It didn’t take long to find the Ghahramanyans’ home. Taking the advice of a neighbor soaking her laundry, I walked along the course of the water running through the courtyard. It took me directly to the window of the house I was looking for and then it was absorbed into the wall.
All this was enough to perceive that this dwelling could not be called a home, as it was a basement, where perfect humidity prevailed and which lacked the most basic areas, the kitchen, the bathroom, and so on.
It has been ten years since 23-year-old Anahit has been living together with her mother in one of the two rooms of the basement, and where, contrary to the other room, at least some daylight penetrates from time to time.
Their only source of comfort, the wooden stove, is in that very room, where they sleep, eat, and take their bath. Yet the mother and her daughter are not the only inhabitants of this place: they have so called neighbors. Aida, the mother, tells how many nights they have woke up from spider bites or because of finding rats in their bed sheets.
A former mayor of Stepanakert has given them this basement. For very long years, Aida had worked at the sewing factory in Stepanakert, therefore, by law she was entitled to receive a house. For many long years Aida waited for her turn. However, she tells that when it finally came, the mayor solved their housing problem by giving this humid basement, promising that it would be a temporary shelter and that within no time they would move into a decent home.
Yet it has been ten years that Aida and her daughter have been struggling against diseases caused by the humidity, and their housing problem is yet to be solved.
Aida collects the water necessary for their daily usage in glass bottles and keeps them in the lower shelve of a half-molded closet. She takes out a half torn up envelop from the upper shelf where she carefully kept all the application letters from previous years. The replies of all these letters almost do not differ from each other: “Your housing issue is being discussed.”
Aida is a second degree handicap. She has undergone four different surgeries. After the last one, her disability degree was shortened with the explanation that the surgery should have had completely cured her. Yet Aida has not been cured. Moreover, she was deprived of the financial aid for her medicines. At the Ministry of Social Security she has tried to explain that following to the surgery her health has worsened, but she says that no one has cared enough to hear her.
Anahit, too, has pain in her legs. She says that especially in the evenings her feet are cramped from the pain, but now it is not the time to cure them. She is still curing her ear, infected because of the cold and with an abscess in the ear membrane.
Anahit is Aida’s only daughter. “It’s as if I have paid her weight in gold. I have raised her with such difficulties,” says Aida tears in her eyes and recalls how in the most difficult days of the war she had to leave Anahit at the neighbor’s basement and, ignoring the gunshots, walk several miles to the village to get some bread.
“I have lived all my life in rented places, mainly in basements. I was signed up to receive an apartment, but my turn has not come yet. I have gone through a lot in those difficult years to raise my daughter. I have raised her all my own and to this day I am living hard.”
The conditions of life have not broken Anahit’s wings. This year she has successfully graduated from the State University of Karabagh and it is with her wage of 30 thousand Drams (about 80 USD) that they have been making ends meet. On her part, Grandma, who lives in the village, saves bits of her pension and sends her granddaughter some money for clothes, shoes, and a couple of pounds of chocolate.
“I have always dreamt of living in a house where there is sunlight, with bright walls, so that I will not be ashamed to invite friends over. Whoever comes to our house sniffs the humidity stuck on their clothes right after leaving the door.”
In spite of the smell of the dampness, Anahit’s clothes are always stylish, clean, and suit her well. In general, seeing beautiful Anahit outside, in her everyday life, it becomes hard to suspect her living conditions. She says that she never complains of her gloomy life.
“I simply get sad when I picture that one day I shall invite my future husband to this place. I don’t want to think about it. I get scared…”
In Karabagh, winter doesn’t bring along the spirit of Christmas as much as it evokes sad memories of long and cold months of the war years, when people went along for days with a piece of wood.
In Aida and Anahit’s case, those days are not in the past. They wait for the dreary months of winter with dread, recalling that the snow melting outside will pool water under their table and that in the evenings they will go to their wet and molded beds, trying to convince each other in doing so, and that instead of buying some apples they will use the money to buy medication to treat their cold.
All this is well known at almost all official departments in the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh. Aware of this is also President Bako Sahakyan, who three years ago, when Aida had approached him during the electoral campaign and had told everything, had promised that if elected, he would not be like his former colleagues and that he would fulfill his promise…