Monday, 24 September

Working for the Banks: 70% of Tzater Village Residents in Debt


Larisa Paremuzyan

83-year-old Serob Virabyan has four children, but the blacksmith now lives by himself in the village of Tzater, in Armenia’s northern Lori Province.

Mr. Virabyan’s wife passed away years ago. His son Samvel can’t provide for his family in the village. Every year, he moves to Moscow with his wife and five children for work. Two of Serob’s daughters also live in Russia.

Maro, Serob’s other daughter, lives in the town of Alaverdi. She is only one left to take care of Serob. Once every two weeks she visits her father in Tzater. Maro bakes a dozen loaves of bread and puts them in the fridge. Serob also has two chickens for eggs.

Mr. Virabyan worked as a blacksmith for thirty years. During the Soviet era, he worked on the railroad and then at the Armanis mine.

Mr.Serob Virabyan

Serob plied the trade from the mid-1950s until the fall of the Soviet Union. He says it provided a good living for him and his family.

He owns one hectare of land but doesn’t cultivate it.

“What can I do with the land. Farming is expensive. Back in the day you could till one hectare with 16-18 liters of diesel fuel. Now, tractor drivers want forty liters,” says Serob.

She is only one left to take care of Serob. Once every two weeks she visits her father in Tzater. Maro bakes a dozen loaves of bread and puts them in the fridge. Serob also has two chickens for eggs.

Mr. Virabyan worked as a blacksmith for thirty years. During the Soviet era, he worked on the railroad and then at the Armanis mine.

Tzater

Mr. Virabyan remembers that during the Soviet era they would bring fertilizer by the truckload and dump it in the village. Now, he says, they only give enough to grow some potatoes.

He says that many families in the village are facing tough financial times.

One of them is the Artik Avetyan family. Mr. and Mrs. Avetyan raise their four children on a state monthly allowance of 33,000 AMD ($69) and his mother’s 40,000 AMD monthly pension.

I was greeted in the yard by their 12-year-old daughter. As she offered me a chair, I spotted Artik’s mother Zhenik, a woman in her sixties, in the garden.

The Avetyan family lives in a two-story house seriously in need of repair. To make ends meet, Artik and his wife Hasmik work in the potato fields owned by others. They have three daughters. 

The Avetyan family

54-year-old Baytzar Virabyan works as a cleaner in the village school. Reaping the field grass for animal fodder, she leaves the menfolk a few steps behind. The field belongs to her youngest son.This year alone, she’s cut 1,200 meters of grass to feed her two cows. 

Baytzar Virabyan at work

Baytzar has two sons and five grandchildren. Strong winds last autumn destroyed the roof on her cabin, forcing the family to move in with friends. Baytzar has sent her son to Russia to earn enough money to build a new house.

Baytzar’s house

Many village residents are forced to take out bank loans in order to make a go of it.

Levon Avetyan purchased fifty sheep with a 1.5 million AMD loan. He says he’s paid back 30%.

“The benefit is that my children don’t go hungry. There is cheese and we sell lamb meat. We get by,” says Mr. Avetyan who also grows wheat and potatoes on his three hectares. He confesses that there is no market for the sheep wool or the cheese.

Tzater Mayor Bagrat Ghalayan says the village’s number one problem is repairing the irrigation water system.

“We have adequate drinking water and a few street lights are being installed. The school is under the sponsorship of the Lori Provincial Governor. We have a good community center,” says Ghalayan.

Mayor Bagrat Ghalayan 

The mayor says that 70% of village residents owe money to the banks. During the past ten years, 60 residents have permanently moved to Russia and another 30 go and come.

“To live well, residents must work well. These are tough times. It seems to me that they are spending a bit too lavishly. I believe that villagers must also save,” says Mayor Ghalayan

Top photo: Tzater resident Levon Avetyan


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