“We have 10 rooms that safely house and feed neglected mothers with their newborns and pregnant women”. These are the words that appear on the website of the “Lighthouse” Armenian Charitable Foundation.
Kristineh Gevorgyan is a former beneficiary that stayed at one of these ten rooms. She says the foundation stopped being charitable for her when her daughter Anzheli was born with a cleft palate. Kristineh learnt about the baby’s cleft a few months before the birth but didn’t agree to have an abortion. Instead, the provided the woman by Foundation Director Naira Muradyan’s started to worsen.
Kristineh was pregnant when she came to “Lighthouse”. Her husband, Hakob Klechyan, is in jail. “My mother told me to go and give birth at my husband’s house but his parents were against me living with them. To be able to survive, I started to work at the Rugmug factory, which makes preserves. The work was extremely difficult. I got sick, allergies started, and my nose was constantly bleeding. I was returning home from work where my mother was fighting with me. Often I would stay at my aunt’s house for days. Again, my mom sent me to my husband’s house. I went there and they told me “leave the way you came.”
To find shelter, the pregnant woman went to Mother Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, where a clergyman gave her the Lighthouse address. Kristineh is one of the first residents of the center.
“First we were accepted well. There were two of us, no one else. But the woman who was there before me, Nelly, was always complaining that the conditions are not good here. She is staying because there is no other place for her to go. In the beginning I could not understand why she was saying that. It was only the two of us, but later many other women came. We were handled like beggars,” says Kristineh. She says that the director’s behavior changed towards her once it was known that the child would be born with a disability.
“When journalists or guests visited, we told them it is good, but we were lying. The staff would eat and call us to wash the dishes. The cleaning lady was supposed to clean the floors on the first floor, but we were cleaning it, mainly I.
After the ultrasound exam when I learned about the baby’s cleft, they treated me bad. I was crying in the room, they told me to go and do work. A lot of things are happening there, you have to live there to see with your own eyes. It looks nice from outside, but it’s all fake.”
Anzheli was born on December 23. Kristineh says that on the day she gave birth she called Naira and asked to bring ten diapers and four underclothes. “It was included in their conditions. I called her but she was speaking to me in a different way. The next evening, the shelter’s driver’s wife brought me food. I asked her if she spoke with Naira, because I asked for some things from her. She told me she saw Naira but she didn’t tell her anything.”
After that, according to Kristineh, she spoke with Naira over the phone who told her, “We will not bring your sick baby to our center.” The center’s driver and another beneficiary of the center received the birth certificate for Kristineh while visiting her at the hospital. After a few days she moved from the hospital to her parent’s house: they offered. Naira, without knowing about that told Kristineh “feeling sorry for you since you just gave birth, we will keep you for a few days.” Kristineh declined the “charity” since she had a place to stay. Baby Anzheli stayed at the hospital for about a month, to be under doctors’ supervision. Kristineh says that during that period “with the help of kind people” she was able to visit the baby twice a week and brought her necessary supplies.
The day after leaving the hospital, on January 27, Kristineh went to “Lighthouse” to get her stuff. “Naira said a few times “your sick baby” as if she was making fun, and said she will keep me for 20 days, I couldn’t help myself and said to her “you are the sick one, if you don’t accept my child I will not stay.” I stayed five minutes, took my clothes and left” – says Kristineh. “Then various journalists wanted to meet me, because they heard about me. But Naira threatened me, saying, “don’t forget, your baby is in the hospital, your husband in jail. You are well aware of what I can do.”
Kristineh says that when the shelter would receive packages, management would take the best ones. “None of the girls said anything. It is true, they gave us clothes, but for example, when they would receive coats the staff would take them. At least I had a jacket; there were girls that didn’t have anything for winter. The benefactor, Mrs. Seta, is very nice. When she was at the center no one would enter the warehouse, but as soon as she left they were there again.”
Even after talking with us Kristineh asked not to publish her name, saying that Naira threatened to dishonor her name in her neighborhood. But Kristineh’s husband, Hakob Klechyan, asked us to write about their story regarding Lighthouse. He was upset that Naira threatened Kristineh saying, “Don’t forget your husband is in jail.”
“Charities are not those who give away half of the money donated. From here I asked different people to help Kristineh and the baby. There were people that helped us,” says Hakob. “Deacon Gevorg Alaverdyan, as well as the surgeon of Babloyan Medical Center, Hrachya Arshakyan, didn’t take a penny. There is an American charitable organization, he fixed it so our baby can have surgery, I am very grateful to them.”
Hakob had a phone conversation with Naira when Kristineh was first accepted to Lighthouse. He says that at that time the director promised to do anything necessary for the baby and Kristineh.
“One thing is surprising. I dealt with them, so I know everything. A month ago I saw the advertisement of Lighthouse on TV. The guys here, who know almost everything, were also shocked. How such an advertisement is is possible? As if no one has problems there. Although it is not difficult to do, you just pay for it. She can have whatever connections she wants; she has to be held accountable for what she has done. I told her this as well. The day I am free, that day I am going to expose her. I told her, “You will resign yourself so a normal person can come and work normally,” says Hakob.
It is forbidden to have a cell phone or use the Internet at the Lighthouse shelter. As for why, Kristineh explains it this way: “so on the outside they don’t find out what is happening inside.”
After negotiating with Naira, Hakob convinced her to allow Kristineh to use a cell phone so he can speak with her. He says he often spoke with Naira as well and the change in her treatment of us after the baby’s birth surprised him.
“When the time for hospital came and when Kristineh gave birth, to be honest, there was no one to visit her, I was worried. I asked Kristineh if Naira visited, she said no. After a day I called Naira to see why, because before she presented everything to me in such a different way.
I asked, “So what is going to happen? What are we going to do?” She said that they are not planning to keep our sick child. She said their service was ending. I told her it is the first time I hear of a charitable organization providing services. Services are provided for money, we did not pay you.”
Kristineh and Hakob also mentioned that Naira suggested that they discuss the possibility of giving up the baby. “We said aren’t you ashamed? You are a director of a charitable organization that protects mothers and children, how could you say something like that to the baby’s mother? They keep only people, for publicity, whose care doesn’t require a lot of money. As soon as the person has a problem and they may need to spend more money, that person is shunted aside,” says Hakob.
Anzheli had surgery on May 4, 2012. Kristineh says that it went well. This was confirmed by the head of the Plastic and Microsurgery Department of Arabkir Medical Center Hrachya Arshakyan during our conversation.
“The lip is a cosmetic issue and not a health problem, meaning the surgery was done to make the lip look nicer. In cases like hers, later on, one more cosmetic surgery will be required to make the lip look completely normal. The second surgery, regarding the cleft, which hasn’t been done yet, is a health issue. The baby will not be able to swallow food in a normal way or speak properly. These types of surgeries usually leave scars, but it depends on the individual case. We can’t clearly know if she will speak well or not. Everything is normal with her. If the baby didn’t have surgery for years that would result in hearing problems, but for now she is fine. There are no other obvious health issues.” Seven-month-old Anzheli will have the cleft surgery in September.
What follows is a transcript of Hetq’s phone conversation with Lighthouse Foundation Director Naira Muradyan.
After having the baby, Kristineh left Lighthouse. What’s the story? Why did she leave?
- She rejected the baby and we don’t accept anyone without children. Her stuff was left, didn’t take them, her cloths, etc. I, you know what… Forget her story. There are better stories that are more interesting for the people. [They] are making [people] tired of them. Why did she leave? She left because she was slovenly, because… What do you want to know? She was a girl who was visiting jail. What do you want to know? What kind of topic is this? Please, it is shameful, a shame. She left with her baby. Why does this interest you so much? Who is that? Who is that? A useless person of society. Don’t write all this, please.
- Meaning? What do you mean a useless person?
- Enough, what do you want? She left because she didn’t take her baby and was saying she can’t take care of her; that she doesn’t want it. Come here I will give you material. Come, I will give material about Kristineh.
- What kind of material? Say what kind?
- Since you don’t understand, come I will show you the list of funds. I will show you. What do you want?
- I want to know why she left after having the baby?
- She left because she didn’t want the baby.
- But she never said she doesn’t want the baby.
- Go to Arshak (she means Arshak Jerjeryan, the pediatrician of the State Children’s Hospital. - M.M.) Do you hear? I asked them, I begged. I said its New Years, holidays, what will happen; keep her for twenty days at the hospital until she makes a decision. We asked, we begged, twenty days have passed. She came without the baby, one night she stayed here, do you hear?
- Kristineh left the baby at the hospital for recovery under doctor’s supervision.
- No, she could have taken the baby. Arshak was convincing her to take the baby because feeding is easy… At that time she refused and left there. That girl was at the edge of life when we brought her from the church. We told the church to send her to us. She spent three days in the vestry. She had nowhere to stay. Neither the parents nor the clergy recognized her. And she says husband. Then, when she got pregnant they called a priest and the civil marriage office. They registered the marriage there. Understand?
- Mrs. Muradyan, after having the baby Kristineh had a conversation with you…
- You are probably not interested in who she is. What kind of conversation with me do you need? If I take out the Vivaro papers; ha? I gave personal money so she can go here and there. I also had her get a haircut; she didn’t have one for five years. She had lice. What do you want?
- Did you tell her that the baby is sick and you can’t keep her? Did you say something like that to Kristineh?
- We can’t keep her, yes, we can’t, but she was obligated. Arshak told her, come five days and learn how to feed the baby. We don’t say things like that. Don’t you dare try; you will have to deal with me. Don’t dare you try to defame our Lighthouse name. I am really telling the truth. What are you playing at? Kristineh didn’t need her baby, that baby and the Lighthouse. She needed only to free her husband from jail. That’s only what she needed. And that didn’t work. Kristineh knew for seven months that her baby is like that. All the money that we spent on her. How we treated her. She shamelessly came to take her cloths, only the cloths were left. How did we expel her? We called and told her – come take the kid and we gave stuff for the baby. First of all Lighthouse is not obligated to do all that, this is a private organization which doesn’t receive any grants, doesn’t profit from anywhere.
- But the surgery was free Mrs. Muradyan. What funds, what expenses are we talking about?
- Funds… She should be silent. What was free?
- The surgery.
- The surgery?
- And how about her pills during the pregnancy?
- You didn’t accept Kristineh after giving birth. That’s what we are talking about.
- What do you mean we didn’t accept her? She came, we took her by car. How didn’t we accept? We took her by car, all her documents were taken. Our driver took her, our pedagogue as well. They stood ten hours, did the papers and then she left. She came here, the stuff was left here. She said, “I will go to my mother’s house.” How didn’t we accept here? We didn’t want, didn’t accept. What kind of things are you saying? Who are you? You come here to find out. Who are you? Tell me. I don’t even want to say your name, aren’t you ashamed? Tell me, do you have a child? Are you married?
Naira Muradyan’s question went unanswered because they had nothing to do with the topic of our conversation. Later on she called the Hetq office and offered another “interesting topic” for an article. She said that there is a woman in the center who was raped and they would like it very much if Hetq would publish an article about that woman. We thanked her for the suggestion. She answered that “they are not suggesting they are demanding”. We told her that Hetq doesn’t take orders. She started to convince us that her suggestion is a “really interesting, solid topic.” We had to interrupt the conversation realizing that Naira Muradyan was trying to find ways to distract us from Kristineh’s story.
The pediatrician of the State Maternity Ward, Arshak Jerjeryan, the doctor who dealt with Kristineh’s delivery, and with whom Naira Muradyan suggested we get in touch to learn the true story, refuted the director’s statement that Kristineh rejected the baby. Albeit with difficulty, he remembered the details about Kristineh’s story. The reason why Anzheli stayed at the hospital, according to the doctor, was because “she had to be under doctors’ supervision.”
“We were worried whether she could feed the baby at home, or she may catch a cold. She had a relative who assured us that the baby would be taken care of. If I am not mistaken we made her fill out a form assuming responsibilty for the baby and we let them take the baby home. When a woman is so attached, even to her unhealthy baby, and wants to take it home, she must be supported in any way. We helped with all that we could.
The doctor says that while Anzheli was in hospital, he personally assumed the role of temporary caretaker. Kristine couldn’t come every day for visits because, according to the doctor, her resources didn’t allow for it. He says that he had a conversation with Naira Muradyan once in the hospital, during which she stated that they were keeping Kristine but “that they couldn’t take the baby.”
“The baby’s problem will last until she grows up. She may have palate speech, but in our country they do operations and pretty good at that,” says Arshak Jerjeryan. He also says he explained the same to Naira Muradyan. “I think she definitely wouldn’t take the baby,” says Jerjeryan.
First photo taken from Lighthouse website.
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