Confession over a Cup of Coffee

ONE contributor Mariya Tytarenko got to know many colorful characters.

While reporting on an Armenian Apostolic congregation rebuilding church and community in Ukraine, ONE contributor Mariya Tytarenko got to know many colorful characters. Below, she profiles one woman from the community.

When I called Laura Arzumanian and asked her to talk about the Armenian community in Lviv and her life, she gladly agreed. We met at her friend Mykola Kocharian’s restaurant Krakivska Brama (The Krakow Gate), located about 30 yards to the right of the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in Lviv. It was not easy to refuse Mykola’s kind and compelling offer to have a traditional Armenian dinner during our interview, but we agreed to have a cup of coffee instead. Armenians, in general, are a very hospitable people — a careless refusal may even offend.

Sixty-five-year-old Laura was wearing heavy jewelry and glasses attached to a chain set with stones. While she was taking off her scarf, a brooch fell down and she said nonchalantly: “Oh, never mind; it happens all the time.”

Laura and her then-9-year-old son David came to Ukraine in 1995 after a long journey that started in Yerevan, Armenia, and took them through Moscow, Minsk and Moscow again before ending in Lviv. “We left Yerevan, since it was under blockade,” she recalled. “There was no light, no water and, sometimes, no hope, even though we weren’t poor.”

“Mom, Lviv is so beautiful, isn’t it?” Her son had asked when they saw the city for the first time. Before buying their own dwelling, they rented an apartment for eight years — by which time Laura realized that, despite her own desire to move to Prague, her son would never leave the city.

As newcomers, they found their neighbors very helpful. “I was lucky with my neighbors,” she said. “Not only did they help me with the Ukrainian language, but they also introduced me to the Armenian community in Lviv.” Laura learned a great deal of Ukrainian from watching movies — she would write down new words and learn them after her neighbors translated them. As a former director of a school and a historian, learning had always been a major part of her life.

After half a year, Laura was still not acquainted with any Armenians in the city. It was during Easter when her Ukrainian neighbors, who had now become her best friends, gave her the idea to go to the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary. She took their advice. There, she finally met the Armenian community. “I didn’t expect there would be so many highly respected people: professors, bankers, and our wonderful bishop, Father Natan Ohanesian!”

After that Laura became an active part of the Armenian community, sent her son to Sunday school, and started her own business. She remembered many vivid and funny stories from that time. For example, when Pope John Paul II visited the church in June 2001, behind her all-white outfit, she had been holding a dirty rag; a few minutes before the Pope’s visit, she saw that part of the floor was dirty, so she quickly wiped it up herself.

Laura tries to live according to an old Armenian proverb: “Do good and throw it into the water”; when the good evaporates, it will fall from the sky on all people.

Laura and her son, who is now a dentist, have obtained Ukrainian citizenship. Ukraine is their new homeland, although they speak Armenian at home and maintain Armenian traditions. “Our Armenian church is our guiding light,” Laura concluded. “With faith and their traditions, Armenians will preserve their identity wherever they are.”

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