Vatche Rides for Grapevines

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by Peter Ara Guekguezian

During Artsakh’s (Nagorno-Karabagh’s) war of independence from Azerbaijan, enemy troops laid waste to many of the area’s vineyards, some of which dated from ancient times. After the cease-fire, those who chose to stay in the land of their ancestors found these traditional sources of income lying desolate; land mines buried in the soil prevented any attempts at restoration. In addition, the remaining grape varieties were vulnerable to destructive parasites in the soil, including the pathogen phylloxera that devastated thousands of acres of vineyards. Taking stock of this dire situation, ATG Executive Director Varoujan Der Simonian and ATG-NK Representative Vladimir Zakiyan sought to provide Artsakh’s vinegrowers with high-quality grape varieties that could withstand the microbial onslaught. To this end ATG established the Grape Nursery Project.

Unfortunately, the grape nursery could not qualify for federal funding, as it focused on income generation, rather than immediate sustainance. Instead, the nursery had to rely solely on private donations. Luther Khachigian of Cal Western Nursery donated many of the rootstocks required to establish the nursery, but ATG was still short of funds to purchase all of the necessary inputs. Something special was needed to encourage sufficient funding from the private sector.

Help came in the form of Vatche Soghomonian, a life-long supporter of Armenian causes and an avid biker. Together, Vatche and Varoujan organized a “Bike-a-Thon” to raise money for the nursery. Though few foreigners visited Artsakh due to the ongoing hostilities, Vatche was more than eager to donate his time and effort to help his fellow Armenians. Vatche’s energy and commitment attracted a lot of supporters, many of whom sponsored his ride with pledge money. Vatche rode his bike from Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh, into the southern Armenian provinces of Syunik, Vayots Dzor, and Ararat, stopping at friendly places throughout the countryside to rest and enjoy the hospitality of the local populace. After two-and-a-half days, Vatche arrived in Yerevan, tired but enthusiastic. His ride was an instant success; the money from his sponsors more than met the amount needed for the nursery.

In 1999, fifty-four hundred (5,400) high-quality rootstocks, many of which were purchased by the money Vatche raised, were planted on ten acres of land owned by ATG-NK in the border village of Khramort, to establish a certified grape nursery. These initial plants provided not only seeds for vinegrowers but also cuttings that ATG-NK used to expand the nursery, giving Artsakh’s ancient vineyards a new lease on life. The nursery has concentrated on producing wine-making varieties that have great economic potential for the grape industry; in fact, ATG agronomists have calculated that every dollar invested in Artsakh’s vineyards increases local income fourteen times over!

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For more information about how you can help Artsakh’s vinegrowers, 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.