women and men bent by the load of their huge bags,
youngsters carrying fruits and vegetables on push-carts
and just people wondering around or rushing somewhere
is the usual scene of what can be seen at the
Sadahlo market before holidays.
Located at the northern border of Armenia with
Georgia, the market is spread over two villages:
Bagratashen, which is in Armenia, and Sadahlo
- in Georgia. But the people call it simply "Sadahlo
Here, holiday shoppers find just about any product
they want: tangerines from Batumi, Georgia; pomegranates
from Gianja, Azerbaijan; nuts from Nahichevan;
vegetables from Armenia and clothes from Baku.
It is the only place where Armenians and Azeris
get along well and leave behind what the authorities
find an impediment to good relations.
A wide bridge curved in the middle is a link
between the two countries and a place that reproduces
the old way of merchandising.
Even though the traffic of vendors and buyers
is highly secured by frontier guards and custom-house
officers (both Armenian and Georgian), people
are crossing the border without being stopped.
"We know everybody here", says a young
Georgian soldier in service, "and stop only
the new persons."
People working at the market do not seem to care
about their ethnic diversity and do not have in
mind the ongoing animosity between Armenia and
Azerbaijan. They are vendors and what ties them
is business. And here, the business is conducted
in three different currencies. All of them, dealing
with poverty in their hometowns, are trying to
find a way for survival.
and Rizvan Aliev are an Azerbaijani couple from
the Georgian village of Araplo. They have been
selling blood oranges ("koroliok") and
persimmons at the Sadahlo market for almost a
year. Their trade does not bring too much profit
but with an effort of working seven days a week
they might make sometimes as much as $250 a month.
Zohra and Rizvan, both 40, have three children.
Everyday they wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning
so that the two-hour drive by bus lets them arrive
in Sadahlo by 6 o'clock, when the market opens.
"We're working from dawn 'til sunset",
says Rizvan. "It's hard for us but sometimes
even bread is not enough for our family,"
adds his wife.
When asked about how they deal with the Armenian
vendors or customers, the Aliev couple can not
imagine a situation that could worsen its relations
with the neighboring natives. Its day-to-day problems
are so far from political tensions between the
two countries' governments that all the news they
are interested in are related to how much the
tangerines cost today and how the harvest of pomegranates
has been this year in Azerbaijan.
Seiran Bedjanyan, an Armenian living in Bagratashen
runs a small cafe made out of a wagon at the entrance
of the market. He says his clients are different.
Some are loud and like to drink; others are silent
and are always in a hurry. He never cares about
his visitors' ethnicity. He is nice with everybody
and tries to make them feel comfortable.
is not something that people here would talk about,"
says Seiran. "I just had a table where Armenians,
Georgians and Azerbaijanis were all together eating
and drinking. They have a common interest and
that is profit."
Seiran, who lived all his life in Bagratashen,
recalls that the market was created at the end
of 90's and that nothing was there at the beginning.
It all started with fruits.
"Our village Bagratashen has never had problems
with the neighboring Sadahlo since old times,"
recalls Seiran. "At the beginning, our villagers
were friendly asking our neighbors to bring some
fruits from Georgia. They were transporting the
products on cartloads, then in cars and later
in trucks. That's how it all began."
But the market is not only about vendors and
their ethnic provenience. Lots of purchasers from
Yerevan travel 220 kilometers to come here and
buy cheaper products. Usually, the prices for
fruits and vegetables cost half as much as in
cities like Yerevan or Vanadzor.
Some people "come here just for a pair of
pants", as one of the custom-house officers
recalled. It seems that the price paid for the
round-trip is not as annoying as the amount of
money they have to pay for the same pants in Yerevan.