On 9 June 2018 we took a 231-kilometer drive which lasted around 3 hours to the annual Sheep Shearing Festival located outside of the village of Khot in Syunik Province. Syunik province is Armenia’s second-largest region however it is one of the least populated. In the late 1980s the population dropped significantly after ethnic fighting forced the Azeri minority living there to flee to nearby northern Iran and Azerbaijan. This drop in the population led to a decrease in production and a questionable future for the region as it relies heavily on agriculture production for income and development.
The festival took place at the Syunik Animal Market which was established in 2015 as a means to solve many problems Syunik and other nearby regions face. It consists of 4 branches including animal trade services for traders and farmers from other regions throughout the country, administrative and business support, animal care, breeding supplies, veterinary medicine and equipment for land cultivation, and last serves as a catering facility offering traditional dishes that are prepared with fresh food from the local farms. The Annual Sheep Shearing Festival held each year is used as an opportunity to promote and build tourism and also make local products, and traditions more recognizable.
Agriculture is one of the most important sectors of the Armenian economy and the country is known for the export of its sheep mainly to Iran and Arab countries. In 2013 around 30,000 were exported to Iran which encouraged farmers to breed sheep leading to the increased profits of their farms. While driving along the highways throughout the country you will most certainly come across more than one shepherd herding his sheep or cows while riding on a horse as his Gampr dog keeps the livestock in line and moving.
The drive was a beautiful one with rolling green hills that mimicked the cliché backgrounds that came with a Windows computer during the 1990s and early 2000s. Just around every corner was a picturesque scene asking to be photographed. The air was cool, crisp, clean and refreshing from the heavy and humid city air that I encounter every day in the city. Along the way we stopped at a roadside shop/restaurant that sells homegrown produce and meals prepared with that produce. An elderly woman at number 3 greeted us with friendly and welcoming eyes, we then decided to sit down and have a quick breakfast. Our meal consisted of delicious sweet Sujuk, fluffy eggs, tasty raspberry wine (a first for me), lavash, and the usual coffee and tea. The woman like many people in Armenia mistaken me for an Armenian after attempting to have a drawn-out conversation with me she was surprised to find out that I was not.
As we entered Syunik province cloudy skies and rain clouds began to replace the bright blue skies and sunshine. After parking the car and stepping outside it was like stepping into a new world. The environment at the festival was like remnants of what was seen during the previous month with weeks of protests of the Velvet Revolution which brought Armenians together. Strangers dancing together was like a flashback to the same people dancing together in the streets one month ago on May 9.
The Annual Sheep Shearing Festival held each year is used as an opportunity to promote and build tourism and also make local products, and traditions more recognizable. Included in the festival this year was the sheep shearing competition which was organized into 3 different rounds, exhibitions with locals selling their products, competitions and games, live music, dancing, and a rope walker.
The actual sheep shearing event was broken down into three different competitions which I found particularly interesting. The sheep didn’t seem to mind, they were quiet and lethargic, most likely because they were fed earlier. Sheep Shearing in Armenia has been a tradition for hundreds of years and serves several purposes. One importance of sheep shearing is that it is a way collect wool for the production of wool products like carpets, and secondly it helps to keep the sheep cool from the blistering summer heat.
The festival reminded me of something like a cross between a circus excluding the animals and a community festival without the rides. There were dozens of booths lined up surrounding the main stage where the shearing event took place with locals from nearby regions selling their produce and products. As the day began to whine down something clicked inside me and that is the importance of these festivals that many people do not even realize exist. Events like these large or small are what bring communities together, promote awareness, and lead to better future for all citizens.
On the drive back home we made a quick stop at Shaki Waterfall located just outside of Sisian. It was formed by basalt lava flows flows millions of years ago and is at a height of 18 meters.