year old Sergey Babayan is unable to leave
his room, where he is attended by his sister,
When it's raining, 82-year old Piruz turns her
bed to avoid the raindrops in her fourth floor
refugee hostel on Artsakh Street in Yerevan. Let
it rain on other things, she figures, but there's
no sleeping in a wet bed.
She has turned the bed so many times one of its
legs is broken.
"I move it here and it starts to rain here,
I move it there and it rains there. I don't sleep
in the nights; I spent nights sitting in the balcony,"
says the former resident of the Dashkesani region
of Azerbaijan. "Doesn't anybody feel sorry
The hostel is called an "elderly house".
Between 1990-92 the aged and infirmed who escaped
war in Azerbaijan were brought there. (Residents
themselves call it a home for "the blind
and the bald".)
Now, 75 residents remain from that time. They
live in 16-square-meter rooms with no amenities
and share a common toilet and kitchen at the end
of each corridor.
Seventy-five year old Sergey Babayan is not able
to make more than three steps in his room. In
January of 1991 Azeris rushed into his home and
beat him so bad that he became an invalid: "There
were about 15 people throwing us as a ball from
one side to the other. I didn't know who to protect,
my mother or Seda.
"My condition gradually worsened in Yerevan
to the state when I walk two steps and fall down,"
he says laying his bed. Seda is his 71-yea-old
sister, with whom he lives here. Sergey is not
able to reach the toilet, so he supplies his needs
in the room, and his sister cleans after him.
However, they were lucky not to live on the fourth
floor, where residents such as Piruz dodge raindrops.
"Such a helpless nation: My bed is under
water, I cannot climb to the roof myself,"
says 80-year-old Margarit with her eyelids reddened
by high blood pressure. "I am hypertonic,
I can hardly walk, and I have to go down for the
water. What can I do? Nothing. Enter your place
and if your door is firm, you at least can close
it. And if you cannot close it you are anxious."
live in 16-square meter apartments, with kitchen
and toilet down the hall.
Margarit's husband died 10 years ago, leaving
"The neighbor that goes to the market asks
what to bring for me," she says. "Today
he has asked before going, but I thanked him and
said that first I need to get my pension. The
pension is 6,000 (about $10). I pay half for electricity."
The hostel used to have a security guard, but
the position has been cut for several years. At
night the elderly and crippled lock their doors
and stay inside. Thieves occasionally wander the
halls and have stolen doors and windows that were
part of a United Nations-sponsored renovation.
The renovation was meant to provide hot water
to the building. But the power station providing
the hot water cut the supply, saying that residents
cannot pay the 20,000 dram per month (about $24)
In the winter, residents bathe in their rooms,
placing blankets on their floors to keep water
from seeping into the apartment below. "This
is not bathing, we just put some water on our
hands and faces and that is it," says one
The bathing area is used in the summer, when
some residents warm water on hot-plates and pour
Ishkhan Gasparyan, head of the government's department
on social issues of the refugees, says his department
has no money to pay for the refugees' hot water.
"The situation in that place is relatively
good," he says. "There are places with
even worse conditions."
It was pointed out to him that this refugee hostel
is inhabited by elderly and disabled. All such
places, Gasparyan said, are inhabited by elderly.
The young, he says, have left the country.
The refugees often don't have cold water as well.
Because of poor renovation often pipes get blocked
and water overflows on the first floor residents.
Superintendent of the building Ruben Mirzoyan
says the first floor wasn't designed for living
spaces and, consequently, the pipes aren't sufficient
for drawing water to the upper floors. Five years
ago no one lived there, so it wasn't a problem.
"If it's not leaking today it will tomorrow;
there was no obstruction today, there will be
tomorrow," Mirzoyan says. "Pipes are
too narrow, and they don't draw. Upstairs they
renovated it nicely, and didn't pay attention
Last summer residents were without running water
for three month because of damage: "They
say by radio that they have made renovation,"
says one elderly resident. "We don't need
ceramic floors if we don't have water."
A candidate for Parliament promised residents
he would renovate the roof if they voted for him
in May. He was elected, but no work has begun
on the room.
"Fifty percent of the roof is leaking,"
the superintendent says. "Authorities are
aware of that. I don't have carpenter, electrician
or a guard. If something gets out of order they
come to me. And I have to do something, I cannot
tell the old people go and fix it yourself."
One organization, Mission Armenia, offers help
for the refugees. It provides clothes and every
three months gives rations of flour, beans, canned
goods, cooking oil. It also distributes medicines,
provides medical assistance and pays for electricity
in winter. Lately they have given a washing machine
and electric heater.
Only memories about good life are left to the
Seda: "I was head of human resource department.
I lived as a queen; I had an apartment in the
center of a city. What is left for us now is to
die and end all this."
Margarit: "I worked for a bank for 40 years.
We had two houses in Kirovabad: one was private,
the other was provided by the state, a 09 Zhiguli
car. We have lost everything. We brought some
money with us and gave it (to the state), which
doesn't give it back (doesn't return saving account
deposits). We are here for 15 years: we either
don't have water or electricity or phone to call
when we are ill (there is no phone in the hostel).
They say that we are an elderly couple, we will
The most often guest in the hostel is death.
Around 80 people have died since 1992, and their
belongings became part of other families.
Part of Piruz's belongings was inherited from
the dead: "There was Sargis, that has died
I brought some basins and other dishes,"
she says. From another resident who died, she
took a table. She says it will soon be her time
to give back.
"Tomorrow I will die; others will say about
me that I was well done to do that."