By Arpi Harutyunyan

The unity established 19 years ago between Andranik and Zoya forced them to choose the same profession: They are streetsweepers.

Waking early in the morning Zoya begins sweeping the streets, and Andranik gathers the garbage of the city by truck, hoping to get a salary at least for the current month and to be able to manage the daily meal of pasta and potatoes for their three sons.

But they rarely get the money on time and sometimes not at all.

“The children are in the age when they constantly feel hungry,” says Andranik Sargsyan, 43. “But it’s hard when our salaries are late. I do my best to keep children from staying hungry, to have rice for them. We do not have relatives to help us. Although the age of helping has passed.”

The wrinkles on 38-year-old Zoya’s face confuse at first – hiding the real age behind the years. And 43-year-old Andranik’s eyes are fixed on the family problem of the last ten years: the Sargsyans do not have their own accommodation.

Thirteen years ago the father of the family took a few of their things, his sons and his wife and moved from the village of Navur to the town of Berd – the center of the region (both settlements are in Tavush marz). He was fed up with the conflicts between his step-mother and his family.

Andranik moved the family seven times in Berd, renting apartments or finding shelter in deserted ram shackled houses.

Now the Sargsyans live in a basement room of a dilapidated hotel in the town, where there is no washing basin, neither a toilet nor a bath room. Within the wet and dark walls there are four beds, a table and a constantly rustling black and white TV set on an old board.

“This apartment is not rented, and the owner of the hotel will soon make us move from here. We will have to find a house or else we’ll be on the street. But staying here on the concrete is no more possible.” Zoya speaks with frozen glance. “It is very cold in winter, 5 cubic meters of wood are not enough. I got a stomach illness because of this cold. I have turned so weak I’m afraid I will drop the glass when I take it; my body is weakened, my thoughts may also affect my health. I can’t stand the hardships any more.”

According to Andranik, after sweeping the streets he and his 18-year-old son Karen go out to try to find work chopping wood. Karen has mental problems, therefore he is waived from military service.

The two other sons are schoolchildren yet. They help their father by gathering and chopping wood for winter, bringing water, setting a fire in the oven.

Armen, 15, is learning to drive a tractor in college. Arsen, 12, whose careless smile discloses his being the youngest in the family, is in the third form – an age at which he should be in at least the fifth form.

In summer months, Arsen frees the parents from the burden of caring for him. He spends the rest of the days in the neighboring family. He gathers cornel, mulberry and pears in the woods and works making vodka equally as they do. And he has his dinner in the end of the day there.

The neighbors have come to love Arsen. Missis Manushak says he is an honest and clever child and, which is more important, is very reliable. “It’s a pity, the family is very poor, they can’t give the child an education. But they are good, harmless people,” she says with regret.

The only light spot in Sargsyans’ home is the tape recorder bought by the money the elder son had saved. Arsen is especially happy with the recorder. Everybody knows, including the neighbors, that Arsen wants to become a singer. But he does not like speaking about it.

His eyes glimmer even more expressively when he speaks about his dreams. But not with joy; those are the teardrops in his eyes. He realizes that in several years when his childhood is over, he will have missed the thrill of having a bicycle and other joys of youth.

Silence follows Arsen’s words of an offended soul: “I don’t want anything”, says the boy who will become a teenager on January 1. He then adds: “I want an ordinary home like the one everybody has. And I want to have my own bicycle and go to a good school. What else can I want?”

Footnote: After completion of this report, it was learned that the Sargsyans were expelled from their 8th shelter. They have now moved to a half-ruined small house with worse conditions.

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