Tiny bouquets make their long way from Georgia to the streets of Yerevan
Each winter, in February, Martina Danielyan, her children and grandchildren collect spring flowers of snowdrops, violets, pansies in Georgia.
Martina braids the flowers into bouquets, making about 500 or 600 in total, each one containing 25 to 50 blooms. Then she wraps them in newspapers, packs them in bags and heads off to sell them in Yerevan .
The tiny bouquets sell well in Yerevan during winter months. These flowers grow in Armenia as well, but don't blossom at this time of year. So now, they are brought mainly from Georgia , from Batumi or Bolnis Khachen region.
A bouquet costs from 50 to 100 drams (10-20 cents). For Danielyan and other residents of Bolnis Khachen it is a way to make money to survive during this season.
Danielyan was born in Armenia but is married to a Georgian. Her family is poor and times are difficult. She says if she doesn't sell her 600 bouquets, her grandchildren will have to go to school hungry.
Another seller Naira, 31, also came to Yerevan from Georgia and sells flowers at the exit of Yeritasardakan subway station. In Tbilisi she buys a bouquet at 10 tetri (about 5 cents) and sells them for 50 drams in Yerevan .
She says they sell well, but local police demand an illegal fee of 1,000 drams (about $2) per day from her for selling near the subway.
It is a precarious existence and sales can vary enormously, from as little as 25 to as many as 400 bouquets. With a bus ticket from Bolnis Khachen costing 3,500 drams (about $6), someone like Naira needs to sell 180 bunches just to cover her costs.
The fragile messengers
Local resellers sell snowdrops and violets, too. Julietta, 54, has her own flower shop on Baghramyan Avenue . Besides roses, herberas, orchids and others she sells customers less bright but still very attractive spring flowers. Julietta says violets and snowdrops sell faster as they are cheaper. Customers are attracted both to their price and beauty.
Hasmik Chankaryan, 23, one of the customers, has bought several bouquets saying she'll give them to her mother and friends.
Snowdrops smell like spring and happiness. When these flowers show up, it's a sign that winter will soon be over, she says gladly.
It is more of a pleasure to give these flowers, since they look very nice and you can see that someone was not growing them in a glasshouse but that they blossomed somewhere in a forest, says another customer Janar Amankulov, a student from Kirgizstan.
Closer to spring primroses start blossoming in Armenia as well. Here, also, it's a way to make money for many Armenians. Every seller collects an average of 10,000 flowers during each season and even though he does not manage to sell all of them, still he is able to make some money.
For sellers, the first spring flowers are a way to make money. For customers, they are an affordable way to make themselves and others happy. When spring flowers start to blossom many people go on vacation to forests in Tsaghkadzor, Arzni, Noyemberyan where they collect them.
However, both sellers and ordinary people damage the environment by their actions. Thew tradition of mass flower collection in Armenia can lead to their extinction.
Karen Afrikyan, head of the Plant Resources Department at Armenia 's Ministry of Nature Protection, says that early spring wild flowers are at the edge of extinction in the republic despite the fact that they were included in the Red Book of Armenia in 1989. The Red Book of Armenia records 300 kinds of flora and fauna considered to be at risk of extinction.
The forests get trampled down when collecting flowers, people exterminate flowers, uproot them with no system and control, he says.
Afrikyan is also a coordinator of the Armenian Forests NGO and a member of a committee on creating a new Red Book of Armenia. He says: With such speed of exterminating primroses there won't be any left in Armenia within five to ten years. Rare kinds of flowers will remain only in botanical gardens and parks.
At present, there is no legal punishment for those who collect spring flowers. Their popularity is assured by the fact that the peak season between February and April coincides with a number of excuses for giving.
Trndez is on February 13 and Valentine's Day on February 14, while March 8 is Women's Day and April 7 is the Day of Motherhood and Beauty. Each year on these days the counters of flower sellers are full of those fragile spring flowers.