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Marine Martirosyan

The Barseghyans of Charentsavan: The Children Want to Work and Buy a House for Mom and Dad

Seven-year-old Saribek dreams of becoming a barber like is uncle Emil.

Marineh, the boy’s mom, says she has to hide the scissors from him. “Turn you back on him, just for a second, and he’s got the scissors out cutting his brothers’ hair,” she says.

She’s holding Isahak, the youngest child, in her lap. Pointing to his head, she says it’s taken a while for the boy’s hair to grow back after Saribek went to work on it.

Saribek

Hearing this, Saribek puts his hands to his mouth and giggles. The smile vanishes and in a serious tone the boy says, “When I grow up I’ll open a hair barbershop.”

Hopefully, he’ll learn the trade at the foot of a master barber, or take lessons, rather than practicing on his poor brothers. Saribek totally screwed up when cutting the hair of the two and a half-year-old brother Sargis that even the local barber couldn’t repair the damage.

The Barseghyan family lives in a dormitory in Charentsavan, a town of 18,000 in Kotayk Province.

A torrential rain had started to fall as the Hetq team entered the town. The streets were flooded by the time we reached the dorm located near the central post office.

We met an older gentleman carrying a crate of flowers. He turned out to be a neighbor of Garsevan Barseghyan, Marineh’s husband. He pointed us in the right direction and we made our way through the hallway, busy with people going in and out. The lights above the doors were on. The door to the Barseghyan’s apartment was open. Marineh was cleaning the floor

It was cramped inside. The one room apartment was full of cribs, a stroller, and a TV in the corner. Marineh apologized for having to mop the floor in our presence but the rain had flowed in from the balcony. She showed me the cracks in the balcony floor. I spotted two large bags of clothes. The apartment is so small that Marineh stores stuff outside. The family has lived here for almost five years.

Marineh and Isahak

33-year-old Marineh was born in Gyumti. The family moved to the Armavir village of Jrashen when she was in the second grade. She never realized her dream of becoming a linguist. Her new dreams are tied to her five kids and their future.

“We were quite poor. I had to work while going to school to help my parents. I worked in the fields and participated in the harvest chores. I took seven months of cooking classes in the tenth grade. But I couldn’t finish the course because we didn’t have the money,” she says.

Dormitory toilet and bath

Marineh says she’s always had a desire to work and would start baking cakes and other goodies if she had a stove. She had one, but the glass broke, and is now only used to heat the apartment during the winter.

Saribek is the only one of the five children who goes to school. Samvel, Sara and Sargis attend kindergarten. Marineh’s expecting her sixth child this August.

The kindergarten fee is 6,000 drams monthly per kid, but she only has to pay for two of them. The school grants a discount when there are two or more children attending from one household. 12,000 drams is still a lot of money to pay, but Marineh says its important that the children not fall behind. The family receives a monthly government allowance of 50,000 drams for the children.

Talking about the difficult life she’s lead, Marineh doesn’t complain. After marrying, she and Garsevan in a metal hut in an inhospitable part of Arzakan, surrounded by snakes,scorpions and wolves. They worked on a farm in Voskehat, a village near Etchmiadzin, for a year, cleaning the stables and feeding the livestock. They were paid 100,000 drams per month for working at the farm. Marineh says they left because the owner exploited them.

Marineh keeps glancing at the wall clock. It’s time to pick up the kids from kindergarten. We go to the hallway to wait and meet up with Garsevan. We reenter the apartment.

Seeing their father, Saribek and Isahak get jumpy. Marineh returns and prepares some coffee.

Garsevan doesn’t talk much. He’s from a large family – seven brothers and three sisters. After moving to Charentsavan, Garsevan worked for the municipality driving a garbage truck. He resigned last February, saying he was overworked and only getting paid 100,000 drams monthly.

Charentsavan recently incorporated several small villages into its administrative fold and Garsevan had to service them as well. He says the truck was old and he had to pay to get it fixed when it broke down. Garsevan also says there was some mix-up with his vacation pay and when he raised the issue with the municipality they accused him of damaging the truck’s motor. The town withheld the amount from his pay.

Sara and Samvel

With the kids home from kindergarten, playing and running around, the room seems to expand. They all clamor for their father’s attention.

Samvel, the best bicycle rider and runner in the kindergarten, patiently awaits the coming of summer, when competitions will be held. The lucky winner gets a new bike.

Sara says she wants to be pediatrician. Marineh has already bought her some medical play instruments. Sara’s teacher has joked that the little girl is already “treating and healing” her dolls.

Sargis

The children tell me they dream of living in their own house. Garsevan lowers his head and smiles. The kids say they’ll use their first wages to buy a house for mom and dad.

They wait for their mother’s permission before eating the pastries on the table. They had been hungrily eyeing the goodies for some time.

Saribek and his brother eat from the same plate. He says that he’ll use his wages to also purchase a large basin to grow flowers in.

“I won’t sell the flowers. But if they grow too tall, I get my scissors and give them a haircut,” Saribek says with a smile.

Photos: Hakob Poghosyan