Life on the border: A community opens its doors to travelers in need

Journalist: Armine Avetisyan,

Photographer: Artem Mikryukov

26.04.22

The tiny village of Bavra, Armenia is home to just 600 residents—roughly 300 families. The hamlet is closer to the neighboring country of Georgia than the Armenian capital Yerevan.

While the terrain is remote—a barren plateau some two kilometers above sea level—the village has created a warm community with nearby Georgian villages, where most residents are also ethnic Armenians.

Despite the fact that Bavra does not have any hotels or restaurants, the village has created a reputation as a haven for travelers crossing both sides of the border.

63-year-old Serzhik Gabrielyan chooses to live in Bavra, despite opportunities to live closer to Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri. “I can’t live outside my village. This is my home. My life is here.”

Serzhik’s house is the first home travelers see when they cross into Armenia from Georgia. They often host strangers who get caught in bad weather.

“Life in our village is very interesting, especially in our house,” adds Gabrielyan's wife, 62-year-old Frida Sumbulyan, with a laugh.

“As a result of the tradition formed over the years, our house has become a free guest house for those crossing the Armenian-Georgian border. When someone is in need, the door of our house is open for them.”

She recalls one time when the family opened their home to over three dozen people. 

“ We made beds on the floor…We used to bake 400 pieces of lavash, which if only our family ate, it would be enough for a month, but in this case it lasted just three or four days.”

Serzhik notes that the weather has improved over the years, so fewer travelers are getting stuck in Bavra due to snow storms. 

“Do you know how many guests we hosted, both Armenian and Georgian? They were crossing the border and [had nowhere to go] but to stay outside. Those who come are mainly the residents of the neighboring village from the Georgian side, who often come to Armenia for trade or other reasons,” he says. “Well, we would not leave people on the street… you should always give a roof to the one who is in trouble.”

“Whatever the residents of Bavra say about hospitality, the residents of the Georgian village [on the other side of the border] do the same. There is a lot of snow on our side as well, cars are also blocked on our side, we are also hospitable and like our neighbors,” says 28-year-old Parandzem Mkrtchyan.

Parandzem is originally from a village on the Georgian side of the border, a region of the country—Samtskhe-Javakheti—that is home to a large Armenian community.  Parandzem moved to Bavra when she got married. 

“I have been to Akhalkalaki [Georgia] more than to our capital Yerevan. Yerevan is further away, especially in the winter… it is not convenient to travel so far; it is both dangerous and expensive. And I have friends from the Georgian side who have not been to their capital, Tbilisi, as often as they visit us,” says 31-year-old Aghabek Gabrielyan, a resident of Bavra.

Aghabek says he used to always celebrate his birthday in Akhalkalaki, although that has not been possible for the past two years due to the pandemic and extra travel requirements at the border. 

“My birthday is approaching, but I don't think we will be able to restore the tradition this year,” he says. “I dream of the day when the world will breathe and all kinds of pandemics and restrictions will disappear. After all, they hinder our friendship.”

52-year-old Andranik Malkhasyan

“Many people come from the Armenian side to Georgia to buy citrus fruit, and we, from the Georgian side, go to Armenia for medical care, for example. There is a good hospital and specialists in this area,” says 52-year-old Andranik Malkhasyan, who was born in Georgia.

58-year-old Hovhannes Gabrielyan

“Our checkpoint is very active. We are very close neighbors with the residents of Georgian settlements across the border. We were coming and going and welcoming each other under our roofs so often that we became very close. We even invite each other to our family events: weddings, birthdays, and so on,” says 58-year-old Hovhannes Gabrielyan, who is a native of Bavra.

Hovhannes traveled to Georgia so frequently that he married a Georgian citizen and, years later, his son also married a young woman from Georgia as well.  

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