Iraqis are happy to be back home, even though
they don't yet have houses of their own in
When the Armenian day is closing the Avetisyan
family gathers on the balcony of their three-room
apartment to look, once again, at Mount Ararat
colored by sunset.
"We always heard from our elders about this
wonderful mountain but we had never seen it. Every
day, every minute we look at it but still we miss
it," says father of the family, 44 year old
The family fled Iraq in 1999 to Jordan, as an
unhealthy atmosphere begin to affect their lives
"Saddam Hussein's regime was accompanied
by robbers and murderers. When my husband wasn't
at home we closed all windows, locked all doors
and stayed at home," says Andranik's wife,
34 year old Silva Asaturyan. "In the street
you must have always watched your children because
they could be kidnapped for ransom."
There was no country to receive them as they
were citizens of Iraq. Jordan offered six months'
shelter, after which they would have to pay the
government about $1 per day for each of the family's
four members. The Avetisyans lived in Jordan for
two and a half years, and on September 1, 2001
moved to Yerevan.
"We were forced to come here," Andranik
says. "But we stayed with pleasure and we
grew to like our country."
Silva excitedly interrupts her husband. Her eyes
are filled with tears and her voice trembles,
"Armenia is very charming. When I stepped
onto the land I felt at once that it was ours,
it was our city and nobody could tell us, 'who
They came to Armenia with two daughters. Rita
is 10 and Mariam is six. Their son, Levon, was
born in December 11 last year and as they say,
"Levon is Hayastantsi."
"When my son was born we still were citizens
of Iraq. We applied to the Iraqi embassy to register
my son's name in my passport as it is a common
practice in Iraq. They refused saying that by
Saddam's new order it is prohibited to take the
name of another nationality," says Silva.
In other words, the child could be registered
in Iraq, but not with an Armenian name.
Avetisyans are proud that their son Levon
was born in Armenia and thus he is Hayastantsi.
So the Avetisyans renounced their Iraq citizenship
and became citizens of Armenia.
According to Andranik, for getting Armenian passports
they were told to present registration, but they
had no registration (a residential address). And
if you have no registration then you can't be
admitted to citizenship.
"So we had to find a family that agreed
to register all of us in their apartment for $200,"
says Silva adding, "many people earn money
here that way."
The Avetisyans live in Yerevan's Zeytun district
renting an apartment that costs $40 per month.
For the first six months they were in Armenia,
Andranik had no job and the family lived off savings
from Iraq. Now Andranik, an accountant by profession,
is working as part of the construction team at
the Hotel Armenia.
"The only thing I'm dissatisfied with is
that it is hard to find work in Armenia and salaries
are low," he says.
But Silva is quick to give perspective to her
husband's mild criticism.
"Salary is low, $120," she says. "But
I'm satisfied. Most of the things from my house
were given to me by other people. I have nothing.
In Armenia I don't even know whether we can ever
buy an apartment or not. But I'm satisfied. My
soul is at peace. I have no fears for my children.
When Andranik is late I don't worry."
Andranik was born in Kirkuk and Silva in Baghdad.
After getting married he lived secretly in Baghdad
as, according to the law (since 1990), anyone
not born in Baghdad cannot go there to live.
"You should have seen our house there, our
stores, our cars. We were financially secure.
But living for 32 years in a foreign land I never
felt it was mine," says Silva.
Two months before the United States and Great
Britain invaded Iraq last spring, Silva also persuaded
her sister, Susan's family to move to Armenia.
They sold all their possessions and paid $20,000
to cross into Syria, including the necessary cost
of arranging a "marriage" for the sister
Emma, as unmarried women are not allowed to leave
"My husband had been doing military service
for 10 years," says Susan, age 37. "My
11 year old son, Heros, had already been taken
for military training by that time. Many Armenians
died during Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988). I was terrified
when I thought I could have lost my husband in
this needless war."
Her husband, Harut Salatyan, 39, says Baghdad
turned into an uncertain city.
Asaturyan is enjoying every homework since
her soul now is at peace.
"My wife was pregnant. Three children and
my wife's sister were with us. We secretly escaped.
In Baghdad people betrayed each other very often.
They only wanted just to earn money."
Harut tearfully describes their flight from Aleppo
"In Baghdad we were told that Ararat looks
beautiful from above and that we should purposefully
look at it. When we heard we were crossing the
Armenian border I immediately started to look.
The beauty astonished us."
The members of the two families excitedly interrupt
each others' stories of resettlement. The adults
speak Western Armenian, while the children talk
Heros studies in third form and is very happy
he is in Armenia. He is asked why it is good for
him to be here.
"I'm surrounded with Armenians and everyone
speaks Armenian," he says.
Susan gave birth to a son, Shiraz. Both mothers
are happy to have children born in Armenia.
"After genocide our forefathers emigrated
to Iraq and we were born there," Susan says.
"Our children were born here, and we pray
to God their children will be born here too."
According to them many Armenians from Iraq come
here and later leave for other European countries
asking for shelter as Iraqi refugees.
"They are provided with an apartment and
pension for all family members. My mother and
brothers are in Sweden," Andranik says. "Silva's
mother and brother escaped to Canada. But we are
not going to leave this place. All of them are
worried there because they are afraid one day
they will be returned to Iraq."
But secure of her place in Armenia, all Susan
says she worries about is the approaching cold.
The families say good bye to their guests while
eight-year old Hury waves an Armenian flag, smiling.