Patara Darbazi, Georgia
The province of Kvemo Kartili was slightly larger than six thousand square kilometers of forested mountains sitting on the border of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Rustavi, its capital, lay forty kilometers to the northeast of the Armenian encampment at the small village of Patara Dabazi. While historically, Georgian Christians had occupied much of the region’s north and ethnic Azerbaijanis lived along the southern border, more immigrants and refugees from Azerbaijan were displaced to the Azeri Shiite communities and had quickly become the majority. Rustavi maintained its Georgian majority while the rest of the province became overwhelmingly Muslim. A clash between the province’s population, who resented attempts to secularize and denounce Islamic culture, and its governing parties had resulted in widespread lawlessness, insurgency, and banditry compared to the rest of the country. They furthermore resented the incursion of Russian refugees traveling south and the presence of Armenian irregulars and, now, troops in what they viewed as their last bastion. Armenian high command had designated Kvemo Kartili as a “high risk” area of Georgia alongside the northwestern Abkhazian and north-central Ossetian provinces.
The main portion of the Georgian Plan consisted of sweeping into Tbilisi with a cadre of Armenian-trained Georgian troops and officers, along with previously-identified “reconstructionist” politicians and bureaucrats to solidify the existing weak government. They would go province by province to convince, by diplomacy or by force, the warlords to join a national government: their power would be converted into seats in parliament, and their guns turned to pens. Yaglian’s unit, patrolling the dirt roads winding through the mountains, only heard sparse updates from his platoon leader when they were gathered for the morning briefings. They had been there for just about a week, and the regular Army had just reached Tbilisi along with elements of the Poti Garrison. In name and in theory, at least, the Republic of Georgia’s government had been officially reinstated to its territorial claims. Of course, a long road was ahead for the men on the ground in country. Elections, stability operations, rebuilding and reconstruction: everything from the engineers setting up power lines and water wells to the medical service training rural doctors was planned to wrest control of Georgia from the warlords.
Patara Darbazi was a small distance away from the ruins of the bandit camp that they had destroyed a mere month ago. A single road ran through a few dozen houses, without much else. Livestock meandered around through farms and yards, grazing on the dry grass that grew along the dirt paths. As the company took an area of responsibility, each platoon took up a village or two in their own areas as a way to get to know the area better. Half of Yaglian’s unit was assigned to watch over Patara Darbazi, while another detachment was set up to patrol Kudro. Each patrol through the area consisted of two rifle sections along with a scout jeep providing backup and a platform for their machinegun. They trudged up a hill in the late morning, a mountain to the east providing shade against the August sun. Yaglian felt the steel frame of his rucksack press into his back as pools of sweat grew under his collar and armpits. He cradled his carbine in his arms, letting its sling press most of the weight uncomfortably on his neck and shoulders. At some points he picked his weary head up and moved it around, but for the most part he stared down at his feet.
The troops halted just before cresting the hill and parked their vehicle off to the side of the road. A trio of goats walked past the hood, looking up at the soldier on the pintle mounted gun while he stared back, unimpressed. The two sections each dropped their packs off by the truck in neat, orderly lines. Platoon Sergeant Ozanian was with them that day: him and the Lieutenant often switched out the towns they patrolled, each trying to make an impression on the civic leader. He ordered them to rack their weapons and they marched into town. It seemed empty, but only a few dozen people lived there to begin with. A few people were gathered around a well in the center of the village, but they scrambled as soon as the troops walked into town. This was becoming a daily occurrence, but they still remembered when loud noises and explosions woke them just a few weeks ago: in the morning, they had to bury the dead Mountain Wolf casualties. Yaglian had never spoken to anyone in the village and doubted that they wanted to interact regardless. He felt uneasy.
Ozanian and the Lieutenant had initial plans to interact with a “village elder” of some sort to try and bring Patara Dabazi into the fold of a new county government that their company commander was establishing in the large town of Talaveri to the north. They would ease them in with the promise of security and safety against the bandits before trying to push the envelope further with taxes or a centralized constabulary. Yet they routinely found in these towns a more communal approach: there was no formal leader, and the closest thing they had to anyone in power was simply the oldest patriarch of the largest family. It continually frustrated efforts for the Armenians, who were relegated to standing around in town before going to patrol through the mountains in search of bandit camps. They had no evidence that the Mountain Wolves were there besides the burnt remains of the outpost they had destroyed in their initial raids. It was like they had disappeared. Yaglian knew that they hadn’t: ambushes and raids were still occurring in other company areas nearby. But not his.
The Corporal walked amongst his team and checked them off. He casually asked them about how much water they had been drinking, if they felt dizzy from the long walk, if they had seen anything in their sectors, and other minutia. He had just lifted up his cap to wipe the sweat away from his forehead when a loud bang sounded from one of the houses.
“Ambush!” shouted someone, before a volley of shots rang out. Everyone dropped to the ground and pointed their weapons out. Someone was groaning: Yaglian looked around to see a rifleman writing around in pain as he patted away blood on his pant leg. A friend of his had rushed over to rip the trouser fabric out of the way, pour water onto the wound, and start wrapping a tourniquet tightly above the wound. Another man rushed forward with his machinegun and, firing from the hip, unleashed a burst into the house where a body now lay in front of. Windows shattered and wood splintered apart: the sound echoed throughout the valley. It became deathly quiet again as Ozanian sprinted up to the area of conflict. “What happened?” he barked.
“One guy in the house just came out and started shooting!” cried the man tending to the wounded soldier. He nudged his head back to where the gunner had riddled the wooden cabin with bullets. His friend on the ground grabbed at his leg as a bandage was applied, tears streaming down his grimacing face. He kept moaning and cursing.
“I got him!” replied the gunner. He let the machinegun dangle on its sling again, but he still pointed cautiously towards the house. Ozanian trudged towards the body of the militant who had shot at them, pointing his rifle forward at a high-ready while he walked. Everyone else, who had now found cover, were watching. Yaglian had to remind them harshly to keep covering houses and some of the mountain ridges around the town. His Platoon Sergeant assessed the man on the ground and determined that he was still alive. Wounded, barely breathing, and clutching a silver revolver, the assailant was an older man with dark hair and a wild beard. Ozanian looked around, raised his carbine, and unceremoniously shot him straight through the forehead.
“Don’t fuck with me,” he said just loudly enough that Yaglian could hear. It appeared he was mostly talking to the body. The Platoon Sergeant turned around and ordered: “We’re going to show them what happens. Either they follow the new rules, or we burn their goddamn house down. I need a lighter.”
A soldier next to him reluctantly reached into his pocket and tossed over a steel-plated flip lighter to Ozanian. Yaglian pushed his cap up from his forehead and watched, ambivalently, as his platoon sergeant gathered up the dry grasses and tinder in the Georgian man’s neglected garden, carefully arranging them in a pile on the wooden windowsill. He flicked it, opening the flame with a subtle whooshing noise, and set the pile alight. The fire started burning, slowly at first, then caught onto a support beam on the wooden house. The smell of burning wood filled Yaglian’s nostrils, as the whole platoon watched the flame creep across the faded green paint of the wooden walls. A few minutes of burning had rendered a corner of the home on fire, as Platoon Sergeant Ozanian asked for a placard and something to write with. Yaglian directed a soldier to the jeep, which had materials inside for marking warnings for minefields or other such hazards. Now, he was instructed to write in Georgian: “Do not attempt any attacks! This is your fate!”
The wounded man was dragged away to the jeep, stuffed in the side seat with a bandage pressed to his leg. The crew rushed him back down the hill towards the patrol base: the injury didn’t look too serious, but he needed to be sent to a hospital across the border for at least a few days to recover. Yaglian’s men kept staring at the fire curiously until he told them to stop and pick up their kit. Platoon Sergeant Ozanian had ordered them out on patrol again, through the winding mountain trails. If this assailant had any compatriots, they would be finding them. Silently, with only the rustling and clinking of gear, Yaglian’s section stood up from their positions and headed out. Another day of walking in the hot sun, amongst the green hills of Georgia. The smell of smoke permeated through the crisp mountain air even some distance from the village. From the ridges and hills around Patara Darbazi, they could see the civilians come out again. They gathered around the body and the smoldering house. Yaglian paid them no mind.
Sochi, Kuban Unorganized Territories
Natasha scribbled out details of a clearing in the woods on her map and notepad. She carefully noted the dimensions of the roughly-rectangular piece of land and followed her instructions. No large obstacles that couldn’t be removed or reduced like big rocks or tree stumps. As little uneven ground as possible. Not too marshy or wet. It had to be close to the city limits, but not too close. Her commanders had given her a general area of where to search along with potential points of interest: two of them proved to be too rocky for the specifications, but this one seemed just right. Anton crouched beside her, leaning forward while using the stock of his rifle to support him. “What do they need these clearings for, anyway?” he asked. “These are way too specific for paratrooper drop zones.”
Natasha shrugged. “Seems like they might be dropping commandos, if I had to guess. Smaller units, maybe. Specialized equipment that can’t get broken on the way down? We’re a long way from home, they might just be trying to make things extra safe so no accidents happen on the insertion.”
Her partner leaned back onto his heels and stood up as she finished writing the last notes in the margins of her book. She slipped it into a cargo pocket on her smock and shouldered her rucksack. The scouts trudged away from their objective, cloverleafing around to the other side to avoid walking through. They kept their movements slow and deliberate, avoiding sticks or crunchy leaves or anything else that could make the obvious sounds of people moving. Their next objective was a hill by the sea, where they were to post up and wait for the next phase of their mission. In Anton’s rucksack was a small mirror signaling device. An Armenian rescue team consisting of a cruiser and a seaplane tender were on the way from their naval base in Poti. Naval infantrymen were to storm predetermined locations on the beach near where the pirates were located and destroy the bandit outpost there. Natasha and Anton were to signal their information to the crew of the warship to let them know how and where to get the sailors back.
The pair had reached the hill by nightfall, using the cover of darkness to mitigate the risk of speeding up their movements. They had traveled many kilometers over hilly and rough terrain and were eager for a rest. They encamped on the hill, which lay just a few hundred meters from the town at the northwest tip of Sochi’s area. There would be no campfires or much noise that night. Natasha dropped her rucksack off at the base of a tree on the north side of the hill, so that the crest of it obscured their movements from the town. She unslung her rifle and leaned it against her kit, using this opportunity to stretch out her sore and aching back. Quietly, she sat down and took off her boots: she recoiled at the smell when she stripped away her socks. “Jesus,” she muttered, unbuttoning a pouch on her ruck to take foot powder to her sweaty feet. A blister was starting to form on her heel: she cleaned and dried it to bandage it as best she could. Her feet throbbed with pain, but that was to be expected. All she could think about was how at least the boots were better than walking the streets in heels.
Before she knew it, she was asleep without even setting up her tent shelter. It didn’t look like it was going to rain, so she skipped that procedure and curled up next to her bag underneath her field blanket. Anton took the first guard shift, sitting and sipping his ration coffee out of a metal cup until three in the morning. He woke up Natasha, let her know that the most he had seen was a squirrel rummaging around a nearby berry bush, and gave her the watch. He fell asleep as soon as he hit his gear. Natasha stared out into the darkness for the next few hours, watching the moon move across the sky and the pink rays of dawn peek out from behind the mountains. The lights in Sochi turned on, one by one, as the stars faded away. She looked out into the sea, along the compass azimuth she had been told that the cruiser was coming along. They would reach by the daylight to allow Anton’s signaling device to reflect sunlight. In a few hours, she noticed the dark outline of a ship appear over the horizon. “Anton!” she whispered. “Set up your light.”
He took the little mirror from his rucksack and quickly set its tripod up between some rocks, positioning it and steadying it in the ground. Natasha dropped her book next to him with the information already bulletized and formed into easy phrases that were pre-made to send via Morse code. The first one was a simple greeting: he repeated the letters “NSS” into the device while Natasha watched the ship with binoculars. They were scanning the coastline looking for their position but finally locked onto Anton’s signal, and replied with a series of flashes of their own: “NAVY.”
Natasha smiled as she translated it back towards Anton. He flashed his own message at them: “INFO FOLLOWS.”
He looked over to the listed data points and flashed the letters and numbers slowly, consciously on the reflective light. All locations were marked in UTM coordinates. “PRISON: 37N-559197-4828043.”
He waited for the ship to flash back the coordinates to confirm. Natasha read them out one by one. Anton flashed back: “YES.”
The scouts began transmitting their long list of information and waiting for the responses. The ships drew in closer, preparing for their fight: the Russian pirates were no doubt scrambling for their skiffs and boats. It took several minutes of flashing back and forth to coordinate the location of the beach landing zones, landing areas, and relevant information. But the plan went off without a hitch, as Natasha saw the cruiser flash back a final signal: “INFO RECEIVED. THANK YOU NSS. BEGIN ACTION.”
On the sea, the seaplane tender that had been following behind the cruiser had peeled off to a safe distance away and began hoisting its attack planes into the water with a large crane on the stern. These smaller types carried two planes nose-to-tail on the stern behind a hangar for maintenance and refit. Each seaplane carried several bombs and a series of guns for ground strafing. It dropped the aircraft into the water, and they immediately began motoring out to their launch straightaways. Engines roaring and water splashing across their boat-like hulls, the seaplanes took off from the water and angled themselves straight to the town of Sochi. One took to flying up high, almost reaching the clouds, while the other prowled the waters. They weren’t aerodynamic enough to dogfight other planes, but they were perfect for sighting in on the pirate skiffs that now started swarming out of the harbor. A salvo of gunfire erupted from the Armenian seaplane that went straight across the deck of a skiff, starting a small fire aboard. Small arms reports sounded from the way as the pirates shot back.
The cruiser had angled its deck guns towards the developing situation and began to fire off rounds at the pirates as they slowly motored out of port. These slow targets were easy pickings for the gun crews, who exploded the small craft in brilliant showers of smoke and flame. The second seaplane had overflown its objective and circled back around to begin bombing boats still in port. These bombs penetrated straight through the wooden docks and exploded, rocking the moored craft and crashing them into each other. Hydrostatic shock ruined their keels and hulls, sinking many of them before their crews even got to them. In port, the Breadwinner laid unshaken by the outbreak of fighting. Workers scurried around on the shore for cover as a pair of old Russian trucks careened through the gate. Naval gunfire was quickly beginning to pound positions were the pirates were shooting from buildings and prepared defensive positions. A select few artillery guns from the Great War were now used as direct-fire weapons, taking shots at the cruiser as it steamed closer and closer.
The seaplanes circled back around to strafe anyone in the streets near the prison. It was unclear who was civilian or bandit, but with the volume of small arms fire coming for the planes it was assumed to be a free fire zone. The two planes danced around each other in unpredictable, zig-zag patterns. They retreated back up to altitude where they could come back in for their targets without being harassed by the rifle fire below. Small fires had broken out in several of the shelled positions, pouring out smoke that made it harder to discern what was going on in the town. The cruiser mercilessly shot at whatever tried to shoot at them, their small guns still pounding and concussing the NSS scouts far away. Behind the smoke from the cruiser’s armament, Natasha saw a key element of the plan beginning to form: landing craft were being hoisted over the side of the ship with its crane, filled with a platoon of naval infantrymen each. There were four of them: an entire company of troops was heading towards the shore of Sochi.
Natasha watched the landing craft form up and begin their sail to the shore. They swerved between gunfire and the smoking wrecks of Russian boats, a wide wedge cutting their way through the breaking waves. Through her binoculars, she could see gunners on the decks of each boat begin to lay down fire. The reports of the automatic small arms echoed across the coast shortly thereafter. Mortars, angled shallowly on the craft, launched out smoke grenades to the beach that hit and burst open to obscure their landings. The naval infantry had attempted to form a line and hit the beach at the same time, but one of the crafts was still being maneuvered into position and was trapped behind a Russian boat. The first three rushed ashore and dropped their ramps: soldiers charged out of the berths with rifles in hand, desperately making a run for cover as the pirates and bandits now began to take potshots at them. The fourth landing craft had to drop its ramp in the water, as its position was too clogged with debris, and make its naval infantrymen wade ashore.
Anton nudged his partner and slung his bag over his shoulders. “Let’s go,” he said, motioning towards the battlefield below. One of the seaplanes flew by, its engines cutting through the air, then dropped a bomb onto a street below. It exploded, shattering glass on the buildings just below the hill from them and forcing a concussive wave up onto them. Natasha plugged her ears with her fingers. Her ears rang and her vision was a little blurry, but she felt alright. She waited a moment to formulate her thoughts again: she felt like they had been scrambled like an egg for a second.
“Alright,” she answered. Bending over to pick up her own rifle and kit, she quickly donned her load-bearing vest and smock. Without a word, they left the hilltop to head down to the sounds of battle below.
A pair of black cars, little Armenian flags fluttering from the front of the hood, stopped on a dirt road next to a rustic-looking building. The lowlands of Nakhichevan had a vibrant green tone to them. The farms around the outskirts of the city stretched for kilometers, growing wheat, barley, grapes, or orchard fruits. In the mountains beyond them, intricate and well-worn mine tunnels led to deposits of salt, molybdenum, and lead. Life here was peaceful and simple: the divisions that seemed to terrorize urban Armenians in the center were nonexistent. Despite the fighting that occurred in the Artsakh, the Armenians, Azeris, and Iranians of Nakhichevan never had any reason to dislike each other. Whatever Russian migrants came to the towns below the mountains were welcomed with Persian politeness: many were laborers working the fields. While different groups were fairly self-segregated into their towns and regions, everyone was fairly free to do what they pleased. The province was much too blue-collar to concern itself with the political problems of the day.
Hovik Idratian stretched his legs in the back of the car, tucking the fabric of his shirt into his trousers. A wave of slight embarrassment washed over him when he felt the soft rolls of fat across his stomach: his wife had been scolding him to start running more and lose some of the beer belly, but long hours at the office had replaced whatever free time he had for exercise. Luckily, however, his suit was tailored in a way that was about as flattering as it could get. Despite this, he wasn’t allowed to button it: his publicist had recommended he wear a simple brown coat and pants with no tie, something to ground him more with the locals in this farm town. A photographer sat next time him, fiddling with her camera flash and talking nonstop about what kinds of angles and types of lenses she needed to get the best shots of him. Both Idratian and the bodyguard in the front seat paid no attention. She was probably just nervous, after all: it was her first time following someone as high up as the Vice President. The state-run Armenian News Service routinely furnished journalists and reporters to cover what the government was doing but they often had experienced veterans behind the camera.
A crowd had gathered in front of the wood-paneled town meetinghouse, with the village’s officials arriving outside. An older man in a boxy, well-worn dark grey suit sported a purple tie just like the President’s along with male-pattern baldness and a smile showing crooked teeth. Beside him was his town police constable: another older man, slightly darker in complexion with close-cropped brown hair and an elaborately thick mustache, who wore high riding boots and a low-slung revolver belt atop the classic blue police uniform. Everything was shined and polished, or as much as it could be. The townspeople were the definition of rough and tumble, almost picturesque rural farmers with stoic, weathered faces. Their sleeves on their flannels and shirts were rolled to their elbows, and even the women in their threadbare dresses looked like they could easily beat Idratian in a weightlifting competition. The officials shook hands with the Vice President and his entourage, before the man in the grey suit identified himself in a cheery voice: “My name is Vasif Shahbuzi! Welcome to my village, it is very exciting to have a visit from Yerevan.”
Idratian smiled: the mayor went along, almost skipping down the dirt road as he followed. The photographer behind them rushed into position, bent over and peering down the sight of her camera as she rushed from angle to angle like someone was shooting at her. The mayor explained what the name of the road was, where people lived, and how they lived. A stray goat crossed the road being chased by a girl in a green dress. The mayor chuckled at her, and so did Idratian. A mother came walking up from behind, hollering at her daughter to grab the goat’s collar and get it back to the pen. It felt scripted, like a scene from a movie, but the rural Nakhichevanis had a penchant for the dramatic. Eventually, the daughter threw herself towards the frightened goat and grabbed ahold of its collar before triumphantly returning to the road. She noticed the mayor out of the corner of her eye and turned to him: “Mr. Shahbuzi! The goat jumped the fence again!” she pouted. The photographer, sensing her opportunity, started snapping pictures. The click of the camera was rapid-fire. The mayor knelt next to her and the goat as the mother came up to thank him.
“See, if you really want to keep him under control,” the mayor said helpfully as he moved his grip to yoke up on the collar and to the back, “you have to hold him like this. Otherwise he slips out and runs away, and he doesn’t have any collar.”
The little girl nodded, her wide brown eyes following the mayor’s instructions. She tried it herself, smiling as the goat bleated. “Thank you!” she said, before turning her attention Idratian. “Who are you, mister?”
The Vice President looked down at the mayor, who answered: “Well, he helps the President run the country. He’s the Vice President, actually. The second-biggest man in the country.”
The little girl nodded, even if it was clear it wasn’t entirely sure that she knew what the position meant. Idratian at least thought it was a cute exchange, and asked her name. “Ivanka!” she replied, cheerily. “And this is my mother.”
The mother, by contrast, appeared quite nervous. She introduced herself by her family name as Mrs. Ali and politely excused herself. She took Ivanka and thanked the mayor for his time before bringing the still-stubborn goat across to their house, taking it behind and through a waist-high chainlink fence. The mayor and the Vice President continued their stroll down the packed dirt road. It sloped slightly downhill, the houses thinning out before plots of orchards took up more and more space. Ripening fruits of the late summer hung temptingly from the trees, as a few villagers picked them off the branches to assess their coloring. In one orchard, the father of a family was apparently satisfied enough with his apple that he bit into it and directed his teenaged son to gather a bucket to start plucking the fruit from that particular row of trees. The mayor explained the type of apples there and that this was their specific month for harvesting. It would be the last first run of the year, with more and more of them becoming ready in the autumn before the winter months.
Idratian nodded along, smiling and offering his own inputs on the kinds of agriculture that his family had fostered in the west. The Idratian family, long members of the poorer class of their village, found their luck in the late 19th century when an uncle passed away and left a large herd of cattle to them in his will. The family’s wealth increased significantly as they could sell more animal products at the bustling market. Their political life started modestly, as respected members of their bucak township at the time. Eventually, after service in the Fedayi during the Revolution, the Idratians soon found themselves as mayors of their hamaynkner town political division. Their popularity only grew from there, becoming a political dynasty of down-to-earth, common workers. His father made the rounds in the new Van marz, eventually elected governor in the 1930s. It was only natural that his son Hovik picked up the mantle: but only after finishing courses at the Agricultural University of Van and working the fields just as his father and grandfather did.
The soft, wet earth of the irrigated fields felt familiar to him, as he had walked across hundreds of similar ones during his campaigns. Although a long way from the pastures of his hometown, the rustic sights and smells of this village brought him back to Van. By his feet as the pair walked, water trickled through a beaten aluminum pipe and occasionally sprayed into rows of yellow-white wheat. Another villager, ever watchful, picked apart the grass and inspected the bushes’ readiness individually. Mayor Shahbuzi reminded Idratian that there were still a few weeks or so before the grain harvest. Idratian picked a kernel off one of the stalks of grass and bit gingerly into it, concurring. “Although it’s a shame you didn’t take me through the barley fields,” he remarked jokingly. “I keep Nakhichevani beer in the fridge at the Presidential Palace.”
Their tour finished back at the meetinghouse where it began, with the mayor and the constable both conversing with Idratian on the steps of the porch. With his hands in his pocket, Idratian surveyed the village again. They had been there for an hour or so, the sun was starting to reach its noon peak. They were due for a lunch before he ran off to more meetings with administrators in the Nakhichevan urban center, but the Vice President had pulled Mayor Shahbuzi and his constable to the side away from both of their entourages. “Mayor,” Idratian began, looking around. “I know things here aren’t as… visible to the Yerevan government as they should be. If you have any suggestions, let me know and I can try to make things happen. Totally candidly, of course… you and I both know what it’s like, the National Assembly gets too tied up in its own big-picture issues.”
Mayor Shahbuzi nodded along, stroking his chin pensively. “Small problems from the small people,” he mused poetically. “So far, we’ve been seeing a stagnant increase in wages. People just don’t make the same amount of money as they used to at the market and we’re starting to struggle.”
The Vice President reached towards the small notebook he kept in his pant pocket, flipping open the well-worn cover to scribble in some notes as the mayor talked. “I think it’s the industry,” Mayor Shahbuzi continued, becoming gravely serious. “Those subsidies are starting to push out the village folk. I don’t know what it’s like in the west or in the Artsakh, but we’re feeling the pinch here because we’re not heavy industry.”
Idratian continued to scribble. In the margins of his notebook, he wrote down something about subsidies and money flow to the Nakhichevan marz. “Makes sense,” he said. “We haven’t had anyone bring it up before… usually the main concern is obviously the Turks. Tanks, tanks, tanks. Guns, guns, guns. Railroads, cement factories.”
“Going to Georgia didn’t help either,” he added quietly before flipping the notebook shut. The mayor nodded and shrugged.
“That would go a long way to the problems we have. Leaky irrigation, old tractors, everything else. Bring more money to the people and we can fix it better. Or at least we could buy more duct tape and spare parts.”
“Alright,” agreed the Vice President before quickly moving to shake the man’s hand. “I’ll bring this to President Assanian.”
With gracious words of thanks, Mayor Shahbuzi waved the photographer over. Coming out of her place like a stalking animal, she moved to take a picture of the smiling handshake. He announced that they were ready for lunch, adding in that the Vice President’s favorite Nakhichevani beer would be served at the table since the brewery was so close by. The doors of the meetinghouse swung open, two aides flanking the wooden steps, and the politicians entered into the plain one-room structure. Atop a wooden table lined with rows of hand-carved chairs was a feast of local meat and grains. The chefs who prepared it stood proudly at the end by an Armenian flag hanging over the fireplace. They waved the Vice President in and sat him at the end of the table where Mayor Shahbuzi took the head. When all of them were seated, a toast was called for. Everyone in unison lifted their glasses of wine or beer as Mayor Shahbuzi and Vice President Idratian stood over them. One after the other, they toasted for Armenia.
“For the fertile valleys of Nakhichevan!” announced Mayor Shahbuzi.
Idratian finished the rest: “And for our mountain Fatherland: Armenia!”