Voskan Sargsyan
2010/ 03/29 | 16:08

Feature Stories society marzes

"Whenever they shoot towards the fields, I put on some music and turn
it up real loud; so they don't hear the shots,"says Parandzem Aghasyan,
Principal of the nursery in the village of Chinari.

The village of Chinari is the furthest settlement in the district of
Berd, located in the eastern most part of Tavush Marz straddling the
border with Azerbaijan. Head eat out of Chinari and the next stop,
if you're not shot, is Azerbaijan.

It's considered a very early settlement but the village is officially
registered as being only 113 years-old. Chinari is 33 kilometers from
Berd as the crow flies. The road is in pretty good shape up till Berd,
paved and all, but once you leave on the other side then starts what's
affectionately called the "road of pain".

You can usually drive the 12 kilometers from Berd to Verin
Karmiraghbyur in a half hour. But the road is so filled with potholes,
and huge ones at that, that calling it a 'road' is being kind.

19 killed along border over the years

Chinari shares a 28 kilometer border with neighboring Azerbaijan.10
Armenian soldiers and 19 local residents have been killed since
hostilities broke out along the border.

The last victim was struck down this past March 1. 29 year-old Sargis
Voskanyan was serving as a conscript in the army when an Azeri sniper
shot and killed this father of two.

Samvel Soghoyan, the 50 year-old village leader, told us that Chinari
residents now living in Moscow and Krasnodar collected $4,000 to assist
the family Sargis Voskanyan left behind. Sargis Vanyan, president of
the Chinari patriotic council in Moscow has promised Mayor Soghoyan
that another 1.5 million AMD in assistance is on the way.

Mayor Soghoyan informed us that two residents were killed and one
injured on June 18, 2008. They were simple villagers working out in
the fields.

"An atmosphere of fear took over after that incident and the exodus
from the area grew. We lost 17 school pupils at once. Statistics show
that ever since the tragic incident of 2008, the village population is
decreasing and with it enrollment at the local elementary school and
kindergarten. Security measures around the village have been beefed
up. A few days ago RoA Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan vested the area
for the third time. Engineering work on the frontline outposts was
improved in order to prevent shelling from the Azeri side. A directive
was given that Armenian military detachments were to immediately return
fire if Azerbaijani forces targeted Chinari. The Armenians were told
that they didn't have to wait for orders from headquarters as before,"
he said.

Residents still make risky pilgrimage to 12th century monastery

The 12th century Khoranashat Monastery lies in the upper outskirts of
the village in the most dangerous zone of all. We asked the village
mayor if the trip to the monastery wasn't risky.

"Sure it's risky but Chinari residents are a brave lot. Nothing's
going to stop them for visiting the church," replied Mr. Soghoyan.

The farm land in the upper reaches of the village lies fallow. It's
within shooting range from Azeri positions and farmers are hesitant
to drive tractors and other equipment into the area. The vineyards
in the lower portions are irrigated by river water. Last year, with
financing from the International Fund for Agricultural Development
(IFAD), a water pipeline was installed running from the Tzil Tzov
Reservoir near the border. The internal irrigation system, however,
is old and in need of repair.

Irrigation and drinking water problems getting solved

The municipality has submitted a draft proposal to the "Hayastan All
Armenia Fund" to get the irrigation system fixed and has presented
an irrigation water plan to the Berd Water Consumers' Union,
an organization that serves eight local communities. The village
will supply the pipes and a 1.5 kilometer irrigation main will be
installed. This will allow for the irrigation of 50 hectares.

Chinari also has a problem when it comes to farming equipment. What
little exists dates to the Soviet era and its seen better days.

The village could really use a few mini-tractors to use up and down
the rows in the vineyards.

Supplying drinking water is another pressing problem. Pumps built back
in 1972 used to supply the community with drinking water, but they've
been out of service since 1991. Residents get their water from the
several springs in the vicinity. They haul out the water manually,
by car and donkey.

As a result of a variety of programs, a plastic pipe was installed
running down from the fountain in an upper neighborhood. Water is
thus supplied to the school, kindergarten and health clinic. People
living in the proximity of the pipe also draw water from it. Mayor
Soghoyan said that the town has submitted a number of proposals to
solve the water issue and that, with any luck, artesian wells will
be drilled come this May.

Municipal debt finally getting paid off

Chinari is one of two communities in Tavush Marz that still has salary
arrears to pay off. Mayor Soghoyan reported that 2.4 million AMD in
debt was repaid in 2009 and that an additional 300,000 AMD was paid
in the 1st quarter of 2010. This leaves a total salary and social
benefits debt of 1.7 million AMD. The mayor says that they plan to
pay off the balance this year.

The 2010 budget of Chinari, population 1,287, is 17 million AMD,
of which 11.9 million comes in the form of government assistance.

Renovation of the community center is also a top priority for Chinari
residents. Work is now underway with 96 million AMD in financing from
the Armenian Social Investment Fund.

Work on the center was scheduled for completion this April but it
has been pushed back since the mayor proposed that a heating system
be installed as well.

The village kindergarten, 1.5 kilometers from the border, has 25
pupils. Over the years, it has often closed due to Azeri shelling,
but only temporarily. Ever since the 2008 shelling incident, the
continued operation of the kindergarten has been questionable.

Mayor Soghoyan displayed a streak of stubbornness dealing with the
issue and gave paid leave to the three kindergarten employees until
parents once again sent their little ones to the school. Principal
Parandzem Aghasyan showed us Azeri bullet traces on the school's walls.

Kindergarten walls pocket-marked by Azeri bullets

"When the Azeris open fire I gather the children in this one room for
shelter. I close the door and turn up the music so that they won't
hear the shots and get afraid. I'm the one who gets afraid the most;
but not for myself. I'm afraid for the little ones. I'm responsible
for their safety. Until they all return home safe and sound, I don't
rest," says Mrs. Aghasyan.

The kindergarten has its supporters. Hakob Hakobyan, the district MP,
has helped with furnishings for the school and kindergarten and has
financially assisted the families of fallen and injured soldiers.

On the day we visited Chinari, smiles broke out on the faces of
the kindergarten children. Representatives of the Turpanjian Rural
Development Program coordinated by the American University of Armenia
had arrived in Chinari loaded down with presents including school
supplies, sheets and towels, soft cuddly toys and smocks for the
employees with their names embroidered on the front.

Zorayr Kirakosyan, who heads the Program's Tavush office, noted
that it was those involved in the Program who were offering the
assistance and not the organization. Last year they did the same
for Nerkin Karmiraghbyur, another area border village. The visiting
guests presented eleven expecting village moms with a package chock
full of essentials for newborns and wished that births in the border
communities would increase.

The visitors also stopped off at Chinari High School where 152 students
are enrolled and handed over various school supplies and furnishings.

Residents of Chinari are hospitable and industrious people who love
their native land and merely want the opportunity to work and prosper.

"If there was adequate work for the villagers, the exodus out would
slow to a trickle. 70% of the good farm land is under constant risk
of Azeri fire. We can't get by on the remaining 30%," lamented Mayor