Sunday, 18 August

Yerevan: Living in the ‘Dog House’

45 year-old Artur Alaverdyan, an Artsakh War vet, lives with his extended family in a place called the Shnanots (dog house) in Yerevan.

I ask a bunch of neighborhood kids where the place is and they respond, “Go straight and then turn right.”

It’s a decrepit one story structure some 100 meters from the Shahoumyan Cemetery.

We walk through a long narrow hallway where Mr. Alaverdyan lives. Shoushanik, his wife, cracks open the door. They have a confused look on their face. After all, we are total strangers. “Is this where Artur lives?” we ask. “We are reporters.” Shoushanik opens the door further.

Mr. Alaverdyan has been living in the Shnanots since 1993. The building dates back to the Soviet era and was designed to house and breed police dogs. Raya Bgiryan, Artur’s mother, says that the building was never completed. Work recommenced this year. Some of the building was allocated to Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan in the 1990s. “We don’t own the property, but at least we don’t pay rent,” says Raya Bgiryan. This family, like thousands of others, was forced to flee Baku.

Artur served in the Soviet army in Germany and later came to Armenia. He participated in the Artsakh War and was wounded in the leg in June of 1994. He’s had 18 operations over the years but the leg remains an insensitive appendage. It’s also shorter than the other, forcing Artur to place a thick piece of rubber in the heel to compensate.

Registered as ‘disabled’, Artur says that he suffers from muscular myopathy. He walks with great difficulty and uses a cane.

The man says he no longer thinks about life in the long-term, taking it day by day. As we talk, his mother prepares coffee in the kitchen. “Artur gets really depressed sometimes and says that he wants to die from the pain,” she says.

Artur doesn’t talk much. There are long intervals between our questions and his responses.

He says that nowadays he only thinks about his two children – 5 year-old Albert and 3 year-old Milena. The kids are constantly sick due to the dampness in the room. Albert was hospitalized last week with bronchial congestion.

The extended family gets by on Artur’s monthly 91,000 dram ($193) disability allowance and his mother’s 13,000 pension. The 67 year-old woman says the family gets by somehow.

Artur’s wife Shoushanik overhears our conversation and smiles, saying the kids are active and always getting underfoot. She complains of neurological issues but adds, “The children’s health is what’s important.”

The parents say that Milena was born with a foot impediment that needed corrective braces. They were removed a few months ago. They then talk about Albert’s bronchial inflammation. “It’s been taken care off,” they say. The boy runs to his father’s lap and embraces him. Artur looks down and tears well up. The father’s dreams are now being played out in the children. Artur dreams that Albert will either become a policeman or soldier. “It’s important that he becomes a person of worth,” exclaims Artur.

“He shouldn’t have been injured, should have taken care of the kids,” says Artur’s mother. Artur replies,” I had to participate in the war and my son will become a soldier.”

Meanwhile, little Albert says he wants to become a leg doctor in order to cure his dad. A silence falls over the living room where we all are seated.

Albert breaks the silence – “What’s important is that there is no war. Peace is a good thing.”

Artur’s mother tells us that work on the building has recommenced and that the dogs will probably arrive next year. She has no idea where the family will move to. They want to get ownership papers but that requires the services of an attorney.

“It’s a great deal of money that we can’t afford,” she says.

In the yard outside, Artur’s mother points to one of the unfinished buildings.

“Maybe they’ll house the dogs there,” she says.

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