- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 April 11, 2003 

At the Edge of Destruction: Lori village lives with 14 years of temporary conditions

"Temporary" housing has been the standard in Saramej for 14 years.Hamazasp Yeghiazaryan lives in Saramej, a village with a name that means "among the mountains".

But for some time now has found himself amoung by a smaller, more bothersome characteristic of nature.

"Rats and mice are hosts in our house," he says. "And the so-called house is a metal domik (small house), which has decayed during years and is disappearing."

Indeed the 47-year old Yeghiazaryan's hands are blackened from work on his "disappearing" faded red boxcar-like dwelling.

Like many families in his village, Yeghiazaryan's home was destroyed in the earthquake of 1988 that shattered life in villages of the Lori region as well as in places that got more attention, Spitak and Gyumri.

"If we had a house, I would get married with my beloved girl," says Hamazasp's 23 year old son, Hayk. "However today I have no future in the village and all my thoughts are about the work outside my village. I think only about leaving the village. I cannot even create a family in our carriage (domik), where already five people can hardly move."

Of 300 families, 280 live in emergency units.The Yeghiazaryans have heard a lot of promises in the past 14 years. They used to get excited over news of imminent improvements. Now they have settled into a silent acceptance of their hardship.

"Who should we take offence at?" asks Armen Malkhasyan shrugging his shoulders, who lives with his brother's and father's families in a self-made temporary hostel.

"As a result of the earthquake 100 percent of the village had been wrecked," says head of Saramej village Spartak Malkhasyan. "Eighty percent were completely destroyed and the rest damaged severely."

Of the village's 300 families, 280 have been living in hostels, metal domiks, and even in emergency buildings as there is no other option.

Representative of the Department of Agriculture and Nature Protection of the head office of Lori Region Vladimir Buniatyan says that the hard social conditions and housing problems are given an added burden by nature.

"Saramej is located in a seismic zone and convulsions often happen there," Buniatyan says. "But it is also one of the land-poor and unprotected villages. There are so few farming lands here that villagers cannot fully rely on nature, especially when as a result of extremely wet weather the harvest is often spoiled."

Soon after the earthquake a team of specialists from Russia visited Saramej to rebuild the village. The legacy of the team and of the government it represented is the half-built constructions of Saramej.

Many Saramej residents, including its leader, sought solutions by leaving to look for jobs in Russia.

Residents were left with half-built structures when the USSR collapsed."After the earthquake, a drawing procedure was organized in the almost completely destroyed village," says Spartak Malkhasyan. "Each family was given a number and a piece of land. Today there are 87 half-constructed two-storied constructions in the village, which could help many families in case they were completely built."

The village leaders say Catholic Relief Service, an international organization that builds houses for needy, has agreed to finish the constructions, but only after a water pipeline has been installed in the village.

The World Food Programme organized a food for work project for the villagers, providing food goods to workers who worked on the water line, which has now reached 3,400 meters.

"A new village will be constructed this spring," Spartak Malkasyan says hopefully. "It is necessary both in social and in emergency terms as old Saramej is located in the center of serious seismic danger."

Malkasyan's fulfilled hopes would be gladly accepted in Saramej where, one villager says: "We would be glad if something changed in our life, however, we don't know what is going to be tomorrow."


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  Photo of the week
  Drawing Criticism
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Drawing Criticism

An exhibition of cartoons has been on display at Moscow Cinema since April 1. It is the first such exhibit in 17 years and not everybody is pleased about whose work was included. Among the aggrieved was this group of young cartoonists whose cartoons were not selected. They rallied outside the cinema Monday, wearing their work.



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