building of bad fortune has one entrance. And
from the first steps it becomes clear that more
depressing conditions exist upstairs.
The infirmed stairs come with cracked walls,
suggesting an old and rich biography and a visitor
starts to doubt that the building is inhabited.
However, electricity wires hanging in disorder
lead in a defined direction and the civil telephone
wires of Armentel blow over all doubts. Here heroic
A cautious knock is met with warm and characteristic
hospitality, spoiled only by the conditions in
which these inhabitants must live.
"It rains in the bedroom, kitchen, dinning
room, all over the apartment," says Ofelia
Sahakyan, a 38-year old mother of three.
Extraordinary to outsiders, Building No. 18b
on Marshal Baghramyan Street in Echmiadzin is
not the only one of its condition in this town,
nor in Yerevan nor throughout the Republic. People
who live in such buildings have seen them steadily
decay since independence, since the time when
the State maintained the property. Now, the inhabitants
are hopeless to know whom to apply to.
Goharik Israelyan, 38, is unemployed, is almost
blind and has a disabling back condition. She
lives on the fifth floor of the building in a
one-room apartment with her 11 year old son Narek.
family is used to the night rains and knows how
to act in that emergency situation.
"The sound of the rain makes me wake up
with army quickness," Narek says, "get
dressed, then quickly bring big pails and other
large capacity basins and start usual work.
"We are left to the whim of destiny,"
Gohar says. "This year a dry autumn was our
salvation. There is flood here in spring. The
rains are followed by dampness. We leave the door
open all day and night to get rid of the smell
of dampness. But this doesn't help. Doors and
walls grow moldy."
No. 18's problems have a decade-long history.
"In the period when we were left without
electricity ('92-93) we could hear people taking
away planks from the roof to use them as fuel,"
Stolen planks have still notl been replaced with
new ones. And the people who live in the building
say the roof is further damaged by television
antennas placed there.
"This is a common area to place antennas,"
Gohar says, "but when it comes to the renovation
this is only fifth floor inhabitants' concern,"
There is, however, a system in place to deal
with such problems.
After collapse of the Soviet Union apartments
in the buildings were privatized and a condominium
association established to collect fees for common
services and upkeep such as water lines, building
entrances, stairs, common walls, and roof.
condominiums were established to organize overall
management, renovation and service of the privatized
buildings and protect common rights," says
Robert Mkrtchyan, head of the Echmiadzin's "Marshal
The condominium fund is made up of fees collected
from residents, who pay six drams (about 1 cent)
per square meter of living space per month.
According to Mkrtchyan this amount for one apartment
doesn't exceed 300-500 drams (about 60-90 cents).
The level of payments is low and usually only
about one-fourth of the residents make their payment.
It is impossible to implement significant works
with such amounts.
Gohar Israelyan says: "I am a pensioner,
and single mother. My brother supports me. I am
not able to pay that small amount, even 50 percent
The self-financed condo system struggles to do
its work, because its members are still unwilling
to take responsibility for their own property
"Very often equally solvent people don't
pay," Mkrtchyan says. "The society doesn't
want to accept this system, because it was used
to the other one, when all such kind of problems
were solved by the State for many years.
The apartments were privatized to diminish the
In 1996, 13 condo associations were formed in
Echmiadzin. Only seven remain.
In one month, the association collects about 5600
drams ($10), far too little to solve any major
problems such as a leaky roof.
cracks in No. 18 are from the 1988 earthquake.
Sewage pipes frequently become clogged and fill
the first floor apartments, where no one lives.
Dirty water in the first floor apartments creates
unsanitary conditions liable to disease epidemics.
"Our walls are not firm, one strong hit
and they will collapse," Gohar says.
The sky shows through Gohar's bathroom ceiling,
where mice and other varmints have easy access.
For 11 years residents have gathered water from
"By the way, one can have a bath from the
rain here," says Narek.
"We got a thousand and one diseases while
living here," Ofelia says. "Who can
we ask for assistance?"
In some situations the town's municipality can
provide help from the general budget to solve
urgent problems, but nothing is being done at
present and people continue to live there because
they have no choice.
"Everything remains the same," Gohar
says, ". . . open roof, cracks on the walls,
which become larger every day. The most reliable
solution are big basins, which we replace with
bigger ones every spring."