General: A favored member of the "Victory"
Vahan Abrahamyan is a cordial and enthusiastic
host when guests visit. His wife Mari Karidjyan
offers coffee and sweets, as is expected in each
Vahan and Mari are newlyweds. He is 77 years
old and she is 72.
They married last year in a place in which many
elderly never expected to find themselves.
The couple lives in a hostel for the elderly
in a village 17 kilometers north of Yerevan, called
"Haghtanak". The name means "victory",
but without the hostel life might have defeated
these who probably thought they'd live this stage
of their lives under the care of family rather
But the hostel in "Victory" lives up
to its name - it is winning the battle of survival
for one of Armenia's vulnerable segments of society.
"This place is far from perfect and I never
thought I might appear here," Mari says.
"But here I've got shelter and food. When
you are old and have no place to live you have
no chance to choose."
Vahan has two sons. Mari has a son and a daughter.
Circumstance interfered with their dream of a
traditional Armenian retirement in the care of
those children. The sons and daughters themselves
faced unexpected hardship when Socialism succumbed
to Democracy. Some left the country and others
who got married could not afford places to keep
For these and other reasons, 230 elderly have
found refuge at the three-floored retirement home.
Friendships have replaced family ties and they
share memories of security, if not security itself.
I've got shelter and food," say Mary.
After facing near collapse in the early '90s
and despite a current republic-wide poverty level
of more than 50 percent, Haghtanak hostel (and
three other such homes for the elderly) has survived
to see better times.
The hostel isn't exactly an example of the economic
welfare of the country. The Government hardly
covers their minimal expenses and allots 1,450
dram ($2.50) for each person's maintenance per
day, including medical support and communal expenses.
The Government provides 120 million dram (about
$214,000) to the hostel per year (including salaries
for 118 personnel and other expenses)
It is not a desired life, and far, certainly,
from the Armenian ideal. But at least the hostel's
rooms are clean and the elderly are fed.
In winter, rooms are heated with electrical heaters.
The staff includes three doctors, a dentist and
But the hostel needs improvements. According
to deputy director Artur Markosyan, the building
hasn't been renovated since the 1970s.
has lived in the hostel for five years.
Water pipes are in such bad condition that individual
baths had to be closed and one bath per floor
constructed instead. And the pipes there leak,
causing dripping ceilings in the lavatories. Markosyan
has applied to foreign agencies for assistance
to make repairs and renovations.
Each room is 18 square meters, with two beds,
a wardrobe and bedside tables.
"We do not live as we lived before, but
we do not starve as the other lonely elderly in
the city," says Amalya Shakhartuny who has
lived in the hostel for nearly five years. "Each
day we get three slices of bread, and eat meat
at least twice a week."
Since the time when clans were Armenia's social
structure, the aged were held in honor and in
roles of leadership. Today, care for elderly is
a critical issue.
Those who have made it to places like the hostel
in Haghtanak, have reached their destination by
hardship and desperation. They have earned their
care and attention.
According to the Ministry of Social Security
every sixth person in Armenia is a pensioner -
a total of about 650,000. Twenty-two percent survive
only due to humanitarian assistance.
The NGO, Yura Gevorgyan is among organizations
tending to the elderly. For more information,
call: (374 1) 35.44.70. To make a donation to
project, click here.