“I don’t carry hate in my heart. I am a winner, because I was able to forgive.” Nelly Shahbazyan: breaking the chains of orphan mindset to pave her way to happiness
“There was a time in my life, when I could not believe I would ever have what I had always needed. Could I even embrace the possibility of becoming a mother? I had lived without a mother for 14 years, and when I learnt I was expecting a child, there was no place for fear or hesitation for me. I only decided that I would do everything for my child, that I would give him everything that Arsen and I had never had,” says Nelly with a timid smile.
Nelly, who is 23 years old now, found herself in a children’s home in Vanadzor together with her sister when she was seven. In Armenia, 60 percent of children living in orphanages have parents and therefore cannot be adopted. These children are destined to live without foster care.
“I was only seven years old, when my sister and I were placed in a children’s home in Vanadzor. My grandmother took us there, as she had promised my mother not to give us to any relative after her death,” she recalls.
As Nelly continues her story, she admits that she does not blame neither her mother, nor her grandmother or father, who had left their mother with their two-year-old daughter even before Nelly was born. After Nelly’s birth, her mother’s health deteriorated drastically, and she was confined to her bed for seven years before she died.
“When my mother was pregnant with me, my father left her to marry another woman. I don’t remember much about my mother either; there are only some fragments of memories. She had an aggressive form of cancer. My grandmother looked after us most of the time. Before her death, my mother “wrung” a promise from my grandmother, who pledged that if she wasn’t able to support us, she would not foster us out to any relatives, even our own father, who already had another family,” says Nelly.
Shortly after their mother’s death, the two sisters found themselves in a children’s home in Vanadzor, where they lived for 12 years. The only person who came to see the sisters in the orphanage was their grandmother. Their father was forced to visit them several times when required by law, fearing forfeiture of parental rights. At first, he even offered to take the girls into his house, but their grandmother and the state refused to entrust the sisters to their father’s care.
“It was on 31st of August 2004, when we first stepped into the children’s home. I remember seeing some kids running in the backyard. At first I was a little scared, but then I saw our neighbor’s kid, who had been living there for some time already. She came to meet us and introduced us to other children. I thought it would be easy for me to settle down in the new place, because I had always been an active child. I was easy-going and loved to run around and play. Even so, in the beginning it was very difficult for both my grandmother and me. My sister had a more down-to-earth approach. She knew we had no other choice,” says Nelly.
Their grandmother was a frequent visitor at the children’s home. Nelly was very much attached to her. She was a sickly child, who would fall ill whenever her grandmother failed to visit them for several days at a time. She often had a fever and attempted to run away from the children’s home after her grandmother’s visits.
After her grandfather’s death, the essence of life for Nelly narrowed down to her eldest sister and her own quest for knowledge. Nelly was inconsolable for her loss and mourned her grandmother even longer than her mother.
“I was more attached to my grandmother. She was the one who was always there for us, even though she had no blood relation to us. She had not even officially adopted my mother. She just decided to take my mother with her the day she saw her on a train. I do not know whether it’s fate or something else. One day, my grandmother decided to go to an orphanage to adopt a child. She boarded a train, where she met a woman with her little girls. The woman told her she was taking her daughters to a children’s home to give up for adoption. My grandmother simply asked the woman to give her one of her daughters. This is how my grandmother left home alone and returned with a daughter,” she says.
Nelly remembers how her father came to visit them after their grandmother’s death and even offered his daughters to live with him. The eldest of his daughters turned down the offer immediately, and Nelly chose to stay with her.
“I could not stay apart from my sister; she was the only family I had. She still cannot bring herself to forgive him, because she knew how much my mother had suffered because of him. My sister still remembers how my mother, who was pregnant with me at the time, had to go to the forest and gather wood to heat our house, how she had to take up different jobs to earn money so that my father could buy drinks. My father’s relatives lived a couple of blocks away from us. When my grandmother was still alive, she did her best to keep in touch with my father’s family and used to take us to his house every day. But we weren’t welcome there, and when my grandma died, we naturally preferred to stay away from them,” says Nelly.
Nelly never complained about her life in the children’s home. She had food to eat, a roof over her head and they were attentive to her. Still, she was a motherless child, who spent most of her time with her voice coach, who was both like a mother and a grandmother for Nelly.
It was during these singing lessons when she met Arsen.
They sang a duet together for a year, and everyone in the children’s home knew that Arsen was in love with Nelly.
Nelly did not want to hear anything about a romantic relationship and only wanted to focus on her education. Arsen, however, did not give up on her, and they got married after he completed the mandatory military service. Today, the happy couple rents a small apartment, expecting their first child. And they have already chosen a name for him – Tigran.
Nelly and Arsen are planning to fill the childhood of their son with love and all kinds of colors – things they never had in their own lives.
Nelly admits that now she needs her mother more than ever. She needs a mother and her son – a grandmother. As for her father, she speaks about him without animosity. While she insists she has no feelings at all towards her father, she also says she will be at his side whenever he needs her.
“I do get criticized very often for forgiving my father. They don’t understand how I can even keep in touch with him after what we’ve been through. But things are really simple for me here: if one day he calls to tell me that he needs me, I will be at his side, I will take care of him. He is still my father, against all the odds. I cannot live with hatred in my heart; this would be a defeat for me. I am a winner, because I was able to forgive,” says Nelly.
- story by Sona Martirosyan
- photo by Emma Grigoryan