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Grisha Balasanyan

6 Schoolchildren, 7 Families, and a Vanishing Village

Today nearly nothing remains from the once-prosperous village of Geghakar, one of the most neglected in the province of Gegharkunik. Situated in the mountain slopes, it is cut off from the outside world for 2–3 months, particularly during the winter season, as the road is closed from the snowstorms. 
 
The village is more of a mountain than a village: in the summer, people come to Geghakar with their livestock, while in the late autumn, shutting their doors, they return to other villages. Geghakar's former residents, not being able to withstand the conditions of the village today, have been forced to settle in other villages. During the winter months, only 7 families live in the village. 
 
In Geghakar, people mainly work in animal husbandry. Farming isn't developed because the village has a lack of irrigation water, which comes from the village of Akhpradzor, the residents of which don't allow their water to reach Geghakar residents. The villagers say the lack of irrigation water forces people to move to other villages.
 
There's also the problem of drinking water. Many of the villagers don't have water in their backyard. Often, water is cut off for weeks, and people bring drinking water from neighboring villages by taxi or tractor. 
 
 
"In our village there are only two young families that are growing; the rest have left, gone; only the older folks have remained. This was a normal village. I've been living here for 22 years; they destroyed, demolished; there were 80 families here — now only 7 families remain. We too want to move to the villages below because it's not possible to live here. We have acquaintances in the villages below; we'll stay in their empty house until we see what will happen… we'll send our grandchildren to the school there too," says Mrs. Marieta. 
 
Principal of Geghakar's main school Taguhi Atayan says that the situation of the village is bad. The school only has 6 children, while this year there weren't any 1st, 4th and 7th grade classes. 
 
"It can be said that in this village we survive not live. At first, [Armenian] refugees from Azerbaijan were living here, but they didn't stay long; they had no means to live, so they left. During the year, the roads to the village are closed for 2–3 months. Using tractors and horses, we took those who were ill to medical clinics in neighboring villages; there were cases were women gave birth at home. The only car in the village is ours; there isn't even a bus. A few years ago, there was a bus working once a week — now there isn't even that," says the school principal. 
 
 
Note, the school operates out of a building that was previously a shop, which the school doesn't even own. According to Atayan, the building belongs to the district committee and the school is required to pay for its use. 
 
Atayan says it's quite possible that the village school will also shut down since there are no students. It's likely that there won't be a 1st grade class in the coming year either since that child's family is also preparing to leave the village. 
 
"If the school shuts down, the teachers will leave too, while the neighboring village is 7 km away and the roads are shut in the winter… I don't know what will happen," Atayan said.
 
According to the principal, the teachers receive their salary on account of the school's maintenance costs, since the school is funded based on the number of students and with that amount it's possible to pay only half a month's salary (per month).
 
Furthermore, wolves, sensing that the village is forgotten, attack often. According to Atayan, last year, wolves attacked and killed 120 sheep, and the government provided no compensation to the villagers, who were subsequently reimbursed by the herdsman. 
 
"In short, this village is going extinct," concluded Atayan.