by Christopher Atamian
When Azerbaijan started bombing villages along the Tavush border in mid-July, many people in the Armenian diaspora and elsewhere mistakenly assumed that they were shelling a part of Artsakh. And looking out at any of the verdant valleys in Tavush, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were actually in Switzerland or some lost corner of paradise. But Tavush is in fact part and parcel of the Republic of Armenia proper, making Azerbaijan’s actions all the more provocative as they shattered any illusion that Armenia is not in danger of getting embroiled in an all-out war again. Located in the country’s northeastern edge and bordered by Georgia to the North and Azerbaijan to the East, Tavush is an ancient Armenian province. Its scenic capital of Ijevan–once an important rest stop on international trade routes–sits at the foothills of the Gugark Mountains, on the shores of the Aghstev River. The region measures just 2,704 km² (about one-fourth the size of Rhode Island) and on a good day has a population of just over 125,000 people.
Shelling from the other side of the border is nothing new to the farmers and other villagers who live in the region, some of whose families have been tilling the land from time immemorial. Two of its more isolated cities for example, Berd and Noyemberyan, regularly receive volleys of sniper shots from Azeri positions. As a result of this and other factors village men often leave to find work in Russia—predictably, many never return. Perhaps in desperation or out of a sense of duty, some have also signed up as contract soldiers and can be found at their military posts guarding the border—and this, for about $300 a month. This puts additional stress on the village women, who must tend to all domestic duties alone, from tilling gardens to caring for their animals, children and extended families. As a result of these precarious situations, Armenians in the region are more likely to have smaller families, which poses a demographic threat and becomes a national security issue.