Sunday, 23 September

Every one has a right to life

Yerevan, January 19, 2005. We were informed by the by the Undertakers' Office of the Yerevan Municipality that this month, as of January 19 th , fourteen corpses had been buried in the area of the Nubarashen Cemetery reserved for "the unclaimed".

"I am dying," says Gor, who was proud of his solitude just days ago. "If you hadn't come I would have been dead in an hour." On January 20 th , we had decided to visit Gor on the spur of the moment. We aimed our flashlight in every direction and called, "Gor! Gor! Are you here?" No response. Then we saw something wrapped in rags in the corner of the huge basement of a newly erected building. Suddenly the rags moved and we saw a dog's head. Then Gor's face appeared next to the dog. "Why are you bothering me? I'm sleeping," he mumbled.

Gor wasn't sleeping. His body was freezing. He had been lying on the wet ground for two days and his body was entirely drenched with the water dripping off the walls. "Would you give me some vodka?" he asked. "I can't feel my body. Would you light a fire, please?" We managed to bring Gor to his senses. He drank half a bottle of vodka, and after he had sat by the fire for a while it was as if his frozen brain cells began to thaw, and he spoke. "I want to go and see my mother. Would you help me get to Byurakan? My mother lives there," the fifty-eight year old Gor said. He hadn't seen or heard from his mother in a year.

We got him into a taxi somehow at around 10 p.m. and sent him to Byurakan.

On January 21 st we met with the resident coordinator of the UN office in Armenia, Lise Grande. She told us she would raise the issue of the homeless people at a January 24 th meeting between the members of the Armenian government of Armenia and representatives of donor organizations. She also promised to keep the problem of homelessness at the center of her own attention, with special focus on two crucial issues-documents and shelter.

Also on January 21 st , having taken a bath and dressed in new clothes, Noro, Miko, Rafo, and Lolo moved to an apartment Hetq had rented for the for one month. Thanks to $200 from the Association of Armenian Student of New York, $100 from an Armenian American doctor who didn't want his name made public, and other donations by staff members, we were able to find shelter for these men, at least for the coldest winter month. The four homeless men promised not to go back to the streets, and to find work. We were also able to help Gohar, a homeless woman, move back in with her son in Sevan.

At the Hetq office, we have been talking about the problem of the homeless in Yerevan for several weeks now. Is there anything that journalists can do about it? What is our mission? If we can't change anything with the articles we write, if we can't improve any lives, then it is pointless to keep doing this work. Even if hundreds of people respond to our articles, if nothing changes as a result, it means that something is wrong. All human rights follow from one basic right - the right to life. If this right is not guaranteed, everything else is meaningless.

On January 27, 2005 Hetq will organize an event entitled The Right to Life . Article 17 of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia states that everyone has the right to life. This will be the subject of a discussion to take place at the Narekatsi Art Union. The will be an exhibit of photographs by Onnik Krikorian at the event, as well as the premiere of a film on the problem of homelessness in Yerevan, a joint production of Yerkir Media TV and the Investigative Journalists of Armenia.

Photos by Edik Baghdasaryan, Onnik Krikorian

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