A view of Aghavno village, June 2022 (photo Lilit Shahverdyan)

Despite Threats of Deportation, Residents of Aghavno Refuse to Leave


PM Nikol Pashinyan’s recent statements around the Lachin corridor, particularly about the handover of Aghavno and Berdzor, have triggered an emotional outburst in Armenian society.

AGHAVNO, Artsakh — In the south of Artsakh Republic, within the Lachin corridor, now controlled by the Russian peacekeeping forces, lies a village with red-roofed buildings built along parallel streets. That is Aghavno, nestled along the scenic Aghavno river, the first village that welcomes visitors to Artsakh with its vibrant colors and nature. And even more attractive than the houses are the people, strong and determined, who refused to leave the village throughout the last two years, though only two kilometers distant from the enemies’ troops.

After the 44-Day War in 2020, the authorities of Artsakh and the Russian peacekeepers there demanded that the villagers leave. As the residents resisted, the village remained Armenian, becoming a silver lining for a stronger future. However, the situation now grows tenser by leaps and bounds. On June 27, Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan announced that the territories outside of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast would pass to Azerbaijan, which technically implies a deportation of people from Aghavno and Berdzor.

Azerbaijan is now constructing a new road to connect Artsakh with Armenia, which can be seen from the village. During the past few months, there have been rumors that the corridor and Aghavno will ultimately be handed over to Azerbaijan, even as Armenians still live there. Aghavno’s mayor, Andranik Chavushyan, said that they have no intention of leaving their homes regardless of any political agreements. Only a few of them returned when the vestiges of war were still present, but ultimately 185 people of 270 arrived back.

The new road connecting Artsakh to Armenia as seen from Aghavno village (photo https://apa.az/en/social/asphalting-of-new-highway-bypassing-lachin-city-started-photo-379149)

Anna Tadevosyan, a 42-year-old housewife, settled in Aghavno in 1993. “Though some people were broke after the 2020 war and even carried their belongings out of the village, they still returned. It’s our home and land, and we will stay loyal to it,” she recalled.

During the 44-Day War, Tadevosyan baked bread in Stepanakert to serve the Armenian soldiers on the frontline. As bombs were going off in the capital city every day, she was the one to inspire hope in others with her strength and endurance.

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“My colleagues were always surprised to see me smiling. And I always told them that if the sun rose again and we were not yet blown up, then that is a reason to feel happy,” she said.

Homes in Aghavno village (photo Lilit Shahverdyan)

The villagers perceived the commands to leave Aghavno in December 2020 differently: while some immediately packed up, others, including Tadevosyan, refused to flee. Tadevosyan encouraged the residents, and many stayed after seeing her and her mother remaining in the village. When the Tadevosyans moved to Aghavno in 1993, there were only two other families who fled from Maragha (a village taken over by the Azerbaijani forces in April 1992). They were among the first to give a new life to Zabukh village, which later was renamed Aghavno.

“This is our home, and that’s it. This is the mood in the village,” said Tadevosyan. “People were hopeless after the war, but now we are returning to our pre-war routine. We are worried about our children, but overall, we are not scared. I see people planting new trees as they have hopes for the future,” she added.

The new route can be seen from the Lachin corridor. It already alerts the villagers of the possibility of facing the same patterns of December 1, 2020 – a new order from on high to vacate the territory. However, the residents are seemingly determined to disobey and stand their ground. Amid constant threats, life is still flourishing in the village.

The headmaster Poghos Aghabekyan said the school saw a student overflow, but some locals left it. Before the 44-day war, 48 students, who were village residents, studied at Aghavno school. As of June 2022, around half of the current 55 students come from Berdzor and other neighboring communities, and the other half are from Aghavno. Besides the regular school program, the students in Aghavno learn embroidery, playing the piano and guitar, and theatrical art due to Mshakutamet. Mshakutamet was founded during the 2020 war and aims to send volunteer teachers to rural schools to hold classes like music, dances, sewing, and reading in interactive ways. To bolster the Armenian traditions in the village, Mshakutamet representatives in Aghavno organized a Palm Sunday celebration in April 2022.

“We believed that it’s the national music and dances that elevate people’s spirit. We saw that our schools failed in educating children culturally, and we decided to start with music and dances,” said piano teacher Arusyak Mkrtchyan.

Arusyak, Shushan, and Nairi came to Aghavno as teachers, but they built strong relationships with the schoolchildren, and the teacher-student relationship grew into deep friendships. Gathering by the river became a tradition to unite generations and is always accompanied by singing and guitar music. However, the post-war traumas resided deep inside the children’s souls, and even insignificant events reopen their wounds.

“One of my students missed class because of the rain. He said the thunder sounded like an explosion, and he was scared to leave the house,” recalled Mkrtchyan.

Aghavno and Berdzor are hotspots again as Azerbaijan is finishing the new route construction. According to the trilateral agreement of November 10, the new route to connect Artsakh with Armenia should be completed within the next three years. However, Azerbaijan kickstarted the construction at an accelerated pace. The Azerbaijani state road agency published the most recent photographs of asphalting the road, which will be 32 km. long and will bypass Berdzor, Aghavno, and other localities. The fates of the pipeline, the high-voltage power line, and the Internet channel that passes through the Lachin corridor, also remain unrevealed. Their loss will have crucial consequences for the Armenians of Artsakh.

A day after Pashinyan’s comments on the handover of the Lachin corridor, “Artsakhgaz” announced that for technical reasons, gas will be cut off throughout the territory of Artsakh Republic from June 29 to July 5. Many connected this incident with the developments around the Lachin corridor, through which the pipelines pass.

One of the political activists, Nairi Hokhikyan, a member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), urged the Armenians to move to Berdzor to live there and show support to the locals. He claimed that Azerbaijan leader Ilham Aliyev’s goal is to hang the Azerbaijani flag in Berdzor, which the Armenians could prevent by populating the town and its neighborhood. He wrote that “we must achieve that the Russian peacekeepers stay in Lachin on July 1, and should ensure the transportation of gas, electricity, telephone, and internet routes from Armenia to Artsakh to the area of an alternative corridor.”

Amid apparent threats of a handover, Chavushyan believes everything depends on the people’s endurance and will to stay in their homes.

“It is not a desperate situation; we work and try to change the outcome. I see people have planted more trees this year because, in the last stage, they learned not to give up, to be self-confident,” he said.

Chavushyan recalled that residents organized themselves in the village during the 2020 war, and had a military detachment to protect Aghavno from the opponent and looters. Recalling the victory in the First Nagorno-Karabakh war, he assured that the quantity of people does not matter if they unite around one idea: protecting the land.

Children playing in Aghavno village (photo Lilit Shahverdyan)

“Aghavni” is the word for dove in Armenia, and the name of the village derives from it.

“Doves symbolize peace and serenity, but they attack with their wings to protect their babies. And the 185 people in Aghavno live under the same motto,” Chavushyan said.

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