Nor Geghi -- ATG Helps Villagers Build Stronger Future
December 15, 2004
For additional photos related to this article, visit the ATG Photo Gallery.
Nor Geghi, Province of Kotayk, Armenia — In 1922, Tevos Arakelyan and his three brothers, young men who had recently escaped upheaval in their native Anatolia, arrived in this rocky, sloping area north of Yerevan. They traveled from a village of Tsakhkadzor, where they had lived for two years after reaching Eastern Armenia. “At that time, there was no village here, only barren, uncultivated land,” explained Frontik Tevosyan, one of Arakelyan’s three grandsons. “Along with his brothers, they founded Nor Geghi, which means ‘new village’ in Armenian.”
Arakelyan and his brothers cleared the land of rocks, then planted wheat and various kinds of fruit trees, including apples and apricots. “Tevos Babik (Grandfather Tevos) wasn’t afraid of hard work,” Tevosyan continued. “He was a big man, like me. I remember his smile, and his big mustache. A fine man.”
Over the years, many were drawn to the new settlement. Other villages sprang up, including Nor Artimet and Nor Hadjin, which became the area’s regional center. Villagers grew wheat, barley, and tree fruit, and also raised animals. “An agricultural college was opened in Nor Geghi in 1969,” Tevosyan said. “Our village was bustling, active. A great place to live.”
Then, in the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union and resulting shortages of fresh wheat and barley seed, machinery, and fuel caused severe hardships for farmers and villagers in the new region, called Nairi during the Soviet era. “Without good seed, wheat growers started experiencing extremely low yields,” Tevosyan said. Diseases associated with poor quality wheat seed became rampant. “Nor Geghi wheat farmers were desperate, he recalled. “Almost overnight, we were faced with a situation that seemed hopeless.”
Bold projects boost wheat production, area economy
Recognizing the tremendous obstacles confronting agriculture in Armenia, agronomists and technicians from the Fresno, California-based Armenian Technology Group (ATG) launched several projects in rural areas across the country, notably experimenting with new and improved varieties of wheat and other grains. Winter and spring varieties of wheat were planted, and studies were conducted to determine varieties suitable to Armenia’s varied climatic conditions. In regions throughout the country, ATG professionals and officials from the Armenian Agriculture Ministry conducted seminars and workshops, teaching the latest methods in the farming of wheat and other grains.
At a seminar in Echmiadzin, held in the summer of 1999, ATG agronomists Mkhitar Grigoryan and Hakop Ayvazyan concentrated on seedbed preparation and new techniques in planting wheat and other grains. Frontik Tevosyan, who attended the seminar with several farmers from the Nairi region, was impressed with the professionalism of the presentation. “Not only did they do a great job of teaching current methods in the cultivation of wheat,” he said, “but a new program was presented, working with refugees from the conflict in Karabagh.”
Approximately 1,000 refugees from Karabagh had settled in Nor Geghi, with most involved in animal-raising and vegetable farming. According to Tevosyan, the program initiated by ATG, which involved giving young fruit trees to the newcomers, helped them establish themselves in the economic life of the community. “Even though homes and plots of land were granted to the families when they arrived in the village, they had no means of purchasing or planting trees, which would help ensure economic success in their new home in Nor Geghi. We are all thankful to ATG for this program.”
After attending the seminar in Echmiadzin, Tevosyan met with Roger Culver, who was serving as ATG’s in-country director at the time. As a new program farmer, Tevosyan was provided with seed and allowed to repay ATG after harvest. “From the beginning, our relationship was excellent,” he said. “Agronomists from the Yerevan office visited frequently, as did Rudik Hovsepyan, ATG’s agronomist for the Kotayk region. They checked my fields during each stage, from preparing the land for sowing all the way to the fall harvest. [They are] a great organization.”
Tevosyan’s first planting of ‘Weston’ and ‘Bezostaya’ was a resounding success. From harvests that had fallen to between 1 and 1.5 metric tons per hectare, Tevosyan harvested 3.5 metric tons, a yield unheard of in Nor Geghi. “The second year, I planted ‘Nellie’, a variety new to our area,” he said. “We had some problems the first year due to rain, but after that, both yields and quality have been excellent, with harvests always around 3.5 metric tons.”
Attributing his successful harvests to timing, Tevosyan explains that the autumn sowing needs to be completed before September 20 in the Nairi region. “The plant has to be sprouted and have a good root system before the first snowfall,” he said. “In the spring, after the snow melts, an irrigation and application of fertilizer are needed to give the wheat plant the boost it requires for the growing season.”
Tevosyan’s meticulous farming practices are well known in Nor Geghi, with farmers often asking for advice or purchasing seed from his fields. “After repaying ATG, I sell the remaining seed to Nor Geghi and Nor Hadjin farmers,” he said. “It gives me a good income, and helps our farmers have good quality seed.” This wheat-growing season, Tevosyan cooperated with area farmers to eradicate field mice, a serious problem for grain farmers in many regions of Armenia. “When all farmers in a region work together, the mice have nowhere to go, and eventually die out,” he explained.
Pride, initiative spark village recovery
Serving as mayor of Nor Geghi since 1986, Tevosyan has worked with residents in solving issues ranging from home ownership to land disputes, continuing the legacy of his grandfather. “Tevos Babik worked well with people,” Tevosyan said. “I want to continue his work in Nor Geghi. I want everyone living here to live and work for the good of the village. Here, besides our new community that came from Karabagh, we have a small number of Yezidis. We are proud of the harmony in our village.”
Each day, as time permits, Tevosyan goes to his wheat fields and fruit orchards, checking crops and discussing business with his sons and others working on the farm, often staying to drive tractor or repair machinery. “My four sons work on our land, each taking care of a certain phase of the business,” he said. “I am happy, as I know Tevos Babik would be, that his grandsons are working here. Seven of his sons and grandsons are living and working in Nor Geghi.”
Tevosyan gives the professionals at ATG credit for his recent farming successes. “Without the good seed ATG has provided, and the advice of people like Mkhitar Grigoryan and Rudik Hovsepyan, I don’t know how we could have done all this,” he said. “With our added income, we have grown from farming five hectares of wheat to 15. I appreciate our collaboration.”
Pointing at a hill on the outskirts of Nor Geghi, Tevosyan told about the new church residents hope to build. “The church will be on the spot where three villages meet, so everyone in the Nairi region can attend,” he said. “My dream is to have all the streets paved in our village, and to improve the water system. But most of all, I want a church in Nor Geghi.”
For more information about how you can help Armenia’s farmers, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail (email@example.com). 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.