Recently, the investigative committee reported that the director and 4 employees of Vardenis “Neurological Nursing home” were charged, the director was arrested. The director of the Nursing Home was charged with the heaviest articles of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia: torture, trafficking, causing severe physical pain or severe mental suffering, as well as theft of entrusted property; Article 256, Article 196, Part 2, 5 and 6.

“A petition has been submitted to the court regarding choosing detention as a preventive measure against the director and the psychiatrist. The petition regarding the directoer was fully granted and he was detained, and the psychiatrist’s petition was partially granted: an alternative measure of restraint was chosen for him by the court’s decision. In relation to the other three employees, by the decision of the body implementing the proceedings, the ban on absence from the country was chosen as a preventive measure. The latter were freed from the injunction,” said the spokesperson of the Investigative Committee.

The alarming situation in the Vardenis nursing home, the violations of the rights of the people kept there have been repeatedly referred to by various structures; there have been shocking, sensational cases, suicides of patients. However, the state institutions do not want to take full control of this institution.

About 450 patients — people with mental or neurological problems, people with difficult fates, mostly abandoned — live in the nursing home.

To remind, one of the patients was found in a hospital room of the nursing home; one of the patients was tied with a metal chain to one of the heating units; one of the patients was forced to clean the director’s pigsty; the patients were not provided with cigarettes and food they are entitled to by law; the director took bribes to increase the wages of the employees, etc.

We called the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to find out if they are going to conduct an official investigation, to find out how another scandalous incident was possible.

We were told that the Ministry is monitoring the nursing home, but they cannot provide any other information because there is a criminal proceeding.

On February 19, the Ministry just issued a notice that it considers any illegality, especially possible manifestation of torture in any care facility under its jurisdiction strictly condemnable.

“At the same time, they inform that the neuro-psychological nursing home continues its regular activities: “The provision of necessary services to the residents receiving care is carried out without any obstacles.”

It may seem that the scandalous incident was a surprise for the controlling body that implements the state policy. Meanwhile, a year ago, Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan addressed the situation in psychiatric hospitals and the problems of mental patients in reports in 2017 and 2022. In 2022, the Ombudsman’s Office recorded that the picture of human rights violations in psychiatric hospitals has not changed since 2017. In that new report, the following is said about the Vardenis nursing home:

“In actuality, cases were recorded when mechanical restraining methods not provided for by law were used in various psychiatric hospitals. In particular, “dry wrapping” and “wet wrapping” were used in the Sevan mental health center. This consists of wrapping with a sheet soaked in cold water. Such practice is strictly prohibited. In the neuro-psychological nursing home of Vardenis too sheets are used, which are difficult to untie.”

To remind, according to the report of the investigative committee, the hands and feet of one of the residents of the nursing home were tied with cloth from the four corners of the bed, while the resident was lying on his back.

We also read in the report that a drug, which is not included in any order of the minister regulating the field, was used as a means of medical restraint on a resident of the Vardenis neuropsychological nursing home. As a result of overcrowding in this institution, the HRD employees saw extremely densely arranged beds, placed close together, even connected to each other. By the way, this is also stated in the 2017 report.

There are episodes in the HRD report on the Vardenis Nursing Home, which seem to describe a Nazi concentration camp.

“Many of the residents of the Vardenis neuropsychological nursing home did not recognize their clothes and therefore, after washing, all the clothes were distributed randomly.

Or, this excerpt from the HRD report: “During the visit to the Vardenis neuropsychological nursing home, it was recorded that the residents with movement problems are taking a bath in the bathroom while sitting on a tiled stone bench, the tiles of which were broken, and there was a high probability of injury.”

The patients’ clothes, including underwear, were left to dry on the floor over trash and cigarette butts.

“This demeans the dignity of people with mental health problems and is highly unacceptable,” the report of the former ombudsman of Armenia stated.

There are also similar descriptions of Avan and Sevan mental health centers, Lori regional psychiatric dispensary, where the Human Rights Defender’s team visited. Everywhere they recorded flagrant violations, which were reported to the relevant authorities. The latter also gave explanations.

In other words, the findings of the human rights defenders were neither shocking nor extraordinary for the officials of the state bodies. But they gave formal answers to HRD questions from the reports and continued their work.

For example, in 2021, when HRD visited the building conditions of the Vardenis neuropsychological nursing home and addressed the services provided, the Ministry clarified that the building conditions of the center for 447 beneficiaries were improving and that the photos published by HRD did not reflect the full picture.

Syuzan Simonyan

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