Koti is the one of the borderline villages of Tavush region, in Armenia. It is 2,5 km away from the state border of Armenia. Collecting the harvest at night has already become common for the people living in that village, otherwise they risk being shot from the other side of the border. “We sow and cultivate, but when it comes to the time to collect, they shoot” say the villagers. According to official statistics, 2,215 people live in Koti.
The village head of Koti Felix Melikyan says, that shootings have become more frequent especially in the last 2 years, and because of it people have had to decrease the area of cultivated land to reduce the risks.
Melikyan says, that the Government does everything to support villagers. “The villagers can get loans with relatively low interest rates. These are more suitable for the villagers, compared to the other loans that exist in the market.” A Government decision in 2015, put land tax exemption on those borderline villagers, whose lands couldn’t be cultivated because of military operations.
“One can't say that the problems of villagers disappeared with the help of social aid programs. No, the problems still exist, but somehow they have become fewer now,”-says Felix Melikyan.
The head of Koti assures, that the main issue for not investing more in the village is this uncertain situation, which is a cause for concern.
Though it seems, counter intuitive, the border is like a mirror: the same you can see, if you cross to the other side, and turn back.
Irada Isgandarova, a resident of Qushchu Ayrim in Azerbaijan, hopes to rebuild the roof of her barn that was destroyed by missiles. For now, she has no financial means to make this a reality.
In order to spur the creation and development of more family-run farms along the border, the International Committee of the Red Cross offers a financial assistance package of 1100 AZN to each family attempting to run a farm in the area. Qurban Qurbanli, head of the region’s Azerbaijani Red Cross, says that these monetary packages are one part of a multi-project plan by the organization to encourage productive farming.
The financial assistance provided by the Red Cross is meant to be used to buy livestock, but most families who receive the money are forced to use the money to cover other necessities or to pay off outstanding bank loans.
The Reality of the War
The war in Nagorno-Karabakh prevented the Azerbaijani government from implementing land reforms in the border villages, even though such reforms had successfully been undertaken elsewhere in the country.
In Agdam and Alibeyli, villages in the Tovuz region, land reforms were also postponed. According to locals, the state farms there were closed and the land was temporarily given to local residents.In other villages that were not reached by the land reforms, the sovkhoz, or collective farm, still remains.
Qushchu Ayrim, in the Gazakh region, is a different story. The village is under direct fire from the other side of the border; no one cultivates the landpieces because of the shootings.
No farm equipment is left in Qushchu Ayrim village.
A Problem in the Villages
Water also poses a major problem for villagers living near the conflict zone. In Qushchu Ayrim, artesian wells were drilled for residents to obtain drinking water, but the wells are not practical for those living in the lower part of the village. A similar situation exists in Agdam; although a water pump has been installed near the lake, residents say that the water supply from it is insufficient.
Aliyev Isaziya, a villager in Tovuz, explains that the region’s Irrigation Systems Department should should be repairing the village water pumps at the end of each season: "When the season is over, the pumps should be stopped and renovated, but instead we encounter lots of problems when we start using them in the next season.”
Unused Land in Agdam
Because of the lack of available water, almost 230 hectares of arable land in Agdam remains uncultivated, land that resident Yashar Qurbanov says are very fertile lands. “Once, we had grapes, potatoes, and corn planted here. Last year, they planted beans, but they dried up because the lack of water. It’s just impossible to get water here.”
Isaziya believes that the cultivation problems could be solved with a water pump and a few hundred meters of pipe.
Alibeyli faces the same problems; locals explain that they once irrigated their fields with water from Armenia, but it’s no longer possible to use these reservoirs. They grow potatoes and corn on the land that receives the most rainfall, and use the rest only for grass.
The Revival of the Frontline Villages.
It’s largely accepted that in order to revitalize the agricultural industry here, the region needs investment from big businesses. However, due to the tense and unpredictable future of the conflict-ridden area, businesses are not willing to invest here.
People living on the frontline of the conflict zone also need additional assistance from the government to help deal with the economic situation caused by the war.
Isaziya Aliyev says, "We don’t get any subsidies; if we got subsidies, people might be more interested in participating in agriculture.”