Open type correctional facilities are mainly located in penitentiary establishments, but the Nrnadzor settlement is the only one in Armenia where the facility is fully opened and located right in the rural community. Convicts in the southernmost village of Armenia can move freely, work and live in the rural community and feel as full members of the community.

The village of Nrnadzor

Nrnadzor (previously– Nyuvadi) is the southernmost village of Armenia, located in Syunik region. In 2016, the village became one of the enlarged settlements of Meghri community. Nrnadzor is bordered by Iran, divided from the later by Araks River. There are 140 people living in the village. Nrnadzor is famous for its pomegranate gardens, cultivation of which is the main occupation and source of income for the villagers.

During the Karabakh war, among other things, there was a struggle for Nrnadzor as well. Nrnadzor became an open type correctional facility for prisoners when the Armenian army finally liberated the village and it passed under the jurisdiction of Armenia.

What does open regime mean?

The RA Correctional Code, which was last amended in 1985, stipulates that open type correctional labor institutions are divided into colony-settlements for negligent offenders, colony-settlements for intentional offenders, and colony-settlements for persons who definitely have taken the correct path. Those who committed negligent crimes for the first time and sentenced to imprisonment, are held in correctional labor colonies (open type colonies).

Prisoners in open regime colonies can walk around freely, without supervision in and out of the open regime colony, have access to funds and use them without restriction. The convicts may, with the permission of the head of the division, meet with family members and, if sufficient conditions exist, may reside with their family members within the colony-settlement. Inmates held in open regime are also given the opportunity to work in that settlement, and this work is included in their general work experience.

Nrnadzor open regime colony

The open regime facility is located near the village of Nrnadzor and is part of the Goris penitentiary, though it is pretty far away from Goris. The facility is next to pomegranate gardens owned by the Ministry of Justice.

When asked why the prisoners are being brought so far, the penitentiary service employees say that the prisoners themselves apply to move to Nrnadzor if, of course, they already have the opportunity to serve their sentence in an open type correctional facility.

Davit Ananyan, the head of the open regime division, is a former freedom fighter and participated in the liberation of Nrnadzor during the Karabakh war (1988-1994). He says the open regime division and later the shelter were established shortly after the war.

 “Convicts who are transferred to the open regime, as a rule, do not stay there long and apply for early conditional release. If they have already been transferred to open regime, it means that they have shown exemplary behavior and are in compliance with the requirements for early conditional release. Recently, two convicts left Nrnadzor, and a few days ago, five convicts were transferred here from different penitentiaries.”

The convicts currently reside in both the division building adjacent to the pomegranate gardens and the house in the village.

“It is planned to make the village house a place for convicts and their families to meet and unite so that we can organize long visits, although the law allows inmates to meet their family members outside the facilities. And we want to make the division a permanent place of residence. Currently, construction works are planned, which will hopefully start in the near future,” said David Ananyan, the division head.

Construction work is also planned in the division building. The conditions there also need to be improved, as it is planned to bring female convicts here as well.

Convicts in the Nrnadzor open regime are mainly involved in horticultural work, for which they are paid, in addition to receiving points for their work, which later will become important for the court decision.

Despite the unequivocal response of community residents, the transfer of convicts to Nrnadzor is prescribed by law.

The penitentiary service explains the transfer of the persons who committed deliberate crime:

 “Anyone who deliberately commits an offense who is transferred to an open type correctional facility, may also be transferred to Nrnadzor within the scope of his or her rights.

Residents and convicts of Nrnadzor

The presence of convicts in the village of Nrnadzor has become customary. When new convicts arrive, the villagers meet with = and greet them and then often make friends with them.

“So far, those who came were good people. We communicated with everyone, accepted them as guests and spent time with them. Personally, I was in a very good relationship with the two convicts who had recently moved from here; they were good people, were coming to our house, I gave them jobs for a couple of times, they just wanted to help me and work with me in the garden,” tells Arman. He is one of the few young people among the permanent residents of Nrnadzor.

However, recently there has been concern among villagers. Until now, only convicts who had committed negligent crimes were transferred to Nrnadzor, and now those who committed intentional crimes and those convicted several times are also being transferred. The villagers do not like this.

 “If they continue to bring such convicts here, we will complain because the presence of people who have committed a deliberate crime and have been tried several times in the village is worrying. We understand that one should have the opportunity to be corrected, but most of us have families, grandchildren and children,” the villagers say.

The head of the Nrnadzor community Alexan Boyajyan also agrees with the villagers: “It is not desirable for anyone in the community to bring those who were convicted several times to live here, the villagers worry about their safety. Although such convicts have already been brought in and we had received them very well and helped to reach out to the community and residents and there has been no problem, nevertheless, we would not wish to bring in criminals. ”

Despite the concerns of the villagers, there has been no emergency in Nrnadzor penitentiary since the establishment of the correctional facility. On the contrary, according to the head of the division, the convicts become attached to Nrnadzor and, after their release, many of them are settled here and cultivate pomegranates.

 “As soon as the village came under Armenia’s control, they began to bring convicts here. At one time there were 50-60 convicts living here; some liked the village and decided to settle here after their release. Now, there are some residents in the village who used to be convicts and then stayed and live here,” says Davit Ananyan.

The convicts are generally satisfied with the conditions in Nrnadzor, but there are still people who prefer to move to another open regime penitentiary. The main reason is that there are no conditions for long-term visits in Nrnadzor, and also, the location is too remote and too expensive to get here from other regions of Armenia.

The material was prepared under the auspices of the European Union-funded Public Look at the Closed World project.

Raf Yengibaryan

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