By Gayane Mkrtchyan, Anahit Hayrapetyan
The family is grateful to at least have this place.
Aren’t they beautiful?
“These walls are our kingdom.”
In the rays of a sunset the village huddling on top of a hill looks like a gilded crown. Autumn in the village of Geghard in Armenia’s Kotayk province is at its height. The warm autumn sun caresses the village’s fruitful orchards. The giant mountains of the Geghama mountain range seem to be dancing kochari at the rear of Geghard.
It is a perfect village. Until you look for Senik Karapetyan’s house
The locals say it is in the upper parts of the village. Before we reach Senik’s house the village becomes totally shrouded in darkness. A villager shows a light gleaming in the dark: “That’s Senik’s house.”
A small well-lit window can be seen in the distance, the face of a small girl on the other side of it. Her eyes shine like two stars. Noticing approaching strangers, she runs to the door. Seconds later we are welcomed by 39-year old Senik’s six-member family who invite us in.
“This is where we live, make yourselves comfortable,” says the man of the house smiling and with a look makes his wife understand that she must lay the table. “After living in makeshift lodgings for eleven years it is the first winter that we spend within walls built of stone.”
Senik’s new lodgings have a living space of only 20 square meters. The four stone walls are not properly roofed. They had made a roof out of what was available, such as small pieces of wood, metal sheets, pasteboard.
“These walls are a kingdom for us,” says Senik’s 38-year-old wife Karine Karapetyan. “True, when we go to bed at night, we feel as if we were outside, the wind blows so strongly from all four sides. But what shall we do?”
Four metal beds, a TV-set, an old cupboard, a table and a few chairs. The small place is both for eating, sleeping and for receiving guests. They also take bathes and do the laundry there. The children are on one of the beds. One of them, 16-year-old Alina, quickly makes coffee. Apples, pears and walnuts appear on the table.
“Please, help yourselves,” Alina says. “This is the result of our family’s work.”
Senik says that it is a harvest season now, the whole of the family goes to work in the fellow villagers’ orchards. They are paid 2,000 drams (about $6) or a little more for a day’s work. They also get apples or walnuts. Karine describes with what difficulty Senik climbs walnut trees and shakes walnuts off.
“God forbid something happens to Senik, then we all will be lost,” she says.
In 1993, using his land as collateral, Senik got a loan of 20,000 rubles from the state to build a house. However, when Armenia introduced its own currency, the interest that Senik had to pay on the sum he’d borrowed increased so much that by selling his land he could hardly repay the bank loan.
Beginning in 1996, the Karapetyans lived in a makeshift lodging. Three of the children, Alina, Sargis and Ani, were born in that lodging. Due to the Tufenkian Foundation it is several months that the Karapetyans have a plot of 1,250 square meters. Senik says that their land belonged to the village’s state farm during the Soviet times and that winter forage was kept there. And the area of 20 square meters is a former watchman’s hut.
Senik and Karine tell of their cares and hardships, but there is a sort of joy in the family. Despite being in need, they do not feel embarrassed; they give hope to themselves and continue to live with that hope.
“Our four children are our riches. It is difficult to maintain them, but I don’t leave them hungry. What do I have my hands for?” the father says.
The only source of income for the family is the allowance of 30,000 drams (about $90), of which they pay 22,000 (about $73) every month to buy two sacks of flour. They spend 1,500 drams to pay the electricity bill and “have trouble” spending the remaining 6,500 drams. They don’t know where to begin and where to end.
The family hovel is brightened by the clay art of 10-year-old Ani. With frozen fingers she skillfully makes two roses and says: “They are nice, aren’t they?” The girl’s breath is so loud that it attracts attention. The mother shows Ani’s swollen tonsils that, coupled with heart disease, make the girl suffer. The girl got her treatment last a year ago, at the cardiology hospital of Nork Marash in Yerevan.
“The doctors said that Ani’s tonsils had to be removed to avoid complications in the future, but we cannot afford to turn to doctors,” Karine says.
Senik also says that his wife suffers from epilepsy.
“If Karine were in good health I would have gone for migrant work, I would have returned to build a house,” Senik says. “She often suffers fainting fits, I cannot leave her alone in charge of the kids.”
Karine has never received medical treatment for her illness. When she has seizures, she is taken to hospital in Garni where she is administered a tranquilizer injection and sent home. On a visit the next morning 12 year-old Sargis is not at home. His brother, Alik, says that he had gone to the gorge to collect haw. Soon Sargis returns with a plastic bag of red haw and treats guests to the berries. His cheeks are just as red as the ripe haw.
Senik wants to show the foundations of what would be a new building. Alik says that during construction he had buried many coins in the foundations to have much money. And Karine adds: “And I put sweets there so that we live happily and in good health in the new house.”
Karine tries to encourage her husband: “Thank God, we are on our land now. We won’t stay like this, we will plant trees in spring and they will yield fruits in five years.”
The only problem is that all sorts of works stop in the village in November and they have to stay at home and wait for the spring to come.
Senik caresses the walls of the foundations and says through tears: “Now I have one goal – to be able to build this house. I want my children to live humanlike lives. And I’m doing everything for that.”