On Sundays, the St. Astvatzatzin Armenian Apostolic Church opposite the Armenian Patriarchate in Kumkapi, Istanbul is usually abuzz with people attending Sunday religious services.
Last Sunday, the crowd was particularly large due to the scheduled visit by RA Minister of Diaspora Affairs Hranush Hakobyan. We were told that the minister would attend services and later on, at a dinner reception, bestow awards to prominent individuals in the community.
The service was well under way but the minister was nowhere to be seen. Our group of reporters waited outside the church, waiting for her arrival. Close by were some women from Armenia. I was sitting next to one in her 50’s who listened to our conversation but said nothing.
Quite a few come to receive assistance handouts of food and clothing periodically distributed by the Patriarchate. She finally broke down and began to tell me her story.
Anzhela moved to Turkey four years ago from Turkey. Her husband had passed away but she still has a married daughter there. Her two sons have moved to Russia with their families.
When she first arrived in Istanbul, Anzhela was a home attendant to an old Turkish woman. After the woman passed away, Anzhela got a job as a cleaning lady at a small hotel run by a Dutch couple.
Anzhela told me she had graduated the Lomonosov University in Moscow and worked as a teacher in Armenia.
She had tried to get a teaching job at the “underground” school for kids from Armenia that operates out of the basement of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Gedikpasha. That didn’t happen.
“If there was work to be had in Armenia I wouldn’t have left. But I couldn’t even get a cleaning job back there. They just want young girls. I want to go back and plan to after saving up some money in Turkey,” Anzhela said.
It seems that the woman has saved up enough to buy a house back in Gyumri. Despite her promising situation, Anzhela told me that she was even thinking of applying for Georgian citizenship in September. This would mean giving up her Armenian citizenship.
“I’d never betray Armenia but my mother’s house, where I was born, is in Georgia. I want to keep the place,” she said.
“They don’t give us any problems here. In fact, they assist us,” exclaimed Anzhela, adding that for the most part, Armenians from Armenia were all right as well. “Sure, there are some bad apples as in all peoples but it’s not a big issue.”
Anzhela did say that most of the men from Armenia didn’t have jobs or even the money to go back.
“The diaspora minister should take some of these guys back with her; even the women. She should get them some work in a factory back in Armenia. Who wants to stay in this country? They can deport us any minute. It’s scary sometimes,” concluded Anzhela who, like many others, stayed on in Turkey after her visa expired.