Russian-Armenian businessman Levon Hairapetian, a native of the Karabakh village of Vank, financed the ceremonies. Each couple received a payment of $2,000; newlyweds living in villages received a cow. That financial support will continue with each child born: couples will receive $2,000 for their first child, $3,000 for a second child, and increasing sums up to $100,000 for a seventh child.
The ultimate aim of the event was to stimulate a baby boom in the territory. A 2005 census put Karabakh's predominantly ethnic Armenian population at just over 145,000.
In this remote, mountainous territory where jobs run scarce, the marriage offer struck many as too good to pass up. Virtually all of the Karabakh residents interviewed had a relative, neighbor or friend who was part of the mass wedding ceremony. On October 15, the day before the event, beauty salons in the capital, Stepanakert, were packed. "We had so many clients that we were working the whole night," said one salon owner.
Starting in the early morning, buses transported couples from all over Karabakh to Vank village and to Shushi, or Shusha as it is still called in Azerbaijan, a semi-ruined city not far from Stepanakert that saw some of the fiercest fighting in the 1988-1994 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the territory.
Five hundred and sixty couples ended up being married either at St. Ghazanchetsots church or the 13th century Gandzasar monastery, not far from Vank.
Then it was off to Stepanakert's Republic Stadium for toasts, wedding certificates and visits by pop stars from Yerevan, and a greeting from de facto Karabakh President Bako Sahakyan. With the stadium full of brides in white, the celebration continued late into the night, topped off by a fireworks display.
Among the event participants was Eric Dravyan, a 25-year-old man from Stepanakert who married Karine Hayrapetyan, 20. The couple said that they were happy to be part of the ceremonies, but added that they intend to hold another ceremony at a later date, to which only family and close friends will be invited.
Another participant, Vladimir Hakobjanyan, a 24-year-old from Askeran, said he was happy to finally get married. "Three month ago, I [kidnapped] my wife [Noyem Hakobjanyan, 19] as her parents would not give their consent. ... We did not have a wedding at that time; today is our wedding and we are very delighted and thankful."
Anahit Hayrapetyan is a freelance photographer based in Yerevan.