Bagaran -- ATG Wheat Project Reaches Historic Border Village
August 21, 2003
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The winds pass by; softly my wheat awakens; from deep down a great lamenting cry stirs it. The rolling waves rush down from the green hills. — Song of Bread, by Daniel Varoujan
Bagaran, Province of Armavir, Armenia — Wheat has acquired an almost sacred quality in Armenian culture, and those who plant it feel a bond with their rural ancestors from centuries past. In the Armenian village of Bagaran, three brothers, Matevos, Vardan, and Andranik Sargsyan, embody the Armenian reverence for wheat in their work as farmers. In addition, they have embraced a unique mission to revive a location that had almost disappeared from the map.
Bagaran has special significance in Armenian history. In the 9th century, it became the ninth capital city of historic Armenia as the fabled kingdom of Ani rose to power. Gevorg Marzpetuni, a prince of Ani, is buried in the courtyard of Bagaran’s St. Gevorg church. The village is also home to the church of St. Shushanik, built in the thirteenth century. When the Armenian Republic collapsed in 1920, however, Bagaran fell under Turkish control and its residents fled across the Akhurian River to rebuild their lives on the Armenian side of the new border.
During Soviet times, Bagaran was designated as a sensitive military zone because of its proximity to Turkey. Economic development was neglected. Despite easy access to the Akhurian River, irrigation was overlooked and agriculture was limited. Bagaran’s dry climate made the growing of wheat nearly impossible.
Today, the villagers of Bagaran maintain their deep connection to their land and their history. The ruins of Ani lie only fifteen miles to the north, and the mighty Akhurian continues to flow past. What’s changed, however, is the land. Bagaran’s once barren fields are alive with wheat, thanks in part to the Armenian Technology Group (ATG), a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of Armenia’s agriculture.
Seeds of Hope
In 1996, Matevos Sargsyan, a local farmer, contacted Roger Culver, who directed ATG’s operations in Armenia. Sargsyan had learned about ATG’s efforts to test new varieties of wheat in Armenia and wanted to be part of the program. ATG provided him with seed for 130 hectares (321.1 acres). Sargsyan planted Eltan, Weston, W301, Stevens, and Blizzard — all varieties that had proven successful in drier climates.
Severe drought that year devastated agriculture throughout Armenia, and Bagaran was no exception. Less than one-fifth of the land Sargsyan planted produced a harvest. Yet, of the varieties that reached maturity — Eltan, Stevens, and Blizzard — the yield was an impressive seven metric tons per hectare. Sargsyan did not give up. He continued planting the ATG varieties, but was forced to cultivate smaller plots where irrigation water was available.
Water Brings a Village to Life
Several years earlier, Norik Tumanyan, a native of Yerevan and a newly graduated teacher, went to Bagaran to teach in the village school. He became so attached to the people and their village that he pledged to return after his teaching assignment was completed. In 1999, after working several years in Russia, Tumanyan fulfilled his promise. He launched a new business venture in Bagaran, forming a partnership with the Sargsyan brothers. Initially, they raised corn, tomatoes, and onions, but their real goal was to bring the area’s thousands of uncultivated hectares into production.
Tumanyan and the Sargsyan brothers devised a plan to draw water from the Akhurian to irrigate the fields above the river. Getting the project off the ground, however, involved the cooperation of not just the Armenian government but Turkish officials across the border. After intense negotiations, an agreement was reached and construction of a pumping station just north of Bagaran began. In the fall of 2002, the station’s completion was celebrated with much fanfare. Even Turkish soldiers watched the activation of the pumping station from their posts across the river.
With water reaching the previously arid fields above the new pump, ATG provided Eltan and Stevens seed for 35 hectares (86.45 acres) in the fall of 2002. By next spring, Matevos Sargsyan looked forward to a bountiful harvest of winter wheat.
“The wheat looks excellent, with good, healthy color,” Sargsyan said. “We applied fertilizer just once — in the spring, after the snow melted. Eltan is a great variety. The ‘Elite’ seed we obtained from ATG is very high quality. We are very grateful for our collaboration with ATG.”
With water sufficient to irrigate more than 800 hectares (1976 acres), Bagaran’s farmers are looking forward to greatly expanding wheat production. As participants in ATG’s seed multiplication program, Sargsyan and his partners are allowed to sell the remaining seed to other farmers after repaying ATG. “Our success means the success not only of Bagaran, but the neighboring villages of Yervandashat and Argina,” he said. “Entire families, young and old, are now working in our newly planted fields and orchards. There is now hope in Bagaran.”
While standing atop a plateau overlooking old Bagaran on the Turkish side of the Akhurian River, Vardan Sargsyan talked about his village: “The house where the tractor is parked is where my grandmother lived. She lived there until 1920. My uncle’s house is at the end of the street. Our family can be traced back 300 years.”
“When I see old Bagaran,” his brother, Matevos, added, “I think ‘Asdvadzadasht’ (field of God). I feel a great longing for Bagaran.”
Matevos Sargsyan farms with a purpose. “I want to be successful so I can stay in Bagaran,” he says. “And I want to show the Turks that they can’t destroy us, that by hard work we can stay on our land, the land of our ancestors. Now, we are growing wheat, the source of life, thanks to our new gift of water, and to our friends at ATG.”
For more information about how you can help Armenia’s farmers, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Tax-deductible donations can be sent to ATG; 1300 E. Shaw, Suite 149; P.O.Box 5969; Fresno, CA 93755-5969.
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