Thread of Light: Weaving project helps border villagers manage hardship

At the carpet-weaving workshop the smell of the forest is everywhere, oozing from threads. Colorful bundles hang from the walls over a workbench from which they are skillfully woven into traditional Armenian ornaments.
From sketches the images slide onto the carpet within a few days. The red ornaments find reflection on equally red cheeks of weaver Lusine. She ties knots of yarn along the edge, trims the tied knot, then she tightens the finished row of knots with a long-handled comb,
and keeps weaving and tightening.
“This one will be 52 centimeters long, I have finished 17 centimeters and will have it ready by the end of the week. So, I weave 52 centimeters in approximately 11 days. In the beginning, when we were just learning, I could hardly manage a rug per month, now I can make 2-3 per month,” tells Lusine Khachatryan, 38. “We work with love, especially when the sketch is interesting and works out fine. We are impatient to finish as quickly as possible to admire the result of our handi-work.”
The 6-month-old workshop, which has 10 weavers, is located in Getik village, Gegharkunik province, 120 kilometers from Yerevan. It was created within the framework of Aramazd social-educational project through Cross of Armenian Unity (CAU) and Armenian Caritas charitable organizations. 
“The idea belongs to CAU and is financed by Armenian Caritas. We support border communities, where refugees have settled, by creating employment opportunities. This is a one-year project, but hopefully it will continue. Caritas is not only a donor, but also an organization that shares your pain and tries to find a remedy, or at least contribute to finding it,” says CAU founding chairman Grigor Babakhanyan. 

The project is carried out in refugee settlements of Gegharkunik and Shirak provinces and is aimed at community development. In 2010, a yarn spinning project (traditional way of thread making) was launched in Gegharkunik province’s Dprabak village. 
Babakhanyan says in the “palette” of a flock of sheep they found some 7-8 hues of wool, which they don’t dye at all, and from that wool they started producing threads using a natural method – combing it with a hackle, then winding the yarn on a spinning wheel or a bobbin (spool). 
A year later the project transferred to Tchambarak, where training of women started in carpet-weaving and yarn spinning. Another year later the project commenced also in Getik. 

Zara Aghanyan, leading Aramazd social-educational project, says one of the most important objectives of the project is the revival of traditional art of carpet-weaving, hence the choice of communities. 

“Many of our compatriots, who have moved from Azerbaijan and settled in this area, have cultural integration issues. And besides, this is where many of the carpet-weaving women of Artsvashen have moved to, and they are the ones now teaching others, reviving the long-forgotten tradition,” says Aghanyan. 

Artsvashen village, 18 km from the eastern border of Armenia and 25 km from Tchambarak, was the only rural settlement on the territory of Getabek region which is Azerbaijan's administrative area. In 1989, battles started in Artsvashen during the armed conflict over Nagorno Karabakh, and lasted three years till August 8, 1992, when Artsvashen residents finally lost their settlement. For 20 years now they have been living in various communities of Tchambarak region. 
Project coordinator in Getik Arpine Gyulumyan says during the Soviet years a branch of Haygorg (ArmCarpet) state entity operated in Artsvashen village. Women of that village are highly skilled carpet weavers. 
“When this small workshop opened in Getik, many thought it would be ‘Artsvashen-2’,”, says Gyulumyan. “This is a productive project, when people are not simply given some aid. It is an employment project, as a result of which jobs have been created, and villagers need that the most.” 
There is a difference between a rug and a carpet: the carpet “song” is a solo, performed by the thread only, and when weaving a rug several tools “backup the choir”. 
The skillful hands of 28-year-old Hayarpi Verdyan create another ornament. She says carpets are woven by hand only, no other tool is used, as opposed to rugs. 

“And the progress is much faster, up to 10 cm per day. I finish one carpet in 4-5 days. A carpet does not allow round-shaped ornaments, and that is why ornaments on it always have sharp angles,” says Verdyan. 
The payment for weaving 1 square meter of rug is 29,500 drams ($70), and for carpets it is 18,000 drams ($43). 
The rugs and carpets are later put to sale at various expos. 
Aghanyan says part of the profit for sale is invested in the next project, and the rest is used for the development of the given community. 

Getik’s head of community Sargis Syunts says the social conditions of the village keep deteriorating with each passing year; only 300 residents from the former 550 are now left in Getik.
“Such small workshops are like a flicker of light to the villagers,” says Syunts. 
Carpet weaver Lusine Khachatryan is tying another knot, while talking about the village affairs. 

“When at least one person in a family has a job, villagers can carry on, because food is produced at our homes, we are hard-working people, we tend to livestock, work the land. If we got lazy who would come and raise our children?” she says, lifting her eyes from the workbench for a second. “My three children go to school, and I have to provide clothes, money for textbooks and copybooks… we sell some of the livestock, so that the children do not feel deprived, but if there is another job it covers such expenses, and we can keep our livestock to develop our household.”