Valera (R), a 65-year old Armenian, and his family live in the Armenian village of Bagaran along the Turkish-Armenian border, asks us to place emphasis upon his wish that he wants to go fishing in Arpaçay, a Turkish village on the other side of the border. Amid preparations to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1915 incidents, we attended an international media forum in Armenia, where we also made some observations. Bagaran is one of the best places for such observations.
The village is located along the Turkish border and is 90 km from Yerevan. It sits on a hill, from which you can have a magnificent view of the terrain.
If we did not know that Arpaçay separates the two countries, it would be impossible to figure out that there are two different villages. The homes are too close; the distance between the last Armenian house and the first Turkish house is too short. When looking down from the hill, you first notice the minaret of a mosque. You would have thought that this is a Turkish village.
After taking some photos, we move into the village, but Armenian soldiers stop us. Our Armenian guide tells them that we are journalists attending international media forum. They let us go but make clear that we should not go to the farthest home in the village. We want to talk to people in the village, but our first three attempts fail, most probably because they think they will get into some sort of trouble if they talk.
People in the village of Bagaran lead a very modest life. The lifestyle and the general outlook in the village reminds us of a Turkish village; there is almost no difference. This is why we came very close to the border without knowing it. We hear a rooster crowing in the Turkish village across the border. The villages are that close.
While we were wandering around, hoping that somebody would talk to us, a villager approached. He gave us a lot of information about the village. He told us that he moved there from Azerbaijan in 1989 because of the growing tension between Azeris and Armenians. The same was actually observed in Bagaran; some Azeri families left the village out of concerns. Valera exchanged homes with an Azeri in Bagaran.
Valera invited us to his home. His mother, Gohar, 87, welcomes us; there is no Turkish product around. This is a pretty modest home; once again, I feel I am in a Turkish village because of the lifestyle and hospitality. Gohar says she misses her hometown, adding, “Our home there was beautiful; we had two swimming pools and two cars.” She gets angry because now they suffer from poverty. Her remarks tell a lot about the grievances experienced in the inter-communal clashes.
Before we leave, Valera, speaking in Turkish, though not eloquently, tells us that he watches the Turkish stations all the time. He says that he is able to speak Turkish because he lived among Turkish-speaking Azeris. He adds, “I used to understand what Demirel was saying; but I do not really understand Erdoğan when he speaks.”
Before we leave, he tells us that he loves fishing but is unable to go to fishing in Arpaçay and Aras. Referring to this as a problem, he says: “There is nowhere else where we can go fishing. Make sure that you publish this. Make our voice count so that this problem is settled. My greatest wish is to go to fishing in Arpaçay.”
My biggest dream is to have potable water in our village
Koghbayan is another border village; it is located 600-700 meters away from the Turkish border. 130 people live in the village. Khocharyan Hovkannes, 53, says that Armenia will benefit if borders are opened and adds that he would go to Turkey if this happens because he considers it his own country. He, however, does not find statements by Turkish authorities on sharing common pains sincere, and he thinks that it is just about politics.
Poverty is a big problem in the village. Lusine Arigoryan, 30, lives in a caravan because they do not have money to afford a house. There is no school in the village. Asked whether he is happy living there, he says: “I cannot say it is bad or good; we just live the days.” In response to our question on his biggest dream, he says: “We do not have potable water in the village. It would be nice if we had water.” The government supplies water every week with tankers, free of charge.
There are also Yazidis in the village. Khalilyan Ozman, 24, says: “It would be good if the borders were opened; this would create a peaceful environment.” Asked about the 1915 incidents and the Turks, he shares his negative view of what happened. I ask what he feels when looking at Turkey. He says: “It is not about what I feel; it is a dream. I dream that someday I will have my land.”
Armenian women’s name turned out to be ‘Seda’
We move to an outpost in Yerevan to see how people live. Homes reveal poverty, but people seem happy in the area. We notice some construction on the ruins; our guide tells us that Muslims used to live in this area. We realize that some buildings exhibit signs of Islamic architecture.
We run into an old lady in the narrow streets; when we told her that we wanted to take a picture, she smiled at us. Then she invited us over to her home. Although we hesitated because of time constraints, she insisted. The old lady told us that she was very happy because her daughter just came back from Germany. While she was making coffee for us, we asked her name. She said it was Seda. We were surprised because it is a Turkish name. When she was a child, somebody called her Seda; nobody knows why. Since then, she has been known by that name. Her ancestors moved from Van during the 1915 incidents.
Her daughter, Nona, tries to speak in Turkish. It turns out that she lives with Turks in Germany — this is why she speaks some Turkish — and she tells us that she is happy having many Turkish friends. Gagik, Seda’s son, tells us why his mother invited us over: “My mother recognizes good people from their faces. This is why she invited you.”