Artsakh’s Future : “It’s a good generation – we can do many things”

 

The sound of cars speeding up the main streets, horns blaring out repeatedly, dressed and trimmed with flowers and ribbons is always a sure sign of another wedding in Stepanakert. Pedestrians know to keep their distance from the edge of the road, the mini-motor race unfolds as individual cars “battle” to get to the second position behind the wedding car as the long parade of friends and family continue their celebrations.
Wedding Artsakh Nagorno Karabakh Stepanakert Shushi Caucasus Armenia

On the 3rd floor of the apartment block, the stairs are decorated with balloons and tinsel, family and friends bring gifts for the couple and their blessings for the future. The dozens of people squeeze effortlessly into the confined space, everyone knowing the routine, with the combination of traditional foods and drinks,  to recognise the transitioning of the ceremony.
Wedding Artsakh Nagorno Karabakh Stepanakert Shushi Caucasus Armenia

Downstairs the party unfolds as a local band gives accompaniment to the bridal dancing in the open-air. The merriment and joy that heralds the building of the future is always a time of good cheer and of great hope.
Wedding Artsakh Nagorno Karabakh Stepanakert Shushi Caucasus Armenia

In Artsakh, and especially Stepanakert, a photo-opportunity by Tatik-Papik, for the bridal party is an important part of the proceedings and is an iconic affirmation of the importance of the event to the country. The couple also visit the main cemetery in the city to lay flowers by the eternal flame to give thanks to those who lost their lives during the wars, with especial memory of those from 20 years ago. A wedding here is not just a personal affair; it is also about the community and the country.
Wedding Artsakh Nagorno Karabakh Stepanakert Shushi Caucasus Armenia

In past times it was always the norm that a married couple would live with the parents of the husband and this continues to be so, in the majority of cases, in the villages. In Stepanakert there is a trend for the newly-weds to want more independence and to embrace more modern aspirations for their life together. Whether this is progress, or a slow slide into a disparate society is a moot point. One such couple, who were recently married , and chose this lifestyle is Nina and Robert Bagmanyan.
Wedding Artsakh Nagorno Karabakh Stepanakert Shushi Caucasus Armenia

Nina and Robert  were too young during the war to have any enduring memory of it so are , in effect, the first of the post-war generation to be largely unaffected by the trauma of living in that period. They were both born in Stepanakert, and followed a conventional educational route; Robert was taught Biology and Chemistry by Nina’s mother which would not be unusual in this small closed-knit society. After finishing high school they both entered the Artsakh State University ; Nina studied English and French, and Robert concentrating on Mathematics.

Following their graduation it was difficult to find work.  Due to the unrecognised status of Nagorno-Karabakh there is limited acceptability of the Artsakh State University degrees in other countries. It is not impossible to transfer, just very difficult, and does imply that for most people they are limited to the Republic of Armenia.

Business opportunities are limited in Artsakh due to the size of the commercial infrastructure, particularly for well-qualified graduates. Fortunately for Nina , she had the opportunity to replace her sister in the Artsakh Bank for a 2 week period and impressed the local management sufficiently well for them to offer her a job. Separately Robert entered through a more conventional route, passing exams and qualifying for his position. It was in the Bank that they met.

Although after they were married they wanted to live in their own flat, the rent was very high; it was about 50% of Nina’s monthly salary which made the choice a difficult one. Such an  imbalance makes the economics of living in Stepanakert marginal and the danger is that it will drive the well-educated young people away from the region into Yerevan or further afield. This would be a negative for Artsakh and will not allow the youth to develop this country; it desperately needs to retain this talent.

Nina’s view is that the geo-political situation means that outsiders will defer any investment schemes until they are more sure about the future; this is partially true, but whilst ever it is the case then the full potential of the region is not maximised. The consequence of this is that jobs aren’t brought to the country, and the general economic plateau continues.

I asked her about her thoughts on the possibility of war  and she thought for a while and said that she was “very afraid” and expressed the concern that many people felt that the war may start again; “I hope not” she said. Her father-in-law was killed 20 years ago, and Robert has a strong sense of loyalty to his country and he would never leave if the conflict re-started. This would be a difficult choice.

As a final question I asked Nina and Robert how they saw the future. Nina said:

“If I look at my friends and my relatives then, I think, ….it’s a good generation – we can do many things . We can make our future, better – there are many, many clever students in our Universities. If our Government can make them stay here and give them opportunities to open that talent here, then, of course,  they will do many great things “. I asked her whether she thought that the Government would do this, she said “Yes; It must happen”.

A very profound end to our conversation.

For the sake of Artsakh – it must happen.

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