Unusual as usual: Different families with similar stories ANAHIT HAYRAPETYAN/4PLUS, NELLY SHISHMANYAN/4PLUS, researcher Tamuna Nergi/batumelebi

Vardenik, Armenia

While the stories of women marrying against their will are common, the similar stories of men are unusual, whereas, many men have got married without their consent.

The road from Vardenik to Verin village is only 7km, however mountain roads present some difficult driving conditions. After driving uphill for 20 minutes, you can see a few stone houses in the distance, which are the only remnants of Verin village and some van cabins on wheels. These houses and van cabins are populated by families who spend 4-5 months a year in the mountains. The villagers have old essential pieces of furniture in their small houses - a table, a chair, a bed and a gas stove.

The mountain road from Vardenik to Verin Gyugh

“Let me introduce myself,” says Vahan with an ingenious smile. “I was born in 1963 in Vardenik village to a family of workers. How does this sound?” Vahan notes that he was 20 when he came back home from the army without any intention to marry. However, his family had already chosen a bride for him and was forcing him to marry.

“They forced me to marry,” he recollects. When Vahan’s parents went to the girl's place to ask her father for his daughter’s hand, they got rejected. Vahan's self-esteem was shattered and he decided to kidnap his future wife. The next morning, he saw the bride, Aregnaz, on her way to the sheep milking parlour. He stopped the car and said: ''Get into the car.''

“We live in mountains and fields, surrounded by trees and flowers, and we cattle breeds,” says Aregnaz welcoming the guests. Vahan and Aregnaz have been living together for ages sharing their songs and funny stories. They have four children and thriteen grandchildren.Vahan notes that he was especially happy when a granddaughter was born.

Whole mountain yogurt, cream, and honey

Vardenik is the largest populated village in Armenia with about 1,500 families living there.

At the end of each spring, the villagers take the cattle to the mountain called Verin Gyugh (former Gyozaldara) for four-five months. Vahan and Aregenaz Ohanyans work for Misha Petrosyan from the same village. Together they keep livestock; they take the cows to the fields, they milk the cows in the morning and evening, and they cultivate the milk. Argenaz and Gohar, Misha’s wife, have to milk 24 cows in the morning and evening, whereas their spouses use a milking machine for the rest of the cows.

On our way from the mountain to Vardenik, we encounter 72-year-old Ishkhan Sndoyan.

72-year-old Ishkhan Sndoyan with his wife, Siranush

“There were nine kids in our family, 18 people in a house,” remarks Ishkhan. “I served in the army for three years and then came back home. I used to work in the mine and one day, I came back home from work and my mom told me to bring vodka, then my uncle came and said; “Today, is your day. You gonna get engaged.” It was my grandfather who saw and liked Siranush, I had never met her before, neither my mom did tell me anything about the engagement. So, we went to their place and I got engaged. Two months later, we got married.”

In the house, Ishkhan’s wife, Siranush, goes on with the story; “We got married. Neither my father nor my father-in-law were after a wedding. They didn’t like a party. While my father said nothing, my father-in-law favored the idea of taking me to their house first and arrange a wedding party a few days later. That’s it. We didn’t have any right to voice our wishes in those days. Everything was done on the will of our parents. I was 18 when I got married. Since I was the first bride in my laws’ family, I had to take all the burdens on my shoulders. I would do what they asked me for. I have four children – two girls and two boys. My daughters got married after school when they were 17. They got married and didn’t manage to get an education.”

“It’s better now than it used to be before,” Siranush reiterates her statement. “But we didn’t have so many divorces. Although people now marry for love, divorces still happen.”

Yelena Torosyan is a mother of two children. The last photo illustrates the room where they did Yelena’s wedding.

Yelena Torosyan got married at the age of 21.

“My husband’s family came to our place and that’s how I met him. After college, I couldn’t work, unfortunately. I have two sons – Arsen is in his 3rd year at school, and Raffy is five. I spent my childhood in Ukraine and Vardenik.”

Yelena got back to Vardenik with her children and decided to settle down in the village.

Yelena’s mother-in-law, Hasmik Shahinyan, 69, got married at the age of 16 with her parents’ consent. Her husband is 10 years older than she. He was 26 when he got married. “I was raised in cotton,” she says. Now Yelena has three kids and lives in Vardenik with her son, sister-in-law, and two grandchildren. She is engaged in farming.

“My husband is 13 years older than me, and he is the decision-maker in our family. We’ll live in Perm if he decides so or we’ll have to return if he wants back to Armenia. I can voice my opinion on some questions and he will agree with me. However, he is an Armenian man with traditional views and approaches.”

Tago, Georgia

Women here claim that early-age marriages and violence in the family have been left in the past, however girls, aged 15-17, getting married are no exception.

It’s a two-hour drive from Batumi to Khulo, a small suburb. You can get to Tago from Khulo by ropeway, which was constructed during the Soviet times. It has the length of 1719 meters. 64 families live in the village of Tago. The villagers say that if not the ropeway, the village would have been abandoned and less than 20 families would have lived there. If it takes 20-25 minutes to reach the village by car, the ropeway shortens the time by up to eight minutes. The ropeway is essential for the village; whether for the kindergarten or for the afterschool groups, the children have to reach Khulo from Tago.

The ropeway that takes people to Tago
A wooden house in Khulo

16-year-old Marika Davladze is a thin, enthusiastic and beaming girl. She is eating potatoes with her relatives’ grandchildren who just visited them. Marika got engaged at the age of 14 and got married at 15. She is now pregnant with her first baby. She has got adapted to the village life and doesn’t have any complains.

“I would like to study, but now I can’t, because I’m expecting my baby. Hopefully I will learn cooking or some other crafts in the future. We have been in love for three years and have been married for 19 months now,” she says. “My husband has 16 sisters and brothers, and now we live with four of them.”

16-year-old Marika Davladze is expecting her first baby

“I would like to study, but now I can’t, because I’m expecting my baby. Hopefully I will learn cooking or some other crafts in the future. We have been in love for three years and have been married for 19 months now,” she says. “My husband has 16 sisters and brothers, and now we live with four of them.”

Marika with her relatives

Mzisadar Tsetskhtsadze is making coffee for the neighbors. Morning coffee and talks have gained the leading position in their daily routine. Women usually get together and start gossiping about their families, village news and other stuff. Mzisadar Tsetskhtsadze has three children - two girls and one boy. The girls help their mother with the household.

35 years old Mzisadar got married when she was 17.
After coffee, everyone goes to work. Bulbuli Tsetskhladze in the photo

Tamila Kartsiladze is yet another young woman having a coffee break. Tamila’s husband usually leaves for Turkey for a seasonal work, while Tamila stays in Tago with the children. She was 17 when she got married, and now she is a mother of two children.

Khulo’s oldest villager – 100-year-old Shadie Tsekhladze
Women at her house in Khulo

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