In 1988 Armenia and Azerbaijan were linked by a feeble hookup, the Soviet Union, in its dying years. The war in Nagorno Karabakh was yet to explode into open conflict, when the first inter-ethnic clashes started, changing forever the lives of Armenians living in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis living in Armenia. In this tense, ethnic and socio-political unrest, people in some villages began to swap houses - Armenians in Azerbaijan would purchase houses from Azerbaijanis in Armenia and vice-versa.
Yeghegnavan is one of such villages. Until 1988 the village, a few kilometres from the closed border with Turkey, was known as Shidlu and it was mainly populated by Azerbaijanis. As pressure was mounting, residents started selling properties to Armenians from Azerbaijan, or swapping them. Overall the process took two months - those who were early had a chance to choose a house, latecomers settled with the leftovers.
Nazik Vardanyan, 80, is originally from Aznaberd, a village in Nakhchivan, an autonomous republic inside Azerbaijan, which is sandwiched among Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. Aznaberd was the only Armenian-populated settlement in Nakhchivan through the 1980s. In November 1988, as inter-ethnic clashes escalated in both Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, Vardanyan, her husband, and their four children fled and resettle in Yeghegnavan. Other residents moved just beyond the Armenian border and settled in a hamlet now called Nor Aznaberd, meaning New Aznaberd, in memory of their origins.
Every year, on October 15, villagers in Yeghegnavan celebrate their women. Nazik has the honour to sing - she sings for her lost Aznaberd. She misses her land and cries remembering her life there - if the conflict is settled, she is ready to walk back to her birthplace, she says.
One of Armenia’s oldest churches, Khor Virapis located in the plains at the feet of Mount Ararat, which stands a few kilometres away, beyond the closed border with Turkey. Khor Virap, literally deep pit, gets its name from the fact that the man who would become Saint Gregory the Illuminator was kept prisoner in a pit for 13 years before becoming the driving force that turned Armenia into the first Christian nation. As not all of the neighbouring villages have functioning churches, all ceremonies are organized in Khor Virap.
The biggest challenge Yeghegnavan’s school faces is the heating, rather the lack of it - a problem it shares with schools across the country. The government’s funding is insufficient and cold classrooms mean shorter lessons, lower quality teaching, and serious issues with children’s health.
Asatur Torosyan, 49, takes the wood to set up a barbeque. Most men have left the village and moved to Russia looking for work - those who remained are all farmers. Asatur slaughtered one of his animals for his son, who soon will start his army service. During summer Asatur cultivates vegetables and grapes.
The Torosyan family. Zhenya Martirosyan and Volodya Torosyan have four daughters, one son (Asatur), 13 grandchildren, and 14 great grandchildren. They are part of the community who left Aznaberd in November 1988. They lived first in Yeghegnadzor, a town 123 km south of Armenia’s capital Yerevan, and then moved to Yeghegnavan where most of their former neighbours settled.