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 October 10, 2003 




Cut Off: Sixty refugee families enter second month of no electricity



Iisolated from the rest of the city the building became a new but not comfortable home for refugees

When it is getting dark Margarita Garibyan lights candles and the oil lamp and calls her neighbors to play the card game "preference". They play until midnight or even longer though neither Garibyan nor her neighbours are gamblers.

The game is a way to pass the time and an entertainment that does not require electricity, a convenience Garibyan and her neighbors have been without for seven weeks.

Women say they miss ironing and are tired of hand washing; men miss the TV football games and children dream of watching cartoons and movies. The smell of kerosene accompanied their conjectures of when they would have electricity and return to normal living conditions.

The scene is reminiscent of a decade ago when Armenia faced energy crises and blockade. But this scene is present-day, at the building which is a property of HayElectroMash electrical plant.

Margarita Garibyan and her neighbors have little belief that officials will enlighten their life.

In August, the Central Electricity Network cut off the plant's electricity, because of unpaid debts.

The unexpected energy crisis paralyzed not only the work of the plant but affected the lives of 60 families who live in the building located on the territory of the plant.

With the exception of two or three families, the inhabitants of the hostel are refuges from Azerbaijan. They escaped in the early 1990s from pogroms in Baku and Sumgait and found their new homes in Yerevan being allocated in that building, which used to be a rest house for the plant's workers.

At that time the giant plant with a territory of 730,000 square meters faced the serious problems of the economic crisis as the rest of the plants in Armenia.

Built in 1940 the plant used to be one of the biggest and profitable enterprises during Soviet times producing generators of different types, transformers and mobile electric power stations.

Karen Demirchyan, the former leader of Soviet Armenia had spent most of the past decade in charge of the plant after the Kremlin removed him for failing to cope with the independence movement in 1989. (In 1998 Demirchayn was elected the Speaker of the National Assembly and was assassinated with seven other officials during the terrorist attack on Armenian Parliament on October 27, 1999)

Vika Virabyan buys milk for her baby every day, since there is no chance to use refrigerator.

In 2000 the plant was transformed into an Open Joint Stock Company. But the giant plant failed to function profitably. Workers have not been paid since 2001, but still hope that they will be paid this December when the plant is completely privatized.

The failure of the plant had not effected the lives of the refugees living on its property, (who paid the plant for electricity) until its unpaid debts put them in the dark.

Manager Seyran Matevosyan could not be reached to comment on the current problems. Officials from Shengavit district municipality (where the plant and hostel are located) told ArmeniaNow that they are trying to find a solution to the power problem and have plans to lay new electrical cables to the hostel.

Meanwhile the refugees say that they were promised they'd have electricity a day after it was cut off. Residents of the hostel applied to the City Council, to the Government Department For Migration and Refugees and wrote a letter to President Robert Kocharyan asking to make the electricity provision independent from the plant. But so far their requests yielded no results as no official replied to them.

"After we escaped from Azerbaijan we found ourselves in Armenia and share with it all the problems such as hunger and cold. But we were not complaining because the whole country had the same problems as we had," said Garibyan. "Now it is hard to stand the darkness. In evenings we go on the balcony and watch the lights of the city."

Garibyan's two daughters say they are getting used to doing homework by candlelight, but complain that the eye stress gives them headaches.

"I am wearing the clothes that don't require ironing, such as sweaters and jeans," says 11-year-old Narine Garibyan.

Garibyan’s two daughters say they are getting used to doing homework by candlelight, but complain that the eye stress gives them headaches.

"But recently my school teacher told me that me and sister should wear a white chemise to the school. I told her that we do not have electricity for several weeks. First she did not believe me, but then my mum told her that it is true and the teacher said that she would bring an iron to school, and suggested that I iron my clothes at school."

The power cut affects all people in the hostel, from one-year-old Jasmine, who is afraid of the dark, to 83-year-old Hasmik Israelyan, who is an invalid.

"Probably I am the only person here who is happy that the weather is getting cold," says Jasmine's young mother 20- year- old Vika Virabyan.

"As I can not use the refrigerator it is impossible to keep the milk and other foodstuff. I am buying fresh milk every day for one day otherwise it is getting sour" she said.

Most of the refugees are unemployed and live under hard social conditions. Added to their economic woes is the need now to buy candles. A box costs about 33 cents, and lasts one week.

Most of the refugees say that at the time when Demirchayn was running the plant they had more hopes and fewer problems.

The refugees spend their evening remembering the past when they had high social status, job, money and electricity.

The hostel though fenced from the plant is surrounded by huge pipes and technical equipment. The road to the hostel is not easy to find as it passes across abandoned train tracks and deserted shanties.

The refugees say they are isolated from the rest of the city and joke that they do not get help because the officials do not know they exist.


According to Agnes
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