- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 December 12 , 2003 

In Need of Victory: Denied the security of tradition, 22 percent of Armenia's elderly require humanitarian aid

The General: A favored member of the "Victory" community.

Vahan Abrahamyan is a cordial and enthusiastic host when guests visit. His wife Mari Karidjyan offers coffee and sweets, as is expected in each Armenian home.

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 than strangers.

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 their parents.

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.

"Here, 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 16 nurses.

But the hostel needs improvements. According to deputy director Artur Markosyan, the building hasn't been renovated since the 1970s.

Amalya 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 ArmeniaNow's HyeSanta project, click here.


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