The dissipating rain gradually grew stronger. The soil was soaked.
We’re at the farm of Arkady Aghasyan in the Artsakh village of Ivanyan, in the Askeran region.
Mr. Aghasyan nervously looks here and there, placing his hand on his forehead. He then calls out, “Manoushak.” I ask myself who can this Manoushak be? “It’s my calf,” says the farmer. “I have two calves, one is called Saro, the other Manoushak.”
Until two years ago, Mr. Aghasyan was the third person in the village raising livestock. He owned around 150 sheep. He also had cows and pigs. Today, he tends two cows, two calves, and twelve sheep, along with some pigs and chickens.
The largest farm, with some 250 sheep, is owned by his son-in-law. Next in size is that run by village resident Hrachik, followed by Mr. Aghasyan’s modest farm.
Arkady fondly remembers the day when raising livestock for sale was a profitable business. Now, he notes, the police and the army provide most of the jobs in the village.
Seeing that we’re getting soaked, Arkady invites us to his home. The grounds of the farm are well tended. He says he’s done it all himself, by hand, and points out that the pigs have places for the summer and spring. “Naturally,” he says. “Summers get hot.”
We reach the door of the farm and Arkady is still on the lookout for his animals. His wife is standing by the entrance. “It’s so good that he’s showed you around. But you’re all muddied,” she exclaims.
Mr. Aghasyan is 60. It’s his age that prevents him from raising more animals. The village also has a shortage of pasture land. A few years ago, residents too their animals to graze on the mountain slope in the distance. Today, the army uses the land for military exercises and as a target range. We hear shots ring on periodically during our conversation.
Mr. Aghasyan, who was born in the village of Khramort, not far from Askeran, moved to Khojalou in March 1992. He served as a volunteer in the Artsakh War and participated in the defense of the village. He had two children at the time.
“It was January of 1992. They were firing on us from Aghdam. It took us a few hours to flee, leaving everything behind. Whatever we were wearing in the trenches was muddy and dirty,” Arkady says as we sit on the porch of his house. He remained in the army another four years.
“There was no house here when we arrived. Just a bare ceiling, which I liked,” Arkady says. (Khojalou, which had been used as a military outpost, was cleared of Azerbaijanis in February 1992)
Khramort remained under Azerbaijani control for one and a half years, until its liberation in July 1993. Arkady returned, only to find the house burnt and collapsed.
“So I fixed it up. It’s better now than before. My sister’s son lives there now,” Arkady says.
The farmer believes there is no village like Ivanyan in all of Artsakh. He describes the village as a collection of people from all corners of the country.
On April 2, life in Ivanyan was also disrupted due to the outbreak of fighting. Arkady recounts that they heard shots being fired on the night of April 2, and that they could see rockets being fired by the Artsakh military.
Arkady says that the difference between the 1990s war and the April fighting is that in the former people could even relax for a few hours at night, given that there was usually a lull in the fighting.Now, it’s the opposite.
“Back then, you had to see someone before firing. Now, you don’t have to. Just fire your weapon in any direction. They don’t even comprehend that they may be firing on peaceful civilians. Today, the army has been perfected,” Arkady notes.
Arkady’s wife brings a tray of coffee out to the porch. We talk about life in the village in the years preceding the recent fighting.
When Mr. Aghasyan tended to the flock of 150 sheep, they prepared milk and cheese for sale. “Our Yezidi brothers would come, they still do, to buy our sheep,” he says.
Residents mostly grow vegetables for domestic consumption in household plots. Arkady adds that sometimes, two or three times monthly, they sell greens and beets at the market in Stepanakert. He says that some village residents grow cabbage, potatoes and onions for the army.
The road running through the village was recently asphalted, something that Arkady doesn’t consider that much of a benefit. “They drive so fast that they should have left the potholes,” he jokes.
Mr. Aghasyan has two daughters and a son. He lives in Russia. The daughters are married. All told, the Aghasyans have seven grandchildren.
The rain continues to batter the roof over the porch.
“I didn’t expect people from this generation, or from our generation, to unite and come here. We were saying that if something happened, they wouldn’t come. But they did, even from America. It’s in the blood. Something that pulls you. If they work on the weapons issue, it will be alright. Let’s not have more victims,” Arkady says.
The farmer has no complaints and just desires peace. “Everything will be fine as long as there’s no war,” he says.
“Your coffee has gotten cold. Drink up,” Arkady tells us with a smile.
Once the rain stops, we say our goodbyes before leaving. Arkady escorts us out. When we first arrived, he was cutting an apricot tree.
“I kept the smaller trees in the shade. It’s all for naught. They’ve been damages and won’t give fruit this year,” he says.
Photos: Vahe Sarukhanyan