Few would be able to live in the tin hut that Garen calls home... especially during cold of the winter.
The freezing wind blows right through the cracks of the walls and some of the windows are missing; closed over with plastic and cardboard.
Garen’s bed is damp from the leaking roof above. An electric heater struggles to keep the one room shack above freezing.
Garen jokes that when his friends stop by in the morning, they swear that it’s warmer outside than in the hut.
Now 43, Garen Mirzoyan has been living in this particular hut for the past 8 years. Believe it or not, it’s bigger than the previous one he lived in for 12 years which was destroyed in an electric fire.
|The wall cracks of the hut|
The Nor Nork District Leader at the time, Davit Petrosyan, purchased the hut Garen now lives in on the same site.
“He was a wonderful man, God rest his soul,” Garen says.
Inside the hut, there’s only a bed and table. Sometimes, he’ll go and watch the news at a friend’s house.
Garen and his twin sister were only 40 days old when their mother dropped them off at the orphanage. For the next 16 years, Garen lived in a number of orphanages and then lived with his sister in Nor Nork. His sister then got married.
Garen is registered as 2nd class disabled due to an botched injection he received while 3 years old the touched some nerves in his leg. He walks with difficulty.
He’s undergone seven surgeries and spent years in various hospitals.
|The whole furniture Garen has in his hut|
When Garen was 20, friends advised him to seek out his father. The young man obtained his telephone number and called. At first, his father was reluctant to talk to Garen.
The father had moved on, married and had started a new family. He offered Garen work and gave him some money, just so long that his new family didn’t find out anything.
The two men met a few times. Afterwards, Garen no longer wanted to see him. “I told him you have your life and I have mine. I just needed to know who my father was.”
Garen’s sister never wanted to meet her parents. She comes around every few days to clean Garen’s shack.
He survives on a 15,600 AMD subsidy and a disability pension in the same amount. He studied shoemaking and watch repair at the vocational school but, due to health reasons, never mastered them or worked at the trades. His friends and guys from the neighbourhood do what they can to help out.
“I have a large circle of close friends. We get together for birthdays and other occasions. Those times I really eat well. Then again, there are days when I go to bed only after drinking water.”
|The stove is fired up with wood brought by Garen's friends|
During the winter, Garen fires up the stove with wood brought by his friends. He also uses an electric heater and owes the electric utility 48,000 AMD.
He also racked up a 13,000 unpaid water bill. The utility has already sent a notice warning that they’ll take him to court if he doesn’t pay. Garen used the notice as kindling for the wood stove. He says that if he kept all the official correspondence, there’d be a huge pile of paper in his home today.
Over the past 20 years, Garen has written to three presidents, all the speakers of the parliament and various municipal officials about getting some decent housing. He’s even got in touch with the Red Cross. The answer from the Yerevan Municipality is always the same – there are no available apartments.
“They tell me to go out and track down an empty apartment and that they’ll allocate it. But they should know better than me what apartments are available. Back in 1989 or 1990, they put me on the priority list for an apartment. I’m still waiting. It’s always next month or next year. What a bunch of cheaters.”
|The window of the hut|
Garen even wanted to go on hunger strike alongside Raffi Hovannisian in Opera Square last year to demand an apartment. They talked him out of it.
He hasn’t yet written to Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan because he just got appointed. But he’s heard that Margaryan is a good man and says he’ll get in touch with him soon.
Last April, he was told by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that he could get an apartment in the social house located in Maralik, a town in Shirak Marz.
He thought long and hard about making the move. Garen finally agreed even though it would mean cutting himself off from his friends and sister.
Garen’s friends are also reluctant to see him move to Maralik, one of the coldest spots in Armenia. But they too realize Garen cannot continue to live in the tin shack.
|Garen's tin shack located in the yard of buildings|
They bought him a computer as a going away present.
Garen told me that if he had his druthers, he’d leave Armenia.
“I’m Armenian through and through and love my country. But I ask you, is this living? People ask me how I’ve managed all these years. I tell them that God is with me.”
Garen’s dream is a simple one. “All I want is a one room apartment where I can live a decent life in the company of friends.”
Garen has no telephone. In order to get in touch with him about the possibility of a story, I had to call up his good friend Andranik.
During our conversation, Garen confessed that Andranik was surprised and overjoyed that someone from the press wanted to write about his friend.