Armenia is My Home: 84-Year-Old Molokan Woman Knows All the Stones in Her Native Town

21:34, 24 May, 2017

There are many Molokan houses on this street in Tashir, a town in Armenia’s northern Lori Province.

Ten years ago, there were about 250 Molokans living here. Now, there are only about forty left.

Marietta Grigoryan, a former second secretary of the Kalinino district committee, who introduces us to the Molokans living in Tashir, says that many of them died while others went abroad to live with their children.

Saturday is cleaning and bathing day for Molokans. It’s not a day when one receives guests. Sunday is the day to rest. We happened to visit them on Saturday.

"Tatiana Vasilievna, Tatiana Vasilievna," Marietta calls out from the gate.

"She’s not home. She went either to the store or to the canteen," the neighbors say.

Tatiana’s chained dog stretches its legs, advances and starts to bark. The gate is closed, but the garden is visible from here. It’s so clean inside that even the land is swept. The lilacs are not fully in blossom. It’s still cold in Tashir. The weather changes several times a day.

The Kurdish neighbor approaches us, asking questions. My blue shoes are wet because of the mud. Tatiana has not returned yet, but waiting for her becomes more interesting. In a few minutes, her best friend Marietta suggests visiting another house in the meantime. We come back in an hour. Tatiana Vasilievna has returned. She opens the door.

Going up the stairs, Marietta asks, "Tatiana Vasilievna, are you done with the cleaning?"

The 84-year-old woman smiles and says of course, and invites us in. The house is very clean. There is an old stove from the Soviet era in the corner. You can still find it in many Molokan houses.

Artworks of her grandmother are hung on the walls. The room is full of lush plants. Her glasses are on the table, together with an unfinished knitted orange sock.

She looks at us with her small blue eyes. She asks the reason for our visit. Molokan women are generally taciturn, believing that the point is lost if people talk much.

“Me? What can I tell you?” she asks and looks at the table with the unfinished sock. Marietta says Tatiana Vasilievna also knits socks for soldiers.

The old woman gets embarrassed, "Marietta, please, do not say such things, people do not talk about it out loud, they just do it."

Marietta smiles, and that smile is a perceptible sign of the old woman’s modesty. She says Tatiana has everything except time. She works all day long. The old woman, standing on a small chair, looking for her headscarf in the hallway wardrobe, agrees, "Yes, please, can somebody lend me some time?"

We laugh, but there is some bitterness in her words. Unable to find the headscarf, she brings out some documents from the shelf of the living room. Tatiana starts to read out loud the history of her ancestors, written down in a thin green notebook.

Her ancestors settled here in 1847. The village was called Vorontsovka at the time. Tatiana Lukinova was born in February 1933, when the village was already named Kalinino. When she went to the first grade the Great Patriotic War started. Although the war itself didn’t reach Kalinino, she remembers that they were difficult years for everyone. There were seven children in their family. Her two brothers were taken to the front. Both died.

After graduating from school, she studied at the Pedagogical College in Krasnoselsk (now Tchambarak). She then worked for two years in Artanish village and married in 1956. She says it was obligatory to work for three years after graduating in order to get the diploma, but they gave it if you got married.

After getting married, Tatiana Vasilievna worked as a machinist and then took some medical courses and worked in the Kalinino hospital. "I was performing cardiograms of human hearts," says the old woman. At the same time, she worked in a pharmacy for about 30 years.

"This is my life path," she says and her eyes get teary. We are silent.

We talk briefly about her children and husband. She has two daughters and a son. In 2007, she lost both her husband and her son, in the span of nine months. This is the most delicate pause in our conversation. She tries to hide her emotions, but the red spots appear in her blue eyes.

She says that all her three children received higher education. One of her daughters now works in Stavropol. She’s a school director. The other one is a fashion designer working with artists. Tatiana Vasilievna has four grandchildren.

She’s placed her works on the bed, covering them with a plastic bag, as the roof leaks. Marietta notices and promises to fix the issue.

The old woman stresses her age just once. She says that if her eyesight was good, she would work more. Early in the morning she goes to the garden, to grow potatoes, beans, greens, carrots and flowers. In her opinion, the house starts from the yard - if you keep the yard clean, your house will be clean, too. She does needlework during the day and watches TV in the evenings.

"I watch soap operas and listen to the news. Can you get by without being informed? How can you not know about the new Trump in the U.S. and that France has a new president, who is 24 years younger than his wife?" asks Tatiana. She also writes poems.

We persuade her to read some of her writings. "My proud and mountainous Armenia..." she begins, then looks at us, trying to understand if she’s written something wrong. Isn’t Armenia a mountainous country? Isn’t it a proud one?

The old woman says she knows every corner and every stone in Tashir. The land where one is born is home.

Tatiana’s daughters have suggested that she live with them, but she doesn’t agree.  "If I go to Russia, no one will call me jan (dear)," she says.

Many Armenians and Molokans are now leaving Armenia.

"Do you think that being separated from your land, your homeland,is a good thing? I am surprised to see them go… I don’t know why they leave... I don’t want to go anywhere else, Armenian water and land are native to me. Every stone holds me here. I haven’t been far away, but I’ve walked across this region, I know every corner, I know where to find rosehip, I know where Valeriana grows, or where I can find a lot of mushrooms," she wipes her eyes. So do we.

She reads another poem, a political one. Gorbachev and Yeltsin are being criticized in it. After she finishes, I ask if she’s written a poem about Serzh Sargsyan. "No, no, he gives me a pension, why should I write," she replies very seriously.

She says that little is left of her life. Her life path was not an easy one, but she was never disappointed.

"What is important in life? To have patience, respect people and do good, live well, and not to hope that somebody will help you. And, most importantly, never be discouraged and disappointed. Well, now that I can’t join my children, should I fold my arms and lie down? I need to fight until the end," the Molokan woman says, now with a cheerful voice.

She takes advantage of the town’s soup kitchen. Her pension isn’t much, but she doesn’t like to complain. In the canteen, she gets the thread to knit socks for soldiers. She says that had she known she was to receive guests, she would have embroidered something for us.

We go to the balcony. The dog starts barking, yanking on the chain. The old woman grasps the balcony railing, saying that she’s a bit dizzy. She has a blood pressure problem and is on medication. We ask her not to see us off, but she doesn’t want to hear about it.

She reaches the gate and talks to herself. “Eh, Tanya, what’s wrong with your yard? Is this the way you used to take care of it?”

I’m surprised. The yard seems quite clean to me.

She gets angry, muttering, “you should have seen the old Tatiana.”

Photos: Hakob Poghosyan