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KARABAKH'S LONELIEST VILLAGE
A1+ [01:12 pm] 21 April, 2007
The Karapetian family live in total isolation - but long for neighbours.
The village of Jrkan in Nagorny Karabakh has a population of just two.
Husband and wife Sanasar and Gohar Karapetian are the only inhabitants - and they are not even natives of this ghostly village.
The Karapetians have lived here on their own for 11 years, deprived of human contact. Their nearest neighbours live several km away and it's several months since Gohar, 58, and her husband, 63, last spoke to anyone.
The nearest human habitation is the village of Norashen, a veritable metropolis by comparison, with a population of 100 people living in new houses built by the New York-based charity the Armenian General Benevolent Union.
It's a half hour walk from Jrakn to Norashen - but when the road linking the two is covered in mud, which is often the case, it takes much longer.
"Someone died in the next village," said Gohar. "We heard about it and attended the funeral. Everybody was staring at us in surprise - maybe we look different from everyone else. We shared food with them, stayed there for a while and then came back.
"They also told us there that the United States wants to start a war against our neighbour Iran. We got scared, and I prayed in my mind to God asking him to prevent anything bad befalling us."
Sanasar barely takes part in our conversation and according to his wife, "the poor man has grown shy due to lack of human contact".
The couple ended up re-settling in Jrakn in the south of Nagorny Karabakh, after they lost their house in the devastating earthquake that shook the Armenian city of Gyumri in 1988.
Their house was destroyed and nine of their relatives were buried under the ruins. They were left with a bed, two sets of bed linen and a fridge.
For a long time, they lived in a garage, before they decided to build a new home in the Armenian-controlled territory of Karabakh.
Jrakn was also a bleak village of ruins when the couple arrived - a victim of the bitter 1991-4 Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Karabakh. Apart from their makeshift house, it still has nothing but ruins and trees.
The Karapetians chose Jrakn purely by accident.
"Our friends advised us to leave for Karabakh saying it's easier to survive there," said Gohar. "We found a map of Karabakh, studied it and picked Hadrut region.
We managed to reach this village somehow. The landscape is very beautiful and fertile. So we started living here."
In the two years they spent building a new house, the couple had to sleep in their car as there was nowhere else to live. "Sometimes I woke at night in the car and saw the foxes and jackals surround our car - it was very scary," said Gohar.
The Karapetians' house looks more like a cabin with a cattle-shed and a garden full of fruit trees standing in front of it. Sanasar built a small garage to put his car in, but the car has long since given up the ghost.
Inside, the two rooms are gloomy and the concrete floor is muddy.
The Karapetians use one of the two rooms of the house as a storeroom, keeping their crops of pumpkins, nuts and potatoes in one, while the other serves as their bedroom and dining room. The windows are covered with an oilcloth because "glassing them over requires lots of money". The one source of light in the gloomy room is a dim bulb.
For heating fuel, they rely entirely on firewood, which has to be fetched from a long distance. Water is collected from a nearby spring and rainwater irrigates the garden. They have one cooking pan, which they use to prepare food for themselves and their animals.
The couple's only income is Gohar's monthly pension of 10,000 drams (28 US dollars). Her husband earns nothing because he lacks the required documents.
"Thanks to Karabakh president Arkady Ghukasian my pension went up from 3000 to 10,000 drams. I wrote him a letter telling about my life. I got nervous and excited when writing, and my tears made the letter wet. I didn't have any spare paper to write another one, so I sent him a damp letter. Perhaps he felt how miserable we were and helped us. May the Lord help him," said Gohar. She said that she uses the extra money to pay electricity bills.
The couple are cut off from events in the rest of the world. They have never had a television set in their house. There are no newspapers even in the neighbouring village. The house contains neither a clock nor a calendar. "We only know when it Friday as that's the day when soldiers march down by the lower path," said Sanasar.
They are not particularly interested in politics either, and when it comes to the referendum on the constitution held in Nagorny Karabakh last year, they say, "We never knew whether it passed or not."
The couple would like some neighbours, however, and according to the Yerevan office of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, there are plans to resettle Jrakn. The website of the AGBU says that the charity plans to build 20 houses in the village by 2008, encouraging Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan to settle here. It says that the construction of the first ten houses will be finished by the first quarter of 2007 and another ten houses will be built by summer 2008.
However, there is no sign of building work and the head of the Migration, Refugees and Resettlement department in the Nagorny Karabakh government, Serzh Amirkhanian, says there are no immediate plans for reconstruction.
Meanwhile, Gohar and Sanasar would love to see their grandchildren again in Armenia. Ever since they came here, they have not had the opportunity to visit their family, still living in a garage in their hometown of Gyumri.
"Every night I dream of Gyumri," said the grandmother.
"I wish at least two of them could come here, marry...and live..."
"We put our whole life into it, didn't we?" added Gohar, saying that they would never leave Jrakn after enduring so many hardships.
By Lusine Musaelian in Jrakn
Lusine Musaelian is a reporter of Demo paper published in Nagorny Karabakh and a participant in IWPR's Cross-Caucasus Journalism Network project. Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Caucasus Reporting Service