At about 2 a.m., Artur goes to work. His "job"
is collecting bottles in rubbish dumps near buildings.
"As soon as you
touch rubbish you are a bomzh (vagrant) from that moment on," says Artur.
Bomzh is a Russian abbreviation for a person
with no fixed abode. Artur's hand touched rubbish
and he became a vagrant four years ago when he
had no other sources of income and leaving his
family and making friends with vodka he crossed
the line separating society from vagrants.
"Yes, I'm a vagrant. I'm a person
of no fixed abode. I have no fixed place to live."
In Armenia vagrants
appeared during the years following independence - a result of hard economic conditions
and of the freedom to choose a lifestyle.
The translation of bomzh is vagrant
but that word can be met only in the official statements as modern vagrancy is
characteristic of Russia.
During his 33-year career, Head of the Subdivision
of Public Order of Yerevan Police Department Sergey Hovhannisyan for the first
time discovered vagrants only 10-12 years ago.
"During Soviet times
we sometimes heard only on the TV that there were vagrants in Russia," he
says. "Nobody saw vagrants and tramps here. Sometimes it happened when somebody
used to come here on a business trip from Russia then started to drink and forgot
his home and family finding himself on the streets."
Parks, deserted places, half-built constructions,
the entire city is a vagrant's house. Mainly they
gather in the center of the city, where the rubbish
is more valuable.
main source of vagrants' income is rubbish. But bottles are the best sources.
and Natasha have each other. And Sevuk..|
At 9 a.m. Karen Mezhlumov's basement bottle receiving
point is already open. Early in the morning vagrants
bring their night catch. A poster with Robert
Kocharyan's pre-election advertisement "let's
work together" is attached to the wall. Karen
is working together with vagrants. He receives
each bottle for the price fluctuating from 10
to 100 drams (from about 2 cents to six cents)
depending on demand and size of a bottle then
he sells those bottles raising the price for 5-20
drams. He also receives waste paper. From that
scrap paper he chooses valuable books and sells
them to book sellers. He also receives such things
which can be sold even for a few drams like worn-out
belts, cheap condoms and other refuse.
profit they have from bottles is four times much," he says, "but I also
sell many bottles. So, my profit doesn't differ much from theirs."
Karen Mezhlumov is a refugee from Baku. He lives
in a hostel and says of himself: "How do
I differ from vagrants? I don't have a fixed abode
either." Last year he opened the recycling
station. He also published a collection of science
fiction stories. He doesn't write about vagrants
as it doesn't match the genre he prefers to write.
"Why don't you write about me? I'm a fiction myself," asks Artur,
who has already taken his portion of vodka and now is sitting in the shade of
a tree enjoying his rest and reading "Son of The Counte of Monte Christo".
He doesn't regard a couple of cups of vodka for curing a hangover as drinking.
not called drinking when we drink now. It's a fuel to work your legs. The real
drinking starts later," he says.
Artur is his vagrant nickname. He
refuses to tell his real name. He graduated from the Department of Economics of
the Yerevan State University. And in case someone, who notices his swollen eyes,
his blackened skin and senses a smell coming from him, doubts that he is an economist
then Artur's sense of dignity will sharpen and he will forget about dangers of
declaring identity and he will tell his real name and last name: "If you
don't believe then go and check the class for 1978."
Artur knows that
vagrants crossed the line that separates them from society, and rubbish dumps
are the symbols of that line. He knows about another line as well that he doesn't
"There are upper and lower lines. I crossed
the upper line but I won't cross lower one. If
someone curses my mother I will kill that person.
But there are people who don't care as they have
crossed the lower line."
makes about 3,000 drams (about $5) a day selling bottles. Now he has brought 50
bottles for which he will get approximately 600-700 drams. His "business"
drops off in summer, when the population of the city decreases. As autumn starts,
so too, does an increase in bottle picking.
The work starts at night. He
goes out for work after 2-3 a.m. and starts collecting bottles with a torch in
his hand in the rubbish dumps of the buildings. Another time when he collects
bottles is after the heat at about 6 p.m., when he is already drunk.
drunk helps him to not be ashamed of collecting in the daylight.
hard at night. Sometimes it happens you suddenly touch a dirty thing, sometimes
I have skin allergy. But at daytime it's different. You just take what you need
and don't touch other things." Artur shows with two fingers how he takes
a bottle without touching rubbish: "Eh, it's a hard life."
and the vagrants, make a living off recycling bottes.|
vagrant worldview also divides people, who are not of their stratum, those who
toss out the garbage, into bad and good, "there are good people and bad people.
Good people are those, who put empty bottles aside and say, "let other people
earn money," and bad people are those, who break bottles, "neither for
me nor for you."
An old woman with the face of a Russian enters the
basement. "So here comes another billionaire," Karen greets her, "Tania,
do you want us to find a husband for you?"
"Eh, I'm too old for
that," she says smiling. Tania is a beggar, which is another profession of
the vagrant society.
Tania is a Latvian. Sixteen years ago she came to Yerevan
with her husband, who was sent on a business trip to work in a plant. Later her
husband died and after working in different places and losing her work she became
a vagrant. Her business died in summer as well, "people probably are busy
with canning and preserving as they give little money," she explains.
in the evening after sitting for three hours at her permanent place of work next
to Brabion flower store located on Sayat-Nova street she earned 2000 drams (about
$3). She says that the best season is December, on the eve of the New Year, when
during one month she earns $300.
She came to take from Artur the money she
gave him for keeping so that she could buy vodka for her friend, "Natasha
is in a hard condition. She is on the juice, we must save her."
In one of the yards of Abovian street, on the
corner of a playground is Natasha's and Sasha's
apartment: a square territory surrounded with
patches and with mattresses in the center. The
sky is their ceiling. "I love Armenia very
much but when it rains I say, 'fucking Armenia',"
says hung-over Natasha sitting in another corner,
in the "sitting-room" under a rusted
bower, next to Sasha. It's a year that they have
been living there with their dog Sevuk, "and
thanks God we haven't been kicked out from here
Forty year old Natasha is from Belarus. She says
she graduated from the Department of Journalism
of the University and worked on TV. She came to
Armenia in 1989. She left three children with
her mother and sister in her homeland. Sasha is
a musician from Saratov. He came to Yerevan with
an Armenian woman, who left him and he found himself
on the streets. "These hand will never play
again," says Sasha showing his hands.
"Before I was raped a lot but now nobody
rapes me as Sasha is with me," says Natasha gently touching Sasha's cheek.
Sasha nods: "That story is over."
Natasha's lips are swollen but she doesn't worry
about it, as it is her dear Sasha who beat her.
Sasha's one ear lacks its lobe. Once Natasha asked
money for drinking and he refused to give her
any, she attacked him and bit off his lobe. Sasha
picked it up and tried to fix it back to his ear
but he didn't manage to do that so he threw it
way and didn't even visit a doctor. Why does he
need a lobe?
"We love each other and we love Sevuk too
and we love Tania. I can say with my whole heart
I'm happy. I'm happy that I've got friends, magazines
that I read," says Natasha. She describes
her life as a title of her favorite writer Hemingway's
book, "A Moveable Feast".
She recalls that there was a time when she tried
to commit suicide twice when she was alone and helpless but now she doesn't want
to die; now she wants to live. And it is thanks to Sasha, whom she met three years
ago: "He took me away from death."
Natasha has had three surgeries.
Her friends say that her health is in terrible condition. "Before my womb
always bled but now it stopped bleeding. I've got no blood any more. Alcohol is
instead the blood," she says.
She has been drinking for several weeks
and can't go to work. The work is collecting bottles. During the work they often
find costly things such as a Sharp tape-recorder, Ibsen's collection published
in 1899, illustrated book of Armenian architecture that they sold for 4,000 drams.
regards themselves as the truest vagrants as they are 4,000 kilometers away from
their homeland, and the wheel of fortune made them homeless. And locals, according
to them, became vagrants as a result of their own fault by overdrinking and being
thrown away from their houses.
Two weeks later . . .
Natasha and Sasha are sober and with
packages full of plastic bottles they visit Karen's basement. Sevuk waits outside.
They haven't been drinking for two weeks and they are working. The period of sobriety
started when they were flooded out of their apartment. One of the residents complained
and police took them together with Tania out of the city and left them there.
They found a new place not far away from the previous one for spending nights.
They stopped drinking and began working. "Now we sometimes drink beer and
wine. We don't drink vodka any more," says Natasha. The hardest week after
giving up drinking is the first one. Different parts of the body start aching
but the pain has gone the next week.
Head of the Subdivision of Public Order
of Yerevan Police City Department Sergey Hovhannisyan says that upon complaints
of residents police took away two Russian women and one man from a yard of a building
and set them free at Sovetashen rubbish dump. They didn't do anything wrong or
bad but some of the residents didn't wish to have vagrants in their yard. Again
upon complaints of residents another five people, one woman and four men, were
taken out of a hatch and then the hatch was sealed.
Artur again is sitting near the basement under
the shade of the tree and reading a book. But
this time his scalp is covered with wounds and
bruises. Policemen beat him, "one of them
told me, 'Look at him! What a fruit he is!' I
replied and they began beating me." For staying
away from the police he always changes his place
of living. And at nights when he goes to work
he says that he doesn't take money with him as
night patrol of the police will take the money
if they see him.
freedom is limited by police and young people, who often laugh at them and beat
them. Karen says that one of his vagrant visitors yesterday was beaten by some
"They are people with free souls but they are very scared.
They are always in fear not to be caught or mocked. Drinking is their only relief.
They don't go to theatres, they don't go to cinemas, they have no TV so what should
they do? They have to drink," says Karen, who became a specialist of vagrants.
previous criminal legislation, which is not valid since August 1, vagrancy was
regarded as a criminal offence and after paying penalties two times people were
imprisoned on a third offense.
Seventy two vagrants in 2002 and 92 vagrants
in 2003 were detained by the police and taken to isolation wards. They were set
free after they had been photographed and their fingerprints had been taken. Police
applied to the Prosecutor's Office with the request of instituting criminal proceedings
against those who were arrested for the second time, but they were refused.
don't want to catch us so much as I smell bad. If they put us into their cars
we will dirty their seats. If they detain us, ok, let it be so, I don't care,
as I sleep on the streets and in this case at least I will sleep inside a building,"
says Artur, who was detained three times.
The paragraph on vagrancy is cancelled
in the new legislation and vagrancy is now legal but vagrants don't know about
that and they will be scared of police for a long time.
ends with a number in a special cemetary for
hate winter more than they hate police and mockers.
"This winter was
extremely terrible, you were at home and don't know about it," says Artur.
"About 50 vagrants I know died. Many of them were my friends." About
ten vagrants bringing bottles to Karen also died. Drinking was the only way of
defending yourself from winter and the main cause of deaths was sleeping on the
streets while being drunk.
In that way died Nelson, former gymnast, and
Gagik, former physicist, sleeping next to each
other as close friends, They are buried as other
vagrants in the deserted graves of Nubarashen
cemetery, where only metal plates with a number
are placed on the graves of deceased vagrants.
Physicist Gagik is 1110. People, who have no relatives,
residents of elderly homes and unidentified bodies,
which mainly belong to vagrants are buried in
that cemetery. Names of deceased vagrants are
written down in the register book of the cemetery.
According to that book, 74 vagrants were buried
during the winter. The cemetery for homeless and
vagrants was opened in 1997. The last number of
that cemetery is 1263.
"Now we have no work to do," says supervisor
of the cemetery Sargis Karagulyan. "It's hot outside and vagrants don't die.
It was terrible in winter. Sometimes it happened when we buried 10 bodies during
one day. Workers were so tired that they couldn't work."
no organizations in Armenia to take care of vagrants. Press Secretary of the Ministry
of Social Security says that vagrants are not in their sphere. The State does
provide, however, for their burial - 1,130 drams (about $2), for each funeral.