Victor and Aida’s Family Budget: Making babies to make a life
By Zhanna Alexanyan
The children sliding on the snow in the yard of this Karabakh house have clothes too thin for winter. Four year old Araik’s bare feet can be seen through his torn shoes. A sweater a few sizes too big covers his hands.
But, inspired by playing, Araik doesn’t feel the cold. “I’m not cold,” says the kid with big shining eyes in the Karabakh dialect.
Araik is one of seven boys in the family of Victor Harutyunyan, 37 and Aida Aghajanyan, 32.
The couple has been together 12 years. While delivering seven children, over the years Aida has also had two miscarriages. She is expecting their eighth child in a few months.
As part of a Government of Karabakh repopulation program, residents of Karabakh who have four or more children get special incentives. In the war-ravaged town of Shushi (population 3,300), where there is practically no means for income and little means for providing a family with shelter, 64 families have four or more children.
“The families with many children are a priority for the Ministry in cases of humanitarian aid”, says coordinator of the Shushi Social Service Manana Gogmachadze.
Simply put: The Government of Karabakh pays Victor and Aida to have children.
But nothing is simple here.
Victor and Aida’s five year old Sergik suffers from rickets and cannot walk. When he was two, he fell and got a concussion. Special treatment is needed to restore his growth pattern. Now, he weighs on seven kilograms – about one third of what he should weigh.
Seven-month old Arkadi also appears ill.
Doctors say that the reason for Aida’s miscarriage was malnutrition. Still, with family finances connected to the ability to reproduce, she stays pregnant.
Families who have at least four children are given 2000 drams (about $4) per month for each child. Victor and Aida earn $28 a month on which to raise their seven children. Plus, after the fourth child is born money is put in an account that can be used when the children turn 18. So far, Victor and Aida’s “investment” has reached $6,500, and they are allowed to use the interest collected, which amounts to about $32 per month.
Before, however, they were allowed to use $20 per each $1,000, which would have been $130. But the Government of Karabakh decided to significantly reduce the amount allowed, seriously changing the agreement under which couples like Aida and Victor decided to produce offspring for the good of the republic.
Victor wrote a letter to NKR President Arkadi Ghukasyan. He got a reply. But no extra money.
Once in three months the Armenian Evangelistic Association gives $50 dollars help to the families with many children. A pair of benevolent organizations distributes clothes and school supplies and about $11 a month is given for up to 300 kilowatts of electricity.
Deputy Head of the Shushi administration Samvel Harutyunyan says there are several such families who live in hard conditions “and try to survive with the means given to children”.
However the allowances for children are not sufficient for this family of nine – soon to be 10.
“We arranged to borrow from a shop, and return the debts when we get the interest,” Aida says. “That’s the way we live.”
They have a three-room apartment that was difficult to get. It is built on the ground, and the floor has swollen from dampness. The toilet and bathroom are outside.
“On March 8th, when we moved in, a strong wind took the roof away. We were lucky the workers were not far, they came and repaired it”, tells Victor.
The whole family passes the winter in one room. The house is not heated. Everybody gathers near the oven. The father says they take care of each other and help him in the household.
“I love my children very much. I went to the forest for wood and took the three of them with me. They cut the wood, put it into the car and said ‘Pa, it’s not enough, let’s take more’,” says Victor, proud of his children.
Victor is disabled from a bowel disorder. In August he had an operation and cannot do heavy work. Before that he was doing construction work. But he is still waiting to be paid for the work.Want to help Victor and Aida?
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The devastation of war is apparent though out the town that was once a resort and cultural center. Still, the population has grown by 400 in the past two years, according to officials.
“The situation does not change in Shushi: to say it has gotten worse would not be true, but it is obvious there is no positive shift either. It is the lack of jobs that affects the social condition of the population most,” Victor says. “Life in Shushi is good to me because I am a native. I was born in Shushi and I will never leave Shushi. When in 1988 we were forcefully replaced to Stepanakert I returned in three years. There have been moments when desperately I thought of leaving for Yerevan, to apply for embassies to leave the country. I thought I would take my children and leave. I was so anxious I thought I would, but still wherever I go my homeland is the sweetest to me.”
It is impossible to go into agriculture in Shushi because of the problem of irrigation. In the peripheral parts of the town a small portion of population is engaged in husbandry. Victor has a cow, a present from the Gurgen Melikyan Foundation. He says if he could get two more cows, he could take care of his family
Deputy Head of the Shushi administration Samvel Harutyunyan says the restorations of the town needs big investments: “It is impossible to restore the town only with the means from Karabakh or Armenia. It should be restored with the participation of all Armenians.”