For all these perils, the road is safer than the villagers’ original farm land, located on the other side of the highway, less than a kilometer from the border. Like other residents of the border village Paruyr Sevak, they have had to give up growing crops there and move to less fertile land near the Yeraskh-Meghri highway. To have a rich harvest, they routinely change fields.
“We sell this harvest in this dangerous area to earn our living; our survival, more precisely,” says Yeghyan’s neighbor, 60-year-old Apaven Abrahamyan. “We store things for winter. Otherwise, we’d die of hunger.”
Selling watermelons and other melons to highway drivers between August and October gives villagers enough cash to tide them over during the winter and spring. They use unsold items to barter for food from other villages.
As border-area residents, they receive a 50-percent discount on the cost of water, a 5,000-dram ($10.34) subsidy for their monthly electricity bill and a slight discount (1,000-2,000 drams or about $2-$4) on fertilizers.
But these villagers still remember easier times.
“When the border was open, the nearby [Azerbaijani] village of Sadarak was very convenient for trade,” recounts Albert Baghdasaryan, 62. “It was very close and had a big market. We could sell our products faster. Now, we have to sell a part of our products to resellers with low prices.”
The trade ties with Azerbaijan, though, did nothing to reduce hostility when war over Nagorno Karabakh hit in the early 1990s. “[T]he situation was very tense here,” Baghdasaryan recalls. “We were standing on the border with guns in our hands. Our wives and children were with us and would hide in basements during shootouts.”