July 30, 2004
Vacation Armenian Style: Living the dacha life
By Julia Hakobyan
For more than 20 years summer holiday has meant a cottage in Karashamb for
the Stepanyan family of Yerevan.
The family stays in the village almost every weekend in summer, enjoying the
pure mountainous air and the coolness of a fruit garden, where the hammock,
swimming pool and a brazier for barbeque provide a break from the working
“Most of all we enjoy the gardening,” says Areg Stepanyan, 35 “and relaxing
taking care of fruit trees and flowers.”
The story of the family dacha, (as Armenians call the summer cottages) goes
back to Soviet times, when in 1983 Areg’s father Vigen Stepanyan, got a plot
of land in the unsettled area of Karashamb, 35 kilometers north of Yerevan
in the Kotayk region. Stepanyan, an employee of the Yerevan Computer
Research and Development Institute was granted land for building summer
houses along with 500 other employees of their Institute. Despite the area
was bare and rocky the families decided to convert the desert into a cozy
spot of comfort.
Dachas are built in all regions of Armenia and many Armenians are fond of
spending weekends far from the noisy and dusty city during the hot summer
season. Some come for fresh air, others for weekend parties, and others,
like the Stepanyans, for gardening.
The seasonal homes are as diverse as the occupants and range from sparse,
modest hovels to luxurious Western-styled villas.
Dacha season starts with the first warmth of summer and concludes with the
return of school and the cool breaths of Autumn.
“It is hard to believe than some 20 years ago nothing looked like it does
here today,” Areg says. “And it’s hard to believe that we made the stones
Areg was 14 when he saw the area of future summer residences. “It was a huge
trench surrounded by mountains, where there was no water, no soil, and even
the weeds hardly made a way to grow.”
Too much harvest for one family
It took the Stepanyans and other families some 10 years to build houses and
lay out gardens.
Today the area where the academicians breathed life into desert is
captivating and every weekend from the two-storied wide-roofed houses buried
in verdures are heard the joyful voices of people inspired by their
“Some people come to dacha only for barbeque, but not us,” Areg says. “We
love gardening and come here for gardening. My late father put so much
effort in each tree that gardening is now rather a family tradition.”
In summer season Areg, his family, his sister’s family and their mother come
to the dacha each weekend, and each week they leave it with buckets full of
cherries, apricots, peach, currants, and other fruits.
“We can buy it all from the market, but it is so much pleasure eating fruits
from your own tree,” says Areg’s mother Sonya.
The Stepanyans say that a harvest from a garden of 500 sq. m. is too much
for both families even after they make jams for winter and they gladly give
the fruits to their neighbors and friends.
We often invite our friends to spend a night or two in the dacha. When our
guests learn that we have a big garden and apart from having fun have to
take care of it many say ‘Oh, no, do we have to work too? We don’t like
gardening.’ But once they enter a garden they start to work,” says Sonya.
“Some see the dry trees and want to water them; others see branches cracking
with fruit. They confess that gardening is really a relaxing procedure and
it makes people feel very close to nature.”