In 1994, a policy of repopulating the Lachin Corridor with refugees and families from throughout Armenia was instituted. But now, many of the families who moved to the area are leaving. The current head of the regional administration in Kashatagh, as the area is now known, is Hamlet Khachatryan, appointed through a decision by the NKR government in November 2004.
Khachatryan had served as public prosecutor in the region for seven years before this appointment. He also holds the rank of general within the Kharabakh justice system. He is a member of two political parties - the Artsakh Democratic Party and the Republican Party in Armenia. Why are these details so significant? Over the last few years, the population of Kashatagh has declined by a few thousand people.
Our visits to dozens of villages in the Kashatagh region and conversations with many people who were relocated to this area suggest that the actions, as well as the inaction, of the administrative head have been instrumental in the current exodus.
"His appointment opened a new page in the history of the region, and the policy here changed. A policy to empty the region was implemented," said a teacher in Kashatagh, whose name we won't reveal, in order to protect her from possible retribution.
The administrative head lives and works in a guesthouse in Kashatagh while his administrative headquarters undergo renovation. It was decided to widen the two-floor building by two meters, at a total cost of 18 million drams, money that could have been spent on badly-needed home renovations for the people who have moved here.
We heard many stories about the governor general in the villages we visited.
The house of one resident of Tsaghkaberd burnt to the ground. He went to the administrative head to ask for help. He started to list all the items lost in the fire, and the damage incurred came to around 1.2 million drams. Hamlet Khachatryan said that there was nothing he could do. The villager was distraught and said, "What can I do now? I can't live like this, I'll have to leave." Without missing a beat, Khachatryan replied, "Yes, others are leaving too."
Karine Manukyan, a mother of seven children who lives in Karegah, a village around four kilometers from Kashatagh, has gone to the administrative head for help on several different occasions.
"My kitchen wall had collapsed, I went to him and asked him to at least get that wall repaired, if they weren't going to provide us with housing. He said 'Go do something on your own; we're in no position to do anything. Karabakh is responsible for those issues now,'" said Karine.
Ara Nazaryan, Karine's husband, works at the Berdzor communal service and makes 27,000 drams a month. Their eldest child, Levon, is 14 years old; their youngest, Lilit, is eight months. Each child receives 4,000 drams and Karine is given a mother's stipend of 4,000 drams for the youngest child. The state also covers electricity expenses of up to 60 kW/h for each child. Thus this family of nine has a monthly income of 59,000 drams. Last winter, they were without power for three months - their electricity was cut off because they couldn't pay their bills. It was only through the intercession of the village head that the problem was finally solved.
Ara Nazaryan and Karine Manukyan used to live with four of their children in the village of Aintap, near Yerevan. They were homeless. As the father of the family, Ara, who had left his studies at the Polytechnic in the early 1990s, was forced to take his family to a friend's house for temporary shelter.
"We found out that they were providing housing, and helping families get started. We dreamed of having our own house. We moved to Kashatagh in 1999 and settled in the village of Karegah. My eldest son went to school here. Four of my children will be in school this year. It will be difficult; I'm not sure how we'll manage," continued Karine.
I asked Hayk, who had spent the first six years of his life in Yerevan, whether he got bored in the village. "No, I've been to Yerevan twice, but it seems alien to me. I'm used to the village. We have a forest here, I play with other children - we're always out in the fields. I've decided to become a doctor. I wanted to be in the army first, but I have eye problems, so I can't do that. So I decided to become a surgeon," said Hayk seriously.
Karine's brother used to live in nearby Berdzor with his family, but they left for Russia.
I tried to find out if anyone here had heard of any negotiations or possible solutions to the conflict involving returning land. "I have nowhere to go. We will stay here - I don't know how things will end for us, if something like that were to happen. We're finding it difficult to manage - the children are growing, everything is getting more expensive. The stipends and my husband's salary are not enough. But the land we have is good - we have a garden too. It's true, we haven't had any luck with rearing animals. We took out a loan and bought some sheep, but they died of cold. Then we got a cow through a charity program but it died in the field. Now we only have one cow," smiled Karine.
Officials sometimes visit this large family. Karine mentioned them several times as we talked. "Some officials had come to our village from Stepanakert and Hamlet Khachatryan was with them. I asked why the Karabakh law about large families did not apply to us. They told me that it did, and that after the fifth child the state had to open a bank account and put 600 dollars in it, and pay additionally for any children born afterwards. They promised to deal with our case. I went to Khachatryan after a while and reminded him of the promise. He said, "Not every promise is kept. Do you do everything you promise your children you will?' I said that I did. He said that he couldn't keep the promises he made to his two children, so how had I managed? I said that I only make promises which I know I can keep and I never disappoint my children."
This nine-member family lives in a 16 square meter room. The house is falling down and the walls are damp. Almost every year, visitors to this family promise to have a new house built for them because this structure is no longer reliable. But Karine doubts the promises will be kept.