The sun was already setting over Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia, and the warmth of the afternoon was fading fast.
We were in a hurry to get back to our hotel.
An elderly woman, bent over either from the years or some invisible burden, was sweeping the floor of a nearby hairdresser. The place was a throwback to the
We tell the old woman who we are and why we have come to Gyumri. She appears unfazed and begins to answer our questions while she sweeps and mops the floor.
Svetik (Svetlana) lost her son, husband and a sister in the 1988 earthquake. The earthquake occurred in the northern region of Armenia on Wednesday, December 7, 1988 at 11:41 local time, and took a 25 000 residents' lives.
Svetik survived by chance when the tremor hit. She was a cook’s assistant at a local kindergarten, and was at work that day.
“I was born in 1948, but I look much older, right?” she asks, adding, “The day I lost my son, I started to fall apart.”
But the woman’s internal strength has been tempered by the tragedy and sense of longing. Mrs. Svetik no longer cries when she talks about the loss of family and friends.
“I was running around but couldn’t save my son. He was working at the shoe factory and had just gotten out of the army. I pulled his dead body from the rubble.”
Her husband, just 41 at the time, was also found under the rubble at his workplace, the Analytical Equipment Plant.
The woman endured difficult years after the earthquake. The kindergarten closed and she was out of work.
Svetik jokes that everybody in town knows her as the “ponchik” lady, who would ply the streets selling her deep fried doughy delights.
When we ask what her last name is, Mrs. Svetik says she has two; Baghramyan and Astvatzatryan. “Baghramyan is my maiden name and the other my husband’s. My grandfather was the brother of Marshall Baghramyan. I only found out recently.”
The woman spends all day working at the hairdressers, receiving 10,000 AMD ($25) per month. She also receives a 23,000 AMD monthly pension.
“This life is torture. During the Soviet years things were good and the fridge full,” she says.
When I asked if she ever thought of remarrying and starting a new life, Svetik straightened up and exclaimed: “Who, me? The face of my boy was in front of my eyes. I buried him with my own hands. Is it right for a mother to bury her son like that?”
Mrs. Svetik refused our offer of help.
She finished mopping the floor. It’s the same routine day in, day out.
Clean the store, close the door, and go home.
Photos: Sara Anjargolian