Bardzruni: Entire Village Turns Out to See Off Two Army Conscripts
Only two young men have been called for obligatory military service this January in Bardzruni, a village of 400 in Armenia’s Vayots Dzor Province.
Arsen and Norayr are 18 years old and must report for duty at the same time.
Bardzruni has interesting traditions of seeing off the conscripts. Norayr's mother says that each villager presents the conscript’s family with a chicken when paying a visit to them. The families of the conscripts organize a big party and invite the whole village.
Norayr (on the right) with his younger brother and mother
Bardzruni is just a few hundred meters away from the historic Armenian region of Nakhijevan, currently a part of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
79-year-old Armenak has six grandchildren. He’s happy to send his grandson Norayr to the army, despite the loss of one of his sons, Norayr's uncle, in the Afghan war.
Norayr is named after his uncle. Their family suffered another loss several years ago, when Norayr’s father was struck by lightning and died.
“The homeland is like the father and mother of a household. If you can’t protect your father and mother, you can’t protect the homeland. A person should be fully responsible, without any hesitation. If one is irresponsible, they will do nothing,” says Armenak.
Norayr says he has seen soldiers in their house since childhood - not only friends of his grandfather, but also strangers whom his grandparents have often hosted.
The army, soldiers, and the border are integral part of this village. There are Armenian army positions in the mountains opposite the village. Behind those mountains lie Azerbaijani army trenches and Nakhijevan settlements.
“Military service is our obligation. Growing up in this village, you know you are a ready-made fighter and you realize why you join the army,” says Norayr.
On the day when the new conscripts leave for the army, the whole village gets together on the village road, near the table placed by grandfather Armenak. One side of the table says “Welcome” and the other one says “Farewell”.
Conscripts must fire a few shots into the air here. Norayr says it’s like being baptized a soldier on the spot. He recalls shooting for the first time at the age of 12-13. They studied guns at school, during military training classes, learning to load and unload them. The military commissariat also took them to shooting classes.
There is a 19th century chapel in the village, renovated in 2002. It’s next to the monument dedicated to fallen soldiers. Before departing, the conscripts light candles in the chapel.
The villagers are going to have a celebration in the village hall: everyone helps with preparations
The population in Bardzruni has dropped dramatically. Lack of young people is one of the indicators of that. Norayr says only twenty people of his generation have stayed in the village, while others have left together with their families over the years.
He studies in Yerevan, at the Yerevan State Medical University. Norayr says only a few students were conscripted into the army this month. Most were freed from military service.
Norayr would prefer to finish studying before serving in the army. He believes that those who are going to study for 7-8 years should graduate first. He plans to become a maxillofacial surgeon and believes that he would be more useful in the army if he joined as a doctor. In any case, he decided to take some books and read them when he’s free, so that he doesn’t forget what he has learnt.
As for the future, he doesn’t see an opportunity to work as a doctor in his village, so most probably he will have to leave for Yerevan, like many others before him.
Norayr has a younger brother, who is 16 years and will be conscripted in two years. Norayr says he would like to serve together with his brother; at least for a few days, if possible. Their mother gets emotional when saying goodbye. She says she’s raised Norayr as a mother would do it, and now she hopes the army will teach him things that she couldn’t have.
Arsen with his family: before the farewell
Photos: Hakob Poghosyan