- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
March 12, 2004

The Big Man of Mijnavan: The lives and wives of resettlement

Ruben Ghukasyan, better known in his village as “Giant”, says he has earned his name “because my heart is big”. Others say it is because he has two wives.
"Giant" and his giant family..

He is no more than 145 centimeters tall. Ghukasyan flexes his muscles for a stranger and says the name might apply to his physical strength.

He is married to sisters, Margaret and Anush, whom he says he “stole” during 1986-87. Acquaintances in Mijnavan compare him to the protagonist of the Russian film “Small Giant of Big Sex”.

“I visited their father and asked for (one of the daughter's) hand, but he refused because I'm short,” Giant says. “And I told myself if he doesn't then I'll steal both sisters.” The sisters say they escaped willingly with their husband.

Among settlers in his area, Ghukasyan earns his name through a reputation for kindness.

He is known to use his three-wheel motorcycle as an ambulance, putting the sick or pregnant or snake-bitten into the sidecar and rushing them off to the nearest hospital. And he is also the resident handyman, fixing radios, refrigerators, cars – parts of which are scattered throughout his yard and on the windowsill of the two-story house he built himself.

Giant's claim to fame includes his ability to cure toothaches. More specifically, he is an expert at pulling teeth.

Giant makes his own vodka to serve as anesthetic for tooth pulling..

Using an instrument he stores in his homemade vodka, Giant extracts teeth for those who cannot go to the nearest dentist office, 50 kilometers away in the town of Kapan .

“The last time a woman from the neighboring village visited me and I took out her two teeth,” Giant recalls. “She wanted to give me 2000 drams (about $3.50) but I didn't take the money as she was poor.”

Giant's dentistry is simple. He gives his patients glasses of the homemade vodka as an anesthetic, pulls the offending tooth, then gives another glass for recovery. Sometimes patients bring their own vodka, but Giant insists that they drink only his special brew.

Armen Sargsyan, the mayor of Mijnavan is among his patients.

“My tooth was aching so badly I couldn't sleep three nights,” Sargsyan says. “Finally I visited Giant and told him he must take my tooth out. He brought vodka. I drank three glasses. He began extracting it but he couldn't. I bounced out of my chair. Then I drank the fourth glass of vodka and sat back in the chair. This time he managed to take it out. Then I drank another glass and that was it. No problems. ”

Giant doesn't shy from speculation about his abilities as a husband.

He says on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays he sleeps with one wife and on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays he sleeps with his second wife. On Sundays, he rests.

(Armenian law previously made polygamy a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. New legislation adopted last year took out the paragraph on polygamy, however it is prohibited to register more than one spouse.)

In the repopulated territories of Karabakh, Giant's example is not unique.

Karvatchar resident Garush Mnatsakanyan, 41, also has two wives.

“Everybody has two wives. Other people just camouflage it but I don't,” says Garush and recites the names of those who have two families in different places. He has eight children. Six are from his first wife, Ruzan, and two are from his second wife, Karineh.

Garush Mnatsakanyan says "everybody has two wives." .

He moved to Karabakh from Aragats, in Armenia . “There were no conveniences in the house where we used to live. All of us were living in a one-roomed flat,” says Garush. In Karvatchar the government gave them a three-room apartment. He and his wives sleep in one room and the children in another.

Giant, 35, is also the father of eight: four daughters and four sons, six by Margaret and two by Anush. Three years ago, the sisters gave birth within two months of each other.

The children, in age from 1 to 17, call both women mama.

“The best of my two mamas is my aunt, as my mother always was busy with work and my aunt was taking care of me,” says the elder son Pashik, whose real mother is Margaret.

The co-wife sisters have separate roles in the unusual household. Anush is more the “ceremonial” wife, while Margaret works the land and does the heavy housework. Last year Margaret was bitten by a snake while working outside. Giant rushed her to Kovsakan in his motorcycle where she received life-saving medical treatment.

The wives get on well, according to their husband.

“They support me. I'm satisfied and they are satisfied,” says Giant.

The large household also includes elder daughter Hayastan's fiancé, Mraz, who says that he, too, wants to have two wives. Giant is against the idea “because my son also will tell me in that case, papa, I want two wives.”

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Flying High

In anticipation of this weekend's visit by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, workers put up flags on Mashtots Avenue in Yerevan. At first, Armenian and Georgian flags were placed, but the Georgian ones had to come down when it was discovered that the design was wrong.



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