On May 12, 2006, thevillageofGihutin the Kashatagh region lost its electricity.
That day, high voltage electricity cables had fallen on two of Vahram Manvelyan's cows and killed them. “Every day we take the cows out, this is where our village land is, and in the evening I go and bring them back. That evening when I went to bring cows back, I saw that the cables had fallen and killed the two cows. Since the cows had been given to me by the Menk Village Self-Help organization, I first called the director, Tigran Kyergyan, and then I called the electric company and told them to cut off the power. Tigran came with the engineer from the electric company. Then I went to court. And a prosecutor came to take a look. The whole village knows how it happened. In the morning, the high voltage cables fell on the cows and electrocuted them. By evening, the meat had rotted and was no longer edible. The turned the power off that day, and to this day they haven't restored it,” Vahram Manvelyan recounted.
After the incident, Vahram asked the Kashatagh branch of ArtsakhEnergo to pay the damages, some 280,000 drams. This was the estimated value of cows in the contract he had signed with Menk. The utility company refused to pay; Vahram went to court and after including the cost of milk and two cows, asked the court to confiscate 640,000 drams from ArtzakhEnergo.
The Court of First Instance of Kashatagh, Judge Ferdinand Sahakyan presiding, ruled in favor of Vahram Manvelyan.
After the ruling, the utility company offered Vahram 280,000 drams, but this time Vahram didn't agree. ArtsakhEnergo appealed, claiming that Gihut's power network was not part of its grid.
The high voltage electric line was installed by Hovik Grigoryan, a private businessman. ArtsakhEnergo did not make the line part of its grid, explaining that it didn't conform to the necessary standards. The cable sometimes is only three or four meters above the ground, and some of the poles are leaning precariously. Nevertheless, ArtsakhEnergo provided power to the line for ten months, and collected electricity bills from the residents.
It all began before the 2005 Nagorno Karabakh parliamentary elections. The villagers had not had electricity for years, and decided to boycott the elections if the village was not provided with electricity.
“We always complained that we were connected to Berdzor, so why was there is no electricity? I told people, ‘We won't participate in elections until there is electricity.' We posted a photo of our candidate, Vahram Atanasyan, on one of the transformers and said, ‘When you give us power, we will vote for you. If you don't, we won't vote for you. In a very short time the village was provided with power and we voted for him. The entire village helped the electrification process,” Vahram recounted.
In effect, Vahram's cows were victims of politics. ArtsakhEnergo didn't have the right to utilize the electric line, but politics demanded that the villagers be provided with electricity.
Vahram had no luck – even after the village received electricity, he remained without power. “I live in the first house in the village. From the transformers in the middle of the village it's 500 meter to our house. They said they have to install poles and cable and they told me they don't have the money to do it. I asked all the bosses, but I got no electricity. I complained to the head of the grid, the director of the administration. I told them I was the first resident of the village. I have four children, but they still didn't hook up the power.” He was the only person in the village who didn't have electricity, yet his cows became victims of the grid.
Last year after the power was cut off five families left the village. One of them had seven children.
Vahram moved to Gihut from the villageof Khndzoresknear Goris seven years ago. He has four children. They live on their children's allowances and money earned from their livestock. Nine of his eleven animals were given to him by Menk . In several years he will own his own livestock, despite the fact that his two best cows were electrocuted. Vahram is a musician by profession; he plays on string instruments. When I ask him whether he plays here, he replied, “What's here, for me to play?”
In Kndzoresk, he and his family, his two brothers and their families, and their parents, all lived together in their ancestral home. “I was the oldest son, so I had to leave - it was impossible otherwise. One brother has three children, and the other one has two. At the time they said, ‘We'll give you a house. I came and they gave me this ruin. I was given 40,000 drams and told to build my house. And to this day we have done everything ourselves. We are in line for them to one day fix our house up. I always say, ‘I don't need money. Give me construction materials and I'll build it myself,” Vahram said.
Proposals like that can be heard in many villages in the Kashatagh region. The settlers do not want the government to come and build their houses for them. They say, ‘Give us the construction materials and we will build our housing ourselves. In many established communities the villagers help each other out with their work. This is especially evident when the hay is reaped and transported. When they help each other, the work gets done much faster.
Vahram says that he found himself in a very precarious situation last year, when his ten-year-old son Boris lost his right hand. He was playing with ammunition he found on the street and it exploded in his hand. Manvel lost his hand. He has had two operations, but there are still fragments in the child's arm. Taking the child to the hospital inYerevanis a great expense for the family. But Vahram is not complaining. He says they'll figure something out.