The 11th October was the Annual Harvest Festival which is held in the main square adjacent to the Presidential Palace in central Stepanakert. This event started only a few years ago – I was fortunate enough to attend when it was just a few vans down the side streets from Pyatachok. Now it welcomes hundreds of traders from throughout the country – from small-holdings in distant villages, to small companies making wine, diary products etc. This is not an event for people to browse and socialise ( although that’s largely what I was doing) it is for people to trade, and sell their their surplus produce.
The Festival was attended by thousands of people topping up on much needed vegetables, fruit, and quality cuts of meat as well as various local vodkas and wines. The smoke from the grilling khorovats created an atmospheric mist around the place. The beauty of this festival is the sense of community that you feel, and everyone is very welcoming – but then a tall Englishman with a camera is something of novelty.
It was interesting to discover that an enterprising Syrian refugee was bringing in some trees from the Middle East to create orchards of new varieties of fruit. Also, we were told about new developments in sturgeon farming to promote the caviar industry – a lucrative export opportunity.
Any produce that remained unsold at the end of the day was being bought by the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that all traders benefitted from the day’s events.
On the 17th the Ministry of Tourism put on the Wine Festival in Togh village. The Ministry arranged for a number of buses to take locals from Stepanakert to Togh ; the village is about an hour or so drive from the capital through some tricky, and narrow roads. Parking at the venue was very limited and relied on the usual Karabakian spirit to simply “solve the problem”. The Festival took place in amongst the village ruins which actually created a very attractive setting. In addition to the event being a celebration of the country’s fine wines, it was another great opportunity for barbecues to be established, group stalls to be set-up, with a range of mini-parties, and social gatherings. It truly was a festival and although I was determinied to take many photos, I had to do most with one-hand as I was forever being presented with a beaker of wine, or vodka, some khorovats in lavash, jingalov hats, and many other things which my memory has blurred out.
I was asked by the local TV whether I thought it would make a good tourist attraction. I gave a polite answer suggesting that tourists would love it. However, it was special because there were no tourists, I think I was the only non-local there. It was fun because it was natural, pure and unadulterated. If this was manufactured for the benefit of some transient European, American or Asian visitors – it would lack any integrity – it would just be part of an emerging theme park. It’s a difficult balance for the Ministry of Tourism, and I was lucky to witness it for real – I just hope that whatever they decide, the real Artsakh is never subsumed by “lure of the dollar”
Categories: Life and People Artsakh