To speak about village life in Armenia is to speak about farming. But on the level that is most practiced across the republic, it is not the pastoral, bucolic definition of the term that idealizes love of land or the sensual satisfaction of earth-stained skin and the link established between humanity and Creator. It is to speak about struggle; about wrestling with nature to reach some accord, from which survival may be a payoff but is not a guarantee.
One out of every three Armenians lives somewhere other than Yerevan, Gyumri, Vanadzor, Kapan and Goris; somewhere that makes a small dot on a map, if at all. More than one million Armenians (using official census numbers) make a living or eke out an existence in rural settlements, often having turned to farming for sustenance that was no longer assured once Soviet-era factories were shut down.
In Lori, the naturally rich northern province of Armenia, villagers quote their compatriot, writer Hovhannes Tumanian, who died in the early 20th century, when asked about their living conditions: “All we want is a piece of dry bread, and even that’s over there—hanging from the sky.”
Life in Meghri is not as sweet as honey, as the name of Armenia’s southernmost town would suggest, nor is it as satisfying as the taste of locally grown fruit. Spring reaches Armenia first in the “honey town” but this year it was not the coming of the season, but the coming of parliamentary elections that made residents eager for the passing of winter. Why? The only time authorities in the capital remember this part of their republic is during a campaign season, locals say. Politicians come, give promises, then go to forget again, say bitter residents.
In a domino effect, the collapse of the Soviet Union took down the economies of nearly all former republics in the great empire. Across Armenia the impact was most noticeable in shuttered factories; however, just as surely though less dramatically, it manifested itself through the severe damage wrought on agriculture, which, in Armenia, had accounted for nearly half of state revenues.
While the tricolor of independent Armenia was being raised over the parliament building on September 21, 1991, a quarter mile up the street the doors were opening on a new day in education in a building that had been a meeting place of the Supreme Soviet, the legislative body of Soviet Armenia.
When Khachik Avetisian brought his 11-member family back home to Armenia from Russia in 2007, his relatives questioned why he would leave a steady job for the uncertainty of life in his native Myasnikian village in Armavir province. The village of about 3,500 had little land for cultivation and didn’t even have clean drinking water, but: “After a few years in Russia we decided to go back, because there is nothing better than your native land, nature and people,” says the 58-year-old.
Armenia’s richest and most fertile province, Ararat, covers 2,096 square kilometers (810 square miles), facing the twin-peaked Biblical mountain from which it gets its name. It can be said that Ararat province, by its agricultural significance, is the heart of the republic.