It’s already a few years now that Silva Gmbikyan’s daughter, who attends the ninth grade, lives far from the family. The girl is being cared for by her grandparents. The family of five lives in the village of Margara, in the Armavir Marz, close to the Armenian-Turkish border.
“My husband, Levon Gabrielyan, fought in the Artsakh war of liberation, in General Manvel Grigoryan’s unit. He was wounded in the war. We’ve received neither assistance nor attention from the Ministry of Defense. The government has totally forgotten about us. Because we have no money, we can’t get my husband’s disability papers in order so that he might receive a pension of a few kopeks. I have three adolescent children and our situation is quite dire. Nobody lends us a helping hand so that we can get back on our feet. My girl will finish school this year. I really don’t know what we’ll do. We’re really in a mess,” Silva said.
The woman says that they receive no state assistance since, “the government requires a passport to apply for aid. My passport has expired and we don’t have the money needed to get the passport renewed. My husband’s documents aren’t complete and it keeps getting put off.
We asked village mayor Khachik Asatryan if his office couldn’t help this family get their paperwork in order.
“I’ve always told them to bring what documents they have to the office so that we can see what we can do. It’s no big deal. I can arrange their papers in two days. Levon was a freedom-fighter. He’s eligible for a tidy sum if he has the proper documentation. You should at least tell them to bring their papers to my office,” was Mr. Asatryan’s response to “Hetq”.
Silva Gmbikyan said that the appropriate papers must be prepared at the regional center but that they don’t have the money to travel there.
We need to underline the fact that the Gabrielyan family lives in extremely poor conditions. The earthen house in which they live is structurally weak and can collapse at any moment. The walls of the house are separated from each other and the plaster on the walls of the only room that is livable is flaking off. In this one room there’s a TV made back in the Soviet-era and two iron bed frames. Pushed together, the brother and sister sleep together on one side, and the parents on the other. There are no chairs in the house. They sit on makeshift chairs made of iron scraps collected from the street which are placed on flat stones.
“My brother-in-law has passed away and we now live together with his wife in the one courtyard. We have no papers for the house and don’t know if it belongs to us or my brother-in-law’s family. We live in this state of limbo and in constant fear because the roof can fall down on us at any moment,” says Mrs. Silva.
During our visit her husband was out strolling through the village looking for work. He does manual labor but this type of work isn’t found every day; at best once or twice per week.
“Sometimes we go without anything to eat for weeks on end. We have flour to last for two days. When it’s finished, we’ll go hungry again. I work other people’s land for two days a week so that my daughter can pay for her graduating class photo. If there was work, any work, I’d gladly take it to feed my kids. If not, we’ll have to sit here and go hungry. I can’t always be asking this or that person for a piece of bread to feed my kids with. No one is obliged to give me bread every day. Think what you’d do if you had no money. Would you go around begging for scraps every day? You’d feel ashamed, no? Whomever I go to ask for food they’ll say the same thing – you’re a young woman, go and work. But what can I do? The hardest problem is that there is no work. Otherwise I’d be working and not sitting home hungry. I’d work at anything to take care of my children in a normal fashion,” Silva argues.
“We have a 1,500 meter parcel of land on the other side of the barbed wire (where the Armenian-Turkish border is – GB). But it’s almost 10 kilometers away and I can’t travel there every day. We also have another 1,500 meter plot a bit closer but the court has placed it under lock and key. They want to take it from us. I don’t know what we’ll do. We’ve racked up an electricity debt and they want to take the land as payment,” Silva continues.
“The government should understand that our situation is so bad that we can’t make the electricity payments. They decided amongst themselves that our lands must be auctioned off. We have no work. My husband is physically disabled. We can’t pay of our debts in order to keep the land we have,” recounts Silva.
It turns out that the Armenian Electricity Network (AEN) applied to the Armavir Regional Court requesting that it enforce payment and seize the 1,500 plot owned by Levon Gabrielyan. Judge A. Aghamyan recognized the AEN’s claim as valid on March 3. The Gabrielyans’ unpaid electricity bill amounts to 229,725 Drams ($ 636). While the plot has yet to be auctioned off it is clear that the family has little chance of getting the land back.
“Last year I got some land from someone to work myself. I figured at least it would help us get back on our feet. But they didn’t give us any water for irrigation. My entire crop dried-up and I didn’t see a kopek’s worth of profit. This year it’s the same question facing us – will they give us water or not? We are living on hope alone. Bu we haven’t seen any positive movement for years. Now, everything has gotten expensive and I’m afraid we’ll die from starvation,” laments Silva Gmbikyan
In its April 13, 2009 edition, “Hetq” wrote about the five member family of Artsakh war veteran Levon Gabrielyan. The family resides in the village of Margara in Armavir Marz. (See: The Gabrielyans – A Family in Dire Straits on the Armenian-Turkish Border).
Let’s remind readers that the parents and three children live in an earthen house that can collapse at any minute. Due to an unpaid electric bill of 229,725 Drams ($ 636), the utility company went to the Armavir Regional Court and requested that the 1,500 square meter parcel of land owned by Mr. Gabrielyan be seized in lieu of payment. On March 3, the court agreed to the seizure of the plot.
While many readers were moved by the plight of the family, government authorities remained indifferent at first. Later, “Hetq” sent a letter to the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, requesting that his office assist in getting the family’s paperwork in order so that they could receive state assistance. This prompted the Armavir Regional Authority and the Margara community mayor to finally take action.
The article also caught the attention of Margarit Hovhannesyan, Director of the Tufenkian Foundation’s Yerevan office. We paid a visit to the Gabrielyans on May 15.
When we got to the village, Levon and his wife Silva were planting tomatoes in the family plot.
Silva immediately recognized us and let out a big smile. We asked her what had happened in the month since we last saw her to elicit such jubilance. “We’re happy because everyone knows about our plight due to your article. People now realize that folks like us, down on their luck, actually exist. Otherwise, not much has changed for us. No one has expressed a desire to help us out. At least the community mayor has helped us out with our documents so that we can receive some assistance. My husband’s papers proving that he fought in the war and was seriously wounded are gone. Let’s see what’ll happen. We haven’t received anything from the government for all these years. If our papers are put in order we might get at least something,” she said.
Levon added, “At the regional office, they told us to get the paperwork in order and that they’d facilitate getting us some assistance. The community mayor is now helping us out with the paperwork.”
Mrs. Silva was still hopeful that the government might allocate them with a normal house, albeit small, given her husband’s war record. Silva told us that she had sent a letter to Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan and that he had responded asking them to come to the ministry with whatever documentation they had.
Neighbours vexed that Gabrielyans talked to reporters
“They’re already calling me a fraudster behind my back in the village. People that don’t have a clue as to what’s going on are spreading rumours. The mayor doesn’t say a word in response, so the big mouths jabber on. We feel terrible that people see us as a family of tricksters. But I say to myself – what have I done wrong? I just sent a letter to some officials. I told the tongue-waggers that I said nothing against the mayor. They also didn’t like the fact that I spoke to you reporters. I told them what harm was there in talking describing our situation to you,” Silva said with a whiff of sadness.
She never mentioned the names of the local back-stabbers. “Whoever read your article and received the letters, they spread the news,” she said.
We also visited the village mayor to get news about the Gabrielyans’ plight. Mayor Khachik Asatryan was at the regional office on business and talked to us by phone. He said the regional office was hard at work to resolve the family’s issues.
“They personally called me to the regional office and directed me to get Levon’s papers in order. I paid Levon’s travel expenses out of my pocket so that he could get his papers readied. Could it be that the family is cross with me?” he asked in curiosity.
When he told him that the family wasn’t angry with him, the mayor continued. “You probably know that there land has been seized. I personally talked to the bailiffs and asked that they go easy on the family until the matter is sorted out. I’m glad that you’ve shown an interest in this family but rest assured we’ll do all in our power to help them,” said Mayor Asatryan.
The eldest daughter finishes school this year and hopes to go on to college. “I either want to study programming or child education. I’ve been a good student and study on my own at home. I don’t have the money for private lessons. My sister is now in the ninth grade and wants to be a dentist,” Irina told us.
Margarit Hovhannesyan, from the Tufenkian Foundation, promised the family that she’d help out with getting their papers in order and with Levon’s medical check-up if the defense ministry takes the initiative.
Due to the wounds Levon Gabrielyan suffered on the battlefield in Artsakh he now faces a host of medical problems; he walks with difficulty. He has blood clot of the foot. Not having the money to see a doctor, Levon used a homemade remedy. This poses a constant life-threatening situation.
“When the clot gets really bad I puncture the foot and let out a small amount of blood. It eases the pain,” explains Levon, expressing a degree of disinterest regarding his situation.
Armavir Deputy Regional Governor Larisa Muradyan told “Hetq” by telephone that she doesn’t believe that Levon’s home cure really eases the discomfort.
The poor have only themselves to blame
“He says that’s what he does. But have you seen him draw blood that way. I’m a doctor and I’m telling you that if he punctured his foot the blood flow would be near impossible to stop. He’s never come to us asking for medical assistance. If he does so we’d get him on the government waiting list for care. As regards his socio-economic situation, I should tell you that we’ve invited Levon and the Margara mayor to the regional office and have discussed the issue. I should tell you that the widowed wife of Levon’s brother lives in the same courtyard cultivates the land and lives well. If a villager with some land cannot make ends meet, well that’s their problem. No one lives poorly in Margara. Only the lazy ones go hungry,” said Larisa Muradyan.
Mrs. Muradyan failed to mention that Levon’s sister-in-law is a teacher at the village school and makes a good salary. As to the rosy picture she painted regarding Margara residents, we suggest that she actually steps foot in the village at least once and see with her own eyes the conditions faced by the villagers and why the community cannot get on its feet. Sadly, we’re convinced that even after such a visit Mrs. Muradyan would still claim that the residents of Margara are well-off.
We asked Mrs. Muradyan if the Armavir Regional Authority was contemplating offering financial assistance to the Gabrielyan family.
“It’s the community municipality that offers financial help. The regional office doesn’t have the budget to provide assistance.
Editor – There are numerous socially vulnerable families in Armavir Marz that have been deprived of aid and pensions due to incomplete paperwork. It appears that no one at the regional office has ever thought about assisting these families living within its borders. Nor has the Margara mayor. It has never crossed the mayor’s mind that he can get their papers in order in order that residents of his community would not feel so despondent and dejected. It took a decree from on high to take an interest; an interest not in the people, but in holding on to his position. What is the cost of such “forced” interest? There are other families like the Gabrielyans living in Margara. It seems that the only way to improve their lot is for reporters to visit each family in need, write an article about them, and then send a request to the minister. If this is the case, then what is the rationale for the tax-paying public to support all these government institutions and get back nothing in return?