Margara is often not the first place that comes to one’s mind when talking about Armenia. There are beautiful landscapes and natural wonders, ancient monasteries and other historical sights scattered throughout this small country however what lies along the controversial border is what might be just as interesting. Margara has really no historical significance and surely will not be at the top or even on a tour’s itinerary at all, this relatively reclusive village holds its own unique past and present. The border village of Margara is located 19km south of Ejmiatzin and has a relatively small population which survives off of exporting local agricultural products like most rural villages in Armenia. The village can be accessed by bus which runs 2 times a day and takes approximately 25 minutes. It is situation along a controversial border crossing the Alican (Yakarialican) border crossing which is the closest border crossing to Yerevan and is situated along the Araks river. The Armenian-Turkish border has been closed since 1968 and has a buffer zone between the two countries and patrolled by Russian military. The local people say that they like the Russian military presence there, children said that during holidays they give them gifts and candy. Russia’s presence along the border in a way gives Armenians living on the border a piece of mind that they will be protected in-case of any provocation from the Turkish side, or in order words Turkey would not even attempt such an act of aggression with Russian military presence.
Immediately stepping foot into Margara you get the sense that someone is watching you. The cows are watching from the fields, the storks from above, the chickens in the streets and the people watching you from their windows or cars. Word goes around fast here when there are new visitors and most residents are more suspicious but for good reason since there are multiple accounts each month of individuals attempting to illegally cross the border from Turkey into Armenia. One of the biggest questions that floats around is should the border with Turkey be reopened which could have a positive impact on border villages like Margara. Food and other goods from Turkey still are surprisingly imported into Armenia by air or a third-party country. The purpose of this photo story was to gain a better understanding of the situation along the border and how people live there as well as their opinions on the changes taking place in the country.
Svetlana is the mother of the household who lives with her husband, mother in-law, children and grandchild, a total of 3 generations. She is half Ukrainian, but she said she has never visited Ukraine before even though she has been asked multiple times to go and visit family there. Over the course of 2 visits I discovered that there were a small population of Ukrainian Armenians living there as well as Yezidis. Svetlana was wearing a sweatshirt that caught my attention because it has an image of my favorite animal, a timber wolf. I found this to be ironic because during the bus ride to Margara I was discussing which were my favorite animals.
Every year in September Svetlana makes wine, the traditional way by stepping on the grapes, like what my grandmother used to do in Italy growing up. Her home is filled with large open spaces and beautiful natural light, you can even see a clear view of Mount Ararat where it looks so close you can reach out the window and touch it. On the lower level of her home is filled with empty glass jars for canning food as well as food that has already been canned like tomatoes, peppers, and fruits.
Vardush, Svetlana’s mother in-law, said she does not trust the Turks when asked about whether the border should be reopened again or not. She added that they are already receiving Turkish products so why not re-open it because it would help Margara and other border villages residents giving them a chance to prosper and develop. Vardush is a stern but gentle and loving woman who speaks her mind, these people felt like family to me as soon as a stepped inside their home. Svetlana could understand a good amount of English but was not confident in her speaking skills. She said that every day they can hear the call to prayer from the Turkish side, she said “it’s like they are our neighbors that we never see.” In the past on April 24th (Genocide Memorial Day) she claimed that there is happy music playing from the Turkish side, like a day of celebration for them.
Those who live in Margara like Svetlana say people have even found gold there dating back to the ancient times. When you arrive here you get a feel for something has happened here, significant things throughout history. It is ancient land where grapes are grown which are so purple, they are almost black in color. The soil is rich in nutrients and is perfect for farming, hence why the agriculture is the main import here (anything from cucumbers to Apricots and everything in-between).
While walking along the border earlier in the day I met a man in a blue truck with his young daughter who kindly asked what I was taking photos of and warned to be careful because we could be stopped. I asked if we could get a ride back the other direction from him and he said yes, no problem hop in.
Life on the border is no more different than any other Armenian village on the outside it seems normal but deep down the mentality and psyche of locals is different than anywhere else. Maybe it’s because they have some strange distant connection with those villages on the other side of the border that were once joined prior to 1968. The many challenges that face those living along the border today might just become a distant memory later in the future.