The last Armenian village before reaching Iran, Nyuvadi is buried in the rich foliage of the Araks river valley. It is home to 45 families, and the southernmost settlement of 13 villages in the sub region of Meghri (Syunic Region).
Nyuvadi is connected to the center, Meghri, by a 30-kilometer road that is little more than carved rock.
The distant village is isolated
“Despite the fact that on all the maps this section is classified as a normal transport thruway, it actually looks more like an extreme rally quite capable to compete with the famous Paris-Dakar route,” points out Hrachya Harutyunyan, a veteran driver for Agarak copper-molybdenum plant. “In different parts of Meghri region it’s still preferable to travel on pack animals since a traveler never knows what to expect around any turn. And besides, the road itself lies on the edge of the canyon.”
The distance between Yerevan and Nyuvadi is about 450 kilometers, about the same as to Baku, Azerbaijan. But while it takes 7 hours to reach the capital of Armenia, the capital of Baku can be reached in four and a half hours (via the Iranian side).
“The road from Iran to the Azerbaijan capital runs through slightly bent lowland,” the truck driver explains.
On the Iranian bank of the Araks, the renovated highway can be seen with considerable traffic, especially for the region.
“There was no highway about five years ago,” Harutyunyan says. “Only a narrow road was seen on which mainly pack animals were walking. The Turkish population of the Easten Atropatena province of Iran is in fact the connecting link between Nakhichevan and Baku. They built the existing road to provide a direct land connection between the two places.”
But Nyuvadi does not enjoy such a connection with its capital.
“High passes, which reach up to 2,500 meters above sea level, make transportation rather difficult and the average driving speed is 60 km per hour or 1 km per minute,” says Harutyunyan. And the crossing through Tashtun pass is not only spectacular, but challenging. The road drops (or rises) two kilometers over a 20 kilometer stretch.
“Nowhere else in Armenia one can feel a 10cm slope per one meter of road,” says the employee of Meghri road exploitation department Armen Vahanyan. “The winter lasts for about 6 months at such heights, so our department works almost without having rest. The Meghri territory is a part of Armenia’s state highway that guarantees the connection with Iran and the trucking industry which is of such importance to us. On average, an Iranian truck passes over that road every sixteen minutes.”
Despite all the complex communication between Yerevan and Meghri, it wouldn’t be a great exaggeration to say that the 30 km section that connects the regional center with Nyuvadi is less laborious. The village enjoys subtropical nature, where there are almost no winters and in December and January persimmon, kiwi and pomegranate start blossoming. It is not just the road, but nature itself that isolates Nyuvadi.
Vladimir Bayanduryan, 78, is one of the 153 residents of the village. Like most of the residents of Nyuvadi he is a refugee from Azerbaijan.
“By some mystic coincidence the year when I was born, 1926, became an omen of my wondering destiny,” Vladimir says. “It was in that very year that the government of Bolshevik Azerbaijan made an administrative territorial reform in the republic, as a result of which parts of North Karabakh populated by Armenians in no time flat became parts of Shamkhor and Khanlar regions.
“In the same year the government of Azerbaijan refused the request of Armenian refugees from Nakhichevan to return to their native land. So, I, an Armenian born in Getashen, was destined to be a refugee. On April 30, 1991, the Soviet Army and the Azerbaijani emergency platoon carried out a military operation called ‘The Ring’ on deportation of Armenians from Getashen, Shahumyan and Martunashen. So, and my family and I became refugees.”
Bayanduryan, twice a refugee, has been living in Nyuvadi since 1991, but is still not used to his surroundings.
It is easier to pass along the canal than on the "road".
“There are no living conditions,” says his son Yeghishe. “There are no roads in the village, no shops, no irrigation water, no production, no doctors and probably no future prospects. There’s only one phone number and one SUV for the whole village. Wonderful natural-climatic conditions are not likely to be able to fill in these gaps, since we’re practically unable to take out our agricultural production to the market. Excellent persimmons and pomegranates are rotting right in the gardens and as a result end up as cattle food.”
However, the most irritating thing for the villagers is the attention of the officials to their problems. Or, it is more correct to say, the absence of any attention.
“Even the houses in which we’ve lived for more than 10 years, are not our property,” says Vladimir Bayanduryan. “Since we have no jobs, we’re not able to pay 60 thousand drams ($115) per square meter of the area for privatization, as the government requires. So, the land is ours but the houses are not.”
During Soviet times around 180 hectares of land were under cultivation. Today only 52 hectares are cultivated.
Crops in Nyuvadi must rely on irrigation from the Araks, but villagers say the unused cropland is not due to water supply. Simply, there is no need to produce more than villages can consume, since transporting goods to Yerevan is too expensive.
“It’s the time to include the residents of Nyuvadi in the Red Book of Armenia, since this really is an endangered species,” says a math teacher Lyuba Muradyan. “During Soviet years the number of school children reached 900. Today, all the school contingent including the 14 teachers doesn’t even reach 45 people. That’s how we get settled in the new and, as they say in the capital, ‘strategic’ village. While just 10s of kilometers from here in Nakhichevan, there’s Agulis, a place where 1600 years ago the modern Armenian alphabet was born.”
Nevertheless, today Nyuvadi – an Azeri name – is being renamed into New Agulis. That’s the wish of the residents themselves.
Villagers say they feel a connection to their national history. And, in fact, a connection to the history of civilization. Some say that 6,000 years ago in this very territory, the copper age was born.
Sometimes, it seems not much has changed since.