By Ani Matevosyan
Most of the time, a dreadful silence embraces the village of Gegharot. Especially during winter, the extreme climate and endless layers of snow make the only road leading to the village impassable.
Official data shows that 144 families reside in the village, but a simple observation would cast serious doubt on that number. You would hardly notice any movement in the village. It’s only the wind, that now and then shakes the trees, and the occasional passing herd of cattle, that impart any sense of activity.
Gegharot is located between the towns of Aparan and Spitak in the Aragats Province of Armenia. It’s 75 km away from Yerevan and 2,200 meters above sea level. The village is situated in a valley between three mountains that protect it from fierce winds. Due to the mountainous topography of the region, the villagers have two occupations – cattle breeding and farming. The slopes of the nearby mountains provide an excellent pasture for cows, but Gegharot residents need more to secure a satisfactory life.
Cows are a major resource for the villagers. The animals allow residents to save on other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, the purchase of which is one of the seemingly unsolvable issues in the village.
“There is no transportation from the village to the towns, so we take taxis or ask neighbors for a ride in their cars,” says one of the villagers, who just came back from Spitak. Holding four big nylon bags, he was returning home from his weekly shopping. There is no store in the village, so people must travel either 22 km to Spitak or 19 km to Aparan to reach a grocery store. Given the difficulty of finding transportation, residents try to limit their store visits to a minimum, buying everything they need at once. But how do residents generate income to shop?
“Except for cattle breeding, most families also make a living from agriculture,” Tigran, one of the villagers, says. “We grow some grains, such as wheat and barley. Potato planting is also very common among the villagers.” Tigran confesses that agriculture is the primary source of income for the people of Gegharot.
“Some 5-6 people work in the village municipality, and some others teach in the school. But, of course, that’s not enough to take care of the whole household,” he says.
Given the unbearable conditions in Gegharot, at least one member of each household works abroad. Most of the men have moved to a foreign country (mostly to Russia) to help make ends meet back home. On the other hand, the youth of the village tends to move to bigger towns such as Gyumri or Yerevan to pursue their higher education. Most do not come back after graduation because there are no employment opportunities in the village.
“Younger Gegharot residents are very smart and talented,” claims Armineh, the biology and chemistry teacher of the village school. “Unfortunately, most of our students help their parents overcome the challenges of everyday life. Thus, any interest toward scientific subjects tends to fade away,” she says.
Currently, the school of the village has 53 students in 12 grades. Some classes are composed of one or two students. The school is everything for children – a place to study, socialize, and spend time. There are no cultural centers or art schools in the village, so school teachers do their best to provide students with extracurricular learning opportunities. “The school has a chess club, a singing club, and the teachers organize Russian language classes,” says one of the parents.
Beside school, the children have no other place to develop their skills. Except for sandcastle building and flower picking, they have nothing else to do in the village. The villagers - the young mothers - usually gather the kids from the neighborhood and organize theater productions, tale-reading, and drawing exhibitions to enrich the days of the children. They have designed an informal routine of learning for these children, which is both enjoyable and practical for them.
Despite these hardships, Gegharot residents are proud to reside in one of the oldest communities in the region.
“Even though it is tough to maintain satisfactory living conditions in the village, I believe that Gegharot has promising potential,” Tigran says. Gegharot is officially 125 years old. Even though it was populated during the 1820s, the official date of the village’s establishment is 1892 – the year when the village church was constructed. Hence, residents believe that if the village has survived more than a century, it can definitely survive, prosper, and even become an epitome of strength and persistence for other villages.
A couple of years ago, the villagers witnessed what they would call a “milestone” in the life of the village. One of the residents reported that he had found fragments of ancient jugs while digging the soil on the slope of one of the nearby mountains. Soon, scientists from different parts of the world arrived to explore the areas where those fragments were found. Additional research revealed that Gegharot can become an essential archeological site.
Joint excavations conducted by specialists from the Cornell University and National Institute of the Archeology and Ethnography, (a unit of Armenia’s National Academy of Sciences) unearthed the most astonishing of findings.
“Excavations at Gegharot Fortress, like those at Tsaghkahovit, were initially directed toward understanding the forces driving the initial emergence of socio-political complexity during the Late Bronze Age,” the experts state in their report.
The excavations created job opportunities for the villagers, too. They would get paid daily for helping the experts find and examine the ancient fragments. The villagers were excited and proud to discover such historical finding in their native village. Unfortunately, those findings did not translate into material benefits; merely excitement and pride.
Still, residents haven’t given up hope that their village will prosper someday. The lack of opportunities for education and employment, daily hardships, and the dilemma of the residents, leaving or staying in the village, caused by despair have perplexed residents. And yet, many of them reject the idea of leaving their homeland.
All Gegharot needs is a little spark of hope.
(Ani Matevosyan is a senior student at the American University of Armenia majoring in English and Communications. Her interests include communications, writing, and translation. In the future, she hopes to contribute to the development of Armenia as effectively as possible.)