Eliz is a woman from Saritagh, a Yerevan neighborhood, who moved to Istanbul eleven odd years ago. She's a veritable "ball of fire".
Sitting on the sofa like a mother hen, she gathers up her disabled brother's kids under her protective arms and tells me her story. Eliz says she made the move to take care of her brother and his kids.
Eliz resembles a traditional Armenian grandmother; barking out orders to those in the house. No one dares do anything without consulting her first.
Hakob, her brother, needed an operation and the children had to be fed and clothed. She says there were no options left but to move.
"My brother was disabled in a car accident. Hovo was one and a half years-old, Elizik was two and a half and Zhanna was a year older. We had no way of making a living back in Armenia. Eleven years ago, it was impossible to find any live in Yerevan. You probably remember how it was like. I worked and raised the kids. I wanted to give them a good education but it didn't work out," Eliz recounted.
Eliz is a woman in her mid-forties. Five days a week she cleans the home of her Turkish employer. She also serves as a nanny. She's been working for the same family for the past seven years.
Eliz sleeps over at the house and returns home on Friday night. She told me her employer is the editor at some Turkish newspaper but didn't wish to say more.
As I said, Eliz is a bundle of energy, but I detected a morose side to her as well. She appeared worn-out inside from her work and life in Turkey. It was something in her eyes.
During our conversation she said, "Please help to get my brother's house back."
Eliz's seventy year-old mother is blind and resides in Yerevan along with her brother's other daughter.
Eliz's older brother had been renting for twenty years before returning to the family home. It was impossible for all of them to live together in that 54 square meter house.
The two brothers wound up suing each other in the courts. Hakob was left high and dry and soon became despondent. Life had ceased to have any meaning for him.
"In a word, they were thrown out due to the decision of the court. So I brought them here to Istanbul," says Eliz.
Trying to shed a little humor on the subject, Eliz told me to write down her life story. "I'll translate it into Turkish. We'll publish a book and get rich," she chuckled.
"No matter, just as long as the kids are OK. I'm a victim of my own destiny. It's my fault and the fault of the government back in Armenia that my Hovo serves tea in an Istanbul cafe. At least Zhanna works in a textile factory and is learning to sew. She can return to Armenia and find a job. But what about the boy?" Eliz asked.
Then, as if I was an official representative from Armenia, she bellowed, "We want our homeland. We want the government to take care of us. Sick people shouldn't be thrown out on the streets."
One evening, at around 9, I followed twelve year-old Hovik home from his job at the cafe. There was another Armenian, a jeweler, escorting us. I asked the man to find the boy another job; so that he would no longer have to serve tea for his Kurdish boss. The jeweler promised me that he would teach the boy the trade.
"I make about 100 Turkish Lira ($70) a week. What's hard is being on my feet all day. You can't take a moment to sit down. The customers want their tea. My junior boss really is a chatterbox who gives me a headache, always saying I did this or that wrong," Hovik told me afterwards at home.
The boy used to attend P.S. 167 in Yerevan. He said he had many friends there whom he misses a lot. When Hovik's father asked the boy what he wanted to be as a child, his answer was "a soldier".
Zhanna, Hovik's fourteen year-old sister, was uncomfortable and said nothing at our first meeting. During our next conversation, she confessed that she always aspired to be a painter. Her work was displayed in the Yerevan school she was attended.
"When I was younger I wanted to become a painter but now who knows?" Zhanna confided. She makes around 50 Lira ($30) a week at work. The teenager leaves for work at eight in the morning and returns at nine.
"We sew dresses and blouses and attach buttons. I mostly work with Turkish and Kurdish children. There aren't other Armenians at the factory."
Aunt Eliz tried to get Zhanna enrolled at a painter's club but one has to be a Turkish citizen.
"All four of us work here and get by somehow. The kids are little dolls. I have to keep my eyes on them amidst all these Turks. I don't know whether to stay or go back to Yerevan. God willing, we can save up enough to buy a small place back home in order to return," Eliz says.
Hakob's wife also works as a house cleaner five days a week. He used to receive a 10,000 AMD disability pension in Armenia.
His wife used to work at the Rossiya marketplace as a floorsweeper. She made 30,000 AMD per month.
"The family income was 40,000. You do the math. That's 8,000 per person. Deduct all the utility payments and what's left is just enough for a loaf of bread every day. You ask why we moved here, so I'll tell you. It was for the children. It was a tough decision. There was no alternative," says Hakob. "It's like a prison here sitting inside all day. At least in Yerevan I'd get around. There's no place to go to here."