Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Homeless in Yerevan

A decade and a half after the fighting ceased, many refugees are still waiting for proper housing.
By Gegham Vardanian
In a gloomy ex-hostel, built for students at Yerevan’s chemistry technical collage but used by refugees from Azerbaijan, 120 families are still waiting for some kind of decent accommodation.

Amazingly, considering that whole families are crammed into rooms of just 12 square metres, and are forced to share a toilet with up to 50 people, often this is better than the facilities they have had in the past.

Some 360,000 of the half-million Armenians who fled Azerbaijan because of the Karabakh conflict, which ended exactly 15 years ago, ended up in Armenia, and accommodation for them is still scarce.

Maria Aslanian, a 96-year-old, has lived with her two sons – 67-year-old Viktor and 62-year-old Vladimir – in one such room for ten years. With its three beds and cupboard, there is barely room to stand up.

“There was a time when we had absolutely nowhere to live. For four months we had to sleep outside, in the snow and the rain. It’s good that they gave us this place,” said Maria, as she sat playing backgammon with Viktor.

Just down the hall was her neighbour Laura Melkonian, who has lived in the former student hostel in the Charbakh district of the Armenian capital for 18 years already. She spent years complaining about the toilets, but has just learned now to accept them as they are.

“Water drips out of the ceiling, it pours out of the plaster, and we have to go in there with an umbrella. Who knows, maybe one day the ceiling will fall down completely? But what can we do? It is a public toilet, which 50 people are using,” she said.

She has more space than many of her neighbours, since her husband has left her to move to Russia, and she lives only with her 13-year-old son.

She has separated out a little kitchen area with a curtain, but it is so small that only her arms can fit inside it. “I am thinking maybe I should leave the country and become a refugee from Armenia,” she mused.

Gegham is the editor of the website of Internews and a participant in IWPR’s Cross Caucasus Journalism Network.

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