Anahit Sahradyan isn’t at all surprised when we knock at her door.
She immediately knows why we’ve come – to see how she’s living in her dilapidated tnak.
Her makeshift hut is one of the worst in the tnak district along road leading to the airport in Gyumri. Inside, the smells wafting from the cooking pot on the burner have melded with the hut’s moisture.
There’s only bread and cheese on the table. “We’re ashamed by our poverty,” says Mrs. Anahit, as she asks us to sit. “Don’t mind the clutter. But enough is enough. We can’t go on like this.”
Their house on Lomonov Street in Gyumri was destroyed in the first few seconds when the earthquake hit in 1988. When they felt the first tremor, she told her husband to grab Nara and get out. She remained in the kitchen, warming some milk for the child. Anahit figured that the tremors would subside. They only grew stronger.
“I was thrown from wall to wall,” Anahit recounts. “I ran to the balcony, opened the window, and saw that the building was tilting. I jumped and landed on the clothesline. I get goose bumps just remembering. The building was collapsing, so I cried out, ‘Nara, Nara’. The line broke, I fell to the ground, and started to run, but I fell.”
Luckily, she got clear before the entire building collapsed. “The place was rubble and dust,” she says, adding that when she came to and opened her eyes she saw an apparition of her husband and daughter lost in the dust. But they survived.
Mrs. Anahit’s immediate concern was the loss of their home. That evening relatives from Ninotsminda arrived and took the family to Javakhk.
“The entire town was destroyed, people killed, and there I was crying over my belongings,” she says.
Anahit returned a few days later and salvaged a few household items buried in the rubble, including a floor rug that now adorns the wall of her tnak. She also managed to find a few items from her dowry chest.
Mrs. Anahit used to work in an office before the earthquake. Her husband then left for the Ukraine for seasonal work, sometimes taking the family. They lived away from Armenia for some eight years. For the past 18 years, this tnak has been their home. Her husband no longer lives with them; he’s deserted the family. She says he found another woman in Russia and is living there now.
Mrs. Anahit, her daughter Nara, and a three year-old grandchild, get by on the pension and supplemental assistance the family receives. Her Javakhk relatives sometimes send fruit.
The hut has started to rot. The municipality periodically helps out with fire wood, which Anahit uses sparingly, saving it for the coldest of nights.
She takes any job that comes by. After the earthquake, she went back to office work but she couldn’t master the computer and was forced to take kitchen work.
The family has been registered as homeless and is 1,258th on a waiting list for a new apartment. She’s afraid that construction will stop and she won’t get the two room apartment promised her. But she remains optimistic.
“I haven’t lost hope. I will get my new apartment come hell or high water. God will give me a place to live.”
She periodically telephones the Ministry of Urban Construction in Yerevan for updates on the housing issue. Mrs. Anahit says that they give her the runaround at the Marzpetaran (Provincial Government Office), but that the official at the ministry dealing with housing distribution answers all her questions. This makes her hopeful that her new apartment is on the way.
Anahit took her granddaughter to the construction site. She wept when she saw the new buildings going up.
“All this pain and tears can’t be in vain. These homes will be built,” she says teary eyed.
Photos: Sara Anjargolian