Nature, tranquility draw Armenian professionals to rural life

Journalist: Sharmagh Tonoyan,

Photographer: Hakob Margaryan

Topic: Environment

Negative preconceived ideas about village life are prevalent in Armenia, like many other countries in the world, summoning images of dying communities and derelict, abandoned houses. And while overall the population of Armenia is shrinking, it is true that small towns like Armenia’s northern Vanadzor (population 75,887) are losing residents at a faster pace than the capital, Yerevan.  But in the years following the pandemic and the explosion of digital nomads and remote work, an increasing number of young people are finding homes for themselves in Armenia’s rural communities. By moving there with their families, these new rural residents are eager to show the untapped potential of life outside the capital. 

Chichkan River, Lori Province

For some, like IT professional Mayis Margaryan, Vanadzor offers a respite from Yerevan’s traffic and “terrible energy.”  

Others take refuge in the remoteness of village life. The following photo essay profiles young people who decided to buck tradition and forge a new life in a town far from the bustle of the city.

Mayis Margaryan, 39 years -old decided to move from Yerevan to Vanadzor after trying  life there for a year. 

Today, he lives with his family in Stepanavan, Armenia. He was first smitten with life outside of the capital when he went hiking in nature outside of Vandzor. 

“Stepanavan boasts a gentle terrain, ideal for both car and bicycle rides. It's dotted with numerous serene and picturesque spots,” he says. “Because of me, many friends from Yerevan now venture to this region to witness firsthand its true essence, dispelling the outdated notion that rural life lacks vibrancy. Additionally, Stepanavan proves to be a haven for those seeking tranquility.”

Mayis notes that there are fewer jobs in Stepanavan. But since he owns his own IT business and works from home, that aspect of rural life does not affect him or his family. Instead, the move has given him more freedom. 

Mayis Margaryan, IT specialist, CEO

"I realized that there is a lack of work in the region, but in my case, I brought my work here with me. I open the same laptop, but here I have more time and most importantly, I manage that time myself,” he says. “In Yerevan, you move at the pace of the city. If there is a traffic jam, you have to wait. The capital is terribly energy consuming and imposes moving at its own pace.” 

Since he and his family moved to Stepanavan, Mayis has also made his own imprint on the community: he convinced one of the local restaurants to turn part of its dining area into a co-working space. Today, it has become a popular place for locals and visitors. 

People working at EcoLife Lodge, Stepanavan

Lusine Tonoyan, 34 years old, was also inspired to leave Yerevan after spending hours hiking in regions outside of the capital. Even before she made the move to the village of Margahovit, Lusine had already experienced the gamut of rural to urban life—she was born in Armenia’s rural Armavir region and grew up in Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) and Yerevan. In the capital, Lusine worked as a marketer and project manager. 

Before she made the move, Lusine was already seeking out ways to connect with nature. "I lived in a high-rise building in Yerevan but I supplemented my connection with nature by growing plants on the roof of the building. Then, continuing that idea, I founded the startup Urban Greening to create quiet green areas next to the unfriendly buildings and endless movement of the streets in Yerevan,” she says.

Photo by Anush Safaryan.

An avid hiker, Lusine began to uncover hidden gems in the country during her many hikes in regions outside of Yerevan.

“I used to spend my leisure time hiking. I started to get to know my own country better and saw opportunities for a more beautiful life in the regions. I was already developing the idea that I want to move to the region to live. I had a few concerns about moving, but I finally did it and came to one of the most wonderful corners of Lori, Margahovit village,” she said.

While there were some hiccups in the beginning, Lusine says she has acclimated to life in the village and  discovered new interests: horse riding, walking in the village, going to the forest, or visiting the old church of the village, St. Grigor Lusavorich. “I love the village completely, create here, initiate here, why not also establish a family and have children and raise them close to nature?”

Dsegh, Lori Province

Even though Lusine has found a new life in the village, she still returns to Yerevan for the winter months. “There is still a lot to be done here to have more developed infrastructure in the community and to create a more promising future for young people,” she says. As a new member of the community, however, Lusine, a remote worker, started a gardening business to raise the profile of the village and attract more visitors.

“I started to grow my own organic plants and little by little I also realized the great demand for organic plants in cities, especially in the capital,” she says. “My hobby turned into a business step by step…what is most important for me, people visit the village and fall in love with nature. That really brings a new interest in the life of the village.”

Hasmik Jinanyan, 31, initially followed the trend: she left her native Vanadzor to get a master’s degree at the the National Academy of Sciences in Yerevan. But after she graduated, she decided to return home to help her community instead of looking for a job in the city.

Today she is the head of the Vanadzor branch of Orran Charity and works as a freelancer for a company in London. 

In addition, with a grant from the US Embassy in Armenia, she founded youth centers in 10 regions and social enterprises for young people in 10 other communities. ՛՛ I noticed that the children strive to create their own active youth life and that they are ready to leave the village for the city to find it. That is how I got the idea…for the Young Social Entrepreneurs Program for the youth of the village. First we offered training and then young people formed teams in their villages and founded centers and social enterprises.”

Mane Bulghadaryan, Elen Harutyunyan, Lilit Bulghadaryan, Narek Bulghadaryan, Arman Ohanyan in Vahagni village․

Her efforts are already making an impact: 19-year-old Vahan, a native of Vahagni village, said the youth program helped him become part of the local community.  "I was always busy with lessons in my spare years. It seemed that I didn't have much to do in the village, sometimes I helped my fellow citizens and in my spare time I like to take care of our garden. But then a youth organization was created in the community, which I joined and we organized, for example, garbage collection and tours for tourists who came to the village…Little by little, my interest in the problems and opportunities of the village grew, and I understood that many issues of the village are not solved because people here are silent, indifferent and often think that they will harm someone if they raise their problems.”

Based on the training and skills they received from the youth program, Vahan and his friends started their own social enterprise to address the problems in their village. Today, he is completing their mandatory military service. But once he is done, he plans to work on their social enterprise. 

“I will continue my [Yerevan State University] education remotely, and that way I will be closer to the village and together with my friends we will resume our social enterprise,” Vahan says. “They believe in us in the village and we believe in the more developed and full of opportunities future of our village.”

Ghash, Vahagni village

This feature story was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) South Caucasus Regional Office. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES .

This article was produced in the framework of Chai Khana Fellowship program - Spring/Summer 2024

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