The usual heavy sadness buried in the eyes of 90-year-old Anahit Demirchyan dissipates when she starts talking about her favorite hobby—embroidery. Socks, gloves, oven mits—she makes all of these in her spare time, and often when she visits the FAR Gyumri Atinizian Senior Center, where she can do so in good company.
Anahit enjoys visiting the soup kitchen because she loves the nutritious soups and fresh kompots, but what she loves most of all is talking with her friends about growing up in Gyumri, which was then known as Leninankan.
Anahit was born in 1931 in Aleppo, Syria. At the age of five, her motherdied and she was left in her father’s care. She was seven when she was taken to Beirut where she lived and worked for a Lebanese-Armenian family.
"I was raised by other parents,” she said. “Dad agreed to send me to that house because he could not raise me. At my ‘new parent’s’ place, I used to cook, clean, and wash until I was almost 14.”
One day, Anahit deliberatly burned her feet with hot tea so that she could be sent to the Red Cross. “I wanted to find my father. When my wound was bandaged at the hospital, they asked me whether I would like to see my parents. I said yes and Mrs. Mari (the hospital employee) took me to Aleppo by bus. When I got off the bus, my godfather, who had a canteen near the bus station, saw and recognized me. He approached me and asked, ‘Areyou Mkrtich's daughter?’”
He took her home where, later, Anahit’s father would bring her to Dr. Ibrahim, a Turkish doctor, every day for treatment. After she recovered from the burn, she worked as his assistant for one year.
Later, Anahit came to Armenia on a Russian ship, which docked in Batumi, Georgia, with her father and three sisters in 1946. They then settled in Gyumri. "We were the first group to come to Armenia from Syria," she said with a smile.
For many years Anahit worked in the Gyumri textile factory as a cleaner. Today, she lives in a wooden domik (container house) with her son Hamlet, 48, and her daughter-in-law, Narine. For the past eight years, Anahit has been attending the soup kitchen and embroidering in her spare time. While she sometimes sells her items more often she gives them away to friends and relatives.
"I cannot afford much with my tiny pension of 38,000 drams (USD 73) per month. I have never spent my pension on clothes for myself, only on my children,” she said. “I enjoy these people and the staff are very caring; they even provided me with eye glasses, which help me a lot when I sew."