- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
Special Edition
May 21, 2004

The Politics of Population: Re-settlement program attracts the dislocated and the opportunists to free life on the land

Ina Poghosian has a very simple answer, when asked why she has moved to the Karabakh village of Nor Haykajour.

“There was water here,” Ina says.

The very village itself was named for water (“Hayk’s water”), but there’s more behind Ina’s answer.

For five years Ina, her husband and daughter have lived in a single-room furnished by two beds, a cradle, a table and a wood stove in the middle. In 1999, the village got electricity, and in 2000, running water.

By the time you read this, the Poghosian family should be living in a new house of far better means, built by the state.

It isn’t an easy life for re-settlers. Houses like this one are new and nicely painted, but the settlement has no water or electricity.

Nor Haykajour is one of several villages that are being resettled, in compliance with a government initiative to make Karabakh attractive to those who left when it was a war zone. Or, in Ina’s family’s case, for those who were forced from Armenian villages in Azerbaijan when the conflict started.

Like many of the “resettled” villages – Nor Seisulan, Nor Aygestan, Nor Karmiravan – Nor “New” Haykajour is the new home of former residents of Haykajour, which now lies in enemy territory. Some of the villages, in fact, become near-replicas of places left behind.

The original Haykajour had about 1,240 residents. The new one has 65 families making 244 residents. According to Ruben Danielian, a former village head, in pre-war times about 12,000 Armenians lived in about 10 villages near the Mardakert region. About 1,000 have resettled. Throughout Karabakh, some 5,326 families representing about 20,000 residents have moved back, including 155 families (586 members) last year.

When fighting became too intense, most left for Armenia or Russia.

“It’s good for them that they left,” says Aida Yeramian, Ina’s mother, who is head of a nearby village. “It would have been good for us if we had left, too. But we found it better to be here.”

For Aida and her family, the move to Nor Haykajour was not a great distance, and kept them in touch with whatever former neighbors who didn’t migrate.

But while helping to build new houses for those like Ina and Aida, the Government of Karabakh, aided by organizations that include AGBU, is also making it attractive for some to move to Karabakh who were not living there before the war.

Since 1995, a relocation program has been in place. This year, the Karabakh budget allocated 440 million drams (about $785,000) for implementation of the program, that includes building 98 houses.

But in addition to getting a house, outsiders choosing to relocate will be paid moving expenses, a 20,000 dram (about $35) one-time allowance plus 5,000 drams (about $8.50) for each family member. Other incentives include 10-year, no-interest loans (up to about $465) and, depending on need, some families are given a cow. Additionally, re-settlers of conscript age can delay their military service by two years.

Until last year, resettlement matters were handled by the Ministry of Social Security. Now, however, Serzh Amirkhanian heads the new Department for Migration, Refugees and Resettlement Issues.

“Besides the privileges provided by the government, we are trying to improve the re-settlers’ social conditions – especially for large families – with the help of private donations and humanitarian programs,” Amirkhanian says.

The leadership of the school in Nor Haykajour is evidence that the resettlement program is working.

The school’s director is from the Armenian town of Metsamor, and the deputy director is form Gyumri.

The 43 students in her school “pay more attention to education (than those in Armenia),” says director Lyuba Grigorian. “Maybe we will create a new, independent state. Whether we will, we don’t know. But we are doing our best.”

Ina Poghosian is raising daughter, Mary, in a new village with old neighbors.

For doing her best teaching Armenian language and literature, deputy director Anahit Lorestian is paid about $30 a month – a salary above the average for teachers in her native Gyumri.

But Anahit says she resettled in Nor Haykajour because she was tired of “city” life, and wanted to enjoy Karabakh’s famous nature. Plus: “We didn’t come here for careers,” she says. “We came here to fill a need.”

The need for re-settlers has a strategic political purpose for the self-declared republic. Specifically, putting people in previously-deserted villages sends a message that the new residents plan to stay.

It is far from a utopian existence that these move into. Some villages have no water or electricity. And, although outsiders get the government subsidies, those like Aida – considered more as re-locaters than re-settlers – “do not qualify for those privileges” she says.

Along the road beyond Nor Haykajour, a traveler’s eye is drawn to three impossibly white and red trimmed houses that look like a modest version of an American subdivision.

A closer look, however, reveals that multiple families live in one house, that there is no plumbing or electricity, that residents must haul their water from nearby streams, and children must walk more than a kilometer to school.

“What do re-settlers need?,” Amirkhanian asks. “They need shelter and land to cultivate. Their children need an education and to grow up under Armenian traditions.”

But some find that they need more, and do not live up to their 10-year contract to stay. Amirkhanian says that number is very low – about five to eight percent – and that, by comparison, there are presently 700 families in line to resettle.

 ( reporter Julia Hakobyan contributed to this report.)

According to Agnes


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An Interview with the President of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh

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An Interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Karabakh

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The Politics of Population: Re-settlement program attracts the dislocated and the opportunists to free life on the land

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