Tevos Ghandilyan, 34, has been living in a homeless shelter since November. His troubles began once he attempted to return to Armenia after living abroad.
Born in Etchmiadzin,Tevos grew up in Yerevan. He studied obstetrics and gynecology at the medical university, but never graduated. He was called to compulsory military service, and when he returned, he was unable to continue to studies as he needed to earn a living.
After working in Armenia for some time, he moved to Russia, where he also married. He has a son. Later, he divorced from his wife and decided to return to Armenia. His troubles began the day he attempted to return to Armenia from the Russia-Abkhazia border.
In the fall of 2009, he entered Georgia through Abkhazia. Georgian border guards arrested him in Zugdidi and accused him of crossing the border illegally. He was later also accused of drug trafficking. "When they took me away by car, they threw a lump of narcotics in my pocket, which they later claimed they 'found' in my pocket," he says.
A Georgian court sentenced him to 22 years in prison: 3 years for crossing the border illegally and 19 years for drug trafficking. No traces of drugs were found in his blood. Tevos spent more than 3 years in a Georgian prison, but was granted amnesty and released last year. His case was reviewed and the drug trafficking charge was dropped.
However, Tevos was again unable to get into Armenia. By this time his Russian passport had expired. The Russian Embassy in Georgia closed its doors after the Russia-Georgia War of 2008, and the Russian Federation Interests Section at the Embassy of Switzerland in Tbilisi kept prolonging providing Tevos with a new passport.
"Several times I tried to get to Armenia, I had my old passports too, but they didn't let me — they wanted my Russian passport," says Tevos.
His third attempt — to enter the Republic of Armenia through the Georgian province of Samtskhe-Javakheti (Javakhk) by foot — also failed. "I tried from the village of Bavra, because my father was born in the village of Tabatskuri in Borjomi. We often went and came back; I knew there was no barbed-wire [fence] at the border. I thought, let me try and pass; I know it's breaking the law — even if the Armenian side stops me, they'll check, and I'll explain," recalls Tevos.
However, Georgian border guards once again caught Tevos, arrested him and charged him with a Georgia-Armenia border violation. This time they moved him to Akhaltsikhe and asked for 1000 GEL (about $564 USD) in order not to jail him. They eventually released him on bail of 500 GEL. While waiting for his passport to be renewed, Tevos stayed in his father's hometown of Tabatskhuri.
Tevos wrote appeals to Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying he was wrongly convicted. "I even appealed to the Armenian Embassy, [but] no one helped me. I wrote an appeal addressed to the Republic of Armenia's president, prime minister, and defense minister. Since I had Russian citizenship, I [also] wrote appeals to the Russian Federation's president and prime minister. Only 3 years later did the Russian first deputy consul come and speak with me. He said, appeal to the European Court [of Human Rights], but I couldn't because I was unable to and all that cost money," he says.
Tevos claims that he contacted the Armenian Embassy with a request to help him return to his homeland, as the renewal process for his Russian passport could take a long time. The embassy, however, refused to help him.
Last spring, Tevos received his passport and finally managed to get to Yerevan. "It was a bit of a confusing situation at home. Added to that was that I had called and said I was sentenced to 22 years [in prison] — that had affected them," he says. His mother and sister welcomed Tevos to their home, but a few days later his sister bought him a plane ticket and urged him to return to Rostov. His father died in 2004 and his mother put the apartment in her daughter's name. Tevos understood that he no longer had a place in his family home.
However, his family in Rostov bought Tevos a return ticket and sent him back to Yerevan. Tevos disembarked from the plane in Yerevan and inquired at the airport for a homeless shelter. He went to the village of Haghtanak. That night, he was not admitted into the homeless shelter; instead, a resident who lived across the street offered to Tevos to spend the night in their unfinished home. The next day he was admitted into the shelter. He is now at the Hans Christian Kofoed Charitable Foundation's homeless shelter in Vardashen, as the homeless shelter in Haghtanak village shut down, and all the residents were moved to Vardashen.
"The drugs weren't mine. When an employee of the system, who was their border guard, throws drugs of that quantity into my pocket, and if the border guard has no honesty, and such pressure is applied on a person's mental state, and such machinations are carried out, they keep the person. A person lives once and finds out from the judge that he has to spend 22 years behind bars, a lot is required of him to withstand [it all]," he says.
Hans Christian Kofoed Charitable Foundation Director Shavarsh Khachatryan says that at first, Tevos was under a lot of stress and pressure, but things are since under control. They will try to arrange it so he can work at the foundation, to help the doctor and nurse.
Tevos doesn't want to provide details about his family, but his face lights up when he speaks about his son. Yesterday was his son's birthday. He regrets not being able to congratulate him as he doesn't have a phone.