Sunday, 23 September

Resettlement Is a Process of Rediscovering the Homeland



In 1996 Tigran Kyureghyan left Yerevan for the liberated territories of Nagorno-Karabakh, took up residence in Karvatchar, and implemented projects aimed at resettling the villages. Today he and his family live in Berdzor and he works on a variety of development programs in Kashatagh.

Tigran Kyureghyan has served a Deputy of Armenia's Supreme Council (1990-1995) and later as a Deputy of the National Assembly of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). He has formulated a variety of projects regarding resettling the liberated territories. In 2003 he founded the “Menq” (We) Union for Agricultural Cooperation, NGO. 

 - You have been involved in the issue of resettling the territories since the first day you moved there. What are the aims of the “Menq” Union for Agricultural Cooperation, the NGO that you founded? 

 - The idea is to make certain investments based on certain clear principles. As far back as 1998 we began to distribute piglets on one condition - that the family receiving the animals give the same number of piglets to the neighbor, and not return them to us. In this manner we’d create a sort of link between villagers. The plan worked from 1998 to 2000 during which time we distributed some 80 animals. Since we didn’t have any written contracts at the time, the chain fell apart after two to three such transfers. In any event the program greatly facilitated the distribution of pigs in the region. Pig raising in the villages of northern Kashatagh and in the Dzvar community of Karvatchar essentially began with the piglets we distributed. We named this program “Estafet” (a courier who conveys messages to another). We’re always thinking of ways to better organize and implement this program.

For a long time we weren’t able to begin any new work since there was a lack of initial funding. But the concept of organizing and unifying the villagers did exist. In 2002 we met with Nshan Pirumyan from the “Armenian Educational Foundation”. We presented our idea to him and he liked the concept. In essence he became our first investor and you can say he became the godfather of “Menq”. With the money he donated we purchased twenty cows. His investment of $5,500 started the ball rolling. Afterwards Armineh Gundakjyan and then her husband Varuzhan came on board. The concept spread to the other members of the “Armenian Educational Foundation” and an overall sum of 7 million Drams was invested as a result. These members include Alek Baghdasaryan, Aida Yeghiazaryan and Shant Petrosyan. Others who joined the effort included Alek Yenikomshuyan, the “Yerkir” organization and the Tufenkian Foundation.  The “Estafet” project was the first to be implemented by “Menq” and has been in operation since 2002. 

“Menq” also runs a project called the “Voskeh Tslik” (Golden Bullcalf). The organization provides both calves and young bulls for its members. We pay 2,000 Drams monthly for the upkeep of the animals and an additional 2,000 Drams during the winter months. The villagers are allowed to keep 25% of the profit accruing from the sale of the animals.

“Kari Meghr” (Stone Honey) is another program of ours in which the participants are given beehives. Each village beekeeper is obligated to yearly pay back to the organization either 5 kilos of honey from each hive or its cash equivalent. This program has operated successfully since 2004 and is the major source of funds for the organization’s operating expenses. 

Taken together, the various projects of “Menq” create a mechanism whereby new economic programs are devised based on those already in operation. All are involved in devising new avenues of development. None of the participants return any of the animals to the organization. Rather, they are distributed to other families. This way the number of villagers participating in the project steadily increases. They all become an integral part of the process. Two families have moved to this region specifically as a result of the work carried out by “Menq”. They came based on the promises we gave - to provide them with livestock. We gifted 200,000 Drams to Atom, the head of one of the families, upon the birth of his child. Besides the money we gave him a cow and in a month’s time we’ll give the family some piglets as well. If more hay is harvested and stocked away we’ll give them more cows...we’ll see what happens. What we’re trying to establish is a system that’s self-sustaining and which increases in scope based on its own internal dynamics. And I believe it’s working. 

I’m convinced that even without an increase in overall investment amounts we’ll have a self-sustaining and developing social network in place in the liberated territories within a two-year period that can continue on its own, without any external financing. To be totally self-sufficient the organization needs to purchase a minimum of 200 head of cows and calves and some 400 beehives.

- How many participants do your projects encompass?

 - Thirty individuals participate in our “Estafet” project. This signifies a total of thirty families. Seven individuals are in the “Kari Meghr” project. The Tufenkian Foundation has donated $4,250 U.S. in the “Voskeh Tslik” operation. We’ve already set-up a self-sustainable system on location. If more investment amounts are pumped into the project we’ll be able to expand its scope. We already have on-hands experience regarding the difficulties to be faced and how to best overcome them.

- How do you decide who will receive the cows or bulls? 

- Basically I’m the one responsible for making such decisions. Sometimes I make these decisions based on the wishes of the investors. For example the “Yerkir” organization proposed a $1,000 package investment that was agreed to. That amount was granted to each participating family. Their representative visited each household, took pictures, and left. They then came up with a list of potential eligible families and made their selection of eighteen households. They then invested a total of $18,000. This project involved cows, pigs and beehives. Three cows and one or two pigs were allotted to each. In other words the minimum number of animals necessary for each household to provide work, food on the table, and to provide a basis for slow but steady development. Some families have more livestock than others. Marat, with eleven kids, has eight cows. Radik’s family has six cows.

“Menq” can accomplish much more given an increase in investments. Today, we have the capacity to expend another 40-50 million Drams of investment. In other words, the program can easily utilize such amounts.

There’s a new project called “Apaga” (Future) in some 30 northern villages. The Union encourages the birth of the first child with a gift of 250,000 Drams and 250,000 Drams for the second. We give 100,000 Drams for each birth after that since the government monetarily assists families from the third childbirth on in order to encourage large families. We’ve already put aside a total of 600,000 Drams for this purpose.

The program brings life to the region. People from other villages ask how they can participate as well? While our organization is on normal terms with various government bodies in the region we haven’t received any assistance from the government. Projects similar to “Estafet” are being implemented by the “Monte Melkonian Foundation in the village of Karegah, by the Gurgen Melikian Fund, and by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation through the auspices of the “Jaragayt” Fund. All these programs began operation after ours. I was the motivating force behind all of them as I suggested that they undertake similar projects. In my estimation they’re all pleased with the projects and the visible results they’ve achieved.

I’m thinking of forming a body on the spot that will spur resettlement in and of itself, a mechanism that will expand and reproduce on its own. Already in the villages some 2-3 households are established yearly. Right now we’ll be giving three cows to the new family of Ashot Simonyan’s daughter. We’ve taken these animals from another household that has more than enough to sustain a small herd on its own. It appears that the people here are becoming actively involved in the resettlement program.

- Whose property are the cows that are given to these households?

- They belong to the “Menq” organization and have been given to the participants to raise by contract. The milk they derive from the animals belongs to them. One calve every two years becomes their own property. We own 90 cows and have 19 investors, one of which is the “Yerkir” union.

- How do you provide audit statements to your investors?

- All pertinent records are placed on our website and are updated on a yearly basis (http://menqaa.narod.ru)

- As a longtime resident of the region and someone involved in tackling the problems there what approaches do you see regarding resettlement in Kashatagh?

- During the past three years the former Governor of the Regional Administration was responsible for some shady practices. I don’t believe that our leadership didn’t see what was going on. Rather, I think something of a criminal nature was being hidden below the surface. If the desire to resettle these lands exists, then let them do it. It’s simply a matter of having the desire to do so. And here we’re not talking about the desire to implement construction projects. Resettlement and construction are two different matters and have no real connection with one another. In other words, if you build a house and tell someone to go live in it, that person merely becomes a part of the household furniture because he or she didn’t actively participate in the overall process. In this instance true resettlement isn’t achieved. It’s vital that people residing on those lands become participants in the entire process. There is no need to build artificial settlements like say Vardut, Knaravan or Arajamugh. Resettlement must develop according to the wishes of the people. If someone expresses a desire to engage in agriculture than clearly the best lands must be allocated to them and not to some oligarch so that he can cultivate the land while you send the other person to some arid patch of dirt.

- So you’re saying there’s no real need to bring in people from the outside?

- No, the need still exists. But you can’t bring in those types of individuals who will turn around and say - OK, we’ve moved here, now feed us. You need to attract villagers willing to work, not anti-social elements. These regions are in need of special treatment that only certain chosen individuals can provide. 

It’s vital to create a social system, to engage in organizational activities with the people. In this, money isn’t always important. Presently, while the possibility exists for investments to increase, that can also signify that only moneyed-elements will appear in the region. All this money won’t be spent on those families already residing there for ten or more years but on constructing houses here and there for certain types brought in from the outside. One day these houses can be sold -off as a source of building material and be completely taken apart. There are numerous examples of this being the case.

Well-rounded, responsible people must be brought here. Teachers need to be paid a very high salary. The standard of living must be much higher than that in Yerevan and the economy must grow at a quicker pace than in Armenia. Taxes should be totally abolished. The taxes collected are so miniscule in any event that the whole issue of tax collection is absurd from the start. 

Every village in the region must have electricity - this is a priority issue. As it happens, there were more people living in Kashatagh during the Levon Ter-Petrosian era than today. How can such a thing happen when the leadership states that they are nationalists?  The Former Prime Minister of Armenia, Hrand Bagratyan, declared during one of his press interviews that, “ We have to resettle these lands and hold on to them.”  Resettlement began during his era. Let’s put aside for the moment whether the resettlement policy was implemented correctly or not. The reality is that it was implemented. Bagratyan can now lay claim to that reality while today’s leaders cannot. 

This isn’t a region for hunting or fishing. For many, that’s the only significance this land possesses so they come in helicopters to hunt wild pig from the sky. For these individuals even Armenia isn’t viewed as the homeland. The only homeland they recognize is the one called “money”.

Resettlement is the process of rediscovering the homeland. Resettlement isn’t a question of money but first of people. Today the residents here are rediscovering their fatherland. Each valley and mountain bears a new name given by the people living here. For example, Grish’s valley or Vazgen’s spring. In this way every piece of land is being digested and rediscovered as another piece of the homeland.

Translated by Hrant Gadarigian


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