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 December 13, 2002 
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Rain Buckets and Sky Lights: Armenia not yet ready for condo living


Gohar Israelyan: "Left to the  whim of destiny . . ."The 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 people live.

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.

This 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," Ofelia says.

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," says Gohar.

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.

"The 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 Baghramyan" condominium.

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 of it.

The self-financed condo system struggles to do its work, because its members are still unwilling to take responsibility for their own property problems.

"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 State's burden."

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.

Ofelia Sahakyan: "Who can we ask . . ."Large 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 the outside.

"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."


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