“Whenever I come down to the courtyard, the kids gather around me and want to race me,” Arayik Kocharyan says with a chuckle as he recounts his wheelchair adventures. He was disabled and bound to a wheelchair four years ago.
At that time, he was living in Russia, as a migrant worker. On New Year’s Day, he and his brother were rushing home for the festivities. Arayik was also set to get engaged soon. But all of their plans were shattered within an instant. The car crash they were involved in broke Arayik’s spine. “My doctors say I could’ve walked again had I received the right treatment, had I undergone the proper surgery,” he says.
Having lost the use of his legs, Arayik lay in a hospital in Volgograd for a whole month before it became possible to take him back to Armenia. He was operated on at once. Today, the 31-year-old is able to sit as well as move his hands and legs. Moreover, his chances of restoring nerve function are looking good. “I do quite a range of exercises in my wheelchair,” Arayik says excitedly. Yes, his accident has seriously damaged his body, but his spirit remains unbroken. What count ultimately are his will to live, his passion for life, and his infectious optimism.
“One day, while I was going around in the yard, I overheard the conversation of two girls who were walking behind me,” Arayik recalls. “One of them said, ‘Look, that wheelchair must be as expensive as a Mercedes.’”
Sitting on his “Mercedes,” Arayik demonstrates its great features. Thanks to the wheelchair, he says, he can now do things on his own with utmost ease. He’s able to go outside and get around in his beloved city of Abovyan. The comfortable, latest-generation wheelchair was gifted to Arayik some months ago. During our interview with him, we were waiting for the arrival of the man who had made the wheelchair possible, Hrant Tumasyan, of Los Angeles.
On this visit to Armenia, Tumasyan had brought with him an array of mobility aids for people with physical disabilities. “Ever since meeting Hrant, I feel that I’ve been making significant progress,” Arayik says. “Hrant motivates me to improve my health day by day.”
“Buddy, how do you manage to go up and down on these elevators?” Hrant asks Arayik as he comes in accompanied by the latter’s father. Hrant’s own wheelchair is not yet “accustomed” to certain norms in Armenia. Hrant Tumasyan is a veteran of the Karabakh War. He was wounded in battle and lost the use of his legs. Since 2015, he has been providing individuals in Armenia and Artsakh with various mobility aids, including wheelchairs, as well as medicines and even specially-modified vehicles, with the support of Armenia Fund. The beneficiaries have been disabled veterans of the Karabakh War. Today, however, the program is also available to regular citizens.
“Arayik, have you gotten used to your bed?” Hrant asks. “Look, this crane will let you sit on your wheelchair, almost without anyone’s help.” In addition to the wheelchair, Hrant had presented Arayik with an electric bed. And now he has brought a special equipment that attaches to the bed. After Arayik tries out the new bed equipment, he’s told that the main surprise is awaiting him outside. It’s a brand-new car.
Arayik comes down to see his red Chevrolet, which has been modified in the United States to accommodate his disability. As Arayik expresses his deep gratitude, Hrant interrupts him. “Come on, it’s nothing,” he says. “But don’t try to drive it now. I still have to teach you how.” Thanks to the car’s complement of adaptive devices, Arayik can both get in with his wheelchair and drive the vehicle. “At long last, I’ll be able to get a job,” he says. There have been a number of work opportunities, but he has had to turn them down since transportation was an issue. Now life will have a whole new meaning for the lively young man.