27 year-old Herkinaz Avetisyan, a second year student at Yerevan’s Art Institute, recently made a life-changing decision.
She decided to interrupt her studies and move to Mijnavan, a town in the extreme southwest of Artsakh on the banks of the Arax River.
The reason was simple. Herkinaz wanted to teach fine arts to the pupils at the local branch of the Berdzor Art School.
The young woman made her decision to move in February, after meeting with the director of the school. Nazani, as she’s called by the locals, toured the area, liked what she saw, and decided to stay.
“Now, all the war ruins are covered with greenery. In February, when I first visited, they stood out in stark contrast. The impression they left was terrible. I had visited the museum in Stepanakert and saw the photos of the Armenians who gave their lives. Artsakh needs many things. I simply decided to do my share,” Nazani relates.
The young woman comes from the town of Ashtarak in Armenia. Her decision to move and live by herself in Artsakh didn’t go down well in her family of traditionalists. Her father was so upset that he didn’t speak to her for a long time. Her mother, naturally concerned about Nazani moving to a place where she knew no one, tried to talk her out of it. But their efforts were to no avail.
The authorities in Artsakh are attempting to resettle Minjnavan with Armenians. Nazani thus contacted Robert Matevosyan, who heads the government’s resettlement program for the Kashatagh administrative province. She didn’t receive much in the way of assistance.
“He said he had no transportation or fuel. So he asked the director of the arts school to help. The director came and picked me up,” says Nazani, adding that the local authorities focus more on families than individuals.
She eventually took up residence in an unoccupied house in Mijnavan. The school gave her a wood stove and some firewood to get through the winter.
Even though Nazani hadn’t graduated from the State Academy of Fine Arts, she had completed her studies at the Terlemezian Fine Arts School and was confident that she possessed the skills and knowledge to teach the children of the resettled families in Mijnavan.
The walls of one room in the unfinished school are now decorated by the paintings and drawings of her 17 pupils.
She receives a salary of 66,000 AMD (US 160). Nazani says she barely gets by and that food is more expensive in Kashatagh than Yerevan.
The owner of the house where she now lives recently sold the place. The Art School wants to provide Nazani with a place of her own. A benefactor has promised to donate 1 million AMD for a house now on the market in Mijnavan for 1.3 million. All that remains is to somehow come up with the remaining 300,000. If it comes through, Nazani will have a new home.
The young woman has been teaching in Mijnavan for the past seven months and says her desire to stay grows stronger by the day. And she’s started to pick up the painter’s brush once again.
“The natural beauty of the place gets by creative juices flowing. It’s been quite a while since I’ve painted,” Nazani says.
For the moment, Nazani is focused on her work and hardly thinks about her personal life. She and the director of the art school have been exploring ways to combine her artistic work and teaching.
“If I had to decide between teaching and working, I’d remain and continue with my artistic work, says Nazani.