The following is Hetq Chief Editor Edik Baghdasaryan ’s response to the letter of UNCHR representative Damtew Dessalegne regarding the Kasakh refugee housing issue. (See: UNHCR ’s Office in Armenia Responds to Hetq Coverage on Kasakh Housing Snafu)
Thanks for your response even though it was somewhat surprising, given that our letter to you dated February 15 of this year remains unanswered. Perhaps, if you had answered it, these “inaccuracies” might not have occurred.
We are aware that the United Nations is turning into a much closed structure when information regarding its programs is requested, especially financial data. Now, we will present the situation to readers to make it more understandable.
Refugees forcibly evicted from their homes in Baku, Sumgait and elsewhere, for whom the building was planned, have been waiting for twenty years, and all the while living in terrible conditions. And now, lo and behold, come the United Nations representatives telling them that a social house is being constructed and that they will be guaranteed apartments.
In a grand ceremony that took place in June, 2010, in the village of Kasakh on the outskirts of Yerevan, twenty refugee families were told that the hose was being built for them and that they could now move in. Many of the refugees are elderly. They seemed to have sighed a breath of relief, knowing that their last days would be spent in comfortable apartments. Soon, it will be one year to the day of that ceremony. The refugees are still residing in their old quarters. The doors to their new homes remain shut. The reason is that the floors are cement and dangerous cracks have appeared on the walls – so dangerous in fact that they were told not to move in.
In our two articles, we wrote about the one finished house with twenty apartments. Another house, with twenty-five apartments, has yet to be finished. We did not write about this one. And so, the United Nations spent $1million to build that first house. It was constructed upon the foundation of an older commercial structure; i.e. a new foundation was not excavated.
$760,000 of the $1 million was paid for by Japanese taxpayers. Now, these Japanese need assistance themselves. Today, one can purchase a two room apartment in Kasakh for around $25,000. For $50,000, you can buy a private house and some land.
I would like to direct a question to the representatives of the United Nations. Weren’t there any experts at the United Nations to propose such a solution to the housing issue of twenty families?
More importantly, have you ascertained how that $1 million was actually spent on the construction of that ill-fated building? It doesn’t even have normal floors!
Specialists have appraised the work done at around $600,000.
Mr. Damtew Dessalegne, in your reply you still haven’t set a definite date as to when the refugees can move in. All you state is, “as soon as possible”. We can state categorically that in this case, “as soon as possible”, will drag on for at least another year, even if work to fix the problem starts tomorrow.
You cite the following two reasons why people have yet to be relocated, and I quote:
“First, this delay had to do with the required paper work for right of use agreements between the authorities and the beneficiaries. Second, in the meantime, we noticed some cracks on the walls of the building.”
I would suggest that there is one overriding actual reason – it is too dangerous to live there. Hopefully, you are aware of this.
Dear Mr. Dessalegne, I know that this project was completed before your appointment to Armenia. Nevertheless, those responsible for this untenable situation remain the government of Armenia and the UN’s Armenian Office.
In closing, let me inform you that representatives of the editorial office periodically visit Kasakh and will continue to pay close attention to the issue.