Chikharula: How This Armenian Village Became Georgian-Populated
Villages with no corresponding road signs are nestled one after the other along the foothills on the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia.
If you don’t have a local resident in the car, you’d quickly get lost. This is especially true given that due to the potholed main road, local drivers use the dirt back roads.
After Balanta, a village populated by Georgians, one comes upon the exclusively Armenia village of Chikharula (Chkharola in local parlance. The two are 1.5 kilometers apart.
There’s almost no information regarding Chkharola on the internet; neither in Armenian or Georgian. In the Georgian edition of Wikipedia, just one sentence is devoted to the village – It belongs to the administrative region of Borjom, 1,860 meters above sea level on the Javakheti highlands.
According to the 2002 census, Chkharola had 299 inhabitants and Balanta, 161. Despite its larger population, Chkharola was incorporated into the administrative borders of Balanta. The mayor of Chkharola is from Balanta.
The education of Chkharola Armenian children is also a complex issue. The local school goes up to the fourth grade. After that, even during the long winter months, students must trek 1.5 kilometers to the school in Balanta.
Luckily, a fifth and sixth grade have been added after recent renovations. After that, Armenian students continue at the Balanta school that is divided into Armenian and Georgian sections.
There’s an imbalance here as well. 25 students from Chkharola have to go to the Balanta school, as opposed to the 16 Balanta students going to Chkharola. Locals say it’s because the Balanta school is in better shape.
Seventh-grader Shiraz Hakobyan says that at the Balanta school only Armenian language and literature classes are in Armenian. Mostly everything else is in Georgian.
“The teachers demand that we translate. It’s good that we are learning Georgian. But there are homes where no one speaks Georgian. They can’t translate,” says Hakobyan.
“There are twenty pupils and twenty-five teachers at Balanta. Some classes only have the one pupil. Others have been combined,” adds Chkharola resident Zhora Hounanyan. “Our pupils keep their school going.”
The principal of the Balanta school also serves as the Chkharola school principal. No one knows how this happened.
When it comes to the quality of education, residents merely say, “Hey, they learn.”
Valer Hakobyan, Shiraz’s grandfather, says they are taught everything except Armenian history. “There are many Georgian subjects. The Armenian ones will soon disappear. Shouldn’t an Armenian know Armenian history?” he asks, pointing to the kids.
Our conversation soon expands. “Write that Chkharola residents have many demands. Number one being the village road,” says Mr. Hounanyan.
The roads are in poor shape, and this makes transporting hay and other fodder from the mountains a dangerous task.
54 households remain in Chkharola. Half don’t have potable water at home. They have to carry it by hand from a nearby spring.
“They spent some money and brought in water. But it’s not drinkable. There’s no filtering station,” says Mr. Hounanyan.
From left: Zhora Hounanyan, Valer Hakobyan
Balanta doesn’t look like a prosperous village. “They are lazy for not cultivating all the land they have. We lease land from them to farm,” says Mr. Hounanyan.
Chkharola residents aren’t optimistic regarding their village’s future. Even a milk reprocessing plant being built in the village by some business types from Borjom doesn’t get their hopes up. The plant is scheduled to open by September.
When I ask Mr. Hounanyan if any locals are working at the plant, he shakes his head. “Who will hire us? They will work. They might hire one or two for some dirty work but that’s it.”
Milk reprocessing plant under construction
Before leaving I ask what Chkharola, the name of the village means. Mr. Hounanyan explains. “It’s a Turkish word. When the Turks moved away they said, ‘Let’s leave here, char ola’”.
The Armenians of Chkharola migrated from Erzeroum and have stayed ever since, despite feeling neglected and forgotten.
After returning, I tried to get more information about the village from the internet. Once again, the Georgian edition of Wikipedia caught my eye. Regarding the “national make-up” of Chikharula one reads ქართველები - that’s to say, Georgian.