The residents of Paravakar have stopped taking cover in their basements and other makeshift bomb shelters for the last few days, but life is still far from back to normal in this village on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.
For many of them, farming remains a life-threatening activity due to continuing gunfire from nearby Azerbaijani army positions overlooking their vineyards. Consequently, they are unable to harvest what has long been the main source of income in their wine-growing community.
Paravakar is one of two dozen villages in Armenia’s northern Tavush province located dangerously close to the heavily militarized Azerbaijani border. Skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops stationed in the area have remained a regular occurrence even after a Russian-mediated truce halted the war in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1994.
The Tavush villages came under unusually heavy Azerbaijani fire on September 24, which left three Armenian civilians, all of them women, dead. One of the victims, the 83-year-old Paytsar Aghajanian, was killed by a mortar shell that landed in Paravakar. At least eight Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers were killed near Karabakh in the following days.
Many houses in Paravakar carry traces of the long-running ceasefire violations and are in need of repairs. “See, there is a big bullet in there,” one local resident told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), pointing to a deep hole on the front wall of his house.
Tensions on the frontlines appear to have eased in the last few days, with Paravakar residents no longer spending nights in their basements and rooms turned into bomb shelters. But they are continuing to grapple with another security problem that has no solution in sight.
A large part of the village’s vineyards covering 20 hectares of agricultural land is particularly close to the Azerbaijani army positions, making it extremely dangerous for their owners to pick their grapes during the harvesting period which traditionally starts in September.
“We can’t collect our harvest,” complained one woman, whose family owns one of those vineyards. “No trucks and tractors dare to approach my plot of land. I don’t know what to do.”
“We can’t graze cattle either,” said another woman. “Azerbaijani army posts are right behind that mountain. We have only one cow and we have to sell it.”
Other Paravakar farmers are lucky to own land and pastures in other, safer parts of the border area. They believe that the Armenian government should help their more disadvantaged neighbors.
“Let the authorities help all those people whose vineyards are on the line of fire,” one young man said as he and his family members worked at their vineyard. “They should pay some compensation. The people are suffering a lot.”
“People living here are heroes,” said another man. “If the state helps us a little there will be no out-migration from here.”
“There must be a difference in the government’s treatment of residents of Yerevan and border villages. Life is much tougher here,” he added.
The Armenian government faced similar calls from opposition groups before introducing late last year tax breaks for residents of 31 border communities. The government also began subsidizing electricity, natural gas and irrigation water supplied to them. The aid package was dismissed as insufficient by opposition lawmakers.