Bardak pub in Stepanakert, Artsakh (photo Lilit Shahverdyan)

Stepanakert’s Bardak: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

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STEPANAKERT — “I was named after my grandfather, and my name says a lot about me,” says Azat Adamyan, the owner of the popular pub Bardak, located on the outskirts of Stepanakert, near the highway to Shushi. The pub outgrew a humble business initiative to become an inalienable part of social life in Stepanakert. For Azat, who made an old garage into a center for local youth, Bardak is a lifestyle, rather than merely a business.

Props at Bardak: a xerox sign from Shushi and a Smerch rocket from Khnatsakh (photo Lilit Shahverdyan)

Bardak is a small compact building painted dark blue inside, in which numerous musical instruments nestle, including acoustic guitars, and colorful sign boards, foreign flags and banknotes adorn the walls, accompanied by writings in the most varied languages. These are usually in the form of sticky notes that visitors leave to immortalize their visit to Bardak and add a final touch to the decorations. A statue of the formidable Lenin, an old dusty xerox sign and a decommissioned Smerch rocket stand near the entrance, all brought from different places in Artsakh that are now taken over by Azerbaijan.

The exterior of BardakThe exterior of Bardak (photo Lilit Shahverdyan)

Bardak translates from Russian as “mess,” and that is how its owner interprets his brainchild. Its aim is to gather together the youth and adults, locals and tourists, musicians and dancers, in an affable ambience suited perfectly for friendly talks, chants and fiery dances.

“After the war of 2016, I decided to initiate a start-up in Stepanakert to prove that life still can keep going on,” says Azat. “Even though 2016 was pretty light compared to the events of 2020, incredibly many people were affected, hurt or heartbroken, and I wished to invigorate them somehow.” However, this was not the Azat’s first business idea; he had managed to found an extreme tourism club previously. Instead of a new office for that enterprise, he invested into the creation of Bardak which played an important role in shaping his personality.

Azat didn’t intend to run a pub, as his initial idea was to create a cozy space to hang out with friends. In its early stages, Bardak was familiar only to Azat’s friends, who would often drop by for a cup of coffee. But as time passed, the place became more popular and beloved by the youth, and it gradually evolved into a go-to recreation area where one can have cocktails, sing accompanied by guitar and make new acquaintances.

The decorations at Bardak (photo Lilit Shahverdyan)

“When I entered the old garage with a friend of mine, I resolved that I will name it after the very first thing that comes to the tip of my tongue,” says Azat, and his first impression of the incomplete building was a mess, or “bardak” in Russian. Today, an exquisite black motorcyle is standing near the pub which always draws guests’ attention. It is one of the very first props to become one of the many symbols of Bardak, including Azat with his helmet.

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One of the regular visitors to the pub is Rudolf Hayriyan, 28, who associates the mess at Bardak with freedom and escapism. “At Bardak, everyone is familiar with each other, and that’s what I like the most,” says Rudolf. Slowly but surely, Rudolf became a part of Bardak, and subsequently practically family with Azat.

What makes the place even more unique is that it manages to link generations, the young and the elders.

“In these few years, Bardak has united the locals, and the younger generation is now getting involved in our family,” says Rudolf. As a frequenter of the pub, he claims that the bar’s role and purpose haven’t changed that much throughout the years. However, he ruefully remembers with sorrow the nights they would spend there before the war. “There was always a massive influx of tourists,” he recalls, “and the pub was especially lively and engaging before the war ignited.”

Previously, the space was a popular spot for concerts by various Armenian performers and local musicians, such as the Shushva Band (The Band of Shushi) that is deemed popular and well-respected within Artsakh. However, the war has left its indelible footprints on the pub, which still maintains the same atmosphere as before, but fails to invoke genuine joy in people.

The bar is not only the best recreation center for Rudolf and his friends. It is also a means of escaping from reality for them. “When I’m feeling too low,” says Rudolf, “I go to the pub simply to refocus myself, to relax and concentrate on more positive things, such as singing with my guitar.”

The melodies of Viktor Tsoi’s music are often heard here thanks to Rudolf, an amateur musician who considers music an essential part of his character. Through music, he manifests his emotions and conveys his message. “I love the feeling of entering an alternate reality when I’m strumming the strings of my instrument,” he says.

Topics: pub, Social life

Bardak has a mission — to connect people and create the friendliest environment for making new friends, and Azat’s and Rudolf’s tight friendship is one of its accomplishments. “I believe every person relates to their name to some extent,” states Rudolf, “and Azat’s name is all about his personality — he is free in everything, in his actions and thoughts, and that is why we all respect him.”

Azat’s Innovations

Besides the pub, Azat runs his extreme sports club, until recently a family workshop called Adamyan’s Manufactory printing expressions in Artsakh dialect on clothing (it closed for reasons unrelated to the war), and the ForRest Hub.

Not far from Stepanakert, Azat renovated a Soviet-era camping space and turned it into ForRest Hub, where guests can organize concerts, camps, or just gather around the fire and get away from the city life. It is particularly popular among the youth.

The income from Bardak will allow Azat to complete the construction of ForRest and start a new enterprise – Maran, which will be a public food court at ForRest. “I often think of expanding Bardak, refreshing the interior, but I am afraid that any change will undermine the authenticity of the pub because the walls carry all the memories,” he says.

The interior of Bardak (photo Lilit Shahverdyan)

The first ornaments of Azat’s pub came from his home; later he received numerous offers to buy unusual items that would complement the indoor and outdoor design. Sometimes visitors themselves would leave souvenirs that eventually got embedded into the interior, such as car plates and stickers. After the recent war, the items that were fortuitously brought from Shushi and other affected regions increased both in value and historical significance.

The first xerox sign in Shushi (photo Lilit Shahverdyan)

Long before September 2020, Azat fetched the signboard of the first photocopying center in Shushi which now embellishes Bardak’s entrance door. The door itself turned into an essential relic — Azat saved it from the Tigranakert fortress a few hours before the territory was handed over to Azerbaijan. “I promised myself to return it to its original place,” he confesses.

The signboard of Talish is hanging inside the bar along with Tigranakert’s, mixed in with numerous hats, vinyls, clothing and instruments. Azat received it as a gift in 2018 from the film crew of “The Gate to Heaven,” Jivan Avetisyan’s movie about Artsakh.

However, what catches the visitors’ attention the most is the Smerch rocket near the entrance, covered with the stylized and recognizable minimalist paintings of Areg Balayan’s Blojiks. Azat got the missile from the road to Khnatsakh in order to always have it before his eyes as a stark reminder that life has not reached its end, but a new beginning.

Azat and his household were not exempt from the dire aftermath of the war. During the 2020 fighting, Azat received shrapnel wounds and was taken to the hospital, which he left early in order to continue helping at home. He received appropriate medical treatment afterwards, but some shards of shrapnel sank too deep into Azat’s body to be retrieved. In the last days of the war, when Stepanakert was being actively shelled, Azat’s house got partly damaged along with the pub, yet he succeeded in repairing the buildings in the very same manner he healed the injuries he received.

Azat’s will and desire to create new things for the people motivates everyone around him. “He doesn’t allow the pessimistic spirit around him,” says Rudolf. “He’s always the first to cheer everyone up and put them on the right path.”

Azat playing his guitar at Bardak (photo Lilit Shahverdyan)

Rudolf believes that it’s the faith in a bright future that keeps everyone going and holds back from negative thoughts that prove to be counterproductive. “Had he had any doubts about our fate, he wouldn’t have persisted on restoring Bardak and starting other businesses,” adds Rudolf.

“We can never avoid war,” assures Azat, “but to stand a chance we have to take care of each other.” Whenever starting a new enterprise, his biggest concern is not the business with its revenues, but the people, the customers he’s so eager to serve.

Azat got married in the summer of 2021 and is now awaiting the birth of his first child. Despite the heavy burden the war laid upon Azat and his family, he is willing to confront these difficulties again if necessary to save what he and his ancestors have been building for years. “The most precious thing I have now,” he says, “is my father’s house. If I lose it, everything will disappear in vain.”

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