Saturday, 20 July

Metz Taghlar – Artsakh’s Village of Craftspeople on the Historic Silk Road

Reading the plaque commemorating prominent blacksmiths in the Artsakh village of Metz Taghlar, I ask why the name of the village is written in the form “Taghlar” and not “Tagher”?

I ask if “Taghlar” isn’t the old Turkish name of the village, using the plural suffix “lar”?

Village Mayor Vladik Danielyan immediately explodes – “Who said that this is the case?”

I respond that “Metz Tagher” is the official name of the village.

Danielyan retorts that my explanation is idiocy and that two “educated” types have distorted the name without understanding the word’s etymology.

He explains that the “lar” suffix has nothing to do with Turkish plural form, rather it’s the Armenian word for “wire” or “chain”.

It turns out that the village was founded on a number of neighborhoods, connected by bridges, located around some springs, giving the appearance of a chain. Thus “taghalar-taghlar”.

Metz Taghlar is the largest village in the Hadrout district of Artsakh.

According to December 2015 data, it has 1,516 residents. Mayor Danielyan says the population hasn’t changes much over the years. Not many people have left for greener pastures, he claims. Danielyan, who’s served as mayor since 1998, argues that people stay due to a love of the land. “My family will never move away. It’s an ideological matter,” he says.

Mayor Danielyan tells me that those wishing to move did so prior to 2000, and that it’s been their relatives and friends who have moved away since then – people who more or less know where they are going.

Demographical comparisons with the Soviet era paint another story.

In 1979, the village high school boasted an enrollment of 429.  In 1984, that number dropped to 387. In 1988, the number was 355. After the Artsakh War of the early 1990s, only 285 students remained. 961 residents left the village between 1988 and 1994.

Today, some 230 students attend the village school. Around 65 children attend the village kindergarten.

Mayor Danielyan takes issue with the government’s policy of encouraging large families, arguing that marriages must be encouraged instead.

As it stands today, couples who have a fourth child receive a one-time award payment of one million AMD (US$2,100). Families with six or more children are allocated a house by the government.

Danielyan believes that rather than allocating funds to families with 5-6 children, such resources would be better spent to assist new couples in starting small businesses so that they could have a stable basis for growth.

100 of the village’s population of 1,500 work in various municipal-run enterprises. 70 residents are employed as contractual soldiers.

“Such military service is merely a way for families to make ends meet,” says a concerned Danielyan, who views such employment as somewhat unsustainable.

Most Metz Taghlar residents are engaged in small plot gardening. The village, surrounded as it is by forests and mountains, isn’t conducive for animal husbandry.

70-80 hectares of village lands are irrigated, thus making vegetable gardening possible. Municipal pasture lands are located 20-25 kilometers distant and road conditions make cultivating these areas problematic.

This problem, coupled with the fact that the village lies on the historic Silk Road, has pushed the development of crafts instead. Blacksmithing and related crafts remain alive today. Pottery making also flourished in the village until recently.

Given that the road leading to Metz Taghlar has been repaired and the irrigation water issue has been resolved, the priorities today are to renovate the buildings housing the cultural center, the school and the museum.

The school, for instance, built in the 1970s, desperately needs a complete overhaul rather than periodic cosmetic repair.

The same holds true for the village museum, which not only displays archeological items but exhibits dedicated to native son Marshall Armenak Khanperyants, a hero of the USSR, and other notable military figures.

When I asked Mayor Danielyan if he’s raised these issues with the regional government he grinned and said, “I present them every year with my report. This year, I’ve already announced that I don’t want a cultural center. Maybe, they’ll do the honorable thing and renovate it.”

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