Along a 15-kilometer stretch of the Armavir region, a barbed wire fence and the Araks river separates Armenia from Turkey, with the village of Margara the last spot on the Armenian side.
Villagers think the village will profit if the border with Tukey is opened.
“See, that is the bridge and that is a Turkish soldier,” says Deputy Head of Margara village Gharib Tadevosyan, pointing to a frontier guard post.
He explains that the village Alijan, which can be seen over there, was once Armenian.
People of Margara grow up accustomed to military-guarded borders. Villagers have friendly relations with soldiers. The 15 th station of frontier troops of the Russian Federation is based in Margara.
Until 1994 non-residents of Margara, could enter the village only with special permits and passes.
“Our girls couldn’t get married, because people who were not residents of the village couldn’t come to see them,” villager Samvel Mirzoyan says. “For that reason almost everyone in the village are in-law relatives to each other.”
There are 400 households and 1100 residents in Margara. This year 24 births have been registered.
“We love our village very much but the life is very passive here. It’s true, we are people who keep the border but there is nothing interesting here,” says Tadevosyan.
There is a cultural center in the village, but the roof is almost gone. There is no kindergarten. There is a school for 240 students, but it has no gym. Employees of the village government offices have not received salaries for three years.
Gharib says when lands were distributed, families got 800 square meters each. He complains that it isn’t enough, compared to what neighboring villages got. Besides, the land itself is not so rich.
Villager Vachagan Asatryan moved to Margara from Spitak after the earthquake of 1988.
He says Margara soil is too salty.
“People hardly work the land as the soil isn’t fertile,” Asatryan says. “During Soviet times people used to add acid to the soil for increasing its fertility. But now, who cares?”
Mirzoyan says the land has never been fertile, but that the village was settled because of the river.
“Our grandfathers decided to go along the Araks and settle there. Fishery was their primary occupation. They were living at the expense of fishing. But now who will allow us to fish in the Araks?”
Villagers’ privatized lands are located behind the barbed wires within the border. They can enter their own lands only with special permits.
“They open the fence in the morning at 9 o’clock and in the evening at 7 o’clock they drive us out. We can’t fully use our day. We can’t work at nights. But in summer our turn to get water often comes at night,” says Mirzoyan, who argues that the river should be more accessible.
The village itself is in a depression created by a flood that in 1968 changed the center of the village.
May is always a dangerous month for Margara, when spring floods threaten.
Near the border bridge is a half-built construction. Tadevosyan says it was supposed to have been a tourist camp.
“They say when Breznev was in power they wanted to open the bridge but probably they didn’t come to agreement and left the works incomplete,” he says.
Over the past year there have been official speculation on opening the border with Turkey. Margara would be the first Armenian territory affected by such a situation. Villagers are in favor of seeing it happen.
“We will be the first to make use of it,” Tadevosyan says. “If they open the border the village will gain. One of the reasons is that there will be a lot of new things to do. The trade will be developed, prices for the lands here will increase and roads will be at last be reconstructed.”
Deputy head of Margara village Gharib Tadevosyan.
But he is interrupted by Mirzoyan who says villagers aren’t prepared for the traffic of a border town. They don’t know how to manage business, run restaurants, hotels, he argues.
And he tells of the history of other traffic through Margara.
“People used to pass the border and join Kurdish troops in the struggle against the Turks. We heard it from our grandfathers,” he says. “Those who were going to escape, told those who stayed in the village, that as soon as they successfully reach the place they will light fire on the slopes of Masis and smoke of the fire would mean they have reached the place without problems. And it happened the way they told.”
Samvel says a prosperous life in the village would prove to the outer world that Armenia is in good conditions.
“The sound of our school bell can be heard in Turkey. If our lights are switched off at night our neighbors can clearly see. If the village lives good it will be good for everyone. After all Margara, in some measure, is a lock for the country. ”
In Margara storks live in concord with villagers and soldiers. As villagers say, these birds in these latter days don’t leave the village even in winters. They are like frontier guards, who are simple dressed in white.