Thursday, 20 September

Illusions and Reality: Settlers Leave and No One Tries to Stop Them

The village of Maratuk with its three households is located near the road leading from Berdzor to the south. A well-groomed garden running along the path from the roadside toward the village is a welcome sight after the drought-dried greenery along the main road. When an old man sitting under a mulberry-tree saw us, he got up with the help of his cane and invited us to join him. As we approached he began cursing the doctors for being unable to cure his leg and preventing him from working. He broke his leg five months ago, but it was never properly treated. “I'm told that there is no X-ray equipment in Lachin,” the old man complained. His leg was red and swollen. “Every one knows me in this gorge, they call me Grandpa,” the old man said, and, quickly changing the subject, invited us to taste the mulberry vodka he had distilled.

“Where are you from, Grandpa?” – we asked.

“From the best village in the world – Areni,” he replied immediately.

73-year-old Rubik Gharakhanyan lives here with his wife and one of their sons. This village man has laid out an orchard in the gorge. The saplings he brought from Areni are yielding fruit already. He asked us again and again to photograph his trees. “Let people see what an orchard I have,” Grandpa Rubik said, caressing the trunk of one of his trees. We photographed his trees and continued our path to south.

The village of Hakari has 131 residents, including 26 school-age children. There is no drinking water in the village, but almost every household has a well. There is also a natural spring 600 meters away from the village. The village mayor, Garnik Chobanyan, says that because the community has no budget of its own the village administration is unable to take care of any of its problems. As for the villagers, they have neither the means nor the initiative to bring water to the village.

A year ago there was a bus that ran between Berdzor and Hakari twice a week. Villagers used the bus to transport their goods for sale in Berdzor. Following a decision by the regional administration, the bus no longer operates, and the village has no other connection to the outside world at present. “If it goes on like this no one will stay here,” Garnik says. Over the last two years, three families have left the village and two others are preparing to leave. One of those getting ready to move is Artash from Gyumri.

“My family was in Leninakan [Gyumri] and I used to go to Russia for seasonal jobs. A childhood friend of mine was in Hakari. Once his mother visited me in Leninakan and asked me to take his child to the village. I came here and I liked the village. My wife always said that the kids were growing up and that I should stay home and not go to Russia. I saw that the soil was fine here, the place was fine, and I thought that instead of going to Russia, I should work on our land,” Artash said.

Artash moved from Gyumri to Hakari in 2001. His wife died here – she had gone to the next village for seedlings and on the way back she fell into the river and the current carried her away.

“I brought my family here. I came and landed in trouble. The place is great, the people around us are united, it's just that we have no opportunities – that's the bad thing. They promised us miracles then, but everything has been left hanging. I barely manage to earn money for bread – we use two sacks of flour a month. So just calculate – I pay 18,000 drams just for flour. There's nothing left after that,” Artash went on.

Artash and his children live in a ten-square-meter hut. All the houses in the village are dilapidated, with no roofs. So he and his family settled in the hut in the hopes that the state would help them fix up one of the houses. They never received any assistance.

“I've been here for five years now and haven't gotten any help. Why should I keep my children here? I'm not accomplishing anything. We get 30,000 drams – my pension and an allowance for kids. They raised the electricity fee, I have no home, why should I stay here – there is no future. I'm unable to cultivate my land, why should I stay? Is it possible to raise three children in this hut? In Leninakan, I may not have a house, but I at least have a trailer, thank God. We are on the waiting list for an apartment, so one day we will get an apartment. But here we have nothing to hope for,” he said.

41-years-old Artash Gasparyan lost his home to the 1988 earthquake and has been on the waiting list for an apartment ever since. He married again in Hakari and is expecting his fourth child soon.

“The day I came here I was given 35,000 drams and that was it. If you tell me why I should stay here I will. If I go to Leninakan I can at least do odd jobs. I have two farm animals and a milk cow. But now they don't give loans for livestock breeding. They say I have to register here. But if I cancel my registration in Gyumri, who's going to give me an apartment? There is a dispute over these territories now. If they return these lands, God forbid, where will I go then if I'm not registered in Gyumri? Today many people want to leave; they're just not capable of it. And there is way to complain. The electricians just cut the electricity and go. They say that there is an accumulated debt. To lodge a complaint you have to go to Berdzor – 1,000 drams to get there, another 1,000 drams to come back – how can I go? I can do any construction work. I used to take a construction brigade to Russia for eight years and now I came here and I can't earn money to feed my children. And who needs the plot of land if there is no way to cultivate it? One year we borrowed wheat, but that year there was no harvest, so we are in debt now. And now the debtor is asking for the money with interest; how can I pay it back? And even if I had produce, there is no place to sell it. Where should I sell my tomatoes, every villager has tomatoes, who can I sell them to?” Artash concluded with one more in a string of unanswered questions: “Why did they bring people here if this was the situation they would find themselves in?”


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