The housewives of Artsakh villages search on the web for pickling and canning recipes, the elderly people talk to their immigrated relatives on Skype, girls and boys get to know each other on odnoklassniki.ru, and the children watch their cartoons on the smartphones.
The internet has penetrated Artsakh in full force, the villagers check the social media sites as soon as they are done with their duties in the morning, and so the virtual life goes in line with the real life.
And it even happens in the villages where there is no natural gas, or, let’s say, a shop.
It is both a great novelty for the villages and a new interesting life.
Damn you, technology
“This year I have pickled and canned the cucumbers using a recipe I found online. It told to put a small slice of lemon in it to make the cucumbers sourer.”
“No, I know that you need to keep it a bit in cold water.”
“Who told you?”
“It said so on the Internet.”
This kind of conversation of a group of women around a cup of coffee is easier to imagine in a European country, USA, Russia, or Yerevan, but not in one of the villages of Artsakh, where people have cooked and baked for ages using the recipes learnt from their grandmothers and mothers.
This year however, 55-year-old Zarine Davtyan and 57-year-old Marine Jalayan from the Maghavuz village decided to pickle not in traditional way, inherited from their mothers, but rather… using the recipe they found on the web.
Maghavuz is a border village 70 km north to capital Stepanakert, which is only 4-5 km away of the Karabakh-Azerbaijani contact line.
In 2013, when the internet reached Maghavuz, the villagers started to slowly move their furniture, to open up space for the computer. The internet was first used there in order to talk to relatives on Skype.
“Oh, girl, it’s my brother Radik, what the hell is this, it seems like he is sitting in front of me,” exclaimed 80-year-old grandmother Gohar, when she saw her brother again after twenty years.
Soon, the “home” Skype account and OK (odnoklassniki) usernames and passwords written on a piece of paper appeared under the tablecloths next to the carefully kept phone numbers and electricity bills.
Maghavuz that got an Internet connection five years ago, was not the first one. Karabakh Telecom started providing rural communities with the Internet back in 2012.
According to the executive director of the company Karekin Odabashyan, over the past six years, 97% of Artsakh villages (around 236 villages) were connected to the Internet.
A new era began for the villagers. As soon as they learned to use Skype and social networks (mainly odnoklassniki.ru), the Google search engine entered the villages of Artsakh. Information obtained from Google is used in Artsakh to improve rural life and make it as easy as possible.
“Could anyone explain me how this Google works?” 55-year-old Nvard asked her daughter one day.
“Ohh, mom, you can’t use it!” the girl, Armine, answered sceptically.
“The whole village uses it, what the hell is the Google that I can not run it!” replied Nvard without hesitating.
Everything is googled today in Maghavuz, from the weather forecast to cooking fish and treating flu.
As a result, fish is cooked differently in the Avanesyan family: oven instead of pan, and piquant sauce instead of traditional vinegar.
“Try this, it’s delicious!” say the neighbours. Especially with traditional homemade Artsakh mulberry vodka.
The ceasefire and Internet in Stepanakert
Following the conclusion of the ceasefire in May of 1994, the Internet connection was restored along with destroyed buildings in Stepanakert. According to Samvel Mayilyan, director of Arminco, Armenia’s first Internet provider, there was an Internet connection in Artsakh during the war as well.
“In those days, we did not view providing Internet as a business. We just decided to grant the state institutions and two non-governmental organizations access to the Internet. Only in 2009 the Internet became available for the residents of Stepanakert as well,” remembers Mayilyan.
1994-2003 Arminco was the only Internet provider in Artsakh. It provided Internet access to 6 out of 7 regions of Artsakh, excluding Kashatagh, a total of 80-100 villages.
In 2002 Karabakh Telecom entered the market of telecommunications in Artsakh, and a year later, in 2003, it began providing Internet connections. In 2016 Karabakh Telecom also purchased the Artsakh branch of Arminco, becoming the only mobile and internet operator there.
Dating online and reading Azerbaijani news
In some towns and villages of Artsakh, the Internet has become the main means of communication with the outside world and access to information. Of course, it is also possible to call on mobile phones (if the connection works well) but it is expensive. But the Internet connection is free, you only pay for electricity.
Mari Sevyan from Charektar village is 5 years old. Mari is the family’s technical virtuoso. She listens to music on the desktop computer, watches cartoons on the laptop and plays games on the tablet. Such an abundance of gadgets in the family of the Sevyans is not accidental.
The cellular network in Charektar village, which is about 85 km north to Stepanakert, is hardly accessible. People here communicate through Viber or WhatsApp even inside the village.
“The Internet connection is relatively cheap. For this reason, we often communicate with relatives and friends via social networks,” says 40-year-old Anahit Mkrtchyan, a resident of Charektar.
Artsakh Public Television is also barely accessible in the community. Thus, the information is also received from the Internet.
“My husband and I understand Turkish (Azerbaijani), and we often read the enemy’s news on the Internet too,” says Anahit.
80% of Charektar, which has nearly 260 residents, has access to the Internet. It is also the only means of entertainment for youth and adults.
According to Karegin Odabashyan, executive director of Karabakh Telecom, 59% of rural households have access to a fixed Internet connection.
To estimate the popularity of the Internet, we can say that, for instance, Mokhratagh village with 220 residents does not have natural gas but has an internet connection.
34-year-old Mara Hambardzumyan met her husband online. In October, they will get married.
They met through the social network Odnoklassniki. Prior to that, many guys used to text Mara on social media, but she never payed attention to any of them and was very sceptical of such acquaintances.
But when Mara fell in love with one of the users, the traditions came into conflict with the communication means of the 21st century.
“When I told my mother about him (i.e. future fiancé), she said that it is not a proper way of getting to know people, so it is necessary to try and find out who is he, where is he from, what family he comes from etc.” remembers the girl.
And there, the traditions did the job. In a short period, girl’s parents found out all the necessary information and the couple met for the first time. In a month, they got engaged.
She is not the only girl to have met her husband online.
There are already several similar families in Mokhratagh.
Who needs a shop, when there is internet in the village?
To the right from the crossroads, 20 km from Karvatchar, there is a signboard to the Tsar village, with an arrow pointing upwards. The winding dirt roads seem to reach the sky. On the way to the village, Armen Alvarov’s off-roader climbs the mountain, shaking its passengers up and down.
As you pass each abrupt turn, you realize that a slightly wrong move of the driver’s hand might send the car down the abyss. Tsar village is 2100 meters above sea level.
After over two kilometres of climb, we find ourselves in a valley with some scattered houses. Tsar has about 50 inhabitants. Armen stops the car by one of the houses and hands a few boxes of cigarettes to his neighbour.
“There is internet in the village but there is no shop. The nearest civilization is 20 km away,” says Armen Alvarov.
The only way for the Alvarov family to connect with civilization and the mother-in-law is the old notebook.
Armen and his wife Svetlana moved from Moscow to Artsakh in 2010. A translator from French, Armen learns innovations in the field of agriculture via the Internet, and his wife who teaches at the village school keeps track of the innovations in the field of education.
The walls of the house of Sasun Simonyan, a 33-year-old beekeeper, were painted by his two daughters, Susie and Susanna. There is no TV or computer in the family, but there is a wi-fi connection. The two old smartphones are the means of communication with the “civilized world”.
“In the evenings, we read news on the Internet on one phone, and on the other, girls watch cartoons before going to bed,” says Sasun’s wife, Margarita Simonyan.
The internet is also the only means of entertainment for the villagers.
The same is true for the regional centre, Karvachar. Since there are no meeting and entertainment venues here, young people can get to know each other better through the internet – they exchange letters, pictures and videos until they get their parents’ consent. Well, and after that they can already meet and visit each other…
However, they still exchange emojis. The new age offers new manifestations of love.