Some dozen villagers are sitting on a log in the center of the village. Soon, the whole village has gathered around the log, which is a few meters away from a spring out of which flows a mere trickle of water. There are several kids with empty coca-cola bottles around the spring. They use these bottles to carry water home. Dusty after my journey here, I try the spring water – it has a strange taste and leaves sediment at the bottom of a plastic bottle. But it's all there is to drink. The village of Hartashen in the Hadrut region of Nagorno Karabakh resembles a settlement that has yet to recover from a disaster. The roads within the village are impassable; the houses, which were a target for Azerbaijani artillery during the military operations, are crumbling.
This year's drought has brought the residents of Hartashen to their knees. They are in despair about the lack of drinking and irrigation water. “There is a swamp in the forest; we use the swamp water. As for irrigation water, I don't even want to talk about it, because we have none. What kind of a villager are you if you buy tomatoes, watermelons, and cucumbers, if you buy any kind of vegetable? Other people bring these things to sell, and we trade grain for them. But this year we have shortage of grain as well, so that's another problem,” says Artur Arzumanyan, principal of the village school.
People in Hartashen used to produce wine, but their vineyards were burned and destroyed during the war, and now they grow wheat and raise cattle. Those gathered around the log are convinced that the village can only develop only if the vineyards are restored. They have worked out business plans but banks refuse to give them loans, since their houses are of doubtful value and cannot be mortgaged. The villagers all insist that if this situation goes on, the village will be deserted within two or three years.
“There are not enough young people and they don't want to stay here. They don't, because there is nothing here, no club, no place to gather just to discuss issues that interest them,” Artur Arzumanyan says.
The village has 115 residents. Ten villagers were killed during the war and six went missing. Noticing that I am taking notes, Artur says, “Many people from various organizations come and take notes but everything stays on paper. We have no idea as to when our problems are going to be addressed. People in this village are hopeful. If even one problem is solved and they see some progress, they won't despair. In upper parts of the village there are confined ground waters suitable for artesian wells. It will require some $10,000—no more. If there is water, villagers will be able to do many things—farm, grow vegetables, etc.”
The people around the log interrupt each other as they list their troubles. “This village is the poorest in the region. The houses are as worthless as we are. There is no livelihood. There were many battles here. Now we have become poor. We have no library, no club, we have nothing,” Khanum Abrahamyan says.
“My only son went missing in action, who knows whether he was killed or he is still alive. Who is to take care of his kids but me? The local administrator tells me, ‘Work to take care of the children'. Where should I work?” Seda Balayan asks. Khanum interrupts her: “What can we do if there is no water? My son was wounded five times fighting from here to Kelbadjar. Now he left his home in Yerevan and came here to take care of my husband and me. His disability pension for his injuries is 14,000 drams [about $36 per month]. How we can live on that if we can't even plant anything?”
Along with the neighboring villages of Ukhtadzor, Aknaghbyur, and Kyuratagh, Hartashen has neither telephones nor Armenian-language TV channels.
Armen Alexanyan from Kyuratagh has three children. His wife Elsa is the school's math teacher. When we visited them their children were watching a cartoon broadcast by the Azerbaijani Leader TV channel.
“The only channel we can get here is Armenia's First Channel, via satellite, but during the winter the reception is very bad. We watch four Azerbaijani, two Turkish, and two Persian channels. The transponder is of low capacity; if it's replaced we will be able to get four or five Armenian channels. Since there are no clubs, theaters, or any other entertainment, the only pastime for the kids is watching television, but only on the channels of the adversary,” Armen Alexanyansays.
I ask Armen whether the administration is aware of this, and whether they have gone to any branch of government for help. “We have; during every different kind of election – presidential, parliamentary – we told the candidates when they visited us and they promised to solve the problem, but they forgot about us as soon as the elections were over. During his first election campaign Arkady Ghukasyan came to our village for a meeting. We raised the issue and he promised to solve it. Whenever regional officials visit the village we tell them. They blame everything on the lack of finances. Where are those finances? Is there enough money for everything but a transponder? We are called a state, but is there no money for the state?” Armen wonders.
Armen follows the news on Azerbaijani channels. There he learns how the Karabakh negotiations are going. “After every meeting their channels say that Kocharyan has left. I don't think their television tells their people the truth. They say if they don't take the territories by peaceful means, they will do it through war. But if they were able to do it through war they would have already done it. Perhaps they're just tricking the people,” Armen concludes.
In these four villages people don't watch Artsakh television. Two of Armen's brothers were killed in the war. He was in the village military unit from 1991 and then in the Karabakh Army. He was wounded, but continued his service once he recovered, until 1996.
“They only think about the villagers from one election to another. When elections are approaching officials start appearing in the village. But when the elections are over they forget about the village. They also remember us at the turn of the year, when taxes are to be collected. This one they never forget. People who went through a war should not be treated like this,” Armen says, somewhat angrily. “The war is not over. After all this, how am I supposed to fight like before? I already fought once. Who is thinking about the soldiers, the wounded, and the killed? Will I fight the same way if the war resumes? Why should I? I will hide, so I can take care of my kids. I know that no one else will take care of them. But back then, no one reflected on whether there were kids, whether he might get killed or wounded. There was a war and we had to fight and win. But after winning, after seeing all this, no one will fight like before. That's what I think. They will fight - it's their land- but not like before. Am I supposed to fight while others make money off it?”