By Lusine Musayelyan

“My children want warm clothes and want to eat their fill, and I want health. Well, health is eating full and being warm, you know.” This is the only thing Manushak Balayan, 36, a resident of Martakert, wants for the New Year.

Manushak’s husband died because of a stomach illness: “He underwent operation during the war once and returned to the battlefield afterwards. But the illness grew acute after the war and he died.”

Manushak has four under age children – three daughters and a son. Her 16 year old daughter has finished the middle school and now helps her mother at home. The rest are schoolchildren. Manushak says the young children do not realize the loss of the father yet, and adds they are often ashamed to ask [about him]: “or may be they know he is dead and do not want to talk about it.”

The young widow confesses she had been happy with her husband for the first year of their marriage only. “The nomadic life began as soon as the war did. We fled from Martakert. We went to Yerevan first and lived there in a kindergarten. Then we were moved to Stepanakert into another kindergarten.”

The Balayan family returned to Martakert after the war. “We had no home here any more. A family of acquaintances gave us home for some time and we still live here. I expect them to come any moment and say to free the house and I don’t know where we will go.”

The house where Manushak and her four children live is not far from the center of the town. They sleep, eat and watch TV in just one room on the second floor of a two-storied half-ruined house.

The three beds in the room serve all five. They cover with thin blankets, because they have no money to buy fabric for thicker ones. Neither have they an oven. The only oven-like thing is installed on the balcony, but they hardly manage to cook on it.

They fill a cauldron with live coals and set it in the center of the room, gather around and warm up. They go to sleep as soon as the coals cool down.

Wood, electricity and gas are expensive in Karabakh. Manushak manages to get only food products with her salary in 21,700 drams (about $72). She is a charlady in the hospital of Martakert.

Anush, Manushak’s 16-year-old daughter, used to support her mother with the small salary she got while working in the bakery. But she endured working night hours for only six months.

Too often Anush is the one to care about feeding her younger sisters and her brother; her mother’s job demands that she stays in the hospital every third night.

Once, as Anush was cooking, the mother had asked what the supper was. Anush replied it was beans. Manushak scolded her for not keeping the beans for the New Year.

Manushak says with much regret she does not manage to celebrate the New Year and the children’s birthday and that it’s only their grandmother who has presents for them, but those are just apples, walnuts and sweets.

Manushak does not go to church, but lights candles at home; home is her church and her children are her deity – the only joy of her life. She has sacrificed her young life for them and for their own sake has refused thinking of getting married again.

“I wish my for children to get married so that I go to their places and feel they are safe and don’t need help,” says Manushak.

“I try to get along with what I have. I don’t save my salary – I spend it all on food,” says Manushak.

Lusine Musayelyan is a reporter for “Demo” journalism club in Stepanakert, Nagorono Karabakh. Visit the club’s site:

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