“Ruined in a ruined country . . .”

July 5, 2006



By Vahan Ishkhanyan

Gayane is 13 years old, but her childhood is over. She remembers with joy when a few years ago she only played games and did not have to care for her family’s needs. Now Gayane has to attend school and do her homework, and find time to perform domestic duties – to knead the dough, wash dishes and do other chores.

“When I am in a good mood, I do dress cut-outs, but our life is so hard that I am rarely in a good mood,” says Gayane. The only concern of her parents is how to get food. Every day they work outside, while Gayane is doing work at home.

Rita and Roman Poghosyan are refugees from Baku. They live in the village of Karin, which is about 25 kilometers away from Yerevan.

They married on the day of pogroms in Sumgait, on February 27, 1988. As the family was trying to sell their home, Rita fled to Yerevan, pregnant. They failed to sell their home, and their child was stillborn. All of their three children were born in Armenia, but still they bear the weight of a refugee on themselves. “The life we had was the life in Baku, we lived well at that time,” says 15-year-old son Arsen, who didn’t see Baku. The years of crisis began shortly after he was born.

Karin was established in 1991. It is mainly populated by refugees. Against the background of the nearby Sasunik village it seems to be a desert with fields scorched by the sun. However, it can be felt that once these territories were cultivated.

The Poghosyans have a cropland of 1,200 square meters, and not an inch of this land is cultivated now. It used to be an apple orchard. It has been 10 years since they had irrigation water last and the orchard dried out long ago.

“It was good at first, such good apples were grown here. Water was cut off and the orchard dried out,” says Rita. Now there is no drinking water either. They have drinking water for a couple of hours a day only in winter, while in summer children fetch it from a distant place. They say that it is possible to restore irrigation, but the villagers are very poor and cannot afford to pay for it. Whenever they get some money, they spend it all on flour.

Karin drew them with its promise of land. They got the land, but could not build a house on it. For eight years they lived in a farm guardhouse – a 12-square-meter room. Later, they moved to a temporary home provided by the United Nations. Then, with the assistance of one international organization they completed construction on one-room of their house.

In one room there are both the children’s bedroom and the sitting room. They also bathe here, sitting in a tub and pouring hot water on their heads. Bathing with two hands is a dream that remained in Baku. They began to build the second room, it is half-completed now and they use it as a kitchen and a bedroom for the spouses. They cannot build the roof and when it rains water drips from the ceiling.

Rita used to be a chef and Roma was a plasterer. During the first years in Armenia they had jobs.

“We found ourselves ruined, in a ruined country. Who recognized us to give us jobs? There were many occasions when employers said they could not hire people from Baku and leave out locals,” says Rita. And they began to search for sources to feed the family. Rita worked in the field in the neighboring village, while Roma collected metal and other items of any value from the dump and sold them. There are no “rich” dumps in the vicinity of the village and Roma had to walk 10-15 kilometers to rummage in the garbage. “During those bad years we survived by handing in metal,” says Rita.

They have lost all hope to live a normal life one day. “We only hope for a job. We are tired, we have been thinking for so long,” says Roma.

Rita has not been paid yet for her work in the field: “They say they will pay us after they have sold the produce. They will, but prices are increasing. Once I could buy cabbage for 50 drams (10 cents) per kilo to make sauerkraut of it. You can’t buy it at that price now, the season is passing and it gets expensive.”

They receive 15,000 drams ($33) as a poverty allowance. A year ago their allowance was cut, because they had seven chickens. Then a fox stole four of them and only three chickens remained. Their neighbor gave them a few sheep when he left for Russia to keep until his return. For keeping they were given one sheep and the opportunity to keep any off-spring.

This year they are so satisfied with their work that they managed to buy school textbooks for their daughters Gayane and Siranush. Only ninth-former Arsen remains without textbooks. His textbooks cost 5,000 ($11) a sum that would be a luxury for the family to pay. There is the Internet in the school, but it is not for the Poghosyans. Taking part in an Internet class costs 1,000 drams ($2.20), and they cannot afford it. Arsen comforts Gayane, saying that the Internet is a worthless thing – he saw how they do it, they connect and then quickly disconnect it.

They didn’t mark Gayane’s birthday this year. But they marked the birthday of Siranush and she even got a present from a neighbor – little hair-pins that can be bought at a price of some 200 drams (40 cents). Siranush keeps them with care in a cellophane bag and Gayane does her hair with them.

Rita does what she can to mark the birthdays of her children, at least to bake a cake. “If you don’t mark birthdays for the children to enjoy it, it means you shouldn’t live at all,” she says.

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