By Marianna Grigoryan
She carefully takes a piece of fabric with her small hands and wraps it around her face like a yashmak and then starts to slowly comb her hair up and down, rumpling her hair…
The cloth on the face is slipping down, the girl tries to arrange it back to cover part of her face.
“I am beautiful this way,” says eight-year-old Diana. “I want to be beautiful.”
Diana’s mother Loreta is sitting in one corner of the room looking at her daughter with sadness in her eyes, then she quickly goes up to the old TV-set of Soviet make and picks Diana’s picture from its top.
“See what a beautiful baby…” the mother says with a bittersweet smile on her face as she takes the photograph closer to her. “This is last year’s photo, before the incident happened.”
It was December 19, 2007.
“…I look like a round circle, like a jewel of the ring,” Diana recited, happy and joyful, clad in a snowman’s all-white outfit, at a New Year event for school first-formers in the village of Tairov, near Yerevan.
“She had a wedding dress covered with cotton so that it looked like a real snowman,” Loreta remembers.
The matinee had not ended yet and children dressed as different cartoon and fairytale characters were waiting for Santa Claus when the hall plunged into turmoil.
Everyone was screaming in terror as the snowman’s white dress was devoured by fire it caught from sparklers.
“My child was burning inside that flame,” Loreta says. “Her dress had burned out and her skin had burned out and drooped. No one dared to approach her. I don’t remember what was happening… I was told later that at that moment I was screaming and was putting out the flames on my child.”
Accompanied by a large crowd of teachers, parents, villagers and family, Diana Atabekyan was taken to a resuscitation department in hospital.
“I was injected with a tranquilizer,” remembers Loreta. “Then they told me that the hospital was crowded, but I did not feel a thing. I could not hear anything, or see anything. It was like a nightmare.”
“Blood was needed. People helped with whatever each of them could. I only remember that they said my daughter was hopeless… I can’t remember anything else,” says Loreta.
Diana’s medical record says: “Heat burns on the face, in the area of abdomen, two limbs and thighs. Burned skin disease.”
Doctors began to struggle for the child’s life and for about a month doctors did not give any hope to the Atabekyans that the child would overcome the crisis and survive.
“Forty-five percent of Diana’s body was burned. Fourth-degree burns. They said there was no hope. And until today many doctors are just astonished at how the child survived,” says Loreta. “She underwent three surgeries and thank God survived. But what we had to go through is beyond description.”
Loreta says that Diana was unconscious for a long period.
“Her face had been burned. She could not speak. Nor did she weep. She was constantly under the influence of medicines, in shocks, crying in her dream – I’m burning, burning…,” says Loreta.
After Diana spent some time at hospital, her parents, Loreta and Masis, who had saw numerous hardships and bitterness in life, took the child home.
Years ago an extreme social condition brought the Atabekyans from Armenia’s southern Goris province to the village of Tairov, which is very near Yerevan.
Masis, 42, maintains the family by working as a laborer.
“I was a medical worker in Goris, but we did not have either a house or a garden. In short, we had a terrible life there,” Loreta says. “And we had to relocate.”
While in Yerevan, for some time they found shelter at a friend’s, but then in 2003 they moved to Tairov.
Their second daughter, Milena, was born in Tairov.
“We lived in a very bad condition and I thought we would not be able to raise the second child, but I did not even have money for an abortion and I am now very happy I didn’t,” Loreta says, hugging her four-year-old Milena.
The Atabekyans live near a dusty road, in a rusty and old metal small shack.
“This is the cheapest, we have come here for this,” says Loreta. “We lived in an apartment before moving to this hut, and we stayed awake all night long to protect our children from scorpions. A scorpion had bitten my Milena. We pay 20,000 (about $65) a month to rent this shack. You can’t find anything cheaper.”
The wallpapers on the metal house’s walls are torn in places. A few old toys, an old table from Soviet times, a couch, a cupboard and an old TV-set are the furniture of the “drawing-room”.
A narrow corridor leads to a small bedroom where the girls, Loreta and her husband sleep on two old beds. There are no elementary living conditions in the house. There is no kitchen, water, toilet or bathroom.
“When we returned home from hospital with Diana, all were helping us, however our situation was very heavy. We were on the verge of going mad,” Loreta says.
After bringing their daughter from hospital, the Atabekyan family with numerous psychological and social problems, began to center all efforts on Diana’s rehabilitation.
“It was winter, it was cold, but all day long we heated the house since Diana could not wear clothes, she was taking medicines, we lubricated her body with ointments,” Loreta says.
Paying 70,000 drams (about $230) for electricity a month – precisely as much as the family’s whole monthly budge, the Atabekyans overcame the crisis with active assistance from friends and relatives.
“We had lots of problems,” says Loreta, without losing optimism. “The child’s body is growing, but it is short of skin, her body does not breathe. She needs massages, bathing. Her muscles are contracted, she needs a plastic surgery, but such surgeries are not done in Armenia. And we have no possibility to solve all problems by ourselves.”
Loreta remembers with gratitude the name of the Light House Charitable Foundation, whose founder Seda Ghazaryan, since the ill-starred day until today, has provided continual and tangible help to Diana and her family. Still, however, needs remain.
Diana pulls up her clothes. From her nose downwards her body is blackened from burns, burns are from the neck down to the abdomen and down her back to foot, spreading over arms and hands. Her right hand is disabled.
The girl touches with her hands her body, begins to scratch her feet, belly, she feels embarrassed but makes an effort to smile.
“We don’t know how we will survive this winter. There is no work, and no hope there will be any,” says Loreta. “No one will understand what we have gone through… My husband and I had sat for days around the table and did not speak a word. We want to work, create a future for our child with our own hands in order to see Diana’s nice smile…”