The construction of a new district in Shurnukh village, March 14, 2022. (Photo Armenian Urban Development Committee)

Government’s Unfulfilled Promises Keep Displaced of Shurnukh Village in Limbo

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By Sona Hovsepyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

GORIS, Armenia — Armen Harutyunyan, a 58-year-old farmer, badly wishes he could visit his former home in Shurnukh in Syunik Province of southern Armenia, but that’s not possible. His house, its 1,200-square-meter garden and a cowshed lie on the other side of his village. Today, that area is under Azerbaijani control.

Armen Harutyunyan: he first lived in a trailer home before moving to Goris with his wife Tatevik Javahiryan and two sons

“The Azerbaijanis allowed us to stay in our home until January 5, [2021], after which we had to leave. My son suggested setting fire to the house, but I refused as I had built it with my own hands. Today, an Azeri family lives in our home,” said Harutyunyan.

After the 44-day war in 2020, Azerbaijan took control of some parts of Shurnukh as well as some other areas along the Goris-Kapan route. Azerbaijani troops were deployed throughout the contested border.

Armen Harutyunyan and his wife Tatevik Javahiryan in their temporary home in the city of Goris

Thirteen Armenian families were forced to flee their homes, as reported by the government of Armenia. Some Shurnukh residents relocated to the city of Goris, while the others remained to live in trailer homes, empty houses of neighbors, and even the municipality building in Shurnukh.

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They are among the 8,400 people who, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, were internally displaced as of the end of 2022, from the Syunik, Gegharkunik and Vayots Dzor provinces due to hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

After they were evicted, Harutyunyan and his wife, Tatevik Javahiryan, moved with their two sons to a trailer home until they rented a house in Goris. They thought it would be a temporary solution until they could return to Shurnukh.

But it’s taking longer than expected.

The Armenian government allocated 741 million dram for the construction of a new district at the entrance of Shurnukh, which was supposed to be finished by the end of 2021. Construction schedules, however, have been delayed for the fourth time.

In the meantime, Tatevik works as a baker in Goris to make ends meet. Armen is jobless, so he grows fruit trees and vegetables in the garden outside their temporary house.

Tatevik Javahiryan

“I’m worried about the district’s construction terms. There is a water shortage in the village and I’m afraid there’ll be no water in our new home,” said Tatevik.

“The local headwaters have dried up. The existing water supply will not suffice for the newly constructed district,” Hakob Arshakyan, Shurnukh mayor, told the Mirror-Spectator over the phone. He blamed the slow construction progress on “a labor shortage.”

“The relocation of construction workers is difficult. On chilly days, it is difficult to drive this distance. Nobody wants to work in Shurnukh. It’s exhausting to travel a long distance,” he added.

Arshakyan also lost his house, his garden and his cowshed. He currently lives in the village municipality’s building. Although he isn’t sure when the district’s displaced residents will be resettled, he thinks villagers will be able to move into new homes in October 2023.

Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited Shurnukh village last month, on August 18, and was shown the construction site of 13 houses. He emphasized the high-quality implementation of the work and its completion “as soon as possible.” Officially, 80% of the work has been completed.

The Armenian Urban Development Committee indicated that the reasons for the uncompleted construction activities were border events in 2022, a cement shortage, and logistical issues caused by the collapse of the Khot-Vorotan road.

Harutyunyan and Javahiryan said they are more worried about their sons than themselves.

“We are both elderly and the government will provide us with a pension. We can plant a garden and keep hens but what will my sons do? They have no way of living in Shurnukh,” Harutyunyan said.

He also believes they will be unable to coexist with Azerbaijanis. He declared: “Even if I become neighbors with them, how should a woman who has lost her husband or child live? It is impossible. Even my sons will be unable to. It may be forgotten centuries later, but not now.”

For the time being, going back to Shurnukh is seemingly priority number one for the Harutyunyans. “Our life is there and we dream of going back home every day,” said the farmer.

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