IOM Armenia is overseeing repair and renovation works to improve living conditions for refugees at a former medical center near the city of Gyumri. The project aims to repurpose the building with new and upgraded sanitation facilities and establishing communal kitchen areas. 

Inside, lives are suspended in a limbo of routine and reminiscence. For the middle-aged and elderly residents, each day merges into the next, marked by a mix of painful memories and comforting nostalgia.   

63-year-old Arevhat Nersisyan lives here with her peer and sister-in-law Marieta Bazinyan. They are both widows, who lost their husbands during the first and second Karabakh wars.  

Arevhat’s phone never leaves her side. She constantly checks her screen for new messages. It’s a nervous throwback to the two months she was unable to contact her daughter after they all fled from Karabakh. 

“We were left to the mercy of fate with no place to go”, says Marieta. “My husband and I built three houses in three different villages of Karabakh and now I am left with nothing. The war has taken everything from me, my former life, the past, the memories”. 

Arevhat’s two granddaughters visit their grandma in the center every month. “They are trying to start it over in the capital, a new start can be possible for the kids, I hope. I wish nothing but peace for my little ones, they have seen days that kids are not meant to see”. 

Silva proudly showing her green bean bush on the window, Gyumri, April 2024

48-year-old Kristik Babayan is Arevhat’s and Marieta’s neighbor. They met on the long journey to the centre. Since that day the three of them have their coffee ritual twice a day. Nothing major, lots of memory sharing, stories, local gossip and complaining about their “sheltermates”. 

“I am looking forward to the summer,” says Kristik. “I was told that my daughter can stay with us in the room, so we are preparing all the arrangements with my husband. The room is small for three people, and my daughter is 14, she can’t stay with us permanently. She stays with my parents in a different city and visits us on the weekends. It isn’t easy but definitely better for her, and she likes her school in Masis a city about two hours away.” 

Silva in her room, Gyumri, April 2024

50-year-old Silva Brudyan is waiting for a summer visitor, her granddaughter Lyuci, whose photos adorn every wall in Silva’s room. Silva grew up in an orphanage, and always dreamed about her own house with a perfect yard full of apricot trees. Her marriage failed but she put all her energies into building her dream home in Karabakh.  

“I was so close to having everything I ever needed: my house, a tiny barn for cows, chicken coops, rabbit huts and many trees”. 

The sentence trails away into silence. Humanitarian aid can help with the present, but it can’t rewrite the past.  

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