The future of the idyllic red-roofed Aghavno village, nestled on the riverbank of the same name, is imperiled again. Aghavno is strategically significant for its location along the Lachin Corridor, serving as a gateway to Artsakh from Armenia. Compatriots from the Diaspora, Armenia and Artsakh live and work in unity in this village, rebuilt largely with the help of the Armenian Diaspora.
Today, however, the village, along with the town of Berdzor and the settlement of Sus, is in danger of coming to an end.
Armenian officials had been quiet about this issue until Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan spoke out in the National Assembly on June 30. Referring to the November 9, 2020 trilateral statement, Harutyunyan said that we must leave Berdzor and that there is little opportunity for our compatriots to live there. “We have not yet discussed and continue to conduct negotiations,” Harutyunyan said regarding Aghavno, continuing, “We will continue our fight for Aghavno.” Meanwhile, Azerbaijani media have been reporting on ongoing construction of an alternate road connecting Armenia with Artsakh. The route starts from Kornidzor village in Goris, passes through the Hin Shen-Mets Shen villages in Artsakh, and eventually joins the Yeghtsahogh and Lisagor highways. The 32-kilometer road will likely be guarded by Russian peacekeepers, while Armenian settlements along the Lachin Corridor would be ceded to Azerbaijan.
Point six of the second paragraph of the November 9 ceasefire statement stipulates the construction of a new road alternate to the Lachin Corridor. According to the statement, a new road design was to be approved within three years. However, Azerbaijani media reports that the red ribbon opening the new highway will be cut this summer.
Andranik Chavushyan is a Lebanese-Armenian who has lived in the Kashatagh region for more than 10 years and has been leading the Aghavno community as mayor since 2019. He is concerned about the future of the village and the region, but he is very determined to stay in Aghavno. He and his large family—his wife, five children, mother and brother—serve as examples of how to revitalize and fight for one’s village. Chavushyan believes that Armenians should not focus on what the Azerbaijanis say, but rather advance their perspective by all means.
“We can change the situation. The one who makes decisions here is the one who stays here and fights. United we stand. We are very focused on handing over the territories. Instead, our narrative should be, we do not give. It is up to us. Instead of becoming a fort, we have become a barbed wire. The one who loves life should fight for that life, not run away,” Chavushyan told the Weekly.
Chavushyan shared ideas for what has been done and what should be done instead of handing the village over. He spoke with sorrow about the looting of the village by Azerbaijani soldiers after the war. Yet he also shared the events that have taken place in Aghavno since—a Vardavar celebration, the baptism of about 60 residents of the community at St. Martyrs Church, and the distribution of newly-built houses in May.
At the local school, children were singing, while nearby villagers engaged in their daily farming and beekeeping. On the day of the Weekly’s visit to the village, they were preparing for a sabbatical to repair a road.
Nina Shahverdyan has been teaching at the Garegin Nzhdeh School in Aghavno for a year through the “Teach for Armenia” program.
“During this year, we worked with children in grades 3-10, taught them to speak and write English, and also tried to develop leadership skills in children and teach them to enjoy education. As for my work in the next school year, it is true that they say such things, but we do not pay attention to it, neither the students nor their parents, and I do not want to focus on those conversations. I will do my job until the end,” Shahverdyan said.
Music teacher Razmik Harutyunyan lost his home in Baku after the first Artsakh war and moved to Shushi with his family. He lost his home and job again after the 2020 war and now works at the Berdzor Art School in Aghavno. The school offers classes in dance, fine arts, piano, drums and wind instruments to 56 students. For the third time, Harutyunyan faces the potential loss of his village and his job.
Harutyunyan is skeptical about the rumors of leaving the village. “I do not want to believe the rumors about handing the village over. People live here. We hold events. There is naturally no excitement now, but we will continue to work with the same passion and enthusiasm, and I am ready to return to the village at the beginning of the school year. I will again introduce music and art to children, because we fight for justice through culture.”
Nonetheless, media expert Nairi Hokhikyan said in a series of posts on Facebook that Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities have reached a preliminary verbal agreement on Russian peacekeepers leaving Berdzor in early July. “Most of the Russian peacekeepers recently left the city of Berdzor and were deployed elsewhere. This is confirmed by Azerbaijani media sources. Berdzor hosts more than 250 people, who are uncertain whether they want to live there and to continue their lives there,” Hokhikyan said. In his Facebook live broadcast with friends, they urge people from other parts of Armenia “to come and live with their compatriots for at least a while, to maintain one of these most important parts of our country under these complex conditions.”