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 December 20, 2002 
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Bordered by Business: Nationalities mingle over merchandise in northern market


Azerbaijani women from Georgia bringing merchandise in Armenia.Old 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 market".

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.

Zohra and Rizvan get up a 3 a.m. to go to workZohra 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.

"War 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.


 

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