MY DOOR IS ALWAYS OPEN, SAYS REFUGEE IN ARMENIA
By Rosa Minasyan UNHCR Armenia

UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Reuters AlertNet, UK
Sept 1 2005

YEREVAN, Armenia (UNHCR) - Destiny has come full circle and brought
Sergey Danielyan back to his origins, to his ancestors' land where
his life started.

Danielyan was born in 1936 in eastern Armenia. As a young man, he
joined his brother in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, where he worked as
a driver and started a family.

In 1989 and 1990, tensions between the two countries over the disputed
region of Nagorno-Karabakh erupted into massacres of Armenians in
Azerbaijan's Sumgait and Baku. As ethnic Armenians, Danielyan and
his family had to flee. But he wanted to go to Armenia while his
wife decided to join her family in Brest, Belarus, taking their two
daughters with her.

"I did not go with my family as I wanted to come back to my
motherland," Danielyan explains. So he went alone to Armenia, where
he was recognised as a refugee. In the beginning, he received some
humanitarian assistance from the UN refugee agency, like food, clothing
and other basic supplies. The Armenian Department for Migration and
Refugees gave him shelter until he moved to his grandfather's old
house in Shinuayr village, not far from Goris city in eastern Armenia.

Situated at the bottom of a gorge, the isolated village is accessible
only on foot or donkey through a narrow road. It is completely cut
off from the outside world once the rains start. Villagers gather in
their garden during harvest time, but Danielyan is the only person
who lives there permanently.

"I've done all the repair works myself," he says proudly to a visiting
UNHCR team. "I planted new trees in the old garden. In addition I
cultivate saplings, which I give for free to other villagers. Everybody
likes and respects me. I don't even want to keep a dog, so that people
can freely come to my place."

<IMAGE2>Sergey Danielyan near his home in the remote Shinuayr village
in eastern Armenia. UNHCR/R.Minasyan

At 69, Danielyan is cheerful and agile. He can easily climb trees,
and walk to the upper village and look after his brother's garden.

The earth there is stony and he has to carry the soil in a bucket.

But he says it is not hard for him to do all this work alone. He is
already used to it and feels satisfied with his way of life.

Although he lives alone - his daughters are working as a teacher in
Belarus and a lawyer in the United States - he seems happy living
with nature. Everything he needs is grown in the garden and he gives
corn and cherries freely to everybody. "Let them take!" he booms,
gesturing around the garden.

All passers-by stop and greet him or talk for a few minutes out of
respect. Once a month, his relatives living in the upper village send
him lavash (flat bread). His neighbours also bring him fresh milk and
yogurt. "In principle, I don't need much, I eat very little. Fresh
air and nature are quite enough for me," says Danielyan.

There's an Armenian saying that people living in harmony with nature
become wise men. Danielyan is a living example of this. Despite his
remote location, he is fully informed on current affairs around the
world. He rattles off facts on the number of Russians living below
the poverty level, on Russia's military pullout from Georgia, on the
Baku-Jeyhan oil pipe line, and on relations between the government
and opposition in Armenia.

"I don't need TV," he says. "It will not show anything here because
of the weak signal. Instead I have a radio, which helps me to be
aware of the situation in and outside the country."

Danielyan himself is a custodian of history - his garden is filled with
ancient cross stones and pagan monuments. The most eye-catching item
is a 3-metre-high cross stone with text engraved in ancient Armenian.

"When I was born, this cross stone was already here," he says.

"People say that this cross stone was put up by [18th century Armenian
national hero] David Bek. The specialists came from Yerevan and said
that they were going to take it away to the museum. But its place is
here and it should stay wherever our ancestors put it. That's why I
cemented its base."

The village authorities call Danielyan "director of the open air
museum". They even promised to pay him a salary, which he received
just twice. Still, he continues to maintain these monuments without
expecting any assistance or words of thanks.

"I am a person with a sincere heart and the doors of my house are
always open to everybody," he says of his life credo.

Ethnic Armenians from Azerbaijan like Danielyan form the biggest
group of refugees in Armenia today, numbering more than 230,000.

UNHCR opened its office in Armenia in 1992 to help the government
meet the needs of more than 360,000 ethnic Armenian refugees from
Azerbaijan who fled because of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The refugee agency and its partners have worked to provide humanitarian
assistance for refugees, and permanent shelter for those living in
temporary dwellings.

In recent years, UNHCR has focused on local integration, actively
participating in the development of the refugee law in Armenia, and
advising on how to facilitate the naturalisation of refugees. This
means that refugees from Azerbaijan can simply apply for citizenship
at the Armenian Social Protection Unit of the Department of Migration
and Refugees, instead of having to live permanently in Armenia for
several years in order to qualify for citizenship.

Some 62,660 ethnic Armenians from Azerbaijan have so far been
naturalised in Armenia. Those who remain refugees live among the local
population and have been included in the National Poverty Reduction
Strategy paper along with other vulnerable Armenians.

This year, the Armenian government has allocated funds to solve some
of the refugees' accommodation problems by providing housing purchase
certificates in all regions of the country except Kotayk and Yerevan.

UNHCR continues to provide legal assistance to those refugees in
need of protection, and produces bulletins and TV programmes to raise
public awareness on refugee issues in the country.

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