On the road leading to the village of Metz Masrik I spotted a figure hunched over in a pile of rubbish.
I pulled the car over to get a better look. Seeing the grizzled beard I knew it was a man. From the stench of his clothes and dirt lodges in his wrinkled skin, I assumed this routine of picking through the trash was a daily ritual.
At first the man refused to answer my questions; either out of embarrassment or fear. Maybe he couldn’t hear, I thought.
However, he then rose to his feet and a pair of gleaming eyes peered from underneath his cap to greet us.
The man gave his name – Robert Khachatryan. Picking through the trash was his only means of staying alive. Plastic bottles were burnt as fuel and sometimes he’s find bits and pieces of food.
- What are you collecting, grandpa?
- What else can I do? There’s no fuel. I take what I find.
- How old are you?
- How old? I can’t even tell you when the war happened.
- What war?
- You know, the one between the Turks and Armenians.
- Do you have a wife?
- She’s at home.
- And children?
- Of course.
- How many?
- Two girls and two boys.
- Do they help you?
- If they help out, what are you doing here?
- Shouldn’t I be here?
- Do you get a pension?
- They want money for the paperwork.
- Where do you live?
- At the end of the village.
We eventually found Grandpa Robert’s house by asking some villagers. In one of the rooms, the windows partially covered with plastic sheeting, lives the family of the one son and his three kids. In another, lives the family of the other son, with two children. Counting Grandpa Robert and his wife, there are 11 souls living in the ramshackle and windowless abode.
The elder son was at a hospital in Vardenis getting treated for a nervous disorder. The younger son, Piro, takes care of the village livestock.
13 year-old Zhenya, Robert’s granddaughter, was resting on a bed in the drafty room. Her eyes were hurting. The girl’s mother, Hasmik, says the daughter might have caught a head cold.
It was a Sunday and the local medical clinic was closed.
We tracked down the village nurse Garineh who told us to wash the eye thoroughly. Zhenya was constantly rubbing the eye. The nurse advised Hasmik to take the girl to see the doctor the next day.
Robert’s 70 year-old wife Zhenya entered the room. She had brought some food from her daughter’s house.
The grandmother told us that there were three ‘disabled’ family members living in the house – her husband, Robert, her eldest son and even Piro, the youngest.
She said that Piro received a terrible beating at the hands of officers while serving in the army at Ijevan. Turns out that Piro struck a sergeant and got a beating in return that laid him up in hospital for a month.
The family owns one cow and one horse. They get by on Grandma Zhenya’s pension.
“I sent a letter to Serzh complaining about our conditions. That we have three invalids here,” said a weeping Grandma Zhenya, remembering the house left behind in the village of Aygestan in the region of Khanlar during the Artsakh War.
Hasmik, the eldest daughter-in-law, was circling us all the while.
“How can you help us? Maybe some money or sheeting for the windows?” she asked.
There were other reporters, she told us, who came, took pictures and left.
I looked at my watch. We had been at the house for two hours.
Grandpa Robert still hadn’t returned from his work at the garbage dump.