Armenia: Orphans Try To Secure Their Right To A Home

Dec 17 2012

December 17, 2012 – 2:39pm,
by Gayane Abrahamyan

Part 2 of a two-part series

As challenging as living conditions may be for children in Armenia’s
10 state-run orphanages, the difficulties only seem to multiply when
they turn 18 years old and must fend for themselves.

When 22-year-old manual laborer Arthur Tsarukian, a former orphanage
resident, died from acute pneumonia earlier this year, many Armenians
condemned the government for supposed indifference to the estimated
30-35 young people who succumb to easily treatable diseases each year.

Lacking proper housing, Tsarukian, who left central Armenia’s Gavar
orphanage in 2008, had been renting a small, damp and cold basement
area in a Yerevan suburb, and could not afford treatment for his
condition. By law, he was entitled to occupy a state-purchased,
one-room apartment. He did not receive it in time.

Currently, 331 former orphanage residents are waiting to receive an
apartment from the government via a state-funded program that has long
been a source of controversy. Launched in 2003 under the auspices
of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, it quickly encountered
difficulties. By 2008, 28 of the 149 apartments distributed were found
to be unfit for habitation. The program was suspended a year later
after state auditors found that the ministry had misused 1.5 billion
drams (roughly $4 million) earmarked for apartment purchases, depriving
“these children of the opportunity to live in decent conditions.”

Thirty-seven-year-old construction worker Khachatur Afrikian was among
a group of eight former orphanage residents who received one-bedroom
apartments from the program on the ground floor of a 16-storey
residential building in the Yerevan suburbs. Aging sewage and water
pipes for the entire building run along the ceiling of Afrikian’s
apartment; in winter, they often burst, flooding all seven flats,
recounted Afrikian. He termed the government’s handling of the matter
“so insulting.”

“I came down with tuberculosis because of living in these conditions,”
he claimed. “My legs constantly ache from dampness; there is no
ventilation, no proper window. The floor is bare concrete. This is
not an apartment.”

His three-year-old daughter, sick from the flu, lay in a half-damp
bed in the flat. “Every day I turn to the [labor and social welfare]
ministry, to no avail,” he continued, his voice resonating with
mounting frustration. “They say; ‘Don’t live [there], if you don’t
want to.'”

Sale documents for 2004 show that the government bought the basement
area for just under 3.8 million drams (at the time, $8,400),
when, according to the Yerevan real-estate agency Bars, a regular
two-bedroom flat in the same building cost roughly 2.5 million drams,
or about $6,000.

Lala Ghazarian, a senior Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare official
who sat on the commission that approved the property purchases,
conceded that the process had “shortcomings.” But Ghazarian added
that the government cannot give new housing to those who already have
received inadequate apartments under the program.

In a society where most young adults live with their parents or
spouses, and well-paid work is scarce, those raised in orphanages,
and who have no other family to fall back on, must depend on state
support. Boys not interested in state-financed higher education often
opt for the army; girls for short-term stays in charity residences in
Etchmiadzin, outside of Yerevan, and the northwestern city of Gyumri.

Ghazarian said that the government’s “priority now is those who
don’t have any [residence].” Cash returned to the state budget from
the embezzled apartment funds will finance a program to build public
housing for former orphanage residents, the disabled, war veterans
and elderly individuals without relatives, she said.

The first building to go up under this program, a 1.2-billion-dram
($2.9 million) renovation of a half-built structure, already has
opened in Maralik, about 90 kilometers from Yerevan in the northwestern
province of Shirak, and will house 27 former orphanage residents.

Twenty-one-year-old orphan Artur Karchikian, one of the first residents
of the Maralik facility, described the 35- to 50-square-meter flats as
“incomparably better” than those provided under the initial apartment
program. He cited the distance from Yerevan, the location of most
work in Armenia, as “the only problem.”

Local specialists who work on orphanage issues say they are mostly
satisfied with the new project, but point out that the initial,
three-year contracts are only short-term. If the apartment is
maintained well, the contract can be extended to 10 years, said

In April, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian told cabinet members
that such facilities are intended to serve only as a transitory
solution so that former orphanage residents have “the constant
motivation to aspire [to greater things] and earn a good life.”

Given that unofficial unemployment is estimated at well into the
double digits, Afrikian scoffs at the prime minister’s comments. A
one-bedroom apartment in the Yerevan suburbs, where Afrikian lives,
costs, on average, $40,000 to $50,000; a sum far removed from his
monthly salary as an unskilled construction worker.

“If we have jobs, there will always be motivation,” he said. “But
today even those with proper education and employment cannot afford
to buy an apartment, let alone us.”

Editor’s note: Gayane Abrahamyan is a reporter for
in Yerevan.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS