night after 10 p.m. refugees of Sebastia hotel
lock their doors, hoping to protect themselves
against men who come and would force them from
their homes. A group of men representing Parliament
Member Paruir Karapetyan, come routinely residents
Karapetyan a businessman as well as MP, has privatized
the hotel and says the refugees must accept his
conditions and get out.
"They come every night and scare us. Everybody
is angry," says social worker of Mission
Armenia non-governmental organization Tania Dashyan
(the organization carries out a project aimed
at rendering social and medical assistance to
refugees). "They tell us to go to those apartments
(being offered by the owner) otherwise they will
start talking in a different way,"
One year ago the Government of Armenia adopted
a decision to sell the five-storied, 180-room
building for $25,000 to Sebastia Ltd., which is
owned by Karapetyan although other names appear
in official documents. According to the decision,
the owner has to provide refugees residing in
the hotel with adequate accommodation or financial
compensation. But the apartments, which used to
be classrooms of a music school on the ground
floor of a multi-storied building are more like
jail cells than residences. The building itself
has been classified as unsafe for occupancy according
to municipal code.
"I ask them, would you come to live here,"
says resident Sergey Poghosov, whose oddly spinning
eyes seemed to be his last way of searching for
security. "We have no protection, neither
from the Refugee Department or the United Nations.
Two lawyers came as if they wanted to help us.
They did nothing. Everything is in their hands.
They do whatever they want to."
Poghosov went blind seven years ago as a result
of diabetes. His wife Liza says that diabetes
aggravated and Sergey became blind as a result
of constant nervous condition.
"Three times a day Paruir's driver comes
and asks when we are going to agree to leave.
Sometimes he knocks on the door at midnight, sometimes
at eight in the morning," Liza says. "Sergey
couldn't take that any more and we agreed. We've
been waiting for an apartment for 14 years and
as a result we were forced out there."
Liza and Sergey, who left their furniture and
apartment in Baku 14 years ago and became refugees,
lost their hope of getting an apartment when they
went against their will to one of the small places
"I was a reputable person in Baku,"
says Sergey, an electrical engineer by profession
who specialized in TV repair. Now he cannot work
because of blindness. "Azeries used to call
me Sergey Georgievich (a Russian manner of respect).
And Armenians call us fake Armenians and Turks.
Even dogs live better than we. I was thinking
and suffering a lot, that's why I went blind.
He (Karapetyan) is a deputy but never met with
During negotiations refugees never met with Karapetyan,
but were told that he was very busy with the Presidential
Elections. At the negotiations he was represented
by his driver and some men whose jobs the residents
say was to scare them.
One of the refugees of Sebastia hotel was placed
in a geriatric home and a woman was placed in
a home for the insane. Only one family has voluntarily
accepted a new apartment as they were provided
with two rooms. Others under the threat accepted
conditions and requirements of the owner and got
$3,000 compensation. Others, 14 families, that
had no hopes of residing somewhere, signed a contract
approved by a notary and got apartments in another
building that were donated to them.
Noyem Aghajanova, a mother of two, was the last
to resist, holding out for $3,000 compensation
rather than an apartment.
only more or less acceptable apartment was given
to Elza (the family that voluntarily accepted
conditions). Either they will provide us with
apartment or with money," she says. "They
offer $3,000. But if I take it, where can I go
with that money (a one-room apartment in the same
territory costs approximately $5,000)?"
Rooms that were given to singles are six square
meters, 2.5 steps, where one bed and a small table
can hardly be placed. Families with many members
were provided with bigger rooms. A toilet-bowl
deeply stuck in the ground and wash stand with
the only tap of the room had hardly been placed
in a narrow toilet, where there is no place for
taking bath. There are no vents or kitchens.
According to documents signed by Minister of
State-Owned Property David Vardanyan the places
offered meet necessary conditions.
However, head of the Department of Refugees and
Migration Gagik Yeganyan drew a different conclusion
offering, "either to review construction
defects or to present another hostel for inhabiting."
Neither has happened.
Refugees have been sending complaints to different
state departments starting from the President,
with no result. The last hope was the office of
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Representatives of that office made a visit, but
no action has been taken.
"I think refugees' demands have been met.
It often happens when refugees are offered worse
conditions than these," says UN lawyer Armineh
So there was no written conclusion from UN and
last hopes of refugees didn't come true and day
in day out night threats become more alarming.
"If there were threats then why did they
go to a notary and sign contracts," asks
director of Sebastia hotel Artur Ayunts. "Nobody
forced them. They voluntarily went to notary."
Union of Young Lawyers non-governmental organization,
which is financed by UN for rendering legal assistance
to refugees also considers that everything has
been done in accordance with the law.
"Everybody has signed contracts approved
by a notary. And nobody showed us facts on threats
and pressures," says member of the organization
Babken Sahradyan, one of the lawyers who visited
According to the law, nobody can force out any
refugee from his or her temporary home against
their will. However, they have no relatives or
support in Armenia and cannot resist to the threats
that have been lasting for two months.
According to contract, after getting apartments
refugees must pay 31,000 drams (about $53) a month
to the State. Failure to pay gives the State a
right to confiscate privatized property.
"I'm a blind man. My wife doesn't work and
she doesn't get pension," says Sergey. "I
have to be hungry and don't spend my pension for
five months so that I could pay that fee."
Ayunts says it is a good thing for the refugees
that they are being offered an optional living
"We could present them apartments not as
a property. And how they are going to pay to cadastre
it is their problem," he says.
So the State project of "providing refugees,
residing in temporary hostels, with apartments"
for the refugees living in Sebastia hotel for
10-14 years, ends in these cells.
"We are concerned. Not only about Sebastia
but about refugees residing in other privatized
buildings as well as we have numerous complaints
from them," says specialist of the public
information of the office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees Emil Sahakyan.
"As already there is a precedent, we will
try to do everything so that such an incident
couldn't be repeated. Now we have developed a
document, in which we offer the government an
order of providing refugees living in privatized
buildings with apartments."