The Manasyan brothers - Vigen, 46, and Arthur, 38 - get ready for the harvest. Most of their arable lands fell under Azerbaijani control in 2020, but they retain a small wheatfield near their house and tend vineyards for an owner who too scared to go there due to the proximity of Azerbaijan’s military posts.
The Manasyan brothers - Vigen, 46, and Arthur, 38 - get ready for the harvest. Most of their arable lands fell under Azerbaijani control in 2020, but they retain a small wheatfield near their house and tend vineyards for an owner who too scared to go there due to the proximity of Azerbaijan’s military posts. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
A vehicle loaded with soil drives into Machkalashen, a village of a few hundred residents in Karabakh’s Martuni district and a few hundred yards from Azerbaijani controlled territory.
A vehicle loaded with soil drives into Machkalashen, a village of a few hundred residents in Karabakh’s Martuni district and a few hundred yards from Azerbaijani controlled territory. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
Originally from Hadrut, Shushan moved to Machkalashen when she got married. Three of her four sons are serving in the army, the youngest is still in school. “If there is another war, we will all be killed, now we have nowhere to go. Before the 44-day war our borders were further away, we felt safer - at a greater distance from the border and the enemy, but now it is too close,” she told IWPR. Hadrut fell under Azerbaijani control in 2020 and she laments not being able to visit the grave of her relatives, in
Originally from Hadrut, Shushan moved to Machkalashen when she got married. Three of her four sons are serving in the army, the youngest is still in school. “If there is another war, we will all be killed, now we have nowhere to go. Before the 44-day war our borders were further away, we felt safer - at a greater distance from the border and the enemy, but now it is too close,” she told IWPR. Hadrut fell under Azerbaijani control in 2020 and she laments not being able to visit the grave of her relatives, including her father’s, who died in the first Karabakh war in the 1990s. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
Machkalashen’s shop is the village’s central meeting place where residents gather to discuss daily news, the situation on the border and plan their agricultural work.
Machkalashen’s shop is the village’s central meeting place where residents gather to discuss daily news, the situation on the border and plan their agricultural work. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
The harvest does not stop, even though the vineyards the Manasyans tend are less than a kilometre from Azerbaijan’s military positions. In 2021, Azerbaijani troops inched forward and tried to position themselves right by the vineyard.
The harvest does not stop, even though the vineyards the Manasyans tend are less than a kilometre from Azerbaijan’s military positions. In 2021, Azerbaijani troops inched forward and tried to position themselves right by the vineyard. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
Shushan, Sareda, Nora during the harvest. Resident use large parts of the harvest, producing wine and vodka for personal use, but some of it is sold to wine producers. The main winery among Karabakh’s 15 producers, Kataro, was based in the village of Togh, in Hadrut region, which fell under the control of Azerbaijan in 2020.
Shushan, Sareda, Nora during the harvest. Resident use large parts of the harvest, producing wine and vodka for personal use, but some of it is sold to wine producers. The main winery among Karabakh’s 15 producers, Kataro, was based in the village of Togh, in Hadrut region, which fell under the control of Azerbaijan in 2020. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
Anush and Arthur Manasyan married 11 years ago and have two children. The couple live with Arthur’s mother, and his brother Vigen lives with his family in the house next door.
Anush and Arthur Manasyan married 11 years ago and have two children. The couple live with Arthur’s mother, and his brother Vigen lives with his family in the house next door. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
Workers join forces to push the truck where grapes are unloaded from the buckets.
Workers join forces to push the truck where grapes are unloaded from the buckets. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
Bunches of Rkatsitelli pile up by the truck. Once full, it will be driven to Martuni where the grapes will be unloaded at the local branch of the BH Brandy Company, a Yerevan-based brand producing about one million bottles a year of wine, brandy and vodka.
Bunches of Rkatsitelli pile up by the truck. Once full, it will be driven to Martuni where the grapes will be unloaded at the local branch of the BH Brandy Company, a Yerevan-based brand producing about one million bottles a year of wine, brandy and vodka. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
Heno, 76, helps his neighbours during the harvest. During the first Karabakh war, a Grad rocket exploded in his house, killing his wife Sharmagh and leaving him to raise their six children alone.
Heno, 76, helps his neighbours during the harvest. During the first Karabakh war, a Grad rocket exploded in his house, killing his wife Sharmagh and leaving him to raise their six children alone. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
The coffee breaks in the vineyards are an opportunity to recover energy and unload tension: the awareness of being so close to the borderline never leaves the locals.
The coffee breaks in the vineyards are an opportunity to recover energy and unload tension: the awareness of being so close to the borderline never leaves the locals. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
The main church in Amaras valley, St. Grigoris, dates back to the fourth century. Locals say that the soil around the monastery has healing powers because it was soaked in the holy blood of the eponymous saint. Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, reportedly opened the first Armenian school in the monastery.
The main church in Amaras valley, St. Grigoris, dates back to the fourth century. Locals say that the soil around the monastery has healing powers because it was soaked in the holy blood of the eponymous saint. Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, reportedly opened the first Armenian school in the monastery. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
In Sos, Anush is with pupils who have just finished a class with their chess teacher, Margo. Chess is a mandatory subject in second, third and fourth grade.
In Sos, Anush is with pupils who have just finished a class with their chess teacher, Margo. Chess is a mandatory subject in second, third and fourth grade. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
Winters are cold in the highlands in Sos and Machkalashen. In the school yard wood is being collected to be used as firewood during the winter season.
Winters are cold in the highlands in Sos and Machkalashen. In the school yard wood is being collected to be used as firewood during the winter season. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
Sareda, 66, holds the portrait of her son Sevak, who was killed by a combat drone in the 2020 war. He was the first of Machkalashen’s 11 victims. “I stayed in the village until the end, thinking that I could protect my son, but I couldn't,” she said.
Sareda, 66, holds the portrait of her son Sevak, who was killed by a combat drone in the 2020 war. He was the first of Machkalashen’s 11 victims. “I stayed in the village until the end, thinking that I could protect my son, but I couldn't,” she said. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR
Nora fled Azerbaijan’s south-western town of Fizuli, Varanda in Armenian, during the first Karabakh war. All her children live in Armenia with their families, but she decided to stay in her grandfather's house in Machkalashen village.
Nora fled Azerbaijan’s south-western town of Fizuli, Varanda in Armenian, during the first Karabakh war. All her children live in Armenia with their families, but she decided to stay in her grandfather's house in Machkalashen village. © Siranush Sargsyan/IWPR

A Fearful Harvest in Karabakh’s Vineyards

Villagers in the Amaras valley vineyards pick grapes a few yards away from Azerbaijan’s military posts.

Wednesday, 23 November, 2022

At dawn, the crowing of roosters mixes with the sounds of explosions in the distance as brothers Vigen and Arthur Manasyan prepare to leave Sos, their village in eastern Nagorno Karabakh, for their vineyards in the Amaras valley.

A call to Goris confirms that the explosions are from the Armenian south-western region of Sisian, along the border with Azerbaijan.

Arthur’s wife Anush and other women prepare buckets and scissors to cut the grapes. 

“Everyone goes to their vineyards,” said 34-year-old Anush, who teaches at the local school and moved to Sos from the neighbouring village of Machkalashen when she married. “People fear the war will start again, they want to harvest and bring the grapes home, because last time [in 2020] the war started on this very day. People work hard all year and they had to leave the harvest in the field to rot.” 

Sos and Machkalashen were on the line of fire during the 2020 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the control of the region, which is de jure part of Azerbaijan but controlled by Armenians. A Moscow-brokered ceasefire on November 9, 2020 ended the war with Baku regaining control of areas it had lost in the first Karabakh war in the mid-1990s.

The 44 days of fighting left thousands of dead, tens of thousands displaced, villages abandoned and hundreds of buildings destroyed, including Sos’ secondary school. The border line with Azerbaijan now runs near their house; Russian peacekeepers are tasked with monitoring the ceasefire, but Karabakh residents live in constant fear.

As the Manasyans step out of their house, they join a line of cars heading towards the vineyards. In 2020, both Sos and Machkalashen lost most of their farmland, pastures and gardens. Residents cling onto what land remains,  working strenuously in the face of danger to cultivate it as it is their main livelihood.

The Amaras valley lies a mere five kilometres from Sos. The vineyards surround the fourth century monastery of Saint Grigoris, where Mesrop Mashtots, the creator of the Armenian alphabet, is said to have established the first Armenian school. 

Azerbaijan’s military positions are a stone’s throw from where people cultivate their land and residents report shooting towards the fields and themselves. In 2021, Azerbaijani troops inched forward and tried to position themselves right by the vineyard.

In early November Armenia’s prime minister Nikol Pashinyan proposed creating a demilitarised zone with international guarantees around Karabakh. 

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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