By Ruzanna Amiraghyan
“The district militia officer of ours, God bless him, he brought us here saying ‘Do something if you can.’ So did I. There was a huge pile of garbage here, a pesthole for cholera. So all of us together with my children, we worked and brought the place to an order. We bought this little shelter and brought it here,” says Anush Manukyan, a resident of the Shengavit community in Yerevan, who lives with her three children – a son and two daughters, and her daughters’ three children.
“I used to collect empty bottles, sell liquid bleach. I somehow managed to buy this [temporary house] and gathered my children under one roof,” Anush recalls.
This 48-year-old woman, who shoulders the burden of her family bought the shelter eight years ago. The family cleaned the piece of land by hand, taking away garbage and stones. Modest as it is, it is an improvement over their previous “residence” – in a cemetery in Karmir Blur (near Yerevan).
“An acquaintance of mine, one of the neighbors, he said there was a place there, and took us to that place.”
“We used to rent an apartment, but were thrown out, when we failed to pay the rent. So, we were left in the street. We then lived in the cemetery. We had no home, no conditions. Scared of scorpions, I used to sit up the nights embracing the kids, before the dawn… we couldn’t sleep, even if we wanted. There were concrete panels above our heads. It used to be a dismantled electric substation, when we moved into it. And there were graves all around,” Anush says.
The Manukyans found them self facing hardship 14 years go, when Anush’s in-laws threw her out of her husband’s home. Three underage children went into the streets with Anush, all with serious hereditary health problems.
Anush’s children Armen, 30 and Armine, 26 took after their father. The illness, fortunately, has spared Anush’s youngest, Lilit.
“My son can’t do anything. He is unable to work. He was beaten in the army on his kidneys. He had escaped, faced trial, but still can’t have his urinary bladder treated. He is 30, but suffers incontinence. I can neither take him to hospital, nor help in any way,” Anush continues.
Due to changes in her former husband’s family after the divorce Anush and her children lost their official registration of residence.
However, returning from the army, Armen, got his military card from the district he used to be registered at, which, Anush says, means, Armen’s name was not removed from the registration list, although not restored in the list of civilians. Armen has so far been unable even to get his passport.
“He can’t demand a place to live because he has no passport; they don’t give a document he is registered there, because his name was removed in the passport department,” explains Anush.
Several years ago Anush’s daughters got married. But, as the mother says: “None were lucky enough. None of the husbands had the quality… They now have children – one, and two. They now face the hardships I faced. It’s the same story.”
Lilit, Anush’s younger daughter, has twice been married, and has divorced in both cases. Two of her sons – Vahram, 6 and Narek, 3, born from each marriage, are under full care of their mother. Lilit’s monthly income, however, is the social allowance in 20,000 drams (about $65), and the 3,000 dram (about $10) daily for the work at a sauna in the neighborhood, which can hardly suffice a lonely mother to provide two underage children with the least necessities, especially with the recent increase in prices taken into account. And the kindergarten Lilit takes her elder to costs 8,400 drams ($27.50) a month.
The boy is of school age, but the mother and the grandmother decided to leave him in the kindergarten for another year. They say there have been two reasons for this: one, lack of means to buy clothes, shoes, and stationery and get ready for the school, and second, Vahram lags somewhat behind his peers in his development and is not ready to go to school yet. The child demands special attention and treatment before going to school.
“Children are deprived of any kind of good. They want clothes, they want to have a father… I am capable of neither motherhood, nor fatherhood… I am a semi-person,” says Lilit, who gets no help from the children’s fathers.
Lilit’s sister, Armine’s family situation became so bad, she spent 18 months in psychiatric hospital, turning the duties of motherhood over to Lilit.
“She used to feed both Narek and her daughter, both at a time. It was Lilit who took care of the child, when it got ill. We have been bearing it all on our shoulders. She hasn’t even known about it. She used to run away and get lost…” Anush says.
After checking out from the hospital, Armine’s condition somewhat stabilized, but the mother still gets medicines from the hospital once in two months for Armine. And frequently, Armine appears to be unable to take care of her child, because of fits of anger.
“I remember this kind of sick people used to get apartments to live separately. This kind of people need to be separated, need to get a home,” says the mother.
Recently a large hemorrhage has appeared beneath Armine’s ribs, in the left side of her belly. The mother has taken the daughter to specialists, who, having recommended an immediate surgical intervention, have demanded 160,000 drams (about $525) for the operation.
“I have no means to have the operation done. I told I have no money, how can I pay for it? Sometimes when it bothers her I promise her to take to the doctor. But how can ?”
Lilit has appealed to proper bodies trying to somehow solve her sons’ and also her whole family’s housing problem, but has received negative answer, so far.
“I have appealed to all the proper agencies, the district administration, to have them give my children apartments. I sent the appeal three months ago; they gave me a paper saying they can’t give me an apartment. They are boys, how long can I keep them in this place?! It’s a domik, (the Russian word for “hut”). I keep both of them pressing to my bosom when they sleep, because of the cold. I have no bedding, I get wool from here and there to make blankets to keep my children warm.”
“The situation is horrific. Look at the torn wall paper, everything is broken inside! The water pours down on our heads when it rains,” Lilit continues pointing to the ‘home utilities’.
Environment is just another issue here in this isolated location in one of the industrial districts of Yerevan, besides the lack of utility conditions. Dust of the asphalt plant in the neighborhood have already created problems to Lilit’s youngest son Narek, who has got troubles with respiration.
“We take children to hospital regularly, every week… Narek coughs; they say it’s all the asphalt dust in his lungs,” says Lilit.
Anush also says despite their registration at Shirak 45 her family may once again appear in the street, because the land lot their house stands on is not privatized.
“It does not belong to us. If they take this away we will go back to the life we used to have. I’ll find another power substation or a place to put the domik… Where can I go to be able to live? It’s impossible. I can’t fasten it to my back and go. I will have to sell then this wood [the wooden panels the house is made of], gather my children and get somewhere else again.””