“Koti is like a fairy tale on the border” 10 days in the life of an ethnography teacher

“When COAF offered me to organize an ethnography camp for children living in Koti, a borderline community in Tavush, I immediately agreed. Back then, I didn’t know I would make so many revelations about that village,” says Marine Kamalyan, an ethnography teacher from Lernagog, Armavir.

During the camp, Marine and her husband lived in a rented rural house that belonged to an elderly woman. She was supposed to stay somewhere else and leave her house entirely at Kamalyans’ disposal for a while.

“However, we suggested she should not leave. We jokingly asked her to stay so that she could cook for us,” Kamalyan recalls. “Her eyes got filled with tears, and she gladly stayed. Her grandson and daughter-in-law joined us the following day, so we had a very good company. Every evening the entire COAF camp “moved” to our place. It was not just our work, it was our life. We were having guests every day – camp participants, the local accordionist, other musicians. We were dancing, singing, and having fun… Every morning I opened the gates to see 30 children waiting for the camp to start. Every day we worked for fourteen hours instead of four… However, working with children from Koti was almost effortless, it was a great pleasure. On the other hand, you should put effort into everything you do, invent new things to draw children’s attention. For example, this time the camp “soundtrack” was not just about zurna and dhol (Armenian folk instruments.) I had decided to use also some modern pieces of music so that the kids could get more energy…

Koti is like a fairy tale on the border. When I was about to leave for Koti, my friends and relatives tried to talk me out of it – they insisted it was too dangerous. However, I felt very safe in Koti, even safer than in Lernagog.

The inhabitants of Koti are different. People here are not interested in old and new models of cars and phones – it’s just not important for them. Many children have basic computer skills but they are not hooked onto gadgets. After our daily camp activities, none of the children were rushing home. “We don’t want to hang around computers all day,” they said, preferring to stay with us.

Koti people are brave and sincere truth-tellers. They kept taking care of COAF people all the time, treating us to local dairy products, tomatoes, cucumbers…

One day we heard gunshots from the Azeri side, and some of the croplands started burning. We did not send children home then – we did not want them to be afraid, so we organized a big disco party for them. We were not talking about the gunshots, we were trying to have fun and award prizes to the best dancers… At one point, somebody said that the fire had almost reached the house of Felix Melikyan, the Koti mayor. However, Melikyan did not leave us. He decided to stay with his guests so that we don’t get scared… We became totally connected, we were a part of the community. When the camp was over, we started weeping.

After staying in Koti, I realized how brave and heroic the Tavush people were. Maybe it’s because they live on the border where nature and lifestyle are totally different. They are farther away from “urban dirt.” Children were not quarreling. No boys fighting… When I asked why, they said, “We have a bigger fight on the border…”

There is strong solidarity among Koti teenagers. They are kind and not greedy. Even if they have just a few hundred drams a day, they might buy something to eat and share it with five or six people… That’s what their strength is about. These guys are soldiers in their essence. They are restrained and, at the same time, passionate. At the end of a camp day, one of the boys came over, hugged me, and got emotional. “You are a soldier,” I said… “I am a soldier but I am a human, after all.”

People in Koti will always stand up for you, will lend you a helping hand, and will take your burdens… After the Koti camp, I was thinking I would not be able to teach anywhere else. Children, there were unique… Adults were unique, too. They were not thinking about buying new iPads for their kids but they were doing everything for the kids to feel loved. You keep your arms around your child during a hurricane or any other danger, don’t you? Well, the Koti people seem to be holding their arms around their children all the time, to keep them safe. Children, human beings are the highest values for them. And I know that’s one of the reasons why our mountains are still standing tall…

Every day that I spent there was full of inspiration. I was inspired by children, adults, nature, the air. I felt as if Koti was holding me in its arms all the time…

Read in Armenian

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