Friday, 06 December

A Grave That Grants Wishes

“Let there be faith; the objects of worship will appear.” Valentin Domil said. The Kurdish village of Rya Taza has both in abundance. Yet the strongest faith here is faith in the miraculous power of Dayki Shiro, or Mother Milk.

« The legend says that there was family of sheikhs (the highest caste among Kurds) living in Rya Taza 200 years ago who cured people of different diseases. Once their ten-year old daughter was playing with a sunbeam that had strayed into the house and she flew away on it. The girl's clothes were buried in the village; her grave was called the Grave of Dayki Shiro and it became a sacred place.

Several other graves appeared around the gravestone later on and the place became a small cemetery. The Turks destroyed the gravestones during invasions and the cemetery was turned into a rock pile.

The villagers believe that if anyone makes a wish and kisses the stone on the grave of Dayki Shiro, the wish will be granted. Those who are sick must take a handful of soil, mix it with water and drink it, or put some soil under their pillow.

If the rain is lashing down, one should take a stone from the grave, putting another one in its place, and throw it into the fire of a tonir, or pit oven, and the rain will stop. If there is a drought, the same should be done, only the stone should be placed into water instead of fire.

Only certain people have the right to call or banish rain in this way: old women who live near the cemetery, women from the castes of pirs and sheikhs like 78-year old Ksok. She came to believe in miraculous power of the grave when her daughter was cured of epilepsy.

Ksok Vladimir Atashyan

But Dayki Shiro seems to be in no hurry to solve the urgent problems of the village. Today Rya Taza is repairing the only direct route from village to the highway – the bridge that was destroyed the year before last. Heavy rains flooded houses and tonirs at the time. This year, in contrast, there was a drought.

“But still there was some rain,” Vladimir Atashyan, a mathematics teacher, insisted in response to my skepticism about the power of the grave. “Faith is the crucial thing; nothing will happen without faith.”

The everlasting problem with drinking water hasn't passed Rya Taza either. There are three spigots in the village, which makes no sense since the water doesn't reach here.

“They say it doesn't reach us because the village is too high,” Vladimir smiled bitterly. “But how does it happen that water doesn't reach us, a village with a population of 420, and meanwhile the gas supply office that was built above our village was immediately provided with water? And that water comes from our water supply line, and not from anywhere else!”

“Children stay in lines near the spigots all day long to make sure they don't miss the water should it happen to come. They fight over water. Meanwhile the water is infected and comes to our village from the village upstream, right from the stream where the livestock urinate.”

The villagers use melted snow instead of water in winter and drink the fruit compote that they put up during the summer...

The people of Rya Taza are engaged mainly in cattle breeding. The drought is a real disaster for them.

“Then farmers have to buy feed for their cattle,” Vladimir said. “The winter lasts for months here; you have to 80-100 bails of hay have to be prepared in advance for one cow, and one bail costs 1,000 drams. Some people have twenty cows and they have to stock up around 1,600-2,000 bails of hay.

‘Some people sell milk, but the income from milk is ridiculously low. Twenty cows give ten liters of milk; a liter of milk costs 70-90 drams in summer and 120 drams in winter.”

Some 100 residents of the village are abroad, mainly in Moscow on temporary jobs. That's where most of the villagers' income comes from. Vladimir's family is in Moscow; he plans to join them, soon.

But the villages notice with satisfaction that migration from the village has stopped in spite of the hard life.

The white two-story school building can be seen from the window of Vladimir's house. Villagers joke that they have their own White House.

“Our school is under the auspices of the president himself,” Vladimir said proudly. “After the earthquake, there was no normal school for a long time. Children were learning in metal trailers. The school was built five or six years ago and President Kocharyan was here for the opening.

“Two students from our school enrolled at Yerevan State University this year.”

The government provided the school with furniture; UNICEF helped with volleyballs and nets – the only equipment in the gymnasium.

The Rya Taza school is the only school in the eleven Kurdish villages in the Aragatsotn Marz that has computer. Computers were provided thanks to the American Project Harmony. The organization has been working with the head of the village administration to get Armentel to provide Internet for the 100 students here, but so far in vain.

There is a great deal in both school and village that need to be refashioned and improved. But in Vladimir's view, and that of many other villagers as well, the most important problem is not the lack of sport equipment or Internet, nor even flood and drought, but … traffic.

The problem is that the highway to Aparan passes through the village. The speed limit is 50-60 km/h but no one obeys it. Most vehicles pass through the village at 100-120 km/h.

“There have been many deaths in the village from car accidents,' says Vladimir. “Forty children have been hit by cars in recent years. I would like to ask our government to build speed bumps on the highway so the vehicles would have to slow down. The school is at the other end of the village, and children have to cross the road every day. It's impossible to keep an eye on all of them.”

“Please write about that,” Vladimir said beseechingly. “Maybe someone in the government will read it and take some action.”

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