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Marine Martirosyan

Vardan Shakhanumyan: Goris Cheesemaker/Soldier Says Armenians Must Adopt New Mode of Thinking

Before the 2020 Artsakh war, cheesemaker Vardan Shakhanumyan would make a weekly early morning car trip from his home in the village of Verishen, outside Goris in Armenia, to Artsakh to buy milk.

He especially liked the milk made by residents of Vorotan and Kovsakan in Artsakh’s Kashatagh District.

The war abruptly changed his work routine.

52-year-old Vardan Shakhanumyan has been making cheese for thirty years.

He first worked at the Goris state cheese factory, now privatized. He then opened a cheese factory in Verishen with his neighbors. After the plant closed, Shakhanumyan took out a bank loan in 2018, turned the first floor of his house into a cheese workshop, and started making cheese with his wife.

When Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh in the fall of 2020, Shakhanumyan donated cheese to Artsakh Armenians who fled to Goris. He also volunteered to serve in a local defense force.

He recalls November 9, 2020, the day Armenia signed a ceasefire with Azerbaijan, with sadness. "There was only crying that day," he says.

The Shakhanumyan family stayed in Verishen during the war, despite the sound of Azerbaijani drones.   

After the war, Mr. Shakhanumyan became a contract soldier in the Armenian army. He spends two weeks in combat positions and two weeks at home. During the war, cheese production stopped, but a year and a half later, the family decided to restart it.

"After the war, there was neither money nor strength for cheese making," Mr. Shakhanumyan tells Hetq.

When asked why he decided to enter military service, Mr. Shakhanumyan says he wanted to assist his country in some manner.

As we talk, a woman and a young man call out from the gate, placing containers full of milk in the yard. He no longer drives to area villages to buy milk for his cheese. Villagers bring it to him, and he only buys milk from cows grazing on mountain pastures.

Shakhanumyan’s cheese is sold in Goris and Yerevan.

He admits it’s tough competing with the big cheesemakers. His products, bearing no brand name or packaging, make the rounds by word of mouth. The cheese sells itself given its quality and flavor.

“You have to taste by Chanakh cheese, in the saltwater brine, to understand,” he says.

Verishen has about 200 hectares of pasture near ​​Sev Litch (Black Lake), where Azerbaijani troops still occupy several surrounding strategic heights.

Mr. Shakhanumyan says villagers fear taking their livestock to the area to graze. This fear is shared by many living in Armenia’s southern Syunik Province which now shares a border with Azerbaijan.

He faults the government in Yerevan for being overly timid when it comes to protecting Armenia’s borders. He rules out any idea of granting Baku a corridor connecting Nakhijevan with Azerbaijan proper through Syunik.

Mr. Shakhanumyan does not differentiate between former and current governments when it comes to assigning responsibility for Armenia’s recent setbacks.

“For me, there is a motherland, the nation. The people must live by a national ideology so as not to lose their homeland. We should think about saving the nation. We all must rethink our approach to survive as a people.”

Photos by Lusine Hakobyan

Comments (3)

Svetlana Shakhanumyan
Mr. Shahen Hayrapet Shakhanum you can call this phone number +37491673516. I'm his daughter and this is his phone number.
Shahen Hayrapet shakhanum
Hi, this message is for Marine Martirosyan. I like very much to know Vartan Shakhanumyan, I am From Iran, living in Glendale, CA. I am very surprised and excited to know Shakhanum family name that we have was given to my grandfather by Iranians is not created by them. I do not know much about him. All we know is he came from Armenia when was very young and lived in Julfa, Isfahan. It will be great to be able to contact Mr. Vartan and find out if we are relatives. Thanks
He is of course absolutely correct, Armenians can only have peace if they prepare and stay permanently prepared for war. Surrounded by 200 million moslems , in countries led by Islamic Extremists, Armenia and Karabakh cannot survive for long in this tough neighbourhood, unless they completely alter their way of thinking about how they should relate to their permanently unstable and dangerous neighbours. Armenians used to be a majority in Nachievan, and a significant minority in Azerbaijan, but were ethnically cleansed / genocided from both areas over just a few decades. So Armenians know for certain that it is totally impossible for them to live in any of the three mosldm countries which surround them. Armenia cannot allow even one moslem to settle inside its territory. This is a lesson all,countries should learn, Islam is like Japanese Knotweed, if youdig it out of your garden but leave even a fingernail twig of it, it will fully regrow and eventually take over. India is learning this lesson the hard way right now. In 1948 when partition happened , only 1% of India's population was moslem, today that figure is 23%. India is competing with Indonesia as the largest moslem country in the World. So Armenia needs a professional army with drone protection and other modern equipment, not the WW2 Soviet junk that Russia has sold them. Pashinyan has had 2 years to rebuild the army but has done nothing except produce an Armenian drone which is as yet untried. As in the last war, when attacked , Armenia did not use its air fighter fleet, leaving them all in hangars for the duration. The coward and some believe, traitor Pashinyan, must be removed somehow, hopefully in the next General Election, if the Azeris can be held at bay for that long. There is no shadow of a doubt that Putin has an agreement with Aliyev and Erdoğan that not only will Russia NOT supply Armenia with SS 300 or SS 400 missile defense systems, but that he also completely and irrationally backs the " return " of Nagorno Karabakh in full, including thd present Artsakh areas. He neither understands Islam, nor the inalienable rights of a people to freedom and their own independent governance.

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