Tchotchkan, a village of 2,000 souls in Armenia’s northern Lori Province, once boasted 900 hectares of peach and grape orchards.
Today, according to village agronomist Sergey Cherchinyan, only 40 hectares remain.
Tchotchkan residents Hengel Siradeghyan and Yurik Galstyan believe that the orchards must be restored if villagers are to live relatively normal lives.
75 year-old Siradeghyan became involved in gardening after Armenia regained its independence in the early 1990s and has established an orchard measuring 1.3 hectares.
Mr. Siradeghyan has four sons, of which three have permanently left for Russia. The youngest goes and comes for work. Thus, the pensioner must take care of the orchard by himself.
When he first planted fruit trees, neighbors thought he was a bit crazy. Now, he says, people come to him to buy trees to start their own orchards.
Last year, the irrigation water problem in Tchotchkan was resolved and the two men thank Mayor Argady Tamazyan for the effort.
“They provide water but look at this tree here. It’s pretty weak. I’ve pruned the dried out bits. It’s because we use water from the Debed River in which waste has been dumped by the Akhtala mining company to irrigate the orchards,” said Mr. Siradeghyan. “The water, when it comes, resembles a milky soup. It’s fairly thick. We have to use it.”
Mr. Galstyan also complains that his fruity trees are also drying up from using water from the Debed River.
Mr. Siradeghyan points to 8-10 stunted trees as we walk through his orchard. He claims it’s due to the Debed River water.
“It’s not only our villagers who consume the fruit. It’s sold in the markets in Alaverdi and Vanadzor. Who knows if we are selling poisoned fruit or not?” he noted.
Mr. Siradeghyan says he doesn’t even use nitrates as fertilize because the trees get enough harmful material from the river water alone. He says his trees, which he only irrigates once or twice, give better fruit than his neighbor who irrigates four or five times.
He says last year’s crop amounted to 2-3 tons of fruit and that he couldn’t sell it all. He went to the village of Tzater and bartered it for wheat, potatoes, oil and cheese.
“I can’t sell 800 kilograms of peaches per day in Alaverdi. Thus, I barter what I don’t sell for items to stock up for the winter,” Mr. Siradeghyan said.
The two men are upbeat about the future. They say that the old orchards are being restore and that the only impediment are the toxic wastes being dumped in the Debed River by the Akhtala mining company.