Invisible Refugees

Author: Gayane Mirzoyan , Oksana Musaelyan

“A refugee's situation has been described as similar to a person with Janus’ two faces: one that looks back on past experiences - who sees the flight, the loss, the separation, and nostalgia - and the other who sees the present and the future, in which one sees the unfamiliar, the unpredictable, full of fears, real or unreal”. 

"Refugees in an age of genocide," by Tony Kushner and Katherine Knox

Since the late ‘80's and early ‘90's, on the outskirts of Yerevan, in one of the buildings of the former boarding school, now the Centre for care of patients with mental disorders "Dzorak", several families of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan live. The decade of the 1990s was near fatal to their lives, which came to a standstill in a very grave situation, similar to the name of the site itself, called ‘the Turtle gorge’.

Initially, 27 families of refugees lived in the building that neighboured the aforementioned Centre, however, some, unable to bear the unbearable conditions, left the country, while others - passed away without seeing "their own roof over your head." As of today, there are 6 refugee families which live in the building. Whither for fear of harassment or persecution in Azerbaijan, one of the main reasons for their decision to remain permanently in Armenia, is to feel safe and a ‘friend’ among Armenians. Many refugees were forced to have taken Armenian citizenship, which allows, first of all, the opportunity to travel outside the country. However, citizenship has not changed their economic and social situation for the better, and most continue to feel, and to call themselves, refugees.

One of the most pressing issues - housing - has remained unresolved for three decades, and even the most sincere feelings of optimism has given way to bleak despair. Small rooms in the building serve as both kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms, and there is only one bathroom for several families.


A refugee's home, neighbouring with the Centre for mentally sick people.

The refugees here, as the vast majority of refugees from Azerbaijan, are city dwellers, intellectuals. Since losing their house, social status, and jobs, they have not been able to turn to the traditional way of a new life in Armenia. A number of problems have hindered their integration into new society, one of which was the lack of knowledge of the Armenian language. Nor could the difficult economic situation in Armenia, after the 1988 earthquake, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the beginning of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, encourage their integration.



Laura, her sister and blind mother, who survived the Armenian   genocide in Ottoman Turkey just fled to Yerevan from Baku.



             A photo of young Laura with her sister Evgeniya.



          Laura is tossing photos telling stories of the past. 


Invisible Refugees

After 28 years, the situation has worsened, revealing all the consequences of improper integration - the lack of education, unemployment, antisocial behavior, and alcoholism. As a result, this can be observed in the children and even grandchildren of the refugees, who, being at the crossroads of both old and new environments, have difficulty understanding who they really are. Many children of educated parents, for the most part, not having received the support of their family and the government, were not able to receive a higher education, and, consequently, were deprived of the opportunity for a better future, and, in some sense, experience complete integration.

Invisible Refugees

When, in July 2015, the Center for care of patients with mental disorders was opened, the situation of refugees became unbearable. In the center, there are more than 200 persons with mental disorders, and despite the fact that the open Center is designed to provide social services only, and excludes the stay of patients who require treatment in a psychiatric hospital, there are many noisy patients, those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Invisible Refugees

A number of Armenian media, in the recent past, appealed to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, in whose jurisdiction the center is, with a request to clarify the question as to why such an institution is placed here. In response, ministry officials called the refugees living here since the late ‘80s, "illegals". Judging by the fact that the Centre was opened without the knowledge and consideration of the opinion of the refugees, as well as the issue of refugee security that live in close proximity to the mentally ill, the authorities, apparently, consider   the refugees ‘illegal’.

Samvel Khachatryan Director of the Centre in an interview with is convinced that "over time, refugees will get accustomed to this neighborhood" and apparently he considers the dissatisfaction of people unfair. "We understand the residents, but it is impossible to turn this situation into an occasion to solve their housing problems," - said Khachatryan.


        Rosa’s embroidery sustained her family for many years.



        Rosa demonstrates the embroidery work, which she performed for 10 min.



Alexander regrets that he had no opportunity to get a higher education.



Invisible Refugees

According to the Migration Service of Armenia, in the period from 1988 to 1991, more than 350 thousand refugees entered the country, fleeing mostly from persecution and pogroms in Sumgait, Kirovabad and Baku. Some of them immediately moved to the United States, Russia and other countries. Some of the displaced who settled in Armenia managed to exchange their housing.

Meanwhile, the housing problems of more than 8 thousand families of refugees, according to the same government agencies over the past years, have been addressed by government forces of Armenia and international organizations. Nevertheless, a significant portion - about 2 thousand families, after a quarter century, continues to live in the dormitories, boarding schools and other public buildings in Armenia without any hope for compensation for damage caused by the conflict and the solution of their housing problem, as the government, citing economic problems, put off this program and does not allocate funds for it from the budget for more than 5 years. In fact, the absence of the problems of refugees in the political agenda of Armenia is an evidence that the refugees are not treated as potential future citizens rather as a burden which is to be forgotten.


This material may contain terms, which are not favored by all the parties of the dispute/conflict. Terms used in a material belong to the author and not Chai-Khana.


Generation of the 1990s


Chai-khana Survay