The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay
July 2016 back issue
Inhabitants of the Empty Armenia
by Yulia Grigoryants
A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous! Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
In 1988 a 7.0 Richter-scale earthquake struck northern Armenia. The quake killed at least 25,000 people in the region. Thousands more were injured and hundreds of thousands left homeless. Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city, bore much of the damage. This was followed by a large-scale war in the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union, an energy crisis and a blockade. A quarter of a century later, Gyumri has the country’s highest rate of poverty. The city has lost nearly half of its population since 1988, in part due to labour migration. There are several thousand families still living in makeshift shelters, waiting for aid. Many of them are not eligible for new housing, since they are not considered to be the direct victims of the earthquake. 25 years later they are still waiting for emergency improvements to their buildings. Back in Soviet times, two huge dormitory buildings on the outskirts of Gyumri accommodated around 60 families each. Today there are just four families living there within the decaying walls and corridors. Living in the emptiness... Living their hopeless, imprisoned lives.
Syuzanna (9) sitting in a shelter made of old car rusty parts. Ten days ago Syuzanna's father committed suicide, people say, because of debt.
Karine (57) - the inhabitant of Gortsaranayin 2B in Gyumri has been living in the abandoned house for 26 years.
Children playing in the entry corridors of the building.
The kitchen in Karine's house.
Syuzanna's brothers - Suren (5) and Levon (7) in their single room apartment, with a neighbour visiting them, a few days after their father committed suicide. In Armenia, during the first 40 days after the death of relatives, neighbours and other acquaintances visit the family to pay their respects and support them during the most difficult days.
One of the two inhabited apartments in the building that once accomodated 60 families.
Lusine (30), lives at Gortsaranayin 2A, in Gyumri with her 5 children - Karine (11), Syuzanna (9), Suren (5), Levon (7), and Nareh (1.7).
Levon - the oldest son of Lusine, looking at his father’s image, who committed suicide a few days before.  “I was holding my dad’s jacket and I sensed his smell,” says Levon with a smile.
Lusine's children - Karine, Syuzanna and Suren, after school in their single room apartment.
Power socket in Gortsaranayin 2A.
Lusine (30), mother of 5 in her single room apartment with no support after her husband committed suicide.
Levon in his apartment in Gyumri.
Suren with his mother Lusine.
Lusine with her children in their tiny apartment in Gyumri, sleeping all in the only room, that serves also as kitchen and playroom for the family.
Karine gathered dry branches and bushes after the winter and started a fire in between the two buildings.  "I will burn everything here! Everything!" she shrieks with a smile.
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