By Marianna Grigoryan
When someone in the village of Akori wants to graphically illustrate poverty or “the hardship”, he points out to the edge of the village.
The large family of Kirakosyans, along with three cats and “Chalo” the dog, gets by in a rotten wooden “domik” with only two rooms. (Literally, “a small house” in Russian, “domik” entered the Armenian vocabulary after the 1988 earthquake.)
The middle age man tries to take a stick. His movements are slow: his fingers hardly move, he is barefooted despite the cold weather. He tries to hide his feet but he does not know where.
He is Aramayis, 46, the father of the family of nine, whose “property” are the seven children, the small waterless piece of land by his house, the endless problems and the debts.
Aramayis wants to smile trying to hide the feeling of guilt for the conditions of the family.
He is known in the village for the good knowledge of agriculture.
Head of the Akori administration Kamo Simonyan says peasants ask Aramayis for advice on farming.
“He is always ready to help; juicy peach, apricots and apples grow owing to him,” says the head of the village.
Despite his help to others, Aramayis is unable to use his skills on the small piece of land he has, because he does not have water for irrigation. That is why he only helps the villagers and passes his secrets to the elder son.
“What can I do?” he moans. “If there was just one way, I would do something and would have my own garden.”
Aramayis says although they did not have their own house before independence, he did construction work and they could get along somehow.
Just like in many other settlements in Armenia, in the village of Akori in Lori province, some 195 kilometers north of Yerevan, life became harder after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when people lost their jobs because of demolition and bankruptcy of industrial enterprises or other reasons.
“I worked at constructions for 15 years, everything was OK, we had means for living and we did not think we would appear in these conditions some day,” says Aramayis Kirakosyan. “Then everything disappeared and we lost everything.”
The old small rubber animal, whose identity is indefinable because of the soot and the “age”, is the only toy that has survived hanging from the ceiling of the empty room as a decoration.
The woman with grey hair seems to be older than 50, although she is hardly 40. “I have turned grey because of the problems,” says the mother, Ruzanna Kirakosyan.
She embraces her youngest, Azniv, who is 18 months, and holds her close to her breast.
The elder is Edgar, 17, a help to the parents, who brings wood from the gorge to be able to get heating and cook. During the last years, Aramayis has had difficulties in moving his fingers, but doesn’t know the reason.
“Edgar will go to the army next year – we will remain totally helpless,” says Ruzanna.
She tries to order the only bed in the room that hosts her at night along with little Azniv, 5-year-old Artur and 10-year-old Karine.
Karine suffers from epilepsy. Ruzanna says the child has had the illness since she was 4 months old.
“A doctor came to the village. He said the baby will get better if she gets better nutrition,” tells Ruzanna. “But since there is no opportunity for it, my 8-year-old son takes his sister to school and back home holding her hand. She can’t go to school and back alone. What if she faints suddenly?”
A TV set is another “decoration” of the room. It does not work. It is Ruzanna’s dowry.
The two cradles in the room are very old and broken in some places. One of them serves as a bed for 8-year-old Hovhannes, the other, a metal one filled with old clothes, is for Azniv, although it does not serve its aim.
The second small room, black of soot, is where Aramayis, Margarita and Arpine sleep.
16-year-old Arpine is shy. She doesn’t like the stories of the family hardships. Arpine’s friends in the village are few, since most of them do not want to be in touch with children of a family with too many problems.
The only perspective that she has is getting married, although her parents hardly imagine who will agree to make a family with someone living in such conditions. The family does not have even a home, for even the “domik” belongs to a co-villager who is in Russia now and plans to return this winter. Then, the Kirakosyans will have nowhere to go.
Azniv starts whimpering. The rest of the children try to calm their sister down. The three cats that feel like masters in the house come for help.
“I have brought the cats in order for my children to feel safe,” explains Ruzanna. “There used to be mice, scorpions, snakes and rats in the house before. That’s why we keep them.”
The kitchen is near the entrance of the house revealing itself by a teapot and few plates put one on the other. The family has only one meal per day. The menu is always a soup with vermicelli and bread.
The only family income is the 34,000 dram (about $73) monthly pension. Ruzanna says the allowance suffices just for the vermicelli, vegetable oil and flour.
Villagers bring second-hand clothes and shoes from time to time. It gives the children opportunity to go to school occasionally. “I send them barefooted to school. I am ashamed,” says the mother.
Birthdays are rarely celebrated in this full family. New Year festivities? It’s something the children hear about from others in the village . . .