Officials Said, “Go Ahead and Complain”
[December 4, 2006]
Muraz Mirzakhanyan and Iranian Armenian Nora Simjiyan have seven children. The youngest will soon turn two and the thirteen years old. They live in Building #1 of a student dormintory in Yerevan's Nor Nork district. This family of nine lives in a room with 1sixteen square meters of space. The broken windows have been replaced by cardboard, the floor is mostly concrete and the children are barefoot.
The Mirzakhanyan family used to rent an apartment, then moved to the Nairi Hotel, but ended up on the street after a rent hike there. Michelle Lemmon, wife of the then US Ambassador to Armenia, happened upon them in the park on Baghramyan Avenue, and it was through her intercession that they were able to move to Building #2 of the Nor Nork dormitory. Renovation began on that building soon after, financed by the UN, in order to provide apartment-type housing for refugees. Without the Mirzakhanyan family being informed, their belongings (or whatever little belonged to them) were moved to the small room they now occupy in Building #1. There is not even a direct water supply to the room – the man of the house has been carrying it in from the common bathroom every day for the past six years.
Nora Simjiyan was in a maternity home at that time. She knows virtually every high-ranking official in Armenia as well as their deputies and even their assistants. According to her, many of them know her by face as well. This mother of a large family once even wrote a letter to the President of Armenia. The reply stated that she should go to City Hall. At City Hall, she was told to go to the Municipality. Nor Nork Municipal head Davit Petrosyan promised to intercede last year and have the family placed in the Huysi Avan program. “A few days later, an assistant to the municipal head, Mardoyan, said that the program had been shut down. He lied, so that we would stop bothering them,” said Simjiyan.
The two buildings of the dormitory are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry for Regional Administration. The office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has refused to finance the renovation of the first building because a large percentage of the families living there are local Armenians.
The building has remained in dilapidated condition, and now houses around sixty local Armenian and fifty refugee families. Since last year, twenty refugee families have been awarded certificates of ownership for their rooms through an annual lottery. There are twenty-seven empty rooms in the building now. The doors to these rooms bear notices with the stamp of the closed-stock company called Hostels - which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry for Regional Administration - and the signature of the company director, Hrach Sedrakyan.
“These empty rooms will not be allocated to anyone. At best, they will be given not to outsiders, but to families who are living here in difficult conditions, for example, four or five people in one room,” said Ara Harutyunyan, head of the Department for Refugees in the Migration Agency of the Ministry for Regional Administration.
Svetlana Kocharyan's family of four has asked for a second room on a number of occasions. “My son used to sleep on the floor before he went to serve in the army. Now we don't have a table, we've put a bed in its place. My daughter is twenty years old but sleeps with me. It is impossible to dress or sleep normally in the room,” the mother complained.
“You have been included on the list of the needy in the hostel.” This is the written reply that Yeva Ghazaryan received to her 2001 application for a second room. The reply was signed by Ara Harutyunyan. However, Ghazaryan, a resident of the hostel since 1990, has been waiting her turn to this day. She is the mother of five small children. Four years ago, her daughter, who was then just eight years old, was sexually abused by an instructor at the boarding school she attended. As a result, she has become irritable and aggressive. “Her mental state was disturbed – she would beat the other children. She attacked her brother with a knife once,” the mother said. For that reason, and the social conditions she lived in, she sent her daughter to an orphanage. Her eldest son lives with relatives. “Don't you think I want my children to live with me? But how? We don't even have space to walk around in the room,” said Ghazaryan.
“If you pay them, they'll give you a second and even a third room,” some of the residents of the dormitory shared this conviction. They did not wish to have their names published, stating that they might end up losing the little they had. According to them, there are residents who have combined a number of rooms, redesigned them and built themselves a kitchen and bathroom. Moreover, they note that the dormitory has new local Armenian residents as well. “We don't mind them. But it's a matter of justice,” they emphasized.
“These things are impossible. Give us specific names and we'll talk, okay? This is not serious – I can make all sorts of claims myself. What are they afraid of?” said Ara Harutyunyan, surprised, and added, “We do not raise the issue of evicting anyone unless, of course, it isn't a case of illegal occupation of space, for example, if it turns out that any of the residents there owned a house…”
The head of the Department for Refugees concluded that there was not much sense is pushing the issue of reallocating empty rooms, because the real purpose was to empty that hazardous building. However, he took down the names of Muraz Mirzakhanyan and Yeva Ghazaryan. “I don't want to promise anything beforehand, but let them write a letter in the name of Gagik Yeganyan and we will discuss the issue,” promised Harutyunyan.
Mirzakhanyan recalled that the Head of the Migration Agency Gagik Yeganyan had come to inspect the hostel with some officials two years ago. He approached Yeganyan and asked him to visit their room as well and help them move to another room at the very least. “It was like talking to a wall, he didn't seem to care at all,” Mirazakhanyan said sadly, continuing, “And this year Ara Harutyunyan and Sedrakyan were inspecting the ‘closed' rooms. I went and asked again for them to change our room so that we could at least have water. My wife approached at that point and said, ‘You'd better do something or we'll complain to Yeganyan,' but they just said, ‘Go ahead and complain to whomever you want.'”
“Araik, Sedrakyan and Yeganyan are all very, very cruel. They have no pity for us,” said Nora Simjiyan, mother of seven, in a plaintive voice, trying to hide her emotions.