For my Armenian lessons, I go to the private house of my teacher every week. It is an old house in a nice neighborhood. My teacher lives there together with her mother Ashghen, who is now 91 years old. Every time, I go for my lesson, I have a short chat with her, talking about the weather etc. One day I asked her to tell me her life story (in Russian, as my Armenian is not that good), and it was very interesting to hear a truly Armenian story. Here is what she told me:
Ashghen was born in Baku in the year 1914. Her parents had originally lived in Karabakh but went to Baku to work and study. Ashghen’s father was a successful trader and was able to buy a 2-storey house, where he lived with his wife, Ashghen, two sons and another daughter. However in the year 1917, the family was forced to flee from Baku because of the violent uprisings against Armenians. On the eve of their voyage, the family gathered one more time to have dinner. Ashghen was too tired to eat, and afterwards she was always told that the melons she had not eaten that night, were still waiting for her in Baku…The family took a steamboat and crossed the Caspian Sea to Russia, where they lived for three years. Soon after their arrival, Ashghen’s mother died at the age of 38.
After Azerbaijan became a Soviet Republic, Ashghen’s family returned to Baku. They were not able to live in their old house, which had been occupied by other people. Instead they were given an apartment in the centre of Baku. (According to Ashghen, the Azeris were very dirty, but fortunately not a lot of them lived in the centre of Baku.) Ashghen’s older brothers and sisters all had to work to feed the family. Her father often went to the house, he still had in Karabakh. From there he brought milk and cheese for his family. Ashghen was able to go to an Armenian school in Baku and finished 9th grade. One day at school, after Stalin had come to power, she and her schoolmates heard a horse wagon enter the school yard. Several of the Armenian teachers were dragged into the wagon, never to be seen again.
After finishing school in 1931, Ashghen went to Stepanakert, where her older sister lived with her husband. There she started working in the Silk factory. After some time at the factory, she became an accountant and later even senior accountant.
However, as it was Asghen’s wish to continue her education she decided to leave Stepanakert, where no higher schools existed. She wanted to go back to Baku, where all her family lived, but on the way to the train station she changed her mind and bought a ticket to Yerevan, where she did not know a soul. She just thought, that with her Armenian education she would have more chances in Armenia. So, with nothing but one little suitcase in her hands, she set off to Yerevan. Luckily, on the train she met a girl, who invited her to stay with her family for the first days in the new city.
After ten days in Yerevan, she was able to find work as an accountant in a construction firm. She ended up marrying one of the engineers of that firm. He was a native of Van, from where his family had to flee during the Genocide. According to Ashghen, he was a rather dry man, not very romantic and not very talkative. Sometimes, however, he bought her flowers. (It was very important for Ashghen, that she actually earned more money than him at the time of their marriage.)
They got married in 1938 and a year later their first son, Samvel was born. 2 years and 2 days later the war began for Russia. Both of Ashghen’s brothers served in the war. She even showed me a picture of them in front of the Reichstag in Berlin.
The years after WWII were rather uneventful. Ashghen changed her job twice and gave birth to 3 more children. She retired after some 40 years of working.
In the 90s, life became very hard for her family. Her husband had saved some 9000 rubles (the equivalent of about 9000 US$), which was quite a lot of money at the time. After Armenia introduced the dram, her husband found almost nothing left in his bank account. This shock was too much for him, and soon after he died. Ashghen herself, after 40+ years of working, nowadays receives a pension of 12.000 drams a month. She is not very impressed with the new Armenia. She and her family lived much better during Soviet times, even shortly after WWII it was not as bad as it is today. In the Soviet times they were able to drink, eat and dance, she had a secure pension, and life in general was very secure. Nowadays, none of that is left, and ugly cafes are springing up everywhere.