79-Year-Old Khaneh, the Yezidi Sock Knitter: "The most important thing in life is living, only living,"
Khaneh Javoyan lives in Tlik, a Yezidi-populated village in Armenia’s Aragatsotn Province, located just this side of the barbed wire that stretches along on the banks of the Akhouryan River separating Armenia from Turkey.
Villagers say she's the only one to still wear Yezidi traditional garb on holidays.
We come out of her neighbor's house, saying that we want to see the best sock knitter in the village.
“Well, how much are you going to pay me for an interview?" says 79-year-old Khaneh Javoyan. The neighbors giggle, Khaneh repeats the question, then smiles, saying it was a joke and invites us to her house.
We reach Khanеh's house. The road is muddy. Khaneh is wearing spring boots. She lives opposite the border. The door lock hangs from the outside, she takes the key from her pocket and then looks around. She’s worried, since a fox ate eight chickens this month.
"I'm scared, girl, eight chickens is a lot," she says.
Khaneh owns two small houses side by side, and a large plot in front of one of the houses. She used to sow barley there, but she says she has no energy anymore. After her mother's death, she lives alone in one of the rooms. The adjacent room serves as a water reservoir. She is glad it rained last night, since she has managed to collect water. The village has no drinking and irrigation water since 1993. Residents buy drinking water from a cistern.
"Every day, I put bowls under gutters to collect some water," says Khaneh, showing us bowls full of water.
There’s a stove in the center of the room, but there’s no fire in it.
Khaneh takes a semi-finished sock from the bed and continues knitting. She has come up with her own unique patterns for socks, and says you won’t find a second pair of these socks.
Khaneh makes sure we write down her name, surname, father’s name and continues to knit without looking at the sock.
“Oh well, you’ve taken my photo already, are you going to take dozens of my photos?” she asks our photographer Hakob.
Hakob replies that he wants to catch her with a smile. “Why would I smile? I’m a lonely girl, with a disability. I have no visitors. It’s only my neighbor Alik that I visit sometimes. If I die at home, nobody will find out about it for days. I have some relatives in Hatsashen (a nearby village). The rest are in Tbilisi, Russia, Tashkent,” Khaneh says, her face grimacing.
She was born in 1938 in Tlik. She remembers that the village was very lively when she was a kid. There were around 100 houses in Tlik back then, and they had drinking and irrigation water.
"Afterwards, the village got emptier and emptier. Only a few scattered families are left," she says.
She left school after completing the seventh grade, then she worked as a cleaner at school for 32 years, before her father's death.
Khaneh says their family was a small one - her father, mother, herself and her younger sister. The sister married and already has grandchildren. She lives in Yerevan.
Khaneh decided not to marry. She received several proposals, but refused.
"I couldn’t leave my parents alone; I didn’t want to. Why would I go and rebuild another’s house, instead of ours? No, I didn’t need it," Khaneh says.
She limps, the result of a fall in the sixth grade that broke her leg. It didn’t heal correctly in the cast.
In 2000, Khaneh sold her father's home and moved to this house together with her mother. She says her father's house collapsed, and that's why she sold it. The house has a barn, where she used to keep cattle. Now she only has chicken.
Khaneh has been knitting socks since she was twenty. She learnt the skill from her mother and neighbors. Neither she or her mother have ever sold the socks - they always gifted them.
She’s got two washtubs under the bed. She pulls out one first, looking for spindles, and then the second one, with sparkling threads in it. She says these washtubs have turned into storage bins for her, since she keeps the most important things there.
She shows us her spindles. She never buys ready-made threads; she prefers hand spinning.
Khaneh gets wool from her neighbors, but is very picky about the wool. It must be soft to result in soft comfy socks. The sparkling threads were sent from relatives in Russia, she is going to knit some socks and send them back as a gift.
She knits two pairs of socks per week. Knitting is Khaneh's only occupation and entertainment. The TV hasn’t been working well of late. She says she hasn’t counted them, but she’s probably knitted more than a thousand pairs of socks. But Khaneh doesn’t like wearing socks herself, since she can’t bear wearing clothes that are too warm.
Khaneh says traditions have begun to disappear both in Armenian and Yezidi communities. They used to wear traditional dresses for holidays, and now no one in the village wears them. She was the last one to wear a national costume, but she only has one skirt left.
"Now, I also wear Armenian clothes," says Yezidi woman.
"What are Armenian clothes?" I ask.
"Well, whatever I wear right now," she replies.
In the past, there were many weddings in the village, women wore national costumes, now there are few weddings and nobody wears national costumes. Khaneh feels sorry for that. She adds that Yezidi women do not wear trousers - only school girls and children can wear them.
Khaneh gets tired of answering our questions. We get up to leave. She wants to treat us to dinner or some coffee, and makes sure we see that she’s got some pilaf ready, and jars of sugar and coffee.
She accompanies us to the car. She asks to have a photo together, then asks us to visit her whenever we are in the village, just to knock at her door and see how she is.
"The most important thing in life is living, only living," says Javoyan.
Photos: Hakob Poghosyan