Khundzoresk — Rebirth in a Forgotten Paradise

July 13, 2005

by Andranik Michaelian

Khundzoresk, Province of Syunik, Armenia — Rubik Sardaryan stood at the threshold of his ancestral home in Old Khundzoresk, where Armenians lived for centuries in cave dwellings dotted along the rocky cliffs. “This is where I was born,” he said. “My grandmother’s house is next to the church above the road.” Sardaryan pointed at a jagged peak that reached high into the sky. “That is Mkhitar Sparapet’s castle,” he said. “Sparapet and Davit Bek fought for an independent Armenian state in the 18th century.”

A stream runs by Sardaryan’s home. Branches of wild plum trees, now in full bloom, nearly cover the large St. Hripsime church, and a small wooden hut rests alongside a small plot of land next to the stream. “The caves were ideal,” he continued. “Warm in the winter, cool in the summer. And, the area served as a natural fortress. No enemy could penetrate Old Khundzoresk, all the way back to Tamerlane, and before.”

Rubik Sardaryan and the Armenians of Old Khundzoresk left the area in 1957 and constructed a village on the flat area above the caves. As in the past, village farmers continued tending cattle, goats, and sheep, while cultivating their expansive, rolling fields of wheat and barley. Sardaryan received an education in agricultural economics. In 1985, he became chief agronomist for the region of Goris, which includes Goris, Sissian, and Khundzoresk. In 1997, the area he served was expanded to include the entire province of Syunik, which reaches south to Meghri and the border with Iran. “I feel a part of this area,” he said. “A week doesn’t go by when I don’t pass through every wheat field in Syunik.”

On his own fields, located just east of Khundzoresk, Sardaryan plants wheat and barley. “This past autumn, I obtained seed from agronomists working for the Armenian Technology Group (ATG),” he said. “We have collaborated successfully for over 10 years now. I know I can count on them to supply me with the highest quality seed in Armenia.”

Sardaryan first planted wheat for ATG in 1994, when ATG agronomists from the United States distributed seed to farmers throughout Armenia in a major program that became known as the Wheat Seed Project. The project was funded mainly by the US Agency for International Development. In 1996, Sardaryan became ATG’s chief agronomist for the Goris region. “From the beginning, we worked well together,” he said. “Gagik Mkrtchyan and Roger Culver, who headed ATG projects in Syunik, visited our farmers often. They are a very professional organization.”

Project success leads to new seed agency

Sardaryan checked the growth in a small experimental plot planted last fall by professionals from the Yerevan-based Seed Producers Support Association (SPSA). Founded by ATG in 1998, the organization provides Elite seed to SPSA farmers, who in turn provide the resulting first-generation seed to growers throughout Armenia.

Using a special wooden board with metal spikes, SPSA agronomist Vaghinak Karmrastyan planted several varieties of spring wheat and barley. In each hole formed by the spikes, he placed one seed. “By sowing each seed separately, we will be better able to see the health of the plant, and how many husks it produces,” Karmrastyan explained. “This is important to help decide which varieties are best suited to each region.” As he planted the seed, SPSA executive director Gagik Mkrtchyan and director of operations Armen Asatryan prepared ground to plant additional varieties, including ATGF 35-16, Shirak 1, and Shirak 2. “The work the SPSA team is conducting here is invaluable,” Sardaryan said. “By planting the best new varieties available on the market, our success here in Khundzoresk is assured.”

Sardaryan planted two hectares of Bezostaya and one hectare of Dadash for SPSA last fall. “The plants are healthy and green,” he said. “We will be able to provide area farmers good first-generation seed, which can be hard to find in Khundzoresk and nearby Tegh village. This will help our farmers tremendously.”

Reminders of war

While driving on a winding dirt road through the rolling wheat fields of Khundzoresk, Sardaryan stopped at a newly sprouted field. “This is first-generation Bezostaya,” he said, walking into the field. “The plants are healthy. It looks like it will make a good harvest.” On a flat area separated by a stream, a farmer applied herbicide in a plot of barley. “This is the perfect time for herbicide, before the plant is too tall,” he explained. “Otherwise, the plant can be damaged.”

Sardaryan gazed into the distance, toward the border and neighboring Azerbaijan. A cannon pointed east, in the direction of the border. “One day,” Sardaryan remembered, “my brother was firing the cannon in the direction of a hill where Azeris were bombarding Goris and Khundzoresk. There was so much smoke around the cannon, and so many bullets flying, we thought my brother had been killed. Somehow, he made it out alive.” He shook his head. “During the war with Azerbaijan, we suffered tremendously in our village. Several were killed by Azeri cannon fire. But we continued sowing our wheat fields, even in the worst days of the war. Our land runs all the way up to the border, which made our work very dangerous.”

On a green slope leading down to a dry creek bed, the rusted remains of a combine served witness to his words. “While harvesting his field, the farmer drove over a land mine. It blew up the combine and killed him instantly. We left the combine where it was hit, to honor the farmer and the work he was doing.”

A hawk was perched on a dry tree overlooking the creek bed. On a mountaintop, a cow grazed as a shepherd tried to lead the animal back to the herd. “The worst thing that happens to our crops here is wind,” Sardaryan said. “It can be devastating. If the seed hasn’t sprouted, the wind can dry out the land, and frost can ruin the wheat. If the wind is strong enough, it can even blow the seed from the ground. Once, in late autumn, Gagik and I were checking our fields, and the wind spread seeds all over the dirt road.”

As a farmer, Rubik Sardaryan exemplifies the tie the people of Khundzoresk have with their land. “When I enter a wheat field, I feel great satisfaction,” he said. “I live for that field, until harvest. I feel the same if the field is mine, or someone else’s. I always do what I can for the success of our farmers. Working with the professionals at ATG, we are moving in the right direction. In the autumn of 1998, Gagik Mkrtchyan and I picked up a load of fertilizer in Kapan, and drove all the way to Khramort, in Karabagh, where ATG has a program with wheat and grape growers. We arrived at two a.m., and started unloading the fertilizer. We finished at daybreak. When Vladimir Zakyan, ATG’s director in Karabagh, saw what we had done, he was in shock.”

Sardaryan smiled. “My dream is for people in Armenia to live well,” he said. “For the Armenian government and nation to take its rightful place among the nations of the world. Most of all, I wish for peace.”

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.