Sunday, 23 September

Tbilisi Church Cleaner: ‘Armenians Have Lost Their Former Position in This City’



It’s early Sunday morning, not yet ten. Children are seen filing into the St Gevorg Armenian Apostolic Church in Tbilisi.

Most of the pews are already filled. An elderly man is sitting on one of the pews. From a white satchel placed on the floor he removes bags of candy and distributes them to the children.

He’s no longer following the church service. The old man lights a bunch of candles and walks around the church, muttering something under his breath.

I spot a petit woman wearing a blue headscarf periodically shuffling to and fro in the church. She’s spot checking the church for litter. The woman then approaches one of the kids and softly asks that he remove his hat. He immediately obeys. As the service ends, the children begin to pray out loud.

The woman with the blue headscarf is 68 year-old Aida Shirinyan, the church’s cleaning attendant. She’s been at the job for four years. She thanks God for the work.

There’s a shortage of jobs in Georgia, just like in Armenia. People are leaving the country according to Mrs. Shirinyan. During our conversation she points out the homes in the Havlabar neighborhood on Tbilisi where prominent people once resided. The homes have now reverted to the state.

Mrs. Shirinyan doesn’t mince her words. She tells me that in the past Georgians didn’t regard Armenians differently than themselves. Such attitudes have changed over the years.

She talks about the Tbilisi of her youth. She confesses that back then there was a degree of distinction between Armenians and Georgians but that it wasn’t as noticeable as today.

Only one Armenian school is left in the Georgian capital. Many Armenians prefer to send their children to Georgian and Russian schools. Mrs. Shirinyan says her granddaughter doesn’t even go to an Armenian school.

We walk the hilly streets in Havlabar. Mrs. Shirinyan asks about life in Armenia. She has relatives there and knows what’s going on.

“It’s not just Yerevan or Armenia. The situation is bad everywhere,” she says.

Mrs. Shirinyan’s parents moved to Tbilisi (Tiflis at the time) from Stepanavan in Armenia. She doesn’t know why. She has two married daughters living in Tbilisi.

The woman once worked in the Tiflis sewing factory making jackets and coats. She sometimes now sews garments for her daughters and grandkids. That’s when the arthritis in her fingers doesn’t act up.

“I’ve been sewing since the age of 19; for as long as I can remember. Now it’s not so easy,” Mrs. Shirinyan says looking at her hands.

All throughout our conversation I noticed an expression of concern on the woman’s face, a sense of foreboding.

“My children have no future here. Who knows if they will be given work,” she suddenly exclaims.

Mrs. Shirinyan quickly gets up from the park bench and wipes her face with her hands.

“I’ve talked too much. Shall we go?”

I smile and we walk back towards the church.


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Comments (4)
1. Bill17:27 - 24 May, 2015
There wasn't exactly very much to this article, and whatever it is that it is trying to convey isn't very clear, either. I love nonsensical comments like, "During our conversation she points out the homes in the Havlabar neighborhood on Tbilisi where prominent people once resided. The homes have now reverted to the state." Homes have "reverted" to the state because a large number of homes in Avlabari are in disrepair and would collapse in even a small earthquake. Reverting "to the state" sounds positively Soviet, and doesn't accurately reflect reality.
2. Anti Bill09:08 - 26 May, 2015
What about "only one school left" and the shortage of jobs you hipocrite.
3. Bill18:17 - 1 June, 2015
I'm surprised someone took the time to comment on my comment. Someone wrote, "What about "only one school left" and the shortage of jobs you hipocrite." I'm not exactly sure why i'm a hypocrite for what I said. I still don't think the article above actually said anything. I think there's probably "only one school left" because there aren't that many Armenians left in Tbilisi. The Georgian school system is bizarre, and probably already has more primary schools than they already need. I've met many Armenians who live in Georgia, and I don't believe there is systematic discrimination in employment. There's a "shortage of jobs" for all people in Georgia - regardless of background. I find it interesting that the article avoided any mention of religion. One of the areas of contention between Armenians and Georgians is in the area of religious faith. There have been issues regarding members of the Georgian Orthodox church and members of the Armenian Apostolic church - but any of those complaints aren't mentioned in this article. Once again, i'd argue that this article is typical of journalism that comes out of the Post-Soviet space. It's vaguely conspiratorial and doesn't assert anything. Yes, during Soviet times, relations between "Soviet Men and Women" meant that relations between different nationalities were perhaps different than today. Yet if there's complaints between Armenians and Georgians, those complaints aren't communicated very well in this article. The use of the language "reverted to the state" is ominous, and I don't believe that either the current Georgian government or the previous one sought out to "seize" the property of Armenians in a Bolshevik manner. It's disingenuous to imply that. I'm not a Georgian, i'm an American. I have a deep love and respect for both Georgian and Armenian people - and I was raised among many Armenian-Americans in California. I will state, once again, that this doesn't convey much information, and is written in the opaque and conspiratorial language of the Soviet oriented mindset.
4. Hagop22:56 - 4 June, 2015
Bill, I can understand why as an American you would feel that way, but as Armenians we view both our situation and history from the perspective of our experience since we lived through it. Perhaps if you learned our history, you would have a better understanding. Before the Soviets took over, Yerevan was not a big, developed city like Tbilisi. And yet Tbilisi at this time was more of an Armenian city than anything else, since it was the Armenians that actually built the historic city and the Georgians there were the minority. A lot happened since then, and history was very cruel to us, in the form of us losing more than half our population to the Armenian Genocide, and losing 90% of our historic homeland. This can only mean that those that surround Armenia are the ones occupying Armenian lands, and Georgia is no exception, although not as bad as Turkey and Azerbaijan. Yet, these three countries today are "friends", and the reasons are obvious. The ethnic Georgian Stalin caused a lot of destruction to our nation, which we can still feel today, namely allowing the Armenian Javakhk to be annexed by Georgia, and Nakhichevan and Karabakh by Azerbaijan, right after making deals with Turkey to take western Armenia. When we look at it from this context, then we understand why these three countries are holding military drills together. All are guilty of abusing Armenia in history. That is why the Armenians in Javakhk have no freedom to practice their own culture and why Georgia makes it very difficult for Armenia to send them Armenian books so the children can learn Armenian. So long as those Armenians become "Georgianized" and forget they are Armenians, then all is OK. Same with all the illegal confiscation of Armenian church properties by the Georgian church, it is politically motivated to prevent Armenians from practicing their culture. In this process, like Turkey and Azerbaijan, Georgia engages in lies and deception and falsification of history against Armenia in order to meet their political aims.
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