Mghart Diary: War Vet Aghasi Danielyan Harvests Potatoes to Feed Family of Nine
The day I visited Mghart, a village of about 500 located halfway on the road from Vanadzor north to Alaverdi, in Lori Marz, there were at least ten men sitting in the village square. I approached them and asked where I might find the house of Karabakh freedom fighter Aghasi Danielyan. Before getting directions from the men, we soon were deep in conversation.
They requested that “Hetq” write something about the fact that the gas pipeline had reached their village and that the government should come up with some type of program to get it into the village homes. “That would truly be a good day’s work,” they said. I promised them that the matter would be raised in the paper. I wanted to take a few photos and the men got all flustered. “Yeah, but we haven’t shaven,” said one of the men. “They’ve already written so much about our village. Even our old man Lito has written some stuff. But nothing changes,” said Gurgen Mosinyan. “There are no new brides in the village and no kids being born. Our young men sleep during the night and work during the day,” complained elderly Samson Dallakyan. The others started to laugh. One of them said that he traveled abroad to work every year. Samson immediately chimed in, “C’mon – that guy can go and come as he likes. His wife won’t bear any children anyway. The factory has closed down. This year only one baby was born in the entire village.” Samson pointed to Roman, one of the younger guys sitting next to him, and said, “Hey, take a look at this guy; 30 years-old and no wife.” You could tell Roman wasn’t too pleased with the rebuke. The men then gave me directions to get to the freedom fighter’s house. 45 year-old Aghasi Danielyan wasn’t home during the afternoon. He had gone to a neighbor’s field to help out with the potato harvest. His 14 year-old son, Sako, called him up on the cell phone. He answered several questions of mine in this manner. “I fought in Karabakh from 1992-1994 in Martuni in Monte Melkonian’s military unit, in Mosi’s detachment. I fought at the Lori post. The Turks had captured our post. Out of the 12 posts in Martuni, the Lori post was on the right wing. Aghasi recounted that on February 17, 1994 he participated in the recapturing of the Lori post. “During the height of the battle, five guys from Vanadzor were killed around me. I can never forget them.” Today, the Karabakh war veteran is facing hard financial times. He barely is able to feed the nine members of his family. “You ask how I would describe the way my family lives. Let me put it to you this way. Five of my seven children were delivered at home. I didn’t have the money to get my wife to the maternity ward or to pay for a gynecologist. I was my wife’s gynecologist. After the kids were born, I had to take them to the delivery ward just to get their papers issued. That’s how we live,” said Mr. Danielyan.
14 year-old son has no proper school clothes
The eldest of the seven children is twenty and the youngest is two. “I have three boys and four girls,” said Yevgenya, Aghasi’s wife, and she began counting off their names, “Nina, Silva, Sargis, Mariam, Gevorg, Gisaneh, Argam.” Standing next to us was 14 year-old Sako, who sometimes interrupted our conversation. Yevgenya said the boy had just finished the eighth grade. “He was to go to attend the school in Alaverdi but since he didn’t have proper clothes to wear we didn’t send him. He has no shoes or proper pants. Well, he has shoes, but there not for wearing in town,” she said. When I wanted to take a photo of Sako, his 4 year-old sister, Gisaneh, went running and brought his pair of slightly worn shoes by his feet, so that the boy would be properly attired when photographed. “Now, after you leave, they will ask us why we said that we have no shoes or clothes for the kids,” said the mother, laughing. Gisaneh doesn’t go to kindergarten since the village has none. “She goes to a four hour camp in the village organized for the kids by World Vision. When we asked how she manages to feed seven hungry children, Yevgenya replied, “My husband goes to harvest potatoes and so do I. We have too just to make ends meet and put food on the table. Our 20 year-old daughter also helps out in the fields. One day she works with her father and the next with me. She’s finished high school, you know.”
Raising a family of nine on 49,000 AMD
Yevgenya told me that neither her war vet husband, nor the other members of the family, have applied for any special government programs. I asked Yevgenya what she would be cooking for supper and she turned to me and laughed. “I’ll put out some preserves and make a potato soup. Meat is a once a week luxury. We slaughtered one of the 4 lambs for meat. Then too, I sometimes get meat on credit from the village store. The assistance payment of 49,000 AMD won’t allow me to return home with ten kilos of meat. If it’s one of their birthdays and I want to do something special for the occasion then I’ll splurge.” As she was telling me the problems with raising a family of seven kids on meager resources, 14 year-old Sako strode up and proudly pointed top the watch he was wearing. “It was a gift they gave to my father and he gave it to me,” the boy told me. “They gave the watch to my husband while he was working in the mountains for being a model employee,” said Yevgenya. “Yeah, and they also gave him two cell phones as a gift. My big sister has one and my pop kept the other for himself,” Sako chimed in, beaming with pride. Yevgenya told me that the family had run up a 100,000 tab at the local store. “Now, tell me. Who leads a normal life here in the village? No one does,” she confesses, complaining about conditions in the village. She told me that, “she was raised in the city and still can’t come to grips with the village scene.” Yevgenya said she wasn’t able to receive the 25,000 AMD intended for her child attending the 1st grade since she found out about the award too late. She said that she had gone to the “Paros” office a few days ago to get the award but that she was told by Mher, one of the employees, that she was too late for filing a claim. “But I hadn’t been correctly informed. It was the job of the higher-ups to let us know. Even the school administrator said nothing about it. We get 49,000 in assistance and with the outside work and all, it barely totals out to 60,000. This last the family for about two weeks. We have to take out loans to get by the rest of the month. Now, we get in a bit of hunting and of course we harvest potatoes. Sako also collects underbrush to heat the house.” Sako, standing close by added, “They haven’t let me collect wood lately. The forest ranger has taken our axe.”
War vet gets no help from “Yerkrapah’s”
The mother of seven told us that the Alaverdi branch of the “Yerkrapah” veterans’ organization, where Aghasi is registered, and the Mghart municipality have offered no assistance to the family. Sako complained, saying, “Every year the “Yerkrapah” people assemble in the village but they never invite my father.” “There are two war vets in the village – Aghasi and his uncle’s son. They invite Aghasi’s cousin to their gathering. We only hear about what happened after they’ve left. My husband has fought in the war to defend those ‘stray sheep’ left behind,” grumbled Yevgenya. When I asked who those ‘stray sheep’ were, she replied, “The strays are the ones that now say, “Did we ever ask you to go and fight? Who sent you to Karabakh?’ Those are the ones I call ‘stray sheep’. But Aghasi went and fought and came back ill. Our wealth lies with our 7 kids. The only property we own are 3 sheep and one donkey.”