About the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment

The American University of Armenia (AUA) Acopian Center for the Environment promotes the protection and restoration of the natural environment through research, education, and community outreach. AUA Acopian Center’s areas of interest include:

  • Environmental policy,

Environmental policy is a key component of enabling conservation and restoration of the natural environment. It can identify and channel public sector resources as well as the much larger private sector ones through regulation.

  • Sustainable natural resource management,

Natural resource management deals with managing human interactions with the natural environment such as forests, wetlands, pastures, water bodies, minerals, flora, and fauna. It recognizes that people and their livelihoods rely on responsible stewardship of these resources. To ensure proper and sustainable management of these resources, management brings together many tools such as land-use planning, water management, biodiversity conservation, and the sustainable deployment of industries like agriculture, mining, tourism, fisheries and forestry.

  • Built environment and the natural environment, and

Built environment refers to human-made surroundings such as cities, industries, and buildings. It also refers to physical infrastructure–such as roads, bridges, aqueducts, electrical transmission lines, and so on–that are not necessarily in cities. Environmental conservation and restoration requires understanding of the impact such built environment on the natural environment. Relevant topics include solid waste (municipal, industrial, and hazardous), wastewater, energy, transportation, green zones, and more.

  • Information technology and the natural environment.

The natural environment and its systems are highly complex. To understand them students and researchers have to rely on information technology such as GIS mapping, remote sensing, satellite tracking, and computer modeling and simulation. All of these technological solutions are coming together in a field sometimes referred to as computational ecology.

AUA Acopian Center for the Environment, formerly known as the Environmental Conservation and Research Center (ECRC), was founded in 1992 by Mr. Sarkis Acopian as a center overseeing research and academic programs. From the very beginning, it was the center’s aim to protect Armenia’s biodiversity and natural resources through research, education and public involvement.

In the autumn of 2008, the ECRC was renamed the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment (AUA ACE) in honor of the Center’s late benefactor, Mr. Sarkis Acopian.


About Staff



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Alen Amirkhanian is the Director of the American University of Armenia’s (AUA) Acopian Center for the Environment, a position he has held since 2013. In 2014, he established AUA Center for Responsible Mining and is acting as its Interim Director. He teaches graduate and undergraduate environmental courses at AUA. Prior to AUA, he was Senior Vice President of Research at Michael Porter’s Initiative for a Competitive Inner City. He has consulted with the World Bank, UNDP, and the Brookings Institution on energy efficiency as well as economic and urban-growth issues. His current academic interests include urban environmental sustainability, “greening” the built environment, and circular economy esp. as it relates to “greening” cities. Alen holds a Masters in City Planning (’97) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.


Research Assistant Professor
+374 60612693Dr. Natella Mirzoyan received her PhD from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, in 2010. Later on she joined University of Maryland and Weizmann Institute of Sciences as a postdoctoral fellow. Dr. Mirzoyan is specialized in wastewater and solid waste treatment from intensive agricultural practices, as well as environmental chemistry and microbiology of anoxic aquatic environments.




GIS Specialist
a.harutyunyan(at)aua.am+374 60 612691Aghavni Harutyunyan is the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist at the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment (ACE) and AUA Center for Responsible Mining (CRM) starting in 2015. Ms. Harutyunyan is creating maps and providing data analyses through GIS. Before joining AUA ACE and AUA CRM she worked at the National Survey for Seismic Protection of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of RA. Ms. Harutyunyan holds a Master’s degree in Geography from the Yerevan State University from the Department of Geography and Geology.



Grants and Projects Manager
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Tatevik Vardanyan has served as the Operations and Communications Coordinator at AUA Acopian Center for the Environment starting in 2014. She manages daily administrative and legal issues as well as communicates with partner organizations and AUA’s communications office. Prior to joining AUA ACE, she was working at the AUA Office of Communications. Tatevik Vardanyan holds an LL.M degree from the American University of Armenia and a LL.B degree from Yerevan State Linguistic University.



Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator
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Litta Muradyan is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator at AUA Acopian Center for the Environment. Litta organizes and coordinates the environmental education activities, programs and campaigns. Ms. Muradyan is the AUA MBA graduate with 10 years’ experience in project management, communication, publishing and administrative position.


Norayr Ben Ohanian


Adjunct Lecturer, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Projects Coordinator

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Norayr Benohanian is Adjunct Lecturer at the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment for environmental science courses. He holds an M.Sc. in Materials Science and Engineering from the German University in Cairo. He has just completed his Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Systems Management at the AUA.




Adjunct Lecturer

Astghine Pasoyan has joined the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment in September 2015. She teaches and co-teaches courses on the interrelation of the humans and the environment, business and environmental sustainability, water, engineering green buildings, decision-making tools for energy generation and use. Concurrently, over the past twenty years Ms. Pasoyan has been heading a local non-profit Foundation to Save Energy, consulting the USAID, World Bank, European Commission, EBRD, UNDP and other donors and IFIs on energy efficiency policy, financing, planning, communications and capacity building in countries of Southeast Europe and CIS.  Astghine Pasoyan is a graduate of the Brown University, Providence, RI and the Yerevan State Economic University, Armenia.



Adjunct Lecturer

Sean joined the Acopian Center in 2017 as a lecturer on Disaster Management. He has worked with both local governments (City of Palm Bay Florida) and private sector companies (Harris Corporation, Chevron) on disaster preparation, response, and impact modelling. His expertise is in Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing, with a specialization in data analysis and quality control. He holds a Masters Degree in Geographic Information Science from Florida State University. Sean came to Armenia initially in 2008 as a United States Peace Corps volunteer working on environmental awareness at Halidzor Secondary School in Syunik Marz. He is continuing this work though teaching and other projects at ACE.

Former Staff


Research Assistant Professor
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Karen Aghababyan was the Research Assistant Professor and Head of Environmental Lab at AUA Acopian Center for the Environment. He taught courses in environmental science, sustainable management of natural resources, and wildlife biology. He was a 2007 recipient of the Whitley Award for Nature Conservation. He currently serves as Armenia’s National Coordinator for the European Breeding Bird Atlas 2. He has consulted UNDP, USAID, GIZ, WWF, and Ministry of Nature Protection of RA on nature conservation and monitoring of wildlife. Karen holds a PhD Degree from the Institute of Zoology of National Academy of Sciences of Republic of Armenia.


Adjunct Lecturer

Evelyn Kamber is a forest engineer/forest scientist with specialisation in nature and landscape protection from the Federal Institute of Technologie ETH Zürich, Switzerland. Since mid 2016 until April 2018 she was working on a project looking at enhancing energy efficiency measures in rural areas to improve not only household savings but also take away pressure on forests.Before joining the Center, she has been working in nature protection, natural resource management and climate change and development in different countries.



GIS & Remote Sensing Expert, Lecturer
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Stefan Schlaffer is a Center for International Migration and Development (CIM) integrated expert in remote sensing who worked with the AUA ACE from February 2017 until April 2018. He was actively involved in the development of AUA’s GIS and Remote Sensing Lab. He has an M.Sc. degree in geoecology from the University of Bayreuth, Germany, and a Ph.D. in microwave remote sensing from the Vienna University of Technology, Austria. Before joining AUA, Stefan has worked as a researcher at the Vienna University of Technology in the field of remote sensing of geophysical variables and as a hydrological modeler in the private sector. His current research interests include time series analysis of remotely sensing data and applications in flood monitoring, hydrology and vegetation dynamics.




About Mr. Sarkis Acopian

sarkisacopianSarkis Acopian was born in Tabriz, Iran on Dec 8, 1926 to Armenian parents who emigrated from Russia and Turkey and finally settled in Iran. Sarkis was raised as a Christian Armenian in Iran and in 1945 immigrated to the United States where he studied engineering at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. During his time at Lafayette, he was called to serve in the U.S. Army. While stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in the Army Air Training Command in San Antonio, TX, he met his future wife, Bobbye. After being honorably discharged and returning to Lafayette, he graduated in 1951, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. After graduation, he was employed by Weller Electric Corp., where he designed a power sander and a soldering gun that became two of their most popular products.

Since his childhood, Sarkis dreamed of owning his own business. With just a small loan to start his own company and achieve his share of the American dream, he began by designing and manufacturing the first ever solar powered radio, a milestone of 1957 technology. This invention led Sarkis on the path to the power supply business which is still operating today as the Acopian Technical Company.

Sarkis Acopian was more than just an outstanding entrepreneur. He loved outdoor adventure and throughout his life he was an avid pilot who flew his corporate aircraft between his company’s manufacturing facilities in Easton, PA and Melbourne, FL.  He was also a scuba diver and a skydiving enthusiast who made more than 200 jumps during the pioneering days of the sport in the early 1960s. But where he really made his presence known was in his philanthropic work.

Sarkis was a self-effacing man who passionately believed in supporting the community quietly but with unmatched generosity. He made numerous donations to local, national and international causes that have included the Acopian Engineering Center at Lafayette College, the Acopian Center for Ornithology at Muhlenberg College, the Acopian Center for Conservation Learning at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, The Nature Conservancy’s Acopian Bog Turtle Preserve, the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia in Ottawa, Canada as well as endowing programs at the American University of Armenia, Lafayette College and the Florida Institute of Technology.

Mr. Acopian’s passion for his faith led him to donate funding for the building of three churches: St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, built in memory of his beloved mother, Dr. Arax Acopian; St. Hagop Armenian Apostolic Church in Gyumri, Armenia, built in honor of his granddaughter Ani; and St. Mesrop Armenian Apostolic Church in Yerevan, Armenia.

In the later years of his life, he assembled a team of ornithologists from around the world to work towards publishing a field guide on the birds of Armenia in hopes of introducing the newly independent former Soviet Republic to the idea of environmental conservation. A Field Guide to Birds of Armenia was published in 1997. The first accurate map of the newly independent Republic of Armenia was also published as a result of the Birds of Armenia Project.

Acopian was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, the St.Gregory the Illuminator Medal by the Armenian Church, and he received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Muhlenberg College.

As an immigrant to this country, Mr. Acopian was eternally grateful for the opportunities offered to him here. He showed his great sense of gratitude to his adopted country by being the largest individual donor to the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. This generous contribution was unknown to the public until after Sarkis passed away in 2007. Pennsylvania Congressman Charles Dent, in a speech before the Unites States House of Representatives commemorating Sarkis’ life, recounted the story behind the WWII Memorial where in return for his contribution, Sarkis only asked for a seat at the dedication ceremony. Due to extremely limited seating at the dedication ceremony, he decided not to attend, giving up his seat so that another veteran could attend.

Although he is no longer with us, Sarkis Acopian’s vision of promoting conservation awareness among the citizenry of Armenia and the Diaspora is being continued at the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment.





About the American University of Armenia

The American University of Armenia (AUA) is an independent, private, non-profit institution of higher education in Armenia that began instructions on September 21, 1991, the same day Armenia declared its independence from the former Soviet Union.

AUA provides teaching, research, and service programs that prepare students and enable faculty and researchers to address the needs of Armenia and the surrounding region for sustainable development, in a setting that values and develops academic excellence, free inquiry, integrity, scholarship, leadership, and service to society.

AUAs academic programs provide graduate education and starting in Fall 2013 undergraduate education. Parallel to its academic programs, AUA has established the Engineering Research Center, Turpanjian Center for Policy Analysis, Acopian Center for the Environment, Center for Health Services Research and Development, Center for Research in Applied Linguistics, Center for Business Research and Development, and Legal Resource Center to promote research in conjunction with its teaching programs. As a public service to the communities across Armenia, AUA also provides a business development program through the Turpanjian Rural Development Program and courses and trainings through AUA Extension.