Another Yerevan: Mother of Seven Dreams of Home Large Enough for All Her Kids
“Aghasik, look, the Turks are firing on us from here. And this is our house. Hey, Aghasik, pay attention,” says 5 year-old Arman, as he draws lines in the sand with a stick.
Arman then really bears down on the stick and the lines become clearer.
Aghasik and I look at the drawing, while Arman looks at us. I remain silent. Arman continues. “Do you understand? There are Turks who are firing at us, firing on our house. I want to fire back at them.”
If I hadn’t heard these words myself, I might have thought it was all an exaggeration.
We’re standing in the yard of the metal tomik (trailer). Arman walks to the broken bicycle leaning against the trailer. He tells me to take a photo of him. I take the photo and talk to him. Aghasik runs towards us, holding the stick. “Arman, look, I’ve found a weapon,” he says. We laugh.
Arman says he wrote a letter to Santa Claus this past winter, asking for a gun. He never got one. He thinks the letter never reached Santa Claus. “I want a gun most of all. I want to become a soldier,” the boy says. “Why?” I again ask. “To shoot the Turks, of course,” he replies, and then takes me near the trailer’s metal fence. He extends his hand as if to touch the houses on the other side.
“Those Turks are there, on that hilltop. And we are here. If they fire, we have to fire back. OK?” he turns and looks at me. I’m still looking to where he was pointing.
Arman and his family live in Yerevan’s Noubarashen district. The family rents the tomik for 10,000 AMD ($21) per month. The trailer has electricity but no other utilities. Water, both to drink and for washing, is hauled from a neighbor’s yard. Haykoush, the boy’s mother, says they share the trailer with scorpions and tarantulas. “The tarantulas get into the beds and snakes roam the yard in the summer,” she says.
Aghasi, a most curious boy
The house is cut off from the rhythm of the capital. It seems as if it’s a lone tree growing in the desert, even though there are houses around. On the way to the house, I talk to 30 year-old Haykoush Khachatryan, a mother of seven.
Haykoush tells me that her life has been difficult and that many might not understand. At the age of 14 she was whisked away for marriage. She and her first husband never had a civil marriage but lived together for twelve years. She had five children from her first marriage – Sona, Hrach, Haykaz and Arman. Haykoush prefers not to say why she left her first husband, just that there was a reason.
35 year-old Feliks Grigoryan is her second husband. They were married in 2012 at a civil service. Aghasi and Armen are their two children. Feliks has two girls from his first marriage.
Armen, the youngest
“Four of the kids live with the mother of Haykoush’s first husband. There’s no room for them all in the tomik.
The trailer is damp inside and the floor is in bad shape. Various items are strewn about the room that looks like a woodshed. Plates are piled high on a table in the kitchen. The middle of the room is where the children are bathed. 16 month-old Armen runs after the water bucket, picks it up, and drags it around.
Haykoush doesn’t have a job. She used to work before getting married. “I’m a worker. I did farming jobs. But now, there’s no one to look after the children. Otherwise, I’d work,” she says. The couple wants to send the kids to kindergarten but the nearest one has no vacancies. Haykoush filed an application three years ago for Arman, but there’s still no openings.
Arman, defending the house from the Turks
The couple receives 35,000 AMD for three of the children. It’s the family’s only steady income. Haykoush says that Feliks only gets the occasional odd job. She says that he took a bad fall in 2003 and suffered head and spinal trauma. “Initially, he was registered with a second and then a third category disability. Later, they cancelled the disability claim, arguing that he had been cured. But he still has back pains,” Haykoush says.
During our conversation, other facts come to the fore. Feliks says that he served as a conscript soldier in 2007. “I was with the special forces, a reconnaissance unit,” he says. He didn’t serve for long, however, due to a court case. “I had a bunch of friends who turned on me and got me in a lot of trouble. They were dismissed from service, but I was the one charged. I knew everything but didn’t do a thing,” Feliks says. The court sentenced him to five years. He was pardoned with five months to serve left. After getting out, he married Haykoush.
Feliks’s time in jail has been a black mark on his name and makes it hard for his to get a job. He says he’s applied for military service at an Ararat base but his prior conviction got him a refusal. Feliks says he’ll again petition the defense ministry but isn’t hopeful as to the outcome. He cracks a sad smile.
“I’ve tired of this situation, of living poorly,” he says, adding that serving in the military is his only chance for a stable income and a better life.
Haykoush says her only dream is to gather all seven children under one roof.
“What am I now for my children? I’m like a mother ‘shell’. They are my children, but they don’t live with me.”
The trailer is small. Aghasi and Arman already complain about having to sleep in the same bed.
Haykoush’s parents are in Artsakh. They’re volunteers in the frontline.
Photos: Vahe Sarukhanyan