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Gagik Aghbalyan

Armenia’s Berkaber Village: On the Frontline Between War and Peace

Crocheting bears and bees once provided a stable income for village women

Before the Tbilisi-Ghazakh-Dilijan-Yerevan highway was constructed, when the USSR government decided to bring closer the capitals of the three "fraternal" republics (Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia), Berkaber village in Armenia’s Tavoush Province was a very important and promising settlement, called Joghaz.

The locals say they felt like living in the center of the world. In the past, it was on the Tbilisi - Red Bridge - Dilijan - Yerevan royal caravan route.

Several hundred items in the historical-ethnographic museum of the village tell about its glorious past.

Since the beginning of the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in the late 1980s, there seems to be only war and shooting in Berkaber. The name of the village, which means “harvest giver” in Armenian, is nevertheless associated with the war.

The village is separated from the trenches of the Azerbaijani armed forces by the medium-size Joghaz reservoir. Despite tensions on the border, fishermen on both sides come here to fish. If tensions are high, they fish at night.

Բերքաբերի գյուղապետարանում փակցված է տեղեկանք այն մասին, թե ռազմական գործողությունների ժամանակ ինչպես ստեղծել պարզագույն թաքստոցներ

This bulletin, affixed to the village municipality, tells residents how to build simple hidey-holes

There is one Azerbaijani village, Mazam, opposite Berkaber. There was another one before the war, named Ghzlhaji. Berkaber residents say Ghzlhaji was destroyed during the war. The inhabitants left their houses, and the area passed under the control of the Armenian armed forces.

The villagers say if Mazam was emptied, their situation would be much worse. When Azerbaijani soldiers fire at Berkaber, Mazam villagers go to the positions and restrain their soldiers, as the Armenian armed forces would target Mazam in response.

This story isn’t about the war as seen by Berkaber residents. There are creative people in the village, who, despite, living facing the Azerbaijani positions, are not afraid to drink coffee on the shore of Joghaz reservoir while exchanging political jokes.

Armine Yeganyan, together with two other women from the village, crochets toy bears. They learned crocheting during courses organized by the Berd Women's Resource Center Foundation.

The project was called Berd Bears. Women designed original bears and bees, to be used by a company producing local honey. The bears were sold along with small barrels of the honey.

Armine says that her family had a stable income thanks to the crocheted bears. "The first order was for ten bears. I made them in two days, along with my household chores. We got the raw materials and were paid 2,000 drams per bear. Regardless of the quantity, it provided a stable income. We were happy, " says Armine Yeganyan.

Armine's monthly income reached 40,000 drams ($84 at today’s exchange rate).

Now, women continue crocheting for their own pleasure. They don’t get orders for the bears any longer. They hope for a new initiative from abroad, and that their products will again enter the market in some new form.

The roads of Berkaber, leading to the village and inside it, are in terrible condition. If, due to the war, there is ever a need for the population to evacuate, the residents of the village will pay a great price - their own security.

Since there are no smooth and well-built roads in the village, Armine's son runs the hoverboard he got from his father Bobby, now working abroad, on the balcony of the house.

Berkaber has many hidden treasures. One can even find a 150-year-old wedding dress on the rare occasion.

Anna Mouradyan shows her husband’s grandmother Almast’s wedding dress.

Almast lived in Moks, an area of historic Armenia south of Lake Van. Almast’s wedding, according to her descendants, took place in the 1870-1880's. During the years of migration, she lost her sight and refused to leave her birthplace. However, her son forced his mother to leave Moks, and she took her wedding dress. Any historical-ethnographic museum would be proud to have it today.

Anna says she has received many offers to sell the dress or move it to museums, but her family has always rejected such offers. It’s not only a treasure cherished by the Muradyans, but the whole village of Berkaber as well.

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