16 July 2013, 12:55
2313 |

Inside Height

Is there a starting point for the memory? Perhaps once there was, but now it has been lost in the fathomless eyes of the old people of Mets Tagher — busy with playing cards in the main square. Wearing tweed jackets, holding walking sticks, with old-fashioned caps covering their heads they count out the unhurried village time in sets of cards laid on a wooden table. I have a feeling that if I say a word this beautiful picture will disappear like a mirage. However, this almost illusory scene of leisurely midday card game is what I’ve had as the first and the truest impression of Mets Tagher. Moving quickly around the table, Vadik Danileyan — the Head of the local Community — is measuring a completely different time. He seems impatient to show us the village acquisition of the recent years as well as what has always been its pride. Walking up and down the narrow streets we are heading toward meeting the memory.

In Tea Veritas
Can the exact time of the idea born be identified? Perhaps it was the moment when Gagik Voskanyan of Tagher was nailing a wall to hang an old photograph in the new tea-house? Though the very essence of the idea is so fresh and harmonic that it seems to be an always existing one. The certain thing is that almost 10 years ago in an old house in Mets Tagher there was a tea-house opened, with carpets to cover the floors and old-time photographs to be hung on the walls. And it was the beginning, the first part of the road of “Mets Tagher toward the World.” In several years the village saw a different life.
— We thought that in order tourists have a better vision of Karabakh, they must come to a village. Moreover, a village where traditions of Artsakh are kept. We call it ethno-tourism. They can even stay here for some time. Of course, there were things that needed renovation; some other things needed to be rebuilt. Soon there was an endowment fund established by our fellow-villagers — now living in different parts of the world, — says Gagik Voskanyan, the Executive Director of the Foundation.
Another thing is that there are no hotels built in Mets Tagher. The villagers eagerly accepted the idea for attracting tourists. The rooms for rent are offered in the houses of the locals. The new source of income turned to be a perfect opportunity to show the true Karabakh hospitality. Apropos of this, we are treated to tea in a generous Karabakh way when a huge tea-pot and a bowl of candies and lump sugar are placed on the table. Gagik ad Vladik tell us the stories of the photos on the walls. They say that as soon as the idea of hanging them was born, the villagers happily raked the old chests. And, indeed, the photographs are in a significant number.
— You can see my grand-grand-father on that one — says Gagik — he celebrated his 121st birthday, can you imagine that? My father is younger than him for a total of hundred years. A century! And they used to work together tirelessly. Such a strong person he was.
I look intently at the picture of a dark-haired serious man — it is almost impossible to determine how old he was when this photograph was taken. It is typical to long-livers — there comes a time when counts are far away from being kept in numbers.
After our tea party, we are headed to the smithy — another old house in Tagher. It has a doorplate with a dozen of blacksmiths’ names who used to work here. Written in their memory.
On the whole, handicrafts were rather developed in the village, — says Vladik — ceramics, wood carving, tinning, carpet making. But blacksmiths were most demanded. For that very reason the first thing we restored was the smithy. Today, the blacksmith of Tagher works in the same way as his precedents used to work 100 years ago — with no automation at all. Traditions are more important than speed, especially when the question comes to attracting tourists.
— Take on an apron — says the red-cheeked blacksmith — we’ll make a lucky horseshoe for you.
And this is how I managed to be involved in the process of horseshoe making. I was entrusted with the easiest part — pumping air into a forge. The whole process was only three minute long — and only because of my sluggishness. The horseshoe came with stamped M&T initials, meaning Mets Tagher. My personalized luck has coordinates — always to remember where to go after it again.

Old new mode
The first sign of my luck appeared when we were offered to have some food. A brand-new, recently built traditional kitchen, right here… the word “nearby” is, probably, inappropriate. Everything is so close here, that you don’t need meters to measure the distance. The smithy-kitchen distance means four moms with their children, three houses, thirteen steps and a short dialogue.
— How long have you been in the position of the Community Head?
— For 13 years already. Actually, I’m a mathematician, educated in Yerevan. Then I moved here for family reasons, taught in a school, fought in the war. I was chosen in late 90s, –says Vladik.
— How do you like it?
— In fact it doesn’t matter. Many years ago I chose what I like — and it was mathematics. Then, the thing I was supposed to do chose me. Therefore, my work in Mets Tagher is a real karma.
You never know where your dreams will take you. But probably it is even harder to foretell what fate has in plans.
Here is the kitchen. Its log style makes it more like a balcony looking out over a gorge. It was built only recently. Here you can see how meals of Karabakh are made, if you want to. The stove with almost boiling khashil on it is also here. However, the smell of food is practically insensible because of something with much stronger smell.
— It’s flyush, – Vadik and Gagik say in one voice.
Having noticed our confusion, they decide to better show it to us once, than try to describe it for hundred times. It turns out that in Artsakh the word “flyush” is an equivalent to fermenting mulberry — the raw material used for making mulberry vodka. Here this kind of vodka is made right on site — in the house built in the late 17th century which in due time practically went underground. Later it was discovered and restored. Even designers and historians were invited in order to carry on a proper restoration keeping all traditions of that time. As soon as the works were competed, the “factory”– the word used by the locals for the home-distilled vodka apparatus — was put into operation. After some time the vodka became so popular among the visitors that it was decided to start a bottled production. We managed to see the first lot of the homemade Tagher vodka accurately bottled and labeled, but we were treated right from the apparatus. There is some magic in the first drop of just made vodka. Or, maybe, it seems so because of the alcoholic steams that strongly saturate the air and tune to that kind of mystical mode. Besides, after spending some time breathing the air of this house, the probability of getting more fuddled drinking vodka is hardly strong. Well, this was what I thought before empting a nicely-smelling glass. A slight dizziness suggested an idea of the necessity to have an instruction on the bottles of Karabakh homemade vodka saying “Careful when drinking!”
— It is made right for that, to get tipsy and have fun! — laughs Vadik.
Along with it, we are offered kachap soup — sort of greens growing only in Karabakh — khashil, and pickles. In a couple of minutes, the crispy Karabakh bread appears on the table. Tonratun — the room where bread is baked — is also a traditionally necessary facility. It is built next to the kitchen.
After dinner we took a walk which brought us to the place where it all started for me. In the new square of Mets Tagher, which I had already nicknamed as “Sicilian”, the same old people were playing cards. The transparent morning light turned to twilight, but trump clubs were still beating the ace of diamonds played by an elderly neighbor, which meant that not much had changed for the village residents. The Head of the Village Community, Vadik Danielyan, made his way through the tables to the place overlooking every house of Mets Tagher and every street Vadik — for 13 years already — bears responsibility for either by the choice of the people or by Providence.
Mets Tagher is seeing global changes and the villagers set great hopes on them.

Catchers in Mets Tagher
On the way to Mets Tagher, the road reminded me of a runway: I had a persistent sensation that the world would end at the next turn and the heaven would start. The concept of height is the first association with Mets Tagher. Later, as soon as you enter the village, you realize that height is not just a geographical indicator here but the pivot — firmly settled in the very essence of these people. They suffered poverty and went through the war, got back on their feet and shaped a goal they steadily come closer and closer to. And higher is the goal, straighter are their backs and wider are their steps, as they know exactly what it means to have the inside height.

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