"I had to tell my children to eat less bread": How we are helping refugees in Armenia overcome challenging living conditions

Published: Jan 30, 2024 Reading time: 4 minutes
© Foto: Shushanik Nersesyan

The pain and suffering of more than 100,000 displaced families from Nagorno-Karabakh varies in the challenges faced. However, these people are united by the endurance, and with our help, they are taking their own initiatives. They strive to care for their families and find ways to live with dignity.

In Armenia, the smell of “Zhingyalov Hats”—a traditional Nagorno-Karabakh bread with herbs—is everywhere now, including in Vayots Dzor. According to the latest statistics, over 400 displaced families have settled in this region of Armenia. Karine's family is one of them. Karine was displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh with her husband, four children, and their families, including 14 grandchildren. 

Karine's family was displaced twice: first, in 2020 from Taghavard, and then in 2023 from Stepanakert. They were unable to take most of their possessions.

"Due to the shelling, we were running from one basement to another. Those were challenging days for us. I was hiding lavash (Armenian traditional bread) for my grandchildren, and I had to tell them to eat less so that there would be enough for everyone," says Karine.

To find a way out of these uncertain conditions and create a source of income, Karine and her daughter started making traditional Zhingyalov Hats from the very first days in their new residence, Vayk.

They opened "Artsakh Zhingyalov Hats", a small corner shop located on the main road in Vayk. In the beginning, the demand was very high; now, it is less, but they still have sales. In addition to local sales, they also cooperate with various other customers. 

The vouchers given by PIN through the EU funds, were appropriate and useful for them because they had nothing in the corners of the house, so they spent them immediately.

Elsewhere in Vayk, we find Emma's family. Her family left Nagorno-Karabakh on 27 September . It took them about 36 hours to reach Goris. Emma came with her three-year-old child and her brother's family; her husband came separately. They reached Goris late in the evening with her pregnant sister-in-law. They were lucky and found her sister-in-law a place to stay in an elderly couple's home, but Emma spent the night in the car with her daughter.

After the long ride, phone batteries were dying, and it was difficult to communicate with others. Emma was able to contact her husband only in the morning. Together with her brother's family, she left for Yeghegnadzor because it was no longer possible to find accommodation in Goris. Ultimately, they could not find a place in Yeghegnadzor either, so they settled in Vayk.

"After the 2020 displacement, my sister settled in Vayk. Perhaps that was also the reason why I accepted the idea of settling here. This house where we live is not comfortable at all. Here, we heat the room only with electricity; gas is not allowed, which makes it difficult to heat this spacious room," says Emma.

At present, Emma and her family lack basic domestic items. For example, they don't have a washing machine, but she says it's not such a problem. She uses her relatives' washing machine, but they need a refrigerator and an oven—these will significantly ease their daily lives. 

Emma's husband injured his hand during the 2020 war in Karabakh. He did not seek medical intervention, thinking it would heal on its own. However, treatment became urgent, and he is now receiving free treatment thanks to government support. An engineer-metallurgist by profession, both he and Emma are optimistic that he will find a job soon.

Emma's 3-year-old daughter, like all children, has a sweet tooth. However, at the same time, the limited food and lack of sweets caused by the blockaded road to Nagorno-Karabakh deprived her of both essential foods and treats. Thanks to voucherswe provided with the support of the European Union, Emma immediately bought her child's favourite sweets, assortments of cheese and juices, and other necessary food.

Supported by the European Union, we implement several programmes in different regions of Armenia to assist individuals facing challenging living conditions due to displacement from Nagorno-Karabakh. Our aid includes hygiene items, food and kitchen kits, hygiene and food vouchers, as well as various entertainment and psychological services in child-friendly spaces. Our support for displaced persons is determined based on the needs identified in the communities. Due to targeted aid and the limitations of resources, we at PIN conduct our distributions in partnership with government bodies.  
Autor: Shushanik Nersesyan

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