Tuesday, February 01, 2005



1 February 2005


Hetq Online Stages Event to Raise Awareness of the Problem of Homelessness in the Armenian Capital

YEREVAN, Armenia -- On 27 January 2005, over one hundred representatives of local and international NGOs, diplomatic missions, the local media and private individuals attended the presentation of a film and photographic exhibition highlighting the problem of homelessness in Yerevan, the Armenian capital. The event, entitled "The Right to Life," was staged by the Investigative Journalists of Armenia / Hetq Online and held at the recently opened Naregatsi Art Institute in central Yerevan.

At the event, 19 photographs illustrating the problem of homelessness by British photojournalist Onnik Krikorian were displayed and a 19-minute documentary film produced by Edik Baghdasarian and Yerkir Media TV was presented to the assembled audience. The event was also used to launch a collection of articles and photographs by Krikorian. The book, "Armenia: Poverty, Transition & Democracy" was printed in Armenia and will be distributed worldwide by the Gomidas Institute (Princeton and London) and the UK-based Garod Books.

According to Edik Baghdasarian, Editor-in-Chief of Hetq Online, the event was necessary in order to raise public awareness of the increasing problem of homelessness in the capital city and the fact that neither the Mayor's Office, the Government nor local and international organizations seem too concerned about the fact that dozens of homeless people die on the streets of the Armenian capital each winter. According to the Yerevan Mayor's office, fourteen bodies had been buried in numbered pauper's graves reserved for the "unclaimed" at the back of the Nubarashen cemetery in the first 19 days of January alone.

Highlighting this fact, in just one month investigating the problem, Baghdasarian says that at least two homeless people he came into personal contact with are now dead. One of those men, fifty-eight year old Gor, was filmed by Baghdasarian just days before his death. In the film that received its premier at the event, Baghdasarian, the photographer and a film crew were seen stumbling upon Gor as he lay freezing in the basement of a new construction on the prestigious Northern Avenue. A few days later, despite Baghdasarian's attempts to help the man, he was dead.

However, according to the United Nation's definition of homelessness, the term does not just refer to those sleeping temporarily or permanently on the streets. In fact, as in the other more developed countries, homelessness also refers to those living in sub-standard accommodation or hostels and who lack access to safe water, sanitation and other public services and opportunities. Such a reality was also represented at the event through the photographic exhibition and in Baghdasarian's film which will be broadcast on Yerkir TV on 5 February at 10 p.m.

Media interest in the event was high with interviews conducted for the broadcast and print media. Later that evening, Baghdasarian was also interviewed live on air by Yerkir TV and used the occasion to highlight the reasons why the Armenian Government and city officials should tackle the problem now. Although an article of a draft law will refer to the need to offer 60 days shelter to those without accommodation, it is well known that laws rarely work in Armenia, if at all. There is also the question of when this provision will be implemented.

Such an opinion was expressed by Krikorian in televised and printed interviews conducted on the day. "Usually, when such a situation is reported on in the West, society demands that the Government act immediately," he said. "For example, if over twenty homeless people died on the streets of London in just a month and half, there would be calls for the Mayor to resign. However, in Armenia, nothing much happens at all and I doubt that the situation will change anytime soon. Yet, a shelter for the homeless was opened in Tbilisi, capital of the neighboring Republic of Georgia, six years ago."

Indeed, according to Baghdasarian, when the film-maker and journalist contacted local hospitals in order to secure treatment for one homeless man, they refused despite their legal and ethical obligation to do so. In fact, it was only after Krikorian contacted Medecins Sans Frontieres - France that the Armenian medical services agreed to treat the sixty year old -- probably out of fear that international assistance might be revoked if they didn't. Yet, even so, because of their initial refusal to help the homeless man in question, treatment came too late. Bash died days after being admitted into hospital with severe frostbite.

Although the event was an undoubted success in terms of raising public awareness of the issue, the two journalists nonetheless remained pessimistic about any possible change in the situation. Although Baghdasarian had met with Lise Grande, the Residential Representative of the United Nations in Armenia, a week earlier, the Armenian Government and local authorities still refuse to accept the fact that they have an obligation to prevent the deaths of scores of individuals on the streets of Yerevan each year. Grande promised to take this issue up with the authorities as well as international donors.

"We have been talking about the problem of the homeless in Yerevan for several weeks now," wrote Baghdasarian in a commentary published by Hetq Online a day earlier. "Is there anything that journalists can do about it? If we can't change anything with the articles we write, if we can't improve any lives, then it is pointless to keep doing this work. Even if hundreds of people respond to our articles, if nothing changes as a result, it means that something is wrong."

"All human rights follow from one basic right – the right to life," concluded Baghdasarian. "If that right is not guaranteed, everything else is meaningless."

Edik Baghdasarian's articles on the problem of homelessness in Yerevan can be found in the archive section of the Hetq Online web site. A presentation of some of the images exhibited and articles published by Hetq Online is now available for viewing online (4.93 Mbytes) or downloading (5.45 Mbytes) at:


The presentation is optimized for viewing at a minimum resolution of 1024x768. A second version of this presentation with a 19-minute documentary film produced by Edik Baghdasarian and Yerkir Media TV is also available on CD-Rom. Please contact Hetq Online for more details.

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