‘This Is the Only Light’

Caritas brings hope to young and old in Armenia

text by Gayane Abrahamyan with photographs by Nazik Armenakyan

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Eighty-year-old Marjik waits in her doorway in Artashat, Armenia, until she finally catches sight of the vehicle she has been expecting: a white car with “Love” painted in red on the side. She greets the arriving caregiver, Nelly, as she emerges from the car.

“Oh, dear Nelly, what a good thing it is that you’ve come,” Marjik says.

“Come, my girl, be my guest,” she says, inviting the woman into her home — little more than a shack.

Marjik has lived here for 30 years with her son, who suffered serious injuries in the war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990’s. A former shipping container, her home is about 20 feet wide and has been partitioned in half. To the left of the entrance is a living area that also stores dishes, pots and bottles containing collected water. On the right side stand two beds, a small cupboard with a television on it and an iron stove.

The shelter has no running water. Marjik and her son go to a nearby florist to procure water for bathing and cleaning, and they use the toilet at their next-door neighbor’s house.

By any measure, their lives are a struggle. “We live off my pension,” she says of her subsidy that totals about $75 a month.

“We are not included in any social program. They say they give that pension to me, not for my family. My family is just my sick son, and I must take care of him. He fought in Karabakh — he spent years in trenches and at outposts in cold conditions,” she explains. “Now he is unable to work. He has poor health, but receives no pension.”

As she speaks, her breathing grows labored, overcome by the dampness of her surroundings.

Her life has not always been this way. Earlier in life, Marjik worked as a clerk in a department store — a job she held for 35 years. When she speaks about the past, her blue eyes shine brightly; when she returns to the present day, they become misty.

She is not used to complaining, she explains. She wipes away her tears, composes herself and smiles at Nelly.

“They are my only hope,” she says of Caritas, the charity of the Armenian Catholic Church.

“Once, I went to the florist’s to fetch some water. The owner of the place asked about how I lived, and I told him about my situation. He told me about an organization whose workers can come and see me. Hardly an hour passed, and then they came, and they enrolled me.

“They are doing everything for me,” she says cheerily. “We need them very much. Nelly is a great help, and the doctor helps with medicines.”

Her story is echoed by dozens of Armenians who have come to rely on the generous work of Caritas Armenia — work that now spans generations.

“My only hope is this organization. Only they help with anything. This,” she says, looking around at the darkness, “is the only light in all of this.”

In October 2016, Caritas Armenia, led by its chair, Archbishop Rafael François Minassian, and its director, Gagik Tarasyan, expanded its services to lend help to those in need in Marjik’s hometown of Artashat and the neighboring villages in the country’s southwestern province of Ararat.

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