Vahan Village: A visit to Armenia’s northern gate

Vahan Village: A visit to Armenia’s northern gate


About 1,200 people reside in Vahan village, 128 km north of Yerevan

Residents of Armenia’s border village Vahan (meaning shield) say proudly that their village is the northeast gate, the main border-guard of Armenia.

The wintery Vahan is sleeping. The identical houses of the village are constructed on a common line, close to each other, loyal to each other. Villagers, who appear in the only central street of the village, hurry to do their business.

Suren Kirakosyan family of 4 live on allowance and the production of a cow
Aram Kirakosyan says the authorities must pay special attention to their bordering village
Winter in Vahan, which is 1,900 meters above sea level, lasts almost six months
Vahan village, Chambarak region, Gegharkunik province, runs 28 kilometers along the Armenian-Azeri border, home to 1,230, some 128 kilometers from Yerevan. They came here from Artsvashen. This was an Armenian village within the administrative territory of Azerbaijan during the Soviet period; and Azeri villages surrounded it. Armenians left Artsvashen during the Armenian-Azeri conflict years.

“We felt safe as long as Artsvashen – some 18 kilometers from Vahan – was at the rear of Vahan, but after Artsvashen’s collapse the village became a front-line,” says resident Aram Kirakosyan, 55. “All our villagers are from Artsvashen, but they moved earlier – in 1925.”

During the Soviet period, Vahan was called Ordzhonikidze, in honor of Georgian revolutionary Grigory Ordzhonikidze.

Kirakosyan, who participated in the Karabakh War, says that it was thanks to the warriors of the village that they did not lose Vahan.

Winter in Vahan, which is 1,900 meters above sea level, lasts almost six months. People here mainly deal with cattle breeding and potato cultivation. Head of Vahan village Gurgen Balyan says that during World War II Vahan provided the whole Gegharkunik province with potatoes, but now their potato harvest is not enough even for the residents of village only.

“The lands of the village are arid. People rely on God cultivating these lands. This year they did not manage to gather even half of the potatoes planted,” Balyan says.

Residents of Vahan complain that they do not manage to cultivate the privatized lands – their efforts are great and futile and many have returned ownership of the land to the state, put still must pay off taxes which they often cannot afford.

There are 175 students at Vahan’s school. In November, the kindergarten of the village, designed for 40 children, which had been closed since 1992, was reopened.

The family of Suren Kiraosyan, 25, who has two children, live off a 26,000 dram ($72) family allowance, and the production of a cow, presented to them by Czech ‘People in Need’ organization. Suren says that he has found another means of earning money – the ancient task of sheparding.

“I take other villagers’ cattle to hills [for pasturing], getting 3,000-3,500 drams ($9) per day. But livestock does not go to hills in winter, so then it is hard to make ends meet,” he says.

The prices of dairy in Vahan are rather low: one liter of milk costs 100 drams (36 cents), (while in Yerevan it costs 350 dram; $1). Unlike in cities, no hike in cheese price has been registered here – 1,000-1,200 ($2.8-$3.3) per kilo; ( twice less than in the capital) one kilo of beef costs 1,800 drams ($5). The two-story houses of the village are sold at $2,000-$4,000.

“The authorities must pay a special attention to such villages. We are left alone with our problems, but we are one of the most important strategic defense sections of the country,” says Aram Kirakosyan. “Otherwise we will start migrating one day, too.”

He says that during the Soviet period when the border with Azerbaijan was open, they did not suffer economically so much.

“There was a Molokans’ village called Saratovka in Getabek region, Azerbaijan. It was 26-27 kilometers from Vahan. Every Sunday, a cattle, fruit and vegetable fair was held there. We went there and bought products at low prices. We had many Azeri friends among them. But now what can we do?” Aram recalls.

Analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of the conflict, he says that if the conflict started a bit later, then the whole region would be full of Azeris.

“There were five villages only in Shorzha; and if an Armenian family had 2-3 children, then they [Azeris] had 5-6 children. We could have lost this whole region,” Aram says.

There is only one Azeri family residing in Vahan now.

“The husband was Azeri, and the wife was Armenian. They died and were buried in Vahan. Their son left for Azerbaijan, but the daughters keep on living here,” Balyan says.

Shootings are heard in Vahan even now, however, life continues; 17 children are born here in 2010. Rumors about the war restarting do not cause any panic in the village.

“There can be no panic in Vahan, we are the first barrier against the enemy, and we are the receivers of the first thrust,” Aram Kirakosyan says.