Arazap — Wheat Project Benefits Border Village

Arazap -- Wheat Project Benefits Border Village

May 24, 2004

For additional photos related to this article, visit the ATG Photo Gallery.

by Andranik Michaelian

Cloaked with black clouds,
Unlucky Ararat mourns her loss,
Sweet Surmalu.
Your farmer is no more; plow your fields.
Darkness is everywhere, darkness and night.
The snake waits upon your fortune,
Sweet Surmalu.
— from the Armenian folk song, “Surmalu”

Arazap, Province of Armavir, — Looking beyond Biblical Mt. Ararat, Heriknaz Arakelyan pointed past the Turkish border in the direction of Surmalu, and told about her ancestors: “Until the fall of the first Armenian Republic in 1920, my grandfather’s family lived in Surmalu, not far from here. Dro, the famous Armenian general, is from Surmalu. The great writer Avetis Aharonyan was born there. I will never leave Arazap. From here, I feel close to Surmalu….”

Located west of Echmiadzin, Arazap (means ‘on the banks of the Araks’ in Armenian) is situated only 500 meters from the border with Turkey. On clear days, Mt. Ararat casts its legendary shadow over the fields around the village. There, farmers like Heriknaz Arakelyan grow wheat, watermelons, tomatoes, and alfalfa.

ATG seminar creates lasting bond

Heriknaz Arakelyan has been farming for as long as she remembers. “My father was a blacksmith,” she said. “But I always had a close feeling for the soil. Even as a child, I had a garden. To me, farming is everything.”

After attending school in Arazap, Arakelyan studied at the agricultural institute in Yerevan, where she graduated with honors. Having an interest in the latest techniques and progress in agriculture, she attended a seminar in 2000 sponsored by the Armenian Technology Group (ATG), an organization dedicated to the independence of Armenian farmers. The seminar concentrated on new methods in the farming of wheat, including seedbed preparation and the application of fertilizer and herbicide.

Arakelyan was particularly impressed with the presentation by Roger Benton, then director of ATG’s Yerevan office. “Mr. Benton spoke about several varieties of Western wheat which had proven successful in Armenia’s fields,” she said. “Arkady Markaryan, a farmer and president of the Seed Producer Association of Armenia, introduced me to him.”

Benton and Markaryan made arrangements to visit Heriknaz Arakelyan in Arazap. “We signed a contract the same day we met,” she said. “I decided to plant Dadash, a variety which grows well both in rain-fed fields and in dry climates like Arazap.”

Markaryan was also from Arazap. “We were all saddened by Arkady’s recent passing,” Arakelyan said. “He was a good man.”

New variety sinks local roots

In 1999, a severe frost affected farming in Arazap and most of Armavir. That year, Arakelyan didn’t have enough money to buy wheat or watermelon seed. As a new program farmer for ATG, she was furnished with seed and given the opportunity to repay ATG after harvest. During the growing season, ATG area agronomist Aram Baghdasaryan visited Arazap several times, paying special attention to Arakelyan’s new field of Dadash wheat. “ATG always puts the interest of the farmer above everything else,” Arakelyan stressed. “They are an amazing organization.”

Arakelyan’s first harvest of Dadash was an astounding seven metric tons per hectare. “A yield this high was unheard of in Arazap,” she stated proudly. After repaying ATG, Arakelyan was able to sell the remaining seed to area farmers. “Arazap farmers were surprised that Dadash grew so well here,” she said. “Everybody became interested in the new varieties ATG was offering.” With the income earned from her harvest, Arakelyan was able to build a small store adjoining the family home in Arazap.

A meticulous farmer, Arakelyan places special importance on timing in the farming of wheat. “Irrigating in the autumn helps the seed germinate before cold weather sets in,” she explained. “But the spring irrigation has to be timed perfectly, or the yield can be affected.” Last year, after a June irrigation, heavy rain and wind caused her wheat to topple over. “Everybody thought the field was ruined,” Arakelyan said. “But the yield was a surprising six metric tons per hectare.” By setting the combine at a different angle, Arakelyan was able to salvage the crop and still have a good harvest.

Tradition bonds family, village

The youngest in a family of nine brothers and sisters, Heriknaz Arakelyan believes all families should be together. “I farm with two of my brothers, but two brothers are working in Moscow. We are a tradition-loving family. A holiday table half full is sad to me.” Arakelyan lives with her parents and grandfather. “Thanks to ATG, we are solid now. My biggest wish is that my brothers, and all others who have left Arazap, return to live and work in the village.”

In Arazap, a monument dedicated to poet and freedom fighter Tatul Huryan stands near the elementary school. Arazap villagers, mostly with roots in nearby Surmalu or Igdir across the border in Turkey, have a close tie to their village and ancestors. “I want to help Arazap any way I can,” Arakelyan stated. “Last year I ran for mayor, but lost by fourteen votes. After losing, I went to Moscow, but came back to Arazap in a week. Next time, I will win.”

Arakelyan is also a member of the Development of Activities of Businesswomen in Armenia. “Two years ago I won a grant. I used the money to help upgrade the water system in Arazap.”

Walking through a small plot of Bezostya wheat, a Russian variety provided by ATG, Arakelyan commented about the new crop. “The plant needs to be short and dark green. If the color is light green, the yield will be low.” Pointing at a neighboring wheat field, she continued: “The plants are quite tall. With too much rain, they will lie down.”

Next to her wheat field, Arakelyan is growing watermelons. She keeps the plants covered with a special cloth to keep them growing at night. “This way, I can take my melons to market before other farmers.” Picking a green, healthy spike of wheat, she said, “Growing wheat is more than a way to make a living. To me, wheat is symbolic. Wheat is life.”

Since 1996, ATG has sponsored several programs in Arazap and nearby Margara, including experimenting with new varieties of wheat and barley. “These programs helped our farmers learn about the Western varieties of grain ATG was offering,” Arakelyan said. “Now, as a program farmer for ATG, I can say that the income I earn working with ATG has helped our family and, in turn, the village of Arazap. ATG has given our village hope.”

For more information about how you can help Armenia’s farmers, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail ( Tax-deductible donations can be sent to ATG; 1300 E. Shaw, Suite 149; P.O.Box 5969; Fresno, CA 93755-5969.
You may also donate to ATG online.