with heavy heart we hear the news that Mekhitar has died,” wrote Roger Culver, retired ATG In-Country Director in Armenia and long-term technical advisor. “What a great colleague, friend and agronomist. So many memories for me going back to 1994, especially those early seminars we did in the country villages. He was a great help to me in presenting our program and technical information to the farmers, many of whom were first time farmers. A side note, we were often invited to dinners after seminars and the ladies liked to have Mehkitar dance with them to real Armenian traditional music as he was a classic dancer. Mehkitar’s knowledge and skills as an agronomist were second to no one. He was a consistent great help to me. He and Gagik have made a great contribution to Armenian agriculture. ATG’s positive legacy in Armenia certainly includes Mehkitar.”
Mr. Grigoryan was born in the city of Kapan, Zankezour region of Armenia in 1949. He passed away on Friday, March 27, 2020 due to a heart attack while returning home from grocery shopping for his family in Yerevan, Armenia. He was 71 years old. He is survived by his son and two daughters, their spouses and grandchildren.
Job well done! You did your part for your country, Mekhitar. Did anyone notice your devotion? Rest in peace, dear friend and patriot. May your memory be blessed.
In lieu of flowers online contributions in his memory could be made through the ATG website. Contributions will help continue Mekhitar’s legacy.