Village on the Edge; A visit to Nerkin Karmiraghbyur

Nerkin Karmiraghbyur village in the Tavush province is 200 km from capital Yerevan, but much, much closer to the reality of frayed border security between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Nine kilometers of the 352 km border between Tavush province and Azerbaijan runs through Nerkin Karmiraghbyur, separated from the border by an 800 meter direct line, from which gunfire is a common sound.

Here, bombed out houses and pock-marked roads are a reminder of hostilities and of yet-unresolved differences dating to the worst of time when in 1990-94 the province was a steady target of the Azeris.

“Our village is in a low position; and the defense positions of the neighboring country [Azerbaijan] are deployed high, hence the village is a permanent target for Azeris. It was the most bombarded village of Armenia during the war,” says Manvel Kamendatyan, head of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur village.

Long past the 1994 ceasefire, gunfire became a fearful sound just last September.

“The most horrifying sounds of gunfire after the ceasefire were heard in September 2010. For a moment we thought that the war restarted. We even gathered the most important staff and went to the storehouse, but now everything seems to calm down,” says Zinaida Israyelyan, resident of the village.

Villagers tell that they hear common sounds of shootings coming from the neighboring country more rarely recently. Vahagn Mirzoyan, 18, who was born in the heat of the war (in 1993), and who has heard sounds of shootings since he was born, says that it is strange to him not to hear shots fired.

“They [Azeris] do not shoot during the recent one-two months at all. Sometimes I am even worried why there are no shootings,” Mirzoyan jokes.

Mariam Israyelyan, 13, as all children in this village became tempered to sounds of shootings; she even knows how to defend herself.

“I switch off all lights of the house, so that the house is not seen from distance. Then I put a piece of bread, cheese and water in my bag for running away if necessary, and I start praying quietly, begging for peace,” Mariam says.

The population of the village consists of 1,180 people; they mainly work at the school, kindergarten, local administrative body and the aid station of the village.

Here, peasants are mainly engaged in growing grapes, even though cultivation is a matter of life and death here.

“People cultivate their lands at the cost of life, because the arable lands are some 100 meters from the border, and each year during the grape harvest season our neighbors shoot at our villagers who gather grape. That is why grape gathering is usually done at night to avoid having victims. Fortunately, there are no deaths yet, and there were no wounded people, either,” Kamendatyan says.

The main structure of the village is its school, which has 122 students and 29 employees, where the average salary is 70,000 drams ($192) per month.

“Poor social conditions here do not boost a high birthrate level. Probably this is the reason why we have only 12 graduates and 10 first-grade students this year. We even had to join two classes because of the small number of students,” says headmaster of the school Ivan Adamyan.

He says that even during the war the school worked regularly.

“They [Azeris] were shooting the whole night long, the shootings were stopped at 6 a.m., and lessons started at 8 a.m.,” Adamyan recalls.

Salome Adamyan worked at the school in 1992-1994; she was a teacher of elementary classes. She recalls that even during those years the school worked with the same capacity as before.

“A village is a village with its school, and understanding it quite well, our teachers did their best to provide lessons regularly. There were days when we heard sounds of shooting during lessons, we took children to the sanctuary of the school and continued our lessons there,” Adamyan says.

The village still recalls its main achievements, the existence of drinking water in the village and its gasification.

“We had only three springs during the Soviet period, which hardly provided the population of the village with water, whereas now each of us has a separate water spring at our houses,” says Gayane Paytyan, 60, and abundantly fills the buckets with cold water running from the springs.

Luiza Chobanyan, 11, dreams about have a house of culture in their village.

“Our village is among the few villages which do not have a house of culture. I wish we had such a house, where we could have attended different courses, watch performances, organize events ourselves,” Luiza says hoping to attend a house of culture soon.

The generation which was born in storehouses, in wet and cold cellars, under candle light, looks for a brighter future, more than 20 years since their troubles began . . .