By Grisha BALASANYAN
For four months Beniamin piled scrap metal in the corner of their yard. The 9 year-old boy’s main occupation during the summer vacation was collecting nonferrous metal from the destroyed houses of their village.
Every morning, with a pick in his hand, he used to go looking for metal. Beniamin could not recall at least one memorable day of his summer vacations to tell his friends at school, but he was telling with enthusiasm where he could get most scrap metal and how he was bringing the “trophies” home. So, he had “enjoyed” his vacation breaking heavy concrete stones. Now, too, he does it after classes. Collecting metal is not Beniamin’s hobby. He returns the heavy metal scrap and gets some money for it. He says for 1 ton of metal he can get 10.000 drams ($ 26). Beniamin has made up his mind to buy clothes for his incurably diseased 7 year-old brother Davit. Though Beniamin himself needs clothes, he says his brother needs them more. He believes he will collect 1 ton of metal by October 1st, but if he manages to have more, then he will buy winter fuel on the extra money.
Their 2 year-old sister Mariam has also become a “specialist” of nonferrous metals. The girl easily differentiates the iron from the cast iron.
The 7-member Balasanyan family lives at Kut village of Gegharqunik marz. Grandpa Beniamin, 72, with his son, daughter-in-law and 4 grandchildren lives in a house under the threat of collapse. Though the construction looks solid from outside, the cracks in the walls inside are so wide that reptiles can easily be in and out.
The Balasanyans took refuge in Armenia escaping from Azerbaijan in early 1990s. Before immigrating to Armenia they had exchanged houses with an Azerbaijani here. They lived in their house for 2 years, but grandpa’s elder son Edward, 20, perished in Artsakh liberation war in 1994. Then, they had to sell their house. The house they live in at present was provided by their village headman. Grandpa Beniamin doesn’t even dream of a house of their own, because he doesn’t know they will ever have it or not. Their present lodging will hardly be privatized either. He says he is attached to his village, the soil and the water, and he cannot live in any other place.
‘My son perished for this land. How can I leave it? I feel well here. I don’t care for myself. I want my grandchildren be healthy,’ Grandpa Beniamin says. ‘The life in the village is very hard, there is no job for me and I cannot take care of my 4 children. We hardly make ends meet. If not for papa’s pension, we would starve. The prices go up each time and make things even harder for us,’ says Alik, father of four.
He also participated in the liberation war. He says he got heart attack in the battle field and has a third degree of disability. Alik is a farmer. In the small homestead land they grow potato not to buy from the market. They also have 2-3 head of cattle and that’s it.
Grandpa Beniamin, as a parent of a perished freedom fighter, receives 30.800 drams ($ 80) per month from Vardenis military registration office, another 25.000 drams ($ 65) as a pension and 40.000 drams ($ 104) family allowance with which the family survives.
‘The allowance and the pension are not always paid on the same day, and if they delay a day or two, we starve. We drilled potato so that the children will at least have some potato to eat in the winter. But this year’s harvest was not very good. We couldn’t fertilize the soil and the harvest will not be good. We couldn’t afford buying a sack of fertilizer for 8000 drams ($ 21),’ Asya Aghajanyan, the mother, says.
In her words, their situation worsens year by year. The expenses grow with the children’s age, but the income is the same. ‘If the year is a little better, we are happy. But unless there is job, our situation will not be relieved,’ she adds.
Two of the children go to school. Beniamin is a 4th grade student and Davit a 2nd. This year the family managed to buy new clothes – a pair of shoes and a pair of pants each – for the schoolchildren only. The shirts come from the last year. Here Davit interrupts his parents and says ‘there were so many things to buy but they didn’t.’ He had liked a shirt, but they didn’t buy. Their 2 year-old sister Mariam has been wearing out her brothers’ clothes since she was born. And she looks like a boy in them.
‘We do not know what to do with the allowances – feed the children or buy them clothes. If there was a place to work, I’d work and relieve the situation,’ Alik says.
The children have never been out of their village. Only Davit has been in Yerevan on a bad occasion. He is sick with periodic peritonitis. Once in 6 months he arrives in Yerevan with his granddad to pass the regular check-up, get the free medicine and returns to the village. Davit has abdominal and chest pain attacks that may last 1-3 days. He takes medicine every day.
The brothers were looking at Davit with some jealousy when the latter was telling about Yerevan’s beauty and the parks. Grandpa Beniamin secretly said he loved Davit much and sometimes after the medical check-ups took him to merry-go-round in Yerevan, but reminded him to keep it in secret from his brothers. Davit and Grandpa carefully guard this secret.
Translated by Narine Aghabekyan