By Gayane Mkrtchyan
Nature in Syunik is perfectly embroidered. The mountains gently lean against each other. Their large slopes are places where, unaware of the outer world, small villages bunch. Darbas is one them: it reveals itself after another twist of the mountainous road.
Human destinies in Darbas are not as perfect and ideal as the surrounding nature. It is difficult to understand whether this has been a flaw of fate, but the story of the Karapetyans shocked everybody.
“How can I take care for the children, when I don’t have means any more? It’s already two years my son and my daughter-in-law have left. A home with no man and no daughter-in-law is not a home any more. I know just there is day and there is night!” says Arshaluys Karapetyan, 83.
Grandmother Arshaluys avoids pronouncing the word “die” and uses “leave” instead. As a mother, she is unable to tell that her son Gagik Karapetyan, hit by a sudden mental derangement at the age of 46, killed his wife and the mother of his children Lusine Karapetyan, 36, before the children’s eyes and passed away in a psychiatric clinic a year after the tragedy.
Grandma Arshaluys is in black kerchief and apron. Her heart and soul are also black. Kept down by pain and sorrow, she keeps on struggling for the lives of her family and herself.
“My three children gave way to the circumstances of life. They hardly managed to live a couple of years at home. Their home is desolate now. No one cares about us. I hardly manage to provide for my little orphans,” says Arshaluys.
The children are Vrezh, 15, Ruben, 13 and Hayk, 11. The villagers in Darbas avoid speaking loudly about the Karapetyans, not to hurt the boys. The family tries to forget the tragedy, to turn the sad page of their life that has been stamped into their memories forever.
Vrezh, the eldest boy, has taken charge of the family. He has been strong enough to struggle against the misfortune. And Ruben and Hayk grew old at once. They try to give each other the warmth they should have gotten from the lost parents; and it seems to be the only way to the future.
Valerik Ohanyan, the principal of the school in Darbas says the changes with the children after the parents’ death were drastic.
“Vrezh used to be one the best pupils at school, but he is different now. Let alone the distressing psychological emotions, they now have to struggle to live,” says Ohanyan.
To relieve the troubles of the family after the mother’s death the school made a decision to move Ruben and Hayk to boarding school No. 1 in Sisian.
“Ruben’s drawings lack happy childish pictures. If we draw a house, he makes it empty, dark colored and never draws his brothers,” says Vardush Safyan, a teacher at the boarding school. “He avoids drawing his parents; he says he is afraid he will not manage. It means he does not want to see them in bad conditions.”
Vrezh is not at home. Grandmother Arshaluys says Vrezh has taken the village cattle to the mountains, because it’s their family’s turn. Ruben and Hayk carry water in buckets, then run to the forest to gather some wood for the winter.
There is a row of cabbages and pumpkins in the yard and some wet walnuts spread on the ground to dry up. This is all that the family had prepared as winter approached.
Ruben says they are going to barter part of the gathered walnuts and some cabbages for with clothes and shoe traders from Goris.
Gagik’s father Ruben Karapetyan, 86, comes out of the door leaning over a walking-stick. He is a disabled veteran of WWII. He has bad nerves, trouble walking and speaking, and his hands shake so much that Arshaluys feeds him herself.
With difficulty he reviews the year’s crops, saying they got only cabbage.
The monthly budget of the family is about $55 a month – their old age pension. Arshaluys says she pays 4,000 drams (about $11) for electricity each month. The remaining $44 is spent on living expenses. They borrow 100 hundred pieces of lavash (flat bread) each month at the bakery, and return the debt later.
On a day when the lavash has been bought up, Arshaluys is grateful that a neighbor has given flour.
The dried and pale fingers of the old woman fight the dough then pour it into the pan and put it in the oven. Her dried eyes shine as her grandchildren attack the hot bread when entering the house. Ruben warns the grandmother by a glance as she complains of the hardships of life.
The teenage Ruben has manly dignity. He does not surrender, but says instead he is glad and tells like an adult how they will fix their parents’ graveyards and how much money they need for it.
“We have lots of planks at the other house. There is a buyer ready to pay 8,000 drams per each. Besides we have sold some beef last year and have the money left. All in all it will make some 60,000 drams (about $160). It will suffice at least to cover the graves with concrete.”
The boys cherish a dream to provide proper graves for their parents; childhood dreams have been left in a far away and unknown place. Hayk is taciturn. He has talking deficiencies. Before the death of their mother Hayk got a pension of about $11. Now, though, no one can take him to Yerevan for a special commission to re-state the boy’s disability after the mother’s death.
Seyran Ghalumyan, 13, is Ruben’s classmate. He says they confide in each other very much and even have some secrets.
“Ruben loves collecting [key chain] charms and dreams of becoming a driver like his father. But I feel Ruben hides many things. They are left alone, their life is bad and they don’t know what to do. And there is no one to help them,” says Seyran. “Do you know how he takes care of Hayk?! He sometimes keeps his dinner at the cafeteria untouched to give it to his brother.”
There is wisdom in Grandma Arshaluys’s eyes that have been dried up by pain. But wisdom does not help to overcome the situation. Grandfather Ruben says he would prefer dying in the battlefield rather have this life.
“I want some soil, nothing more,” he says trembling.
The day slowly comes to its end in Darbas. It’s OK if they will go for a sleep having had just a piece of bread today: the important thing is that they manage to stand it for a better future. Ruben embraces Hayk, the grandmother and the grandfather with his small arms. Tears wash his white boy/man cheeks.
“I believe everything will be good,” he says.