In the Summer edition of ONE, writer Gayane Abrahamyan describes the challenges facing senior citizens in the poorest region of Armenia. Below, she offers her personal impressions of her visit to the area.
Every time I visit Gyumri, my emotions won’t let me be for days.
In the second biggest city of Armenia, I’m struck by the courage and endurance of the people. This time my visit left me with an even heavier heart as I went there to write a story about the issues of the elderly living alone.
All of them divide their lives into two chapters: before the earthquake, and after. All of them have earthquake memories; there is none among them who did not lose a child, wife, parent, friend. There is no one living a decent life: 25 years after the natural calamity turned the once beautiful and thriving city into ruins, thousands still somehow survive in rusty tin-houses, so utterly worn-out, having no bathroom and toilet facilities.
Approaching each of these houses, commonly referred to as domiks, one can’t help thinking “I wouldn’t last a half hour here.”
In these wagons — that’s what the domiks basically are — people live, have children, grow old, yet their turn on the housing list never comes. Death comes faster.
Every time I witness this, I feel the same astonishment and admiration.
My destination this day is the poorest district in Gyumri, the poorest city in Armenia; and its poorest part would be the Savoyan district. It used to be a resort and recreation area during the Soviet times, surrounded by blooming gardens and a most beautiful fountain. Savoyan is currently a domik district, more like a scrap metal dump with its rusty and tumbledown houses, dirt, litter piles everywhere and heart-breaking human glances of despair and misery.
The only thing that comes as an affirmation is the sound of children. Geghetsik Yenokian, 72, is raising her late son’s three children alone, somehow surviving on her $100 a month pension. My questions pierce her mind like nails; answers released and rushing from different corners of her memories get stuck in her throat and won’t pass through, as she fights back the unwanted tears.
The state budget has no money for these seniors; the country has not yet overcome theeconomic crisis, they say. Meanwhile, the prime minister decided to allot $310,000 from that same depleted budget to purchase two composting toilets in 2013. That money would buy at least 15 apartments in Gyumri.
There is no money in the budget, but the cabinet members needed new cars for work. In 2013 the government was considering allotting $1 million from the budget reserve fund to buy new cars.
Rita Babaian, 44, mother of three, living in Gyumri’s other Avtokayan (bus station) domik district, recalls how President Serzh Sargsyan made a pre-election visit to Gyumri in 2013. She tried to approach him and ask a housing-related question, but the bodyguards would not let her. They told her to shout the questions from where she stood.
“They said ‘shout, and if you are lucky, he will approach’,” she says and mocks: “I was not lucky.”
“They are simply afraid to look into our eyes, afraid to see that we have run out of patience.”