A Village Remembered: The Armenians of Habousi - The Compatriotic Union of Habousi

Chapter 5:

Agriculture and Produce

Since ancient ages Armenians have been farmers. They loved the soil, cultivated it patiently, and fed their families with the products of the land.

Working in nature and dealing with soil helped people not only to be bonded to each other sincerely and to share each other’s happiness and sorrow, but also to assist each other overcome difficulties by sharing each other’s burden. Neighbors lived close. Houses were often attached to each other. Many times holes were drilled through the walls, so neighbors could freely enter each other’s houses with the unlimited mutual trust pertinent to a truly moral and honest people.

The village had shopkeepers, carpenters, painters, builders, and famous potters. Habousetzies were almost the sole preparers of linen in the villages of the Big Plain (Oulou Ova). At the turn of the twentieth century, villagers bred fine horses and sheep. But agriculture remained their main occupation.

All kinds of grains were cultivated in Habousi—wheat, barley, and sesame. Cotton was also grown. Some of the produce was marketed in Kharpert.

Villagers also cultivated legumes, such as lentils, beans, and chickpeas, as well as vegetables such as potatoes, melons, watermelons, onions, garlic, squash, turnips, and beets. The region was famous for its grapes. The fields outside the village were interspersed with orchards and vineyards.

The villagers lived off the land and its products. Most of them had their own plot of land, whether large or small. They plowed and cultivated their fields as they had seen it done by their fathers. There was no machinery. Everything was done manually. For plowing, a yoke of oxen was used. The farmer sowed the grain as he trudged behind the oxen.

Sometimes, at the beginning of July, the wheat and barley ears were already golden. They were considered “done.” People took bundles of “done” ears home to barbecue them on the fire. Peeled grain was delicious.

Every year on July fifteenth harvesters prepared their sickles. They checked the wooden handle of the five-finger tool and the hone, and they used a piece of fat from a sheep’s tail to sharpen the sickle.

Harvest time sparked the cooperative spirit of the villagers. When the wheat and barley were ready to harvest, neighbors got together and began to reap the mature crop. Fearing that rain or cattle might ruin the crop, everyone took his sickle or scythe and helped with the harvest.

Before sunrise, a procession of men, women, and children, laughing and singing, went to the fields. The best reaper among them was the first to start. Often he made the sign of the cross and exclaimed:

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Let five hundred Turks croak this day
With only one Armenian, and that be untrue.”

The rest would unanimously shout: “Long live!”

Then villagers would begin to work, cutting the stalks with scythes and leaving them on the ground to be picked up by specialists. A specialist would use a sickle to collect the harvest from the ground and arrange the stalks into a round pile with the heads inside. In large fields many similar piles were made. When sickles became blunt, it was time to rest and sharpen the edges. It was also time for lunch.

The feeding of the men in the fields was the responsibility of ten to twelve year old boys and girls called water-carriers. Water carriers came with their donkeys laden with food, water, and a cooling soup called tanabour (a mixture of barley and yogurt). The tanabour was placed in tightly covered pots, lowered into the cold spring, and left for hours to chill. Once chilled, the soup was served to the harvesters.

The harvested grain was picked up in carts and carried to the threshing ground, called gal, at the outskirt of the village. The gal was circular in shape, seventy to eighty feet in diameter. The harvested grain of each field was stacked around the gal, waiting its turn to be threshed. Villagers first had to water the ground. After it was dry, hay was thrown down and flattened by a roller-stone. The roller-stone was a yard long and half a yard thick. The round-shaped stone had holes on both sides where iron handles were placed.

Sometimes young people, in order to show their strength, loaded the big piles of grain on the carts with one lift of the pitchfork.

The carter usually made a special effort to call attention to himself as he approached the gal, proud of the job he performed.

Once all piles were moved to the threshing ground, a farmer would sit on a chair placed on the gam (thresher) and drive the oxen with a massa (prod). The gam was composed of two pieces of pine wood attached to each other by two or three belts. The pine wood was studded with fifteen to eighteen flint stones on each row underneath. From time to time villagers had to turn the heap over with pitchforks, so that the unthreshed wheat at the bottom would come to the top.

Then the winnowing would start by winnowing machines made by Habousetzie carpenters.

While still winnowing, a villager would go after the shahane (inspector) to come and place his official seal on the piled wheat. The grain would remain sealed until two or four measurers would show up for distribution. The sealer, the khasaghasi (top agha), and the owner had to be present.

The measurers, kneeling in front of the piles, would sift a special measuring tray in the pile, and after leveling it with a wiping board, would empty it shouting: “One, my God, one!”
This was the time to set aside the government’s share, one-tenth of the grain. During World War I the government’s share increased to one-fifth. The last measure was the share for the measurer or the sifter.

Once villagers were through with the gal, they would harvest other produce and finally the grapes.

In autumn, farmers would seed all kinds of grain in fields that had been plowed three or four times.

Once the fields were prepared, the elders of Habousi would get together and decide upon a date for the cocoon collection. Every villager, ten years old and older, participated in cocoon collecting. This job lasted three or four days.

The people of Habousi stored their grain in pits, about twenty-five in number, which were dug in the center of the village. These pits were circular and served as silos. They were twenty-five feet deep and three feet in diameter. The grain was kept there for six months, and in the spring it was taken out to be used.

Wealthy farmers had shepherds and herdsmen servicing them, while poorer villagers would jointly use the services of special herdsmen who were located in a special place in the village. They would take the cattle in the morning to graze and bring them back in the evening.

There were also two guards paid by the villagers to look after the shepherds and the cattle.