Antoine Terjanian's letter 05: Pokrig Anahid's heart-breaking story

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Saturday, July 27, 2002
by Antoine Terjanian

It’s been a long time since I last wrote. We’ve moved to our new apartment, adjusted to living on our own and starting new jobs…. But I feel compelled to write now, because some of the events and relationships I had not understood have come together…. So this text will have a few flashbacks and it is a bit emotional…

We are at home. Sheila is nursing the beginning of a cold…. She does not want to miss work on Monday. Yesterday, we had left work early with a few of the volunteers. Albert Pailaki Abramyan had invited us for a picnic in the mountains. He is a businessman I had helped when he was visiting Canada in 1997. His friend, art dealer, Badal Badalian (Arshile Gorky Gallery / Café on Abovian) and two other friends, Levon and Benig Shahumian got together to invite us, AVC volunteers. We’ve had a few of these tourist outings to beautiful spots which I should tell you about, but perhaps you should come and discover them yourselves. As you should discover the real taste of Armenia’s fresh fruits and vegetables. We’ve been through strawberries, mulberries, cherries tart and sweet, apricots, watermelons, cantaloupes, and of course the great tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, green peppers and specially the scrumptious eggplants. Soon it will be grape and fig season... So we drove Friday, in 2 cars, to this beautiful spot, up the valley from Bjni (famous mineral water) to Solag, where we were treated to a wonderful Armenian Barb-Q (which reminded me of my Argentinean cousins’ “Parrilladas”). Our hosts dipped and swam in the pure mountain stream (ask me to show you the video… Sheila took some digital photos, which we will post soon ) …. We were cautious. I am glad Sheila did not swim this time; I would have been feeling responsible for her flu today…

So, remember Anahid, the mother in the family who hosted us during our first month? Some of you told me it was odd that she had named her daughter also Anahid! … Some of you were also curious about this beautiful 13 year old (pokrig Anahid = little Anahid)… Well she turned 14 on July 9, and we were invited to the Hovannissians’ home for the B-day… At that occasion we met again a few of those “not-real sisters, relatives”, but we also met for the first time “Babig”, a slightly parkinsonned man in his 70’s who was treated with respect by all (old people are always treated with respect here), who was presented to us as Pokrig Anahid’s grandfather but was neither Dadig’s husband nor Hagop’s father…. At the time, I asked a direct inquisitive question about “Babig” to cute Asdghig, a 20 year old relative (cousin? sister?) whom we had met looking after the orphans on our first Saturday in Armenia, when we went to the Sourp Asdvadzadzin Church… Asdghig laughed and gave me an evasive “I don’t know”…. Well, Anahid (the mother) called us this afternoon and offered to bring us their table lamp and some cutlery (which she said they did not use). Soon she was at our house, elegantly dressed, jovial and energetic as usual. She brought the lamp and the cutlery, we offered her a drink, she sat down and delicately told us. She said: Remember when you showed us the video you took on Anahid’s B-day, and you asked us, again, about who Babig was, and we gave you again an evasive answer? Well Babig, is truly pokr Anahid’s grandfather, but Anahit is not our natural daughter. We adopted her in very sad circumstances six years ago. Anahid is the youngest of 4 children (a sister and 2 brothers were presented to us at the B-day, but we thought yeah! more sisters/brothers). Their father abandoned them in despair (perhaps died?) in the dark years of the 93-95 Azeri gas sabotage/blockade, when there was no heat or electricity, when people froze in the dark, when Ann McLellan, then Canadian Minister of energy, refused to see then visiting Armenia’s Minister of energy (Sebouh Tashjian). A year later, the desperate mother found some hard to come-by kerosene (was it the kerosene we collected money for in Ottawa?). She poured it on herself and lit a match (perhaps to provide heat for the building occupants). That is when the unemployed Hovannissyans got to know Babig and his 4 young orphaned grandchildren. They brought them in to their house, burned their infested clothes, dressed them and tried to share whatever food they had with them. Soon, they noticed the youngest, pokr Anahid, was very ill. She was diagnosed with cancer of …(I am not sure which – can you imagine at age 7!!!). Some volunteer American surgeon removed the organs surgically (with no electricity), but she had to undergo chemotherapy. The doctors gave her a couple of months to live; Anahid (mother) took her into her home to care for her before she died. That’s when they decided with Babig to baptise the 4 children. They baptised them in the little Gathoghigué church, near our present apartment. A miracle happened: Anahid survived, she got better. She is now this intelligent, delicate, polite, soft-spoken, beautiful 14-year-old. I am going to post some of her B-day photos on the yahoo site when I get a minute.

Sheila and I sat to watch the B-day video again. We watched the brothers, sister, Babig and his weathered sad face; we can see the resemblance. We now guess why some are called sister, brother… These people have been through a lot together… We look at these smiling but pensive faces on this B-day video… Why do they say that Armenians have sad eyes? Is it because they held back so many tears?