Verin Khotanan is a village in Armenia’s southern Syunik Province. More than half the population is older than 70.
"Whoever dies, the door of their house is closed for good," says the village mayor. Meanwhile, residents recall the village having many more inhabitants and full of life.
Verin Khotanan is 25 kilometers away from the provincial center Kapan, but it drastically differs with its lifestyle and conditions. The village has numerous problems, such as scarcity of drinking and irrigation water and lack of public transportation.
"Verin Khotanan has a history of more than 400 years. It was one of the most famous centers in the region. Now the village is on the verge of collapse: the budget is quite limited, the roads are in bad condition, there are water issues. The villagers’ problems are not resolved by the community resources. The village gets 3.5 million AMD from the state budget every year, and 500,000 drams are collected from the village in the form of taxes, " mayor Karen Hakobyan says.
The community of Verin Khotanan includes the villages of Verin Khotanan and Nor Arajnadzor.
Cattle breeding and farming are the main occupations in Verin Khotanan. However, residents complain that none of them is profitable, especially farming. There is no irrigation water, and the drinking water supply is decreasing year by year. As for cattle breeding, massive epidemics are one of the main obstacles.
There is no public transportation, so the villagers must call a taxi or use their cars to get out of the village. "The government has repeatedly announced tenders for servicing the village road, but no private company has been interested. The road is in a very bad condition, " Hakobyan says.
The village school includes both secondary and high school classes, but there are less than 30 schoolchildren in attendance.
The village kindergarten doesn’t operate now since the number of children is small.
Children we meet complain about having nothing to do. They say it’s more interesting in Kapan.
The cultural house, the library, and the medical station are in the same area of the village. "Nobody visits the library. Young people are very passive. There are almost no cultural events, " says Hakobyan.
Anna Badalyan, a nurse in Verin Khotanan, recalls that the number of newborns in the village was bigger than now. "For example, two or three years ago, 12-14 children were born every year. Now we don’t have any pregnant woman. Last year, only one child was born. The population has dwindled. There are no jobs. We are far from the city. Cattle breeding and farming are expensive, and it’s difficult to sell products,” Anna says.
The village receives limited medications from the Ministry of Health for first aid. It often doesn’t suffice. "There are facilities in the medical station - furniture, refrigerator, etc. However, the area is unfavorable, the walls are destroyed. I've been working here for 34 years, I feel sorry for the village, “the nurse says.
Anna says they provide first aid if needed, and they call an ambulance from Kapan for emergency cases.
"By November 5, because of the community enlargement processes, Verin Khotanan will join other communities in Kapan. After that, villages like ours will be destroyed. I was for the enlargement - I was saying that weak communities shouldn’t be kept. The community should have a budget to survive. But the government suddenly decided to join all the villages in Kapan.
The government says that villages are the key, but we haven’t seen any real changes. I am aware of the government's means - there are no budgetary means. Introducing agricultural insurance would be the best.
These are the worst times for Kapan villages, especially for smaller ones. There is no budget, no work, there are issues with water and gas. The villages are not viable. Most of the soil is not fertile. Cattle breeding is profitable, but the elderly are unable to do that. There are very few young people. Most of them work in forests, logging,” says the community head.
He believes small villages should be included in programs that serve as a basis for creating jobs. Only then the young men will stay in the village.
The majority of the village population, according to the head of the community, has credit obligations in banks. Some of these loans are agricultural, and the rest are consumer loans. Residents say they don’t have a job, so they take a loan and spend it without being able to pay back afterwards.
"The government has forgotten about our village. They do something for the villages near Kapan, while they do nothing for our village, " says one of the villagers.
There are two small shops in the village, run by private entrepreneurs. They buy in Kapan and resell in the village.
On the one side, Verin Khotanan is surrounded by abundant green areas, and on the other side, there are old buildings and gates with closed rusty locks.