Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Here is a flattering picture of the good work our Kocharian government is doing and the fruits of their hard work and efforts.

I know this one is very long, but once you get started, your going to want to read it to the end.



27 February 2004


Out of six children, only one lives at home

Forty-year-old Hambardzum Sargisyan is one of the longest-standing residents f the Kimreactive Plant dormitory, here with his family for 17 years now. He has six children. His oldest daughter, Nazik, 19, left the dormitory because she couldn't take her father's drinking anymore, and now she's a waitress in a cafe.

Three of her sisters have been at Mother Arusyak's Children's Home in Gyumri for several months now. They like it there, and don't want to go back home. Their mother, Margarita, isn't sure how to cope. "If they stay with Mother Arusyak, I'll at least know that they are safe and are kept off the streets. I can't take care of them here," she says.

Now only their youngest daughter, Astghik, lives with Margarita. Their only son, Arthur, (not his real name) is serving a prison term for theft. Arthur went to school up to fifth grade and then began working - selling paper bags. His parents say he was supporting the family. Hambardzum blames the fact that Arthur is now in prison on his new friends. "My son went to a camp with the assistance of the Red Cross and met up with a group of boys. They taught him to steal. They got out, but my son is still in prison," Hambardzum says.

Arthur sent them a letter recently which says: "Happy New Year to my family. Read what I say carefully, Pa. I understand that you have said good-bye to all hope, but that's no way out, either. I have been rotting in prison for one year and two months. If you don't send 100 dollars, I'll be here for another three years. I've had pneumonia three times already. I will be in the zone until the 10th. It'll be good if you can manage it by then." When he got his son's letter, the father went to friends and relatives, but he couldn't come up with the money. "They pressure my son in prison, they force him to take responsibility for someone else's crimes. He's a decent kid, he falls victim to them. I don't know what to do. I'm desperate, and I take it out on my wife," says Hambardzum.

The first time we went to Hambardzum's, his wife wasn't home. He had gotten drunk the night before, beaten her up, then thrown her and their daughter out of the house. Margarita went to her parent's home. "It wasn't the first time he beat me up and threw me out on the street in this cold weather. I'm forced to go to my parents'. But they're in a tough situation, too, and I am a burden on them," Margarita says.

Last year at Margarita's request the Red Cross put Hambardzum into the hospital to be treated for alcoholism. He spent thirteen days there, but it didn't do any good. "During the treatment, my condition got worse. They put people who didn't pay in cold rooms. They didn't even feed us. They gave me the same drugs they give to the mentally ill. That's no cure. Besides, my whole family was on its own, they didn't do anything to help them," Hambardzum complains.

Now Hambardzum works loading trucks. But his wife says he spends his pay on vodka, and the children go without food. "There's nothing left in the house, he sold everything, even the pots and pans. He sells the rice and sugar that we get in aid. I try to keep things away from him," Margarita explains. Their room has a cupboard, a bed and a decrepit couch. There is no bathroom or kitchen. Water drips constantly from the roof. Sometimes they try to heat the room with an electric stove, but the wind penetrating through the windows keeps it from getting warm. "We used to sleep three or four of us on the couch to keep warm. Besides, there's no other place to sleep. It gets so cold in the wintertime that the children shiver with cold," Margarita says.

Because of the cold and damp, the children are constantly sick. "I am a believer, that's why I have so many children. I'd always say, God gave them, we should have them. Now I understand I was wrong."

In their homes, it's always raining

"We've been renting in this dormitory for five years now. We had to sell our house because of hard times, and we were homeless. Now we pay 10,000 drams a month for this place. Sometimes after we pay the rent, we can't buy bread," says Naira Galstyan, a mother of two young children.

The 41-year old woman lives on the eighth floor of the dormitory of the former chemical plant in the Erebuni district of Yerevan. Her 18-month-old daughter has no birth certificate yet. She was born at the Erebuni hospital, but in order to get her birth certificate, her parents were required to pay $10, which they didn't have. Naira's husband, Ashot Galstyan, is a driver, though he has higher education. Naira, trained as a teacher, is unemployed. The money Ashot earns doesn't cover their monthly expenses. The children are often sick. It's chilly and damp in the apartment. Water drips from the ceiling and the naked concrete floors are cold. The children go barefoot - they have no shoes. "My younger daughter is almost always sick, she never gets better. She's already been in the hospital twice. She's still got an eye inflammation because of the dampness. My other daughter has a chronic cough. We can't call the doctor, since we can't pay. They say that children under seven are supposed to be treated free of charge in the district polyclinic, but in reality, they don't help if you don't have money," Naira complains.

They try to heat this two-room apartment with a wood stove, burning whatever comes to hand, since wood is too expensive. Naira says that they scavenge things from the streets--they even burned their couch and their stool. "When I see my children shivering I can't think about anything else. I would burn up anything just to keep them warm. I even burned my shoes. My children's being warm is more important than anything," she says.

The family doesn't receive any allowance or aid, since they are not registered at the dormitory. They get some help from relatives or neighbors from time to time. Every day the neighbors get together, in the apartment of whoever has coffee, to share their problems and worries. It's also a way to kill time; they have nothing else to do. Many of them don't have TV sets.

Dorm residents say their biggest holiday is when they have running water to bathe in. Usually, the women on the eighth floor have to bring water from the building across the street, while neighbors look after the kids. The children can't be left alone in the hallways, because the windows are missing panes, and the stairways are icy in winter. “Imagine, we even have guests in these conditions. We are poor, but our hearts are big. Although we always warn our guests to bring umbrellas along since it's always raining in our house. Santa Claus even brought an umbrella for my daughter's New Year present," Naira says with irony.

There are not many rental apartments in the dormitory, but they are in the worst condition-no kitchen, no toilet, exposed wiring, water dripping from the ceiling when it rains. And for this, people pay the owners $20 a month in rent.

We've been waiting for new apartment for ten years now

"It's impossible to live in this dormitory. Especially when it rains, and all the rooms fill up with water. We constantly get sick because of the dampness. We've been with the neighbors to various agencies, but nothing has changed," complains dormitory resident, Ararat Khachatryan.

The Khatchatryan family has lived in the dormitory for 20 years now. Ararat and his wife, Laura, are from Artsakh. The lived in Martakert before they moved to Yerevan. Ararat is an agronomist by training. He got a job at the chemical plant, and, he says, at least managed take care of his family. Eventually the three-room apartment on the eighth floor became theirs through privatization. Over the years they renovated the apartment and installed a sink and a toilet.

As in other eighth-floor apartments, running water doesn't reach their apartment. "There are no communal facilities in this dormitory. The conditions are awful. On paper, we have three rooms, but two of them unfit to live in - the ceiling always drips," Laura says. Ararat and Laura have two children - 22 and 25 years old. Ararat's parents live with them as well. But because there's nowhere for them to sleep, they've been staying at their daughter's for the last two months. "Both my children should have gotten married long ago. But they can't start new families until we get a new place to live," Laura explains.

Their son Haik was killed in the Artsakh war when he was 16. He joined the joined the militia and went to Martakert in 1993. He was killed the same year. Ararat lost a brother in the war, as well, and served himself. The ministry of defense promised to give then an apartment, as the family of a slain veteran. "We've been waiting for the apartment for more than 10 years. There has been continuous red tape. They keep promising and letting us down," Ararat says.

They have appealed to the administration of the Kentron district of Yerevan, to the Yerevan Mayor's Office, to the Ministry of Defense, and to the President's Office for the apartment. In 2003 the Ministry of Defense put the family on the list of its Social Security Fund, and they were in line for an apartment last year. But they were subsequently informed that as a family which already had a privatized apartment they were not entitled to another.

They receive a 7,000 dram (about $12) allowance, as a family of a slain war veteran, barely enough to pay the monthly electricity bill. Ararat's current job, as a construction worker, is seasonal. He is usually out of work in the winter, and his son and wife provide for the family. "There is no greater punishment for the man of the family than being out of work. This is not a state; we don't even have a homeland. What did our sons get killed for? For a country that doesn't exist? I curse our leaders; they have no idea what it means to lose a son. I wish I had been killed," says Ararat with a deep sigh.

Dormitory economics

There are a number of dormitories in the Erebuni district of Yerevan. On the road to the right of the Erebuni Museum are the dormitories of three big plants, shut down long ago. The locals call them the Kimreaktive (chemical reagent), Vadarod (hydrogen) and Dzerzhinsky (machine-tool) dormitories. The people who used to work in these plants still live here.

The eight-story dormitory of the Kimreaktive plant was built in 1972. It has 200 rooms, and today houses some 370-380 people. The apartments were privatized in 1987-1988, and five years ago the Mush condominium was created to take responsibility for the building. The chairman of the condominium is Jirair Martirosyan, a resident of the dormitory. People blame him more than anyone for the condition of the building. "Our condominium chairman doesn't do anything. The building is falling apart, water from the roof is pouring into every apartment. He doesn't even try to find a way out," one resident complains.

But Jirair Martirosyan says his hands are tied. "The condominium must survive on its own. The state doesn't help us. Our budget is based on the residents' service dues. But since they are unable to pay, we don't have a budget. The residents' debt amounts to 3 million drams," he explains. Ninety percent of the people in the dormitory are extremely poor. Nevertheless, Martirosyan is getting ready to collect the money by force.

The building has never been renovated. Ceilings on the eighth floor don't just drip, they rain. The elevator doesn't work, the hallways have no doors, the windows have no panes. In winter the stairs are icy, and the wind blows from every direction. The hallways are unbearably cold. It's impossible for people to heat their apartments. And in summer, they have no peace from mosquitoes and the stench from the garbage dump.

The upper floors of the buildings have no water. People bring water in buckets from the buildings across the street. But the biggest problem is the crumbling roof. "The condition of the roof is awful. We have appealed to the district administration, the Yerevan mayor's office, and other agencies, but the water keeps dripping on us. We get a multitude of diseases caused by dampness," says Sonik Sargisyan. Years ago some parts of the building were renovated, new pipes were laid, hallway windows were replaced, but most of the work has been ransacked.

"Our building is not yet in a state of emergency, but it could be," warns Jirair Martirosyan. Meanwhile the government spends thousands of dollars elaborating its poverty reduction program. Seminars and round-table discussions are organized, diagrams and indices are presented, books are published, but nothing is done to improve the lives of the people in this Yerevan dormitory. They have fallen off the edge of a cliff, and there seems to be no way back up.

Arpine Harutiunyan

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