By Arpi Harutyunyan


Hakob never fully recovered from the accident.

The family’s only hope is God or Santa…

Hakob Papoyan’s family has seen more tragedy than most in Spitak. And that is considerable, as most families here still are impacted by the 1988 earthquake.

Hakob, 35, has seen two tragedies, the latest just two years ago and it, like the earthquake, changed his life forever.

“There came the damned day of 1988 [December 7th], the next year I was accepted to the Polytechnic [Institute, now Engineering University],” recalls Hakob, and that is where his memories of the past end. The incident took both his health and family peace, and the memories that are blissful and harsh at the same time, because the bitter breathing of the past inspired life in the future.

Two years ago he was an ordinary labor migrant in Russia working at construction and sending $100-200 to his family every month – the two children and the wife – living in the village of Shirakamut (former Nalband) in the Spitak region of Lori province. Hakob had lost his mother and brother in the earthquake, but his father had managed to build a house from the ruins in just 4-5 years and then passed away.

“Somehow we managed to recover from the earthquake,” says Hakob’s wife Alisa, 32. “There were no jobs, so Hakob like other residents of Spitak desperately left for Samara [Russia] to earn a living. The children and I went there in 2005, because he could not stand staying there alone. He used to drive a truck taking sand to construction sites. Then, one day, that damned day, a tire went flat. He got out to fix it, and the tire exploded, blasting Hakob’s head.”

For 20 days Hakob was in a coma, and then gradually he began to reproduce words and move his fingers. Neighbors and relatives collected money to help the Papoyan family return to Armenia. Hakob returned, but never fully recovered.

The accident left Hakob with a mental disorder and left Alisa as the family breadwinner.

Hakob’s behavior is unpredictable. He spends his days at home. Besides being unable to work he also frightens his school-aged children, when the bout begins.

Alisa says that when her husband became bed ridden, their 13-year-old daughter Siranush, who was an excellent pupil for 7 years at school, began to lag behind. She now dreams of continuing her studies at university, but, as the mother says, there are many uncertainties.

“Siranush just came with her girlfriend and said: ‘Mum, it’s my classmate’s birthday, we collect 300 drams each; will you give?’ I was so touched, I didn’t have it to give, but didn’t want to make her feel ashamed in the eyes of her classmate, so I sent my son to take from a neighbor… What studying are we talking about in these conditions?” says Alisa, whose face, despite the young age, carries the trace of too many problems.

The youngest child, 11-year-old Karlen, is not fond of learning, but is as industrious as his father once used to be. The neighbors say: “He is absolutely like his poor father.” Hakob had a clever pair of hands and would never say ‘no’ to anybody.”

Alisa’s health has suffered the strain of providing for a family.

“I had a bout of gall-bladder early in spring. I have a stomach ulcer, I have problems with my female organs,” the mother of the family lists her illnesses and switches on the gas oven that will be switched off in 10-15 minutes, because otherwise she will not manage to pay for the used gas by the end of the month.

Karlen helps his mother in garden by the house, where potatoes is the only crop that manages to survive the winter.

“It’s autumn yet, but it’s cold… I have borrowed 300 dollars to get the gas into the house. I switch the oven on when I see children get too cold, because I can’t stand it. But then I think how will I pay for it and turn it off,” Alisa shares her thoughts. She tries to pay for the gas and the electricity and get medicines and flour for about 24,000 drams ($75); she rarely turn to getting the rest of the needs – other food products, clothes and shoes.

The youngest turn red and Karlen’s eyes filled with tears as they hear the question about what they would like Santa Claus to bring them for New Year. Who knows whether it is because of shame or the row of wishes and ever-present need.

But the mother of the family replies delighted like a child: “I wish Santa to bring a good New Year table this year, so that my children don’t get depressed… I don’t know… They say, when God closes a door, he opens another.”

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