May 11, 2005--About 10 days ago I went for a ride with friends Karen and Onnik to a remote village called Hankavan, about 30 kilometers northwest of the resort town of Tsaghkadzor in the Kotayk region. The village was predominantly inhabited by ethnic Greeks with the exception of a few Azeri families who moved east to Azerbaijan towards the beginning of the Karabagh war. There were once about 80 families living in the village, and of that number only about four remain, leaving a total of 12 people. The place is nearly deserted, and there are no prospects at all for rehabilitation. Government assistance does not reach this village. Although there is electricity no phone lines have been installed, thus residents are forced to go to the neighboring village to call out. There is also no mail service provided.
In the Soviet era Hankavan served as a resort town offering natural spring bathing spas and lodging. Those rest complexes have closed long ago, and thus there is virtually no economy in that area. Village residents over 60 years old live on modest pensions of 6000 dram per month—about $13. Yet some cannot earn a living—one man we met suffers from mental illness, yet he cannot claim medical benefits or even find work and counts on his mother’s pension. People speak to one another predominantly in Greek, although they cannot read or write in their mother tongue—they are also fluent in Russian and Armenian. And unfortunately, virtually no youth remain.
The family we met and spoke with is able to leave the village to visit their four children, all of whom live in Greece and are married. The mother, now in her seventies, has gone about 5 times with the money her children sent, and she and her husband plan to move to Greece just as soon as their children are able to obtain citizenship there.
“We know there is no future for us here, and that the only thing to do is to be with our children and grandchildren in Greece. We’ll leave soon enough,” the father told me, who is now 85 years old, but looks 15 years younger.
The two of them live off the small land plot they have, which lies adjacent to a narrow river that flows directly through the town. They plant vegetables and also keep cows and chickens, thus there is a steady supply of fresh milk, yogurt, and eggs. But they have few luxuries—they splurged on chocolates and are able to occasionally tune in two Armenian stations on their Soviet-design TV. Aside from receiving visits from a close neighbor, they are lonely.
Around this area at one time there were several youth camps operating, but since the collapse of the Soviet Union most of them seemed to have closed down for good. One camp we visited was completely deserted, with buildings gutted of furnishings and windows removed. In most areas throughout Armenia one can find half-constructed buildings that have been ransacked, with building supplies stolen. In some places the concrete walls of empty buildings have been destroyed in order to extract the iron support rods and beams. Desperate citizens will do anything they can to survive, although it leaves destruction in their wake.
But in Hankavan little seems to have changed at first glance. Houses have simply been closed up, and no one dares to enter or destroy them. There is a strange feeling of activity, a sense of bustling inhabitance, yet there is nothing to show for it. The intact, yet empty houses are a façade for a community long lost to the passage of time and the pain of disregard.
Labels: Personal Experiences, Social and Cultural