Tuesday, 25 September

Police frame the poorest man in Armenia

"They said to my husband, 'You've got to take the blame, we've got your wife.' It was Armen Harutiunyan, a detective from the Mashtots district police. When my husband found out I was in the hands of the police, he took the blame on himself so I could go home to our daughter," Lusine Giulshadyan, 23, recalls tearfully. Lusine, her husband Vram, and their four-year-old daughter live in a 10-square-meter shack next to the Shahumyan garbage dump, on a vacant lot abandoned by a motor depot. Vram, 26, collects bottles, plastic, shoes, and food scraps at the garbage dump. He turns it in for 1,000 drams (less than $2) a day to support his family. There are train tracks running through the land they live on, which were recently dismantled and carried off in broad daylight, by persons unknown. Officers of the law had to arrest someone for it, and so that is what they did.

"They took me to the Mashtots police department," Lusine explains, "and said, 'tell us who did it or we'll crack your head open. Give us some names and we'll let your husband go. But my husband had no idea, he was at the dump. They told me to explain it in writing, but I am illiterate-I can't read or write. They kept me for a few hours saying, 'Tell us the truth-your husband has something to do with this. I told them that my husband was collecting empty bottles at the dump. They kept saying, 'Your husband did it.'"

"Vram came back from the garbage dump with some stuff," Lusine's neighbor, Taguhi Karapetyan recalls, "Then somebody said that they had taken Vram and his wife away. I sent their daughter to her grandmother's house and said to tell her that her son and daughter-in-law had been taken away by the police. The same day, an hour after Vram was arrested, the train tracks were loaded on trucks and carried away. We didn't know the people who did it. And the police never asked us about the tracks."

Another neighbor, Anahit, says, "They came with a lifter and dismantled the train tracks and loaded them on big trucks and took them away."

The garbage dump supports five families living on this vacant lot. They salvage anything that can be of use. There is neither water nor electricity here. No state official has ever concerned himself with the residents, who are remembered only on Election Day, when they are taken to the polling station. Most of these people are not registered anywhere, and most of their children have no birth certificates. "My youngest child doesn't have a birth certificate-we have to pay for it but we have no money. They don't get vaccinated," says Taguhi Adilkhanyan, a mother of four.

"There are 15 people in my mother-in-law's house, in the Chorrord Village (a Yerevan district). It's too crowded. My husband was entitled to land but he never got it. As for me, I'm an orphan-I grew up alone. We came here to have a roof over our heads. We have a four-year-old child. Somebody took the train tracks apart and carried them off, and they are blaming my husband for somebody else's crime. We barely make ends meet. Come and see where we live," says Lusine, pointing out her shack. "I don't know what to do now. They know very well who took the tracks away. But they need someone put the blame on. And now I don't even have enough money to by a crust of bread for my daughter."

Photographs by Onnik Krikorian

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