|Editor's note: On a recent assignment,
veteran photojournalist Ruben Mangasaryan
encountered the family portrayed here. Ruben
and ArmeniaNow's Vahan Ishkhanyan returned
to document the family (and to offer help
for repairing a stove pipe).
It is a disquieting glance at survival
on the edge . . .
From the streets Lida collects whatever she can
find to burn in her stove. And, as plastic bags
are most of all scattered in the streets of Bagratashen,
polyethylene becomes the main fuel.
Lida Gadyan, 39, is a refugee from Baku, where
she worked as a dishwasher in a canteen. This
year she has moved from a wagon, where she used
to live, to an apartment recently built in the
Bagratashen's district constructed especially
for refugees. She can't remember when she moved
to that apartment like she can't remember when
she escaped from Baku, when she found herself
in Stepanakert, when she got married, when she
bore children and when she moved to Bagratashen.
She doesn't suffer from amnesia, she's just lost
the sense of time.
She knows for sure, however, that she gave birth
to eight children.
In the '90s Lida's husband left her and together
with her son and mother she came to this village.
Across the river, Georgia can be seen from Bagratashen.
The Azeri village Sadakhlo is located there and
the popular Sadakhlo market, which functions on
both sides of the border. Traders from both countries
sell everything from food products to car tires.
Prostitutes sell their bodies as well.
Until recently Lida was prostituting. As a result
of her work she gave birth to seven children in
Armenia. She says her second child was by her
husband. Two children were left by her in hospital.
Two others died - one at birth and one at age
five months from hunger. She also wanted to leave
her two younger children in a maternity hospital,
however as she says doctors didn't wish to keep
them and told her to take the children to an orphanage.
But when she brought the children home she decided
to keep them.
"I can't send them anywhere as they are
already a part of my heart," Lida says. "I
was scared and never aborted, plus, I didn't have
money for that."
Today her family consists of herself, four children
and her mother, 75 year old Asya. They live in
the only house (of 12), with no electricity. The
reason is that debts were not paid for their former
place of residence. None of the houses has water
or indoor toilets.
Lida can't afford firewood. She could pick sticks
to burn, but it's easier to collect garbage in
the market. She collects garbage for her stove
mainly in an area known as the "Turkish Rim".
Smoke produced by the plastic is very heavy and
consequently it soon choked the stovepipe. Black
smoke fills the apartment and paints everything.
It is hard to find any color in the house except
black. Walls, curtains in the corridor, bed linen
and people living there are black. Nobody tries
to clean up the stovepipe. Neighbors say that
their former residence, the wagon, didn't differ
much from this one in color. In fact the pipes
have only a decorative role. Instead of leaving
the house through the chimney, smoke penetrating
through the holes in pipes fills the rooms.
Anyone who comes in for a minute will start coughing,
smoke burns the eyes, and any place you touch
will leave soot on your clothes. Upon leaving
the house, clothes carry the smell of burnt plastic.
Lida and Asya always cough. But they say they
are not sick and coughing is the result of smoke.
"I'm neither sick nor alive," says
The children don't cough. And they don't wash.
"It's useless for them to wash up as they
will immediately get dirty again," explains
The older son, Armen is 12 and doesn't like washing.
But Mariam, 10, washes away the soot from her
At first view the youngest, five month old Mariam,
who sits on Armen's knees, looks like a doll.
The brother cradles the child and tells her sweet
words: "I will slaaaughter you, I will buuurn
you and my burden will be lightened." Lida
bathes the baby everyday, however, after being
bathed in sooty water the baby is still smoke
covered. The water in the pan is blackened, but
it's still warm, so now three year old Artur will
be bathed there.
The girls are Mariam and Maria, named for the
Blessed Virgin. There are three pictures hung
on the wall in the room, but it is hard to see
what they portray. There is the Blessed Virgin
Mary holding newborn Jesus and two wooden crucifixes.
Lida wears a cross around her neck. In this dirt
and smoke the children don't fall sick. "God
saves poor people," says Lida.
Armen and Mariam never attended school. Lida
says she hasn't got money to buy clothes for them
to send them to school. "It isn't worth going
to school," she says, throwing another plastic
bag into the stove.
Armen has mainly one answer to all questions,
"I have nooo idea." He says it in an
odd singing accent as if he mocks the one who
talks to him. He "has no idea" about
his last name, father's name, birth date and other
things. He knows that yesterday he ate and when
he is asked what he ate he answers, "diiiner".
Neighbors say that he has peculiar ways.
Mariam had been imitating her elder brother so
long that she has finally acquired the same habit
of speaking in an odd manner and when she is asked
about school she answers in the same manner, "I
dooon't want." The children almost never
leave the house. Sometimes Mariam together with
her grandma goes to bring water from the spring
located 20 meters away from the house. Neighbors
say that children are rabbit-hearted and not sociable.
"That's why they became wild."
Lida has no passport and never got allowance
for her children because she is not officially
registered with the State. Asya only recently
lost her passport, however she never got a pension
during her 12 or 13 years in Armenia.
"Many people have no husbands, but Lida
has no idea that she make a claim and get the
money that officially belongs to her," says
a neighbor, Mariam.
Before moving to the new apartment Lida was able
to earn some money. For every sexual service she
used to get 2,000-2,500 drams (about $3 or $4).
However: "Sometimes it happened when they
didn't pay me."
Now she realizes that prostitution was not a
good way of life. "How can you keep a family
if you know that in the end it will only be worse.
When you do that you can easily stay," says
Lida, meaning pregnancy.
She decided not "to do that" ever,
not to prostitute anymore.
"I cannot do that anymore, I decided to
have no relations with men anymore. That's it.
I haven't been doing that for a long time, for
more than five months."
Now Lida makes a small business. She passes the
border, buys cigarettes in Sadakhlo and then brings
them to Bagratashen and resells them. However,
the money she earns isn't even enough for bread.
The whole family is hungry.
"They have no money. They boil water and
drink it without anything," says neighbor
Mariam. From time to time neighbors help them.
They are also refugees and have many difficulties
in their life.
"We also live bad. But when you pity someone
you give at least a slice of bread to them. It
doesn't matter whether they are Armenians or Turks,
if someone wishes to help them from the heart
then he will help," says neighbor Rita. "It
is good that she doesn't take her children to
the scrap-heap and leave them there. It happens
sometimes when a mother cannot take care of her
child and she chokes it to death and kills her
child saying that he died."
All neighbors think that the only thing that
would save children is that if they are taken
to orphanage, as the neighbor Mariam says: "She
cannot take care of them. It will be good if they
are taken to a boarding school. They are children."