Yesterday, along the Tzater-Aygehat highway in Armenia’s Lori Province, a young tall broad-shouldered man was taking a flock of sheep to graze.
The sheep, following the rules of the road, kept to the side of the roadway, munching on what little grass they could find. They were headed to the village of Aygehat.
The shepherd, crock in hand, followed the herd through the snow.
Seyran Virabyan told me he is from the village of Tzater. It’s a five kilometer walk from Tzater to Aygehat. Seyran makes the journey every day to graze the flock on the fringes of Tzater fields.
“30 of the 80 sheep are mine,” says Seyran, carefully watching that the flock doesn’t enter the Aygehat fields sown in the fall.
“Is the sheep business profitable?” I ask Seyran.
“It’s village work. What would we do otherwise? Profitable or not, what can we do?” Seyran answers, adding that he also owns two cows. He complains that he can’t take what he produces to market. Otherwise, life would be better, he says.
Seyran, 35 and single, lives with his mother widowed sister and her young child. Somehow, he takes care of them all.
“The house is ours. Whatever we make is ours. And my mom and sister aren’t sitting at home with their arms crossed. Village life is good, thank God. I also have two hectares of land that I can’t cultivate,” says Seyran.
He says that in the winter the sheep don’t produce much and that in the summer all they get is milk from the lambs.
I ask Seyran if he’s ever taken out a loan in order to work the land.
- I don’t need a loan, thank God. So we don’t live all that great, but we get by with the sweat off our brow.
- Seyran, do you have a sweetheart?
- Not yet. But I will, and I’ll get married. So you’re putting me on TV or something?
- Do you want me to?
- Nah…What do you mean do I want to?
- So, do you call yourself a farmer?
- Far from it. Can you be a farmer with thirty sheep and two cows? Some folks have 100 cows and who knows what. They have equipment. But I get by just fine and am in debt to no one.
Can you increase your livestock with the money you make?
- Now, we have no meadowland or pasture. There is no grazing land in Tzater. I have to take these sheep elsewhere to graze. In the summer, we travel 60-70 kilometers up in the mountains. There’s grazing over in Ardvi. If I was living there I’d be the richest guy around. No joke.
- So go and find yourself a girl in Ardvi.
- Nope, I'll stay in my village. I’m used to it.
- If you go to Ardvi, you can build a house, find a pretty girl and settle down.
- No, no. I don’t even leave my village and you want me to move to Ardvi for the grazing? One day some other work will come along. Do we need stuff to be rich? How do you know if the country will continue like this? It’s unknown.
I said goodbye to Seyran.
On the way back from Mghart I saw that Seyran was still grazing his flock on the fields adjacent to Aygehat.
The driver of our car honked the horn as we passed by. Seyran waved his arm in return.
Seyran felt it was beneath him to leave his native village of Tzater and move to Ardvi for a bit more money in his pocket.
It then struck me…How many have left Armenia for exactly same reason?