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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Victims of Hotel Sell-Off in Exile Again?

For Svetlana Mirzabekyan, her daughter and seven other Armenian families, a 1990 journey from Baku which landed them in central Moscow's Hotel Ural probably saved their lives, but did little to solve their problems.

The eight families -- with thousands of others -- were airlifted on orders of the Soviet government out of the Azerbaijani capital in 1990 to save them from anti-Armenian pogroms. They were deposited in 19 Moscow hotels and several dormitories, and told it was temporary.

Five years later, they are threatened by a new and unlikely hostile force: privatization. The hotels and dormitories, still the temporary residences of over 1,500 refugees, are on the auction block. And with the Soviet authority that invited them long since dissolved, no law can stop the new owners from making them refugees a second time.

"They are always under threat of being thrown out," Svetlana Gonushkina of the human rights watchdog group Memorial said.

At the Ural, a full-scale renovation has begun around the families, who occupy the hotel's second floor. The transformation from Soviet-era behemoth to three-star commercial hotel has forced them to endure hardships such as the loss of telephones, hot water and heat during the winter. Sawdust lies in piles in the corridors, doors have been unscrewed and wires sprout from ripped-out walls. Hotel guards have made it clear they don't expect the refugees to be there much longer, they said.

"They say things like, 'Oh, you'll all be thrown out the first of the month. You'll come home and your things will be out on the street,'" Elina Osipova said. The guards have already made good on their promises once. On May 31, a 53-year-old mentally retarded resident, Nelly Aricheva, returned home from the grocery store to find the doors to the Ural locked and the guards demanding a pass that neither she nor the other refugees had ever possessed. Her mother Mili heard the commotion and left the tiny room she shares with Nelly and her sister to fetch her daughter.

"They threw us out and locked the door. We began to beat on the door," Mili Aricheva said, displaying two long gashes in her arm, incurred as her hand smashed through the glass. When she was taken away to the police station to be interrogated for this act of vandalism, the guards locked Nelly out again.

The guards have continually refused to let her back in to her mother. Now she lives with distant relatives in an overcrowded one-room flat. Aricheva meets her daughter outside each day to give her food prepared in the hotel room.

Despite threats, the refugees say they will stay in the hotels as long as they can because they have nowhere else to go.

Anatoly Yarochkin, president of the private Intourist concern that bought out the Ural, said his company had not been told that refugees lived in the hotel until the deal was signed. He said the situation should be resolved by the Federal Migration Service, which has three times tried to relocate the refugees.

But the refugees said the apartments on offer do not meet their one criterion: that they be in or around Moscow, where they have found jobs, schools and medical help.

"These are pensioners here, some invalids and war veterans," Mirzabekyan said. "There are no doctors where they want to send us."