Kalavan residents upgrade their village on their own
Amrkher village, formerly fully resided by Azeri people, again turned into an Armenian populated one throughout Artsakh war, it was renamed as well, now it is the prospering Kalavan. As said by the villagers, this village located at the “edge of the world”, started to “get revived”, when the villagers got a dream.
Kalavan resident Robert Ghukasyan was 9 years old, when his family was displaced from Azerbaijan’s Sumgayit city: he says he remembers those cases, but does not feel hostility towards the Azeri people, they were political “games”. Robert proves by his example that if one loves his village very much, he will develop it. As soon as he starts to tell about the village, he notes first and foremost that it was an Armenian village, they started to populate it with Azeri people in 1800s, back then even Azerbaijan as a state and nation did not exist.
During the years of war the Armenians started to resettle in this village of Gegharkunik province, they came from several villages of Azerbaijan’s Shamkhor region. 113 residents live in the village, 3 families from Yerevan have settled in Kalavan, surrounded by forests. Entering Kalavan, it is difficult to believe that it is a developing community: abandoned and destroyed houses are all around, these destroyed houses have been Azerbaijani people’s houses, but they, as Robert says, are interesting to the tourists similarly. Robert has succeeded to turn the flaws of the village into places of tourists’ interest. Today Kalavan is one of the world best places for adventure and ecotourism and Robert has accomplished this in simply a few years, he has brought his plan and dream to life in 2014.
Kalavan is visited from various countries, even Peru and Chile, Australia and Israel. Robert Ghukasyan says, this is not tourism development, this is community development which encompasses all fields.
Archaeologist and zooarchaeologist Robert runs “Time Land” foundation through which they have generated ideas for the development of the village. “I have traveled a lot, but every time, for example, being at the center of Paris, I wanted to return to my village do something good. I did not expect where I would reach, I did not have an idea of neither tourism, nor community development. But I succeeded, I started and after a year Kalavan village became rather famous”, tells Robert.
Asked how he started, Robert answered: “With 20 USD. My friends came, we built a Stone Age shelter in the forest and had dinner. And the idea came out. I made out the game Mammoth. The tourists come here and start to live with the life of Stone Age people. They make fire by themselves, make tools and build Stone Age shelter.
Last year Kalavan received 2500 tourists. Robert had to sell his cow to have means to participate in the International Conference in Alaska and present the village. After this visit, the village had a demand of 10.000 tourists. “Now we have given a pause, we cannot receive 10.000 tourists, we should receive cheap loans from Small and Medium Entrepreneurship Development National Center and build the guesthouses, that is – the villagers will make their houses resemble guesthouses and we will receive a lot of guests 2018 onwards again”, tells Robert.
The launch of the village’s development was not difficult, as Robert says, they started to examine human resources and the villagers did not need to have knowledge of computer or foreign language, good knowledge of flora and fauna and of making tasty dishes and tea from plants was enough.
“And an important thing is that the villagers understood that they are a value and not a voice”, says Robert.
The villagers, all of them are engaged in the field of tourism, one takes the tourists to the village by his Vilis, the other makes tasty dishes, the 3rd one receives tourists in his house, the 4th one knows the surrounding well, recognizes the birds by each tweet, tells the tourists about the location, nature and animals during the hikes. Robert says, the women of the village have a special talent, they make 102 types of dishes from the plants: “The tourists are attracted by the harmony between the humans and nature in our village. The visitors can recognize the edible plants and get acquainted with preparation method. We have non-standard hikes, dance of the Caucasian grouses, during which we see the grouse from the Red Book.”
Entrepreneurs’ and oligarchs’ entry is banned in Kalavan: Robert says the villagers strictly refuse the investments of the foreigners: “They will come and think solely of their business, provide their income, and that will not have an influence on the living standard of the villager, even if they work in the hotel built by them. And via our community development program, every villager should be involved and have his work. We refuse other investments forasmuch as we have a dream and will realize it by ourselves. We refuse, because we have made a “chocolate” village by our inner resources, and the businessman will come and provide his income based on that? Business will contaminate the village. Strangers have nothing to do in here, we will do everything on our own.”
The road to the village is difficult to pass, ruined, no asphalt is in place, it is again a Stone Age road. Robert says it does not upset the tourists: “This is the very weak side that we have converted into a competition privilege. When one knows s/he goes to a heavenly place… the asphalt can never lead to a heavenly place.”
Asked whether they will replace the Vilis taking the tourists to the village by Jeep one day, Robert replied: “At the very second when Vilis is replaced by Jeep, the interest of the village will disappear.”
Even the uncultivated lands of Kalavan have turned into a competition advantage for the development of the village: Robert says, when people have not cultivated the lands maybe from laziness, maybe from hopelessness, they have not filled the soil with pesticides, they have created ideal conditions for organic agriculture. Kalavan has received now a 3-year grant for the organic agriculture development – they do beekeeping and gardening, grow raspberries.
“Not a community exists which has not a development opportunity, they simply have to use the human resources correctly and appreciate people”, says Robert. Although people leave Kalavan to work abroad, Robert says: “It is temporary, we need money to build guesthouses at the moment, they leave. Our victory is that Kalavan residents see their future in the village, and previously no one wanted to associate their lives with the village. Formerly, when they wanted to tell about the place they lived in, they described the neighboring villages, now they proudly indicate Kalavan.”
The article has been prepared via International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) support. “Aravot”