Gumri’s Olympic Shacks


By Aram Arkun

Mirror-Spectator Staff

The Mirror translated and published an article from Levon Barseghyan, member of the Gumri city council and president of the Asparez Journalists Club of Gumri, in the issue of August 25, on Olympic silver medalist Gor Minasyan’s family home, or rather, shack (domik). Barseghyan called for help to donate a true home to the family, but Minasyan issued a public statement that he did not need any assistance.

After this statement, Barseghyan apologized to the Minasyan family, declaring that his intention was only to help them. Vahan Tumasyan, president of the Shirak Center, stated that he went to the Minasyans’ home to offer them a newly built residence, but Minasyan’s mother declined. She added that her son wanted to build a two story building himself on the site of the shack. There also were some Armenians, shocked by photographs published of the Minasyan home, who began to raise funds online to help purchase a house for the Minasyans. This effort evidently halted after Minasyan’s public statements.

It is possible that the 22-year-old Minasyan indeed has the means to take care of the situation. Minasyan himself asserted that he was offered a residence but refused it. It is said that his family was a large one, and a house was previously offered to it, but Minasyan’s mother, siblings and Minasyan himself stayed behind in the old shack while other relatives moved to the new house.

It is also possible that the statement was due to embarrassed pride, or that pressure was placed on Minasyan to publicly deny any difficulties.

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Whatever the case may be, what is undeniable is that an Olympic silver medalist grew up in a shack and is still living in one with his two sisters and schoolteacher mother (his father died when Minasyan was 6). And more significantly, thousands of Gumri residents are still condemned to live in such ramshackle constructions that their health remains endangered 28 years after the earthquake that destroyed their housing stock.

Such jarring facts and images must remind us of the deep poverty facing many Armenians, and the inability of the Armenian government and society to help a significant portion of its population due to lack of sufficient resources combined with endemic corruption. This is an open secret. It is easy to be lulled into complacency and almost forget about it until an incident like this occurs.

Some attempts are being made to deal with this situation on a small scale beyond the ongoing state or internationally funded construction projects in the city. For example, funds are being raised for a wrestling school in Gumri named after gold medalist Artur Aleksanyan ( -school-in-Gumri-625984). Current pictures of the school on the Internet indicated, as the fundraisers declared, “Mold everywhere, unimaginable bathrooms and training rooms that have broken concrete floors.”

According to Armenian news reports, Gagik Tsarukyan, president of the Armenian National Olympic Committee, just bought Minasyan a four-room home as a personal present. Minasyan declared that this “was neither a gift nor philanthropy. This is an award for the results that I have shown, which, I believe, I have earned.” Tsarukyan, incidentally, again according to Armenian press reports, made other gifts to Minasyan in the past, including a car.

Nothwithstanding such initiatives, it remains clear that only another large scale concerted effort with greater resources from Armenia and abroad can ultimately change the situation of the many families left suffering in unsuitable housing in this earthquake zone.




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