Friday, 23 August

Life in the Border Village of Tavush: Reporters Neglect Us, Residents Complain

1,800 people live in Tavush, a village in Armenia’s Tavush Province. The village is only 10 km away from the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, but unlike some other Berd community villages regularly shelled by the enemy, it’s quiet here. 

In 1998, the government decided to include Tavush in a list of border villages requiring special attention and greater investment. Residents, however, complain that reporters mainly focus on those villages located right on the border with Azerbaijan, forgetting about Tavush. 

"Oh, oh, tell me about debts," exclaims shopkeeper Zoya, and looks through her notebook showing who owes her money.  The book is a new one, since she transfers the data every three months to a new notebook, in alphabetical order, making it easy to find the debtors. The oldest debt is five years old, but she says it’s useless to ask for payment since people have no money. 

Zoya has another notebook listing her own debts. "Sometimes we need to buy something, but there is no money, and we take a loan to pay for goods. People rely on us, and we rely on banks,” she says, closing her notebooks. 

Two loans were taken in her own name, another two - in her husband’s name. Now it’s only the couple living in the village. Their children live in Yerevan, visiting them on and off.  Zoya says they will move to Yerevan too, once they pay off the loans. 

There are four shops in Tavush village, with Zoya’s shop being the biggest and offering a wide range of products from food to footwear. 

Zoya Darbinyan, who’s been in business for 21 years, says that they used to have a small kiosk instead, and that she was doing better than now. The villagers mainly buy from the neighboring town of Berd. Most of the shops in Tavush provide the basic products only, such as bread and cigarettes. 

Siroush Poghosyan, an employee at the Tavush Municipality, says that most of the arable land in the village is not cultivated, since there is no irrigation water. The main crops include grapes, corn, barley. The grapes are sold to the Berd brandy factory. This year, the price of one kilogram of grapes, according to the villagers, was 140 drams. 

Growing tobacco used to be popular in Tavush. Now, there is a cigarette drying unit in the village with a handful of employees. 

81-year-old Pirouz Babayan sits next to her house gate. She’s just returned from the yard and still wears an apron. She has been a tobacco specialist for more than 30 years. 

"I’m tortured - how else can somebody working with tobacco feel? We were sowing tobacco, cultivating and sending the crop to the Aygepar plant,” she smiles, and leans on her walking stick. 

During the Soviet era, there was a tobacco plant in the neighboring Aygepar village, which is all in ruins now, a victim of the Artsakh War. 

Grandma Pirouz says that Tavush used to be different: it was livelier, and people were kinder to each other. The village has become somewhat silent. However, she adds that she is very happy with her neighbors. 

Pirouz has seven children - six daughters and one son, twenty grandchildren and 34 great grandchildren. This year, the first great grandchild went to the army. 

Pirouz’s daughter-in-law, Azniv, was born in another village, Navour. She got married during the Artsakh War, and she jokes that  she was cheated, since her husband was conscripted into the army right after they got married. Her cheerful mood becomes infectious, and everyone starts making jokes, but the silence in the village is overwhelming. 

43-year-old Azniv is a nurse, but she hasn’t been able to find a job. Years ago, the Berd Medical Center rejected her job application because of her age. She has been working at the Berd glove factory for two months now. Her husband is a contract soldier. 

Siroush Poghosyan says that most men in Tavush are contract servicemen. She also notes that unemployment is the biggest issue in the village, resulting in the high number of needy families. 

We enter another house and meet 32-year-old Sofia, with her two children. The eldest, 11-year-old Gevorg, is busy playing with his friend who’s arrived from Yerevan, while Sofia holds her little daughter Anahit on her lap. 

Sofia says she and her husband are from Tavush. They got married 13 years ago. Her husband is disabled and receives 19,000 drams a month in state aid. 

On the day of our visit, he had taken the village cattle out to the pasture. Sofia says herders are paid four thousand drams a day. The family also receives a 30,000-dram state monthly allowance for the children. 

Sofia bakes the bread for the house. Before the birth of their daughter, she also cultivated land and went to collect corn. "We get by," she says. 

Siroush Poghosyan notes that twenty families have left for Yerevan and Russia during recent years. None have returned. 

Tavush residents say that if supplied with irrigation water, they will be able to farm the land and life in the village will start to rebound. 

Photos by Hakob Poghosyan

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