- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 June27, 2003 

Hostel Hostages: Elderly and infirmed refugees live last days in miserable conditions

Seventy-five year old Sergey Babayan is unable to leave his room, where he is attended by his sister, Seda.

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 for me?"

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."

Refugees live in 16-square meter apartments, with kitchen and toilet down the hall.

Margarit's husband died 10 years ago, leaving her alone.

"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) fee.

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 of women.

The bathing area is used in the summer, when some residents warm water on hot-plates and pour over themselves.

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. But:

"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 to this.

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 elderly.

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 die soon."

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."


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