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Granny Noem had been a refugee three times but never lost hope

Every time hearing the sorrowful sounds of “Dle Yaman”, Laura Harutyunyan remembers her mother Noem, whose fate seems to be reflected in the lyrics of this song. During her long lifetime (it’s worth mentioning that despite all the misfortunes she lived until the age of 89) she had to leave her homeland several times and had been a refugee three times…




The first time it was the 1915 tragedy that disrupted her life. Little Noem was only 2 at the time when the peaceful life of her large family came to an end in one of the villages in Kars state. To save the youngest ones from hunger their parents sent them to the newly-opened American orphanage. Her most vivid memory as a child was of Mr. Brown. Paron Bravon, as Noem used to call him, always gave them something tasty and tenderly patted the heads of the little ones.




When the situation in Kars became strained, and the Turkish Yenicheris entered the village, father had to escape with the children (Noem’s mother had died). The most terrible thing was that they could not take their blind grandmother with them at the moment, and when the elder brother came back she was already lying lifeless… The Harutyunyans started for nearby Alexandrapol (present Gyumri). People were starving then, and Noem was once again sent to an orphanage. Unlike the American orphanage, the children of the orphanage in Alexandrapol were almost always hungry. Her aunt’s daughter and she could hardly manage to hide a slice of brown bread wrapped in a cloth in the yard and then eat it later. More often, however, they gave the hidden bread to the aunt’s sickly son Gegham. The girls knitted socks for him. They weaved the thread from the cotton secretly pulled out from the straw mattress. Later “weak” Gegham became the pride of the family: he grew up, studied, got into politics, moved up to a high position.




The Armenian-Turkish war started in 1918. Noem’s family was forced to escape again fearing the Turkish army that had crossed the territory of Armenia’s first Republic. After long wanderings fate brought them to industrial Baku, where they hoped to find jobs. Noem was only 15 years old when their compatriot, 23 year-old Hmayak from Bashgyugh, state of Kars, came to ask for her hand in marriage. Noem liked him at once. She didn’t remember her wedding. Did she really have a wedding? At first the young couple lived in the suburbs, where Rafayel, Yevgenya, Jasmine and little Laura were born. Several years later they all moved to the centre of Baku. Laura Hmayakovna still has the keys to their three roomed large flat on Pervomayskaya Street 1. There she grew up with her brother and two sisters and got on their feet. They all received higher education.




People were starving in Baku, especially during the war. However, Noem made incredible efforts to protect her family from starvation. She baked bread and lavash together with her neighbour. The garden they had in the suburbs saved them in the summer-time, she would take the vegetables to the city to sell. During winter Father found some ways: he visited various regions through his work and would bring “vitamins” for the children from there. However, the fate stopped smiling at them again: they could not save 19 year-old Rafik from meningitis. “Mother was crying so much at that time”- remembers Laura Hmayakovna, – “but she didn’t give up. At the age of 38 she granted her husband another son. They called him Rafayel, but we called him Roma.” Unfortunately, father and son were unable to be together for a long time. Roma was only 11 years old when Father died in an accident.




Noem had been through a lot while living in Baku for 65 years, but she could never imagine that being an elderly woman she would have to become a refugee once again, now for the third time… In 1988 one of their neighbours, activist of People’s Front, suddenly knocked at their door. He failed to intrude, as they managed to call the police in time…




“For a long time we could not take the events happening in Baku seriously. We were hoping that very soon life would get back to normal: we would start having guests again and serving Mother’s cookies and famous Baklava (Armenian Cake), – says Laura and her eyes fill up with tears from the memories; – None of us can make baklava like Mother. She was an exceptional master; she put her soul into everything she did. She was an extremely kind person and stayed true to herself till the end of her days, never embittered by the blows of the fate…”




Alas, life never got back to normal. At the end of 1989, just before the massacres in January, the Harutyunyans, realizing it was dangerous to remain in Baku fir much longer, dared to move once again. Laura was 44 years old then. Her mother Noem was 75. Laura’s husband had left for Russia to search for new ways of existence for the family, but soon died being unable to bear the distress. Laura, together with her 15 year-old daughter Regina, mother, mother-in-law and her single sister started for Yerevan. Laura is to date grateful for her Azerbaijani colleagues who helped them leave Baku so quickly.




Noem’s elder daughter, who had gotten married in Armenia, was bale to give shelter to the refugees in Yerevan. They managed to take the bank account books for their savings of many years, however after the collapse of the Soviet Union they were never able to cash these. Without the necessary amount of money they were unable to buy an apartment in Yerevan and had to stay in their temporary dwelling (as it seemed to them in the beginning), in a small room without basic living conditions located in one of the schools with special needs. The hardest years were ahead when granny Noem had completely lost her eyesight and had great difficulty getting to the construction outside which served as a lavatory.




Today, two decades later, Laura Hmayakovna lives in the same school subsidiary building with her sister, daughter and grandchild. Although after her mother’s death they were given a larger room, the women still dream of hot water and heating. They have reached out to and written to different authorities, but the problem of the apartment still remains unsolved.




Despite all the hardships at the age of 67, Laura Hmayakovna is energetic and is know as an activist among the neighbors of the “hostel”. And although the recent nationwide inflation on the food products makes them tighten their belts once again and Granny’s famous baklava has become a luxury for them, Laura’s room is always full of guests. She receives everyone cordially serving what she has… just the same way as Granny Noem, who never lost hope…




By Asia Tsaturova

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