Last week I kind of felt nostalgic and started to write about “dark years” in Armenia in 1990s. Gotta be honest, that’s very tough topic and it’s even harder to continue to write again, but as long as I promised let’s continue.
Winter in 1992-1993 was not as cold as usual, it was extra cold. Within decades Armenia hadn’t seen such a cold. Thermometer didn’t show higher than -20 -25 degrees. There was no electricity, no gas, no oil, nothing to heat houses. In all apartments without heating, everything was freezing, water, flowers and even water pipes and sewerages. I remember those times you could meet in every floor people, who were trying to heat pipes. But this process was too long, so there were shifts for neighbors, every hour the “shift worker” changed and the other one stayed.
In apartments began to freeze and die lonely elderly people. It was absolutely impossible to heat apartments. Many families even came together to live in one apartment, because it was easier to heat only one. During those years, it was normal that 10 people lived in 2 bedroom apartments. The more people lived there, the warmer the place became. But even in this condition, even if all came together, anyway they had to in some way heat at least one apartment. No gas, no electricity, the only way were trees. During these few years in Armenian houses were burning parks, forests, fruit gardens, shoes, toys, paper, newspapers, journals, parquet, furniture and books. Yes books, books inherited from Soviet times, books about Lenin and Stalin. So many “Lenins and Stalins” were burning to warm the whole nation. Lenin’s few lectures about socialism were enough to make a soup for 5 people. I should be honest and say that these years helped Armenians to do a grand cleanup in their home libraries and afterwards, there were left only really needed books.
Bur these burning books and trees could provide limited amount if heat, at nights in apartments normally the temperature was 0 degrees. I remember how people were preparing for bed. First of all they were filling bottles with boiling water and were putting them inside the bed, so it’ll be warmer, because it was impossible to sleep when at home it is 0 degrees. And in the morning they were washing their hands with the same water as it was much warmer than fresh water. The conditions of taking a bath in families were tough. Family members were taking a shower by turns and using minimum amount of energy and water, just pure hygiene, nothing more.
Besides problem with energy, electricity and gas there was a problem of bread. The whole country was short of bread. While in the famous blockade in Leningrad the amount of bread on each person a day was 350 g, in Armenia the amount was 200 g. But people actually didn’t take their 200 g, they were eating only 150 g and what they ate hardly could be called bread, because it was a mixture of flour and some other cheap ingredients which gave the bread kind of green color and a very bad smell. The reason people didn’t use all 200 g, was that they were sending the rest of bread to the soldiers fighting in the front in Nagorno-Karabakh, soldiers were the only people who ate real bread. But even for this 150 g, people had to wait in a queue for a very long time, because there was no bread and sometimes this queue could have last a few days.
Such products as egg, meat or cheese became extremely expensive. And if we take into account that most of the population were jobless, it was impossible for them to buy those products, but again there was another solution. Тhe lake Sevan was rich in whitefish and people began to eat whitefish every day. Women learnt to make different types of dishes from one and the same fish. And the other cheap and widespread product was eggplant. People were rolling in containers whatever they could and keep it for the winter. And so many interesting and tasty dishes have been created those years, that some of them are still made today.
One of the biggest problems during those years became communication. Telephones in Yerevan were not working. Telephone as a means of communication was forgotten for a long time. Sometimes in apartments telephones were turned on automatically and each call sounded like it comes from the other world. Usually telephones worked only in the offices of housing and communal services, which were only ones in a whole district. This was the only place from where people could call ambulance, or fire department. And if you wanted to know how were your relatives, sorry, but you have to go and visit them, and I mean GOon foot, because public transport was not working, there were only a few buses working in a whole Yerevan, which physically couldn’t serve the public. People went to work, school, university on foot and coming back home at late hours was very dangerous, because there was no light outside and there very many extremely hungry dogs around. Poor animals were dying of hunger like people.
But even in this severe and tough conditions Armenians showed up their national character. Even during these situation they didn’t lost humor, they were open and sociable. In frozen and icy apartments neighbors were coming together, they were playing national game “Nardi” and retelling latest new from the war. They were dining together, reading together, playing together, sending their sons to the war together, bringing their children up together, joking, laughing and even singing and dancing together.
There is even a film of those years about neighborhood called “Mer Baky”, which means “Our neighborhood”. Today it’s one of the most favorite comedy films for all residents of Yerevan.
Human being is capable of handling lots of things. And Armenians living in Armenia in 1990s have proven it once again. But of course not everybody. In 1992 a huge wave of migration started. People were running as far away from Armenia as they could. They were going to the any edge of the earth, only be away from that nightmare, to save their children from it. Airplanes flying from Yerevan were full of people. Many people even flew standing in the plane. The price of two room apartment was only a few thousand dollars. Many of us still remember announcements on the windows “Exchanging apartment for an airplane ticket”. During this time 1 million Armenians left Armenia and many of them haven’t come back.
Looking at Yerevan and its residences today, it’s hard to imagine that just some years ago the same people you see today walking in a street were living that nightmare. But trees that had been cut during those years still remind about it, each of the tree cut reminds about each Armenian left, but survived only strong ones, only strong people and roots of the trees. And if roots have survived it means life goes on……..!