Khramort — ATG Collaboration Rejuvenates Karabagh Village

Khramort -- ATG Collaboration Rejuvenates Karabagh Village

December 7, 2003

by Andranik Michaelian

Khramort, Askeran Province, Karabagh — In 1992, as fighting raged throughout Nagorno-Karabagh, soldiers from Azerbaijan seized Khramort, an Armenian village not far from Khojalou and Aghdam, in the province of Askeran. The women, children, and elderly all fled to Stepanakert, while the young men stayed in the mountains overlooking the village.

In June 1993, the Armenians of Khramort retook their ancestral village. When they returned, however, not a single home was left standing; all had been burned or destroyed by cannon fire. The ancient mulberry orchards stood mostly in ruin and the vineyards were in a state of extreme neglect. Without a means of income, many left the village. Khramort was in a dire situation: its very existence was in question.

ATG assists Karabagh’s economic recovery

In 1996, less than a year after the end of hostilities in Karabagh, the Armenian Technology Group (ATG) initiated several projects to help Karabagh’s farmers and villagers rebuild the republic’s devastated agricultural economy, which had been shattered by nearly a decade of war with neighboring Azerbaijan. Since 1992, ATG had been working with farmers all over Armenia, experimenting with new wheat and barley varieties and conducting seminars and workshops to teach new techniques for farming wheat and other crops.

In Karabagh, besides initiating a 3,000-hive honey project to help revive the beekeeping industry, ATG worked with local farmers and agronomists, experimenting with new wheat varieties suitable to the local soil and climate. As in Armenia, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, pure, untainted “Mother Seed” was almost impossible to find. The devastating effects of war further complicated the situation. ATG’s Wheat Seed Project, having already taken root in fields all over Armenia, then moved on to Karabagh as well.

ATG delegation selects Khramort

To insure the progress and success of the Wheat Seed Project in Karabagh, ATG decided to centralize its work in an area where high-quality wheat could be grown; thence, they could make the seed available to farmers all over Karabagh. A delegation of ATG agronomists and scientists, led by the late Dr. Art Hazarabedian, came to Karabagh in 1997. After traveling all over the republic, they chose the village of Khramort to center their project.

According to Vladimir Zakiyan, ATG’s director of operations in Karabagh, climate was an important factor in their choice. “The climate and soil of Khramort are ideal for wheat and grape production,” he said. “But the final decision was based on saving Khramort. With homes, vineyards, and orchards all in ruin, there was no hope in the village.”

In 1998, ATG rented 40 hectares of an abandoned vineyard near Khramort and began clearing the land. Arkady Khachatryan, who had fought bravely in defense of his village, was chosen as farm manager. “We cleared off bushes, shrubs, and rocks,” he said. “At least 30 of us worked day and night.” In an amazingly short period of time, the vineyard was cleared, cultivated, and ready for a fall planting of wheat. Six of the new American varieties, supplied by ATG, were planted.

Grape nursery founded

During the war, the famous wine and table grape vineyards of Karabagh were left untended, nearly bringing production to a halt. To help restore this important industry, ATG financed a grape nursery on 10 hectares of rented land near Khramort. “Khramort has the perfect climate for growing grapes,” Khachatryan stressed. “And the soil is rich, some of the most fertile in Karabagh.”

To start the nursery, ATG arranged the shipment of 5,400 phylloxera-resistant rootstocks, donated by Luther Khachigian of Cal Western Nursery of Visalia, California. In Karabagh, ATG specialists had discovered the presence of phylloxera, an insect that attacks and destroys the roots of a vine. After grafting the desired variety onto the disease-resistant rootstock, the resulting vine is healthy and free of phylloxera’s damaging effects.

The farmers and villagers of Khramort are experts at grafting. After using a special cutting tool, a short, healthy cane in inserted into the rootstock, which is then buried in river sand and left until spring. “The work is very precise, and must be done on time for best results,” Khachatryan explained. “For this reason, as many as fifty people work side-by-side to complete the work on time.”

In March, the cuttings are removed from the sand and stored in an area with no less than 90% humidity. A special heating process insures harmful microbes and diseases are destroyed. When new buds appear, the cuttings are placed in the soil and covered above the spot where the cuttings are joined. This work, including the heating process, is completed in a warehouse where wheat is stored. “Better facilities are needed,” Khachatryan said. “We hope this problem can be solved soon.”

Nursery success boosts Khramort

A lush three-year-old vineyard started from the original phylloxera-resistant rootstock stands on land where bushes, rocks, and even land mines were cleared. Farmers from all over Karabagh now choose from twelve varieties of wine grapes and six varieties of table grapes, including “Khdoghni,” an old variety endemic to Karabagh. All varieties are carefully numbered and labeled. To make sure the vineyard is properly irrigated, ATG financed the digging of a 90-meter well. Working with both the Department of Agriculture and the Prime Minister, the nursery has become the foundation for the recovery of Karabagh’s grape industry.

The income generated from the ATG-financed nursery has given a tremendous boost to the families of Khramort. “Before ATG started working in Khramort, we had no hope for the future of the village,” Khachatryan said. Now over 50 men and women from Khramort work in the nursery and the wheat fields, providing an income to nearly all families there. “We will never forget the war, and those we lost. But now we are working for our future, and the future of our village.”

Adjacent to a small plot of land, huge stumps remain as reminders of the mulberry orchard that once thrived here. The field, carefully leveled and cultivated in preparation for an autumn sowing of “Stevens” wheat, is nestled against the mountains overlooking Khramort. Provided by ATG, “Stevens” gives yields of up to 3.5 metric tons per hectare – excellent in the rain-fed fields of Khramort.

Vrej Melkoumyan, who maintains the combine, tractors, and other farm machinery, lost his father and a brother during the defense of Khramort. “After the war, I wanted to leave Khramort,” he says. “Now, thanks to ATG, our village is alive. Everyone is working, and rebuilding their homes destroyed during the war.”

Vladimir Zakiyan, who works closely with the Armenians of Khramort, sees a special reason for assisting the recovery of the village. “Not only are these good, hard-working people,” he says, “but villages like this are the backbone of Armenia. Keeping them strong shows the world we cannot be defeated. If we lose Khramort, we lose Stepanakert. If we lose Stepanakert, we lose Armenia.”

This attitude, combined with foresight, perseverance, and hard work, will surely bring continued success and hope for the once-hopeless Armenians in Khramort.

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.