A Fearful Harvest in Karabakh’s Vineyards
Villagers in the Amaras valley vineyards pick grapes a few yards away from Azerbaijan’s military posts.
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 Nagorny 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.