Saturday, 22 September

Armenian children are neglected in Calcutta

Aghavni Yeghiazaryan
Edik Baghdasaryan

"We were playing Rugby in the seminary yard and the ball hit me in the left ear. I felt a stab of pain, and fell into the mud; then the boys sat me down on the stairs. Then one day when we were playing, my friend Harutik whispered something in my left ear, I couldn't hear it, I couldn't hear it at all. Then he repeated it in my right ear and I heard. I realized that I couldn't hear with my left ear. I told the doctor. He examined my ear and said that there was nothing wrong with it. I put medicine into my ear for a few days, and then some grains of sand came out of it. That was the end of my treatment," explains Narek Arshakyan, a student at the charitably-run Armenian Seminary in Calcutta. Narek was subsequently examined by Doctor Mirakyan at the Republican Hospital in Yerevan, who told his mother that it was too late for the hearing in the boy's left ear to be restored.

The seminary in Calcutta, India was established in 1821 and is headed by a director appointed by the Catholicos of All Armenians, at the suggestion of the Board of Trustees. Since 1999, the seminary has been headed by Sonya John (who is Armenian by origin). Max Galstown, a member of the Indian-Armenian community, has been sending letters to us expressing his anxiety about the situation in the seminary since last February. He says, "This establishment, with a 180-year history, has been turned upside-down under Sonya John's management."

Another member of the community, a well-respected woman who had worked at the seminary with Sonya John, sent a letter to the Catholicos in 2003 describing John's working style and behavior. She never received any reply. "Since appointing the director, the Catholicos has not supervised her work," Max Galstown wrote us. He says Sonya John misappropriates donations from Indian Armenians; under the pretext of allocating money to the hospital, she transferred 15 million Rupees to the Communist Party of India (of which she is a member), 30 million Rupees for the construction of the Armenian Embassy in New Delhi, and so on. "None of the local Armenians is involved in the administrative matters of the seminary. We consider it to be a conspiracy against us, and Echmiadzin is taking part in it," Galstown writes.

Narek's mother, Susanna Arshakyan, reported her son's hearing loss to Deacon Tigran from the information department of the Holy See of St. Echmiadzin. The deacon promised to inform the Catholicos about it. "The boy has lost his hearing because of negligence; if he had been examined and treated in time it wouldn't have happened. Our children are disregarded and neglected there," Susanna says.

Sixty seminary students came to Armenia in May for a month's vacation, and were supposed to return to Calcutta on June 18 th . But only one student, Elisa Matevosyan, and the families of teachers from Armenia working there went back. The postponement of the return of some of the students was explained by illness. It is clear that 80 percent of the students who came home for vacation will not return to Calcutta.

Narek went to Calcutta in 2001, from the Zatik children's home. Narek has two brothers, and his socially vulnerable single mother decided to send her son away to study. At the dictation of a Church representative, she wrote that she had given her consent to her son's going abroad to study for ten years. She signed another document as well, but she doesn't remember what was it. "Whatever I signed, I am not going to send Narek back. I haven't abandoned my child, have I? If they take the child, they are first of all responsible for his health. Our children were still standing on their own two feet when they brought them back, but we'll find out later whether they have any diseases," Narek's mother says.

All of the children returned to Armenia with medical records regarding annual checkups and individual diseases. There is a separate document stating that they don't have any contagious diseases and don't carry any infections. But eight children have already been diagnosed with malaria, and two of them have been hospitalized in the Nork Infectious Hospital. "They brought the disease with them; it is too early for local malaria, this is not a local malaria," says head physician Ara Asoyan.

Narek is not going to continue his studies at the seminary. The Zatik boarding school no longer has a place for him. His English is better than his Armenian, and it will be hard for him to go to ordinary school, not to mention his hearing problem. Susanna's only hope is the Church. She believes that the Catholicos cannot remain indifferent, since Narek studied at a seminary that the Church is responsible for.

To be continued

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