Long Read January 30/2023
  • armenian
  • english

Citizenship without a passport: the story of a homeless man

Two homeless people live in the abandoned basement of one of the buildings in Zeytun — one is Iranian-Armenian, and the other is German-Armenian Vahram Hovhannisyan. One can find two mattresses, food, and cigarette butts on the concrete floor. There is a bathroom, but there is neither light nor water.

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Vahram walks with difficulty. He says he doesn't like to stay in the basement for a long time. "I go outside in the sun, even though I'm sick and coughing." Vahram had severe pneumonia on New Year’s Day, after which he often has shortness of breath. He says he called an ambulance at the critical moment of his illness. They came and gave injections but did not take him to the hospital, reasoning that he was not a citizen of Armenia.

The first meeting with Vahram was on November 11. He had been living outside for nine months, in the park of Republic Square. On cold and rainy days, he slept in the subway area. He said he was not asking for money: "I'm homeless, but I'm not a beggar." He used German words in his speech and drew parallels between Armenia and Germany.

Life in numbers (November 11, Subway station “Republic Square”)

My name is Vahram. I was born in 1977 in Yerevan, in the 3rd district.

In 1993, I graduated from Russian School № 69 after Sakharov. My late father was involved in politics, there were problems, and he took us to Germany.

At first, we were in the camp: I, my father, my mother, and my sister. My brother was born there. I am telling a story of 29-30 years. After 4-5 months, we were given a “green light”, and the state began paying for everything until we learned the language. After a couple of years, I went to school to learn the language and worked in a Greek restaurant: I was washing dishes and doing everything. I went to a driving school to get a driver's license. The neighbors learned about it and called me one day. It was an old man. He said: “I am going to buy a new car for myself, this is yours”. It was an Opel Kadett, a modern car at that time. At the age of 18, I already had a car and a driver's license. The state found a job for me, almost on the border of Switzerland. The hotel was called "Bodensee", in the city of Konstanz. I moved there, studied "Hotel and restaurant management" for three years, and started working.

In 2018, after the Revolution, I returned to Armenia. I got married in Germany. I had a wife, she was German, and we had a child. I worked in hotel management. I thought Armenia had changed, and I came back bringing money with me. I wanted to engage in tourism. After the Revolution, the number of people coming to Armenia increased, and tourism developed, but the coronavirus spread, and my partner taking the money, fled to Russia.

About deception and war

A little money was left, then the war started. On Sunday, September 27, I was in the church. I learned about the war during the liturgy and decided to go to war voluntarily.

I went to the Military Commissariat. Well, I had a German passport, and they said, "What's this? You can't go. We will keep your data and, if necessary, we will call you."

I came out, and there was a group of boys standing, it was a suicide squad. They asked if I was ready to go to war, and I said yes.

And we went. I was in Hadrut for 21 days, near Togh village.

To be honest, I wasn’t shooting. I was loading the magazines, peeling potatoes, and cooking dinner for the boys.

On the 21st day, they shot a mortar from the mountain in front of me: my legs were injured. Below the knees, they were totally covered with glass. I remained standing, I didn't fall, but I couldn't hear anything. I got a brain contusion.

The boys took me to Erebuni hospital, where I was in treatment for two months. Then I was discharged from the hospital.

To whom I turn, they say: "You are not a RA citizen. What do you want? Go and get treatment by yourself."

I have done everything on my own. That's how my money was spent and gone.

Vahram's German health insurance card

I became homeless from April, 2022. The house I lived in was also under contract. I made the contract in the name of a girl I knew. They did not rent me a house because I was a single man from Germany with a German passport. At first, I paid 65,000 AMD. Then they increased it to 70,000 AMD for one room apartment. At the beginning of last year, when the Russians came, the owner of the apartment said: "We are increasing the rent to 100,000 AMD. If you want — stay. If you don't — go."

Who I turned to from my relatives, gave a thousand drams, and said, "I'm sorry, that's it." I have a rich aunt. They have a garage, I asked to stay there, but she said: “I can't. My son won’t let it”. And there are many good people here (in the park).

I had classmates. When I had just arrived, I was handing out my money, now when I turn to them, they say: “We are sorry, we can't help.”

On July 6, 2022, Vahram applied to the Police to be recognized as a citizen of Armenia and to get a RA passport. They answered that he was recognized as a citizen of the Republic of Armenia. At the Central Passport Department, he was told that the only thing missing to get the document was the military ID. Vahram says that he went to the Military Commissariat № 2 in Yerevan but wasn’t allowed to go beyond the reception desk. He wrote the application at the reception desk, but he hasn't received any response to date.

Documents (November 11, Subway station “Republic Square”)

I want to have RA citizenship. I went to the Prime Minister's office. They listened to my story. There was a good staff. They accepted my application.

They sent me to the head of Ovir (Passport and Visa Department of the Republic of Armenia). They even paid me for a taxi so that I wouldn’t take a bus. The head received me and gave me all the papers. If I get citizenship, I will get a pension, and they will provide me with a room in the dormitory. Besides, I must go to the Military Commissariat to verify my military ID.

I went and wrote an application. They said it would take 1-2 months. I go there all the time. Major Ghazaryan is sitting there and says, "Don't come in with that look." I knock on the door and say, “May I?”. He says, "Again you?"

I say: "I am a homeless man. How can I buy a suit?" He doesn't let me in. I wrote the application at the reception desk.

Tonight I went down to sleep in the subway. It's not allowed, but people know me. They help me and let me sleep there.

When I came to this park in April, I had a phone. In the first few days, it was also stolen.

I help people in the park. An old man is working at the Vernissage. I carry his heavy things. I also help the shops: I take out the garbage, and they pay me.

Well, the problem is not only the house. I go to the bath located on the Vstrech once a week, but the question of my clothes remains. In the summer, I wash them in the fountains of this park, but in the winter... I want to recover. I want to sleep normally for two days.

I worked in Nalbandyan park for 16 days. There were parrots and peacocks. It was like a small zoo, but with only birds. They gave me a place to live. It was a small hut. I fed them from 5 in the morning. They also had dogs. I fed them, too, and got 2000 AMD a day. Then they got brazen. When I was finishing my work, they were saying: "Hey, now you have to sweep the park, you have to wash my car." They know I'm homeless, so what can I do? Nothing...

I wanted to finish my work, walk in the city for a while, and talk to people, but they didn't let me. It was the animals and me. I worked for 16 days and left.

There are so many mean things, but I have also met good people. I am not surrounded by negativity.

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RA Police response to Vahram's application

Burnt things (December 7, in the territory of the Subway station “Republic Square”)

They allowed me to sleep near the subway stairs, in the corner, so as not to be seen. I left my things behind the stairs. I worked in the park around four o'clock yesterday, helping with landscaping. The subway was closed due to Eurovision. Suddenly a policeman came running and said: "Vahram, come down quickly." I went down and saw my things were on fire.

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My clothes — 6 bags, were burnt, and my passport and documents are gone. I asked the employees: "Is the camera filming there?" They said no. I don't know how the fire began: did they drop a cigarette? Did they do it deliberately? I don't know.

I was leaving my things with uncle Hamlet (the employee of the fountains), but he went for surgery, so I brought them here.

Christina (the girl who helped Vahram and brought food and clothes) called me, and I told her about the incident. She has my passport in her phone. She went to the German Embassy with her husband. They said it would cost 180 euros. When I pay, they will recover it. I can't find such a job that I can live and save to pay for my passport recovery and leave. I live in fear. When I'm sleeping, they hit me, saying, “Give me a cigarette”.

In the basement

There is a woman named Lyudmila here. She spent two hundred thousand AMD on me, bought medicine, took me to the hospital, did X-rays, and poured water on my back. Well, that woman can't come at night. I already learned and began giving myself an intramuscular injection. As a result of these medicines, my whole body has a rash.


The ambulance does not take me to the hospital as I am not a citizen of the Republic of Armenia. I have called every possible place and complained. That woman — Lyudmila, even says, "что это за страна такая" (what kind of country is this). It's the same for everyone. You can die! Die! When I’m having pain, the ambulance comes and injects medicine, but after a few times, they said: "Don't call again. Go to the hospital." How can I go to the hospital? I have no money. After December 20, I got sick. I couldn't walk. If you saw me, you'd think I was drunk. I crawled on all fours to the toilet.

Is there a way out?

There is a shelter for the homeless in the 4th village, I went there, but there was no water. People were fighting for the water. There were mostly old people who had mental problems. Once, I was standing outside smoking, someone came up, hung on my shoulders, and said: "Karen, have you come to take me home?" He thought I was his son. I stayed there one day, after which I said. "I'm sorry, but I have to go, I can't stay here anymore." The head said: "Yeah, we also thought you wouldn't stay longer, go."

I couldn't stand it for another day. I went to the pharmacy and bought sleeping pills and alcohol. I wanted to drink and sleep. I wouldn’t see the point in living. I didn't want to go and threw myself off the bridge. I get up in the morning, earn two pennies to eat something, and sleep again. Every day is the same. I am not used to this kind of life.

There was a movie called "День сурка" (Groundhog Day). It looks like that movie. What do I live for? It's easy for people. They say: “You're a young boy. Tidy up yourself”. Where should I tidy up? Where should I go?

I can't even do heavy work to get 10,000 AMD a day: my legs and hands are injured. And in the office, to do translations, who will accept me with this look?

A postscript

November 11, 2022 (The first conversation with Vahram, near Republic Square)

I lived there (in Germany) for 26-27 years, and I missed this place. Maybe the treatment is better there, but here it is different. I walk through the park, our leaves smell different. It is beautiful there too, but it is artificial there. You look, there are tomatoes in the store, but there is neither smell nor taste…

December 7, 2022 (Near the Subway station “Republic Square”)

Don't think I change my mind every day, but I don't feel safe here. I'd better go (to Germany).

January 20, 2023 (Near the basement of one of the buildings in Zeytun)

I returned the documents to Vahram. I took some fruit with me. He smiled slightly, and his eyes filled up. He came up to hug me. He was still sick, shaking. He wanted to solve the passport issue to find a dormitory room.