Residents of the Kumkapı neighbourhood of Istanbul regard Anahit as one of the oldest and best traders around.
Fifteen years ago she sold her apartment in Yerevan and moved to Istanbul with dreams of striking it rich and enjoying the good life.
She’s now 70; alone and tired.
In pursuit of a better life overseas, the family has split up. Anahit hasn’t seen her children, now living in Russia, for many years.
“We only talk on Skype. That’s how we stay in touch. Where can I go at my age,” Anahit says, assuring me that she has many friends in Istanbul to keep her company.
Since she’s an old-timer, Ano watches out and cares for those who have recently migrated from Armenia. But she complains that the newcomers have cheated her in return. “They come here. I gave them stuff to sell but they never paid me back. They cheated me out of $28,000. They cheat the Turkish families they work for as well. No wonder there’s a backlash here against us.”
All that Ano has left to her name is a small table from which she sells her assorted Russian food items. She just sells enough to get by from day to day.
Her cell phone is always in her hand. Ano says her girlfriends back in Armenia are always calling.
“They call to tell me that they are planning to come to Istanbul to work. When I tell them not to bother, that the streets aren’t paved with gold, they think that I am trying to make all the money by myself. They won’t be dissuaded so let them come and see for themselves.”
Presently, Ano is sharing an apartment with two women just arrived from Armenia. She says that despite the unpleasant experiences of the past, it’s tough for her to turn down a fellow Armenian in need.
“What would you have me do? Throw them out on the street? So I put them up until they can find a place of their own. So many are coming, and with the kids. They come here and have more kids,” Anahit tells me.
During our street-side conversation, many of the passersby say hello to Anahit in Armenian. The woman, a native of Gyumri, has made many Armenian, Turkish and Kurdish friends over the years.
“We even teach the Turks some Armenian. Everyone knows me. I’ve really settled in. Even though we know each other, they tried to burgle my apartment. They were Armenians. It was at night. One came in through the door, another through a window. I woke up, took the rolling pin from under my pillow, and frightened them off. I later found out that they were arrested for something else.”
Anahit has no desire to return to Armenia. She can’t imagine how she would live there.
“If I went back, no one would let me set up a sales table on the street like I do here. They’d come and force me to pay taxes and a business fee before forcing me to move. No one bothers me here. I sell my wares without trouble. If I went to Armenia and wasn’t able to sit down and make some money, I’d die. Do you want me to come to Armenia and die,” Anahit asks.
P.S. Hetq has shot a film of Anahit and others from Armenia now working in Istanbul. We will present it to our readers after this series of articles entitled “A Trip through Istanbul” has ended.
Photos: Saro Baghdasaryan