A Youth Perspective on Life in Aygut Village
In Aygut and other villages along the Getik River Valley in northeastern Armenia, ATP has helped to establish backyard nurseries with local families. At the end of the growing season, ATP purchases tree seedlings from the families and hires workers to plant them in the neighboring forests. The program was designed to help eliminate rural poverty, while at the same time restoring the degraded forests that have led to severe problems such as erosion and landslides along the valley.
Anais: Are you a student, or have you completed your studies?
Victoria: I finished my 10th year at school, but I never went to university. I really want to, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to go. I have always loved languages, ever since I was little. I would like to learn English, and become a teacher or a translator.
Right now I am helping Leslie [one of the US Peace Corps volunteers working in the village]. She teaches the schoolchildren about protecting the environment. And whoever is interested in learning a little English, I help Leslie in teaching them too. I help translate, so that the children and Leslie can understand each other. Especially since many of the kids speak the village dialect, which is not always as obvious to understand.
Anais: When did you move to Aygut village and where is your family from?
Victoria: We moved to Aygut in May 1993. I was born in Georgia, and we came to Armenia when I was 10. It was here that I learned to read and write Armenian.
Anais: Your sister told us that she likes the life in the village, and she wants to live in a village when she is older, but a village that is near a city. Do you feel the same way?
Victoria: Yes, I want villages to have more links with cities. Village children can thus become well informed and know about everything the rest of the world is learning, and develop their ideas and thoughts alongside them. But without the village, without nature, it’s very bad. Dry walls, small rooms, in a city--I just couldn’t live like that.
Anais: Do you think that the majority of your generation feels this same way, that they want to live in the village, or do most of them want to flee to the city?
Victoria: Everyone is different. But in my opinion, many people say it is not possible for them to live without their “land.” There are people who leave for Russia, the elders, to live near their children, but they always come back. There are people like that from our village. One lady told me she could not live there, it was too strange for her. As for the youth, yes they want to go, because they are in search of new things in their lives. But I think they could always stay here and study.
Anais: Do you have friends that have left, and do they feel they belong to Russia, or do they feel they belong to Armenia?
Victoria: I do. They say there is a big difference between Russia and Armenia. I have a friend that left for Russia and he writes us letters. I received a letter in which he said he remembers his school, his birthdays in the village, and he misses us.
Anais: Just as we who have left feel a longing for Armenia, you yourself said you once felt a strong bond to those Armenians outside of Armenia.
Victoria: Yes, I don’t know where this feeling in my heart came from. One day I felt like there is something that is so far from me, but is a part of me, and it is calling me and I’m missing it. Then I drew a picture, an hourglass, inside of which is a pomegranate, from which comes our blood that flows down to the heart, in which is Masis, Armenia. And a few words came to me: blood has a way, a path out of the heart, but it must return and we wait for that blood to return; now it’s time.
Anais: Your mother seems to have much hope that Armenians would return to Armenia.
Victoria: Yes, to tell you the truth, we talk a lot about this issue in my family. That there are Armenians everywhere; there is really no place you cannot find them. They might not speak Armenian, but they remember in their hearts that they are Armenian, and I don’t know how to explain it. They would ask my father why he came to Armenia, and he would say, I have brought my children to Armenia so they could learn to read, write, and speak their language. I came here for them.
Anais: Are you happy with his decision?
Victoria: Of course. You know, they ask me if I want to go to America with Leslie. I think that would be very interesting, but I could not stay for a very long time--maybe one month or two, to learn, with a purpose--but I can’t live anywhere else.
Anais: I noticed that they are building a new school in the village; does this mean that many people are investing in the future of the village? How do you see your village in 10 years?
Victoria: Our village life was not interesting, but when ATP arrived, our school received an orchard, and the children started to work in this orchard.
Anais: What does that orchard mean to people here?
Victoria: It means that there are so many new things we can
do to help the village. Now we all work together to upkeep the orchard,
we use the potato harvest in the school cafeteria.
The problem in our village is that the resources we have are not enough. If we could have greater links with cities then we can have more opportunities. People work very hard here, but besides potatoes, beans, and cabbage, the climate is not good enough to grow other crops. But if we can go to the city, we can get other things that we cannot grow here. Bringing things from the outside is expensive, but if we can exchange what we have for money or other goods, then it’s more promising.
Anais: When outsiders bring new ideas, how do the villagers react?
Victoria: Although there are some people who don’t want any change, to keep with the ways they have learned, others want change. People are willing to try small changes. For example, if I grow my potatoes a certain way and they tell me that there is a new better way to do it, I could try this new method on some of my crop to try the change. I will try your way, and if it works then I will use it. I like listening to people who come to our village with new ideas.
Anais: Do you think other programs like ATP would be useful in the village?
Victoria: Yes of course, many programs would help. For example, Project Harmony has set up computers in the school. Before, information technology was all taught from books. Now they can learn with the computers and actually understand. And now there is another project concerning healthcare that provides villagers with their medicines for 2,000 ADM a month. These are all much-needed projects.
Anais: Turning to personal or cultural traditions, what is expected of the Armenian girl from your experiences?
Victoria: Women are meant to be happy, to become mothers, and work very little. Many men have said that the Armenian woman must be a lady, a mother, and stay at home. Now the Armenian girls want to work--it sometimes creates conflicts between husbands and wives. The men want the women to stay home, and the women want to work.
Anais: What do you want?
Victoria: I want to be good mother, but I don’t
think that my work can distract me from that objective, because my work
would also be for my family. Many people tell me, you’re 23, why
aren’t you married, and I laugh and say, “First I have to
become my own person and have my own work. How can I create a family if
I have nothing to contribute to it?”