Sunday, 15 December

Karabakh Refugees: 24 Years Later, Many Return to the Same Dilapidated Hrazdan Dormitory

Zaruhi Mejlumyan

We headed off to the town of Hrazdan to find the ‘college’ dormitory. There are people living here who fled the fighting in Karabakh 24 years ago. We were told that it was somewhere near the Hrazdan mayor’s office.

“Oh, you’re looking for the rats’ nest,” a local kid replied when we asked for directions. He pointed to a building nearby. “But be careful. It’s full of rats in there.”

We were taken aback at the sight of the building with a sign stating the address as ‘Center 94’. How could such an eyesore be right in the center of the town, we asked ourselves.

Anoush Arakelyan, one of the residents whose been living there since 1992, is from the village of Talish in Artsakh.

“We came, moved in, and stayed. It’s a bog,” Anoush said, making it clear that she wanted us to keep the camera at a distance.

“My boy is serving in Karabakh. I don’t want him to see these conditions and get upset. I’m embarrassed,” she said.

The College Dormitory belonged to the Ministry of Education and Science until 2006. Since then, it’s been registered as the property of the Hrazdan Municipality․

Over the past 24 years, the number of families living in the building has ranged from 20-30. About half are refugees. Residents claim they have continuously complained about the rats and missing windows. They say no improvements have been made. 

Anoush escorts us up the broken stairs, past the only working water faucet and smelly toilets to her kitchen. As we make our way through the dark halls, other residents urge us to take pictures. They say that officials only visit at election time.

Relatives of the residents have come to join them from Karabakh, fleeing the recent round of fighting there.

Anoush’s 80 year-old parents, Raya and Moushegh Mirabyan, arrived on April 3 from Talish. They found refuge in the same dorm in 1992. They returned when Talish was liberated. Anoush stayed behind. The Mirabyans have seven children. Six are now living in Russia. Anoush is the only one in Armenia.

“We were living well in Talish. We had animals and everything. The Grad rockets have now destroyed half my house. Three days later the police and the mayor came and evacuated us. There was no one in the village,” said Raya Mirabyan, who, along with her husband and three neighbors spent three days in the cellar.

“I don’t want to cry. We just want our pension,” added Mr. Mirabyan. The couple inquired about receiving their pension but were told since they aren’t registered in Armenia they couldn’t receive it. “Let them transfer the money from Karabakh,” Mr. Mirabyan said. He and his wife want to return to Talish as soon as possible. 

Arevhat Khachatryan has been living in the dorm since 1992. She has five children. After the ceasefire was declared in 1994, Mrs. Khachatryan never returned to Karabakh.  Lianna, her daughter, married in Karabakh but she too was forced to flee during the April fighting. She left on April 2, with her three sons and her sick father and mother-in-law in tow. They now occupy one room at the dormitory.

“My history repeated itself. I was fourteen when I first came to this place. Later, I married, and returned to our Karabakh. Now, my son is fourteen and living in this same place,” said Lianna Khachatryan.

Mrs. Khachatryan said she only brought the children’s sports medals with her. Her two oldest sons have been taken to a boarding school. Garik, her eight year-old, keeps saying, “Mom, it’s better to go to the war zone.”

Just when we’re about to leave, they ask us to wait a bit. They show us to a small table filled with zhengyal (greens).

Arevhat says they go and collect the zhengyal (greens) to feed a large family. As we’re walking down the hallway to leave, we hear Arevhat’s voice.

“Wait, I’m making a batch of zhengyal bread!”

 Photos: Narek Aleksanyan

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