16 year-old Artak Grigoryan hadn’t spoken a word in his life until quite recently.
He’s never attended school in his native village of Akori, Lori Province. It seems that Artak’s cleft deformity, a treatable congenital pathology, has held him back from living a normal childhood.
Artak’s mother, Alvard, says that she submitted the proper paperwork so that Artak and his sister could attend class together, but that the school refused to accept the boy.
Asya Tomoyan, the former principal of the village school, told Hetq that at the time Artak wasn’t speaking and that she had no idea that she could have appointed a special teacher for him.
Artak has undergone two operations top correct his cleft palate. He was 14 when he had the second one. Alvard says that after the second operation Principal Tomoyan told her to register the boy for school but by that time neither she nor Artak wanted to.
He was first operated on at the tender age of three and a half.
Luckily, the second operation, had some promising results. A foreign physician, Alvard doesn’t remember his name, performed the surgery in Yerevan with financial assistance from the World Vision organization.
Artak at last started to pronounce some basic words and te doctors said that his speech would improve over time.
The boy, his mom and two sisters, live in a makeshift wood shack at the entrance to the village. At first glance, it’s hard to believe that anyone could live inside.
"We have no water, or gas inside. There is a small tub outside that we use for washing up. We have to carry water from a spring about one kilometer away," Alvard said.
She added that the shack has electricity and that the Lori Regional Administrator intervened to get the utility to come in and run a line to house. Alvard has also gone to the water utility but they told her to buy a meter and a pipe, which she cannot afford.
Alvard’s husband (Artak’s father) left to work in Russia some 13 years ago and never came back. Now the family survives on a 35,000 monthly assistance payment and the 18,000 disability pension that Artak receives. The family has run up a 55,000 AMD tab at the neighborhood store.
On the day we arrived, the door to the shack was shut. Neighbors told us that Alvard and her younger daughter were out in the fields picking potatoes.
We caught up with them during work. Alvard told us that the owner of the field pays them with potatoes, milk and other dairy products.
Returning to the shack, Alvard pointed to a stack of kindling wood and proudly said that Artak had gone and collected it for the winter.
We waited for Artak to return and were told that he was playing with the neighborhood kids. Alvard and her daughter went to look for him but were unsuccessful.
Later on Artak showed up, but turned and ran off upon seeing us. Alvard told me that Artak has always dreamt about owing a TV and that I should tell him that I had brought one with me.
"Hey Artak, I’ve brought you a TV," I yelled.
Upon hearing this he quickly entered the shack and sat on the sofa, waiting.
"Do you like to watch TV?" I asked.
"Do you think about your father?"
"Because he’s my father"
"Who is your closest friend?"
"I have none"
Before saying my goodbyes, Alvard told me that her husband had recently telephoned and said that he might be returning. Artak has warned his mother not to get her hopes up to high.
Alvard says she has learnt that her husband has remarried and has four children in Russia.
If there is a happy ending to this story, it might be the kindness shown by Armen Kefilyan, the senior chef at the Flora Restaurant in Alaverdi.
Upon hearing about Artak’s wish to have a television, Mr. Kefilyan gave the boy a gift of a new TV he had purchased for his own son.
The video below shows Artak and his new TV after Hetq transported it to the village.