years ago, the Spitak earthquake made Aram
Like plenty teenagers, 15-year old Aram Baghdasaryan
of Gyumri is happy when his family goes to bed,
and he gets the television to himself. For Aram,
TV is a window to an unknown world - tempting,
and a little scary.
Aram turns down the volume. For him the sound
is useless and irritating. He has been deaf and
dumb since he was six months old - since December
7, 1988 when Gyumri (then Leninakan) became famous
because of its deadly earthquake.
He doesn't remember anything from that day, but
he knows about the earthquake.
"We lived on the fourth floor of a five-story
building," says Aram's mother Karine Baghdasaryan.
"During the earthquake we were in the hall,
and the baby was in the living-room. Due to the
shocks, plates and dishes fell down from the sideboard,
and I remember that when we ran up to the boy
there were glass splinters by the head of his
bed. Maybe something had fallen on his head though
there were no external wounds. At that moment
we only thought about getting out of the building
which began to sink right in front of our eyes."
According to Karine, her son didn't have any
hearing pathologies in his early infancy. He was
reacting to sounds and laughing. But after that
fatal, fateful, morning sounds became only irritating,
unbearable noises. That's why he is glad to turn
down the TV volume.
A few years ago at a hospital built by an Austrian
agency in Gyumri the boy was given a hearing aid.
But it didn't help Aram at all; on the contrary,
he began to better hear noises, which aggravated
"Whenever I was putting the hearing device
on his ears, he was immediately taking it off
and throwing it away. Maybe if we had money, we
could consult better doctors. I've heard that
operations in such cases can very often be effective.
But even a simple visit to a doctor is a problem
for us, a regular audiogram costs 20,000 drams
(about $ 35)," says Karine.
The Baghdasaryans live in a 15-square meter "temporary"
home that is kitchen, living room and bedroom.
Besides Aram, there is another child in the house,
12 year old Sargis. Karine's husband has a serious
liver disease. When he feels well enough, he and
Aram repair shoes for an income. But otherwise,
the family survives off its 8,600 drams (about
$15) social welfare allowance.
"There is no money even for medicine. Every
day I wrack my brains over a dinner for my husband
and children," Karine says.
(left) doesn't need a voice to make his
puppets come alive.
The Baghdasaryans have received a voucher for
an apartment in a new building. According to Karine,
they don't want to move, because they would have
to live in the two-room apartment together with
all the relatives of her husband. According to
a governmental decision, apartments are granted
taking into account the square footage of the
previous apartment which was ruined due to the
"The fact that the number of family members
has increased is not considered. Together with
my husband's relatives there were six people in
our old apartment. Now there are 10 of us, and
we won't fit in an apartment," explains Karine.
To divert his mother from sad thoughts, Aram
smiles and points to a doll, Master Mukuch, based
on a character of Gyumri folklore, and no ordinary
toy at all.
Master Mukuch is Aram's connection to the hearing/talking
world. The teenager has become a puppeteer with
a company from the Meghvik ("Bee) non governmental
organization. If his condition is a handicap in
real life, Aram lives with ease through Mukuch.
"The boy found his calling in the cultural
center," says Veanush Hovhannisyan, head
of Meghvik. "He works on the puppet show
staging with such an excitement that there is
no doubt that it is his vocation."
Hovhannisyan founded Meghvik Cultural Center
right after the earthquake, and the center's work
has been credited with helping the children of
Gyumri cope with the psychological effects of
living in a "disaster zone".
She says she can understand Aram without any
"The boy feels uncomfortable when we complain
about the hardships of life," she says. "Here,
working on theatrical staging, painting, embroidering,
children forget about misfortunes. Life of these
children is a terrible ordeal, and nobody knows
if we can ever speak about their full rehabilitation."
Aram has interpreted Vehanush's words in his
own way. Karine 'translated' his interpretation
"When New Year comes I will speak,"
the boy says through his mother, and his clear
brown eyes began to shine.
To learn more about the Meghvik Cultural Center:
Call (374 1) 42.92.64; email: email@example.com.
If you'd like to assist the Baghdasaryans or others
with such needs through ArmeniaNow's HyeSanta
project, click here.