Igor Ghahramanyan was fired from his job just before New Years.
The reason – he has no passport. Even though he served on the frontline in the Artsakh War, Armenia’s Passport and Visa Section (OVIR) doesn’t believe this fact alone entitles Igor to possess a passport.
The young man is caught in the midst of an Armenian “Catch 22” a la Kafka.
“This country will not issue me a passport since I have no birth certificate. But ever since I opened my eyes, I have seen only Armenia. I have served in this country’s military. All I want is a piece of paper so I can keep my job,” Igor says.
Igor was raised in an orphanage and left in 1991. He was conscripted soon afterwards.
The 35 year-old remembers little about his childhood; only that his parents were Armenians living in Ukraine. Igor spent the first 5-6 years of his life there as well. He can’t say how he wound up in the orphanage.
Ovir says an applicant must produce a birth certificate for citizenship papers. Through his grandfather, Igor was able to get the certificate years ago. He lost the certificate when he was living on the streets.
Ovir officials have told Igor that he can apply to the Ukraine Embassy in Armenia for another birth certificate for a fee of $100. Igor doesn’t have that kind of money.
The young man says he’s willing to do any kind of work and that he’s a “jack of all trades.”
After leaving the army, Igor was forced to live on the streets. Five years ago, his workplace found him a small room at the former dormitory building on Tbilisi Lane. Igor fixed the place up and made it habitable.
The room measures 12 square meters. Igor can’t afford to use an electric heater during the cold of winter. The floor is always wet from the broken water pipes in the basement below.
Igor is married with three kids. He never invites them over to visit out of embarrassment. The children live with his wife at her parents’ home.
Like many former orphanage residents in Armenia, Igor never tells prospective employers about his childhood. There’s a serious stigma attached to being raised an orphan in Armenia.
Igor says that he’s found much better work at decent wages when he’s kept mum about being an orphan. Otherwise, he’s been forced to work “off the books” for pennies.
He told me that things were so bad when he was living rough in the open that he often made a public nuisance of himself just to get arrested and spend a night or two in a warm jail cell.