The Border Life: Between the possible and impossible
By Aris Ghazinyan
It is not easy to understand the economics of life in this picturesque place, Barekamavan, joined by the only pass that connects the Tavush region village with the rest of Armenia.
Two who have “enriched the border of Armenia . . .” Only during tax collection, when officials manage to find their way here, is it apparent that there is economic life.
The Azeri towns of Ghazakh and Aghstafa, the Georgian Rustavi industrial center and the river Kur can be clearly seen from the heights of Barekamavan. Being situated in the exact geographical center of the South Caucasus, the village today is a center of all regional contradictions – mined lands and blockade, idling water pipes and gunfire, lack of market and jobs, shelled houses and refugees.
Here, nature has blessed the land with a favorable, subtropical climate (at 700 meters). Mankind, however, has undone the gift: The territory is under constant surveillance by armed Armenians on one side, and armed Azeris on the other. Landmines make the soil dangerous rather than fruitful.
Here, 33-year-old Arayik Abazyan and his seven-member family live in this geopolitical cul-de-sac.
Barekamavan is surrounded by five Azeri villages. It is not a place where people “live and create,” Arayik admits.
“There is only one problem for the villager here – the constant presence in the sights of an external enemy and everyday efforts to maintain his family in conditions of total absence of an internal market. For a man like myself who lives on the borderline it is difficult to think about lofty ideas. I have participated in battles, served in the Armenian army and even receive wounds and became disabled. And this is not little.”Want to help? HyeSanta suggests funding for a cow, and allowance for a year's supply of feed. Estimated cost: $450. Click here.
The breath of the border is in the basis of Barekamavan’s domestic routine. Unlike market winds, it is always capable of overcoming the high mountains, entering the village and knocking at the villagers’ doors. Arayik Abazyan’s home also bears the traces of the frequent visits of that unwelcome guests – a shelled balcony, broken windows, walls fallen into pieces, a roof riddled with bullets. Values on which begging and corruption are based are absent in the village, however another manifestation of human parasitism – theft – makes its presence felt from time to time. It is not ordinary plunder, but cattle stealing sucked in with the border breath.
“Because the lands are mined and occupied, cattle breeding remains the only living for Barekamavan villagers,” says Arayik. “Anyway, our cattle are often stolen by ‘neighbors’, driven to the Ghazakh market and sold there. That’s what ‘market relations’ are like around Barekamavan.”
Arayik can hardly call his family enterprise “cattle-breeding”. He has one donkey and one cow. And while the stubborn even-toed animal can perform its only mission in Barekamavan – to transport firewood, the cow is simply unable to satisfy the needs of the seven-member family.
A “special mission”
“We are dreaming about a second cow,” Arayik’s wife Gohar says. “However, is that possible for a family that has a monthly income of only 30,000 drams (about $60)? During the last 10 years we existed somehow due to our cow, but we no longer can today.”
It was just before that decade of existence, in 1993, that their first child came into the world in a war zone, in the darkness of fierce battles in Barekamavan. Anoush was followed by Varuzhan and Vanush and, latest, by Smbat who just turned 1.
“Every new birth in Barekamavan has a great strategic importance,” Arayik says. “It is the evidence of the stubborn character and resolve of the Armenians. In the past the number of residents in our village exceeded a thousand. Currently, there are only 300 residents left in the village. I am proud that mine is one of the two families in our village that has enriched the border with four Armenians. And even though these four live in a dilapidated house today, I do not owe anything to anyone.”
But Arayik’s proud proclamation overlooks the truth that the proud border-guard of his country is buried in debts as surely as Barekamavan is in lindmines.
“To be a mother of four children, especially in these conditions, is a special mission,” says Gohar. “Of course, I am proud and happy. Nevertheless, there are also other problems. Although our family, as Arayik thinks, owes nothing to the Homeland, it is always in debt to the village’s shop. There we ask for flour, cereals, sugar, salt, soap. In fact, we live on the border in debt ‘on the border of the possible and impossible’.”
And what is the border of the possible for the Abazyans? Compatriots living in the incomparably better rear may think that it is the numerous weapon emplacements, from where, by the way, the “village is in full view.”
But the Barekamavan villagers who never left the frontline are of a different opinion. According to Gohar, “the border of the possible” is the help that can be fitted into the small palm of little Smbat or nearly as small a palm of 95-year-old grandmother Anush.
The latter is the oldest resident of Barekamavan and the main guarantor of the family budget. Her pension is 17,000 (about $34) drams a month, which makes the backbone of the Abazyans’ home and is fully spent to repay the constantly contracted debts. The Abazyans’ monthly ration of flour, for instance, costs 13,000 drams ($26).
The total government benefit for the four children who were born on the border makes approximately the same amount.
“Thirty thousand drams (about $60) are enough perhaps for only expressing discontent,” Arayik jokes. “But who should you be angry with if living on the border is your own choice? No government representative has honored Barekamavan with his presence over the last 10 years. But I do not ask anything from anyone. My only wish is that there will be jobs for the wounded youths.”