Father of Nine: “When I see my children, I forget whether I’m hungry or well-fed”
Albert is 16 years old. Every morning at six, he takes the village herd to the field. At the end of the day, he gets 10,000 drams.
It’s not every day that he’s given this job. There are 108 cows in the herd, and he takes them to the field with his five dogs. In three days, his brother, 14-year-old David, will replace him. Their younger brother, Hayk, often joins them. All three are schoolchildren. When they do not take the herd, they go to fields to harvest potatoes.
Hovhannes Yervandyan, the father of the boys, is a resident of Armenia’s Kuchak village. 48-years-old, he’s married to Tehmineh Khachatryan, from the neighboring village. Tehmineh's grandmother and Hovhannes's mother were close friends, and they organized the introduction of future spouses.
Hovhannes says he’s a happy person. Before getting married, he made up his mind to have nine children - eight daughters and one son. Now they have six daughters and three sons. Four daughters are married, the other five are in school. Hovhannes has nine grandchildren, too.
"I’ve never dreamt of getting rich, I'm so happy to have so many children next to me. When I see them, I forget whether I’m hungry or well-fed, " he says on the way to reaching Albert.
The house where they live was built by Hovhannes’s grandfather and father. It was built fifty years ago When it rains, the roof leaks, and the walls get wet.
They make fire by burning dung. They do not have gas. They say they would install it if they had the money. Tehmineh asks her daughter Armineh to heat up the fire. It’s sunny outside, but it’s damp and cold inside the house. Armineh should have gone to dig up potatoes today, but the soil is wet after the yesterday's rain. Tehmineh says her daughter managed to pay for her textbooks by harvesting potatoes. She earns 5,000 drams a day.
They’ve already harvested most of potatoes in their garden. We walk together with David in the garden. He speaks little. When I ask about the harvest, he says it hasn’t been much this year. Then Hovhannes joins us, asks his son to bring the spade, and calls Armineh, "Take a bucket and come." He confirms the harvest hasn’t been great this year. He thinks it was because of the lack of rain and irrigation water.
David damages some potatoes while digging them up with the spade. His father asks him to be careful. The boy doesn’t object.
"We didn’t use any fertilizer for these potatoes, I can dig up some for you to take," says David. We smile, he keeps saying he's serious. We thank him and explain that it will be difficult to carry them, and now it’s his turn to smile.
Hovhannes stares at his children with obvious pride. They’re more serious than other children their age. They share the concerns of the family. They say they are the only ones who work in the class. Sometimes they are absent, but they learn what they’ve missed after returning from work.
Armineh says they need to study: it will be more difficult later if they don’t study now. She has many dreams, but doesn’t want to talk about them. She only says that she wants to learn hairdressing and interior design, but the family has limited opportunities to do so.
Hovhannes says David wants to become a car mechanic. He’s only 14, but he can make everything work.
Hovhannes was a contract soldier for 12 years. In 2015, due to health problems, he left the army. He says he would join it again if there was an offer.
41-year-old Tehmineh was discharged from a hospital only a few days ago. The doctors discovered a tumor. She’s worked as a cleaner in the village administration for 4 years. She says Armineh replaced her at work while she was in the hospital, so that she wouldn’t lose her job. Armineh does most of the chores in the house, and her four married sisters often come by and help. Armineh also sings in a church choir. "When there’s a liturgy, we go, David hurries up to sit in the first row," Tehmineh says.
She also says that Hovhannes has a kidney problem. The boys know about it, so they don’t let him shoulder the entire work burden.
"We haven’t taken anything from the villagers. Even if we are hungry, the neighbors don’t know about it. The kids always go to school wearing not new, but clean clothes. Keeping clean has nothing to do with difficulties we face," says Tehmineh, adding that the villagers can confirm her words. The family receives a state allowance of 38,000 drams ($79) per month, and the money doesn’t even reach the household, as it’s spent on paying off the debts on the way from the post office. 81-year-old Srbouhie, Hovhannes’s mother, lives with them, too.
Hovhannes says that they are the only family in Kuchak and even in the Aparan region to have nine children. "People know me as Mustache Hovhannes, since my grandfather had a mustache,” says Hovhannes.
The youngest in the family, Lusineh and Hayk, were still at school during our visit. "If Lusineh was at home now, she would say that she wanted a Santa Claus’s Christmas tree. You see, that's her dream, for Santa Claus to come to our house and to have a Christmas tree. I think it’s better to buy some fruits, rather than spend money on a Christmas tree," says Tehmineh.
Fellow villager Karlen drives us to the field to see Albert. Hovhannes says that despite the difficulties and problems, the children are their wealth, each of them being a treasure for him, and difficulties are just temporary.
The cows in the yellow field look like black dots from afar. Karlen stops the car, and we walk toward the herd. The dogs reach us before Albert does. David plays with the dogs - Arjouk, Chalo, Jumbo. He says Arjouk is the strongest.
Albert greets us and smiles. His father says that he went to karate classes, left half-finished, then went to dance classes, then left it, too, though Albert is a good dancer. The boys will choose their professions after they return from the army.
Cover photo: David and Arjouk
Photos: Narek Aleksanyan