BY MARIA TITIZIAN
As we drove south from Yerevan toward the region of Syunik and arrived in Goris, we were greeted by spectacular rock formations jutting up toward the sky, hundreds of ancient cave dwellings, rolling hills and fields awash in a silvery winter mist, and snow-capped mountain ranges that seem to go on for an eternity.
Spending a few days there was not only about some rest and reprieve from the hectic pre- and post-New Year holiday season or the long and difficult year we had survived, it was also about spending time with family and friends and regaining some clarity of mind and spirit.
Goris has become an interesting part of our lives. Certainly its natural beauty, the gorgeous landscapes, the crystal clear air that allows you to breathe properly are all incentives to visit but more than that it’s the people we’ve met, the friendships we’ve forged and a particular family we’ve grown to love who lives in one of the surrounding villages of Goris called Karahunge. This village is not to be mistaken for the ancient Armenian Stonehenge called “Karahunge” near Sisian, but rather this particular village’s name derives from those very spire-like rock formations that surround it.
The village of Karahunge has many interesting characteristics and features. The village mayor, for example, is a woman. It is known throughout the country for its tuti oghi (mulberry vodka). Many residents have their own personal caves, which they use for storage or as rest-stops when they go to their fields to graze their animals or harvest their honey. It is also home to many interesting characters, some with colorful, even questionable nicknames.
There’s Silo Dadik who taught me how to make Ghapama, who proudly showed me how she makes tuti oghi, and took me to the caves right below their house where she stores her homemade juices, jams, and pickles including potatoes and onions to be used throughout the year. I helped her feed her many rambling chickens and she showed me her garden where she plants her herbs.
After our first visit there she sent me home with Goris’ famous chkhtutu (pickled beets), walnuts from their trees, homemade cheese and yogurt and a pure wool comforter. Silo’s son, Armen, is a village schoolteacher. The first time I met him he was bringing his cow home from the pasture after a long day of classes – it was a moving scene, the intelligent and distinguished schoolteacher, walking up a dusty path as the sun was setting behind him, leading his one cow to its tiny stable. During the many nights we’ve spent in their home around a dinner table brimming over with pork khorovats, homemade cheeses, salads and oghi, Armen spontaneously recites Charents or Sevak. Silo’s youngest son, Anto, is my husband’s friend and I do not use the word friend lightly for he is the embodiment of what it means to be a rock, an aghper, brother, mate…
And then there’s Geezh and Debil of Karahunge.
Debil is not stupid as his name implies. He’s quite industrious and a well-respected villager. He owns a flock of sheep and manages a decent living. No one can really remember the provenance of his nickname, but everyone in the village and surrounding area simply know him as Debil. His claim to fame was the time he opened fire on his future father-in-law’s house. As tradition dictates in Armenia, Debil had gone to his future wife’s parents to ask for her hand in marriage. The father of his beloved forbids it and sends Debil away. The next day, Debil gets his hunting rifle, walks with conviction to their house and opens fire. No one was hurt. He eventually marries the girl. They now happily tend to their sheep and family.
Geezh, whose real name is Suren, has six children, four girls and twin sons. When his wife went into labor with the twins, Geezh’s friends went to the cave where he stays in the summer months near his house to inform him that his wife was already at the hospital and that the doctor had said a caesarean was necessary. After calmly serving a round of tuti oghi, he told his friends that his wife had delivered four babies “on her own” (in his exacts words, “inkn ir khotov”) and this time around she would deliver on her own. When the village men were telling me this story, the look of consternation on my face was quite visible. After all, Geezh hadn’t given birth to four healthy girls, his wife had and how could he know what she needed? The villagers around the table assured me that the doctor wanted to perform a caesarean because he would get paid more and Geezh knew this. He went to the hospital, told the doctor that a c-section would not be necessary, thank you very much, because his wife had delivered four times “inkn ir khotov” and she would deliver naturally this time around. The continued look of alarm on my face prompted one of the villagers to say, don’t worry Mari jan (they never call me Maria, always Mari), she did deliver the twins “ir khotov,” so you see, a caesarean wasn’t necessary after all.
The caesarean incident aside, today, Geezh farms river fish for a living and manages to keep his family well-fed and clothed. It was during the Karabakh war that he earned his nickname. The village men around the table had all fought in the war together with Geezh. They recounted many stories of their experiences, under the influence of tuti oghi of course because otherwise they don’t talk much about the war. They told us that when they would be advancing on Azerbaijani posts, they would make sure they approached carefully, zigzaging along paths, making sure they were hidden behind trees and bushes, but Geezh would walk in a straight line toward the enemy posts with his rifle in his hand and his head held high. The villagers shake their heads and say it’s a miracle he was never shot.
During one of the heaviest battles, he and his fellow soldier were separated from their unit near Lachin. Making it back to base, Geezh realizes that his friend has not returned. He does not listen to his superior commander and makes his way back into the forests of Lachin to look for his lost comrade. Geezh wasn’t heard from for days; he doggedly searched the thick forest for his comrade, because alive or dead, he would bring him back home. A week later he returned to base with his injured friend in his arms. It’s a story the village men recount with pride and emotion. They tell us that the soldier Geezh saved returned once again to the battlefield after his wounds had healed and was eventually martyred. It was his destiny to shed his blood for the homeland they tell us.
These men and women of the village of Karahunge are full of life and humor and connection to the land to which they belong. They represent an important part of our nation; the farmer whose bounty reaches our tables in the big cities, the soldier who stares the enemy in the face with courage and honor, the men who stick to their convictions, the women who stand firm and tough against every difficulty both physical and spiritual, and the children of the villages whose purity of thought and mind shines through with every spoken word. It’s always an honor for me to break bread with these villagers, these men and women who restore my faith in this country and while I sometimes have difficulty following the thread of their conversations because of their dialect, their lives and stories can be seen with the eyes and felt with the heart of anyone who chooses to listen.