Tuesday, 20 August

Yura the Barber: Cutting Hair in the Artsakh Village of Metz Tagher for 44 Years

Looking at us through the mirror in his barber shop, Yura says, “Let me make some coffee.”

We smile, and tell him that we have work in the village but will come back later.

Yura Sanamyan has been cutting hair in the Artsakh village of Metz Tagher, located in the southern Hadrout district, for the past 44 years. Mr. Sanamyan turns 67 next month.

His barber shop is located on the first floor of the village’s municipal building. Mr. Sanamyan works with his son Alyosha. His son has been serving on the frontline for the past month.

Yura pays no rent or tax for the shop. He was a bit concerned when he heard rumors that the building would be renovated, but was told not to worry; the barber shop would remain.

There are just two chairs in the shop. Yura sits on one, I on the other. There are photos of girls affixed above the mirror. Barber utensils hang from nails in the wall. There’s a stove next to the window. A flock of sheep pass by the municipal building. Their bleating enters the shop, disturbing our conversation.

“What’s kept you here for 44 years?” I ask Yura. He chuckles, saying that he had to learn some kind of a trade, either the hair business or shoe repair. His final decision, it turns out, wasn’t accidental. “My story comes from another place,” he tells me.

He’s known in the village as ‘Yura the barber’. “They say, dram, dollar, year of the barber,” he says smiling.

Mr. Sanamyan learnt how to cut hair in Baku. He went to see his brother living there in 1966. He got a construction job and later asked his brother to get him an apprenticeship with someone in order to learn a trade. His brother introduced him to Sergey, a barber from Shamakh. Yura started to work as a barber on the side, along with the construction job. With the help of Sergey, Yura paid 250 rubles to get a job at one of the barber shops in downtown Baku. There was lots of work. A year later, Yura received news that his younger brother had been killed back in the village. In 1972, Yura returned to Metz Tagher to be with his parents, then living by themselves.

There were two barbers in the village then and business was much better than today. Back then, people didn’t have hair clippers. Now they do and don’t need Yura’s services that much. “There were days when, who’s counting, when I worked on 5-10 customers,” Yura says.

Yura opens the barber shop for business every morning between nine and ten. There are other barbers in the village as well.

I ask Yura if he’s ever cut women’s hair. He smiles. “I’ve never cut girls’ hair but I worked at a place in Baku where this guy learnt how to work on girls’ eyebrows and lips.”

Yura gets paid 300-400 drams for every cutting. Some in the village come by for a haircut and pay him later, when they have the money.

Mr. Sanamyan remembers that a few years ago one of the other barbers in the village posted a sign saying “no credit”.

“I tell some of my clients that they don’t have to pay. They’ll pay later. Being able to get by is a good thing, just so long as we live in peace,” says Yura the barber.

During the Artsakh War in the early 1990s, Mr. Sanamyan cut the hair of soldiers serving in the trenches. He says they were tough times and that people need to help one another.

“As life goes on…things aren’t so good now. The kids are going to Armenia or Russia,” says


As our conversation ends, Yura invites us to his house for a meal. We kindly decline, saying we still have work to finish in the village.

Yura escorts us to the yard and says, “OK, when you’re done come by.”

Photos: Knar Papayan, Vahe Sarukhanyan

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