The only advantage of the basement-like two-room shelter of the Ghulyan family in Martakert is that theirs is not an ordinary basement but one with two stories, where they manage to “even feel the warmth of the sun”.
They rent the place. Their home, where they used to live from generation to generation, was set afire by Azeris in 1991. As a result Garnik Ghulyan, 47 along with his five children, wife and wife’s mother appeared in the street.
After changing places for several years, they were finally offered the shelter they now live in, where, as Garnik’s wife Hasmik says, they “haven’t seen anything good.”
“We used to live here without paying a rent at the beginning. The owner of the house had escaped the war and, as the unwritten rule of the war time goes, we had the right to live in the house of an escapee for free,” says Hasmik adding short after they settled in the house the owner of the place started calling them from Russia daily threatening to force them “to a worse condition” if they don’t pay rent.
Before the Karabakh Movement the Ghulyans used to live in Russia, but as the war broke out they moved to the fatherland, “so that Garnik and his brother could go fight for it.”
After the ceasefire Garnik moved to the Defense Army of Nagorno-Karabakh for service. Several years later he was forced to retire because of wounds received during the war. He now holds a status of a 3rd category handicapped.
The elder son of the Ghulyans has also served in the army; their younger son Grigor, 20, after a year of military service and six months of treatments in the Yerevan hospitals was waived from duty because of health problems. He is now disabled, like his father.
However, Grigor is not granted a status of disability; despite his body temperature does not go lower than 38.5 C, as well as the weakness and lung problems.
Garnik pays the tuitions of his three student children and the house rent and also provides for the modest living of his large family with just the pensions he and his wife’s mother get, plus the state allowance in just several thousand drams given for his two underage children.
“We neither starve nor do we need clothes. We have a small piece of land that brings us some crops. Of course we happen to borrow food,” says Hasmik, though without mentioning that they have cellophane on the windows instead of glass and that they don’t have a TV or a radio set, and that they go to sleep as soon as it gets dark and get up at the dawn.
There are several iron beds, chairs and two tables; the smaller one is their elder son’s recent handiwork:
“Is it because of tediousness or the talent in them, but each of my children try to do something- maybe wishing to make the home a bit more attractive; my daughter draws, does creative work, my sons do wood works – woodcuts and models,” tells the mother of the large family with a wistful smile on her face.
“What a father I am if I can’t afford buying even a brush. What can I do, if my health does not allow me to work, to find a work for my boys in this town, forced to knock on the doors of the local officials every Monday asking and begging them to at least lay a roof on my war damaged house,” Garnik laments.
According to the Ghulyans: “the state has set a sum in $30,000” to restore their house burnt down by the shells. They say, they have appealed to various charity organizations, local bodies to get help for many times, but have been unsuccessful.
“The major topic of my children is having a house of their own, because they tie up their future life with that. One of my sons has a girl-friend already, he wants to get married, but where will they live?” says Hasmik hiding her eyes from children.
“I always ask myself: if I am treated this way after all that I have done, and all the doors are closed before me, then what will be the way these children will be treated?! The solution for this all is that I leave this place, yes, that I leave for Russia,” says Garnik hardly concealing his anxiety.
Hasmik, weeping, says keeping her words secret from her husband, he wants to borrow some money to move to Russia: “After seeing all this, after liberating all these lands, why should we leave? For whom has my husband spilled his blood?”
One thing is clear for the parents of five children: The day will come when the threatening letters from Russia will end; when their dream of a home will be reality; when music and children’s laughter will fill a home where glass window panes replace plastic bags. The parents, though, are not sure if that dream can be realized in their homeland . . .