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Gagik Aghbalyan

Armenia’s Geghamavan Village: Lack of Work, Prospects, Force Many to Emigrate

Life in Geghamavan, a village of some 1,600 souls in Armenia’s Gegharkunik Province, stumbles ahead as if on auto-pilot.

The fact that Lake Sevan is nearby doesn’t help invigorate life in the village. It’s as if Geghamavan is a forgotten village located in some remote corner of Armenia.

Located 1,850 meters above sea level, farming mainly revolves around the lowly spud, wheat, barley and rye.

Jobs are scarce – just a store or two and municipal jobs that are either part-time or don’t pay much. Many just pack their bags and leave, some permanently and others for seasonal work abroad.

Geghamavan Mayor Vachik Saghatelyan told Hetq that many of his friends and some relatives have left for Russia to find work.

Business in village’s four small shops was slow during my visit. There was little variety, and I walked away thinking that the stores don’t get fresh deliveries that frequently. The dust sitting on the display counters convinced me this was the case.

Sousanna, one of the village shopkeepers, didn’t want anything to do with this reporter from Yerevan. She believes that everyone from the capital looks down on those living in the provinces. She described the following incident as proof.

“I used to get salami from this company. Once, they brought non-quality goods. I told the driver that the stuff wasn’t edible. He replied, ‘Sure, as if you villagers can tell good from bad.’ I told him never to set foot in my store again.”

Sousanna complains about the lack of business and refuses to sell cigarettes on credit.

No cigarettes on credit

Sousanna took her time criticizing reporters and the political parties as good-for-nothings. Nevertheless, she confessed to following the campaign for the April 2 parliamentary election on Facebook. Her anger subsided somewhat when she remembered a few of the more interesting speeches of the opposition candidates.

“What life is this? My children have no future here. We have plenty of households but no kindergarten. My grandkids attend kindergarten in Sevan. They’ll go to school there as well. What can our village school provide these children,” Sousanna said.

Leaving Geghamavan

The village kindergarten operated until 1990, when conditions got so bad that it had to close. It was renovated recently, but it’s still closed.

Vachik Saghatelyan, the village mayor since December of last year, says his predecessor allowed the kindergarten’s staff to swell so much that most of the local budget went to paying teacher salaries rather than servicing the needs of the children.

Geghamavan Mayor Vachik Saghatelyan

“It takes 7 million AMD to operate the kindergarten for one year. We don’t have that kind of money. But the kindergarten will soon open. I’ll allocate one million AMD from the budget and my son, a businessman, will provide six million. We’ll improve our management techniques in the coming years so that the kindergarten stays open,” Saghatelyan says.

The mayor’s son is Ishkhan Saghatelyan, an advisor to environment minister Artzvik Minasyan. He ran on the ARF ticket in the April 2 parliamentary election from Gegharkunik, garnering 3,458 votes, the most of any ARF candidate nominated by the ‘rating system’.

Ishkhan Saghatelyan’s campaign poster illegally affixed to a store wall in Geghamavan

Most in the village voted for their native son. Some of the men playing backgammon in the club, however, weren’t pleased that they had to vote in support of the ARF in order to cast a ballot for Ishkhan Saghatelyan.

A sign in the club saying who can use the ashtrays

Geghamavan, established in 1828, used to be called Shahriz. The first inhabitants were 400 Armenians from the Maku village of Andzouk in the Persian Empire who migrated after the signing of the Treaty of Turkmenchay.

Historical records show the location was populated as early as the VII Century AD.

There are some marvelous stone crosses to be seen at the ruins of St. Hovhannes Church.

A tragic 2015 bus accident claimed the lives of several Armenians returning from Moscow to Yerevan. Some of the injured and killed were from Geghamavan.

On a piece of land adjacent to the village municipality, there are plans to erect a memorial to those killed on foreign shores.

Geghamavan natives now living in Russia will finance the project.

When I asked Mayor Saghatelyan is another place could have been assigned for the memorial, and instead used to build a health clinic, which the village now lacks, or even a playground, he responded that the land had been allocated by during the tenure of his predecessor.

Today, the village only has a first aid station.

Hetq wrote about the illegal garbage dumps scattered throughout Gegharkunik in March 2016.

Even though native son Ishkhan Saghatelyan is an adviser to the minister of the environment, the above eyesore remains in Geghamavan.

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