Armen Sargsyan from Tavush celebrated his 16 th birthday this January in Abovyan's correctional facility for juvenile criminals. He had stolen two copper pots used for distilling vodka and sold them to a metal trader for 2,000 drams. Armen and a friend used the money to buy candy and one bottle of Coca-Cola and play a computer game. Throughout the investigation and trial, the boy took sole responsibility for the theft and refused to name his friend.
On November 28, 2005 the judge sentenced this dangerous criminal to two years in prison.
Exactly two years ago, in May 2004, we were in Berd, in the cellar where Armen Sargsyan spent his youth. We visited again this year to see whether poverty had decreased in the town, and to compare things with the government's official data. Has life improved for Berd's poorest families in the last two years?
"Nothing has changed. I tried to raise my head up, but it's even further down," said Armen Sargsyan's mother Zoya Jonovyan.
In May 1993, the Sargsyan family, Andranik, Zoya, and their three children, moved into the cellar of the hotel in Berd. (See Just one apartment house in Berd will help fight poverty). At the end of last year, the hotel, which is owned by the city government, was closed for renovation. The family was moved to a trailer in the district known as Janjanots (a place that is full of flies). (See: In the center of Berd, poverty has settled in).
Andranik and Zoya work for the city's utilities department collecting garbage. Their oldest son Karen is 19 years old. Mentally disabled, he attended only two years of school, and was not drafted into the army. Armen is 16, and Arsen is 14 years old.
"The court has determined that the prosecution's charges are rightly stated, he [the boy] is guilty according to Article 177, Part 2, Paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code. The court took into consideration as a mitigating factor the age of the defendant and remorse for his actions. Taking the above into account, the court sentences Armen Sargsyan according to Article 177, Part 2, Paragraph 3 to two years' imprisonment," reads a statement by the Tavush Marz Court of First Instance issued on November 28 2005.
"You haven't appealed?" I asked Armen's mother. "If I appealed would it be better or worse? The lawyer said that I don't have any money, so what's the point of going through the trouble?" Zoya replied.
"The owner of the stolen property wasn't at the trial. Why they sentenced my boy, I don't know. Even I, an ignorant person, thought the trial was not fair. I noticed that the trial wasn't done properly. He stole aluminum once before. This is the second time. Why don't they close those places where the buy metal?" Zoya wondered.
"On December 14, they took him away. I don't know, they said they shortened the sentence by a year. I don't understand those things. Please help, so that he is freed soon. I haven't eaten in ten days. He's just a kid. I can't sleep at night. The paintings on the wall, he did them. Why would a kid who draws like that be in there? Make them release my boy. When he comes back, I won't let him go out. He is a good kid. He didn't give the name of the boy who was with him, he took all the blame on himself," she said, weeping.
Zoya told us that the family had written to the court and different officials saying that she was poor health, that Armen's father and brother were out of work, and that Armen took care of the family. "They wrote that so they would show pity, but nothing good came out of it," she said.
I ask her whether she had with their local representative in parliament. "When my husband went and cut firewood for the judge, did anything good happen?"
"Why does the scrap metal dealer take the copper from the kid? Don't they see he is a juvenile? They didn't have the right to take it. Why doesn't anybody forbid them to take metal from kids, so kids don't go stealing?"
Armen was a student at Berd's trade college. His instructor, Vanik Zazakhyan, testified that he had asked Armen about the theft and Armen had confirmed it. The staff of university asked the court to let the university administer Armen's punishment. But Judge Zoya Zakinyan, thinking that she was ruling on the crime of the century, did not take university's proposal into consideration.
Judge Zakinyan ignored the social condition of the family, the fact that they don't have a house, the medical condition of the parents, the fact that the crime was not dangerous, that the criminal was a minor, and that the boy did not betray his friend who also participated in the theft.
The judge disregarded the fact that the boy and his friend used the money to but candy and coke and to play a computer game. She also did not consider the fact that the boy's father, who had no money to bribe her, did the only thing he could - he chopped all her firewood for her.
Photos by Onnik Krikorian