Armen and his 'Aqua World' in Stepanakert
For the last five years, Armen Hakobyan’s life has been dedicated to the business of his dreams. Armen runs and constantly strives to improve his Aqua World store in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), where he sells fish and aquarium accessories.
At the Sunday market in Yerevan, located in an area called ‘Third Section’, he is known as ‘Armen from Artsakh’.
Here he makes the main wholesale purchases for his store in Stepanakert [in Azerbaijan the city is called Khankendi].
The mysterious words “danio”, “gourami”, “neon”, “thornsia”, “scalar” all have a special meaning for him.
“I know everything about aquarium fish. Well, almost at a scientific level”, says Armen.
For a new consignment of goods, Armen has to come to Yerevan often, on average three times a month. Usually, he chooses Saturday for the trip, so that literally at dawn he will already be at the pet market.
He needs to finish his business by noon in order to get to Stepanakert by the evening. The new occupants of his store must be immediately delivered to the site, sorted and arranged.
The next morning he has very different things to do. Armen needs to be in Malybeyli (Stepanakert district, now called Ajapnyak) to drive the cows to graze. The store is not Armen’s only business.
He is 27 years old, and he had to start working to provide for his family at the age of 18, after the death of his father. However, he started an animal-related business long before that.
“At the age of 16, I secretly bought chickens for my family using the money I had saved and kept them in a secret place. I would be scolded at home if someone found out, they saw a different future for me”.
He collected the money by working various jobs. At first he worked in a bakery, then he also began delivering orders to the house and also worked part-time as a night watchman.
After leaving school, he continued his business with cows and chickens and at the same time studied at the Stepanakert branch of the Agrarian University of Armenia.
“Working with aquarium fish united my interests: love for nature and animals, as well as a desire to study and explore them. Not to mention the fact that it became the implementation of my long-standing decision – to start my own business”, says Armen.
His shop of aquarium fish, pets, and various accessories for them has been operating for five years.
“From the first days of the second Karabakh war [September 27-November 10, 2020] my brother, my cousins, all went to the front ․ And I stayed in Stepanakert to help provide shelters for those in need, to solve their nutritional problems. It was very difficult here during the war, but it was here that I was needed”, says Armen.
He managed to regularly come to the store and feed the fish. The building, which contained the aquariums, was bombed, but the fish survived.
Before the war, Armen also kept a herd of cows in Karvachar [Azerbaijani name for Kelbajar]. He managed to save several, overtaking them on foot to Stepanakert. Now in Ajapnyak he has more than ten cows.
Armen’s girlfriend Lusin is helping him as well. She works at his shop when Armen is busy with cows or travels to Yerevan.
“I wouldn’t leave at all. I don’t like it there (in Yerevan), I just suffocate in the hustle and bustle of this city”, says Armen. When asked what will happen next, he replies: “You have to be optimistic and work hard”.
This story is part of the Trajectory media project about people whose lives have been affected by the conflicts in the South Caucasus. The project works with authors and editors from all over the South Caucasus and does not support either side in any conflict. The authors are responsible for publications on this page. In most cases, toponyms are used as is customary in the author’s society. The project is implemented by GoGroup Media and International Alert with the support of the European Union.